Sunday, June 30, 2024

The House at 1340 by Judy Alter


It is no coincidence that when Irene Foxglove decides to take a solo apartment in Chicago, she chooses the Madison Park Hotel. Nor is it a coincidence that when Chance Charpentier buys a house for the children he has rescued from their brutish father, it is the house at 1340 Madison Park. Madison Park is a three-block long oasis on Chicago’s South Side, a narrow park lined mostly on one side with houses the age of 1340 and on the other side apartments probably slightly newer. A tiny, one-way drive circles the park, with a turn-around about halfway along. Good luck should you want to find a parking place. Most houses on the north side of the park have one-car garages, many rebuilt to eliminate the skinny garages of the early 1900s.

Those twists in Irene in a Ghost Kitchen are me working in a bit of personal nostalgia. I grew up in that house, and my family still refers to it as 1340. A two-and-a-half story duplex built in the early 1890s for the Columbian Exposition, it is, as one of my kids described it, a red-brick brownstone, with decorative stonework and the requisite bay window. When I was a child, the houses in that part of Madison Park had wooden front porches, but the area has been gentrified now, and the porches are gone, replaced by trendy landscaping with Japanese maples and other plants utterly foreign to the South Side of Chicago. In my day, the lot next door was my father’s garden, a wonder that bloomed from spring until Chicago’s winter weather sent it to sleep for the year. Today, a house, supposedly designed to resemble 1340, stands in Dad’s garden.

Not too many years ago I took my four grown children to Chicago. They had never seen my Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood, Madison Park, or 1340. They knew, because I had told them, that there was not much money when I was a child. My dad was a physician but a salaried educator rather than one who saw patients, and he supported his mom and sister in Canada as well as us. When we drove up to the house, there was profound silence as the kids stared and then, at last, one let out an awe-struck, “Mom!” My parents bought the house and extra lot in 1936 for about $6,000. The last I knew it was on the market for somewhere well over a million dollars.

After my parents retired and sold 1340, the house suffered through a series of owners, some not at all respectful of its age or classic touches like the pink marble fireplace—replaced by a wooden Swedish modern monstrosity. Today it is stark and modern throughout, but in making it part of Irene’s story, I kept it as it was when I lived there—a living room with two couches and a baby grand piano, one lone bathroom, and the 1950s kitchen Mom was so proud of with white-washed knotty pine cabinets and turquoise Formica and linoleum.

I’m a pantser—no outline for me ahead of writing and very little planning. I tend to think if I can get that first line, I’m off and running. So I certainly didn’t plan ahead to include Madison Park or 1340 in Irene’s ghost kitchen adventure. But a classic bit of wisdom advises authors to listen to their characters, and in this case, I think Irene clearly told me she wanted to move to the Madison Park Hotel. Then Chance told me he’d buy the house at 1340 for the rescued children. I hope readers think my bit of nostalgia works.

About Judy Alter

After an award-winning career writing historical fiction about women in the nineteenth-century American West, Judy Alter turned her attention to mystery fiction and never looked back. She is the author of four series: Blue Plate Café Mysteries, Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, Oak Grove Mysteries, and the current Irene in Chicago Culinary Mysteries. For almost thirty years, Judy was director of the TCU Press. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Guppies subchapter, the Texas Institute of Letters, and Story Circle Network; she is listed in the Halls of Fame of Texas and Western Writers of America. She is also the author of two cookbooks and a food blog, Gourmet on a Hot Plate.



Saturday, June 29, 2024

In the Right Place by donalee Moulton

 Céad míle fáilte. This Gaelic expression means “a hundred thousand welcomes.” If you live in Nova Scotia, as I do, this is an expression you will have seen for much of your life. (Pronouncing it is a different issue altogether.) A hundred thousand welcomes in any language speaks to the type of people you are likely to encounter when you come here and the values they place on such encounters.

 Riel Brava – attractive, razor-sharp, ambitious, and something much more – is the lead character in my new mystery, Hung Out to Die. He lives in Elmsdale, Nova Scotia, about a 40-minute drive from Halifax, the province’s capital. In East Coast parlance, Riel is a come from away.

Raised in Santa Barbara, California, Riel has been transplanted to Nova Scotia where he is CEO of the Canadian Cannabis Corporation – one of the estimated four to twelve percent of CEOs who are psychopaths. It’s business as usual until Riel finds his world hanging by a thread.

Riel’s chief financial officer is found hanged in his office. The police determine the death is not the result of suicide. Still, Riel resists the hunt to catch a killer. Detective Lin Raynes draws the reluctant CEO into the investigation, and the seeds of an unexpected and unusual friendship are sown. Ultimately, Riel finds himself on the butt end of a rifle in the ribs and a long drive to the middle of Nowhere, Nova Scotia.

Fact is, I could have placed Riel in the middle of anywhere. The murder is not location specific. The victim does not fall from the Brooklyn Bridge or mysteriously appear atop Old Faithful, places that are singular. Nova Scotia made sense for me as a writer, and it made sense for Riel as a character. I live here; I know this province better than any other place. I can write about it with ease, and with a personal perspective.

For Riel, who lives uncomfortably in a world where people hug each other because they care and share the pain of others because their brain is wired that way, being in a place where he does not have roots, where he is an outsider, mirrors what goes on within Riel. It’s the right place for him.

Because I am from Nova Scotia, I can also authentically and naturally insert elements of life here. Take the language, for instance. You may discover some new words such as bejesus and tinchlet. There will be expressions common to the area. “Bless your heart” is one you’ll hear a lot in Nova Scotia, and Riel hears it as well.

There is also food that has Nova Scotia marinated into it, as Riel discovers. Turns out Riel is now a donair (similar to a gyro) aficionado. (I am not.)

 One of the things I have learned as a writer is that I am in control, and I am not in control. I can decide to situate a character in a particular place, and the character will let me know if that is the right place as the writing unfolds. In the case of Riel, he ends up in the dark of winter at a deserted row of cottages called, what else, Céad míle fáilte.

I did not see that coming. I have a feeling Riel did.



donalee Moulton’s first mystery book Hung out to Die was published in 2023. A historical mystery, Conflagration!, was published in 2024. It is a finalist in the 2024 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense.

A short story “Swan Song” was one of 21 selected for publication in Cold Canadian Crime. It was shortlisted for an Award of Excellence. Another short story in this series was published in Black Cat Weekly. Other short stories have been published recently in After Dinner Conversation, The Antigonish Review, and Queen’s Quarterly. donalee’s short story “Troubled Water” was shortlisted for a 2024 Derringer Award and a 2024 Award of Excellence from the Crime Writers of Canada. 

donalee is an award-winning freelance journalist. She has written articles for print and online publications across North America including The Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, Lawyer’s Daily, National Post, and Canadian Business.

 As well, donalee is the author of The Thong Principle: Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say and co-authored the book, Celebrity Court Cases: Trials of the Rich and Famous.


Friday, June 28, 2024

Acronyms by Nancy L. Eady

The other day I thought I was going to be late enough to work that my co-workers might worry about me, so I sent an email with the title “RLFNGR.” In the body of the email, I wrote “Running late for no good reason,” and then gave my projected arrival time. When I got to the office, our receptionist, a young man in his late 20’s/early 30’s, greeted me with a cheerful, “I liked the acronym in your email!” I rounded the corner to my office, where his mother works across from me, and she said, “I sure am glad you told me what that meant!” I started to laugh. I told her that people our receptionist’s age or younger seem to love acronyms, while people our age want to have them defined. 

The conversation reminded me of a song that came out about twelve years ago, when Kayla was young enough to listen to Disney Radio, and we would sometimes listen together. 

It was a bouncy, peppy little song, with the chorus:

Be, be, be my bff,
Cause IDK what's coming next, 
LMHO with the rest,

At the time, I had no idea what it meant, but I was intrigued enough to remember the lyrics. Once I realized that “Be, be, be” was a repeat of the verb “be” rather than an acronym for the Better Business Bureau, understanding the chorus got easier. “Bff” stands for best friend forever, “IDK” means “I don’t know” and LMHO stands for “laughing my head off.” “TTYLXOX” stands for "talk to you later, hugs and kisses." Had that song come out today, most of those acronyms would be familiar to me.

The federal government is fond of acronyms. I gave an online seminar the other day on autonomous vehicles and as part of my research for it, I looked over two National Transportation Safety Board investigation reports and a report from the Congressional Research Service. Each document had a full page-length or longer glossary solely dedicated to guiding the reader through the alphabet soup of governmental acronyms. 

While acronyms are probably unavoidable in “real life,” I am not a fan of them in fiction unless they are exceptionally well-known such as “FBI” or “CDC.” If I don’t understand the acronym, it pulls me out of the story and forces me to figure it out or look up what it means. A better person would just skim over it and keep reading but I am not such a person.  An undefined acronym drives me crazy, almost as crazy as material from an advertiser with a random asterisk stuck by a term or item, and nothing anywhere in the literature explaining what that poor lonely asterisk means. 

Do you ever use acronyms in your fiction? In what settings or situations do you think acronyms might work?

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Publicity: What's Worth It? My Top Ten Tips


I’ve been reading a lot online lately about publicity. Everyone’s talking about it. What they want to know is simple: what works and what doesn’t? In other words, what’s worth it and what is simply a waste of time and money?

Full disclosure: publicity can be confusing, and I’m no expert. Few of us have the skills of a graphic artist, expertise in marketing strategies, or an unlimited budget. And yet every author, whether traditionally published or self-published, is expected to mount a publicity campaign. That means most of us are playing it by ear—trying anything and everything, without really knowing which of our efforts actually results in more sales. I’ve heard this called the “spaghetti approach” to publicity. Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.

The possibilities seem endless. Should a new author have a website, a newsletter, accounts on Facebook, X, and Instagram? Do paid ads work? Or reels? And Pinterest—will creating a board of images related to your book push sales? And what about conferences? For many authors, the cost of flights, hotels, and meals will wipe out any profits they make from book sales. With notable exceptions, most of us aren’t getting rich.

The bottom line for me is exposure. First you have to write a good book. No amount of effort and money will turn a mediocre book into a best-seller. But even a wonderful book isn’t going anywhere unless people know it exists. That’s been my working theory about publicity from Day One. Get my name and my book out there so people know about it.

The hard truth is this takes time.

Here are my top ten recommendations in no particular order:

1. Write the best book you can.

Take time to learn your craft. You will need a professional editor. In my opinion, this is the one place where the old adage about spending money to make money holds true. Good developmental editors aren’t cheap, but they are invaluable.

2. Put up an author website and Facebook page.

Today this is pretty simple, even for non-technical people like me. You can choose a free theme and personalize it. Maybe get a tech-minded kid or friend to help you at first. Start very simple. You can always add.

3. Start a newsletter and make it personal.

At first your subscribers will be your friends and family. That’s fine. But do bring a sign-up sheet to every event you attend and give people a chance to sign up. The most important part is to keep it personal. Instead of “buy my book, buy my book,” tell your followers an interesting story that relates to what you’re writing. Give your readers content that’s worth their time to read. I give away a free, exclusive short story every year.

4. Don’t waste your money on paid schemes.

You will undoubtedly receive all kinds of offers, promising to put your book in every motel room in the country or blast an email to hundreds of thousands of eager readers. In my opinion, most of these are a waste of time. Nothing is that simple. If you find one that works, let me know!

5. Say yes to as many opportunities as you can.

We’ve heard about performers “paying their dues.” The same thing is true for authors. Getting your name and your book noticed does take time and effort. Begin building a fan base and keep at it. Speak at your local library or book club. Join a panel at a local or regional writing conference. Write articles for publications. Just say yes. Know that publicity is work.

6. Develop connections with other authors.

It’s called networking, and it’s definitely worth it. Listening to other ideas spurs creativity. You might find a possible collaborator. You might find a critique group to join or beta readers who will give you much-needed feedback. You might even meet an agent or an acquiring editor. One of the best places to network is a writers’ conference. Go to as many as you can afford, and while there, make the most of your time. Talk to people. Ask questions. If you’re shy, remember that the secret is not to be interesting but to be interested.

7. Join a professional writers’ group.

One of the best things I did was join Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Crime Writers Association (UK). That’s where you can connect with other writers, take classes and webinars to help you improve your craft, ask questions, and learn about opportunities such as open submissions. The costs are minimal and the benefits high.

8. Support other authors.

Follow them on Facebook. Feature their latest releases on your own Facebook page and in your newsletter. Attend their events when you can. Read their books and leave a (good) review on Amazon and Goodreads. One piece of advice given to me by my agent: if you can’t leave a five-star review, don’t leave one at all. If you support others, they will support you. Maybe you could team up with another author at an event or trade newsletter shout-outs. Double your efforts.

9. Do the things that come naturally to you.

I like Facebook so that’s where I have my main social media outlet. You might prefer X or Instagram. That’s fine. I also like writing my monthly newsletter, and I have a really high open rate. That means people are actually reading it. Doing something you dislike probably isn’t going to work anyway, so try everything and see what comes naturally.

10. Be patient.

For authors, what has worked for you?

For readers, where do you find new authors?

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

An Interview with Molly MacRae by E. B. Davis


“…it turns out that tripping over bodies and being electrocuted, accused of murder,

and flickered at by ghosts makes me jumpy and irritable.”

Molly MacRae, Come Shell or High Water, Kindle Loc. 1575


When widowed folklorist Maureen Nash visits a legendary North Carolina barrier island shell shop, she discovers its resident ghost pirate and the mystery of a local’s untimely death . . .

As a professional storyteller, Maureen Nash can’t help but see the narrative cues woven through her life. Like the series of letters addressed to her late husband from a stranger—the proprietor of The Moon Shell, a shop on Ocracoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. The store is famous with shell collectors, but it’s the cryptic letters from Allen Withrow, the shop’s owner, that convince Maureen to travel to the small coastal town in the middle of hurricane season. At the very least, she expects she’ll get a good story out of the experience, never anticipating it could end up a murder mystery . . .
In Maureen’s first hours on the storm-lashed island, she averts several life-threatening accidents, stumbles over the body of a controversial Ocracoke local, and meets the ghost of an eighteenth-century Welsh pirate, Emrys Lloyd. To the untrained eye, all these unusual occurrences would seem to be random misfortunes, but Maureen senses there may be something connecting these stories. With Emrys’s supernatural assistance, and the support of a few new friends, Maureen sets out to unravel the truth, find a killer, and hopefully give this tale a satisfying ending . . . while also rewriting her own.


Come Shell or High Water is the first book in WWKs Molly MacRae’s Haunted Shell Shop mystery series. This book is close to my heart. It is set on Ocracoke Island, one island south, in the Outer Banks chain of barrier islands of North Carolina, of my home island of Hatteras. Be prepared for some “shell” puns and jokes in this novel, like “like a bat out of shell” or “annoying as shell.”


At the start of the book, Ocracoke is just post-hurricane. Visitors have been banished from the island until services and business owners can recover from storm damage. This is a realistic scenario and routinely done by the authorities in times of storms. But it isn’t only hurricanes that can strike Ocracoke. Right now, Route 12, the only road through Ocracoke (which must be accessed at the north/south ends by ferry) is closed due to a nor’easter causing ocean overwash—which means the ocean has breached the road rendering it unnavigated by automobile. Weather happens here.


Main character, Maureen Nash, is a likeable middle-aged widow with two grown sons. She’s normal except for talking to her dead husband and seeing pirate ghosts.


Please welcome Molly to the flip-side of WWK.                                           E. B. Davis


What is Maureen’s connection to Ocracoke?

She and her husband first visited Ocracoke on their honeymoon and fell in love with it. When they had children, they started taking them to the island each summer for vacation.


Maureen is only in her 50s. Why is she retired already?

You could say she’s retired from the research and fieldwork jobs she’s had as a malacologist (see next
question to find out what a malacologist is), but only because those jobs, like some of the rare freshwater mussels she studies, are hard to find where she lives in northeast Tennessee. She isn’t really retired, though. She works part time in the children's department of the public library. She’s also a professional storyteller and has had some success getting picture book retellings of folktales involving shells published.


What is a malacologist? And how many are there in the US, like three?

Ha! You made me laugh. A malacologist is a type of wildlife biologist who studies mollusks—animals like squids, octopuses, snails. slugs, clams, and mussels. How many malacologists are there in the US? According to a 2020 report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics there are a whopping 19,300 and employment growth in the profession is predicted. How cool is that? A scientist who studies only the shells, and not the animals that make them, is a conchologist.


Are there fables about shells?

There are folktales about shells, and the creatures that make them, from all over the world. “The Boy and the Snails” is an Aesop’s fable (not snail-friendly at all). There’s a lot of symbolism associated with shells, too, going back thousands and thousands of years. They’ve been incorporated in ceremonies and rituals worldwide. Burying shells in graves is a tradition in many cultures and dates back to at least the Middle Stone Age in Africa. (Francesco d'Errico, Lucinda Backwell, “Earliest evidence of personal ornaments associated with burial: The Conus shells from Border Cave” Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 93, 2016, Pages 91-108, ISSN 0047-2484,


What is Maureen’s greatest fear?



Maureen hitches a sketchy entry onto Ocracoke. Why is it “illegal,” and who enables her?

It might not technically be illegal, but the immediate aftermath of a hurricane is no time for tourists to be traipsing around a small, fragile island. There can be a massive amount of clean up plus the need to repair and rebuild. Roads might be impassable. Power might be out for days or weeks and fresh water and food in short supply. The authorities rightly restrict access so the residents can get back on their feet or return if they evacuated.


In Maureen’s case, the person in Ocracoke from whom she’s renting told her she can still have the place if she can get to the island. The ferry isn’t running, but an old friend of Maureen’s is a ranger in the US Park Service. The friend is boating over to Ocracoke to check the condition of the national park campground. She agrees to take Maureen along, as an unauthorized favor, provided Maureen doesn’t tell anyone.


During her ride to Ocracoke, she acknowledges that she isn’t really drowning, but is half-drown by her own assumptions. What is she referring to? How does she make them work for her?

She’s referring to her assumptions that she can walk the deserted, post-hurricane beaches without getting into trouble and that her other reason for going there—to snoop around and find out why shell shop owner Allen Withrow has been sending her late husband intriguing but scammy-sounding letters—isn’t totally mad.


Why does Maureen take a walk on the beach?

She’s taking biologist E.O. Wilson’s advice about spending time in nature to get her head right, and to see what shells or other interesting things the hurricane washed ashore.


Without knowing how she arrived, Maureen wakes up inside a shop near town with amnesia after suffering an electrical shock. Who finds her and what is their connection to the shop?

Glady and Burt Weaver, octogenarian and septuagenarian sister and brother, find her. They live across the street from the shop.


The shop is called The Moon Shell. What is a moon shell?

The shop’s original owner (Allen Withrow’s mother) named the shop after a large Clench’s helmet shell, carved with a moonlit ocean scene, that she owned. But in the real world, Naticidae, with the common name moon snail, is a family of predatory sea snails. Their shells are called moon shells.  


Why doesn’t Maureen like texting?

She knows it’s irrational, but she doesn’t like to text with her sons because the last time she heard from her husband was in a text asking, “1:00 lunch at the café?” But he was gone before 1:00, killed in an electrical accident. She doesn’t go to the café anymore, either.


Is Glady glib or truthful when she says she can solve the murder better than law enforcement because she has a long running mystery series?

That’s just so hard to say, isn’t it? If you ask Glady, I’m sure she’ll say it’s the truth.


 Other people’s assumptions actually help hide Maureen’s reason for being on the island. Why do they think she’s there? When it comes down to it, after the fact, it’s convoluted but not inaccurate, sort of.

Glady and Burt have heard Allen say he’s expecting someone. They’ve also long thought he needs help in the shop (he’s in his eighties). They assume the person he’s expecting is someone he’s hired. They find Maureen in the shop and make another assumption—Allen hired her, and she’s expected.


Who is Emrys Lloyd? Why can Maureen see him while others can’t or at least what’s her first theory is soon after she comes to from being shocked? Why is he an Accidental Pirate?

Emrys is a ghost. He’s also a pirate. He says he didn’t intend to be a pirate, he didn’t want to be a pirate, and he only did it once. Sadly, that one time didn’t work out well for him. That was in 1750.


When Maureen regains consciousness in the Moon Shell, Glady and Burt tell her they saw a flash in the shop from their house. They went to investigate and found her and a table lamp on the floor. None of them is sure what happened, but they assume she turned on the lamp, it shorted and shocked her, and she fell, hit her head, and knocked herself out. The problem is, now Maureen sees and hears someone else in the shop that Glady and Burt don’t. She thinks she must be addled as a result of what happened.


Why doesn’t Glady want Maureen to go to see the doctor after her electrical shock?

Maureen would love to know the answer to that question, too. When Maureen tells Glady that she really thinks she should call the doctor, Glady says, “Mm, no. You really shouldn’t.”


Prior to building high on pilings, buildings suffered routine flood damage. What did the islanders do to prevent floating houses and to mitigate flood damage/mold?

Until the hurricane of 1899 islanders apparently scuttled their floors by chopping a hole with an axe. A drastic move? Yes, but better to let the house flood than have it washed off its foundation. Soon after that hurricane, the Thomas family built the first house in Ocracoke with a trapdoor in the floor specifically meant for letting in flood waters. You can read a wonderful account of scuttling a floor during the 1899 hurricane at the Ocracoke Island Journal. The story involves a duck.


I was dismayed that Maureen’s old friend, Patricia, sort of turns on her. Why would she do that without Maureen’s provocation?

Maureen was dismayed, too, but Patricia thought Maureen had gone back on her promise to keep quiet about her unauthorized lift to the island.


What are Emrys’s patterns or loops?

There are stories of ghosts that endlessly repeat the same motions. Emrys gives the example of a gray lady who walks a corridor over and over, never varying. Maureen says that sounds like being caught in a film loop. Emrys’s pattern, his loop, is based on the carved moon shell. He says that, when he’s caught in his loop, “My entire focus is on the shell, with no conscious awareness of anything else. As though the shell is my lifeline, my source of breath and heartbeat.”


Why doesn’t Emrys like children?

He blames it on their high little voices. He and his wife didn’t have children before he died. I bet, if he’d had children of his own, he would have been a good father and head over heels in love with them.


The victim, Allen, owned The Moon Shell. Who is he to Maureen? Who is he to Glady?

He’s no relation to either. Maureen goes to Ocracoke to find out who Allen is to her late husband. He and Glady knew each other most of their lives.


You have a good grasp of Ocracoke and life on Ocracoke. Where did you get your experience/knowledge?

My husband and I started visiting in 1979, and we took our children to the island for many years. We haven’t gotten there often in the past 30 years, though. To try to make up for that, I subscribe to the community newspaper and read “Ocracoke Newsletter” and “Ocracoke Island Journal,” two online resources from a wonderful island shop called Village Craftsman. I’ve also read a number of books about life on the island. There’s a bibliography of those books in Come Shell or High Water. I also had the good fortune to correspond with a woman who taught school in Ocracoke.


What’s next for Maureen? Since I don’t think there were any murders on Ocracoke since the 19th century, can we predict that the murder rate will accelerate wildly?

In book two, There’ll Be Shell to Pay, the body of an unidentified woman is found in a tidal inlet, Emrys is missing, and a trio of tourists calling themselves the Fig Ladies are playing detective. I feel pretty bad about bringing murder to the island (over and over), luckily Maureen is there to clean it all up. That book comes out in June 2025.


Here are some of the vocabulary words I learned reading this book!

Susurrus—whispering, murmuring or rustling (often by water).

Apocryphal—of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true.

Paramnesia—a condition involving distorted memory or confusions of fact and fantasy, such as confabulation or déjà vu. Surprise—doesn’t have anything to do with Italian cheese!


Tuesday, June 25, 2024

500 Words a Day by Martha Reed

I’ve heard it said that authors need to write one million words before we truly master the many and diverse tools of the writing craft. Now that I’ve been working at this writing game for almost two decades, I'm closing in on that word count. I’m beginning to feel more like a seasoned veteran and less of an imposter.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that I’m part of a larger and welcoming global writerly community. These folks are my peeps. A big part of being a member of that community is about paying it forward and giving back.

I’m not talking about networking, although that is important. I’m talking about giving back almost anonymously by volunteering to serve as an anthology judge or editor; offering to review newbie manuscripts and supply supportive critiques; serving as an organizational officer; or volunteering to work a registration table at one of our many conventions. Yes, this eats up precious writing time, but I find that fitting these “projects” into my schedule makes me more time aware, disciplines me away from wool gathering and puttering around, and keeps me focused on adding words to my manuscript and completing publishing related tasks.

Right now I’m mentoring a debut author as part of Sisters in Crime’s pilot mentoring program. It doesn’t take up a lot of time, probably around three hours a month. I made up a checklist of Great Thoughts I could share. The revelation is that as I worked up my ideas and suggestions for the newbie, I ended up reminding myself of just how far I’ve come.

Public speaking doesn’t frighten me anymore even when I don’t have time to prepare. When I’m pulled up to a podium, I have enough veteran experience to speak to a writerly or organizational topic pretty much at ease. The knee-shaking terror I used to struggle through is gone. That ease came from years of opportunities and practice. What a relief to be free from that emotional drama!

An eye-opening piece of advice I shared with my debut author was that she needed to hit a daily or session word count. Like so many of us, she kept going back and repeatedly editing her first chapter. Doing that kept her in an endless editing loop that exhausted her storytelling and kept her from making progress and moving forward.

I recommended two things: buying and reading Anne Lamott’s guidebook Bird by Bird, where she would learn that it’s okay to have a shitty first draft. The second bit of advice was training herself to add five-hundred words to her draft manuscript every time she sat down to write.

They don’t have to be perfect words, but at the end of six months, she’d have a 90,000 word manuscript. And that’s when the real editing (and the fun) begins.

Once I shared that advice, I looked at my own manuscript. I knew I was noodling around with one scene that seemed to be taking forever to finish. I realized I was just playing with it because it was fun. The next set of scenes was a big open blank space, so I was staying in (and playing with) my half-written scene because it felt like a comfort zone. Taking my own advice, I pushed on. Five hundred words a day became the mantra that keeps me focused and on track.

Gentle readers, do you have daily word count writing goals? What advice would you give a newbie debut author?

Monday, June 24, 2024


Mondays can be a difficult day. The slide from the weekend routine to the “daily grind” can be jarring. So just for fun, this Monday, here are three unusual pictures I took at various times. Look at them and invent your own headlines, captions, or two to three sentence descriptions of what caused the photographs to occur. Share them in the comments below. Be as wild or as prosaic as you please. Hopefully, it will get your creative juices flowing!  




My (admittedly lame) attempts:

Picture 1:     Brontosaurus Leads Great Dinosaur Migration Eastward

Picture 2:     Break in Toddler Spy Ring Case:  Suspected Dead Drop Located at Local Cracker Barrel

Picture 3:     New Species of Bird Discovered at Smoky Mountain National Park; Nests Look Like Shoes

I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Taking the Stage by Annette Dashofy

As writers, we spend most of our time in solitude, our characters’ words bouncing inside our heads and (if we’re lucky) pouring from our fingers onto the page. Occasionally, we may gather for writing group meetings in person or on Zoom. And we have social media and blogs to get an idea of what each other is writing. Rarely do we stand in front of an audience to read our stories out loud (unless we’re lucky enough to have a book released and are invited to speak at a bookstore or library). 

Even more rare are the opportunities to join with a group of fellow authors and not only read to them but also get to listen to them read to us. 

Last weekend, my Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime held what has become an annual event. It started as a reading salon several years ago. Then the pandemic hit and…well…you know. 

A year ago, we decided to revive the salon. Other cities held similar events and called them Noir at the Bar held, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, at a bar. Let’s try that, I thought. Susan Thibadeau, an award-winning short story author and a good friend, took up the challenge. The problem came when we couldn’t find a local bar that was suitable. They either weren’t interested (fools) or charged too much (have they not heard the term “struggling artist?”) or the setting was too noisy. We ended up in the meeting room of a large library and called it Noir NOT at the Bar. It was fun, but not quite what we envisioned. 

This year, we tried again. Martha Reed had returned to the Burgh and graciously agreed to work with Susan on the project as well as be our emcee. They chose the Word Cellar at City of Asylum’s Alphabet City as our venue. Although a previous salon had been held there, I wasn’t able to attend that one, so it was a new and wonderful location to me. With a small dining area on the main floor (we were in the basement, hence Word Cellar) that served adult beverages, we dubbed our program Noir Under the Bar. 

Award-winning Pittsburgh author
Kathleen George shares from new book

We had fourteen authors ranging from multi-published to pre-published give eight-to-ten-minute readings from their works. There was poetry, short stories, samples from works-in-progress, and scenes from already published novels. There were spy thrillers, suspense, police procedurals, detectives, historicals, young adult, and cozies. And a few that defy pigeon-holes. 

As one of those who took the stage, I can attest just how scary it can be to put yourself and your story on display like that. Ordinarily, we put our words out into the world for readers to sit quietly and absorb. But here, we had to speak! We had to choke back our nerves and give voice to our characters and stories.

Emcee Martha Reed gives a fun
reading from Up Jumped the Devil

As a member of the audience as well, I have to tell you, there is some serious talent in Pittsburgh.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s reading salon (no matter what we call it). And I have to recommend that you attend a Noir at the Bar if one comes to your town. 

Have you ever participated in or attended a group reading? If you have, share a little about your experience.







Saturday, June 22, 2024

Writing Aids and Other Mythical Objects by Kait Carson

 First, an announcement. The second draft edits for No Return are complete. It is entirely possible that this book may see the light of day in 2024. I know. You’re right to be skeptical. But an author can hope. I wanted to share that bit of information with you since you’ve been through the strum und drang of the past year or more of writing woes with me. We now return to our regularly scheduled blog.

Over the past year, I’ve realized that writing is like exercising. If you don’t continually use and challenge the muscles, they get flabby and weak. I’ve had sentences like that. And I may have just written one. Never mind. Bear with me. That’s part of the reason why this book has taken so long to write. I was out of practice. The second reason is simpler. I was afraid I had forgotten how to write. To accommodate that fear, I spent a lot of time casting around looking for systems and aids. Foolish? Maybe. And if you think most of them are bogus, I wouldn’t contradict you. There are some, however, that worked for me, and one debuted this morning. I’m looking forward to making use of it.

I won’t discuss the mythical objects. That wouldn’t be fair, as what works for one is not necessarily effective for others. There were, however, two programs that I fell in love with:

Fictionary. Yes, it uses AI. I refuse to use any AI program to generate words, but to help point out structural flaws. I’m all over it. Let me confess, I am a visual learner. Give me pictures, charts, or my very favorite thing, lists, and I’m happy. Fictionary has these and more. When I began writing, I learned the value of a spreadsheet for keeping track of details. The program offers that in a sidebar next to each chapter. It also asks plot and flow questions and generates charts with the information you provide. Wonderful stuff for a pantser like myself who writes out of sequence.

The newest arrow in the Fictionary quiver is the tension and conflict report. This is an AI analysis of the scene that studies the scene goal, the consequences of failure, and whether the tension and conflict support the goal. When it came to editing, it was a game changer. There were times I disagreed with the results, and times it was flat out wrong, but there were also times it brought a weakness in the scene to my attention. There’s an adage in writing. Kill your darlings. The weaknesses I found were often my darlings. Tears were shed, but the story improved.

ProWritingAid. ProWritingAid has long been in my personal arsenal. It’s an AI based program that suggests editorial improvements. I especially appreciate its comma suggestion capability because high school comma classes apparently put me in an unresponsive coma and I now have a terminal mental block about correct usage. Today ProWritingAid unveiled a new feature. The program integrates with other programs, including Scrivener. In the past, my habit has been to write a scene and run it through ProWritingAid. It worked well, but it was time consuming. With the new integration, ProWritingAid suggestions are available in Scrivener. I have full control over when or if I see them. It’s a fabulous timesaver. Write once, edit, move on.

Neither of these programs will write your story for you. Nor will they take away the creative edge. Fictionary was developed by a writer who codified the system that she used and that other writers had found valuable. They also offer excellent customer service, so you are never writing alone. Between Fictionary and ProWritingAid, I’ve found a system that works for me.

Kait Carson writes the Hayden Kent Mysteries set in the Fabulous Florida Keys and is at work on a new mystery set in her adopted state of Maine. She is a former President of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime and currently serves as a Member at Large. Visit her website at While you’re there, sign up for her newsletter. 

Friday, June 21, 2024

Bibliophilic Friday: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Review by Nancy L. Eady)

 A Study in Scarlet was published on December 1, 1887, and was the first appearance on the literary scene of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. James Watson.  Originally, the book was off to a slow start, but it experienced increasing popularity once the Sherlock Holmes/James Watson short stories in the Strand magazine became wildly popular in 1891 and 1892 on both sides of the Atlantic.  

The book, narrated by Dr. Watson, has two halves.  In the first half of the book, the reader learns how Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes became acquainted and then became co-residents at 221 B Baker Street.  +While they are getting to know each other, Dr. Watson learns that Sherlock Holmes is a genius at deductions and is the world’s first consulting detective.  As part of this initiation into Holmes’ life, he travels with Holmes to the scene of the murder.  Two Scotland Yard inspectors, Gregson and LeStrade, are working on the case.  The reader then follows Holmes’ through his investigation of the murder, which leads to the capture of the killer at the end of the first half of the book.  The second half of the book begins decades earlier in Utah and tells the story of John and Lucy Ferrier.  It is not until midway through the second half of the book that the reader realizes that the story being told is the story of the murderer and of his motivation for the murder.  It is only after the murderer is taken to jail that Holmes explains to Watson how he deduced the murderer’s identity.  Watson also decides, upon learning that the two Scotland Yard Inspectors have taken full credit for the arrest, to begin chronicling Holmes adventures so they can be published, and Holmes receive the full credit he deserves. 

The Sherlock Holmes stories, both novels and short stories, are great favorites of mine, and I enjoyed this first novel as much as I have enjoyed the others.  The only jarring moment in the novel is the opening of the second half, where I was left wondering the first time I read the book how on earth we got from London to Utah and what had happened to Watson and Holmes.  It was not, however, jarring enough to stop my reading.  

I would caution you that if you are sensitive to how Mormonism is portrayed as a religion, parts of this book will offend you.  Other than that, though, if you haven’t yet tried the Sherlock Holmes stories, give this book a try (or any of the others, for that matter.)  

Interesting fact:  This book was banned from the 6th grade required reading list by the Albemarle County School Board in Virginia in August 2011 because parents and students complained that the book was derogatory towards Mormons.  Albemarle County instead moved the book to the tenth grade reading list.  It also left the book in its school media centers for all grades.    

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Writing More than One Series At a Time by Marilyn Levinson

For years I marveled at how so many authors I know managed to write more than one series at a time. I have friends who write three cozy series. How? I wondered. Don't you get your plots mixed up? Call your characters by the wrong name? A few told me they finished one book, then wrote another. But some, because of their contracts, ended up writing at least two books simultaneously. How did they do it?

Eventually, I found out when I was in a similar situation. My agent, now deceased, got me a four-book deal for a middle-grade series. The first book had been published; the second book was written and about to be released when the publisher went kaput. I'd even written two-thirds of the third book, Rufus and the Dark Side of Magic, so I hadn't much farther to go.

Meanwhile, I'd been writing an 80,000 plus word cozy mystery every year. This year I was writing the first book in a brand-new series that required a good deal of planning. I had to finish Rufus and the Dark Side of Magic. Now I had two books due within a few months of each other. I felt a surge of panic. What to do? What to do?

First off, I went over my Rufus book, made sure it was in good shape, and plotted out the final third which includes a lot of conflict. Then I concentrated on Death on Dickens Island, my first Dickens Island mystery, and its complications. I told myself I'd try to write a little more than I had been each day. But as the due date for my Rufus book was fast approaching, I now had to write pages for both books. I wasn't sure if I could manage this.

I reminded myself that I read and listened to several books at the same time. I'd been doing this for years and never got the stories mixed up. Hopefully, this ability would work when I wrote my books as well. I discovered that going over the pages I'd written the day before helped get me into my work In progress. When I was writing my cozy, I was in the head of a thirty-eight year old divorcée who often didn't know how to deal with her teenaged son because she'd left him in the care of her parents for twelve years. Next, I was writing about ten-year-old Rufus who'd been lured to the dark side of magic by his evil uncle. Because the books are so different, I had no trouble going from one manuscript to the other.

I am managing to write two series simultaneously, though there are days I only write pages for one of my WIPs. The truth is I prefer writing one book at a time because other writerly "homework" always crops up in the form of edits for a previously-written book, blogs, newsletters, and answering interview questions. 

If you are a writer, are you comfortable writing more than one book at a time?