Wednesday, October 28, 2015


by Bethany Maines

I was thinking this morning about how much writing is like karate.  Actually, to be perfectly honest, everything is like karate. You’re laughing right now.  I can hear it all the way through the internet. (Although, that might be the photo.)

While teaching karate I occasionally make such lofty statements, and my students laugh too. They refer to those as their “sensei-ism of the day.” The philosophy of karate is to bring the body and the mind into harmony and to learn to be aware of not only what the body is doing, but what it is not doing.  The problem with that kind of talk is that it sounds like a lot of wishy-washy, new age gibberish to a lot of people. But if we think about it in an applied way, we can see that it makes sense. Simply putting your body through a work out (though beneficial) is not as effective as practicing with intention, awareness, and a plan for future.

Writing is the same way. Some writing, any writing is better than no writing in the same way that taking the stairs is better than absolutely no exercise for the rest of the day. But it isn’t an actual work out. If you simply type some crap up without any thought about plot development, theme, or structure you end up with a mish-mash of nonsense that only your relatives will want to read.

When you practice writing with the goal of keeping to one point of view or developing theme through word choice you become aware of those techniques in other writers and in your own writing. These exercises aren’t rules being forced down my throat; that is me choosing to pursue a goal as an exercise. And this philosophy can expand to any other pursuit.

So, dear readers, your sensei-ism of the day is: whatever your passion, practice it with intention and perseverance.  And life is like karate. Now go have an crane stance-ing, waxing on, awesome type of day.

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


     by Sally Berneathy

The dictionary defines "inanimate" as "(1) not having the qualities associated with active, living organisms; (2) not animated or energetic; dull; (3) belonging to the class of nouns that stand for nonliving things."

We humans…living, animate beings…have a tendency to refer to nonliving things such as a chair or table as "inanimate objects,” inert and harmless. We label them thusly and then go on our way, feeling superior, smug and safe.

Fellow humans, be warned! They have deliberately lulled us into this false sense of security! We need to be aware that so-called inanimate objects can be and often are dangerous! Before it's too late, we must pass laws to protect ourselves!

Let me give you some examples of the behavior of out-of-control, evil inanimate objects. If humans had committed these atrocities, they would have been arrested, convicted and punished. But we have no legal recourse against renegade inanimate objects.

A few years ago in the middle of a Kansas City ice storm, I stepped out onto the back porch of the house where I'd lived for ten years. In all those years, the back steps had done nothing but lie there quietly, never making the slightest threatening movement until they saw their opportunity. The instant I set foot on that top step, it slid right out from under me, whacked me on the backside and shoved me down to the next step which repeated the process! Whack, shove, whack, shove, whack, shove—all the way to the ground.

I will spare you the graphic details of my bruises. Suffice to say, they were extensive and excruciating. Had another person inflicted those injuries on me, he'd have been charged with assault and battery and sent to jail. Those steps should have been sentenced to at least 5 years in maximum security with termites for guards.

Needless to say, I never trusted those steps again, but my bicycle was a different story. We have always been great friends—going for rides, soaking up the sunshine, smelling the honeysuckle. One morning my bicycle and I were out for a ride, going really fast around a cul-de-sac, leaning over, pretending to be a motorcycle…it loves that…when suddenly, without any warning, my bicycle fell on its side, and the pavement sprang up and viciously attacked my face.

It smashed my forehead, bloodied my nose, crushed my lips and chin, and my head hurt for days.

So far as I could tell, that pavement sustained NO injuries and, of course, received no punishment. It should have been sentenced to life in one of those prisons where the inmates still crush rocks. Wouldn't have been a very long life.

The bicycle claims it was a victim too. Said the sand tripped it. It did sustain some scratches, and it has exhibited no violent tendencies since that time. So, for the bicycle, a suspended sentence and another chance. 

My face had barely recovered from this incident when I needed to get my Christmas decorations out of the attic. The only way to get into that attic was to drag a ladder across the garage floor, center it over the small opening and climb up. Ladders are notoriously untrustworthy, so I was cautious climbing up the ladder, but I totally trusted that attic. I let it keep my stuff. That’s the ultimate in trust.

I had a box of Christmas decorations in my arms, one foot still in the attic and the other on the top rung of the ladder when the two of them separated from each other, plunging me straight down to the floor below.

As I tumbled downward, my only thought was, "Oh, lordy, I hope I don't land on my face this time."

The garage floor took pity on me and only smacked against the more padded areas of my body.

The death sentence for both the attic and the ladder. Conspiracy to commit murder. The floor…a few months in rehab and enforced separation from criminal influences.

After being so cruelly betrayed, I sold the condo that harbored that attic and moved into a house several miles away. It's a nice house. Hardwood floors, sunroom, and a lovely storm door of heavy etched glass. I liked that door from the first time I entered that house. Apparently the feeling was not mutual.

I had some furniture delivered and propped the storm door open for the delivery guys. When they were finished, I went out on the porch, undid the latch and started back inside. That's when this lovely door—which had never done anything except sit in the doorway, preening itself in the sunshine—suddenly showed its true violent nature. Instead of gliding gently closed, it rushed forward, grabbed my ankle and tore a chunk out of my heel.

Copious bleeding, excruciating pain and eight stitches in the emergency room.

I would have liked to do to that door what it did to me…smash it! Tear a chunk out of it! But it's an expensive door. And—did I mention?—quite lovely.

Oh, dear. Does this mean…I'm harboring a criminal?

Perhaps this would not, after all, be a good time to press for legislation against the crimes of inanimate objects. Let me redraft my proposal and get back to you.



Friday, October 23, 2015

Water and Writing by Debra H. Goldstein

Water and Writing by Debra H. Goldstein

Why do I write better when I can sit and stare at a beach or lake? What is it about the twinkle of the sun reflecting off water that immediately slows my breathing and empties my mind of worrisome demanding thoughts? Why does a storm’s swirling whitecaps or a boat’s wake sometimes disturb me while at other times energize me?

I don’t know.

I’m writing this from a patio staring at the bay during the last moments of a trip to San Diego. My handwriting is all over the page because other than occasionally glancing down to see where my pen is striking, my eyes are glued to the view. I note a few umbrellas stuck in the sand, tied paddleboats and kayaks bobbing from a pier waiting to be rented, and an occasional cyclist or walker dotting the beach, but mostly I look to where the water and horizon blend.

There are ripples reflecting constant motion, but unlike the ocean side, there are no waves. Light
shimmers across the surface except in dark pockets near the shoreline. Rocks below the surface? Packed sand?

The water is like my writing style. Parts are dazzling, bright, sparkling and wonderful while others
deep and dark. When I look at these competing parts of the water, I marvel at its completeness. And, like the water, I realize the highs and lows of writing are what make me whole.

Not all of writing is perfect. Far from it. The techniques and word choices are often lacking, but the combination of them creates something new every moment.

Being near water energizes and nourishes me - as does my writing. I can’t live without either. Can you?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Bouchercon 2015 Redux

By Kay Kendall

I know, I know. You may be asking yourself right now..."What in heck is a Bouchercon?" When I was new to the mystery-writing scene, I asked myself that too. Now I know it's the world's largest mystery fan-and-writers conference, held yearly in different cities, and offering one fattening feast for the mystery-lover's soul!

Actually the full name of this beloved conference is quite a mouthful: Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention. No wonder it is AKA Bouchercon! This yearly event honors Anthony Boucher (pseudonym of William Anthony Parker White, 1911-1968). He was a writer, editor, and critic of science fiction and mystery who became known as the cornerstone of modern mystery analysis. He championed crime-writing greats long before the mainstream literary establishment recognized their talents and remained an indefatigable fan and insightful reviewer of all kinds of crime fiction.  From the 1940s until the end of his life, he reviewed mysteries and science fiction for The New York Times and other US papers. He helped found Mystery Writers of America in 1946 and served as its president in 1951. The Anthony Awards are also named for him and are given out each year at, naturally, the Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention.

Panel discussions held on a wide variety of topics form the backbone of the conference and are designed to encourage interaction among readers and writers. Typically four or more panels are concurrent, and my heart broke when some of my faves were up against each other at the most recent Bouchercon, held in Raleigh NC October 8-11.

In the last five years I've attended four Bouchercons--the first two as an aspiring author and the last two as a published author. At both of these last two cons, I've participated on a panel.

This year I moderated a panel on historical mysteries, called The Past Is Never Dead. Author-panelists Joyce Elson Moore, Rosemary Poole-Carter, Deanna Raybourn, and Holly West spoke passionately about the historic periods and characters they write about, and the audience responded enthusiastically. The large room was packed, and no one left. And that fact alone is amazing. Afterwards members of the audience came to tell us how much they enjoyed our talk, and we five left on a high, eager to have a repeat performance at next year's Bouchercon.

GAYLE LYNDS, queen of spy fiction
Speaking of which--the overall buzz is already high about Bouchercon 2016, to be held in New Orleans September 15-18. The conference hotel is almost filled up, a whole year out, which is almost unheard of.

No doubt next year's location will be terrific, but the event itself will have a hard time matching this year's programming. Many famous authors were there, but if forced to pick a favorite panel I'd choose the one about espionage fiction, before and after the Edward Snowden top security breaches. Everyone on this panel had some experience in the spy field, from a former CIA analyst to a US marshall retired. Authors were Gayle Lynds (called the queen of spy fiction), Terry Shames, Marc Cameron, Susan Elia MacNeal, and moderator Mark Greaney. The book I'm writing now has a spy theme so you know I was really enthralled. And if you've never attended a Bouchercon before, I encourage you to consider going one of these years. You are guaranteed to be equally enthralled.
Kay Kendall’s historical mysteries capture the spirit and turbulence of the 1960s. Kay’s degrees in Russian history and language help ground her tales in the Cold War, and her titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. DESOLATION ROW (2013) and RAINY DAY WOMEN (2015) are in her Austin Starr Mystery series. Austin is a 22-year-old Texas bride who ends up on the frontlines of societal change, learns to cope, and turns amateur sleuth. Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. In her former life as a PR executive, Kay’s projects won international awards.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Haunted Places in Real Life and in My Books

Over the years I've had a fascination with haunted places and have stayed in a few.

The Queen Mary is supposed to be haunted--and has a tour with some special effects added. However, I once was there for a conference and many of the photographs taken during the awards ceremony showed that we'd been visited by tiny orbs of light. When I went down to my room after the ceremony and got off the elevator, nothing looked as it had before and I couldn't find my room. I had to go to the center of the ship and come back--and then all was returned to normal. Something to do with the haunting? I have no idea, but it was definitely weird.

The historical  Menger Hotel in San Antonio is another place that's haunted. No, I didn't see any ghosts, but I may have heard one. While trying to sleep, someone kept knocking loudly on the door or another room, I finally poked my head out and though the knocking continued, no one could be seen.

The Bella Maggiore Inn in Ventura CA is another haunted spot--Room 17 in particular. Yes, we asked to stay there and were warned it was haunted. This old bed and breakfast was once a boarding house which you can tell. A previous time we stayed there, the room we had once had a Murphy Bed which is now the closet and the bathroom had obviously once been a kitchen.

The haunted room was much smaller--and our ghost didn't show up. However, my daughter said that was because I was there--the ghost is supposed to be a prostitute and I guess hubby would have had to be alone to be visited. However, the whole place has the ambience of being haunted.

Then there's the Santa Maria Inn. It has two parts, a modernized hotel on one side, then the old hotel where the movie stars once stayed. We've stayed there several times. In the old part, the rooms are small compared to what we're used to today, but each one is different. No, didn't see any ghosts, but it certainly seems like there might be one or two lurking just beyond the next corner of the long corridors.

No wonder I like to write about ghosts and haunted houses--and I've written quite a few.

My Deputy Tempe Crabtree series always has many ghosts and spirits. The only one about a haunted house is Spirit Shapes.

I even included a haunted house in my latest Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery, Violent Departures.

What about you? Have you ever visited a haunted place or encountered a ghost?

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

Monday, October 19, 2015

WRITING MULTIPLE SERIES: Featuring Edith Maxwell

With this post, I'm beginning to interview authors who write multiple mystery series. My first guest is Edith Maxwell, also known as Tace Baker and Maddie Day, who writes the Lauren Rousseau, Local Foods, and Country Story Mysteries. Her newest series, featuring an 1880s Quaker midwife debuts in April. Welcome, Edith!

Paula, thanks so much for having me on the blog, and for asking such intriguing questions! I’m delighted to be here again.

How did you initially decide to write fiction?
I wrote stories as a child and then pretty much gave up creative writing for a few decades. It was my now ex-husband who said, when our younger son had gone off to kindergarten and I had every morning to myself for the first time in five years, “You like to read mysteries so much. Why don’t you write one?” Bingo. I had a small organic farm but didn’t grow anything in the winter, so I set to work writing a mystery set on an organic farm.

You have published short stories. How did those help and continue to influence your career?
After I spent about nine months writing about two-thirds of a mystery novel (which ended up being my first Local Foods mystery nineteen years later), I reentered the paid work force. I had a full-time job as a technical writer, with a commute, and two little boys to raise. I couldn’t really carry a plot and all the characters of a novel around in my head and write about them during the few snatches of time I had to myself. Instead I started writing short stories and kept honing my craft with those until my life opened up enough to write novels again fifteen years later. Several of my short stories were published in juried anthologies, and that gave my resume a boost when I proposed a cozy series to my agent. “Just Desserts for Johnny,” which was inspired by a bad encounter with a fraudulent press, was published in Kings River Life Magazine and then was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Short Story this year!

Who publishes each of your series and how did you begin writing each series?
When I was laid off my tech writing job, I started writing my first Lauren Rousseau mystery, Speaking of Murder. Barking Rain Press published it almost four years later, and then published Bluffing is Murder, too.

The Local Foods Mysteries came about when John Talbot contacted our New England Sisters in Crime chapter and said he wanted to work with authors to develop cozy mystery proposals. I queried him about a series set on an organic farm (see above). We worked on the proposal together and he sold it to Kensington within a week in a three-book deal. After I wrote Book Three (Farmed and Dangerous), I proposed the Country Store Mysteries to my Kensington editor. He not only bought it, also in a three-book deal, but renewed the Local Foods series for two more books.

I live in an historic New England town and am a Quaker, and I felt a real calling to write a series with a Quaker midwife set in the late 1880s. Somewhere in between other books, I wrote the first in the series, Delivering the Truth, plus a three-book proposal, and we sold that to Terri Bischoff at Midnight Ink.

How many books do you write in a year and what is your publication schedule?
I am letting the small-press Lauren Rousseau Mysteries go dormant, so I now write three books a year. Two are on a yearly schedule, due January 1 and May 1, but the Country Store series are on a seven-month schedule. If you think you just heard a little scream of panic, you are correct, because the due dates sometimes get kind of nuts. For example, in 2016 I have books due in January, March, and May. To cope with this I write ahead and work as hard as I can. The January book, Breaking the Chain, is all done and I’m halfway through the March book, When the Grits Hit the Fan. And I try to remember to breathe! I did leave my day job two and a half years ago, which is the only way I could pull this off.

Do you write under more than one name? If so, was that by your choice or a publisher’s request?
The first Lauren Rousseau mystery was almost accepted by Barking Rain Press when I was reading my first Kensington contract. It stipulated essentially that I couldn’t publish any other mysteries as Edith Maxwell, so I convinced them to let me use a pen name, Tace Baker.

When they offered me the Country Store Mysteries contract, Kensington said they wanted me to use a pseudonym. Not my choice, but I wasn’t about to turn down the contract only for that, so Maddie Day was born. Luckily, the Quaker Midwife Mysteries are coming out written by Edith Maxwell.

What “relationship” do you have as an author with each of your series’ protagonists?
Each of my protagonists have traits, practices, or skills that come from a piece of me or my past. I love resurrecting some of the things I used to do and now either don’t or can’t. Lauren is a contemporary Quaker, a linguistics professor, and a runner, the latter two both things I did in the past. Cam Flaherty is an organic farmer, and now I get to be back in that world without doing all the hard work of digging, planting, and harvesting. Robbie Jordan lives in southern Indiana where I lived while earning a PhD in linguistics, and she’s originally a Californian, like me. And Rose Carroll, my 1888 midwife, lets me back into the world of pregnancy and childbirth, which I used to teach to expectant parents in my living room. She and John Greenleaf Whittier worship in the same lovely simple Meetinghouse where I walk to worship on Sunday mornings, and Rose lives in my house, built 1880. I am fond of each of these gals and I get excited when I can jump back into their lives and start a new story.

Setting has an important role in each series you write. What is your approach to developing a setting that fuels the story and draws in readers?
You’re right about the importance of setting. Whether the 1888 mill town and Carriage Capital of the World, the academic campus and coastal town of Lauren Rousseau’s world, the organic farm and small rural Massachusetts town it’s in, or the scenic hills of Brown County with the local dialect more Kentucky than Indiana – they each inform the stories and govern how my protagonist acts. These are all places I either live in or have lived in, although the town of South Lick, Indiana is entirely fictional. Each of my series would be very different if it were set elsewhere.

Is it a challenge to keep coming up with original and inventive plots? How do you do it?
So far plots have just sort of come to me, and I sure hope that keeps happening. I often envision the victim and the murder weapon first, and then think about how I can make that work. Sometimes I don’t know which of the several suspects is the villain until well into first draft. I will say that attending talks by the Poison Lady, Luci Zahray, has been instrumental in giving me ideas for murder weapons. <grin>

Since at the Stiletto gang we like to delve into shoes and accessories, what are your protagonists’ favorite foot or carrying apparel?
Cam wears work boots on the farm, of course, but when she cleans up she likes to put on her turquoise cowboy boots. She carries a messenger bag decorated with hand-stenciled crows. Robbie wears sneakers when she cooks breakfast and lunch in her restaurant, and pairs fun ankle boots with a swirly skirt when she goes to a party or knee-high leather boots in winter. And Rose wears simple lace-up shoes (what we would call boots today) and nearly always has her birthing satchel with her when she goes out (which you can see on the gorgeous cover of Delivering the Truth – out in April!).

Thanks again for having me. I’d be delighted to give away a copy of Flipped for Murder to one commenter here.

Artist depiction of Edith writing with a scene from one of her novels in the background
Amazon-bestselling and Agatha-nominated author Edith Maxwell writes four mystery series, as well as award-winning short stories.

Maxwell’s Country Store Mysteries, written as Maddie Day (Kensington Publishing), debuts with Flipped for Murder in October, 2015. Farmed and Dangerous is the latest in Maxwell’s Local Foods Mysteries series (Kensington Publishing, 2015). The latest book in the Lauren Rousseau mysteries, under the pseudonym Tace Baker (Barking Rain Press, 2014), is Bluffing is Murder. The first in Maxwell’s historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries series, Delivering the Truth, will debut in April, 2016 (Midnight Ink).

Maxwell lives in an antique house north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs every weekday with the other Wicked Cozy Authors (, and you can find her at, @edithmaxwell, on Pinterest, and at

Friday, October 16, 2015

Let’s Hear It for the Bad Boys

by Linda Rodriguez

In the second Skeet Bannion novel, Every Broken Trust, I’ve complicated Skeet’s life and relationships with a dark and dangerous man of mystery who walks into the story and makes Skeet feel things that scare her, as well as bringing out the jealous side of nice Joe Louzon, Skeet’s friend and possible love interest. This was not what I’d planned to have happen in that book, and he went on to play a major role in the third Skeet novel, Every Hidden Fear, as well. I don’t know where this bad boy came from to complicate Skeet’s and my lives, except of course he had to come from my own head.

I must confess I’ve always had a fascination with the bad boy. You know, like Marc Antony, Heathcliff, Sydney Carton in Tale of Two Cities, Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, James Dean in Rebel without a Cause, and Buffy’s Spike. I know it’s not healthy, but judging by the sheer number of bad boys in fairy tales, literature, movies, and television, it must be pretty common.

I have been fortunate enough to have been married to two of the nicest men in the world, my late first husband and my current husband, but before and between them, I had lamentable taste in men. I blame it on all the reading I did as a child. The bad boys were always the most interesting guys. I mean, in A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens’s Sydney Carton was a drunken wastrel of a lawyer prostituting his great intellect to the ambitions of lesser men with more willpower, sure. But what a passion he had for pretty Lucy Manette! He sacrificed his own life to save the man she loved, just so she would be happy. Wow! And in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff—well, we all know how he made the pages steam with his great love for Cathy.

One sizzling scene in Buffy of a lovesick Spike watching outside Buffy’s window at night inspired me to write a poem, Outside Your House at Midnight, Coyote” (“Closing his eyes, Coyote can see within/ your walls as you undress and slide under/ covers”).  This was followed by a whole sequence of poems about the bad boy archetype as Coyote, the Native American trickster figure, such as “Coyote in Black Leather,” Three O’Clock in the Morning Alone, Coyote,” “Coyote Invades Your Dreams,” “Coyote at Your Wedding,” and others, ending finally with “Coyote in High School,” where I asked, “I wonder/ if anyone ever warns the hard-shelled boys in leather/ against the honor-roll girls?”  (These are my most popular poems with women. I even have a whole group of female fans in the UK just for the Coyote poems.)

Of course, I am the woman who wrote an entire book of passionate love poems with the title Skin Hunger (“forgive me for touching so much/ while we talk/ I can’t help myself”). So the Coyote poems and the new bad boy in my mystery novels should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all me.

After the wild and disastrous period in my life still referred to by family and friends as the time of “the mad monk” (don’t ask!), I began to date a man who was a number of years younger than me. One woman friend confronted me to tell me over and over again that I was being stupid, that this younger man was only going to get tired of me and throw me over, that it was just sex that was blinding me. I tried to explain that I loved the kindness and brilliance of this man, but she kept holding forth. Finally, fed up, I said sweetly, “You’re absolutely right, of course. I know he’s no good and is going to break my heart, but I just can’t help myself—the sex is just so good!” Her mouth flew open in silence, and she stormed out, never to be seen by me again. That younger bad boy and I have been together now for twenty-seven years.

So let’s hear it for the bad boys! Have you a penchant for the guys who exude trouble, the dark and dangerous types? Have you had any of those passionate, crazy, and sometimes destructive loves? Or do you like to keep those guys between the pages of a book, as I prefer nowadays?