Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Storylines from the Past Offer Lifelines Too

by Kay Kendall

“I tried so hard to sleep last night, but kept getting up to read more of Kay Kendall's DESOLATION ROW. It resonates powerfully in these troubled times . . . .”

So begins the newest reader comment on Amazon about one of my mysteries. Of course any laudatory review is a pleasure for an author to read about one of her book babies. However, while I was thrilled to see five stars, I was surprised to see an emotion expressed about reading my fiction that I never expected.

The reviewer concluded a personal email to me by saying, “I realized that the ideas/ideals are as compelling as the plot in your books, just what we need right now.”
I write historical murder mysteries, and my chosen time period is the turbulent era of the 1960s. Back in 2012 when I finished writing DESOLATION ROW and then when it debuted in 2013, I had hoped that setting my first book in a fraught time of extreme unrest would be interesting. I thought it would help readers of the baby boom generation remember their salad days and younger readers might read and learn what it was like. The plot is fiction. The background is not. DESOLATION ROW looks at the consequences of the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement, and personal outcomes from military service. In RAINY DAY WOMEN published in 2015, I explore the hopes for female improvement held by early members of the women’s liberation movement.
One reason I write about that time period is to describe its importance to those who know nothing about it. Reading fiction is an easy way to learn about history.
After both my mysteries were in print, I spoke to classes at a community college in Alabama. Only two in one hundred students knew about Bob Dylan—my book titles come from his songs. Moreover, none of them knew why the United States was drawn into fighting a war in Vietnam. And none of them had ever heard of the “domino theory.”
Another reason I write about the 1960s is to commemorate and revivify a part of American history that has had far reaching effects. Societal upheaval was so intense in the 1960s that the aftershocks still are felt today. Until very recently, that past seemed dead and buried.
Yet only two years since I spoke to those Alabama students and right now, right now the 1960s have gained new relevance. The era is evoked often on television news stations. Old battles are being fought again in the streets of America. And readers are telling me that my books bring them hope.

After all, they say, If we Americans got through such troubled domestic times once, we can do so again. But hang on, dear readers, we may be in for a long and bumpy ride.

Read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery, RANY DAY WOMEN here! 
That book won two awards at the Killer Nashville conference in August 2016—for best mystery/crime and also for best book.  Visit Kay at

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Running on Empty

by J.M. Phillippe

I have been trying to write this blog for several hours now. I wanted to write something about Charlottesville, VA, and about white nationalism (how it came to be, and why we can't just abide it). I wanted to write about meeting anger with compassion, and the struggle to do that.

I also really want to write about Game of Thrones, because the last two episodes have been amazing, and it's one of my favorite shows (in part because I also write fantasy). And it would be easier to write about that than pretty much anything else I could come up with.

And I also want to write about my struggle at work with clients who have little to no tolerance for the fallibility of others (including their therapist) and how hard that is to hold, again, with compassion.

But I just feel so bleh about it all. I am trying to hold on to the idea that what I write matters, both in this blog and in my fiction. I have been struggling to hold on to the idea that art matters, that novels matter, when I feel like I should be out marching instead of writing, or calling more senators and house representatives.

I am struggling to have enough energy to balance out all the things I want in my personal life with the national tragedy that is all around us. I am really struggling with dealing with the fact that so many people (again, including clients) don't believe there is a national tragedy or fear the rise of white nationalism (and literal Nazis!) in our country.

I know that art matters. I know that it doesn't have to be high and mighty, capital A Art to matter either. I know that distraction is not a bad thing when there is so much bad news happening all the time. And I know that for myself, I do best when I engage actively in creativity on a consistent basis.

And I also know that I am not the only one struggling right now, so I'm just going to put this here:

I'm going to go practice some art -- even if I do it badly -- so that I can refill my compassion well. It's been on empty for a while.


J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Road Trip!

A bit more than a long weekend, a bit less than a full-fledged vacation. We recently took off for Bentonville, Arkansas—an easy drive from Kansas City.

My plan, carefully thought out, was to leave at two and miss the afternoon traffic. With two teenage daughters, that plan was a pipe dream.

We left at four and everyone but me in the car seemed bemused by the number of cars on the road.

Really? Had they never heard of lake traffic? It was a Friday.

I sat in the passenger seat and pressed an imaginary gas pedal. Our tickets were for 8:30. Yes, tickets. We had tickets to the Chihuly exhibit at Crystal Bridges.

Thanks to the traffic, a three-hour drive was much longer and there were rumblings from the back seat about dinner. Loud rumblings. Rumblings I ignored. We did, after all, have tickets.

We checked into the hotel and hurried down the outdoor trail to the museum where we presented our tickets and viewed the Chihulys held in the museum. Then it was outside to see the Chihulys in the forest. Needless to say the exhibits were breath-taking. They would have been even more fabulous if my youngest hadn’t taken to calling Chihuly Chilupah.

Apparently the child had Mexican food on her mind. That or the glass in the boat reminder her of hot peppers.

We followed the dark path away from the Chihulys. The very dark path. So dark we got lost.

The forest had thrown off our sense of direction and we emerged far from where we wanted to be.

I ignored the peanut gallery—“We’re hungry,”—and waved down a shuttle.

I stuck my head inside the little bus. “Excuse me, we’re lost.” I got no further.


What were the chances of running into someone I knew?

We climbed onto the never-so-grateful-to-climb-on-a-bus bus which took us back to the museum.

“All the restaurants will be closed,” said Miss Chilupah. “What are we going to eat?”

“We’ll order room service.” Did room service deliver stiff drinks?

From the museum, we took the mile-long trail back to the hotel.

We ended up eating at the hotel restaurant. They served stiff drinks. It was marvelous.

The next morning, the Bentonville square was filled with farmers selling produce, artists and artisans selling their wares, and all sorts of people. My husband and I sat in the shade, drank coffee, and watched.

Eventually our daughters dragged themselves out of bed and joined us. They had the audacity to tell me they were hungry. We got in line at the creperie across from the hotel and the girlies happily downed fruit crepes.

Next on the itinerary was Hot Springs.

Here comes an admission. I drive on inter-states. It never crossed my mind that there were roads of less than four lanes. I was wrong. Very wrong.

The road from Bentonville to Fayetteville was easy.

The road from Fayetteville to Hot Springs winds. And twists. Then winds some more.

My husband wasn’t happy. Not at all.

The situation wasn’t helped by my explanation that one could drive anywhere at 70 miles per hour. To my way of thinking that meant 140 miles should take two hours.

Not so on this trip.

When we finally arrived, the first thing the girls said was, “We’re hungry.”

How did people travel without smart phones? Oldest daughter picked a restaurant in downtown Hot Springs and the food was delicious.

We fell into bed that night.

I woke up early and wrote (deadlines are inexorable), we went out for breakfast, then we piled into the car for yet another drive down twisty roads.

We dug for diamonds. It was…fun. I never thought I’d enjoy sitting in the dirt sifting through rocks. I did. We all did. We didn’t find any diamonds.

Back to the windy road. Back to hearing, “I’m hungry.”

That night we promenaded around Hot Springs. The Grand Promenade, then a walk past the eight bathhouses that line Central St., and finally a visit to the Arlington Hotel (“Why aren’t we staying here, Mom?”). We should have. My mistake.

And, unbelievably, Miss Chilupah said, “There’s the place I want to go for breakfast.”

None of this has anything to do with mysteries or writing or the book that’s coming out in October. Except is does. Creativity springs from seeing new things, eating new foods, and, apparently, driving twisty, turning roads.

Hope the remainder of your summer is filled with adventures!

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders. 

She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean--and she's got an active imagination. Truth is--she's an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions.

Her latest book, Cold as Ice, releases October 17th.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Looking for Fun

Looking for Fun by Debra H. Goldstein

Sometimes, I don’t feel like writing a blog.  Other times, I have ideas galore, but not enough time to address them.  The reality, according to John Lennon is “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” This has been that kind of week. In fact, it has been that kind of month.
I could complain, but what good would it do? And, why would I want to?  Life isn’t perfect (ask my air conditioner), but it certainly beats the alternative. Besides, sometimes a “bad” thing turns out to be the best thing that could have happened. Plans falling through may mean extra time to do something on my to-do list or to simply have fun.
Fun is something I like. I tend to be super serious, but when there is laughter and fun, no matter what goes wrong, the world is right. Occasionally, I forget to have fun. I become too overwhelmed with obligations.  Responsibilities become burdensome. Eventually, my to-do list is accomplished, but when things aren’t fun, every task takes longer. Little roadblocks, which usually never bother me, are irksome. When I reach that point, I need to step away, take stock, and find my sense of fun.  It may be a deep reach, but it always is there. Thank goodness.

What about you? How do you find your way back to an even keel?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Glossed Cause Released

by Bethany Maines

In book 1 of my Carrie Mae Mystery Series, Bulletproof Mascara, unemployed twenty-something Nikki Lanier was offered a position with the Carrie Mae cosmetic corporation. But soon, Nikki learned that the powder and lipstick were simply cover-up for the Carrie Mae Foundation: a secret organization of international espionage founded for the purpose of “helping women everywhere.”  Nikki's adventures continued in Compact With the Devil, and High-Caliber Concealer, and today I celebrate the release of book 4 - Glossed Cause!  

And because I love all my Stiletto Gang readers, I'm giving away three digital copies of Glossed Cause.  Simply use the entry form below.  Winners will be notified via email on 8/14.


When Nikki Lanier’s nemesis Val Robinson returned from the dead with a request to rescue Nikki’s long-absent father, Nikki dropped everything to go do it. But soon Nikki realizes that if wants to her life back, she’s going to have not only save her father, but convince her boyfriend that Carrie Mae isn’t a terrorist organization, and stop an international arms dealer. Can she do it, or is it a Glossed Cause?

Buy the E-BOOK or PRINT book now!

Enter to win a free copy!


Tuesday, August 8, 2017


By AB Plum

Once, long ago in a faraway galaxy, I vowed never, ever, under any circumstances would I text.

Keeping that oath proved easy for a long time. I secretly felt a kind of snobbish pride for refusing to follow the herd. Hey, I knew friends who bragged they texted in bed before going to sleep. Some claimed they texted in their sleep. One friend crossed the street without looking either way, stepped in a pothole, and broke her ankle while texting.

Yes, I loudly—indiscreetly—disdained dependence on “electronic pacifiers.” I swallowed judgments about addictive behaviors.

Of course anyone who’s ever sworn such pledges or scorned similar vices—er, I mean, behavior—knows what’s coming.

Just desserts. Punctured pride. Public confession.

Earlier this summer, I chatted face-to-face with a young tekkie about helping me create a video for my Amazon author page. We worked out several details about communicating. I thought I made clear my preference of email rather than by phone or text. I thought she agreed. She left, and I shot off an email with a summary of our agreement.

No return message the next day gave me pause. Day Two, I found four texts from her.

I could’ve called—except she’d told me she hadn’t set up her voice mail and rarely answered her phone because she and her friends texted.

Continuing to email her made little sense.

So, I put my thumbs to keyboard. Human thumbs are amazing digits—necessary for all kinds of tasks requiring dexterity. Some evolutionary biologists suggest our thumbs may have helped the brain develop. I hope not. My thumbs definitely failed to expand that part of my brain required to master those infinitesimally tiny keys on my cell phone.

Cursing and stamping my foot didn’t help. Pep talks about my fast typing skills never sparked—let alone fired—a single neural synapse. Gritted teeth hurt my jaw, but I finally took a deep breath.

After repeated tries—I refuse to specify how many tries constituted repeated—I managed to type Ck email pls. My thumbs throbbed. I pressed SEND, pumped my hand in the air, and vowed, “Never again.”

Seconds later, my tekkie assistant texted, “Cmptr unavbl. bad time to tlk. pls txt me.”

Numbers to set the time of day for another consult, I quickly discovered required far more dexterity than letters of the alphabet. But ... there's a tradeoff. Forget wasting time on spaces. Or paragraphs. Capitals, commas, and spelling? Hang-ups from formal writing. Unnecessary in casual speech—which is what texting really is.

Over the next hour, I texted a total of three short—very short—messages. But my texting efforts came to nothing. My tekkie assistant informed me she was leaving town the next day and couldn’t take on my video project after all. She closed with an emojican I interpreted as relief vs regret.

Okay, I’ve lost my texting virginity, but my texting days are behind me. Honest. Instead, I’m putting my energy into goat yoga.

*********** When she's not practicing goat yoga or commenting on texting, AB Plum writes dark, gritty psychological thrillers in the heart of Silicon Valley. Since no texting is required for publication of her MisFit Series, Book 2, The Lost Days is scheduled on August 15. 

Sign up here for your free copy along with some exclusive content.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Shakespearean Tragedy by Juliana Aragon Fatula

I loved all of my students; of course there were the disadvantaged, the shy, the challenged, the misfits, and the freaks; I loved them all. A few of them kept in touch for the last six years. I follow their graduation to college to work to whatever happens next in their lives. I wasn't prepared for the news I received on Friday. It was heart breaking to learn about one of my student's eighteen year old brother murdered in cold blood and left like trash to bleed to death at the reservoir.  

I heard one of my students was arrested and in jail for a violent homicide. I thought about that student and the conversations we'd had in my classroom. She was smart, pretty, talented, and young. Too young to realize that being in the wrong place with the wrong person can get you six to ten years in the Colorado State Pen.

Southern Colorado 2016
I feel empathy for the student who lost her brother. She also was smart, pretty, talented, young; she attends college and works part time. She took my advise to look both ways. But I feel something for the student in jail because it could have been me. It could have been any of us if we'd made the wrong choice and dated that infamous bad boy. The only crime she committed was being the girlfriend of a criminal, a murderer, and for not going to the police. Maybe she feared her boyfriend would kill her too.
1972 Freshman in high school

I wish I knew what to say to these two young women. But I do know one thing. You can change your destiny. You can change yourself; become a better person. You can hate life and turn evil because someone murdered your brother and you want revenge. Or you can stay in college and graduate and go out into the world and make something of yourself and change the world. 

I predict one of these two women will change their destiny and do something incredible with their life. I'd tell the young woman in jail that her life is not over but she damn better get her shit together and find new friends and a better life for herself. She can serve her time and still be in her thirties when she's released. She can become anything she decides to do with her life. She can volunteer at a homeless shelter, she can go to night school and become a doctor; she can travel the world and save humanity.

Denver, Colorado 1990's

I know it's possible because I turned my life around and by the time I was fifty, I had graduated from university with a degree in language arts, found work teaching middle school in my hometown, married for twenty-five years and sober for twenty-seven years. I turned my life around because I saw the inside of a jail cell and I freaked out. I vowed to never end up in trouble again. I don't jaywalk, speed, run red lights. I walk the walk and talk the talk. whatever the hell that means. I decided to make new friends.

Today my friends are writers, artists, educators, film makers, publishers, journalists. My friends used to be drug dealers, thieves, drug addicts, alcoholics, drunk drivers... I was not a thief, or drug dealer but I dated men who were. I made a huge mistake. I made it about twenty times.

I hope my students read this and understand I'm not judging them. I lost a brother in law when I was fifteen and he was nineteen. He died from a gunshot wound that paralyzed  him and eventually his organs shut down. I lost boyfriends who either committed suicide or drank themselves to death. I survived. Life is hard. But it is so worth the work. 
Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming

Black Bridge above the Arkansas River in Southern Colorado

Friday, August 4, 2017

Moving from One Life to Another

by Linda Rodriguez

I am currently in the final, panic-driven stages of downsizing before our final walk-through with the buyers of our house. I feel guilty even taking time to write this blog post because I know I don't have enough time left, and we'll be pulling all-nighters to make it. Those are a lot harder when you're in your late fifties and sixties than they were in your teens and twenties, believe me.

I have packed up boxes of books to give to my sister and my friends, and that's not too hard. It doesn't hurt so much to give them away to people I care about. It's the other boxes, packed to sell, that hurt my heart.

The same thing goes for the fabric for my art quilting. It's all beautiful, and though I cannily bought much of it on sale, it's expensive, high-quality fabric and will cost a bundle to replace. But I have reached the limit I set myself for taking to the new house, which is slightly less than half the square footage of our current home but without its copious storage (attics, basement, two-car garage, many built-in cupboards). It was agonizing to choose which to keep and which to let go. I know I should have sold it, but I feel so much better about the bags and bags of gorgeous fabric going to my friends and to an organization I'm deeply involved with.

I've already done this hard work with the glassware and china and silver--and with clothes and linens. I've been fighting the papers-and-books battle all along, and I suspect they'll go on to the end. There's just so much of both categories. I've finally finished the fabric and sewing supplies and am now in the midst of the knitting-and-weaving-yarns-and-needles stash, another heartbreaker. Fortunately, a lot of it will go to my daughter and son, and that will make letting go of half of it so much easier. I don't even want to think about the spinning fibers yet. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

I'm a quadruple Scorpio, and one of the symbols for Scorpio is the phoenix, mythical creature that rebirths itself out of destruction over and over. I've always felt that I lived many lives in this lifetime. There was the life that I call Queen of the PTA while I raised my oldest two kids and a foster son. Then there was the life of the divorce years where I went back for degrees and frantically worked multiple jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. Then there was the life of university administrator, running a women's center and teaching. Etc., etc. I feel now that I'm coming out of the life of cancer patient and getting ready to move into another with this move from my home of 42 years, so here's a poem for that process.


and leaves only the ashes of her old self
behind. She plunges into the dark
future from the glare of her funeral pyre
that brightens the sky of her past
for miles and years and leaves a legend
told to generations of children
of a vast golden one whose gleaming
body rose from the burning corpse,
blotting out the moon
with huge wings beating against
the burning air to lift the dead
ground to the living night sky
and fly through the moon
to a new place with new people
where she could be new herself—
until the destroyer strikes again.

Like a hunting eagle,
she lands, claws outstretched,
golden crest and feathers lost
in transit, her wings already disappearing.
She grows backward, smaller.
Now she can only crawl
into and out of shallow holes
in the ground of this new life.
Still, the wise avoid trampling her
for they know
she drags death behind her.

Published in Heart's Migration (Tia Chucha, 2009)

Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and
The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear December 19, 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Balancing Act Between Reader Expectations and Fresh Writing

by Sparkle Abbey

Reader expectation is a powerful thing.

Especially today when readers can jump on the Internet and express with contagious enthusiasm that what we’ve created has met their expectations. Those reviews rock! Or they can write a scathing review on Amazon when they’re upset with a book, promising to never, ever read that author’s work again. Ouch.

We believe every author thinks about what their readers want. And we love the fans who tell us they really don’t have expectations. They just want to read a good book and escape from the daily chaos of their life. Hmmm...that’s kind of an expectation.

If you’re writing genre fiction, there are a few universal expectations to keep in mind right off the bat.

In a romance, readers want a heroine and hero who are worthy of each other. Readers look for chemistry, tension and a conflict that can’t be resolved with a simple face-to-face conversation. They want an engaging plot and an emotionally satisfying ending.

We write cozy mysteries. There are also basic reader expectations for our genre. The obvious one—our readers expect a dead body. Two? Even better. Cozy readers often don’t want to see violence or anything graphic on the page, but they do want rising tension and a strong conflict. The savvy cozy reader also expects a great puzzle to solve along with the sleuth.

Those are pretty straightforward.

It’s the expectations that come after fans have read a specific author or series that plant themselves in the writer’s thoughts and can potentially derail or bog down the storyline. How do you give the loyal reader what they want and still keep the series evolving?  

Is it possible to add new and fresh ideas and still not disappoint? An author’s voice, tone, theme and characters are part of why a reader returns to a favorite author or series. It’s important those elements remain consistent, but you can still change things up. Add a twist. Perhaps a new challenge or a new character.

We write pet themed cozies—no animals are harmed; only people are dead. That’s an expectation. Could you imagine if we ever put an animal in danger? Talk about blowing up reader expectations. We’d lose most of our audience. So we choose not to go down that path. Is that us being swayed by our reader expectations? Sure, it is. But we’re not really interested in writing that type of story anyway, so it’s a win-win situation.

Our readers of the Pampered Pets series (some anyway) also want Caro and Mel, our Texas cousin amateur sleuths (who are currently not speaking to each other) to make up and work together. Will we change the course of the series to meet that expectation? Probably not. If we did, we’d lose built-in conflict and tension. You know, those basic genre standards mentioned earlier. However we can’t let Caro and Mel rehash the same scenarios over and over, or our readers will quickly tire of the conflict.

To maintain what readers want and yet keep the story new, you have to throw in some surprises. Still it’s important to note that while surprises are good, twists that come out of left-field are not. You want a spin that logically flows from the characters’ journey, not a jarring bolt from the blue. A revelation, not a bombshell.  An unexpected development, but one that feels exactly right for these characters.

To do that a writer must walk the line. It’s a balancing act. Sometimes a tight-rope balancing act. You must find that intersection where the story continues to provide the experience that made readers fall in love with it in the first place. And yet, you must mix in something fresh and new that provokes readers and makes them wonder just what you’re going to be up to next!

What do you think? Authors, do you take into account readers’ expectations as you’re writing? Have you ever been influenced by fans to alter a storyline or a character? What methods do you use to keep a continuing storyline fresh?

Readers, what kinds of expectations do you have? Any things you love or pet peeves about stories in a continuing series?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!
Mary Lee and Anita aka Sparkle Abbey

Here's a little more news from us:
We are busy working on books nine and ten in The Pampered Pets Mysteries.

Also, if you're missing any of our backlist this is a great time to catch up so you're ready for book eight. Details on all the titles are available here.

And if you want to make sure you're up on all the Sparkle Abbey news, stop by our website and sign up for updates at

This blog first appeared on The Seekerville blog in August of 2014.