Friday, January 19, 2018

Full Circle for a Debut Author

by Shari Randall

Many thanks to the Stiletto Gang for inviting me to be part of the, well, gang. This year marks my debut as a novelist with the January 30 publication of the first in my new Lobster Shack Mystery series, Curses, Boiled Again! I'll be sharing the debut author journey with you here on the third Friday of the month.

As I gear up for my first author panel as a novelist, I can’t keep a verse from the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime” from going through my mind: “How did I get here?”

The panel will be held at the same library in Virginia where I was a children’s librarian for more than 12 years. We’ll sit in chairs in the same room where I sang “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt” for toddlers, introduced The Reptile Lady, and dressed up as Professor McGonagle for a Harry Potter birthday celebration. Talk about a crazy journey!

Fast forward to my panel. I’m thrilled that two of my favorite authors and friends will be with me, Donna Andrews and Sherry Harris.

How did I get here?

Many writers can point to the moment they started on the road to becoming a writer – a prize for an elementary school poem, a spot on the high school yearbook, a sale to a magazine.

My road started as a voracious reader in the library of Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Meriden, CT. The librarian, Mrs. Macri, was an energetic lady who wasn’t much taller than her students but tried to gain a few inches on us with very high stiletto heels. How I marveled at those heels. (And how I still marvel at those who can wear them!)

One day in fourth grade, a thick book on a high shelf caught my eye. Mrs. Macri saw me looking and pulled it down for me. “Oh, you’ll like this,” she said as she put the book into my hands. She didn’t say, “Oh, that’s too old for you” or “Try something easier.” The book was The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

I didn’t just like it, dear reader. I devoured it and started trying to write my own stories.
That started my lifelong love of mysteries.

Fast forward through unfortunate high school poetry, an English degree, work at my hometown newspaper, editing for a Boston publisher, freelancing, teaching, doing a masters in library and information science, to my job in a mid-sized library in the lower level of a shopping mall in a county of almost a million people near Washington, DC.

Deep into years of budget cuts, our teen section was looking particularly tired. I was searching for grant money to buy fresh copies of books when I came across the We Love Libraries program from a writers group called the Sisters in Crime. I did some research, got my boss’s okay, and applied for the grant.

We won! One thousand dollars with no string attached. Let me tell you, ain’t no party like a librarian party where you can buy books with somebody else’s money!

Four Sisters came to the check presentation ceremony: GM Malliet, C. Ellett Logan, Terri Bishop, and Ellen Byerrum. They told me about the local Chesapeake chapter, the Chessies, and the yearly short story anthology. Did I write? Did I know anyone who had a short story to enter?

Did I ever! Me.

The thrill of having that first short story published, and holding that book in my hands, is something I’ll never forget. I thought it would be different with this novel, but the thrill is the same with Curses, Boiled Again!

Eight years, two short stories, four novels (one published, one ready for submission, one in pieces, one in a drawer awaiting the light of day) and scores of blog posts have been part of my journey from that grant and inspirational meeting with the sisters of the Chessie Chapter.

Am I grateful? You bet. As the Sisters say, you write alone, but you’re never truly alone with sisters. My novel wouldn’t have happened without them. Thank you, always, Chessies and Sisters in Crime.

I'll send a copy of Curses, Boiled Again to one commenter - please share something that makes you feel grateful. Thank you for stopping by!

When she’s not committing murder (on the page, of course), Shari enjoys walking the beach near her house, traveling and eating the local cuisine, reading, and dancing. She’s currently trying to talk her husband into a tango class.

She's had two short stories published in the Chesapeake Crimes anthology series: "Disco Donna" in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays and "Keep It Simple" in Chesapeake Crimes: This Job Is Murder.  A third, “Pet,” will be published in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies in spring 2018. You can see what's new with her at and check out her mermaid obsession on Instagram @sharirandallauthor.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Unifying Themes - Seven Sinister Sisters Tour

We’re the Seven Sinister Sisters and we’re on a mission: Seven mystery authors; seven new releases; seven answers to a central question at each stop on our tour. The Stiletto Gang is our second stop and our question this week is…

Is there a theme underlying or unifying your books?

Cathy Perkins’ Holly Price mystery series revolves around family and loyalty. After her father cliches a midlife brain-fart and absconds with his yoga instructor, Holly agrees to temporarily return to her hometown in order to keep the family business afloat. Clients can do the damnedest things, however, making her question all relationships. With the next book in the series, In It For The Money, Holly’s cousin is the catalyst for her involvement in another murder investigation. Refusing to believe the rumors flying around the extreme sport circuit about his alleged treachery, she follows the money – another consistent theme – to find the actual villain.   

Sue Star also writes about families in chaos. Nell Letterly is a menopausal single mom, trying to raise her teenage daughter, as well as fielding well-intended interference from the rest of the family, including Gramps and Nell's fashionista, soon-to-be ex sister-in-law. They all disagree how a teenager should be raised, but as a family they have a special bond. In Murder by Moose, Nell tries to protect her family from a killer on the loose while she teaches a self-defense class at a dude ranch in the mountains. But when the going gets tough, the family always comes together to help Nell solve the mystery.  

In Biscuits and Slashed Browns—as in the series as a whole—Edith Maxwell (writing as Maddie Day) expands this family theme to community. How do friends and family rally 'round when someone is at risk or wrongly accused? How does a country store breakfast-and-lunch restaurant serve as a focal point for the community, a gathering place? In this particular book, the father of one of her protagonist's employees is accused of murder. This motivates Robbie Jordan and others in the small town of South Lick, Indiana to work together to find out who is the killer.

As with all murder mysteries, Leslie Karst’s Sally Solari culinary series concerns issues of truth and justice. Equally important, however, are themes of family and the food movement, and how the two create a conflict between Sally and her father. The Solaris are descended from one of the original Italian fishermen who arrived in Santa Cruz in the 1890s, and Sally’s dad is fiercely proud of the family’s traditional Italian seafood restaurant on the historic wharf.  When Sally inherits her aunt’s trendy restaurant, Gauguin, her father—hurt that Sally no longer wants to work at Solari’s—becomes convinced she now looks down on her family heritage.

Becky Clark takes a different tack in her new series, the Mystery Writer's Mysteries series. Officially, all the books are set in the world of a mystery author, so with Fiction Can Be Murder, she pulls back that curtain for her readers. Unofficially, her books always have the same underlying current, that of the reluctant hero. It seems she likes to explore characters who are going about their boring, normal lives when — BLAMMO — something bizarre happens to them. They're way out of their comfort zone and flounder for a while before forcing themselves to pull up their big-girl undies and fix whatever the problem is.

Returning to our recurring family theme, a few things always show up in Shawn McGuire’s work. First, relationships – whether between family members, romance, best friends, parent and child, co-workers, etc. – are a prime element to the story. Second, there’s always humor of some kind because even in the most intense situations, humor helps. Third, an element of truth or finding your path in life often shows up. Then with each book, a theme unique to that story or series will appear. With her Whispering Pines series, while she hadn’t originally planned it, religion turned out to be a strong theme.

In the first two books in the Cole & Callahan PI series, Pat Hale says religion plays an underlying role. In The Church of the Holy Child, (September 2017) the serial killer torments a priest with information on the murders, knowing he’s bound by his holy orders not to reveal what’s heard in the confessional. In Durable Goods, (April 15, 2018) young girls are drawn into a sex trade organization under the guise of coming to a religious refuge for indigent women. The sub-theme of both books considers the confines and constructs found within religious doctrine and their use for good and evil. 

Thanks so much to The Stiletto Gang and all their readers for joining our tour. We’re happy to address any comments or questions. And feel free to contact any of us through our websites. Our next stop will be January 25th with MJB Reviewers. See you there!

To celebrate our new releases, the Seven Sinister Sisters are having a giveaway!

Seven lucky winners will receive an ebook from one of us.

One GRAND PRIZE winner will receive a signed copy from each of us!

Enter to win by leaving a comment below. Our tour runs from January 6th to April 30th and we’re answering a different question at each blog. Leave a comment at each blog for more entries! We’ll draw the winner from all the combined comments at the end of our tour.
Watch our Facebook page for the next stop on the tour.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Allure of Mysteries—Dark and Historical Ones

By Kay Kendall

The main reason usually given to explain the enduring appeal of mysteries is that readers like to enter a world of suspense and chaos, knowing that everything will be tidied up and turn satisfactory in the end. This format has held true for the traditional mystery for decades, and even though there are now many variations on that theme, the reasoning remains largely the same. The reader enters into a scary world, experiences thrills and spills, and then comes out the other side with all the puzzles solved and the bad guy or gal apprehended and on the way to sure punishment.

Astute fans of crime fiction will be thinking at this point--"Ah yes, but what about noir?" Other younger fans may say--"But what about dystopian fiction? I like deep, dark scary stuff where everything in the world is bleak and still I can find room for hope."
Author Philip Kerr in Berlin

Well, to each her or his own, I say in rejoinder. On the one hand, noir is too dark for me. I get depressed reading about all those losers hanging onto their lives by mere threads yet still striving to get ahead, find romance, make the killing (either of the flesh or the pocketbook), or escape from one last jam.

I do make exceptions for the best writers of noir fiction. Two such authors whose books always land on my must-read list are Reed Farrel Coleman and Timothy Hallinan. When I open one of their books, I know it will take me into the darkest reaches of the human soul, but the understanding of psychology and the writing itself will be so sublime that I am willing to go that deep and that dark. Louise Penny is a writer of traditional mysteries whose work seems to go ever darker as her books stack up. She also takes us readers into torturous psychological territory, but her protagonist is a fine man--chief inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec provincial police--he of impeccable morals and astute ability to decipher human hearts. His shining rectitude and compassion shoot bright rays of hope through all her novels.

All three of these writers have won multiple awards for their fine books. Dark and unforgiving as I know their plots will be, I always look forward to the publication of their books. If it is going to be noir, then it has to be of the very best quality, elsewise I will not read it. Otherwise, it simply isn't worth it for me to get depressed. Why escape from a fractious world into a fictional one that holds few pleasures? That is not escape. It is torture.

In contrast to my approach to mysteries of the noir variety is how I view historical mysteries. I love history so much that I can put up with an average mystery as long as the depiction of a long ago time is interesting and accurate. In the same vein, I often say that I will see any film if I know the actors and actresses wear period costumes. That may sound a bit extreme, but I do mean it. And I can go very dark when reading historical fiction because I know how that time period concluded. I know the good side won in World War Two, for example. and I don't get overly anxious as I would if I were to pick up, say, a thriller based on nuclear brinkmanship with some country ruled by a madman.

In fact, historical mysteries set against the backdrop of either world war are among my favorites. I've blogged before about how author Jacqueline Winspear's books starring Maisie Dobbs have inspired my own fiction. After serving as a nurse in World War One, Maisie turns professional sleuth and amateur psychologist, and now as the series creeps up to the beginning of World War Two, she has taken to working with the British foreign office. I also admire the World War One mysteries of the mother-and-son writing duo of Charles Todd.

But perhaps the author whose mysteries speak deepest of all to me is Philip Kerr. He combines excellent writing with impeccable historical research, while focusing on the hapless case of Bernie Gunther, a decent cop in Berlin as Hitler seizes power. The Bernie Gunther books now number twelve, with the next one releasing this April. They show a basically good man trying to swim in a toxic sea of Nazis and not drown in filth. His earliest adventures are set in 1932, and his latest escapades show his entanglements with the Stasi in East Germany in 1956.

Talk about darkness of the soul. Poor Bernie can never escape his checkered past, and in the last two books he has become suicidal. I don't know how long he can go on, but I hope like crazy that he can. When Philip Kerr announces the publication of a new book, I rejoice. He also comes through my city on book tour, and then I get to pick his brain during a book event about the wealth of research he has done in the Nazi era in Germany. So I guess I do have a taste for noir after all.

Meet the author
Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and now writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. A reformed PR executive who won international awards for her projects, Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. Rainy Day Women won two Silver Falchion Awards at Killer Nashville in 2015. Visit Kay at her website <>or on Facebook <>.