Friday, September 20, 2019

Downton Is Here!

by Shari Randall

It’s here! September 20 – the release date of the new Downton Abbey movie!

How I adored the original series, especially the first episodes. The dishy debut season, complete with scheming Thomas and O’Brien, the Titanic disaster, Lady Sybil’s shocking modernity, and Lady Mary’s “incident” the Turkish ambassador was an Edwardian delight. 

The new movie already has a 79% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but we’re not going for the story – we’re going because everyone at Downton became our very gossip-worthy friends.

The trailer has many of the faces we’ve come to know and love and be irritated by (I’m looking at you, Mr. Bates) but I’ll still be there, sighing over the clothes, coveting the castle, and laughing as Lady Violet gets in a good dig at Mrs. Crawley.

Are you going to see the Downton Abbey movie?

Thursday, September 19, 2019


We recently returned from a week at the beach (Pacific NW style - no, it does not include bathing suits!) with our kids and granddaughter.

Whew, what a whirlwind! I did, however, edit all 320 pages of my latest novel.

One of the many things we discussed last week was the upcoming holidays and the chaos of coordinating many, many people's schedules.

It gets more complicated as we get older, doesn't it?

But as the holiday season rolls toward high gear, rather than gathering with my family or writing buddies, this week I'm gathering with my day job peers. I’m stuck in an Orlando conference center, spying an occasional palm tree through the window, and trying not to find the Christmas carols, oversized gingerbread houses, and 80 degree weather too weird.

Between the day job, building a house, dealing with the flood, keeping an eye on my latest release and promotion--and oh yes! the holidays—writing time has evaporated. Instead of becoming frustrated, I’ve decided to consider it a chance to gather my thoughts. To allow the plot points of the next Holly and JC book to simmer. To let the characters nag at me to tell their story.

Strange as it may seem, I'm looking forward to the six hour flight back to Washington state when this conference ends. Six hours without email or a ringing phone. Sounds like writing heaven to me.

What about you, my writing friends? Are you finding time to write? (Do share how you manage that!)

My reading friends? Is curling up with a book a respite or a vision as fleeting as a Thanksgiving turkey's lifespan or a sugar plum fairy?

Monday, September 16, 2019

Learning about the DAR and the Constitution

by Paula Gail Benson

I remember hearing about the DAR or Daughters of the American Revolution most of my life. While I had no family who were members, I grew up in South Carolina, the location of 200 Revolutionary War battles. As a child, my parents took me on a trip to Washington, D.C. and Virginia to see Monticello, Williamsburg, and Mount Vernon, which was restored by a South Carolinian, Ann Pamela Cunningham, in the 1850s.

Ann Pamela Cunningham
Cunningham grew up in Laurens, South Carolina. As a teenager, she was crippled from a riding accident. She never married. During a time of mounting discord between the states, she devoted herself to raising money and awareness about the condition of the first President’s home and appealed to women throughout the nation to help in the restoration effort. With help, she raised the funds to buy the property and established the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, the oldest historical preservation society in the United States. For more information see:

Theodosia Burr
Last week, a dear friend, Gini Abee, invited me to attend a meeting of her DAR chapter, located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and named after Theodosia Burr, the daughter of Aaron Burr and wife of South Carolina Governor Joseph Alston. (Musical theater enthusiasts will recognize the name from a beautiful song in Hamilton.)

The chapter’s projects include historic preservation, education, and commemorative endeavors. Their program had a “Conservation Minute,” endorsing a “no straw September” campaign to help eliminate the environmental effect of discarded plastic straws, and a “National Defense Minute,” highlighting the forever stamps to be released in February to honor military working dogs. Please check out the chapter’s activities on their website:

I particularly enjoyed the presentation given by author and constitutional scholar Ron Gragg, who spoke about the work of the Constitutional Convention and the concerns arising from incorporating the principles of the Declaration of Independence into the Constitution with care in order to balance the power of the government with the rights of the individuals. He described George Washington, aged fifty-six when elected President, taking the oath of office. Gragg said that Washington added the words “so help me God” and, at the end, bent to kiss the scriptures where he had placed his hand.

What I did not realize was that the Constitution Convention met for the last time and signed the draft Constitution on September 17, 1787. In recognition of this anniversary, the Myrtle Beach Chapter will gather to ring a bell thirteen times, for the original thirteen colonies.

The meeting was a delightful celebration of the Constitution combined with efforts to help future generations understand the importance of that document and the history that created it. I’m very grateful to Gini and the members who welcomed me so warmly. And, this week, I’m proud to join with them in remembering the signing of the Constitution of the United States.
Gini Abee and Paula Gail Benson (Photo by Michelle Cox)

Friday, September 13, 2019

Countdown to a Joyful Form of Insanity

Countdown to a Joyful Form of Insanity by Debra H. Goldstein

Two things I’ve noticed reading the Stiletto Gang blogs for the past few years is that we are a diverse group of women in terms of ideas and lifestyles and we are a group of overachievers. There isn’t anyone in the group who isn’t over-extended in terms of family, writing, volunteering, handling health issues, teaching, or things I’m not even aware of.  Occasionally, in a post, we bemoan our status or announce we are prioritizing our lives, but the fact is there isn’t anyone whose picture appears on the side panel who ever fully has changed her lifestyle. While there might be some who have learned to balance better than others, the truth is we’re all some version of a Type A personality.

Periodically, I say I’m going to slow down and smell the proverbial roses, but I don’t. Right now, I’m in a countdown to true insanity. As you know, One Taste Too Many, the first of the Sarah Blair cozy mystery series, was published in January 2019. Although it already is up for pre-order, the second book in the series, Two Bites Too Many, will be in stores on September 24. Because of the close sequence of these books, I’ve been feeling mildly pressed.

In the past two months, I’ve turned in the final copy of the third book in the series, celebrated the birth of a grandchild, attended festivals and conferences as I continued promoting One Taste Too Many (btw, Kensington has reduced the e-book to $1.99 through October 1), and started writing blogs and other promotional pieces in anticipation of the release of Two Bites Too Many.

It sounds like a lot, but it works because I do one thing at a time, but even I’m a little nervous about
the next three months. The reality is I’m not good at balancing promotional activities with the other things I need to do. Somehow promotion always takes longer than I anticipate or when I finish a public speaking engagement or attending a conference, I have an adrenaline drop that makes me only want to do laundry or veg out in front of the television.

So what’s on my agenda for the next three months? Family obligations, which always come first; Kensington cozy cons, conferences, speaking engagements; my Birmingham book launch at Barnes and Noble at the Summit 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, October 6 and at Little Professor on October 17 from 4:30-7; the writing of blogs and other promotional pieces tied to the new book or that I write on a monthly basis; trying to make time to work out; and, beginning to write the fourth book in the series (yes, Kensington has contracted for a fifth and sixth book in the series which means there will be more Sarah Blair in 2020, 2021, and 2022).

I don’t think I’ll see daylight until December, but I’m not complaining. In some ways, I thrive on this type of insanity. What about you? What tips you into feeling insane? What makes you happy?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Pay it forward and help a sista' out. by Juliana Aragon Fatula

Dear Reader,

Today the weather changed from summer to autumn overnight and my Chicana Garden ripened into Concord Grapes, Peaches, Sunflowers, and Colorado Wildflowers. The grass is high and the tree leaves are full ready to burst into color.

So, a friend asked a favor. I agreed. I'm reading some poems for a writer applying for a fellowship.

I'm happy to help when I can afford to. I've learned to say no, thank you, when I can't help.

I enjoy reading poetry. This writer has a publishing date for her first book of poetry and I'm happy to help a fellow poet.

Her poems are about nature and who doesn't dig Mama Nature?

I like her poems.

I'm going to be honest and give her good feedback. The way I was taught to critique a writer's work by the master writers I've studied with and learned the art of editing and positive criticism, but honest comments to help her grow as a writer.

I've learned so much in my years of endless study. And I'm happy to teach others what I've learned.

I hope she earns her fellowship and lets me know if my suggestions helped her. But if she doesn't get this one, I hope she keeps trying. Persistence. Patience.

Her name is Heidi Barr.  Award-winning author of Woodland Manitou, What Comes Next and Cold Spring Hallelujah.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

New Things

by Bethany Maines

Yesterday was the first day of Kindergarten for my daughter.  She looked a little bit nervous, but mostly seemed to be taking it in stride. Many of the other parents weren’t.  Someone kindly went around and passed out tissues.  My husband and I made it through without tears, but we did feel a bit glum about our baby not being a baby anymore.  And like many events that are symbolic markers of something new, even when we poo-poo it as “just another day,” there is still the sense that it is the time to begin a project and shake up the routine.

Toward that end, I took a stab at cleaning my office.  It was a very small stab.  Sort of a paring knife kind of stab rather than a meat cleaver, but efforts were made.  Then I started a new short story because, let’s face it, I’ll do anything to avoid cleaning my office.  This one I think will be a reverse Miss Marple (the old lady is the killer).  We’ll have to see how it turns out.  I also started a Facebook Group called the Reader B's.  Facebook groups add greater interaction and flexibility than pages, making them more equivalent to conversations.  If you would like to belong to a group dedicated to readers and authors, please do join.  I’ll have posts about books, book reviews, posts from other authors and discussions about all of my books and short stories.

My next novel, The Second Shot, is releasing October 24 and is now a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Literary Contest.  If you have a netgalley account and want to read a great new book for #free, check out this blogger/reader sign-up!  Don’t want to be officially a part of the excitement, but want to keep tabs on all the news? Add The Second Shot to your Goodreads list or pre-order for iBooks today.
💌 Sign up today:
📚 Add to Goodreads:
Pre-Order: Apple Books:

Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous short stories. When she's not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some serious butt with her black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and BookBub.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Travel: A Path to World Peace

By Barbara Plum aka AB Plum

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness …"  (Innocents Abroad)

On the other hand, there's no place like home.

After a summer of living in Denmark, with side trips to Iceland, Scotland, Finland, and Estonia, I boarded what I hoped was my last airplane for a while on August 31. We stood in line to clear security at Kastrup, and I wondered if any other country besides our Scandinavian haven had withstood such an onslaught of tourists.

Despite the hordes—and my being patted down at the airport—the multitudes and I proceeded to our flights without incident. Standing in front of Customs, I felt a frisson of tension. (We learned before departing the US that Iceland is part of the Schengen Area).

So? You might ask.

Schengen Agreement … 

This Agreement allows people and goods to cross 26 EU borders without visas or other kinds of border controls. US citizens can remain in the entire area a total of 90 days within a 180-day period. Pretty straight forward. (My husband traveled on his Danish passport and so avoided the "rules).

Yes, but …

I knew about the restrictions before leaving the US on May 27 for Iceland. Iceland is part of the Schengen Agreement. Six days there before going to Denmark meant I would exceed the 90-day allotment. I called the Danish Consulate near my home in late April and got the reassurance that I could go to any police station in Denmark and receive an extension of my 90 days.

Once upon a time, yes. In June 2019 … I had to go to Danish Immigration with a long form filled out by my husband's lawyer-cousin. The clerks who handled my request warned us I would very likely have my request rejected. (About a hundred people—Mid-Eastern women, mostly, with small kids and babies—queued up to other lines to submit their papers). I never learned the outcome of their petitions, but I realized my extension mattered nothing compared to immigrants seeking asylum.

Ever optimistic about my own case, I thought playing the "family" card would over-ride bureaucracy. Family is a very big deal in Denmark. My husband's family had planned a major reunion for us and dozens of cousins on August 25. Our adult kids were coming from the US to take part in the festivities. Et cetera. Et cetera. Etc.

Nothing personal … and no narrow-mindedness … just the rules …

In less than a week, we received the official word, delivered by Priority Mail. I had to leave on the 24th or risk a hefty fine and exclusion from the EU for an unspecified time if I violated the rules.

A trip to the American Embassy resulted in no hope. Naively, I assumed someone in the US Embassy would take up my case. Denmark, I learned, now has some of the strictest immigration policies in Europe. And no, I could expect no help from US personnel.

A loophole …

A light shone at the end of the tunnel though. One loophole existed. I could leave Denmark for 6 days (the number by which I would exceed my stay) and then return to Denmark, giving me a total of 90 days in the country.

But … but … where could I go?

The UK or Croatia. Or, of course, back to the States. Choices, choices.
Brexit mania was all over the European news in mid-July. Did I really want to go to London under those circumstances?

After five minutes of discussion about cheaper airfares, shorter flights, and another visit to Croatia, my husband and I chose Scotland for our sojourn. I'd always wanted to tip-toe through the heather—if I could visit during a rain-free period.


Raindrops keep dancin' on my head …

Sunshine shone on us every day except for our bus trip to Stirling to visit the castle. Since we'd enjoyed perfect weather at Edinburgh Castle, we didn't complain. Dozens of Scotsmen told us how lucky we were not to have to resort to rain-gear, and we agreed.

Our six days in Edinburg flew by. We missed the heatwave that hit the week after we left, and we returned to Copenhagen almost glad for the need to make the side trip.

And yes, we tried haggis—almost edible with a couple of cold local beers.

Our trips to Finland and Estonia, planned before our imposed trip to Scotland, proved uneventful. Great weather. Manageable crowds. Quiet and relaxing.

Heading home …

By the last week of August, despite an amazing summer, we were ready to go home on the 31st.  An eleven-hour flight lay ahead of us so we decided to check for lounge availability and pay for a more quiet place to relax before takeoff. Pay, because Norwegian Air no longer provided free lounge entrance for Premium passengers. If we upgraded to Premium-Plus status, then we could stay for the 2-hour wait time for free. Another thousand dollars seemed excessive …

As we checked with the desk attendant regarding available space, she told us the charge would be $40 each.  We hesitated. Then, a young woman behind us, offered to make us her guests. Surprised, but quite happy, we accepted. We thanked her and discovered she'd grown up in Silicon Valley. She now lives in Boston, but the world is a small place.

We settled in with coffee and comfy chairs and marveled at our good luck. "Travel [really] is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."

How about you. Do your travel experiences support Twain's statement?
When not traveling the world, Barbara Plum and her alter ego, AB Plum, live in Silicon Valley. Her latest romantic comedy, Crazy Daze and a Knight is available FREE through Thursday. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Falling for Fall

Fall is stirring. Sure, the temperature still hovers in the upper 80s, but the annuals are leggy and the odd leaf drifts to the ground.

I've always loved September and October. In Kansas City, they are months of pleasant temperatures, reduced humidity, and blue skies. There's football and boots. There are chili dinners and pumpkin spice (I'm not in love, but I appear to be alone in that). There's front-porch sitting and hot apple cider. There are long walks to take, leaves to rake, a mums to plant.

This fall will be spent writing Ellison's latest adventure. I envision curling on the chaise on the front porch with a plaid blanket wrapped around my legs and a laptop open. Of course words will flow like water.

Also, Poppy will face a new villain in London (more on that in October).

My fall calendar is full. Now, if someone would just give summer the boot...

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders and the Poppy Fields Adventures. 

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.

Action, adventure, mystery, and humor are the things Julie loves when she's reading. She loves them even more when she's writing!

Friday, September 6, 2019

Keeping a Writer’s Journal

by Linda Rodriguez

I have kept journals for many decades. Even before my creative writing professors encouraged me to keep them, I kept writer’s journals after reading that writers I respected, such as Virginia Woolf and Madeleine L’Engle, had kept writer’s journals. I have stacks and stacks of them, and periodically I wade through years of them, reading and mining for ideas and memories.

You will notice I did not say I’ve kept diaries. A diary is an account of your day-to-day activities. A writer’s journal is the artist’s sketchbook of a writer. It holds the raw material, the thinking on paper, that goes into learning how to write better and into creating minor and major projects.

A writer’s journal may have accounts of daily activities in it, along with discussions of current events, descriptions of the striking woman seen at the coffee shop, the idea for a new novel, the first few paragraphs of a short story, lines or whole stanzas of a poem, descriptions of the sound water makes dripping from trees into a fountain at the park, pages of location or historical research, a scary near-miss turned by what-if into the germ of a story or novel, lists of words I love, scenes recaptured from my childhood or other past moments, and much, much more. Writing exercises. Lists of possible titles. The initial sketches of characters. Accounts of dreams. Rants and complaints and a good bit of whining, as well.

Now, I also keep computer journals as I write each novel. This is where I go deeper into character, work out plotting difficulties, set myself goals for the next chapter or section of the book, and keep track of things that impinge on the writing of the book. Older versions of this are what I turn to when I need to find out how long I think it will take me to complete some phase of the new book. Also, it’s where I look for encouragement when going through tough times on a book. I almost always find I’ve made it through something similar before. I keep my journals in bound books between novels and in addition to the novel journals kept on the computer.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found ideas or characters or settings for stories, poems, and books while going back through these journals—or found ideas that connect with other ideas I have to complete the concept for a novel or poem. Also, as I look through them, I can see on the page how my writing has improved over the years. I consider these journals necessities for my continuing growth as a writer. Just as a musician continues practicing the scales and more ambitious exercises daily, just as a painter continues sketching constantly, I keep opening my journal and writing down a description or an idea or a question I’m wrestling with or a character I’m exploring. Madeleine L’Engle called her journal work her “five-finger exercises,” comparing this work to the concert pianist's practicing scales.

I often tell young students to keep journals, even if they don’t want to become writers. I believe it will help them navigate the fraught waters of adolescence. I know it helped me come to terms with a damaging, abusive childhood and write my way out of the anger, pain, fear, and shame it engendered in me. I’ve used journaling as an effective therapeutic technique with incarcerated youth, and I believe it’s something anyone can do to help them work their way through emotional pain and problems.

I have plain spiral notebooks, composition books, three-ring binders, and an assortment of bound books of many sizes and appearances. I have heard some people say they could never write in a really beautiful bound book because it would intimidate them, but I write even in the gorgeous handmade ones friends and family give me as luscious gifts. The act of writing is what keeps me from becoming too intimidated to write.

If you’re a writer, do you keep journals? In notebooks or on the computer or both? And if you’re not a writer, have you used a journal before to work through thorny issues?

Linda Rodriguez's 11th book, Fishy Business: The Fifth Guppy Anthology (edited), was recently published. Dark Sister: Poems is her 10th book and was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. 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, were published in 2017.  Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee detective, Skeet Bannion, and Revising the Character-Driven Novel will be published in 2020. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and earlier 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 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, Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Learn more about her at

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Must See Mystery TV

by Sparkle Abbey

Since we read and write mysteries, it was probably also a given that we’d like mystery shows. And there are a lot of great ones to choose from right now. 

Since the arrival of Netflix, Acorn TV, BritBox, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, there are more and more opportunities to stumble over shows that are not only great mysteries but are unique and different. 

Why are we so drawn to them? First off, most of these shows are heavily character-driven. The characters are quirky, eccentric and still likable. They are flawed, non-cookie-cutter characters who find themselves in extreme situations. Some serious, some with a mix of humor. Yet they feel so realistic you find yourself rooting for them to get their act together and succeed. 

Plus these shows have great plots! Twists and turns and puzzles to figure out. We love it when we get it figured out before the end of the show; and we love it even more when we don't. 

Here are a few of the shows we're watching:
My Life is Murder
Midsomer Murders
Death in Paradise
Father Brown
Agatha Christie's Inspector Poirot
Murdoch Mysteries Movies
Shakespeare and Hathaway
Queens of Mystery
No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
Miss Fisher's Mysteries
Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries

What do you think? Did we list your favorite? Or did we miss your must-see? We're always open to ideas.

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Woods aka Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don't tell the neighbors.) They love to hear from readers and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, their favorite social media sites.

Their most recent book is The Dogfather, the tenth book in the Pampered Pets series.

Also, if you want to make sure you get updates, sign up for their newsletter via the website.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Clicking Our Heels - Charities and Social Issues We Care About

Clicking Our Heels - The Charities and Social Issues We Care About
The Stiletto Gang members have lives outside of writing. Today, we tell you about some of the charities and social issues we are passionate about.

T.K. Thorne- Maranathan Academy, a non-profit school in Birmingham, AL that gives critically at-risk children a second chance, because I get to see faces turn from despair to excitement with learning and hope for a better future.

Dru Ann Love - The New York Blood Bank – because when I needed blood for a transfusion, it was there for me.

Shari Randall - I'm very interested in literacy issues (you can take the girl out of the library but you can't take the library out of the girl!) I volunteer with my local libraries in book sales and book nooks. So much research has shown how libraries play a big role in leveling the playing field for less-advantaged children. Many parents cannot afford books for their children and it's vitally important to keep libraries open to help those families.

J.M. Phillippe - LGBTQ Rights, because of how much people in my personal life are impacted by being denied the same basic rights of other people. And reprodctive rights, because again of the impact they have, not just on women, but on entire communities.

Judy Penz Sheluk - Canadian Cancer Society — I’m a breast cancer survivor (10 years and counting)
. I’ve done volunteer work for Golden Rescue (golden retrievers) and support them — I’m on my fourth purebred Golden and had a Golden mix as a kid.

Kay Kendall - I support the Sierra Club in all it stands for. It's the oldest and most influential environmental organization in the U.S., amplifying its 3.5+ million members' voices to defend our right to a healthy world. Helping the Sierra Club keep fighting for Earth's natural resources is important to me.

Mary Lee Ashford (1/2 of Sparkle Abbey) - As Sparkle Abbey, we are involved with several local pet rescue groups and contribute a basket of goodies (and sometimes a chance to have your pet in a book) to their Raise Your Paw Auction. These groups do great work to rescue animals that are abandoned or in bad situations and find them forever homes. The other cause near and dear to my heart is literacy and I donate, speak, do whatever I can to support local literacy groups. 

Debra H. Goldstein – I have a special interest in issues relating to women and children. Consequently, I support the YWCA of Central Alabama’s domestic violence and pre-school programs as well as programs sponsored by the Girl Scouts.

Bethany Maines - The Pacific Northwest has a higher percentage of Multiple Sclerosis than any other spot in the nation and they don't really know why.  MS causes deterioration of the connections between the body and the brain and there is no cure. I can count at least five people I know personally who have MS or have died from MS and that is at least five too many.  If you would like to donate or help in some way the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is a great organization that is BBB accredited and is dedicated to curing MS and helping those have MS live better lives.

Julie Mulhern - I worked for ten years for a not-for-profit that helped individuals and families manage the challenges posed by serious or chronic illness. It remains a cause dear to my heart.

Linda Rodriguez - I've been a member of Amnesty International for many years. What they do for political prisoners around the world is tremendously important work. I have long had a recurring donation going to Doctors Without Borders because their work in the locations where violence and war are devastating people is critical. I also have long had a recurring donation that goes to the American Indian College Fund, which provides funding for tribal colleges and Haskell Indian Nations University, the only four-year university for Native Americans. Ironically, my son now teaches at Haskell Indian Nations University, but my involvement with the American Indian College fund goes back to his grade school days. I have a recurring donation that goes to the ACLU, who are doing yeoman's duty at this time in this country as it has become, defending our Constitution and our law against all of the attacks which are being waged against our kind of liberal democracy. And there are others, but those are the ones I've been involved with for a long time.

A.B. Plum - The Health Wagon operates in West Virginia and serves people without health or dental or vision care. Mostly run by volunteers, THW manages its money and resources in an amazingly frugal way. One day I hope to join them on site—in addition to supporting them with $$.

Cathy Perkins - While my husband and I have offered financial support for numerous charities over the years, my volunteer time has gone to The Sexual Assault Center. The agency recently extended their services to all crime victims but the mission remains one of support and healing. In today's political environment with the constant attacks on women's rights, I find it vital to stand up and give back and encourage everyone to pick your passion and support it.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Welcome Guest Author Ellen Byron

Award winning author Ellen Byron is one of the first authors I met in my debut year at Raleigh, NC, Oct. 2015, and we've been fast friends ever since. Today, Ellen is guesting in my first Monday spot. Welcome Ellen!

My Cajun Country Mysteries always include recipes. I’m not a cook by nature. To be honest, it’s sometimes easier for me to write a whole book than compose a recipe or adapt an existing one. But no matter how much work it takes, I’ve always managed to power through—until the sweet potato praline and I came up against each other. 

Since my Cajun Country Mystery series is set in, well, Cajun Country, I get to make lots of trips to Louisiana. It helps that our daughter is a rising sophomore at Loyola University, New Orleans. (I didn’t force her to go there, I swear.) On one of my many trips, I wandered into Southern Candymakers, a shop in the French Quarter, and discovered their one-of-a-kind sweet potato praline. It was like a candy version of sweet potato pie. I fell in love.

A sweet potato praline from Southern Candymakers

In FATAL CAJUN FESTIVAL, my latest Cajun Country Mystery, the town of Pelican, Louisiana decides to kick off an annual music festival called Cajun Country Live!In addition to music, residents set up booths to sell local fare. I decided the family of my protagonist, Maggie Crozat, would sell a variety of pralines at their booth, which would of course lead to praline recipes in my book. But the signature praline, the one everyone touted as the most mouth-watering sweet treat, would be – you guessed it – the sweet potato praline. 

I congratulated myself on the brainstorm, wrote the draft, and then tackled the recipes. I quickly learned that pralines are reallyhard to make. A single batch of mine would have three different consistencies: chewy, hard, and rock-hard. But my sweet potato praline recipe served up only one consistency: useless. Batch after batch coagulated as blobby mess of butter, potato, cream, and sugar. If my kitchen trash was a sentient being, he or she would have been very happy because that’s where each batch ended up. I’m not a quitter, but I also know my limits. Making dud pralines was expanding my waistline. It was also costing me a fortune I finally had to do something I’ve never done before: give up. Readers will find a couple of hard-won recipes for pralines in FATAL CAJUN FESTIVAL. But instead of a recipe for sweet potato pralines, they will find this:

I’m bummed I had to bail on the recipe. But I learned a valuable lesson. From now on, if I build a story around a treat or a dish, I’ll be sure it’s one I can actually make. And if I have a craving for a sweet potato praline, I’ll just pay a visit to Southern Candymakers.

Readers, has a recipe ever stumped you? And if you’re tempted to try a sweet potato praline, here’s the link to Southern Candymakers:

About Ellen Byron: Mardi Gras Murder, Ellen Byron’s fourth Cajun Country Mystery, won the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel. The series has also won multiple Best Humorous Mystery Lefty awards from Left Coast Crime. Writing as Maria DiRico, she’ll debut a second series, The Catering Hall Mysteries, in 2020. TV credits include WingsJust Shoot Me, and Fairly Odd Parents. Published and produced plays include the award-winning Graceland.