Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Setting a Perfect Mystery!

 By Lynn McPherson

Summer has finally arrived and I'm here for it. The long, hot days have brought with them a flurry of activity in my yard because I'm getting a pool (hooray!). Watching the big machines and busy workers under the bright sunny skies has reminded me about the importance of setting in a story. Have you thought about the surroundings of each scene in your manuscript? If not, you should. Let's talk about why.

Mood can make or break a story whether writing a psychological thriller or a cozy mystery. The right atmosphere is needed to bring your reader into a matching mindset. Is it dark or light? Hot or cold? Are your characters sitting in a busy cafe or standing on an isolated ledge? Each factor can contribute to how a reader visualizes the scene before them and is brought into the heart of the story.

Setting can also help establish the character of your protagonist. If your amateur sleuth lives in a small town in a modest house with a friendly pet, it will also evoke a different image than if they are centered in a modern condo in the middle of Manhattan.

Time is another factor the setting should take into account. If it's 1952, a robin blue kitchen might be the cutting edge but considered a pre-reno nightmare in 1995. And what about the cars being driven or the styles being worn? Subtle clues used to describe when the action takes place helps the reader create a strong mental image. What might you use to make sure you establish accurate details that draw your reader in?

Setting is an important element in writing that we sometimes forget. Make sure you take time to create the world your characters exist in so your readers aren't left with blank spaces or blurry details.

What are some of your favorite ways to establish setting?

Lynn McPherson has worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, ran a small business, and taught English across the globe. She has travelled the world solo where her daring spirit has led her to jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, and learn she would never master a surfboard. She now channels her lifelong love of adventure and history into her writing, where she is free to go anywhere, anytime. Her cozy series has three books out: The Girls' Weekend Murder and The Girls Whispered Murder, and The Girls Dressed For Murder.  

Monday, June 21, 2021

Looking Forward to Mystery in the Midlands

by Paula Gail Benson

Dr. Kathy Reichs

Next weekend, on Saturday, June 26, from 10:00 am to 2:45 pm ET, the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and the Palmetto Chapter of Sisters in Crime, are proud to present their second virtual Mystery in the Midlands. Until Covid, we gathered in Columbia, S.C., for a celebration of authors and readers. Hopefully, an in person gathering will be possible next year, but until then, we are going to delight in being with a fabulously talented group of writers and hearing what they have to tell us about their craft and lives.

Our wonderful participants include Dr. Kathy Reichs, who will be interviewed by Debra H. Goldstein (today, she talks about preparing for their talk on Writers Who Kill) and three panels that will be moderated by Dana Kaye. The panelists are Frankie Y. Bailey, Michael Bracken, and Barb Goffman, talking about short stories; Laurie R. King, Lori Rader-Day, and Caroline Todd, talking about historical mysteries; and Yasmin Angoe, Robert Dugoni, and Alex Segura, talking about suspense.

We would love for you to join us. You can register through this link. If you can't attend the program, by registering you can watch the recording. At $5, it's a bargain!

Following is a little game to match our participants with fun facts about them. See how much you know about our distinguished authors and check your results with the answers at the end.

Hope to see you on Saturday! Don't forget to register:



1. Yasmin Angoe

2. Frankie Y. Bailey

3. Michael Bracken

4. Robert Dugoni

5. Barb Goffman

6. Laurie R. King

7. Lori Rader-Day

8. Dr. Kathy Reichs

9. Alex Segura

10. Caroline Todd


A. Writes about contemporary and historical detectives

B. Criminal Justice Professor

C. Sales on 2 books recently passed $250K and $50K

D. Debut novel, to be released in November, has already been optioned for television

E. Expert witness at the Casey Anthony trial

F. Marketing Director for the Waco Symphony Orchestra

G. Left-handed vegan who has been to space

H. Story awarded the EQMM Readers' Award has been nominated for an Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity

I. Married on top of the Empire State Building

J. Loves traveling, history, mystery, and collaborating


1. D

2. B

3. F

4. C

5. H

6. A

7. I

8. E

9. G

10. J

Friday, June 18, 2021

A Delicious Debut and a Giveaway!

by Shari Randall

Dear Readers,

Greetings from the quiet northeastern corner of Connecticut, the setting for my new series, The Ice Cream Shop Mysteries. The setting, the village of Penniman, comes complete with a covered bridge, pocket farms, and the Udderly Delightful ice cream shop that specializes in unique flavors crafted with local products. It's a dream setting and I have to be honest - the research for this series has been a dream, too! I've traveled the back roads of New England searching out the most delicious little ice cream parlors to inspire Udderly Delightful. The ice cream maker on my kitchen counter has gotten quite a workout as I've experimented with recipes for the book.

I'll share more about the series as we get closer to publication date, but I did want to let you know that my wonderful publisher has set up a Goodreads giveaway with 50 (!) print copies of THE ROCKY ROAD TO RUIN on offer. So click the link to head on over, enter, and read more about the story! Here's the link to the Goodreads Giveaway.

Shari Randall is the author of the Agatha Award winning Lobster Shack Mystery series. Her new series, The Ice Cream Shop Mysteries, written as Meri Allen, debuts on July 27 with THE ROCKY ROAD TO RUIN. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook @ShariRandallAuthor and @MeriAllenBooks.

#goodreadsgiveaway #cozymysteryseries #icecream 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

A Tribute and a Review

 Hi, folks. Today is Cathy Perkins day to blog with The Stiletto Gang. She’s ill, and not up to blogging, so I volunteered to take her day. Since it is her day, I thought I’d tell you a story about Cathy, then do a review of her latest, “The Body in the Beaver Pond.”

Years ago, I judged an unpublished mainstream entry called, “The Professor” in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense contest. That entry did very well and led to her publication with Carina Press. What I didn’t know then was that entry, and the subsequent connections surrounding it, would lead to the start of a decades-old friendship.

From that point, if Cathy had a release, I bought the book. Mainly because I enjoy her first-person voice, dry wit, and love a good mystery. In addition to writing, she also has an eye for graphic design. When getting ready to publish, Calling for the Money, her fourth Holly Price financial mystery, she was at my house, sitting at my kitchen counter trying to draft a design idea to give to her artist.

 “Something like this,” she said, showing me her handiwork on her iPad.

After I regained my voice, I said, “This is so good! Why are you paying a cover artist?”

But I digress.

Some time ago, Cathy contacted me and said she wanted to do a spin-off of her Holly Price series--this one featuring Holly's half-sister Keri Isles. Cathy already had the setting. It was the property she and Chuck had bought in the Cascade Mountains in Washington state.

She asked me to do a beta read. I did, and told her in my subjective opinion the manuscript was ready for publication. Obviously, others agreed. At Killer Nashville in March of 2020, Cathy won the Claymore Award for “The Body in the Beaver Pond.”

 It’s been a while since I read the unpublished version, so I bought the published version. Trust me, "The Body in the Beaver Pond" was just as much fun reading the second time around. 

What's the book about? Here goes: 

Newly divorced Keri Isles has left her home and event-planning job in Seattle and moved on to a property she acquired in the divorce. Problem is the division of assets is far from equitable as her ex is on friendly terms with the judge. While a Christmas tree farm, rustic cabin, and beaver pond sound idyllic and look good on paper—in reality the acreage includes a 1940s cabin with poor plumbing, an ancient tractor, constant treating of trees as well as back-breaking work to keep the place operational and out of the red.

What’s a woman to do in this situation? Spiff up the place, keep it running, hire a realtor and hope it sells!

Cathy’s internal narrative and dialogue are so witty and so much fun to read. She places you firmly in the head of a down-and-out protagonist—one you are rooting for from page one. If running a Christmas tree farm isn’t laborious enough for a single thirty-two-year-old woman, imagine an archeological dig  next to the property. One in which dimwitted students park a van on Keri’s newly planted Christmas trees. When Keri complains to the excavation head, a pompous academic who inasmuch tells her to get lost, Keri has no intention of standing down.

Great secondary characters and a yellow lab named IRA who has a penchant for digging up bones, you can see where this is heading, right? 

This is a terrific start to a series, and call it a hunch, I think Keri may just learn to love her little tree farm, her zany neighbors, new friends, and potential love interest. I know I  enjoyed spending time there and can heartily recommend “The Body in the Beaver Pond” a Keri Isles Event Planner Mystery by Cathy Perkins.   

Finally, a note to my friend. Thinking of you, Cathy. Get well!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Characters Who Break Our Hearts

by Barbara Kyle

A recent fascinating post by Lois Winston on this blog asked: “Are there characters that you wish the author would kill off? Or characters you wish an author hadn’t killed off?”


I thought I’d dig deeper into Lois’s topic with another question: What character’s death broke your heart?


I once asked that of my Facebook friends and the replies were extraordinary. People recall with vivid clarity how a fictional death left them feeling bereft.


Beth March in Little Women. Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two CitiesNed Stark in A Game of Thrones. Charlotte, the valiant spider in Charlotte's Web.


Pic: "Sydney Carton" painting by Ralph Bruce

Characters' deaths that broke my heart include Mariko in James Clavell's Shogun, Robbie and Cecilia in Ian McEwan's Atonement and Gus in Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove.


                                  Pic: Yoko Shimada as "Mariko" in the 1980 TV series "Shogun."


That affecting experience as a reader applies with equal force to an author. Every time I've killed a beloved character in one of my books, I wept. The poet Robert Frost said it eloquently: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." I must be shaken by a character's death myself if I am to render it faithfully to my readers.
Three kinds of characters' deaths shatter us the most:
1. The Innocent Friend

The most dangerous relationship a character can have is being the best friend of the hero. If the hero has been reluctant to accept his destiny, or his responsibilities, the death of his friend is often the turning point that galvanizes him to take the next steps and the necessary risks. By his friend's death the hero is changed, made stronger, grows up.
2. The Victim of a Wicked World
When we shudder at Fantine's death in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables we shudder at the hellish poverty that killed her. In Atonement Robbie and Cecelia lose their lives pitifully in the gruesome grind of war. In A Game of Thrones Ned Stark is executed in a naked political power grab.
3. The Self-Sacrificing Hero
When Mariko, the courageous noblewomen in Shogun, goes to Osaka Castle to obtain the release of innocent hostages, she knows she is going to her death. She sacrifices her life to save Lord Toranaga from his enemies, and restore peace.
In A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton takes his awe-inspiring walk to the guillotine with selfless resolve, sacrificing his life so that Lucie, the woman he loves, can be reunited with her husband.
These are deaths of valor – to me the most poignant of all – in which the character accepts death as the price of saving someone they love. That's powerful stuff. What reader is not moved to ask in admiration: Could I do the same?


And, speaking of killing . . . 


I hope you’ll enjoy my new video: “What Makes a Killer Mystery? in which I outline the essential elements of the genre and show interviews with five acclaimed mystery writers, including Denise Mina and John LeCarr√© (below).  Watch the video here.





Barbara Kyle is the author of the bestselling Thornleigh Saga series of historical novels and of acclaimed thrillers. Her latest novel of suspense is The Man from Spirit Creek. Over half a million copies of her books have been sold. Barbara has taught hundreds of writers in her online Masterclasses and many have become award-winning authors. Visit Barbara at https://www.barbarakyle.com/ 


Tuesday, June 15, 2021



What’s Happening to the English Language?

by Saralyn Richard

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. My parents encouraged me to be an English teacher, instead. So, I spent several decades reading and grading other people’s writing. I even taught journalism and creative writing—to teenagers and later to seniors (aged 50+). Although teaching kept me way too busy to write, it also kept me in the universe of writers and writing. I was like a frustrated chef who had all the best recipes and ingredients but couldn’t enter the kitchen.

            Several years ago, I came to a crossroads in my education career. By then I’d moved into administration and school improvement consulting, and the constant travel had become too much. I stepped back from on-site consulting and began doing what I’d always loved, writing. In this case, it was technical writing—curricula, white papers, articles, proposals, and grants.

            It was a joy to flex my writing muscles. I had a blast selecting the best words, sentence structures, and arguments. The rules of grammar and mechanics rolled back into my frontal lobe as if they had never left.

                                            Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com

            Soon I was ready to try my hand at fiction, and I took great delight in practicing other tools of the trade, such as imagery, figures of speech, and dialogue. Grateful for a traditional education in grammar and composition, which even included diagramming sentences, I forged ahead with fulfilling my dream deferred.

            What I didn’t realize is how much the English language had relaxed while I was busy doing classroom duty. When had the Oxford comma controversy reared its ugly head? When had use of “their” as a singular possessive pronoun come into acceptable use? How had adverbs, those lovely -ly descriptors, become persona non grata? I began seeing non-words like “supposably” and “irregardless” cropping up in articles that had supposedly been edited and vetted for publication. And when did “blonde” become an adjective?

            Fortunately, my first publisher was as picky as I was, and the few times we clashed over how to punctuate something, we let the Chicago Manual of Style serve as referee, and most of the time, Chicago sided with me. I did go to the mat a few times over such things as where the apostrophe should go in a possessive of a proper name ending in “s.”

                                            Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com

            If I sound like a hundred-year-old spinster schoolteacher, let me assure you that is not the case. I can waltz and fox trot, but I can also hit the whoah. I’m sure everyone reading this post has certain pet peeves regarding the English language. What are yours?


Saralyn Richard is the author of A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL, the Detective Parrott mystery series, and the children’s book, NAUGHTY NANA. Follow her on social media and on her website here.