Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Highlights from Bouchercon

Bouchercon 2017 was held in Toronto, Canada and I'm still enjoying a few extra days there, but here are two highlights from the week:
Here is our panel discussing crime novels set on the coasts. From the left are Ryan Aldred (mysteries set in Costa Rica), Baron Birtcher (Hawaii), David Burnsworth (Charleston SC), Michele Dorsey (US Virgin Islands), and Mike Martin (Newfoundland). They each had interesting observations about coastal settings, character, and crime. They made my moderating job easy.

Another highlight was Canadian bestselling author Louise Penny. I snapped this right after she won the Anthony Award for best mystery, for her book A GREAT RECK0NING.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Power of 'Me Too'

J.M. Phillippe

One of the most powerful feelings in the world is that moment when you realize that something you thought just happened to you, that only you understood or experienced (often with fear and/or shame), also happened to someone you know. Somehow sharing the experience changes how you feel about it. It shifts the burden from you to some universal truth -- this is a thing that happens to people, not just me.

It needs to not just be "me" in order to take away some of the shame. To that end I often self-disclose with my clients that I also suffer from depression. Me, too. So when I talk about how its the little things -- the laundry, recycling, dishes, and trash piling up; the constant need for distraction and inability to focus on anything; the sleeping binges and insomniac binges; the appetite that refuses to stay consistent -- they nod their heads. Oh yeah, that happens to me, too.

On social media, there is a trend happening right now of women saying "me too." It is a way for them to share that they have also experienced sexual harassment and/or assault, to show how common the problem is (and is a throwback to #yesallwomen, popularized in 2014 as a response to #NotAllMen). But for me at least, it is having a secondary effect of showing me just how not alone I have been in my own experiences. It is showing me that whatever I have gone through, someone else has gone through something similar, and that means I can feel a little less ashamed about my own experiences, a little less convinced I somehow did something wrong, inadvertently "asked for it" in some way, or had something specifically wrong with me that invited other people's bad behavior. Instead, I can see more directly how the culture at large is to blame, how systemic the issue is, how real rape culture (and the way it contributes to mass harassment) is.

For me, the power of "me too" in this instance is that it helps me continue to chip away at the shame I have had about my body since I was a little girl and was "made to feel funny" by adult men paying too much of the wrong kind of attention to me. My body was remarked on, my looks analyzed, my freedom curtailed because my very femaleness meant I would forever be a target. Pretty little girls don't get to go play outside by themselves. I was taught that a healthy amount of fear would keep me safe. It didn't. I was taught that a certain amount of modesty would keep me safe. It didn't. I was taught that not wrestling with the boys would keep me safe. Not only did that not help, eventually learning self defense by "wrestling with the boys" was the only thing that did help me feel safer as an adult.

Every "me too" I saw on my timeline made me feel a combination of sad -- and relieved. I wish the problem wasn't so prevalent. But at the same time, I feel reassured that this was never just about me but about all girls and women. This was never just my problem -- it was all of ours.

And I feel better still after reading wonderful messages of support from my male friends. A secondary trend of posting "yes I have" has popped up, with men sharing their own stories of giving in to rape culture and being complicit in the behavior of others, or participating in that behavior themselves. Their confessions and heartfelt apologies mean the world to me, because they come with a pledge to do better. It's another version of "me too" that carries the same kind of power -- we have all done things we are ashamed of. The first step is recognizing the problem. Together, we have a chance of changing things.


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, October 16, 2017

Finding Neverland: the Musical

by Paula Gail Benson

This summer, while I was in Boston for a business meeting, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the opening night performance for the national tour of Finding Neverland at the Boston Opera House. Based on a successful book and movie, this musical tells the story of how author J.M. Barrie developed the story of Peter Pan after meeting the sons of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. Although the fictionalized story does not strictly follow the facts found on Wikipedia or in Andrew Birkin’s J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: the Real Story Behind Peter Pan or Piers Dudgeon’s Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the DuMauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan (which has been reviewed as being a little too dark and not as factually reliable), the exploration of how an author found his character (and vice versa) is a fascinating view of the creative process.

Diane Paulus
Seeing this particular production had many advantages. The show already played Broadway and some of the company had been affiliated with that production. In particular, Diane Paulus, the Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theatre (ART) at Harvard University, had directed the musical from the time it was being developed at ART through its Broadway run. She also directed this national tour company, and had worked with the creators to incorporate suggestions for improving the plotline and making the story more immediate for the audience. The result was a really captivating performance that allowed the audience’s recollections of the boy who wouldn’t grow up to add another dimension to the story.

Billy Harrigan Tighe
As the musical begins, stoic Scotsman J.M. Barrie, a successful London playwright, is concerned that his plays are all the same and wondering what his next work should be. His American producer, Charles Frohman, urges him not to worry and finish the next show. His wife Mary, a former actress now enjoying life in society due to her relationship with Barrie, also encourages him to continue with the status quo. But, Barrie meets four boys and their widowed mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, in the park. After playing with the boys and relearning the joys of indulging his imagination, he faces triple crises of his wife leaving him for a nobleman, his producer demanding a new play, and Davies’ mother insisting that he cut off his relationship with her family.

Christine Dwyer
From the inner turmoil Barrie experiences, a villain emerges. His first name is James (after Barrie’s own first name and because, as the character informs Barrie, he is his alter ego) and his second name is Hook, for the appendage that takes place of a lost arm as well as the concept necessary to develop a story. As the first act concludes, Barrie’s imagination has taken the games from the park, added a dark presence consumed by the press of a ticking clock inside a crocodile that swallowed the missing arm, and created a pirate adventure that will become the story of Peter Pan. In the finale, Barrie becomes “Stronger” as his mind builds the images of the pirate ship (that the audience sees grow from a park bench) and has Barrie standing on the edge of the plank as the curtain falls.

Karen Murphy
In the second act, Barrie convinces his dubious producer and cast to put on his new work. Gradually, they warm to the project as Barrie discovers that Sylvia is ill. On opening night, Peter Davies is chosen to accompany Barrie to the theatre, but then the whole company returns to the nursery to give a private performance for the Davies family. In the end, Sylvia dies and Barrie with her mother collaborate to raise the boys.

John Davidson
Following the Boston performance, our audience enjoyed an onstage interview with the main actors and director Diane Paulus. Billy Harrigan Tighe, who had worked with Paulus in Pippin on Broadway played J.M. Barrie. Christine Dwyer, who had grown up near Boston, took on the role of Sylvia and was delighted to have so many people she knew coming to see the production. Veteran actress Karen Murphy played Mrs. DuMaurier, the strict matriarch who warms to Barrie’s charm, and well-known actor, singer, and TV personality John Davidson was featured as producer Frohman and alter ego Hook. In characterizing his work with the production, Davidson spoke eloquently about how each performance became a contract between the audience members and cast where all brought their impressions of Peter Pan into the mix.

The musical speaks to writers seeking to create as well as readers who remember a unique literary creation. Here’s the website where you can see if it is coming to a theatre near you: If it is, please go see it. You will thoroughly enjoy it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Debra's Gone Fishing - Canadian Style - at Bouchercon

Debra's Gone Fishing -- Canadian Style -- at Bouchercon 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Juliana Aragon Fatula's Writing as a Woman of Color

Autumn is here. 
My view from the River Walk in Canon City, CO

Arkansas River Walk in Autumn

This path along the river is one of my favorite spots to walk my dogs. 

Write what you know. If you don’t know about something read a book, research, ask experts about their field. If you don’t know how to write a murder mystery, and you want to write one, read a few hundred in the genre you like. I’ve read mysteries written by men, women, and to be more specific written by men and women of color since I am a Chicana.

I read books about the Ute Nation. I created fictional characters that were Ute. I read about Utah, specifically Salt Lake City. I visited the city and took photos, wrote notes, and interviewed residents.

I created a transgender character based on a couple of friends who are living in new bodies. I asked a friend to read the character outline I had written and she gave me great feedback. She said I was stereotyping the character. I thought the character was funny. She did not. She was insulted. The problem with the character was that I was not creating a backstory for her. She needed a past in order for me to understand her in the present. I gave her a better job. She became a transgender civil rights attorney. I stopped trying to make her funny and instead made her interesting.

The same thing occurred with one of my characters that was a possible murder suspect. I realized I hadn’t given her a storyline. I went back to the writing table, sat my ass down, and created one. I made her a soldier during the war in Viet Nam. But then I realized there weren’t many women soldiers in Nam. So, I made her a cook. I made her promiscuous and gave her soldiers to have affairs with. When she returned home she brought with her PTSD from the trauma of war. She used heroin. She changed. She aged. She became hard. I had to think like a murderer to create a great one. Why did she become a killer? Who loved her? Who hated her? What was her childhood like? What kind of evil had she survived to end up a killer?

I’m learning as I create these characters that they need a storyline to make them real, well-rounded, relevant. I write their backstory and study it until I start writing about their present based on what I know about them.

My murder victim, based on a xenophobic, misogynist, billionaire, had a very short part in the beginning of the story because he was murdered. However, he was the main subject of the investigation. He needed a past, too. I created a lifestyle for him that was unrealistic.  I had to make him believable. I had to give him characteristics that would make someone want to murder him. I began talking about him to friends and hashing out why he lived alone in a big mansion.

The protagonist is a character from my imagination, but she is part of me and parts of other women I know who are survivors, strong, successful. But she had to have a fault, a shame. So, I gave her scars and secrets.

Writing a murder mystery can be extremely satisfying. My goal is to tell a great story. My characters are crusaders for justice. They fight for the underserved and marginalized. I have faith that when I’m finished it will not be a good story, it will be a great murder mystery. I’m going to research, read, interview, and write until I’m convinced that the story deserves to be told.

Young women may read my book and decide to become a female investigator, or a civil rights attorney, or an internet technology expert, or a homicide detective. Or they may decide to open a shelter for homeless women and children and to teach them skills and send them out into the world as productive citizens, or a journalist that writes about atrocities that occurred to the Indigenous in this country. I want my characters to be realistic, gay, straight, transgender, Chicana, African-American, Native-American, Asian-American, disabled, mentally ill, cruel, kind, addicted, saviors, healers. Because in my world, those characters exist. I gave a couple of characters’ professional careers, but they grew up in Southern Colorado, so they speak Spanglish even though they are white. Some are sinners, some are saints, some are killers, some are funny, some are straight, but never narrow, no never narrow.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


by Bethany Maines

Today I’m discussing the absolutes of art.

Absolute number 1: artists must sell.  So toward that end, please consider purchasing my latest book! It's a five-star, "highly-satisfying, high-speed thriller" that readers are calling "hard to put down."

Shark’s Instinct: Fresh out of prison and fresh out of luck, twenty-something Shark wants back into The Organization. But when Geier, the mob boss with a cruel sense of humor, sends Shark to the suburbs to find out who’s been skimming his take, Shark realizes he’s going to need more than his gun and an attitude to succeed. With the clock ticking, Shark accepts the help of the mysterious teenage fixer, Peregrine Hays, and embarks on a scheme that could line his pockets, land him the girl and cement his reputation with the gang—if he makes it out alive.

$2.99 on sale today! BUY NOW!

Absolute number 2:  Nothing is absolute and artists spend a lot of time thinking about that.

In our current climate of politics, disasters, and protest, I’ve been listening to what a lot of artists are feeling. And by artists I mean everyone from fellow writers and graphic designers, to fine artists and poets. I know from the outside that most people think of the creative set as a homogeneous mass of weirdos. Which, weird, I’ll grant you, but homogeneous is not, in any way, accurate.

Like any family there are fractured in-fights, cultural differences between the “cousins” of fine art and design (or poets and novelists), there are fights over pecking order and definitions and what it all really means. But most artists when pressed will say that although they have their preferences, their set rules that they use, that most of the time, there is no absolute. Don’t ever pair two serif fonts, don’t ever write a novel in the first person, don’t use Papyrus for a logo (ever, no seriously)… Unless it works, in which case, you should absolutely do that. Absolutes in art and artists are few and far behind.

Which is why I think our current political climate is striking artists particularly hard. It’s as though we’ve all been toddling along enjoying the gray areas and we’ve run smack into the thirty percent of our population that only believes in black and white. Not that they live in black and white (because no one can). But they only believe in black and white and they want everyone else to bow before the almighty absolute and give them the peace of mind of being right. Arguing with someone who refuses to see the gray is pointless. Showing art full of color to someone who doesn’t see the subtle shades of the rainbow only makes them turn away. Many of the artist’s I listen to feel despair. They feel like their art has become frivolous when they see the colors being eradicated around them, but they can’t seem to make the leap to protest art. Nine months into a presidency that does not see the value in anyone who isn’t male, straight, or white, I would like to say that all art is protest art. To create joy, beauty, and harmony, to paint with many colors instead of the ones that have been chosen for us is protest art. I encourage my artist friends to follow their passion, take action, make art, refuse to go away or step back. Use every damn crayon in the box.

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. —Oscar Wilde

Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known. —Oscar Wilde

Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away like sand, creeds follow one another, but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons, a possession for all eternity. —Oscar Wilde


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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Finding the "real" United States

By AB Plum

During a recent cruise from Barcelona to Miami I asked the young Indian cook preparing my egg-white omelet, “Have you visited the US?”

“No, madam. It is my dream. But someday I will go. Where do you think I should start?”

Obviously, this isn’t a one-minute conversation (about the time for my omelet to cook). But we discussed the question at length over his next fourteen preparations of my breakfast.

“New York,” he said next morning, flipping the concoction in his skillet—a skill I’ve never mastered and told him so to let him know I’m not an expert in either flipping omelets or mapping out cross-country trips. “I think,” he continued, “Manhattan and Hollywood-Los Angeles must go to the top of the list, don’t you agree?”

Someone behind me interrupted, “I’d like to order an omelet now because I don’t want to miss the lecture on Columbus's discovery of America.”

So, my new friend and I tabled the question until the following day when I picked up our conversation. “Since you’re from New Delhi, I’d suggest places other than cities. Do you know about the Grand Canyon? Or Yosemite National Park? The Black Hills aren’t that far from Yellowstone or the Tetons ...”

A hungry passenger elbowed in next to me and announced, “I’d like two eggs over easy.”

When I commented to other passengers about this on-going conversation, they all had definite ideas of places to go and places to experience. None recommended NYC or LA.

By the end of the cruise, I still lacked a solid plan but suggested beginning in Washington, DC. From there, I recommended the Black Hills, adding he should see the Crazy Horse Monument before proceeding to Yellowstone and/or the Tetons.

Next, I advised, head south and west to Salt Lake City, veering off to The Grand Canyon. Afterwards, fly to San Francisco to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. With any time, money, or energy left, I suggested flying to Seattle—maybe managing to hook up with a cruise ship destined for Alaska.

My new friend thanked me for my ideas, but I think he still felt the allure of NYC.

Yes, I recognize my itinerary leaves out huge swaths of our country, its history, and culture. I happen to love West Virginia and New Orleans. I know many would insist Mount Vernon and Monticello are a must for anyone visiting Washington. My preferences, Lincoln’s Tomb and Birthplace, probably do require too much travel off the beaten path. For me, they evoke more poignant memories than Washington’s and Jefferson’s plantations. I hope I conveyed the "real" United States is more than the East and West Coasts.

What do you think? Where would you send a foreign visitor with 21 days to see the USA? 

******When AB isn’t lolling on trans-oceanic cruises, she lives and writes just off the fast lane in Silicon Valley. Her American Journey began in Southern Missouri, after which she lived in Bolivia, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, and Argentina. Book 3 in The MisFit Series, The In-Between Years is now available from Amazon.  Look for Book 4, The Reckless Year on November 17—just in time for Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 9, 2017

My Purple Passion ~ Ellen Byron

We're thrilled to welcome USA TODAY bestselling author Ellen Byron to the Stiletto Gang! Ellen shares her passion for purple and a thought or two about her fabulous Cajun Country Mystery Series.

My relationship with the color purple – the actual color, not the book - has a history. When I was a kid growing up in New York, my mother told me it was considered a low-class color. Where this judgment came from, I don’t know. It’s not like my mother was some high-falutin’ society matron who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything but basic beige. She was an Italian immigrant who grew up on the mean streets of Depression-era NYC. But I took what she said to heart and hid the truth - purple was my favorite color.

Cut to adulthood and the impending debut of my Cajun Country Mystery series. These days, it’s not enough to write a book or a series, you have to market it, too. I wrestled with how best to do this, and realized the obvious answer was to brand my Louisiana-based series with the Mardi Gras color scheme of purple, green, and gold. I’ve always liked the color green, and gold is my go-to metallic. And purple… oh, you glorious combo of red and blue! Given permission to go wild with the shade, I did exactly that.

The thing is, once I started buying purple I couldn’t stop. My wardrobe now looks like a Concord grape harvest. I hit Target, thrift stores, local shops, online sites, tag sales. I bought clothes, belts, shoes, accessories, and makeup. I actually gave away two pairs of purple shoes I’d bought because my daughter told me they were so ugly she’d disown me if I ever wore them.

Shopping for purple has become a habit I have trouble breaking. When I walk into a store, I force myself to remember there are other colors in the world. But my purple passion has had an unexpected benefit. My mother’s no longer prejudiced against the color. In fact, she’s embraced it. When I visit her and we go out to dinner, there’s a good chance we’ll be purple twinsies.

A CAJUN CHRISTMAS KILLING, the third book in my series,      
launches tomorrow and the fourth book in my series comes 
out in 2018, so I’ve got at least two more purple-wearing years
ahead of me. I’m mulling over a new series set in New York City, 
but I’m terrified to introduce another color into my world. 
I just don’t have the closet space for it.

Body on the Bayou, the second book in Ellen’s Cajun Country Mystery Series, won the Left Coast Crime Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery, and was nominated for an Agatha Award in the category of Best Contemporary Novel. Ellen's debut novel in the series, Plantation Shudders, was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards, and made the USA Today Bestseller list. Book three, A Cajun Christmas Killing, launches October 10th. TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, Fairly OddParents, and many pilots. She’s also an award-winning playwright and journalist. Ellen lives in Studio City with her husband, daughter, and two spoiled rescue dogs. Visit her at