Monday, March 27, 2017

Celebrating the Short Story: the 2016 Agatha Short Story Nominees

by Paula Gail Benson

Malice Domestic has become a wonderful homecoming for me each year. Held in late April or early May near Washington, D.C. (for the last several years in Bethesda, Maryland), it celebrates the best in the “traditional mystery,” written in the style of Agatha Christie, where the emphasis is on resolving the puzzle of the crime rather than delving into the more gruesome aspects of the deed.

Excellence is recognized at Malice Domestic by the annual Agatha Awards, given to living authors for works published during the previous calendar year. Short stories are included in the nominated categories and this year’s group of nominees features a group of outstanding writers. Not only are the authors well-respected and prolific, but also the publications demonstrate how short fiction is experiencing a new golden age for mystery readers’ enjoyment.

Following are the nominees and links where you may read the short stories:

Best Short Story:
"Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story" by Gretchen Archer (Henery Press)
"The Best-Laid Plans" by Barb Goffman in Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional (Wildside Press)
"The Mayor and the Midwife" by Edith Maxwell in Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 (Down & Out Books)
"The Last Blue Glass" by B.K. Stevens in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
"Parallel Play" by Art Taylor in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (Wildside Press)

Gretchen Archer, who writes the Davis Way Crime Caper series for Henery Press, uses the setting for her novels, the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, for her short story about a holiday host investigating the death of a slot machine tournament player. Henery Press issued the story in electronic format on Amazon. Gretchen is a Tennessee housewife, who lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, son, and a Yorkie named Bently. Her first Davis Way Crime Caper, Double Whammy, was a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award and appeared on the USA TODAY Bestsellers List.

Barb Goffman has won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her mystery short stories. She received the Silver Falchion was for her collection, Don't Get Mad, Get Even. She also has been nominated for the Anthony and Derringer. Her nominated story was published in  Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional. It’s a great joy to see Malice Domestic resume its practice of issuing short story anthologies, particularly this volume that concentrates on mysteries at conventions. Barb’s story reveals how the best laid plans of two honored guests at Malice Domestic can take a bad turn for the worse.

Edith Maxwell, an Agatha nominated and Amazon bestselling author, writes two series under her own name (the Quaker Midwife and Local Foods Mysteries), two under the name Maddie Day, and previously wrote the Lauren Rousseau mysteries as Tace Baker. Her nominated short story appeared in the Bouchercon anthology, Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 edited by Greg Herren (Down & Out Books), and featured her Quaker midwife protagonist, who must solve the mystery of a death in a New Orleans’ family that has come to Amesbury in 1888.

B.K. Stevens has published over fifty short stories, most appearing in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and eleven of which have been collected in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime, published by Wildside Press. In addition, she has written a novel featuring a deaf interpreter, Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books), and a young adult martial arts mystery, Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen Press). She has won a Derringer and has been nominated for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Her nominated story, published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, was described by editor Linda Landrigan as: “A young wife finds her life’s disappointments measured in broken glass.”

Art Taylor, associate professor of English at George Mason University and frequent contributor to the Washington Post, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and Mystery Scene Magazine, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories. For his short stories, he has won two Agatha Awards, two Anthony Awards (one for his own short fiction and the other for editing Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015), a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards. His nominated story, about a parent’s efforts to protect her child, was published in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning.

If you haven’t already discovered these extraordinary authors, I hope you’ll take this opportunity to read their nominated work. And, if you already love their writing, as I do, enjoy these wonderful nominated selections!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Revision and Television

Revision and Television by Debra H. Goldstein

Lately, I’ve been fast forwarding through a lot of television shows, avoiding the commercials. It makes it possible for me to quickly get to the gist of each program, but also makes me realize how much of normal program running time is taken up by ads. Perhaps the most egregious one was a recent airing of Beaches.

Because I loved the Bette Midler/Barbara Hershey version, I was a little leery about the remake, but having been an Idina Menzel fan since seeing her in Rent and Wicked, I decided to bite the bullet. Joel and I had other plans the night it was telecast, so I taped it. When I finally sat down with my remote control to watch the multi-hour presentation, I discovered that almost a third of it had been commercials. Good for me, but a bummer for those who watched the original broadcast.

For me, first drafts are much like watching a show with its commercials intact. They are bloated and often contain spots I can do without. Revision is comparable to using a remote control. I can fast forward or edit through garbage, but slow down if there is a passage (advertisement) that catches my eye or I’ve hit the spot where the plot actually flows. Sometimes, I fast forward too quickly in terms of my revisions, and must backtrack a bit; other times, it is a stop and start method until I get the wording exactly like I want it. The key is to make my manuscript as tight as a script must be to fit into its limited time. A thirty-minute show must move the acts of its plot within twenty-two minutes. My work must be equally concise or I will lose a reader’s attention.

That’s why I am going to end this blog now. Or, perhaps I should insert a commercial – want to know more about me? Check out my new website at and sign up there to follow my personal blog, It’s Not Always a Mystery, and, if you haven’t already done so, follow The Stiletto Gang, (and like the gang’s facebook pageJ).

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Clicking Our Heels – Astrology and the Stiletto Gang

Although every member of The Stiletto Gang is a writer, that’s where a lot of our similarities end. This month we decided to investigate if astrology impacts our differences. We specifically addressed what our respective birthday months are and whether we reflect our astrological signs or stones.

Dru Ann Love – March.
Strengths: compassionate, artistic, intuitive, gentle, wise and musical
Weaknesses: fearful, overly trusting, sad, desire to escape reality, can be a victim or a martyr
Pisces likes: being alone, sleeping, music, romance, visual media, swimming, spiritual themes
Pisces dislikes: know-it-all, being criticized, the past coming back to haunt, cruelty of any kind

Cathy Perkins – I don’t know much about astrology but I think being on the cusp gives me a blend of Aquarius’ intellectual approach to life and Pisces’ artistic empathy.

Linda Rodriguez – I am quadruple Scorpio, which means my sun sign, rising sign, Mercury, and Venus are in Scorpio. This means passion-and not necessarily only sexual passion, but passion for all kinds of areas in life – and I am an intensely passionate person. It also means fierceness, loyalty and commitment, and that I would make a terrible enemy. All that is true about me. The saving, softening grace is that I’m on the cusp of Libra, which adds a tendency to see all sides and natural diplomacy and a desire for everyone around me to be happy.

Paffi S. Flood – My birthday month is September. That means I’m a Virgo, and, oh, yes, I do. J

Sparkle Abbey – Mary Lee aka Sparkle’s birth month is February and so falls under the sign of Aquarius. The traits of the Aquarius sign say those born under this sign are progressive, original, independent and humanitarian and look at the world as a place of possibilities. I’d certainly like to think that’s true J. Anita aka Abbey’s birth month is October which means she’s a Libra. Libra’s are balanced with an analytical mind, have a social nature and deep commitment to loyalty. They tend to be idealistic, easy going and rarely feel that fighting or arguments are the best solution to a problem. That sounds about right.

Debra H. Goldstein – Pisces ….. fluid while I cut through the water

Jennae Phillippe – I am a September baby, and Virgo. I am amazed how much my work as a therapist finds me pushed up against astrological signs. People love feeling like they have an inside track to who another person is, and I feel like signs or the Myers Briggs personality tests help people feel like they can get a broad sense of who someone else is. But I think it relies pretty heavily on confirmation bias – we see Virgo signs in Virgos and ignore everything they say or do that does not match our idea of them as a Virgo. That being said, people think I match my sign pretty well.

Bethany Maines – I’m a May baby, so that makes me an emerald Taurus Snake (Chinese astrology). I’m not very green, but I’ll own stubborn, and “physically attractive”? My two year old told me I had nice hair, so I’ll take it.

Paula Gail Benson – My birthday month is September. I try to be trustworthy, loyal, and hard-working, Virgo traits. Sometimes my Virgo tendency toward perfectionism can deter me from getting things done. I love sapphires and have heard them called the “wisdom stone.”

Kay Kendall – My birthday month is February. Although I sometimes read my daily or monthly Aquarius horoscopes in newspapers or magazines (never online), I really don’t think in astrological terms.

Kimberly Jayne – I’m a September Libra. If you look in he horoscope guides for the definition of a Libran, you’ll see my face there – or you should. I’m a classic Libran with the good and not-so-good character traits. My gemstone is the sapphire, and I do love that stone when it’s lightest blue, as in the Ceylonese sapphire. They’re gorgeous!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reading vs. Writing

by Bethany Maines

On Monday night fellow Stiletto author J.M. Phillippe (visiting from Brooklyn) and I attended the local open mic night from Creative Colloquy.  The evening celebrated Creative Colloquy’s third anniversary and featured the Washington State poet laureate Dr. Tod Marshall. Creative Colloquy’s mission is to connect writers with their community and celebrate their works. And in keeping with that mission, Dr. Marshall reminded us in the audience to both battle for the arts and to rejoice in our creative communities. 

As with every time I go to a reading event I'm struck by what different skills reading and writing are. It's difficult to differentiate the presentation from the work being presented. For every rushed reading, there’s one that gives space for the audience to savor the moment. For every mumbled poem, there’s one that echoes from the rafters.  For every awkward and misplaced laugh in the middle of a story, there's one that ought to be a comedy special.  Delivery, timing, and pronunciation, all take a reading from blah to amazing.  Or at least important enough to make people stop talking to their friends at the table.  Are the amazing readings better?  Or just benefitting from better delivery?

It makes me wonder: what could I be doing to present my own work better in live readings? Should we authors all be forced to take public speaking classes? Improv classes? Should we be forced to listen to recordings of ourselves (God nooooooooooo!!!)?  Is there a secret trick that I could be using?  What if I just I hire an actor to read for me?  In all probability I shall simply have to rely on the very exclusive, top secret trick of practice and repetition.  As long as no one makes me watch a recording of it, that will probably be fine.


Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, 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, March 21, 2017

The Myth of the Lone Writer

by J.M. Phillippe

Anyone who tells you that writing is a solitary activity is telling tales. Even ignoring the number of published authors who are actually writing teams (such as The Stiletto Gang's own Sparkle Abbey), and others who use ghost writers, no writer I have ever met has ever been published without a high level of support from an entire team of people. That support usually starts with other writers -- people who share the insane desire to try to create worlds out of words for others to play in.

I first met members of my personal writing support team at Western Washington University, where I took my first steps toward becoming a writer. Coming back to Washington still feels like coming home for me, and I feel more strongly tied in to the writing communities out here than in either of my other two homes (Los Angeles, CA and Brooklyn, NY).

Tod Marshall read poems in honor of Spring
 in between scheduled readers.
So I was more than happy to go with fellow Blue Zephyr Press author (and The Stiletto Gang blogger) Bethany Maines to the Creative Colloquy Third Anniversary Party in Tacoma, WA. With special guest MC Tod Marshall, the Washington State Poet Laureate, the event boasted five scheduled guest readers (all published in the Creative Colloquy literary magazine, either online or in print), and an open mic that offered a chance for others to share their work as well. Authors read to a packed house at the B Sharp Coffee Shop, and prizes were given out to audience members via raffle tickets throughout the course of the evening. (I, sadly, did not win anything.)

What I noticed most about the gathering was how many readers had teams of support with them. It seemed to me that not a single writer was there alone. And if they started off the night alone, the act of sharing their work to the group suddenly made them seem less so, as others congratulated them for reading, for having the nerve to stand up and share their words in a public space.

It was a pretty, and pretty public, space.
Being there with someone from my own support network made it all the more obvious that writing is rarely the loner activity it's often portrayed as being. During my week visit, I had countless conversations with Bethany and others in my writing group and extended reading network about my latest writing project (a contemporary fantasy series based on a short story I wrote for a contest last year) that shaped the world I was creating. We got to spend rare time together writing in the same space, making use of the ability to use an auxiliary brain to track down words we couldn't quite remember, being inspired by the steady clicking of the computer next to us, and generally enjoying the company of someone who gets it when you say that your characters aren't cooperating. All of this was before we even shared the actual works themselves, a process that begins with beta readers, and, basically, never ends. Even after a work is published, it still takes other people -- namely an audience -- to bring it to life.

I don't often get time to go to readings or literary events, and so I am not often reminded of just how many of us writers -- and people willing to support us -- there are. You'd think I'd feel intimidated, but whenever I am in a space like that, I just feel excited and proud to be part of the community around me. I'm always just so happy to know that I'm not alone in the struggle, and in the celebration, of writing.

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, March 20, 2017

The New Cinderella

by Paula Gail Benson

Are you familiar with the new Cinderella? I mean the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that played on Broadway from 2013 to 2015 and now is touring around the country? If you haven’t had the opportunity and get the chance, please go see it, particularly if you were enchanted by its television predecessors, the first with Julie Andrews (1957), then Lesley Anne Warren (1965), and Brandy (1997). Here’s the website for the touring schedule:
Just be forewarned: this is not your traditional Cinderella story. This is a new empowered Cinderella, who helps to bring out the leadership capabilities in the man she comes to love. If you think I’m kidding, take a look at the cover for the Broadway original cast album, which also is the national touring company’s poster. It doesn’t feature a beautiful girl in a pumpkin carriage, or with a glamorous Fairy Godmother, or even with a handsome Prince. Instead, it shows a large glass slipper and inside the glass slipper is the image of a girl holding a glass slipper looking up at a crescent moon. One poster also has the log line: “glass slippers are so back.”

So what’s the history of this phenomenon? It was actually written as a television musical with Julie Andrews as Cinderella. According to Wikipedia, the original production had to fit into a 90-minute time slot with six commercials, so Oscar Hammerstein wrote it in six short acts, which he said took seven months.

I remember seeing the Lesley Anne Warren version and being captivated by the songs: “In My Own Little Corner,” where Cinderella explains how she deals with a harsh world through her imagination; “Impossible,” in which the Fairy Godmother sets the magic in motion; “Ten Minutes Ago,” with Cinderella and her Prince realizing their instant attraction while waltzing; “The Step-Sisters’ Lament,” gleefully demonstrating the pangs of jealousy (“With very little trouble/I could break her little arm”); “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” has the Prince contemplating his doubt upon Cinderella’s disappearance; and “A Lovely Night,” shows Cinderella relishing the upper hand as she describes a ball she couldn’t possibly have attended (“I do not know these things are so/I only can suppose”).

While the first two television versions followed the traditional story, the third had Cinderella running away from home after particularly cruel treatment by her step-mother. The Broadway and touring company version begins with the Prince (now called Topher instead of Christopher) battling a dragon and heading home from school to take over his princely duties. A trusted mentor has been handling the kingdom’s business pending Topher’s return and hopes to continue to do so by making Topher a puppet ruler. Meanwhile, a revolutionary character, Jean-Michel, is standing up for the rights of the common people, while ineptly romancing one of the step-sisters. When the mentor seeks to distract Topher’s attention by having a ball to find a bride, the more familiar part of the story begins, with certain distinctions. One difference is that the Fairy Godmother is a local “crazy” woman, to whom Cinderella has been kind. Another little twist is that the first act ends with Cinderella losing her slipper on the stairway, then going back to retrieve it before Topher can get it, making all of us wonder what the second act may have in store. Never fear. There’s another event at the palace, where Cinderella introduces Topher to Jean-Michel and the common people, then leaves behind her slipper before vanishing.

In each television and stage version, the names of the step-sisters changed: Portia and Joy (1957), Prunella and Esmerelda (1965), Calliope and Minerva (1997), and Charlotte and Gabrielle (2013 on Broadway). I may be wrong, but the mystery writer in me noticed that Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote the new book for the Broadway version lists a daughter Gabby in the credits, so I’m guessing that may be the reason for the name Gabrielle as well as a change in character so that Gabrielle becomes Cinderella’s confidant instead of her adversary.

After we saw the stage production, John W. Henry, my theater buddy, who remembered well having produced a local production of the original show, asked me what story had been incorporated into the new version. I had to think about this question a while, but I finally decided that it was a reverse of the Beauty and the Beast plotline, where, instead of having to fight off the angry villagers, Cinderella gets Topher to champion their cause.

I enjoyed this version because when teaching short story writing, I have often used the Cinderella model to show structure. The problem is that if you stick with the traditional tale, Cinderella has things happen to her and never takes a proactive role. I encourage my students not to let that happen with a protagonist. I’m glad that the people behind this new production took my advice!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Movie or Book? Which Kind of Imagination Do You Have?

by Linda Rodriguez

Hi! My name is Linda, and I am a bookworm. I'm the kid who constantly heard "Get your nose out of that book!" and "You're deaf, dumb, and blind when you've got your nose in a book!" I was the kid who carried extra books to school beyond all the heavy required texts. I'm the kid who read ahead in the reading books to get to the end of the story.

Now, as an adult, I open a good novel at my family's and my to-do list's risk. I will disappear into the world of the book. My kids call it "Scorpio-ing." (I'm a Scorpio, and that sign is noted for its powers of concentration.) My youngest son has been known to jump up and down in front of his book-immersed mother, flapping his arms, to demonstrate to visiting friends how weird I am--though he and his sister inherited that ability to be swept up in an enthralling novel's world.
When I'm reading a good novel--classic, literary, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, makes no difference--the author's world and the people in it come alive for me, and I am living the book's story with them. I am experiencing that world and that story in a visceral way that is sometimes more real than the way I experience the quite-wonderful world of my daily life. I suspect I developed this ability as a survival mechanism in my dire childhood (which made "Mommie, Dearest" look like a fairy tale). Pouring myself into the book I was reading and the world it created in my imagination allowed me escape from some very scary times for a little kid. Novels kept me sane and allowed me to know there were many other ways of living in the world beyond the one in which I was currently caught.
That ability to live within the story I'm reading has served me well, though. It brought me whole, if scarred, from the kind of childhood that routinely tosses people into drug addiction, crime, mental illness, and suicide. It turned me into a writer at a young age. It allows me to experience my own stories while I'm spinning them in that same real way. 
I enjoy movies, as well, but I have to say, no movie has ever given me that same total immersion into a different reality that a book does.I think that's because watching movies and television is passive while reading a book is active, drawing your whole brain into a co-creation of the world and people of the book. My oldest son can't do this. He's totally a movie person. His brain is wired a different way, very analytical, a whizz at math and computers where he makes much more money than all of the rest of us combined. So I know this isn't a given for everyone. I think it's a function of the type of imagination we are born with. 

When I have had injuries and illnesses involving great pain and discomfort, reading novels has sometimes been the only way for me to gain some relief. For the hours I am caught up in the book's world and away from the pain troubling my body. I am living elsewhere and involved with other things. Mysteries and fantasy novels have helped me get through miserable nights when no medicine that I could take would do it for me and the equally great pain of grief. The Lord of the Rings movies are wonderful, and I love them, but they don't take me out of myself in the same way as the original books do.

What about you? When you want to wander in a new story's world or seek relief from emotional or physical stress, do you turn to movies or to books? When you read your books, do you become completely involved in the story's world?

Linda Rodriguez's book, Plotting the Character-Driven Novel is based on her popular workshop. The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited was recently published. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in 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 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.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Left Coast Crime


I'm heading out this morning for Left Coast Crime.

Left Coast Crime is the big reader-oriented mystery conference that's always held somewhere on, well, the left coast. This year it's in Honolulu. I know, a sacrifice to head to Hawaii when we still have snow on the ground, but I'm up for the challenge.

Rather than author focused panels about craft or industry/publishing, the sessions are totally focused on books. Gotta love that, right? My panel is financial crime in mysteries, a session that's right up my alley. Come by and say hello if you're at the conference.

I'm eagerly waiting to catch up with author friends and make new ones.

Have you ever been to a reader-focused conference?

Cathy Perkins is currently working on new story in the So About… series.  She started writing when recurring characters and dialogue populated her day job commuting daydreams.  Fortunately, that first novel lives under the bed, but she was hooked on the joy of creating stories.  When not writing, she can be found doing battle with the beavers over the pond height or setting off on another travel adventure.  Born and raised in South Carolina, she now lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lasting Fiction--7 Books That Matter Most to Me

By Kay Kendall

I can’t recall when I wasn’t surrounded by books, even when my age was in single-digit years. I had a strict time for lights-out but always wanted to keep reading. One year someone gave me a small pin-on Santa. It lit up when I pulled a string dangling from Santa’s beard and provided enough light for reading under the covers. Fortunately, Santa’s battery lasted for months and months. This made me so happy, although it’s a miracle I didn’t ruin my eyesight.

These memories illustrate how important books have been for me, like, forever. I once told my mother that “books are my friends.” I felt silly saying it, but years later she recounted my words back to me. Both of my parents were great readers. Unusual for their generation—the Greatest—both graduated from college. My father continued his quest for learning throughout his life, while my mother devoted herself to fiction.

A few years ago, I came across my baby book, bound in pink leather. On one page, space was provided to answer this question: What was baby’s first statement about religion?
My mother filled in the answer: “At the age of two years, my daughter asked if Jesus went to college.”
Oh yes indeed, books and book learning were inculcated early in me.

Like many of us who are inveterate readers, I’ve encountered many favorite books over the years. I could probably rattle off one hundred right off the top of my head. Recently I attempted to winnow the list down to those that have stuck with me—those that left lasting memories—and boiled that list down to seven. Here are the first five, in the order that I read them:
Black Beauty by English author Anna Sewell, published 1877
Little Women by American author Louisa May Alcott, published 1868
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, published 1847
Anna Karenina by Russian author Leo Tolstoy, published 1878
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by British author John le Carré, published 1974
Each of these novels I've read at least three times, with the exception of Anna Karenina, read only twice. (After all, it is by far the longest on my list.) Since I adhere to the motto of “so many books so little time,” I rarely reread anything. These five stand out because I devoured each of them many times. And even today, when paging through them, I stop at passages that astonish me. The words leap off the pages and seem to shout, “See. See. THIS is why I grabbed you and will never release you from my clutches. You STILL believe in these things.”

Horse crazy as a young girl, I read many books about horses, but only Black Beauty had staying power. Its message of kindness to all creatures great and small was important in my grade school years. The American classic of Little Women gave me a heroine named Jo March with whom I could relate. Not her three sisters—they were too sweet or dazzling or bossy. Then around age eleven, the adventurous Gothic romance of Jane Eyre swept me away.  I never looked for my own Heathcliff—oh no, not him—but searched instead for my own Mr. Rochester. And I found him, dear reader, I found him.  
To prepare for my SAT exams and for college, I read classic literary novels in high school. I tried Anna Karenina then but could not get past the first twenty pages. In my twenties I tried again, and that time it took. I also read the great War and Peace, and it was almost a toss-up for which I loved more, but poor Anna with her sad tale won out. For anyone who has never read Tolstoy, I recommend that you begin with something short to see if his precision writing draws you in. Try The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a novella considered a masterpiece of Tolstoy’s late fiction. What the author sees, understands, and describes is sheer brilliance, even in translation.
The only contemporary novel of my first five is my favorite spy story of all time, by my favorite living author, John le Carré. On first reading I could scarcely understand it. There were too many code words and triple dealing and nothing was as it seemed. I couldn’t even understand the ending—I was that confused. When I reread it a year later, then I began to “get it.” The depth of deception on both political and personal levels was astounding, and the puzzles were dazzling. I have read le Carré’s  masterwork several more times for sheer pleasure.
All five of these works I watch again and again as new versions come out for the screen. I am particularly picky when I watch Jane Eyre. No actress ever lives up to my vision of the heroine, although there are some darned good Rochester’s, mind you. Conversely, actresses who play the role of Anna Karenina have never disappointed me. Well, let’s face it. My favorite book, ever, is Jane Eyre, and nothing can compete on the screen with what I see in my own imagination.
Finally, in a somewhat different category are books six and seven. These are seminal works—ones that contain the seeds of later development. My own later development, to be exact. One inspired me to try writing for the first time, and much, much later the other encouraged me to write historical mysteries. These two are
“A Visit from St. Nicholas” by American academic Clement Moore, first published anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel on December 23, 1823, and
Maisie Dobbs by British author Jacqueline Winspear, published in 2003.
Even when I could read, my grandfather read the beloved Christmas poem to me every holiday season. When we weren’t together, he read it to me over the phone. To this day I love its language and can recall most of its lines. When I was seven, I wrote and illustrated my own version, paying special care to decorate the opening line, “Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house….” Then for decades I proceeded to write and write and write some more, but none of it was fiction. Instead I wrote a graduate thesis and then media releases, annual reports, and the like for corporations and educational institutions during my PR career. While I sometimes longed to write novels, I didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to say. Finally in 1998, I began my first attempt, empowered by a seminar for women leaders in Texas.
While that completed manuscript will stay hidden in a drawer forever, my next effort was successfully published. My historical mystery, Desolation Row, was directly inspired by Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs. That debut book in her mystery series contains the critical elements I now try to incorporate in my own mysteries—a tough yet tender female sleuth, an exciting period of history for the setting, and crimes committed out of deep personal anguish. . . . So, now that I've told you about the books that have lasted for me, do you know which ones did that for you? Please do share your comments below. I would love to know.

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.  Her first novel about Austin Starr‘s sleuthing, DESOLATION ROW, was a finalist for best mystery at Killer Nashville in 2014. Visit Kay on Facebook