Monday, May 28, 2018

Happy Thoughts for Memorial Day

by Paula Gail Benson

Good morning and best wishes for a happy Memorial Day!

Hopefully, you can enjoy this day with some good reading. I'm going to recommend that you consider some offerings from my blogging partners here at The Stiletto Gang.

If you haven't already begun Shari Randall's Curses, Boiled Again!, check it out. It features injured ballerina Allie Larkin who is assisting her Aunt Gully with a lobster roll competition on Memorial Day when the judges are poisoned. Allie is spunky and delightful. The action is fast paced and the food descriptions will make you hungry!

Two of our blogging partners are celebrating Anthony nominations.The Anthony Awards, named for Anthony Boucher, are presented each year at Bouchercon, and recognize excellence for novels, short fiction, nonfiction, and online presence. Congratulations to Dru Ann Love for her nomination for Dru's Book Musings and to Debra H. Goldstein for her short story nomination.

Because the Anthonys have nominations for both individual and collected short stories, they introduce readers to a variety of wonderful short fiction. Following are this year’s nominees, who will be celebrated in St. Petersburg, Florida, this fall:

·       The Trial of Madame Pelletier by Susanna Calkins from Malice Domestic 12: Mystery Most Historical [Wildside Press]
·       God’s Gonna Cut You Down by Jen Conley from Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash [Gutter Books LLC]
·       My Side of the Matter by Hilary Davidson from Killing Malmon [Down & Out Books]
·       Whose Wine Is It Anyway by Barb Goffman from 50 Shades of Cabernet [Koehler Books]
·       The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place by Debra H. Goldstein from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017 [Dell]
·       A Necessary Ingredient by Art Taylor from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea [Down & Out Books]

·       Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash, Joe Clifford, editor [Gutter Books LLC]
·       Killing Malmon, Dan & Kate Malmon, editors [Down & Out Books]
·       Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, Andrew McAleer & Paul D. Marks, editors [Down & Out Books]
·       Passport to Murder, Bouchercon Anthology 2017, John McFetridge, editor [Down & Out Books]
·       The Obama Inheritance: Fifteen Stories of Conspiracy Noir, Gary Phillips, editor [Three Rooms Press]
Read and enjoy!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Fears for Characters by Juliana Aragon Fatula


It’s the time in Spring when my peonies, iris, poppies, gladiolas bloom in time for Memorial Day and decorating the graves of my loved ones who have gone to the other side. It’s always been my habit to use fresh cut flowers from my garden instead of plastic or silk flowers; they don’t last as long, as fake flowers but they’re real and beautiful.

This Memorial Day I pay tribute to my Father, Julian Aragon, a WWII veteran; and my Mother, Louise Aragon, the strongest woman I’ve ever known. They taught me to garden houseplants and trees, vegetables, fruit, and herbs. I always took my skills for granted until I realized not everyone has a green thumb let alone two.

My son has taken an interest in gardening and so I pass on what my parents and their parents before taught them. My husband loves gardening and landscaping. My yard is an oasis I call my Chicana Garden. Sometimes I take for granted my beautiful yard. We have garden parties and BBQ and my guest remind me how blessed I am to live with my Garden of Eden. 
I take photos as the garden grows and blooms. In the winter time I study the photos to brainstorm what changes I could make. My garden has given me hours upon hours of enjoyment. The scent of fresh flowers, the hum of bees, the music of the birds singing sweet melodies and splashing in the bird bath. The chimes ring in the breeze and I’m transported to a peaceful place to write.

I grew up in the sixties and seventies. A flowerchild. I’ve always loved growing plants. My father raised chickens for the fertilizer for his garden. We always had fresh eggs. I remember one time I walked outside with my b rother to feed the chickens and we found a huge snake in the yard. I was a child, so it frightened me.

I’ve been afraid of snakes since that day. I screamed. My Father came running, told my brother to bring him the shovel. My brother and I stood and watched my Father slay the monster. He hacked it to pieces and threw it back in the river. Our house sat near the river and we saw snakes, but this snake was huge and brightly colored. We almost stepped on it thinking it was our garden hose until it slithered and hissed.

You want to know what I did with that fear of snakes? I put it into my character’s psyche. Made the shero into a coward with snakes. Gave her nightmares of snakes covering her and hissing with their forked tongues. I wrote about a fear I know and understand very well. 
I’m not sure why my fear of snakes is so intense, except I grew up listening to mi abuela, Phoebe, telling me Bible stories. The Garden of Eden and the serpent. I know some p people love snakes. I do not. I can’t look at them without having snake nightmares that evening. The snake, the serpent, temptation, sin, evil, devil. I’m a grown ass woman afraid of garden snakes. 
Lizards, geckos, iguanas don’t scare me, but snakes symbolize evil in my psyche. I know snakes are good for the garden and eat bugs. I’d rather have the bugs than the snake. Fear of snakes hasn’t handicapped me in anyway. Thanks Grandma for putting the fear of snakes into my head. I think nature and wildlife are beautiful but snakes, not in a million years would I find a snake charming.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Diversity Through a Novel Lens

by Bethany Maines

Diversity and inclusion are words we hear a lot of these days. And they're also terms that get a lot of eye rolls. We already get bombarded with have-tos on a daily basis. Why should I have to think about including people that aren't like me?  I was recently working with a client in my day-job that's been propeneting diversity in their field. Their argument is that diversity leads to innovation. It's not simply a matter of moral correctness but that diversity, with respect and inclusion, creates a better product—no matter what the product is. This person also pointed out that usually we get stuck thinking about diversity in an extremely limited way—usually race or sexual orientation.  But what about age?  What about weight? Or background and class? What about any of the other metrics that we use to divide a group of us from another group of us?  There are many ways to incorporate diversity into a workplace, and the key take-away is to respect the differences of others and learn from their experiences. (I know.  Respect.  What a shocker.  If only we all just spent more time listening to Aretha Franklin.)

The argument for diversity has also been waging in the world of writing (aka Twitter, where novelists go for their social life) and publishing. The general argument is that diversity is good, but sales at the end of the day are what matter and we already know that people buy thrillers about white dudes who are avenging the hooker with a heart of gold, so that's what gets published. More writers of color would be nice, but they better write something marketable, possibly about white dudes because everyone knows that white dudes sell. 

In other words, novels are not meant to be real life. Whether that life is more exciting, in better order, full of magic, or simply cooler, people are reading novels to specifically NOT see their own lives.  Or as my brother once said about movies, "If I wanted to see real life, I'd go to the mall."  I get it. And it's true.  But it's not the ONLY thing that's true. The maxim of only publishing what we know works prevents innovation (the very thing diversity achieves!) and excludes a lot of readers—readers who are looking for themselves between the covers of books.  And as a girl who only had two action figures (Princess Leia and Lady Jayne from GI Joe) to my brothers army, let me tell you, representation matters.  You cannot win a war with just two, no matter how awesome they are. (Not that Leia and Jayne aren't totally awesome and would at minimum take out half an army.)  I would have paid a lot of money for another girl action figure and I'm willing to bet that readers would pay for books that showed more of themselves as well.

All of this is to say, I love the Stiletto Gang.  I love our diverse authors and their diverse characters. I'm glad to be a gang member and I'm happy to support them. And, after having looked at the the statistics on diversity and the creation of superior products, I'm absolutely convinced that our novels are some of the best around.


Join twenty-something former actress Tish Yearly and her septuagenarian ex-CIA agent grandfather, Tobias, as they bicker, solve a murder and try and keep the dog from getting diabetes.


Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, Tales From the City of Destiny, 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 fourth degree 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 YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Murderous Wit: A Malice Panel I’ll Remember

Malice Domestic Murderous Wit Panel

by Paula Gail Benson

This year at Malice Domestic, I had the privilege of moderating the panel on Murderous Wit. It featured five outstanding authors (my Stiletto Gang blogging partner Sparkle Abbey, the team of Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, Ginger Bolton, Becky Clark, and Lida Sideris). Not only did I enjoy getting to know each of these writers better, but I learned so much from hearing about their techniques and series.

I have long admired Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter, who write the Pampered Pets mystery series, and I always look for them at Malice, wearing black shirts that identify ML as “Sparkle” (after her rescue cat) and Anita as “Abbey” (after her rescue dog). Their titles are delightful take-offs on movies, TV shows, and well known stories including: Desperate Housedogs and Get Fluffy. As collaborators, they plot together, then separately craft each novel in their series, featuring a different protagonist. ML writes about Caro Lamont, a former psychologist turned pet therapist, and Anita’s main character is Melinda “Mel” Langston, a disgraced Texas Beauty Queen who owns a pet boutique.

Before beginning her current donut shop series, Ginger Bolton previously wrote the Threadville Mystery Series under the name Janet Bolin. Located in Threadville, Pennsylvania, a town of fabric, yarn, quilting, and embroidery shops, the first book, Dire Threads, was nominated for an Agatha. Her donut shop series features Emily Westhill, who runs the best donut shop in Fallingbrook, Wisconsin, alongside her retired police chief father-in-law and her tabby Deputy Donut. Survival of the Fritters is available and Goodbye Crueller World comes out in August. Ginger based her new series on an actual donut franchise that started in Clare City, Michigan. Its name is Cops and Doughnuts and its website is

With Ted Hardwick, Becky Clark has written the Dunne Diehl (pronounced Done-Deal) mysteries. She has a new series, Fiction Can Be Murder--A Mystery Writer’s Mystery, where her protagonist is mystery author Charlemagne “Charlee” Russo whose agent is found dead exactly as described in Charlee’s new, unpublished manuscript. Becky is the seventh of eight children. She creates purses from book covers and sells them on Etsy as Lazy Squirrel Designs. She had us all laughing as she seriously insisted, “Humor is funny.”

On her website, Lida Sideris writes about how she grew up believing she had been born in North Hollywood, an image she associated with glamour and cocktail dresses. When she located her birth certificate and found it said North Glendale, she took to writing instead of therapy. She and her protagonist, Corrie Locke have both worked as entertainment attorneys for film studios. Lida writes the Southern California Mystery series that includes Murder and Other Unnatural Mysteries and Murder Gone Missing.

I was intrigued to find connections between Nancy Drew and animals with all of these authors. In reading their work, I learned they not only knew how to turn a clever phrase, but also understood how to craft a page turner plot. If you want to learn about or enjoy excellently paced storytelling, check out these novelists. They will captivate you.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Getting the Setting Right

by Shari Randall

Shari here, taking a bit of a break from writing Book Three in my Lobster Shack Mystery series. I just mailed in copy edits on Book Two, Against the Claw, which will be published on July 31. My kids love the fact that it comes out on Harry Potter’s birthday!

When I started writing the first book in my series, I thought about the ingredients I wanted to add to the story. What do I like in a mystery? I definitely wanted a play-fair puzzle with lots of possible culprits. I like a fast pace, in the snappy style of Murder, She Wrote. I love a fish out of water story, so I landed Allegra Larkin, my ballerina protagonist, in a lobster shack. Most especially, I wanted the setting to make the reader feel like they were taking a New England vacation.

Actually, of all the ingredients, the setting worried me the most. Even though I live in the area where my series is set – the Connecticut shoreline and I am just minutes from some great lobster shacks – I was concerned about doing justice to the feel, details, and history that make this such a great place to visit.

My fictional Lazy Mermaid lobster shack is a combination of several shacks that I visited when I did my Lobster Shack Tour last summer. From Connecticut to the Cape to Maine there are lots of lobster shacks. What do they have in common?  The sunburned diners at splintery picnic tables, the dive-bombing gulls, blue sky and blue water, the briny sweet taste of lobster, the long lines and jammed parking lots.

What does my fictional Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack have that they don’t? For a start: 
A cook who serenades the lobster with Broadway show tunes.
Walls decorated with not just the typical fishing nets and wooden lobster traps, but also shelf after shelf of a mermaid collection called “mermaidabilia.”
A shack set in a little village where the buildings are unchanged from the time they were built in the mid 1800s.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a note from a reader who told me that my book made her feel like she was a little girl again, right back in the seaside cottage her family rented on the Connecticut shore not far from New Haven. It was her family’s tradition to visit a lobster shack and get lobster rolls once every summer. She was sure that the shack in my book was the one that her family had visited all those years ago. She even sent me a picture of her family at the shack.

Well, I was thrilled that I’d captured the feeling of this reader’s childhood New England vacations, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my lobster shack was fictional.

But the lovely fan letter has given me some hope that I’m getting the setting right. I hope if you’re in the mood for a New England vacation, you’ll visit the Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack in my fictional Mystic Bay, Connecticut. Let me know if you have a good time, okay?

Shari Randall is the author of Curses, Boiled Again, Book One of the new Lobster Shack Mystery series from St. Martin's Press. Book Two, Against the Claw, will be published July 31, 2018. You can see what's new with her at


Thursday, May 17, 2018

Politics As Usual Or Is Scandal A Thing Of The Past?

Teapot Dome 
By Cathy Perkins

This day in history - "Teapot Dome" became synonymous with outrage, political scandal and a disgraceful event.

You remember history, that thing we're destined to repeat if we don't remember it? 

What happened, you ask?
Teapot Dome
In 1920,  Warren G. Harding, a senator and  Ohio newspaper publisher, won a long-shot bid for the White House with the financial backing of oilmen who were promised oil-friendly cabinet picks in return.

Harding's campaign slogan for the election was “Return to normalcy,” a return to the way of life before World War I. His promise was to return the United States to its prewar greatness after the hardships of World War I (1914-1918). (Hmm, Make America Great?) As president, Harding favored pro-business policies, diminished conservation, and limited immigration. 

Even though it lasted only from 1921 to 1923 (Harding died in 1923), Harding's administration became the most scandal-ridden to date, thanks to his political friends. Attorney General Harry Daugherty was accused of profiting from the sale of government alcohol supplies during Prohibition, as well as selling pardons. Harding's head of the Veterans Bureau, Charles Forbes, was sentenced to two years in prison for bribery and corruption. Other scandals involved appointees in the Shipping Bureau and Alien Property Custodians office. And, Harding's Secretary of the Interior, Albert B. Fall, announced his resignation in the midst of an unfolding scandal that would become known as Teapot Dome.

Now I’d heard of the Teapot Dome scandal, but didn’t really know what was involved, so on a whim, I did a little research. (It’s what authors do, usually when they’re procrastinating.)

The Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s shocked Americans by revealing an unprecedented level of greed and corruption within the federal government. The scandal involved ornery oil tycoons, poker-playing politicians, illegal liquor sales, a murder-suicide, a womanizing president and a bagful of bribery cash.
Albert Fall

During the Teapot Dome scandal, Albert B. Fall was found guilty of accepting a bribe while in office. (Fall claimed it was a loan from Doheny worth about $5 million in today’s dollars. He was unable to justify the ~$15 million in cash and bonds he received from Sinclair. Some sources say it was “only” $10 million.) Fall was the first individual to be convicted of a crime committed while a presidential cabinet member.

Fall attempted to transfer control of the Forest Service from the Department of Agriculture. He wanted the natural resources of the Alaska Territory (apparently for his own use), but was no match for the Agriculture Secretary--and future Vice President--Henry Wallace. He was more “successful” with the US Naval oil-reserves. As the Navy converted from coal-powered to oil-fueled ships, the reserves insured there was sufficient oil in the event of another war.

Fall convinced Warren G. Harding to transfer supervision of the land from the Navy to the Department of the Interior in May 1921 (which Harding did by Executive Order). Fall then secretly granted exclusive rights to the Teapot Dome(Wyoming) reserves to Harry F. Sinclair of the Mammoth Oil Company (April 7, 1922). (He also made similar rights grants to Edward L. Doheny of Pan American Petroleum Company for the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Hills reserves in California (1921–22).)

What brought Fall down was a Congress that actually investigated instead of staging political shows and a Justice Department that “followed the money.” Fall’s personal financial position improved dramatically following the lease grants, attracting the attention of Senate investigators. Special prosecutors were appointed and the investigation unraveled the crime.

In 1929, Fall became the first former Cabinet officer ever convicted of a felony committed while in office. He was fined $100,000, which he never paid, and served only nine months of a one-year prison sentence. "My version of the matter is simply that I was not guilty," he told the parole board. (Ironically enough, after resigning, Fall took part in lucrative oil deals in Russia and Mexico with both Doheny and Sinclair.)

Doherty was never charged, but Sinclair refused to answer some of the Senate team’s questions, claiming that Congress had no right to probe his private affairs. That refusal was challenged and eventually reached the Supreme Court. In the 1929, Sinclair vs. United States ruling, the court said that Congress did have the power to fully investigate cases where the country’s laws may have been violated. Sinclair would later serve six months in prison for contempt of Congress and jury tampering.

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories.  When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd. 

Visit her at or on Facebook

Sign up for her new release announcement newsletter in either place. 

She's hard at work on the next book in the Holly Price series,  In It For The Money which releases this summer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


By AB Plum

Expecting Kay Kendall’s byline? Kay’s on hiatus this week, and I’m subbing.

Years ago (after we stopped chiseling words of wisdom in stone and around the invention of the printing press), I wrote a full page of “high school-news” every week for my daily newspaper.

Like Hemingway and others, I created on my Royal manual typewriter. I met my deadline every week—no matter what. I usually had a minimum of six to eight articles—laid out in columns. Memory says I earned about $.02/word so I sometimes padded my news.

Thinking about those journalistic feats, I realize I was never at a loss for words—or for topics. Now, some days, I find myself reaching for the right word or subject.

In turn, I wonder how many words now exist in English?

Google that question (or variations on it) and you’ll come up with differing views—some of which are pretty close to nit-picking.

Other questions then arise.
  • How many words does the average American use every day?
  • Is it scientifically accurate that men have a more limited vocabulary than women?
  • What’s the most common verb in English?
  • How many words does the average person speak/read a minute?
  • How many words can the typical six-year-old read/speak?
  • How many words do we use in a typical day on our cell phones?

You can see, the list goes on and on and on without asking how many words a writer writes every day? Or how many words in a 300-page novel? Or how do we writers decide on chapter length? Or how many words in a typical sentence? (Ask Hemingway, then read Stephen King). 

And OBTW, who, historically, is the most prolific writer in the English language?

I always thought it was Nora Roberts. Check here for some surprises. Here are a few more authors who, taken as a group, must’ve have used every word in our Mother Tongue.

Our Stiletto Gang blogs tend toward between 300-800 words. In these busy times, that seems about “write” to me. While I could wax on about this subject, I won’t. I am, after all, subbing for Kay. Expect her back on the third Wednesday in June.

In the meantime, enjoy a good book, letting the power of words take you into a new place, meet new characters, solve crimes, travel into space, slay a dragon, fall in love, and maybe shed a few tears.

Who’da thunk 26 letters could bring forth such awesome experiences?
AB Plum writes dark, psychological thrillers. She turned out about 500,000 words in the seven-volume MisFit Series. She gave up counting how many words she sliced and diced during edits. She lives in Silicon Valley.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Case of the Dead Fish

A reprise because Mother's Day was just too much fun!

On Friday I got a text from my youngest daughter. “Mom, we owe my math teacher a fish.” 
That didn’t sound good. 
“What?” was my witty response. 
“I killed the class fish.” 
I waited for an answer. And waited. 
Just how had my daughter murdered the class fish? 
And why? 
Had the fish angered her? Stolen fish flakes?  
I like killing people. Such is the nature of a mystery writer. 
Pets are another matter. 
Why had she killed the fish? 
It was an accidental murder. She tripped over the cord to the fish tank, pulled the tank from its table, soaked herself in fish water, and jettisoned poor Sebastian the fish into the wild blue yonder. 
For the record, my daughter’s name is not Grace. 
So, what can be said about the death of a fish? 

Sebastian was just swimming along when an act of God (or not-Grace) ended his life. 
I asked not-Grace if there was a moral to the story. 
“Watch out for cords?” she suggested. 
There has to be something more. 
Maybe it's that life is precious. And fleeting. And unpredictable. 
You can be swimming along and then out of nowhere you’re flying through the wild blue yonder on your way to the big pond in the sky. 
Or perhaps the lesson is that feet resemble prunes when jammed in wet tennis shoes for a whole day. 
Perhaps, there is no moral. Perhaps, killing people on the page has me reading too much into the death of a fish. Perhaps not. 
It's a mystery.... 

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders. 

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. Her next book, Shadow Dancing, releases June 19th.