Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Search for mi tatarabuela by Juliana Aragón Fatula

2015 Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City, Colorado

October 28, 2021 
Dear Reader, 

October blew in like a hot air balloon on LSD. Whoosh. My lawn chairs down the block at the neighbor’s hootenanny. My golden Aspen leaves blown to smithereens and my wildflower seeds scattered to the wind. Southern Colorado today feels like windy Wyoming or the streets of Chicago on a blustery day in autumn. But let me get to the point. I’m not here to discuss the weather in Southern Colorado. I’m here to discuss the phenomenon known as Zoom Writing Workshops. 

My next workshop falls on November 7, 2021. The great fact of Zooming Workshops, I don’t have to spend time and money traveling to Las Cruces, New Mexico; but oh, how I wish I were travelling south to visit mi comadre, Denise Chavez. She leads an incredible writing workshop. This will be my second with the Chicana icon. She holds a special place in my heart, and we have become comadres/familia. 

Juliana with Denise Chavez in Las Cruces, New Mexico

My assignment from Denise instructs me to find a photo of a relative and study the photo and place a copy in a sketch book and doodle, draw, dabble with words, figures, whatever comes to my imagination but put it down in pencil, ink, colored pencils, markers. I can use glue and scissors and add memorabilia to my tribute to my ancestor. The exercise focuses my attention on one singular person, the flexibility to create something, and to write when the story comes to me. 

I’ve chosen my tatarabuela mi great-great-grandmother, Southern Ute from New Mexico Territory before it was a state. I have a photo of her thanks to and a relative I discovered through DNA testing. My indigenous ancestry ties me to North and South America as well as many other countries. I’m fifty-eight percent indigenous to this continent, America. I knew my maternal grandmother, Phoebe Mondragón, but not my great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother. I’ve made the pilgrimage to Alamosa and to Villanueva, New Mexico to visit my ancestors graves. I honor my ancestors for the struggles they endured to enable me to be a survivor. 
Abranita Quintana Jacobs 1860's

My tatarabuela, Abrana Quintana, was born March 16, 1842, in the territory of New Mexico. Her ancestors came from Ute land. I’ve never told her story until now and although I don’t know the facts, I do know her truth. She was an indigenous woman living in the wild west during the Indian Wars, the Mexican American War, the Civil War. She married a white man, a Preacher who converted the indigenous people of New Mexico and Southern Colorado and taught his wife and children the English language with the help of the Bible. 

Why did she marry him? Did she need a husband? Did he need a wife? Did he need a translator? Did he need a woman tough enough to survive the old west and the ways of the white man during a struggle over the land, water rights, and human rights? Did she need a home, money, food, safety? Did he need someone to teach him the culture of the Ute people? 

My research has led me to the place they married Ft. Union, New Mexico. Records indicate that he served in the military during the Indian Wars and fought in several battles. Did he kill people or was he the official preacher for the wounded and dead who fought the Indians? Did she cook, feed, nurse the soldiers who invaded, stole, and pillaged her people? She received a pension from the military after her husband died. Did she become a Christian or did she retain some of her native skills, language, culture? Did she pass those skills to her children? 

My grandmother, Phoebe Gomez was Abrana Quintana’s granddaughter. She was bilingual but spoke English and Spanish/Spanglish. She read the Bible every day, attended church, played the accordion, and sang hymns. I learned Bible stories and hymns from my grandmother. But I didn’t learn any of the Ute language or customs. The Anglos acculturated my ancestors both Ute, Navajo, and Pueblo into Mexicans, then Mexican Americans, and today are known as Chicano: Abranita Quintana Jacobs, Abrana Jacobs Gomez, Phoebe Gomez Mondragón, Eloísa Mondragón Aragón, Juliana Aragón Fatula. 

For my Zoom writing workshop assignment, my research and storytelling will take me to the New Mexico Territory to discover my tatarabuela Abrana Quintana and her ancestors so they can tell me who I am, where I come from, and where I’m going. Because, until you know where you’ve been, you cannot know where you are going. And everywhere you go, there you is.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

How a "Perfect" Marriage Led to a Writing Career

By Lois Winston

Many authors mention in their bios that they always wanted to be a writer. Not me. I wanted to be an astronaut. Thanks to a right brain that quakes at the sight of anything requiring math skills, not to mention a body prone to motion sickness, that dream never came true.

My urge to write came as a result of a dream I had while on a business trip. Eventually, that dream became Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, a story about secrets and revenge and the steps some people will go to in order to protect the former and achieve the latter. 


I’ve always been fascinated by both secrets and revenge. Who among us doesn’t have secrets? Who among us hasn’t harbored revenge fantasies? Is it possible to get through junior high school without a hefty dose of both? I doubt it. 


Years ago, I knew a woman who went to great lengths to project the ideal marriage. She constantly bragged about how much her husband loved her and what a perfect marriage they had. Then I learned the secrets behind the lies. She was carrying on an affair that he discovered by tapping his own phone. Mr. and Mrs. Perfect Marriage were anything but. Although Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception isn’t about that marriage, it got me thinking about public persona versus private reality.


I’m also fascinated by the way the “common” folk act around celebrities. In Six Degrees of Separation, the playwright John Guare called it “star f****ing,” that annoying, name-dropping habit of those who need to brag about their connection to someone famous, no matter how tenuous the link: They once shared a plane with George Clooney, or they went to the same high school as Brad Pitt, or they played tennis with Pierce Brosnan’s third cousin’s wife’s uncle’s accountant. Of course, they fail to mention that George was sitting in First Class while they were stuck in Coach or Brad graduated a decade after they attended the school. And let’s just forget about Pierce and the accountant. That’s really taking six degrees of separation a bit too far. However, for many people being able to show some connection between themselves and a celebrity makes them more important, if only in their own eyes.


So there I was on this business trip, and I suppose I was subconsciously thinking about Mr. and Mrs. Perfect Marriage when I had this dream. Normally, I don’t remember my dreams, but I remembered this one. And what was even spookier was that each night for the next couple of weeks I dreamed another “chapter” of the dream. Eventually, I was dreaming up chapters during the day as well as at night. Finally, I decided that to get the story out of my head, I should write it down. Fast forward a few weeks and I’m the proud author of a 50,000-word romance that spanned 35 years. 


Talk about clueless!


Of course, I didn’t know I was clueless. I thought I’d just written the greatest romance of all time. But when I pushed my baby out of the nest into the world of publishing, she flew right back with her beak stuffed full of rejection letters. 


However, I wasn’t about to be deterred by rejection letters or lack of knowledge. Undaunted, I handed over my VISA card to a friendly salesperson at Barnes & Noble and walked out with an armload of how-to-write-a-novel books. Between the books, joining some writing organizations, and attending writing conferences, I eventually got a clue, and nearly ten years to the day I had that dream, I had my first publishing contract.


I never forgot about my first clueless effort, though. I liked the characters I’d created, even if the story needed major surgery. I didn’t think Emma and Logan deserved to spend eternity under the bed with nobody but the dust bunnies and me ever getting to know them. I went back and rewrote that first book, and it became Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception


In the book, Logan Crawford is initially attracted to Emma Wadsworth because she doesn’t care who he is. At first, he’s not even sure she recognizes him, and he can’t imagine how that’s possible. After all, he was recently named Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine. Everyone recognizes Logan Crawford, whether he wants them to or not. He’s used to a fawning public, but Emma doesn’t fawn. And that makes her both intriguing and irresistible in Logan’s eyes. 

However, Emma’s the one with all the secrets. And she’s also the target of someone’s revenge. Make that two someones. In the blink of an eye, she goes from being Philadelphia’s most beloved citizen to the city’s most notorious criminal. Think scandal. Think long buried secrets. Think murder.

There are many paths to publication. Some people are lucky enough to find the straightest, most direct route. For most of us, it takes years of honing our craft before we’re offered the golden ticket, but it’s worth the journey. This month marks the release of Stitch, Bake, Die!, the tenth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series and my nineteenth published novel.

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.



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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Interview with Amateur Sleuth, Sarah Blair

By Lynn McPherson

Today on the Stiletto Gang, I'm interviewing Debra H. Goldstein's protagonist in the Sarah Blair Mystery Series... Sarah Blair!

Can you tell us a little about yourself and where you're from?

I was married at eighteen, divorced at twenty-eight, and all I got out of the marriage was my Siamese cat, RahRah. Starting over, having gone from a life of luxury to an efficiency apartment here in Wheaton, Alabama, the town I've lived in since I was born, is difficult. Luckily attorney Harlan Endicott have me a job as his receptionist/secretary, and I've got the support of my twin sister, Emily, and my mother. Family and friends are important to me.

I've read that you don't cook. How did you end up owning a restaurant?

I find being in the kitchen more frightening than murder. My twin sister, Emily, is a gourmet chef. Between take-out and her cooking, I eat fairly well. When her boyfriend, Chef Marcus, and Chef Emily wanted to open their own white-tablecloth restaurant, their loan application was denied. It took time, but we got that straightened out. At that point, they needed a building from my late husband. The only way they would put their restaurant in my building, was for me to agree to be a partner. Believe me, they don't let me anywhere near the kitchen.

Where did your cat, RahRah, get his name?

RahRah was rescued from the swirling waters after Hurricane Katrina be my now ex-husband's mother. He was just a kitten. She named him RahRah in celebration of his survival. What do you do for fun? I have a bluff that I love to go out to and sit and meditate, looking at the beautiful water. I also volunteer weekly to walk dogs at the local animal shelter, plus I've been in charge of fundraising efforts for the shelter.

What qualities do you have that make you such a great amateur sleuth?

I don't know that I'm a great amateur sleuth. I'm more of a plodder who goes by the facts.

Who do you turn to when you're in trouble?

My family or my boss, Harlan Endicott. Mother, Emily, and Harlan are the people I'm loyal to who are my rocks. They are always there when things go bad for me--and they are the same people I turn to when things go right.

What's next for you, Sarah?

Four Cuts Too Many, which features me, came out May 25, 2021. Five Belles Too Many, the tale of a New York sponsored television show wanting to throw a perfect Southern wedding by having a competition in Wheaton, Alabama will be out in June 2022. Look for Mother-Maybelle and George to be two of the finalists while I'm going to be Mother's chaperone.

Debra H. Goldstein, author of The Sarah Blair Mystery Series.

Monday, October 25, 2021

November 2021 Releases


Here is a list of over 65 new titles representing major genres such as cozy mysteries, traditional mysteries, historical mysteries, and others releasing this month, with eight debut series.

The longest running series on this list is the “Murder She Wrote” franchise at 54 books.

As always, I hope there is a new title to suit everyone’s personal taste. Embrace the adventure!  

November 2, 2021
Mystery of the Eight Islands by Terry Ambrose (Trouble in Paradise #11)
The Killing Carol by Jennifer Bee (Anna Greenan) *new series*
The Cry of the Hangman by Susanna Calkins (Lucy Campion #6)
Body and Soul Food by Abby Collette (Books & Biscuits) *new series*
Game On: Tempting Twenty-Eight by Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum #28)
The Collective by Alison Gaylin
Killer Research by Jenn McKinlay (Library Lover’s #12)
Debonair in Death by Jessica Fletcher & Terrie Farley Moran (Murder She Wrote #54)
All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris
An Eggnog to Die For by Amy Pershing (Cape Cod Foodie #2)
Carols and Yule Perils by Trixie Silvertale (Mitzy Moon #16)
Tyndall by James L Thane
Fogged Off by Wendall Thomas (Cyd Redondo #3)
Life Without Parole by Elaine Viets (Angela Richman, Death Investigator #5)
The Attic on Queen Street by Karen White (Tradd Street #7)

November 3, 2021
Treasure Under the Tree by S. W. Hubbard (Palmyrton Estate Sale #8)
Three’s A Clowder by Gin Jones (Crazy Cat Ladies Chronicles #3)

November 4, 2021
A Stranger from the Storm by William Burton McCormick
Rising Water by Joanna Campbell Slan (Tai Chi) *new series*

November 5, 2021
The Corpse with the Granite Heart by Cathy Ace (Cait Morgan #11)
Witches, Spiders, and Schemes by Elizabeth Pantley (Destiny Falls Mystery & Magic #4)

November 6, 2021
Pickled Petunia by Dahlia Donovan (Motts Cold Case #3)

November 9, 2021
Diner Knock Out by Terri L. Austin (Rose Strickland #5) *re-release*
Stitch X For Murder by ACF Bookens (Stitches In Crime #5)
Maggie Dove and The Lost Brides by Susan Breen (Maggie Dove #3)
Death on a Shelf by Allison Brook (Haunted Library #5)
Death by Doodlebug by Carol Caverly (Thea Barlow Wyoming #4)
Fatal Solutions by Becky Clark (Crossword Puzzle #3)
The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly (Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch #4)
Down a Dark River by Karen Odden (Inspector Michael Corravan) *new series*
Dead Write by Susan C. Richards
Death Under the Sea by Rosalie Spielman (Aloha Lagoon #16)
Midnight Hour edited by Abby L. Vandiver
The Murder Before Christmas by Michele Pariza Wacek (Charlie Kingsley) *new series*
Nowhere To Hide by LynDee Walker (Faith McClellan #4)

November 10, 2021
Straight Up by Cathi Stoler (Murder On The Rocks #3)

November 12, 2021
Banana Slit by Angela K. Ryan (Seaside Ice Cream Shop) *new series*

November 15, 2021
Beating the Wrap by Julie Anne Lindsey (Bonnie & Clyde #3)

November 16, 2021
Doggone Deadly by Deborah Blake (Catskills Pet Rescue #2)
Mrs. Jeffries and the Midwinter Murders by Emily Brightwell (Victorian #40)
You Can’t Candle the Truth by Sarah E. Burr (Glenmyre Whim) *new series*
Styled For Murder by Nancy J. Cohen (Bad Hair Day #17)
Poison in the Pudding by Kathi Daley (Inn At Holiday Bay #17)
A Secret Never Told by Shelley Noble (Lady Dunbridge #4)

November 18, 2021
The Dinner Lady Detectives by Hannah Hendy

November 23, 2021
The Christmas Stranger by Keith Donnelly (Youngblood Story #2)
Marshmallows and Memories by Agatha Frost (Peridale Cafe #24)
The Mirror Dance by Catriona McPherson (Dandy Gilver #15)
Murder in Second Position by Lori Robbins (On Pointe #2)

November 29, 2021
Death Among The Stars by Sharon Linnea (Bartender’s Guide to Murder #3)

November 30, 2021
Irene in Danger by Judy Alter (Irene in Chicago #2)
Murder Yule Regret by Winnie Archer (Bread Shop #7)
High Stakes by Kristi Belcamino (Queen of Spades #7)
Killer Words by V.M. Burns (Mystery Bookshop #7)
Isabel Puddles Investigate by M.V. Byrne (Mitten State #2)
Mimi Lee Cracks the Code by Jennifer J. Chow (Sassy Cat #3)
Tales of Life and Daph by Phillipa Nefri Clark (Daphne Jones #3)
Big Trouble in Little Greektown by Kate Collins (Goddess of Greene St. #3)
Murder at the Lobstah Shack by Maddie Day (Cozy Capers Book Group #3)
Petals and Poison by Jess Dylan (Flower House #2)
Lies of Omission by Kathleen Ernst (Hanneke Bauer) *new series*
Marriage Can Be Mischief by Amanda Flower (Amish Matchmaker #3)
Claret and Present Danger by Sarah Fox (Literary Pub #4)
Murder at the Bake Sale by Lee Hollis (Maya and Sandra #2)
A Murder Like No Author by Amy Lillard (Main Street Book Club #3)
Bear A Wee Grudge by Meg Macy (Teddy Bear #5)
Christmas Candy Corpse by Rosemarie Ross (Courtney Archer #2)
The Dead Cry Justice by Rosemary Simpson (Gilded Age #6)
Do I Know You by Sarah Strohmeyer
A Counterfeit Suitor by Darcie Wilde (Rosalind Thorne #5)

Friday, October 22, 2021

Fun chat with Author Lois Winston and T. K. Thorne


Today, for a treat, I'm chatting with cozy mystery author and fellow Stiletto Gang member, Lois Winston.  


TKT:  Lois, I just finished your novel Assault with a  Deadly Glue Gun, and I gotta know this. What came first, the characters or the glue gun idea?  And how does that relate to your process of building a novel?  Do you kill someone with a craft idea first and build the plot around that or do you focus on the characters first? Or some other way?

LW: In this instance, it was the glue gun. I had been asked to write a craft-themed cozy mystery series. In my day job I worked as a crafts and needlework designer for kit manufacturers, craft book publishers, and craft and women’s magazines. I’m a bit of a klutz and burned my finger while using my glue gun. If you’ve ever burned yourself with a glue gun, you know it really, really hurts. The title for the first book in the series popped into my head while I was applying ice to my finger.


I then began to wonder if you could kill someone with a glue gun. Once I figured out how it could happen, I began building the characters around the murder.


For my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, I made Anastasia the crafts editor at a women’s magazine because I didn’t want a series that just featured one specific craft. There were already many needlework and craft-specific cozies being published. I didn’t want my series to compete with other established series. By making Anastasia a crafts editor, I could feature a different craft in each book of the series. I usually choose a craft, figure out a catchy title, then build the story from there.


TKT: Do you have the same wry sense of humor as Anastasia? Share any other characteristics? Did your mother-in-law read this and does she hate you?


LW: Anastasia definitely has my sense of humor, but I’m only funny on paper. I’m the person who thinks of the perfect comeback hours after the fact. And I can’t tell a joke to save my life. I never remember the punchline!


As for my mother-in-law, she passed away several years before the series debuted, but she was a card-carrying commie, and I did base Anastasia’s mother-in-law on her. My sister-in-law thinks Anastasia is a riot, but some of my husband’s other relatives haven’t spoken to me in years. I can’t imagine why.


TKT: Lol!  I can’t imagine why either!  And I can't tell jokes either, but in my case, the only thing I can remember is the punch line. . . .


Your knowledge of crafts certainly came legitimately, but your expertise seems to include fashion and furniture.  The whole name-brand thing is alien territory for me, but how did you gain this info?  Life? Research?  I could say the same for baked goods…


LW: I spent years working trade and consumer shows. You pick up a lot of product knowledge when you’re interacting with buyers, salespeople, and marketers. Plus, as a designer, it was important that I stayed abreast of trends in the marketplace. As for the baked goods, watching baking shows is my guilty pleasure.


TKT: Well I gotta say, I wanted to sample some of those tasties in the book!  Anastasia and crew are great fodder for the sequels, and I suspect a building romance will arc over the series. How do you string out romantic suspense over several novels when your readers are panting for resolution?


LW: In cozy mysteries, there’s a specific mystery in each book, and it’s resolved by the end of the book. There are no plot cliffhangers, only character cliffhangers. For instance, after 10 books, readers still don’t know whether Zack is merely a photojournalist or, as Anastasia suspects, a member of a government alphabet agency.


As for the budding romance, it develops over time. However, after ten books, only a little more than a year has passed in Anastasia’s life. That keeps the development of the romance more realistic.


I’ve also written each book in the series in such a way that a reader can pick up any book in the series and quickly get caught up with the characters’ story arcs.


TKT: You are scarily prolific! I count six books that came out in 2014 alone!  Are you an alien?  How did you do that and what made you decide to write some of them under the pen name of Emma Carlyle?


LW: LOL! I definitely didn’t write six books in a year. It takes me about nine months to write a book. In 2014 I went indie after walking away from my publisher due to a contract dispute over more books in the series and a second series they wanted. By that point, I had the rights back to my earlier books from a different publisher and had some romances and romantic suspense books that had never sold. My agent suggested taking a pen name to indie publish those books.


After a short period of time, I realized I shouldn’t have published those books as Emma Carlyle because it was difficult trying to build a readership for the Emma Carlyle books. I eventually republished them as “by Lois Winston writing as Emma Carlyle”. That way, people would find the Emma Carlyle books when they searched my name.


TKT: Anything else you would like to share?


LW: Stitch, Bake, Die!, the tenth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, released October 4th.




Stitch, Bake, Die!

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 10


With massive debt, a communist mother-in-law, a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, and a photojournalist boyfriend who may or may not be a spy, crafts editor Anastasia Pollack already juggles too much in her life. So she’s not thrilled when her magazine volunteers her to present workshops and judge a needlework contest at the inaugural conference of the NJ chapter of the Stitch and Back Society, a national organization of retired professional women. At least her best friend and cooking editor Cloris McWerther has also been roped into similar duties for the culinary side of the 3-day event taking place on the grounds of the exclusive Beckwith Chateau Country Club.


The sweet little old ladies Anastasia is expecting to find are definitely old, and some of them are little, but all are anything but sweet. She’s stepped into a vipers’ den that starts with bribery and ends with murder. When an ice storm forces Anastasia and Cloris to spend the night at the Chateau, Anastasia discovers evidence of insurance scams, medical fraud, an opioid ring, long-buried family secrets, and a bevy of suspects.


Can she piece together the various clues before she becomes the killer’s next target?


Crafting tips included.


Buy Links





Apple Books



Lois Winston, a USA Today and Amazon bestselling author of mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, middle-grade, and nonfiction, sold her first book to a NY publishing house in 2005. Currently she writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, featuring widowed magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack, along with a supporting cast of characters that include Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law, her self-proclaimed Russian princess mother, and Ralph, the Shakespeare-quoting parrot. Learn more at


Thanks so much, Lois!

T.K. is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her.  More at





Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Classics, by Barbara Kyle



Some things are simply never out of date, right? Thank goodness. Here are a few classics I hold dear.


Classic Clothes. I welcome autumn for the pleasure of pulling a smart, tried-and-true blazer out of the closet. And I'm always up for any chance to wear a little black dress; in this pic, it’s for my nephew’s lovely outdoor wedding.


Classic Books. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles are time-honored novels that I read as a teen and that influenced me as a writer. 

Modern classics I revere are John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, Ian McEwan's Atonement, and anything by P.G. Wodehouse who has more than once rescued me from blue days with his ineffable comic genius.

Classical Music. The music of Bach and Mozart has enriched my life for decades, and because I play the violin my favorites works of theirs are any that feature that instrument. 


A modern musical classic I adore is Leonard Bernstein’s exuberant and heartbreaking West Side Story. Violinist Joshua Bell shines in any genre, from Bach to Bernstein. Listen to him play the West Side Story Suite. It's twenty minutes of perfection.




Classic Movies. I’ve watched Casablanca at least a dozen times and the story never fails to thrill me and move me.

So does the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim. My favorite bit in that fine old film is the small role of Scrooge’s cockney housekeeper played with endearing spunk by Kathleen Harrison. (She's in the middle of the photo below.)




Classic Cars. As a young woman, I considered the Jaguar XK-E the epitome of elegance. That British sports car, manufactured between 1961 and 1975, is still widely admired as a true classic. 


I never did get an “E-Type” but my husband and I recently bought a 2003 Miata and I love driving it on a sunny day with the top down. My pal Ann drives a 2000 model. That’s us in the photo with our Miatas (Ann on the left in purple, me on the right).


 I don’t know if our Miatas are technically “classics” but I figure she and I – two “old broads” – pretty much are!



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  

Tuesday, October 19, 2021


What I’ve Learned about Death Services

by Saralyn Richard

When I was a senior in high school, I had an English teacher who moonlighted as a mortician. I don’t remember much about the course curriculum, but I have vivid memories of his stories about dead bodies, sitting up while he worked on them. Mr. M., as I’ll call him, thrived on telling grotesque tales and watching our reactions.

            Aside from those stories, I can’t remember the topic of funerals coming up much. No one likes to talk about caskets or embalming fluid over lunch or on a date. In the few instances where I’ve been responsible for arranging funerals, I’ve worked with experienced people whose calm, tact, and caring attitude helped block out the grief, and I’ve never asked too many questions.

            Fast forward to the past several years, when I’ve been writing mysteries. Mysteries often have dead bodies. Dead bodies require death services. To get the details right, I began interviewing morticians, and I learned a lot.

                                                                           One of my sources, Jay Carnes of Carnes Funeral Home, Texas City, Texas

Here are a few salient facts:

1.          People who work in death services are people just like you and me. They have the same hopes and fears and dreads, the same olfactory sensibilities, the same tastes and distastes. They generally don’t engage in discussions about them, though. If you complain about a bad day at the office, they might sympathize, but they won’t tell you about theirs.
     When death is your business, and you’re around dead bodies every day, you become immune to the drama and/or horror that others may associate with corpses. You might even share inside jokes with colleagues, like, “Want to have a couple of cool ones from the fridge?” This kind of levity is never expressed in front of outsiders, though.
    There’s a tiny bit of guilt when business is good, like when we have a pandemic. Some of the joy of a robust end-of-year bottom line is mitigated by the fact that the income was derived from people’s hardships, sorrows, or tragedies.


                                        James J. Terry Funeral Home in Downington, PA, where Lee Walasavage has graciously answered my questions.

My upcoming release, BAD BLOOD SISTERS, centers around a woman who’s grown up in this business.

Quinn McFarland has grown up around dead bodies…

Quinn’s always joked about death, but this summer, death stops being funny. For one thing, her brother finally undergoes transplant surgery. For another, Quinn’s estranged BFF, her “blood” sister, is brought into the family mortuary, bludgeoned to death.

            Quinn’s haunted by the past, her friendship gone awry, and the blood oath she’s sworn to keep secret. The police consider her a person of interest, and someone threatens her not to talk. Quinn is the only one who knows enough to bring the killer to justice, but what she’s buried puts her in extreme danger.

Bad Blood Sisters
will be released March 9, 2022. My other mysteries, Murder in the One Percent, A Palette for Love and Murder, and A Murder of Principal can be found here. Sign up for my monthly newsletter with special offers, news, surveys, and more at