Monday, March 28, 2022

Killer Workshop Features Short Story Authors and Dream Editing Giveaway

by Paula Gail Benson

If you’re looking for an online conference featuring talented and experienced short story authors (not to mention the opportunity to sign up for a dream editing giveaway), check out the Killer Workshop Virtual Event, taking place on Saturday, May 14, 2022, and jointly sponsored by the Palmetto Chapter and Capitol Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

The participants include:

E.A. Aymar

E.A. Aymar writes fast-paced thrillers as well as a monthly column, “Decisions and Revisions,” that appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books. He also runs the Noir at the Bar series for Washington, D.C., and has featured many short story writers in its virtual format.

Carla Damron

Carla Damron, author of The Stone Necklace, winner of the 2017 Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s Star Award, and the Caleb Knowles mystery series, also is an accomplished short story writer, whose work has appeared in Fall Lines, Offbeat Literary Magazine, Jasper, In Posse Literary Review, Six Minute Magazine, Melusine, and Jenny Magazine.


Debra H. Goldstein
Debra H. Goldstein’s short stories, which have been named Agatha, Anthony, and Derringer finalists, have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Malice Domestic Murder Most Edible, Masthead, and Jukes & Tonks. 

The Keynote Speaker, New York Times #1 internationally bestselling author of 23 thrillers, including the ORPHAN X series, is Gregg Hurwitz. His short stories are in the following anthologies: First Thrills, Hint Fiction, Uncage Me, Meeting Across the River, Thriller: Stories to Keep You Up All Night, and Show Business is Murder.

Roger Johns
Roger John’s short fiction has been published by Saturday Evening Post, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Dark City Crime & Mystery Magazine, Yellow Mama, and Viral Literature: Alone Together in Georgia.


Terrie Farley Moran

Terrie Farley Moran’s short mystery fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and various anthologies. She has been short-listed twice for the annual Best American Mystery Stories. And her story, “A Killing at the Beausoleil” was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Short Story.

Charles Todd
In addition to over thirty titles including two stand-alone novels, Charles Todd has published an anthology of short stories and over twenty short stories appearing in mystery magazines’ and anthologies worldwide.

To register for the virtual Killer Workshop, the early bird rate is $25. After March 31, the virtual event rate is $35. (NOTE: the virtual event is available for viewing until July 31, 2022.)

Here’s a link to register:

By checking out the information about the Killer Workshop, you can sign up for a dream editing giveaway at: (If you register for the workshop, you are automatically entered in the giveaway!)

The editors contributing their services for the giveaways are Terri Bischoff and Barb Goffman.

Terri Bischoff

Terri Bischoff is the current Senior Editor for Crooked Lane Books. Terri’s previous experience includes 10 years spent as acquiring editor at Midnight Ink, publishing 36-40 books a year during her time there.


Barb Goffman

Barb Goffman is
a short story author and a freelance crime-fiction editor. She’s won the Agatha Award twice and has also taken home the Macavity, Silver Falchion, and 2020 Readers Award given by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. She’s been a finalist for major crime-writing awards thirty-five times for her stories, including sixteen Agatha Award nominations (a category record), and multiple nominations for the Anthony, Macavity, and Derringer awards.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Retirement Nightmare--T.K. Thorne




Writer, humanist,
          dog-mom, horse servant and cat-slave,
       Lover of solitude
          and the company of good friends,
        new places, new ideas
           and old wisdom.



I just cannot figure it out.  How is life still whirling by, filled with so much, to do when I am supposed to be retired? Okay, I am a little A.D.D. and a dear friend who is also a therapist told me that means my frontal cortex is always looking for stimulation. I know this to be true because.... 

One day, back when I was working full time, I decided to test what it felt like to be retired, so I went out on my front porch and sat in a rocking chair overlooking our pasture, a bucolic, peaceful scene.  The idea was to do nothing, pretending that I had all the time in the world and could finally just sit and rock, as I imagined old people did.  

I lasted exactly six rocks. Then I jumped up to find something to do. 

All my life I had looked forward to the day when I would be free to write full time, to read as much as I wanted, to travel, to do fun stuff. Now, a new fear arose: Was I going to fail at retirement?

When the actual, real “R” date loomed, I grew anxious. I was accustomed to being around people every day and having very full days (writing only in the evenings and weekends) and meaningful work. I couldn’t imagine writing for eight hours or not seeing my friends. I lived almost an hour from town and worried I might feel isolated. What if I had to sit on my front porch and rock and do nothing?

My anxiety grew. I  even took a workshop called “Aging Gracefully” and started writing a book about how to face retirement!  At some point it dawned on me that I had a car, for heaven's sake, and a driver’s license. I could go see the people and places I wanted to see!  Silly, yes, but this one thought felt like a life saver.

Hard to believe that was six years ago! Hard to believe how fulfilling and full my life is. I’m so fortunate in so many ways!  Life is precious, y’all. Choose carefully what you fill it with. Make sure it is a mix of self fulfillment, giving back, and making the world a better place, even in tiny ways.

That’s actually all I have to say, because I've been so busy, it was just yesterday I realized I needed to write something for today!  

Oh yes, PS —

The final book in my trilogy about a police officer who discovers she is a witch has made its debut, and I am thrilled to have it complete.  It didn’t get a coming out party because of Covid, but 


...announcing  the long-awaited HOUSE OF IRON!



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

Thursday, March 24, 2022

March 2022 Peace and Love by Juliana Aragon Fatula

2022 Cornmother Celebration Denver History Center Oct. 6th save the date.

2021 Peace Rose from mi Chicana Garden Southern Colorado

Dear Reader,

It's officially springtime in the Rockies and it came in like a lion. The wind hurled the little old ladies into the trash dumpsters head first with their feet dangling out of the top: the eighty-year-old woman who weighs 90 lbs was picked up and tossed about like a lamb chop. Remember the stuffed animal that looked like a lamb and the woman who had her for a puppet called her lambchop? I do. That's how old I am. I remember a different time and world when I wasn't afraid. Today I'm terribly frightened of where we as a human race are running towards. The outlook for us remains suspicious. So I write my murder mystery romance and poetry and pray for world peace. 

My heart was recently broken. I mourn the loss of loved ones who lived fast and died young. I miss my parents and siblings and my friends from the neighborhood. I've managed to hang on to a couple of friends for 50 years. We rarely see one another but when we do it's magical. They get me and my idiosyncrasies. They know I'm crazy and don't give a hoot. They love me for who I am and who I am is The Crazy Chicana in Catholic City. 

I wrote the first book of poetry when I was in college and continued after I graduated with my second collection of poetry, Red Canyon Falling on Churches. You'd think that I'm religious based on the titles of my works; however, you'd be wrong. I'm deeply spiritual and more of a hippy-dippy Mother Earth and nature lover than a Christian. But many of my friends are both Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Rastafarian, LGBTQ. You get the picture, right. I'm a liberal feminist, a chingona, and a Corn Mother. I represent my people by recording my ancestors' history and telling my story to all who will listen to me speak. 

I'm a performance artist, a poet, an educator, a Shakespearean actor, a comedienne, a master gardener, a curendera, a wife, a mother, and a pet mama. I'm all that and more. What I am not: a chauvinist, a homophobe, a conservative, a hypocrite, a liar. I'm me. Some don't care for me or my philosophy on life. And some people meet me, fall in love, become lifetime friends or fans, and save me in big and little ways every day. My friends today and for the last 32 years have been social workers, doctors, lawyers, writers, journalists, hard-working honest Americans who believe in civil rights and diversity in our communities. 

I probably shouldn't tell you this, but, I've become one of those women who gets her panties in a wadd whenever another woman stands and praises Putin or worse, Trump. I walk away without saying a word or slapping anyone but when I get home I scream into my pillow like a maniac and pray for forgiveness for thinking of slapping the woman in the grocery store for daring to invade my space, unmasked, unvaccinated, and unhappy. I just dream of slapping the shit out of her face, really hard and repeatedly. Forgive me, Lord, for I have had evil thoughts, but she deserves to be slapped. Remember when Cher slapped Nicolas Cage in the movie Moonstruck? Hard like that. I'm joking. Not that hard, exactly. But hard enough to make her wake up and come to her senses. 

I've been in therapy for my slapping compulsion and advised not to admit to slapping anyone but I'm trying to be funny and make a point. I can't save the world, or the country, or my state, or my county. But I could slap the shit out of some Qanon Trumplikin maskless, unvaxed, lady in the corner grocery store and I think it would feel very satisfying and like I saved my sanity. Just kidding.  

I'm watching the world news as Putin terrorizes the Ukrainian people. I pray for world peace and love for all mankind but my heart is heavy knowing that as long as greedy, cruel, evil men rule we will never have the kind of world I've always dreamt of. A world where humans are kind and loving to each other and accept their differences. We are all different but equal. 

My parents never imagined a world where their children and grandchildren would be put in cages, detention centers, separated from loved ones by a Trump Wall. They taught us that we were all equal and to treat our neighbors as friends not enemies. Today my neighbors wave their U.S.A. flag upside down at half-mast because the country is not the same as when my parents were alive. The world has changed and we have changed. 

I want to love my neighbors. I want to forgive their actions and hatred for the "others".  I don't understand how they can claim to be Christians while burning books and turning in their children's teachers for saying the word, "GAY" in classrooms. What has become of us? Why are we at war with each other? When will we learn? 

I'm a proud U.S. citizen. I'm proud to be a liberal feminist. I'm proud to support the LGBTQ community and even those who disagree with me on my ideas of gender and equality. But I will continue to teach love and peace and understanding to those students who are open to learning about history and how we became this nation. The truth will set us free. Lies, alternative facts, hate of "others" will only bring our demise and destruction. I can't fix the world, so I'll focus on myself and fix what I can about my biases, prejudices, and hatred. I'll continue to pray for world peace and those who prey on innocence. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022


Last week I sat down for a long-distance chat with my critique partner and fellow Stiletto Gang blogger Donnell Ann Bell. Today we get together again, but this time it’s my turn to grill—uhm…interview her.

I want to start off by reciprocating the compliments Donnell gave me. I’m very lucky to have her as my critique partner. She makes me a better writer in so many ways but mostly because she makes comments and asks questions that force me to think about my stories in ways that might not ever occur to me otherwise.


But Donnell and I are more than critique partners; we’re friends. Are we two peas in a pod? Hardly! We often disagree—on many topics—but our friendship and working relationship transcend any differing opinions we may have. When we disagree, we agree to disagree and move on. These days, that’s a rare quality between people and one I treasure in her.


So here are some things about suspense author Donnell Ann Bell you may not know.


Lois: Donnell, one of the things I love about your books is the amount of research you put into writing them. You never info dump, but you make sure that your plots, events, and characters are accurate and believable. You have a vast network of experts you call upon for everything from medical issues to government agencies to cybersecurity and beyond. How did you come to meet all these professionals?


Donnell: I pay them – huge bucks!  Actually, it’s how I’m wired, Lois. I know how I learn. Some people can read vast amounts of information and retain it. I’m an auditory, tactile learner—something I learned late in life and not in my formative years, which would have been so helpful. I don’t do as well in online workshops, especially if the lecturer is imparting complicated, technical material. But if I listen to it, I do better. Generally, I request a phone call or a Zoom session. Most of my experts are entirely generous and one question often leads to another.  


LoisYou’ve had a varied career, including working as a court stenographer and a volunteer victim’s advocate. What other jobs have you held, and would you ever consider creating a protagonist who works in one of those fields?


Donnell: I actually thought about creating a court reporter protagonist – wrote a few chapters. Then realism set in. If you’re a court reporter employed in the court system, you work 40 hours in the courtroom and 20-plus hours transcribing (at least in my day before real-time court transcription). As I wrote, my plot fell apart:  I can see it now, my court reporter is trying to solve a murder, but then she’s held in contempt of court for not getting her depositions done.


My previous jobs were administrative in nature. I’ve worked in human resources for a semiconductor plant (processing NSA security clearance applications for our employees), commercial real estate, structural engineering, oil and gas companies, and my favorite, which led me to writing fiction after an injury ended my court reporting days, I went to a weekly newspaper. Later I was considered so good at my job that I was hired as the editor for a parenting magazine. I'm a firm believer that when one door closes, it ALWAYS opens a window. Just be sure to stick your head out and LOOK! Life experience is invaluable. It’s all material.


Lois: Writing is a business where authors need to develop a thick skin to survive. We’ve always been brutally honest with each other when it comes to what’s working and what’s not working in a story. After many years, we’re still critique partners and still friends. Would you like to explain to our readers the secret to our successful working relationship?


Donnell: I think we both are open-minded individuals, and we’re not about to let ego interfere with our ability to create the best book possible. Critique partners do each other no favors by not pointing out problems.  On the opposite side of criticism, however, critique partners should be quick to praise when something is working. I think we both do that.


Lois: Of course, I’ve read all your books. Thinking back, I believe they’re all set in either Colorado or New Mexico, two places you’ve lived. Other than changing planes in Denver once years ago, I’ve never been to either state. Have you considered setting a book elsewhere, or will you continue with the places you’re most familiar?

Donnell:  Maybe. I have a book currently collecting dust somewhere. The unpublished manuscript won first place in RWA’s Haunted Hearts Contest for Gothic Romance Writers and was a finalist for RWA’s Dual on the Delta Contest eons ago. I called it The Memory Maker. Back to the experience I mentioned above, I worked for a structural engineering company, and I got to tour a school in Colorado Springs called The Lowell School. [picture] I took that wonderful experience and wrote a story around it, except the school became Marcum School, and I create a fictitious city called Sherwood, New York.


Lois: You once thought about writing a cozy mystery series. Are you still considering doing so one day, or are you firmly entrenched in suspense for now? Any other genres or subgenres you’d like to write?


Donnell: I never say never. My long-ago critique group said I have a good first-person voice. First person, as you know, requires discipline. I remember once you went into Zack’s POV and I had to say, “Lois, you’re writing first person.” ๐Ÿ˜Š

Lois: Yeah, I remember that. I think I hadn’t had my second cup of coffee the morning I wrote that scene. Moving on…The second book in your Cold Case Suspense Series will release in a few weeks. If Hollywood came calling, who would you like to see cast as Lieutenant Pope, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brian DiPietro, Special Agent Allison Shannon, Special Agent Devon Taylor, and ATF agent Seth Walker?


Donnell:  Ooooh. No fair. This is so tough! Okay, dang. Tyler Perry (I thought was fabulous in James Patterson’s movie-version Alex Cross), Kevin Costner (as I’ve already done so in Black Pearl), Daniela Ruah (who plays Kinsey on NCIS, Los Angeles would be perfect as Allison Shannon), and, wow, for Devon . . . Richard Madden ( Ikaris in Eternals.)  


Lois: I’m excited about the book you have coming out in May 2022. Would you like to tell our readers about it?


Donnell:  The published title is called Until Dead: A Cold Case Suspense. Two years after the Black Pearl Killer’s apprehension, the taskforce that solved the case reunites to solve an equally challenging case. An assistant U.S. attorney is targeted by a deadly, multi-skilled assassin who calls himself The Tradesman. 

Lois: Do you have plans for a third Cold Case book?


Donnell: In the works. I’m currently talking to those experts we discussed above. A retired FBI agent and a forensic psychiatrist have given me the go-ahead that my plot can work. Now it’s all about the storytelling.


Lois: Thank you so much for joining us today, Donnell. Readers, if you’d like to learn more about Donnell and her books, check out her website.


Thank you, Lois! (Now enough slacking. Where’s your next chapter?)

Until Dead

A Cold Case Suspense, Book 2

This killer won't stop …until she's dead

When Lt. Everett T. Pope is notified of an explosion in downtown Denver close to the judicial buildings, his first instinct is gas leak. No such luck. As Incident Command and Pope's own Major Crimes unit move in, he discovers he knows the intended victims—an Assistant U. S. Attorney—and Pope's former partner, now a private investigator, has died shielding the injured AUSA with his body.

As ATF and the FBI take over investigating the bombing and unraveling motives behind the murder attempt, Pope is relegated to a peripheral role. But the injured AUSA's aunt is a United States senator used to getting results. She turns to the team that solved the Black Pearl Killer murders with a very big ask—find her answers and locate the bomber.

FBI Special Agent Brian DiPietro must recall his entire cold case team from their far-flung assignments knowing he's being asked to do the impossible. The senator, however, doesn't know the meaning of the word. All too soon, DiPietro finds his team working alongside ATF on a red-hot mission. One that uncovers a decades' old cold case.

Buy Links



Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Interview with Saralyn Richard

 By Lynn McPherson

Saralyn Richard is a best-selling, award-winning mystery author. Her newest release, Bad Blood Sisters, may be the best yet. With its twists and turns, it will keep you reading all night long. Read on to find out more about Saralyn and her fabulous books!

Lynn: In Bad Blood Sisters, you incorporate one of my all-time favorite themes: secrets. Why do we all love to read about secrets? When is the right time to unravel the truth?

Saralyn: What a great question, Lynn. Secrets are juicy and exciting. They are never boring. They imply cloak-and-dagger intrigue, forbidden fruit, and mysterious happenings. They set up puzzles for readers to solve, and who doesn't like a good puzzle? In BAD BLOOD SISTERS, Quinn and her BFF Ana have pledged a blood oath never to tell something that happened many years ago. But when Ana dies a violent death, Quinn is thrust into a dangerous position, and she must decide whether to violate her pledge. 

When and how much to tell the reader about this secret is a very delicate matter. Divulge too soon, and the plot's tension will be lost. Divulge too late, and the reader might end up frustrated with waiting. The key to deciding, for me, is answering the question:  how important is this secret to the character motivation and action of the story? Once I figure that out, I can determine the "sweet spot," where the secret needs to be revealed. Of course, that secret is only one of the driving forces in the book--once it's revealed, there is still plenty of mystery to puzzle over.

Lynn: Your characters have so much depth. How well did you know your protagonist, Quinn McFarland, before you started writing? In general, what comes first, the characters or the story?

Saralyn:  My books always start and end with characters. Who they are, what they want, what stands in their way--these are central to the story and come to me long before I start writing. In this book, there is a single person's close point of view, and that's Quinn's. We get to know her struggles, past and present, and sometimes they are quite intense. I've found myself identifying with Quinn, and I hope the reader does, too.

Lynn: You've written a diverse collection of books, and they're all great. Bad Blood Sisters is a mixture of suspense, mystery, and romance. Do you have a favorite genre to write?

Saralyn Thanks for the compliment. Coming from you, it means a lot. I've published five books now, including two Detective Parrott mysteries, two standalone mysteries, and a children's book. While the settings and characters are quite diverse, there are common threads that run through them all:  mystery, humor, suspense, and romance. These basic ingredients make for a fun read.

Lynn: Quinn McFarland is a mortician. How did you research her job and what was the most surprising thing you found out?

Saralyn: In researching my mystery novels, I've interviewed people who work in death services. While many prefer not to think about what that profession entails, morticians provide necessary services, and, because they deal with death every day, they often have a matter-of-fact attitude about it. It's not unusual, in fact, for people in the industry to joke about death--never in the presence of the bereaved, of course. The opening line of BAD BLOOD SISTERS is, "Quinn's family often joked about death, but that summer, death stopped being funny."

Lynn: Bad Blood Sisters takes place in a small town on the coast of Texas. It really adds to the mood of the story. Why did you set it there? How important is setting in a mystery?

Saralyn: I was born and raised in a small town, an island on the coast of Texas. I've always wanted to set a book there, because the small town can be familiar and comforting, or it can be intrusive and oppressive. In this book, it is both. The steamy tropical setting adds atmosphere and tension to the story, always  crucial to a mystery. 

Lynn: I think we're ready to read the blurb. Thanks Saralyn!

Monday, March 21, 2022

A Tale of Two Chapters: Sisters in Crime Across the Country, Part One

by Paula Gail Benson

During 2020, the year of the pandemic, when so many meetings went from being in-person to virtual, I had the good fortune to meet Sonja Hazzard-Webster online. Sonja was the President of the Capitol Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime (based in Sacramento, California) and I was the President of the Palmetto Chapter of Sisters in Crime (based in Columbia, South Carolina). When Palmetto Chapter had to convert its annual Mystery in the Midlands program to an online format, we sent the information out on the Sisters in Crime Presidents’ List Serv. We were lucky. With Charlaine Harris as our keynote and people anxious to attend writing conferences, we had over 900 people to register.

What meant a great deal to me in 2020 was that Sonja reached out to me with encouragement. She had links to South Carolina and registered to support us. Our friendship was online only, but very genuine. I remember “meeting” her in person at a virtual cocktail hour hosted by then SinC President Lori Rader-Day. I witnessed Sonja’s vivacious charm, which captured everyone’s heart.

Sonja Hazzard-Webster

Sonja passed away suddenly on June 15, 2020, but her happy spirit continues to guide the Capitol Crimes Chapter. Because Sonja’s kindness meant so much to me, I decided to join the Capitol Crimes Chapter. Penny Manson, who succeeded Sonja as President, became another friend. As Presidents of two chapters, Penny and I began talking about a joint program, sponsored by both Capitol Crimes and Palmetto, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Sisters in Crime.

This year, with Sarah Bresniker as President of the Capitol Crimes Chapter and Carla Damron as President of the Palmetto Chapter, the two chapters are working together on a Killer Workshop to be presented on Saturday, May 14, 2022. This unique program combines two events in one: (1) if you are in or near Sacramento, you can attend a day-long in-person workshop featuring authors, forensic and publishing professionals, and an exciting keynote, and (2) if you can’t get to Sacramento, you can join us virtually for three panels of authors and an exciting keynote.

Both the in-person and virtual events will share the exciting keynote, who is Gregg Hurwitz, the New York Times #1 internationally bestselling author of 23 thrillers, including the ORPHAN X series. His novels have won numerous awards and been published in 33 languages.

Gregg Hurwitz

The ORPHAN X novels are part of what got me through the pandemic. Hurwitz’ protagonist, Evan Smoak, is the rumored “Nowhere Man,” a person who can rescue anyone from the most dire of circumstances. Evan was trained as a government assassin, but left the program to use his skills for individuals whose troubles seem unresolvable. DARK HORSE, the seventh novel in the series, has just been released. In addition to the ORPHAN X novels, Hurwitz has written screenplays, comics, poetry, and articles.

Early bird registration rates are available for the Killer Workshop through March 31, 2022. For the in-person event, members pay $65 and nonmembers $80. After March 31, members pay $75 and nonmembers $90.

For the virtual event, the early bird rate is $25. After March 31, the virtual event rate is $35.

Here’s a link to register for the Killer Workshop (in-person or virtual):

By checking out the information about the Killer Workshop, you can sign up for a dream editing giveaway at: (Those who register for the Killer Workshop are automatically eligible for the giveaway!)

During our planning for this in-person/virtual joint chapter event, I’ve felt Sonja Hazzard-Webster’s continuing enthusiastic influence. She would have loved the opportunity to bring writers together.

Please consider joining us. Mark your calendars for Saturday, May 14, 2022. If you can’t attend during the event, the virtual program will remain available to registrants until July 31, 2022.

And, please check out tomorrow’s post on Writers Who Kill for more information about how our two chapters planned the Killer Workshop and selected its participants!

Friday, March 18, 2022

Spoiler Alert!

By Shari Randall

Spoiler alert. Those warnings are ubiquitous nowadays. We just wrapped up the Olympics, where the difference in time zones made watching television or reading the news a minefield for anyone who wanted to be surprised by the outcome of an athletic event.


I even heard “spoiler alert” at a recent book club meeting. Half the group had finished the book —a bestselling literary novel— and the other half hadn’t. The group voted to not talk about the ending in order to avoid spoiling it for those who hadn’t read to the end. I was the only dissenter (full disclosure – it was a very book clubby book, by which I mean it wouldn’t have been so popular if the main character hadn’t survived, nay, triumphed, against the odds and lived to fight for justice another day. I was correct and I admit, I wasn’t a fan of the ending. It would’ve been much more realistic and enjoyable to me if the author had killed off the protagonist. Sorry, I digress.)


In general, I don’t mind knowing how a book ends. As a reader —and a writer— I find it enjoyable to see how the author weaves the story line into a satisfying conclusion.


But if the club’s choice had been a whodunit or work known for a big twist…I definitely wouldn’t have wanted the ending spoiled. Imagine the ire heaped on any book club member who spoiled the twist of Gone Girl or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd? What your friends would say if you spoiled the ending of The Sixth Sense or The Prestige or Murder on the Orient Express?


There was an article about spoilers in Psychology Today by a professor who studies decision making. You can read it here.


A group was given short stories to read. Some were given the story plus the ending. Then researchers asked if having the ending ruined their pleasure in the story. The outcome? Most of the study’s subjects said it didn’t.


My fellow mystery reading fans will immediately see the flaw in the construction of this study.

How many of the study’s subjects were mystery readers?


The team ran the experiment again, with a another group of subjects. This time the results were different. Ha! We know why. The group must have included mystery readers who read for the pleasure of puzzling out the clues to how-, why-, or whodunit. The study’s organizers posit there is a group with a higher “need for cognition” who like to figure out the story for themselves. (read: mystery fans)


The mystery reader reads because – what were Sherlock Holmes words? — “My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation.”


What do you think about spoilers? Do spoilers bother you or do they heighten your pleasure in a story?

Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series. Her debut, Curses, Boiled Again, won an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. As Meri Allen, she writes the new Ice Cream Shop Mysteries.



Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Difference Between Cranes and Egrets by Lynn Chandler Willis

I pride myself in writing setting well. In each of my books, there's been at least one review where the reviewer praised me for making them feel the heat of Wink, Texas or bask in the autumn colors of the North Carolina mountains. To me, setting is a secondary character. It should be treated to the same amount of development as the rest of the supporting characters. 

I don't spend a lot of time, though, on stuff like motivation and family history and childhood traumas. Not when I'm talking setting. The physical being of the landscape––the smell, the touch, the way it looks. These are the elements I dive into and, quite frankly, forget to come up for air. Some authors call it research. I call it broadening my horizons.

When I was writing Wink of an Eye, I joined the Wink, Texas Facebook group. They welcomed me and were eager to offer help. I even made friends with the mayor's wife and we sent messages and texts a couple times a week. On one such occasion, I had sent her a message along with a picture I'd borrowed from Google Images.

The photo was of a beautiful desert plant, tinged in red and found all over west Texas. Bingo! In the scene, P.I. Gypsy Moran is driving along the highway running from Wink to Kermit and is ruminating about this part of his home state. A jackrabbit ran alongside the van, kicking up dust and dirt. Prickly Pear cacti dotted the barren landscape and added a touch of green. Back to the red-tinged plant.

After hours, and I mean hours of researching this plant I knew the scientific name (Echinocereus coccineus). I knew how tall they grew (not much as they're low to the ground), I knew when they bloomed (late May, early June) and I knew wildfires were hard on them. I knew some of more common names like Scarlet hedgehog cactus, claret cup cactus, scarlet beehive cactus. I was learning so much about this plant, I fancied myself an expert. Except I wanted to know what west Texans called them. I wanted the name that a native Texan would use, driving along the lonely stretch of highway with only a jackrabbit and this red-flowering cactus to keep him company. 

I sent Stormy (her real name) a message with a picture and said, "What do y'all call this?" 

"A cactus."

"No, I mean what do y'all call it?" I gave her a few examples to help her along. "You know, something like dragon fire? Maybe devils blood?"

She must have been thinking about it because there was silence. So, I helped her again. "If you were driving down highway 171 right now and saw this on the side of the road, what would you call it? In your terms. As a native west Texan." 

"A cactus."

Several hours of research, in my case overthinking, equated to exactly one line of a paragraph in the book. But by gosh, the reader could see that dang cactus right along with Gypsy.

Flash forward a few years to my new P.I., Raynor Beck. The series is set in the southern Outer Banks of North Carolina (or OBX for those in the know). Primarily in the Beaufort, Morehead City, and Atlantic Beach area. If you're familiar with my books, you'll know what a break this setting is from my beloved Appalachian mountains. The beach. Eeek! 

In my part of North Carolina, the beach, or coast, is about an hour east further than the mountains west. It's the best of both worlds. But for me, it also meant new research. Like knowing the difference between the bow and the stern. Starboard (right side), port (left side), gunwale and the hull. I researched the trees that are native to the coast. The average temperature of a given day. The differences between the fish caught off the Oceana Pier at Atlantic Beach and a couple miles out in the Gulf Stream. And the birds! I snapped this photo during a recent stay. I was watching the boats come in to the Morehead City Yacht Basin and could not take my eyes off of this guy. He would be in the book. First chapter, even, to really set the scene. 

I popped the photo into Goggle Lens and it immediately brought up crane.  Again, I dive in to research and learn everything there is to know about the crane. Oh my gosh––the symbolism!  Crane symbolism focuses on the need for balance and living in harmony with others. I could just see the cover of the book. There would be a glorious crane on it, perhaps gliding over the ocean.  

Yep, with my hours of research, or broadening my horizons, I had come up with a cover idea, a possible title, and even the broad theme. 

There was just one more thing I needed to clarify so I googled "where do cranes live."

I can now tell you where they don't live. North Carolina. They're also commonly confused with the egret and/or the heron. 

Heartbroken, and cussing myself for overthinking again to the tune of wasted writing time, I refused to spend any more time "researching" that dang bird and simply wrote: 

An egret stood watch on the dock, seeing the boats off. 

Period. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less. I hate that stupid bird.

What about you? Are you guilty of overthinking?

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Year of the Tiger

 by Barbara J. Eikmeier

2022 is the year of the tiger. As images of Lunar New Year celebrations scrolled across social media, I remembered that my son was born in the year of the tiger. Immediately I knew, with a little shock, that he will be 36 this year.  It’s not that I always know the current ages of my adult children off the top of my head. It’s because of the tiger. 

While living In South Korea, a culture where respect to elders is expressed with a more formal form of language, I noticed a Korean national’s need to establish who is older when meeting someone for the first time. With different generations it may be obvious who is the elder but when ages are closer it can be awkward since it’s also considered rude to ask someone their age.  If only there was a 12-year age span tool to help narrow the gap. Enter the Chinese zodiac.

My Korean language tutor, Kang Ok, thought it was amusing that Americans, when describing a person, would always tell hair and eye color and approximate age, such as “He’s in his late 30s.” She admitted she had a hard time telling a westerner’s age and she taught me a trick to determine an age span.

Kang Ok demonstrated by saying, “I was born in the year of the dragon.”

I immediately replied, “I’m the year of the pig,” (according to the red paper placemat at every Chinese restaurant in America.)

It was exactly what she was expecting me to say. Kang Ok, because she’s Korean and has the order of the twelve Chinese Zodiac animals memorized, knew that I was either five years or (add 12) 17 years older than her. So, although she was my teacher, which implies I use the more formal language when addressing her, I was her elder, requiring her form of language to change as well. 

Kang Ok, went on to tell me that Koreans think females born in the year of the dragon are strong willed. She added, “But I was born during daylight hours so it’s not as bad!”

Once I was on to the secret, I tried it with other Korean friends. In the process I learned that when Kang Ok told me she was the year of the dragon – the same as my daughter Sarah, I could immediately know that Kang Ok was at least 12 years older than Sarah. It just so happened it was the year of the dragon at the time. My daughter was 12. Now I knew, without asking, that Kang Ok was 24 years old.

It's been 20+ years since I’ve lived in Korea. I’m back to just asking a person their age. I thought about my writing where I may flat out say, ‘he was 30 years old’, which works just fine, but if my characters have different cultural experiences, maybe I needn’t be so blunt. The dialog could be as simple as when Kang Ok tested me with: “I was born in the year of the dragon.” To which a Korean might reply with raised eyebrows, “Dragon Lady? I’m the pig.” To which Kang Ok would laugh and say, “Don’t worry, I was born during the day.” As the characters part ways, Kang Ok, could think, for example, “He’s too old. He wouldn’t have been a student there at the time of the murder.” You never have to say his age. But Kang Ok knows his age and has eliminated him as a suspect.

What else can you extract from the Chinese Zodiac placemat to use in your character development?   A dragon lady has great potential to be a strong female character, but you might find other traits, compatibilities and opposites to work into your writing. So, if you don't spill the egg drop soup or lose noodles from your chopsticks you can save that paper placemat for your writing folder!

As for me, I’m off to think up the perfect Year of the Tiger gift for my son.

Barbara J. Eikmeier lived in Seoul, South Korea for two years. She is a quilter, writer, student of quilt history, and lover of small-town America. Raised on a dairy farm in California, she enjoys placing her characters in rural communities.


Tuesday, March 15, 2022


Welcome to the World

by Saralyn Richard

There’s a reason launching a book is often compared to delivering a baby. Books are conceived in passion—whether love, hate, anger, or shame—they begin from a deep-seated surge of emotion. The iimpetus for the book grows and develops into something tangible, something very personal and worthy. After a long period, possibly nine months or way longer, the manuscript is written, critiqued, edited, revised, dressed up, laid-out, and published, ready to introduce to the world—the author’s baby.

As a reader, I also think of new books as babies. I can’t help appreciating the inspiration, dedication, and hard work the author and publisher have expended to create the product I’m holding in my hand. As I get to know the story, I find myself bonding with the person who produced it.

BAD BLOOD SISTERS is my fifth baby. I’ve experienced the process five times, but the excitement of producing a new novel is no less than it was for NAUGHTY NANA in 2013. Like every child, every book is different, and so is my love for it.

This excerpt offers a glimpse into Quinn McFarland’s situation just before her estranged BFF is brought into the family mortuary, a victim of violence.

Not for the first time, Quinn considered how time seemed to speed by these days. If Jack’s life, or even hers, were to end now, what imprint would each of them have left on the world? Neither of them married, no children, and except for working in death services, what had either of them accomplished?

Quinn had told her second grade teacher she was going to be a doctor. Even at age seven, she’d wanted to work on the living side of things. What had changed her mind, she wondered now? How had all her aspirations evaporated into the salty Gulf Coast air?

Quinn’s thoughts drifted into the past, colorful threads of memories. Her last thought before she fell into a troubled sleep was of the summer of ’05. Now she remembered how she’d gone off-course. That was the summer she’d been totally absorbed by Ana French.

Quinn is haunted by the past, her friendship gone awry, and the blood oath she’s sworn to keep secret. Quinn is the only one who knows enough to bring the killer to justice, but what she’s buried puts her in extreme danger.

Advance praise for BAD BLOOD SISTERS has been gratifying, and I’m so excited to introduce Quinn’s journey to the world. For more information and to purchase an autographed copy, go to

Saralyn Richard was born and raised in a small town, an island on the Gulf Coast of Texas, just like the one where Quinn’s peril takes place. Her other books are set in places as diverse as the elite Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania and the underprivileged urban high school. Check out Saralyn’s books here.


Monday, March 14, 2022

Interview with Stiletto Gang Member Lois Winston

 When Stiletto Gang Blog members suggested interviewing fellow blog members, it only made sense for me to partner with author Lois Winston. After all, as critique partners, we know where 

Author Lois Winston
the bodies are buried (so to speak).  I feel fortunate to have Lois as a critique partner. She has an outstanding brain, is well read, and knows the publishing industry. Do I take everything she suggests? Absolutely not, and vice versa. But the fact that we brainstorm, mull over plots, word choice, grammar, goal, motivation, and conflict is worth all the gold in Fort Knox.  (All right, maybe not ALL the gold).

With that, let’s get to know author Lois Winston better.

 Donnell:  Lois, you recently moved to Tennessee from New Jersey to be closer to family.  How many months has it been and how has the New Jersey girl transitioned to living in the South?  What is your favorite thing so far about Tennessee? And what do you miss most about New Jersey?

 Lois: We’ve been here since the end of June but in our new home since the middle of July. It’s been a difficult transition for me. Up until now I had lived my entire life in either metro New York City or metro Philadelphia—and I don’t mean Philadelphia, Mississippi! Moving during a pandemic has made the transition even more difficult. However, I do like the milder winters.

 What I miss most about New Jersey is no longer being within a short train ride into Manhattan. I’m going through massive theater and museum withdrawal, and it isn’t pretty! Just ask my husband!

Manhattan skyline

Donnell:  The beauty of writing the Anastasia Pollack series is that you can visit New Jersey any time you wish. How many books have you written now surrounding Westfield and the state of New Jersey?

 Lois: Getting back to New Jersey isn’t that easy. It requires me to either hop on a plane or drive thirteen hours, which I can’t do in one day. Would you believe there are no trains that go from Nashville to New York?

No trains, so a plane will have to do...

Both my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, of which there are currently ten novels and three novellas, and my two Empty Nest Mysteries are set in Westfield. In addition, Westfield is part of the setting for Moms in Black, the first Mom Squad Caper; my contemporary romance, Finding Hope; and my middle school novel, The Magic Paintbrush. My other books have been set in two other New Jersey towns, New York, and Philadelphia.

Donnell:  Reviewers have compared your protagonist Anastasia Pollack to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. Did you have that in mind when you started writing the series? Do you feel your protagonist after 10 books and 3 novellas has formed an identity of her own? How many more books do you plan for this series?

 Lois: I didn’t consciously have the Stephanie Plum books in mind when I wrote the first Anastasia book, but I’ve always enjoyed Evanovich’s humor. Kirkus Reviews called Anastasia “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum,” and I think that’s true. Stephanie doesn’t have to worry about anyone but herself. Anastasia is a more realistic character. She’s juggling widowhood while raising two teenagers and dealing with the debt her husband left her. She’s also permanently stuck with her communist mother-in-law. Stephanie works in a profession that has her dealing with criminals daily. Anastasia is the crafts editor at a women’s magazine. Murder and mayhem aren’t part of her job description, yet circumstances beyond her control force her into becoming a reluctant amateur sleuth.

As for how many more books I’ll write in the series, I’ll keep writing about Anastasia as long as she’ll let me.

Donnell: As a graphic artist and former craft editor, you and your protagonist are closely related. At the back of your books, you always have craft projects and ideas for readers. Do you find that an advantage of writing this series? Do you have an avid “craft” following?

Lois: When I was asked to write the series, it was understood that craft projects would be included, just as recipes are included in culinary mysteries. The difference, though, is that I’m limited in the type of projects I can feature. I can’t include patterns, only written directions or tips, due to the limitations of size in a printed book and the fact that there would be no way for someone reading an ebook to print or download a pattern.

 Back when I was a full-time designer, I had a sizable following. This was before the Internet really took off, but I still hear from crafters from time to time. In 1996 I designed a 3-D cross stitched Nativity set that was featured in Women’s World. I still receive emails from a few crafters each year, usually because they want to stitch another set and have lost the patterns.

Donnell:  At one time, you wrote romantic suspense, do you think you’ll ever write another romantic suspense?

Lois: I’ve learned never to say never, but it won’t happen anytime soon. My romantic suspense novels were quite dark. With everything going on in the world, I’d rather write humorous cozy mysteries. We all need to laugh more these days.

Donnell:  Speaking of romance, you have one in your Anastasia Pollack series. After being widowed from the louse of a spouse, Anastasia has found happiness with photojournalist Zack Barnes. In a recent book Anastasia and Zack became engaged. Have readers commented on their engagement—are they excited about their upcoming nuptials? Any hints at whether this will be a long engagement or a sudden elopement?

Lois: I’ve heard from many readers who want to know when Anastasia and Zack will marry. Zack proposed in Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide, the eight book in the series. I didn’t want the wedding to occur in the next book, and it didn’t work for the plot I wanted to write for the last book. I’m currently working on the eleventh book in the series, and I’m thinking this might be the book that will include a wedding. We’ll see…

Donnell:  One thing, I don’t think readers and writers know about you is that you’re a former literary agent and are extremely generous with your industry colleagues, published and unpublished alike. I have benefitted firsthand by knowing you for so many years. If you were the Dear Abby of Publishing, what advice would you give to published authors? Then, turn this, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Lois: The best writing advice I ever received was from the owner of the agency that represented me and employed me for ten years. He said that every scene in a book and all dialogue needs to do one of two things—either advance the plot or tell the reader something he or she needs to know about the point of view character at that moment. If it doesn’t, it’s filler and should be cut. This advice applies to both published and unpublished writers.

As for aspiring authors, my best advice is to remember that the road to publication is a marathon, not a sprint. Take the time to learn your craft and grow a thick skin to deal with the inevitable rejections you’ll receive along the way. Very few authors have ever sold their first attempt immediately after completion—if ever. There are thousands of first manuscripts cavorting with the dust bunnies under beds throughout the world. Those who have been lucky enough to sell their first book usually did so only after many revisions over several years.

Donnell: Thanks, Lois! To say I’m grateful for your friendship is putting it mildly. Thank you for always picking up the phone.

Lois: Ditto, Donnell!

Want to learn more about prolific author Lois Winston? Check out her website at: