Friday, April 29, 2022

Just Joys — 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.




The whirling weeks have left me vaguely unsettled, looking for what I have "accomplished." I am used to measuring that in terms of word count, and I don't have many of those. Rather than wallow in guilt, perhaps word count is the wrong measurement. I decided to look back and ask, "What happened?" And specifically, "Where did I find joy?"

While I listened to the talented Lia Frederick bring my characters to life in an audio book version of House of Rose* (the first in a trilogy about a police officer who discovers she’s a witch), I pulled the grass/clover/weeds out of the moss on the brick walkway. You might call this gardening. I call it a Zen exercise.  

[* Contact me at to get a promo code for a free audiobook!]

During the early stress-filled days of the Pandemic, weeding the moss calmed me. It requires concentration (if you pull wantonly, the moss will pull up too; if you are lazy, other plants will take over.) One of the encroachers was a tiny flower with a deep violet base and translucent blue-white petals, perhaps large enough for an ant’s umbrella—a Japanese Mazus. I left it in the moss.


Two + decades ago, I worked in the Birmingham Police Department with two dear friends, Becky and Juanita. Becky recently had a hip replacement, and Juanita stepped up to be a full-time care-taker. (A lesson about the meaning of Love!) We visit regularly, and our tales ensure a lot of laughter, the good kind that runs deep as a river between us. Becky’s husband died not that long ago, and she asked me for a painting based on a photo he had taken on a special day. The photo is beautiful, a solitary duck and crimson reflections in the water of (unseen) day lillies on the bank above. Here my first stab at it:

The Left Coast Crime conference in Albuquerque, NM, was a mixture of delight in being with people and anxiety at the crowd after the last two years of isolating and masking.  The highlight was being with my friends, Vikki and Kevin who were experiencing a writing conference for the first time. Also loved meeting fellow Stiletto Gang members, Donnell Ann Bell and Dru Ann Love.  Didn’t get to talk much with Dru Ann (who was always surrounded by admirers!☺), but I sat at Donnell’s table at the banquet, and she kindly offered a ride to the airport, so we got to chat a bit, enough to know what a kind, generous person she is and hope our friendship grows.  
Also enjoyed extended conversations about writing and law enforcement stuff  with fellow panelists and police crime writers—James L’Etoile, Frank Zafiro, Dana King (and his wife, Corky), and Colin Conway. The best part of conferences is the people!
Brushed tangles from Foxy’s tail. Tomorrow it will be tangled again, but today it’s a silk flag in the wind, and she is prissy, knowing how beautiful she is (because I tell her constantly). She was a racehorse, but during the pandemic (or perhaps because her hooves don’t grow well) she was sold at auction with a future as dog food in Mexico if no one rescued her. She is such a baby, wanting constant petting and treats.

Janice is almost my age (i.e., an "elder"). We met this winter at a martial arts clinic (yes, really). She rode with her sensei (teacher) from Wyoming to Alabama! Fourteen hundred miles separate us, yet we chatted via email about tying up her gutter that fell in the Laramie wind to the porch with a bungee cord, and I told her about a piece of my day. The thread of a new friendship weaving across those miles lightened my heart.  
Our old dog, Glenny, walked all the way to the barn with me today. Usually, he goes to the end of the yard and then abandons me, heading back to the house. This time I had to wait while he stopped often to read the “newspaper” of smells along the drive, a lesson in patience, but I was happy with his quiet company.
This is not Glenny in quiet-company mode. This is it's-time-to-cook-dinner mode.

Colors in the water of Becky's painting are giving me fits. Do I still like it?  Yes . . . no.  Frustrating. Trying to push through the fear of an ugly mess, giving the paper the paint and waiting to see what it does with it.
Took some mint to my sister (so grateful she lives nearby) and helped her move hosta plants she had grown for years to her new house and decide where to put them, as well as an ornate wrought iron gate she bought at a yard sale. (She is a yard-sale queen!) She helped me load two trellis plant stands (that she would have sold, but gave to me), into the truck. I put them in the back yard in front of the ugly metal poles of the clothesline. Any thoughts what I should grow on them?  Clematis, maybe? Only partial sun back there.
More paint on the duck. Hoping Becky will like it. Hoping I will like it. Layers defining, softening, brightening. It will never look like the photo but that’s okay has long as it evokes the wonder of the light, the quiet dignity of the duck rippling through still water, but I don’t know if it’s working or not.  Really struggling with making this right.

I was up at midnight the night before taking this to Becky because it was still not right, but in the end, I went to bed feeling it was good, or as good as I could do. 
She cried when she saw it.  
Her happiness made me very happy.

Writing this woke me to the small joys that happen every day. Looking for "accomplishments," I miss their significant. What a gift life is.  


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, April 28, 2022

April 2022 the Year of the Miracle by Juliana

Louise Mondragon Aragon April 7, 1923-December 24, 2008 presente

 Dear Reader, 

I probably shouldn't tell you this, but...

This is the writing prompt: I'm challenging you to write a page, paragraph, or sentence and tell me your story. I love this prompt because it forces me to think out of the box and be original,  innovative, and magical. Magic to me is the unexplainable, like finding a $20 bill in your glovebox in your 65 Mercedez Benz just when you ran out of gas and were broke and poor. 

Back in the 80's I had a boyfriend named, the Caveman. He was a Viking with blue eyes and long ginger hair and beard. He drank a little. He drank a little a lot. We lived in his schoolbus hippy cave. It was a mancave on wheels, big wheels. We lived in his cave for a summer in the Colorado Rockies near Woodland Park up Ute Pass on Hwy 24. We roughed it for love. I was in crazy Chicana love. He was in Caveman Biker Dude love. Insane doesn't begin to describe what it was. But it ended and I survived and learned valuable lessons about real love. That's my story. What's yours? 

I probably shouldn't tell you this, but...

In 1995 I joined a group of musicians and comedians named the Latin Locomotions. It was three crazy Chicanos two women and one vato extraordinaire. We toured for the Department of Defense after Desert Storm. We started in Europe and traveled to the United Arab Emirates and ended at Camp Justice in the middle of the Indian Ocean between Africa and India on the island of Diego Garcia. We traveled with the military on cargo planes and treked through deserts, jungles, beaches, and cities. It was a magical time in my life where I left behind my mother, son, husband, friends, and colleagues to give back by entertaining the men and women who defend our country. I fell in love with the U.S.A. by leaving it and traveling to other places, meeting other people from different religions, cultures, languages, and ideas. I looked into the eyes of those people and knew that my life had meaning. I felt proud and small in a world filled with people who look like me and don't look like me. 

Looking back on that time, I was blessed to have people in my life like Sherry and Manuel, the Latin Locomotions. They taught me to cherish the life I've been given and never take an opportunity for granted. I never went to graduate school. I gave my time and energy to learning about the world from traveling and meeting people. I lived my life. I'm the Crazy Chicana in Catholic City from Red Canyon Falling on Churches on the Road I Ride Bleeds

I probably shouldn't tell you this but...

When I was a teenager I drank, smoked, and cussed like a sailor. I was a chingona. Still am to this day. I'm not all talk though. I can definitely hold my own in a bar fight, or cat fight, or wrestling match. I'm not passive, I'm not aggressive, but don't piss me off. I stand for the underdog. I protect the weak and those unable to stand up for themselves. I stand for justice. I promote peace but know that in war many will die to fight for freedom. 

When I was fourteen I got knocked up. He was nineteen and had a Thunderbird. I was a child infatuated with a Chicano from San Francisco that arrived in my small town in Southern Colorado and blew my mind. I dropped out of highschool and rode in his Thunderbird all the way to California. Fifty years later, my son is grown, my ex is dead. 

I've graduated with a GED, a bachelor's degree in English and Creative Writing, published several books of poetry and poems in anthologies, I've taught in my hometown in the building I used to attend junior high. I've taught writing workshops to countless children through Writers in the Schools, I've mentored young women in Building Bridges, a leadership program for disadvantaged girls. I've performed on stages all over the world. I've written my poetry, fiction, and memoirs and write for the Stiletto Gang. But what really makes me proud of myself is that I've never given up on my dreams to be successful, to graduate from college, to teach, to learn, to lead. 

Now I'm 65, my husband is 60, my son is 50 and we have all become eligible for AARP. I have survived long enough to witness this event and I'm so glad I didn't give up, give in, fall down and not get back up again. I look forward to whatever comes and however many days I have left in this world. I learned that peace comes from not letting the bullies win. I've stood up to the bullies and they've beaten my head and kicked me in the gut, but I kept getting up until they gave up and left me with my resolve that nothing is going to keep me down, not even hate. 

I probably shouldn't tell you this but...

I always wanted to be a grandmother. My mom was the best mom. Not perfect. Not even close. She was imperfect like me with flaws and humanity. She taught me to be a chingona and to fight for the less fortunate. She taught me to love the sinner and hate the sin, but sometimes I hate the sinner and the sin. She was a world class grandmother and great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother. She had lots of grandchildren. Some weren't even related to her but called her grandma. 

My students called me Mama Fatula and still do to this day. I have a couple of soul sistas that share their grandchildren with me. They call be tia abuelita Juliana. So what if I never have my own grandchildren. There are enough children in the world that need love and don't have grandmothers. I'll be their abuela. I'll love them as if they were my own. I used to tell my students goodbye after class by saying, Look both ways, have a nice day, hasta luego, te amo. They asked me do you mean it when you say I love you? I meant it. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

My Tweaking Obsession

By Lois Winston

No, that title does not have a typo. I’m neither obsessed with Twitter nor with twerking. However, I am a compulsive tweaker.


Every author has her own process for writing a novel. The two most talked about are whether you’re a pantser or a plotter. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They sit down at their computers and start typing. Maybe they have an idea for the beginning of a novel or a main character. They may know how they want to start a book and how it will end. But they fly by the seat of their pants between “Once upon a time” and “The End.”


Plotters painstakingly outline their books. Some write copious synopses. Others use an outlining method that spells out what will happen in each chapter or even in each scene in the book.


When it comes to the actual writing of the book, some authors write numerous drafts before they’re satisfied with the end result. Sometimes the finished product bears little resemblance to the first draft, especially if you’re a pantser but rarely if you’re a plotter. 


I have a friend who’s a New York Times bestselling author. Between the typos, grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, not to mention the run-on sentences that would make even William Faulkner cringe, if you read her first drafts, you’d think she never made it past third grade. She doesn’t worry about any of it. Her process is to get her thoughts down on paper, to keep typing, unfiltered words flying onto the page without fear of sabotage by her inner editor.


With each subsequent draft, she concentrates on refining a different aspect of her work. The final version she turns into her editor, more often than not, lands her on that coveted NYT list.


Then there’s me…uhm, I. (You’ll understand that grammatical correction momentarily.) I’m an obsessive tweaker. I will spend half an hour staring at a blinking cursor, searching for the exact word or phrase. I’m incapable of moving on to the next sentence, let alone the next scene, until I’m happy with the results. But if that weren’t enough, I constantly go back and reread what I’ve written previously and continue to tweak. In other words, I edit as I write. I can’t help it. 


Then my critique partner reads what I’ve written, offers some suggestions, and I go back and tweak some more. The end result being that by the time I type The End, I’ve really only written one draft, one thoroughly edited first draft, but a first draft, nonetheless. Of course, the book will then go through beta reads and proofreading that will result in additional tweaking because there’s always a missed typo or some other finetuning that’s needed. Essentially, though, from the first word on the page to the last, I’ve written only one complete draft. That’s my process—and my compulsion. I wouldn’t know any other way.

What's yours?


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 Bake 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.



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, April 26, 2022

Malice Magic!

 By Lynn McPherson

Malice Domestic 2022.

What a fabulous event! It was the first time I've been away since 2019. I was nervous and excited all at once. It blew away all my expectations. Walking through the hallway and all around the hotel, I saw author after author I admired. Maureen Jennings, Louise Penny, Sherry Harris, Rhys Bowen, and Lori Rader-Day, just to name a few. The panels were well-organized and entertaining, nevermind informative and fun. Dru Ann Love moderated one of my favorite panels on how to keep a series fresh, with great advice from panelists Edith Maxwell, Amanda Flower, Cheryl Hollon, SC Perkins, and Barbara Ross. It was fabulous. Attending an interview with Rhys Bowen by Louise Penny felt like a dream come true. I also got to meet the head of the Blue Ridge Literary Agency, Dawn Dowdle. Dawn was warm and welcoming. Each night I had the privilege of dining with fellow authors at the BRLA table.

Will I be back next year? Definitely? Would I recommend it to anyone interested in mystery? You bet!

Here are a few photos of my time away...

Getting ready to leave Toronto!

Lynn McPherson has worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, ran a small business, and taught English across the globe. She has travelled the world solo where her daring spirit has led her to jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, and learn she would never master a surfboard. She now channels her lifelong love of adventure and history into her writing,
where she is free to go anywhere, anytime. Her cozy series has three books out: 
The Girls' Weekend Murder and The Girls Whispered Murder, and The Girls Dressed For Murder.  

Monday, April 25, 2022

Going in . . .by Dru Ann

This past month, I got on a plane or two or three to attend two reader/fan conventions.

First was to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Left Coast Crime convention. This was the first time I was in a crowd of over 100 people. Was I anxious, yes, but that feeling of being among your tribe took over and except for a few blips, I had a wonderful time. In New Mexico, the mask wearing was optional. I wore my mask when I was in mixed company, meaning if I didn’t know three-quarters of the group, my mask went all. Hugs were plenty, but I asked before giving out hugs. I was on a panel “Decades of Books” and it was cool research books during a section decade. We received kudos for our panel. As for the airplane ride, mask was still mandatory, so I was feeling comfortable on my flight. Next year, Left Coast Crime will be in Tucson, Arizona where I will be Fan Guest of Honor.

Second trip was to Bethesda, Maryland for the Malice Domestic convention. This time the mask mandate was lifted, but I still wore my mask. My guess is that 75% still wore their mask. I was Fan Guest of Honor this year and moderated a panel “Writing a Series: Keeping it Fresh” with Edith Maxwell, Amanda Flower, Cheryl Hollon, SC Perkins, and Barbara Ross. After the panel, there were continual compliments on how well it went. At the banquet, after my speech, I was surprised when I received a standing ovation.

The best part of the month of April and attending these conventions, was I got to be with my crime fiction family after an absence of two years and it felt so good.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

I tried to write the other day and other funny stuff by Lynn Chandler Willis

 I have a book due to my editor next week. I haven't left my zip code in two years and now I have two trips planned within a matter of days. I'm leaving Thursday for Malice Domestic and then next Thursday to New York City for the Edgar Awards. I'm not complaining. I'm just wondering how everything seems to happen at the same time. Boggles my mind. 

Speaking of my mind, or specifically the way it works, hold onto your seat. You're in for a wild ride.

7:00 AM: Ahhh...that first sip of coffee. So far so good. Sit at the kitchen table and open laptop. Open up my Scrivener file and...ask Finn (my dog, roommate, furbaby, boss) why she's whining. She doesn't answer. Back to my file and my WIP that's due next week.

7:03 AM: Finn's still whining. I remind her she hasn't eaten her breakfast yet. It's still in her bowl. Get up and go to the cabinet where the dog treats are kept. Grab one. Sit back down. Give Finn the treat. Back to the WIP. 

7:05 AM: Certainly she hasn't already eaten that treat? Take a sip of coffee and ignore the whining. Back to my file. Research the Norwegian word for "mother." Back to my file. Oops. I've already forgotten how to spell it. Back to Google. 

7:10 AM: Have stare down with Finn. Give in and give her another treat. Back to my file. Dang it. Coffee's cold. I warm up the coffee and take a moment to enjoy the view out my kitchen window. Except my view includes my adult daughter (who lives with her hubs and 5 kids in the big house beside my little cottage) in her back yard waving her arms and kinda gyrating in this spastic manner. I'm concerned there might be something seriously wrong so rush outside and discover 3 of the chickens have flown the coop and she's trying to herd them back into the fenced yard. The rooster is throwing one more hissy fit because three of his girls are free and sticking their tongues out at him. Do chickens have tongues? 

8:00 AM: Back inside, reheat the coffee, again. The laptop's powered off so I wake it up to continue my WIP. Finn whines again. I ignore her. 

8:20: Whoa! Look at that! Finished that chapter. BAM! Moving right along...until the other set of grandkids who are vacationing at Universal in Florida FaceTime me. They're having the time of their lives and I can't stop smiling while they're telling me in great detail about their trip so far.  

8:45 AM: Still FaceTiming. Grandkids ask me how the book is coming along. They ask me all about my upcoming trips and what I'm going to wear (two are teenage girls so they're very concerned about stuff like that) and then I panic for a split second wondering if anyone still wears pantyhose. Do they? Do I add that to my shopping list for Malice and the Edgars? Suntan or nude? 

9:00 AM: The grandkids are off to Harry Potter World and I wake up the laptop again. Add my chapter heading. Yeah! Got that first paragraph down. Daughter comes over and says one of the baby turkeys is gone. I help her search the property for the missing baby turkey.  

10:00 AM: We didn't find the baby turkey. We feared the worst. My laptop has gone back to sleep. I let it sleep and log in to the day/night job. I may have cried. 

10:10 AM: One of the customer service reps transfers an escalated call to me since I'm a Senior Customer Service rep and get the really irate customers. The customer wants to know why she can't exchange a shirt she purchased last June for a newer color. I explain our 30 day return policy and invite her to place a new order for the new color, and hey, I'll even override shipping cost for you! She then asks if I'll price match what she paid back in June. Which, by all calculations, was discounted by 70%. SEVENTY. PERCENT. I politely tell her no, we can't do that again and it goes downhill from there. She wants my employee number. My manager's name. My blood type...

10:15 AM: Blood type...what if a killer picked his victims according to their blood type? But how would he know? Oh! He has access to medical records...

10:25 AM: Hang up with irate customer after being cussed out because I stood my ground and not only refused to give her another 70% discount, I took back my offer of free shipping. 

10:30 AM: I take my 15 minute break. I wake up the laptop and craft a new villain.   

PS...the baby turkey was found safe 😊

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Who Wants a Free Book!?

 by Bethany Maines

Whew! I can't believe we're half-way through April already!  Where did the last three months go?

How did I get here?

As I've blogged about previously, I decided to do an experiment in book launching for my most recent series by putting out all three books of the 3 Colors Trilogy in quick succession. February saw the release of A Little Red. With March came A Deeper Blue and in just a few short days, on April 27, I'll complete the trilogy with A Brighter Yellow.  

Reader's Choice

From a reader perspective, I think this release strategy has been successful.  Readers are happy not to have to wait for their next hit of romance and adventure.  From my perspective... yeesh.  I'm tired.  This has been a hamster wheel of marketing. I'm not complaining.  I've enjoyed the lovely reviews and excitement from readers, but I think if I do this again, I'll probably put them at least a full 2 months a part.  I sincerely underestimated how much work it would be to keep the motor of marketing turning.

What's next?  And what's this about a free book?

However, the I'm not quite done yet. As I mentioned the final book in the trilogy won't be out until April 27, but before then there is a special set of free days for A Little Red, allowing people to scoop up book 1  for FREE and get caught up before the release of book 3.  So if you're interested in snagging a free book just click the link below.

A fast-paced and spicy romance with lovable characters and an engaging story too, A Little Red is a fantastic initial installment in what promises to be a thrilling Trilogy.
-- A Little Red Review,


Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, 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 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 Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and BookBub

Tuesday, April 19, 2022



by Saralyn Richard


The five books I’ve written have three distinct settings, all different, all places that I know and love. The two books in the Detective Parrott mystery series take place in Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania. I have family members who live there, and I’ve been privileged to visit many times. A paradise for equestrians, artists, and nature-lovers, this is a landscape filled with wide, beautiful, and peaceful vistas. Country mansions, old-fashioned bank barns, horse stables, and wildlife abound, and many of the people who live and work there are healthy, wealthy, resilient, and independent. Brandywine is the last place you’d expect a crime to take place, so when outsider, Detective Oliver Parrott, shows up to investigate deaths or thefts or other crimes, he has an uphill battle.

            Along the way, the books take readers to many of the unique attractions of Brandywine Valley, including Longwood Gardens, The Brandywine River Museum of Fine Arts, Kennett Square, incomparable horse trails, and outstanding restaurants. Many readers have enjoyed these glimpses so much that they have traveled to the area to experience it for themselves.

            By contrast, the stand-alone mystery, A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL, is set in a far different universe—the urban high school. Aside from the differences of outdoor-indoor, wealthy-disadvantaged milieus, the worlds depicted in these novels contain similar types of tension and drama. The urban high school is a familiar and much beloved setting for me, since I spent many years as a teacher, administrator, and school improvement consultant there. In this book, readers are treated to an administrator’s view of the principal’s office, the teacher’s lounge, the cafeteria, the football field, and the auditorium—a million stories beyond the flagpole.

            A third beloved setting is a coastal island, where the closeness of the community and the intensity of the summer temperature can be sometimes comforting and sometimes oppressive. My children’s book, NAUGHTY NANA, and my newest adult mystery novel, BAD BLOOD SISTERS, are situated there. Having been born and raised on such an island, I’ve enjoyed sharing the various sights, sounds, and smells of this setting, and placing my protagonists there.

            Much has been written about the importance of setting in a work of fiction. Sometimes the setting is mere wallpaper, and other times setting is as important as a character in telling the story. When I read novels, I learn from and enjoy the settings. It’s hard to imagine GONE WITH THE WIND apart from the South during the Civil War, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE without the African Congo, or TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in any other location besides the fictional Maycomb, Alabama.

            As I write, I cannot separate the setting from the plot or characters, and I hope my readers sense how integral the setting is to the story.

            How about you? When you read a wonderful book, how important is the setting?


Saralyn Richard’s award-winning humor- and romance-tinged mysteries and children's book pull back the curtain on people in settings as diverse as elite country manor houses and disadvantaged urban high schools. Saralyn’s most recent release is Bad Blood Sisters. A member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, Saralyn teaches creative writing and literature at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and continues to write mysteries. Her favorite thing about being an author is interacting with readers like you. Visit Saralyn here, on her Amazon page here, or on Facebook here.



Monday, April 18, 2022

Celebrating the 2022 Agatha Nominated Authors for Best First Novel and Best Short Story

by Paula Gail Benson


Next weekend, after a two year absence, a group of devoted readers and writers will gather in Bethesda, Maryland, to celebrate the traditional mystery at Malice Domestic. Each year, its been a great privilege for me to interview the Agatha nominees for Best First Novel and Best Short Story. Through this message, please enjoy meeting or reacquainting yourself with these wonderful authors, and dont forget to click on the links to read the nominated short stories!


Congratulations to all the nominees and thank you for spending time with us at The Stiletto Gang!


Best First Novel
The Turncoat’s Widow by Mally Becker (Level Best Books)
A Dead Man’s Eyes by Lori Duffy Foster (Level Best Books)
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala (Berkley)
Murder in the Master by Judy L. Murray (Level Best Books)
Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel V. Reyes (Crooked Lane Books)


What has been your most unexpected experience with the publication of your first novel?


Mally Becker


The nomination of The Turncoat’s Widow for an Agatha Award in the “best debut” category is one of the most unexpected and humbling experiences of my life. I am honored beyond belief, and the nomination still doesn’t feel real.

Beyond that, I am gobsmacked by how much kindness has come my way in the wake of writing and publishing this book. There were historians and curators who gave their time gratis, authors (you know who you are) who shared their wisdom and support freely, and family, friends, librarians, and strangers who took the time to reach out and send good wishes.

Each act of kindness feels like a moment of grace, reminding me that, even in this time of discord, there is a tremendous amount of goodness in the world. That revelation has been the most unexpected, welcome surprise of all.


Book promotion has been much more time-consuming than I had expected, but what has surprised me most is the level of support I have experienced from my local community. There are huge advantages to living in a rural area. We are spread-out, but we are also tight knit. Everybody really does know everybody even if they are separated by ten or fifteen miles. I expected some support, but not like this. Everywhere I go, people ask when the next novel is releasing. I feel like they are honestly happy for me. I am truly fortunate.


Mia P. Manansala


I wrote this book after the previous novel I’d written failed on submission–Arsenic and Adobo was meant to be a book for me and my mom, who’d introduced me to the world of cozy mysteries in the first place. So the fact that something I wrote for mostly personal reasons has managed to connect with so many people is amazing and completely unexpected.


Gaining an Agatha Award nomination for Best First Novel is an absolute, unpredicted thrill. I’m so, so honored to be a part of this legacy of talented writers. I discovered an amazing community of people open to helping each other grow. I need to do the same in return.

I recently held a two-hour book talk and the joy and fun of discovering how much Murder in the Master readers were totally engaged in my characters’ lives was fantastic. They laughed and questioned and probed.

Raquel V. Reyes

I’d add that for Murder in the Master, launching the storyline with a murder in the first paragraph was a big leap. Pure instinct. Thank goodness so many readers love that opening! I also deliberated, with a whole lot of angst, about the concept of creating my squad of favorite, famous sleuths to help my protagonist investigate the crime. Readers love it.
They enjoy seeing these favorites bring their crime solving talents and uniqueness into a current day mystery. They’ve also told me Helen’s personality has struck a chord. She’s quick-witted and likes to verbally spar, especially with her possible love interest, and readers are cheering her along. Overall, I’d like to encourage other writers to get their creativity down on paper. Don’t allow, like I did, life’s practicalities to delay their writing.


In my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined that Mango, Mambo, and Murder would get a NYT Book Review.


Best Short Story
A Family Matter by Barb Goffman (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Jan/Feb 2021)
A Tale of Two Sisters by Barb Goffman in Murder on the Beach (Destination Murders)
Docs at Midnight by Richie Narvaez in Midnight Hour (Crooked Lane Books)
The Locked Room Library by Gigi Pandian (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine July/Aug 2021)
Bay of Reckoning by Shawn Reilly Simmons in Murder on the Beach (Destination Murders)


How do you create realistic antagonists in short stories?


Barb Goffman


The process for creating a realistic antagonist is the same as the process for creating a realistic protagonist and other characters. Think about their feelings, their motivations, and their emotional needs, because it’s these things that prompt each character’s actions.

One good way to do this is to put yourself in the characters’ shoes, which will allow you to see the situation in question from their perspectives. With this insight, you should be able to have each character act and react as real people would and also act differently from one another.

In “A Tale of Two Sisters,” Robin is strong while her sister, the bride, is anxious. Robin is determined to ensure the night goes well for Emma. It’s that motivation that prompts her actions throughout the story. If Robin were anxious too, the story would have unfolded quite differently.

Similarly, in “A Family Matter,” Doris reacts negatively to the family that moves in next door, not because she’s a mean person but because she believes it’s vital that this family not bring the neighborhood down. If Doris were more low-key, like another neighbor, Audrey, she would have reacted differently to things the new neighbors did. As a result, she wouldn’t have discovered a certain secret, and the story would have had a very different ending.

So, given that characters could act differently in any situation, it’s imperative for the author to understand who each character is, what motivates him or her, and think about how those motivations come into play with every action. This applies whether the character is the protagonist, antagonist, or even a sidekick.



The same as you would a protagonist: Make them as tangible as possible. Does he have a favorite flavor of ice cream, a certain way of speaking, a pet cockatoo? Little details help the reader see them as more than just cartoony two-dimensional people. And we should know their motivations. Most of us are happy to pay rent and vacation once in a while, but what makes this person want to kidnap, murder, lie, steal, take over the world?


“Doc’s at Midnight” is fairly short, so we don’t get to hang out with the antagonists for very long, but when we do we get their motivation, and we see how it is anchored in a decades-old pain that echoes the struggle that the two main characters are going through, attempting to review and recover from the past.


Gigi Pandian


Such an interesting question! For me, in a short story it’s the puzzle itself that’s the antagonist, more than any particular person. The motive of the person behind the crime needs to be realistic, but I’m far more interested in creating a satisfying locked-room puzzle that makes the reader smile at the end of the story because the solution is both surprising and believable.



To me finding conflict between characters is one of the easier parts of writing. We’re all wired differently, all based on how we were raised and our life experiences since. The potential for conflict to arise is, unfortunately, all around us on a daily basis. My process is to think about how that character feels about a certain situation, and why they may have an issue, based on their beliefs or a perceived slight or outright injustice they feel has happened to them. It’s fun for me to think how a character might think, and have them react in a way that might be surprising in the face of conflict. 


Now, a question for all the nominees:

What shoes would your protagonist (or another character in your book or story) wear to the Agatha Banquet?



Becca will wear the kitten-heeled satin slippers that Martha Washington gave her just the other day. The shoes are cobalt blue, shot through with shimmering metallic threads and topped with silver buckles. Lady Washington, as she was known, loves shoes and occasionally gifts them to special friends. After all the unpleasantness last winter–the less said about that, the better–Becca certainly qualifies as one of those special friends.


Lori Duffy Foster


Boots, of course! Lisa would want to look good, but she would also want to be super comfortable. To settle her nerves, you know? So she would choose a pair of leather cowboy boots, probably light brown with a simple design, with about a one-inch heel. It be a pair she has worn often enough to break in, but not so often that they are scuffed or worn-looking. Lisa loves boots. She lives in them.



This is tough because my protagonist is way, WAY more fashionable than me. She favors dark color palettes and stacked heels, so I’m picturing glittery or velvety black wedges that lace up and have fun, sexy cut-outs. Her mom taught her about couture and famous designers when she was younger, but she cares less about brand names and more about the style and vibe of a design.



No question, Helen would wear four-inch heels, maybe red. She’d be taking her fashion direction from Nora Charles and Agatha Raisin, who both know how to sashay across a room. Unfortunately, for me personally, those heels have been shoved to the back of my closet. Too many years of heels for work have turned my feet into pretzels. I can hear Jane Marple tsk- tsking in my ears.


Judy L. Murray


My protagonist, Miriam Quiñones, a Cuban-American food anthropologist turned cooking show star, is on the practical side—so, probably a simple, classic pump. But if her BFF, Alma, had anything to do with it, Miriam would wear a stylish and strappy shoe with some tasteful bling to it. 



Robin in “A Tale of Two Sisters” would wear flats. At her last fancy affair, she had to wear heels and they made her evening even more difficult. It’s hard to chase a dog when you’re in heels. So, she wouldn’t make that mistake again. After all, who knows if a dog will crash the Agatha banquet too?

Doris from “A Family Matter” would wear shoes with a narrow, pointy toe and a tall heel. They were the stylish choice for women in the spring of 1962, and Doris is all about projecting the right image, which means she must wear the right thing.


Great question! Well, the protagonist of “Doc’s at Midnight,” is actually a character from the 1961 movie West Side Story, Chino, but he’s older now and not flush with cash. So I think he would wear something that harkens back to his past, but not expensive—so, Capezio lace-up dance shoes in faux leather featuring one-inch heels with suede-covered bottoms for shock absorption. In black. Used, but buffed to a shine.

Richie Narvaez


Sanjay would be wearing his signature tuxedo and bowler hat, which he wears when he performs on stage as The Hindi Houdini.



Sabrina Westfall, the protagonist in my story, is a former beauty queen, so she would wear heels, but she’s also very sensible and practical, so they would be modest and elegant, much like her. She’d also have an updo and be wearing a lovely gown, chin up and toe turned out for photos (she’s media trained!). 


Shawn Reilly Simmons


Mally Becker combines her love of history and crime fiction in mysteries that feature strong, independent heroines. In addition to being nominated for a 2022 Agatha Award, The Turncoat’s Widow has also been named a Mystery & Mayhem finalist in the Chanticleer International Book Awards. The next book in her series will be published in June 2022 by Level Best Books.


Lori Duffy Foster

Lori Duffy Foster is a former crime reporter who writes fiction and nonfiction from the hills of Northern Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and four children. She was born and raised in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, where a part of her heart remains.


Mia P. Manansala is a writer and book coach from Chicago who loves books, baking, and bad-ass women. She uses humor (and murder) to explore aspects of the Filipino diaspora, queerness, and her millennial love for pop culture.

Judy L. Murray is a real estate broker with a not-so-secret passion for deals, divas, and danger. Her passion for mysteries began with smart girls like Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, grew deeper with not-to-be-ignored women like Miss Marple and Nora Charles, and finally evolved into her own gutsy heroine - Helen Morrisey.

Raquel V. Reyes writes stories with Latina characters. Her Cuban-American heritage, Miami, and the Caribbean feature prominently in her work. Raquel is a co-chair for SleuthFest.

Barb Goffman, a short story author and a freelance crime-fiction editor, has 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.

Richie Narvaez is the award-winning author of the collection Roachkiller and Other Stories, the gentrification thriller Hipster Death Rattle, and the historical YA mystery Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco. His latest book is the collection Noiryorican

Gigi Pandian is a USA Today bestselling mystery author, breast cancer survivor, and locked-room mystery enthusiast. Gigi is a co-founder of Crime Writers of Color, and she writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and Secret Staircase Mysteries, beginning with Under Lock & Skeleton Key—which came out in March 2022.

​Shawn Reilly Simmons is the author of seven novels in the Red Carpet Catering mystery series featuring Penelope Sutherland, chef-owner of a movie set catering company. She’s also written short stories which have been published in various anthologies. Shawn serves on the Board of Malice Domestic and is co-owner/publisher/editor at Level Best Books.