Marie Sutro: the next Thomas Harris?

An interview with Paula Gail Benson

I had the wonderful good fortune this year to meet and work with author Marie Sutro on the Killer Workshop presented by the Capitol Crimes and Palmetto Chapters of Sisters in Crime. Marie is one of the most organized, resourceful, and congenial creative persons I know. When I learned her second novel was being released, I quickly purchased her first. I was surprised to read Steve Alten’s endorsement: “Marie Sutro’s debut novel, Dark Associations, may just be this generation’s Silence of the Lambs.” By chapter two, I met her psychopathic villain. Marie’s intricate descriptions and fast-paced action combined with a flawed protagonist seeking justice amid chaos keeps her readers turning pages. If you haven’t already discovered her, please join us for this brief interview, then check out her Kate Barnes’ novels Dark Associations and Dark Obsessions.

Welcome, Marie, to the Stiletto Gang!

As a San Francisco Police detective, your protagonist Kate Barnes deals with some sordid and horrifying events in life. Marie, you personally are so outgoing and gracious. How did you find the “dark” place inside Kate and how are you able to revisit it without it overwhelming you?

Thank you for the compliment. I use the same tool to find my way into the dark as I do to find my way into the light. Trying to empathize with the character opens doors into feelings, motivations, and behaviors that at first blush may be entirely foreign to me, or (in the case of a villain) morally repugnant. Once the door is open, research provides the context to put everything into proper focus. One of my goals is to try to shine spotlights on the darker sides of humanity so we can learn from it. That process starts with empathy for our fellow human beings.

Like all lofty goals, it can come at a price. Delving into the darkness repeatedly takes a toll. I’ve learned the value of establishing limits on how much time I spend on dark topics (whether researching or writing). When I near my limit, I’ll get up and take a walk, watch a cartoon, play with my cats, or even run to the store. By focusing on the end goal and managing my exposure, I can keep the darkness at bay.

In both your books, Dark Associations and Dark Obsessions, you use juxtaposition and surprise to bring the readers into Kate Barnes’ world. Dark Associations begins with “the Big Bad Wolf” viewing a beautiful blonde woman. A reader might expect this is the mind of a perpetrator, but in a few paragraphs you reveal it is Kate, who has resisted becoming a mentor for this enthusiastic student. Through juxtaposition, you develop Kate’s character as well as showing the relationship with the Tower Torturer, the serial killer she is attempting to catch and stop. Similarly, in Dark Obsessions, at first Kate appears to be in danger of getting a traffic ticket when she actually is about to be asked on a date. How did you decide to use surprise and juxtaposition to introduce your characters and begin your stories? What advantages did it give you?

Juxtaposition and surprise are great ways to introduce characters and subplots in a detective driven mystery. They give me the ability to immediately tell the reader to expect the unexpected and to be ready to consider facts from different angles while panting seeds for future plot twists.

In Dark Associations readers are encouraged to question whether Kate really is a hero. Like most of us, she is a flawed human being but she has been brutally ravaged by life experiences. The question of what makes one person who faces extreme adversity into a hero, while another is made into a villain is fascinating to me. Juxtaposition and surprise allowed me to plant doubt about Kate’s hero status and whether she can maintain it.

Dark Associations takes place in San Francisco, while your new Kate Barnes novel, Dark Obsessions, has Kate traveling to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. The first has Kate facing a professional dilemma, while the second starts with her confronting personal demons. Did you know from the outset this would be Kate’s journey or did it develop as the plot of the first book progressed?

Originally I conceived of Kate’s story in a three-book arc. The second book was intended to focus on her attempt to confront the personal demons that threaten her ability to do her job as well as her ability to connect with others. At first the story was going to be set in Seattle, but the more I thought about the nature of the issues she needed to confront, I realized there was no better setting that the dark reaches of the Olympic Peninsula. Pulling her from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco and dropping her into a small community where she only knows one person was the best way to challenge her professionally and personally.

On the cover of each book, there is a symbol. Could you tell us about each, how they were selected, and how they impact the stories?

The symbols on the covers are the first puzzles the reader is exposed to in each story. In Dark Associations the epigraph includes the symbol as well as an ancient Norse poem, which sets the tone for the book. The symbol is soon revealed to be a Norse Thorn. It is an ancient Nordic rune used as a calling card by an insidious serial killer known as the Tower Torturer. He chose it for two of its many meanings, which are male power and dominance.

In Dark Obsessions the cover symbol is an original design based on ancient concepts pivotal to the final reveal. After lengthy research and considering different possibilities, I designed it on a cocktail napkin while having dinner with my husband.

What do you see in Kate’s future?

As previously mentioned, I had originally conceived of Kate’s story in a three-book arc. Yet, reader response and my own journey revealed she is definitely a character with legs. I am currently writing the third book in the series, but Kate is persistently whispering she has a lot more to offer.

Marie, thanks for joining us and best wishes with your continuing series!

Brief Biography:

Marie Sutro is an award-winning and bestselling crime fiction author. In 2018, she won the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for the Best New Voice in Fiction, for her debut novel, Dark Associations. Her second novel, Dark Obsessions, was released in April 2022. A member of Sisters In Crime, she also volunteers with California Library Literacy Services.

Her father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served in the San Francisco Police Department, collectively inspiring her writing. Marie resides in Northern California and is currently at work on the next book in the Kate Barnes series.

Hacked and I am so Hacked!

Hacked and I am so Hacked! by Debra H. Goldstein

I woke up recently to a flood of e-mails from friends telling me that my Instagram account had been hacked during the night. Great! I’d wanted to sleep late and now I had to handle the aftermath of being hacked. It was such a little thing. They took my official Instagram name and added a _. I was hacked about being hacked.

Several people wrote that they had reported the hacking. For that, I was grateful, especially because I didn’t know what to do respecting an Instagram hack. Frustrated, I went to the Help section and typed in “Fake accounts.”  Wrong!

Although the articles listed were close, they weren’t on point to someone impersonating me. Figuring the impersonation was key, I typed that in and found directions I could follow. I filled in the form, as required, but balked at having to send a government ID with my picture (what if it was another hack?), but finally did — with my thumb strategically placed to block my driver’s license number (which didn’t keep anyone from learning my address). Having to provide this ID made me almost feel more violated than the hack did. Steam was coming from my ears. Oh, was I hacked!

Then, I realized it was the weekend. I had no idea what time it was where whomever was going to review my report was nor when they would get to it. Being resourceful I went to my Instagram account and tried to post a comment about being hacked. Zilch luck doing that. I needed to post a picture. Okay, next step was typing a hacked message in word, taking a picture of it with my phone, uploading it to my account. TMI and Too Much Time, but it was done.

Messages started coming in that people were appreciative of knowing about the hack and were removing themselves from the new account and taking the hacker, who they now found following them, off as a follower. What an annoyance for all.

I’m hacked at being hacked. Have you ever been hacked? How did you handle it?


Back to School Again

Holiday Novella

by Bethany Maines

A New Holiday Novella

Oh my goodness!  COVID down time actually came through for me this year and I have finished, yes that’s right actually finished, the holiday novella I’ve been planning on getting around to for last THREE years.  Way back in 2017 I completed what I would consider a long short story called Oh Holy Night about a graphic designer and a bank robbery that goes badly.  And then I followed that up with the award-winning Blue Christmas the following year.  Blue was about a college student, an adorable French Bulldog and a whole lot of smuggled diamonds. As you can guess from the descriptions, these aren’t the traditional Hallmark Christmas stories.  But they are romantic funny adventures about people who learn to love the Christmas season.

What Christmas Carol is Next?

Winter Wonderland completes the trilogy with a story about Bah-Humbug photographer Marcus Winters and a set designer Larissa “I love Christmas” Frost who find themselves involved in a robbery gone wrong and must solve the mystery of “whodunnit” before Larissa ends up in jail for a crime she didn’t commit.  The fun part about the novella is that it let’s me get back in the mystery writing zone.  And jeez, now I remember why that was hard! The clues, the suspects, the timeline!  Every time I write a mystery, I respect other mystery writer’s even more.

What is the question?

Every book has a question in it that the protagonists are trying to answer. Whether that question is philosophical to themselves and their world or whether it’s something literal like “where’s the money” the question has to be answered in a satisfactory way order to deliver on the promise of the book.  But with a mystery, not only are the protagonists trying to answer the question of “who committed the crime” the reader is too.  And staying a step ahead of the reader and the characters in the story is hard work for a writer. Authors can fall back on several tricks to make the mystery work–choosing when to reveal information, letting information exist on the page without drawing attention to it, deliberately calling out false clues (red herrings!)–but in the end, a mystery only works if the crime is solvable and for that a writer cannot whimsically wave their hand at the end.  An author has to know how, who, where, and why and then, if your me, also toss in a romance, some character development, and hopefully a decent turn of phrase.

It has been fun to venture into the mystery world once again and I’m more than pleased to complete the story that’s been on my to-do list for three years.  I hope that readers will enjoy it too.  Look for Winter Wonderland in November of 2022.

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Bethany MainesBethany Maines drinks from an arsenic mug the award-winning author of romantic action-adventure and mystery novels that focus on women who know when to apply lipstick and when to apply a foot to someone’s hind-end.  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 TwitterFacebookInstagram, and BookBub.





Hokey Pokey Shakespeare

  by Gay Yellen

I was a shy child who spent a lot of time reading. At twelve, I fell in love with Shakespeare. I dove deep into the leather-bound tomes that lived on a bookshelf in our den. Comedies, tragedies, history plays. They fascinated me.

My favorite was Romeo and Juliet. I read Juliet’s balcony speech so many times, I had it memorized. Alone in my room, I would act it out over and over again.

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

Fast forward to college, when I needed one more requirement to graduate: a semester of Shakespeare. Rather than take it during the school year at my alma mater, I opted for a summer course offered by a university in my home town.

That decision almost ruined Shakespeare for me forever.

Instead of teaching us about Shakespeare’s gift with language, or the political tenor of the times, or the nature of tragedy, etc., the professor went on for hours interpreting his characters through an extreme Freudian lens. In every play, he’d point out that a dagger or sword represented the male sexual apparatus, poison stood for the biological exchange of body fluids, and so on. (Please don’t ask me about Desdemona’s handkerchief.)

Of course, Shakespeare plays can be bawdy, sensual, and full of innuendo. But that professor made everything icky. A summer (and tuition) was wasted. At least I got the credit, and I’ve learned a lot more since then, like this:

Shakespeare never meant for Juliet’s “balcony” speech to be delivered from a balcony.

According to a recent article in The Atlantic, that particular architectural construct did not exist in England when the play was written. Nor did the word “balcony” exist in the English language at the time.

Well over a decade after the play was first performed, a British diarist in Italy marveled at something he’d never seen in England: “a very pleasant little tarrasse, that jutteth or butteth out from the maine building, the edge whereof is decked with many prety litle turned pillers, either of marble or free stone to leane over… that people may from that place… view the parts of the City.”

If my old professor had known his history, I’m almost sure he wouldn’t have missed the chance to mention the thing that “jutteth” and “butteth.”

It’s okay to reinvent Shakespeare’s works with spoofs and spinoffs. Many writers have done it, and still do. Shakespeare borrowed from other writers, too.

The other day, I accidentally came across Shakespearean Hokey Pokey, in which punsters attempt to set their own Elizabethan-style lyrics to the tune of the popular children’s dance.

Hokey Pokey Shakespeare could also describe my bizarre Midsummer Night’s Dream experience in that weird professor’s classroom. But if you love The Bard, that’s not what it’s all about.

How do you feel about Shakespeare?


Gay Yellen writes the award-winning Samantha Newman Mystery SeriesThe Body Business, The Body Next Door. Coming soon, The Body in the News.


A Job and its Influences

by Donnell Ann Bell

One of the greatest rewards in life is if a person can go to work every day and enjoy what they’re doing. I had such a job during my tenure at the Colorado Springs Business Journal. It was a place I learned the ins and outs of the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual and learned the importance of teamwork.

Especially on print day.

On print day, everyone who came and went during the week, was required to meet in one large room so we could put the paper to bed. This included the editor, writers, digital formatter, layout specialist, and copyreader/proofreader. Ad execs would often buzz into the room with a last-minute ad copy, meaning an article would have to be shortened or even scrapped, depending on ad size. Of course, the owner would pop in several times during the day to ensure we were meeting our deadline. He had the final responsibility of getting the paper to the printer by four p.m. sharp.

Sounds like a stressful time, and it could be. It also generated camaraderie, a sense of purpose, and pride in our content and the paper’s reputation. We often scooped the daily in business news.

Working at the CSBJ was also incredibly fun. During this helter-skelter time where everyone was busy, we listened to music. Naturally, everyone had their preferences. Our formatter loved Pink Floyd and hard rock, our proofreader preferred classical, another liked golden oldies, while I was partial to country—much to everyone’s chagrin.

Because everyone had their favorites, we had a contest every week. Whoever could name the song and the artist owned the channel until they were toppled. I knew my country music and I rarely missed.

One print day, after I had successfully named every artist and song for hours, everyone in the print room revolted.  Our graphic artist, known for spouting more than a few expletives anyway, said if we didn’t change that @#$%^ channel, he was going to throw the radio out the window.

Poor sports if you ask me, but since we’d be lost without the music, I, the undisputed champion, graciously agreed.

I left that job to work for Pikes Peak Parent Newsmagazine, and, later, my love of writing would lead to my fiction career. Country music inspired my first novel. The unpublished title was called Walk Away Joe based on the song by Tricia Yearwood and Don Henley. My editor and Bellebooks/Bell Bridge Books changed my debut title to The Past Came Hunting.

Hmmm. Now that I think about it, I wonder if my editor could have been in cahoots with the graphic artist.

So, how about you? Have you ever been fortunate to work at a job you love, and did something about that job influence you the way music inspires me?

About the Author:  Donnell Ann Bell is an award-winning author of four bestselling romantic suspense novels and two mainstream task force suspense novels. Until Dead, a Cold Case Suspense, the follow up to Black Pearl, was released on May 31, 2022. Currently, she is working on book three. Readers can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or BookBub. For social media contact or to learn more, find her at




A Whole Industry Built on Vibes!!

by Linda Rodriguez

This past week, we have been treated to the spectacle of the heads of of the hugest publishing companies in the United States sitting in a federal courtroom under oath, testifying about the publishing industry. We have heard things that were patently untrue, even if the CEO making the statement is sworn to tell the truth under pain of perjury, things such as, “$100,000 is a relatively small advance anymore”. Cue writers across the land for insane laughter at this preposterous statement.

We have heard things that were quite unbelievable and yet, apparently, true, simply because they were unfavorable to the executives testifying, their publishing company, and the cause for which they are suing. Statements which admit that the current CEO of one huge publisher has totally mismanaged his company (but he still wants the government to allow him to acquire another huge publisher, apparently so that he can mismanage that one as well?), or that even the largest publishers have absolutely no idea which books will sell or how to sell the books they have acquired, or the admission that they give no marketing budget and make no marketing efforts for the vast majority of their books which fall below the $250,000 advance mark.

These court proceedings have been live-tweeted by reporters for several industry publications and others with a strong interest in the industry. Their live tweets have been seized upon by writers across the country, who have been simultaneously horrified and stunned into laughter by some of the incredibly ignorant and inept statements these CEOs have made under oath. As one writer tweeted in all-caps response after a CEO agreed laughingly with the judge that their P&L statements had no validity, “An entire industry run on vibes!!”

Most of us who have been involved in this industry and with the Big Five publishers for any length of time have not been surprised at much of what has come out in this hearing. It tallies with what we have experienced and what we have suspected all along. We have had few
doubts about the mendacity and ignorance of the people in ultimate power at these houses (as opposed to their hard-working and wonderful editorial staffs). How could we, especially after seeing and experiencing events such as the purge by one of the houses in this case of all of its
cozy-mystery writers, no matter how successful, and of their knowledgeable cozy-mystery editors, only to sign a new set of inexperienced cozy-mystery writers for vastly smaller advances than normal? (Perhaps this irrational act played a part in the fact that this company had a
disappointing record of sales for the past few years and its CEO had to publicly admit to mismanaging it?)

But even veteran writers have been stunned by the sheer extent of the lies, the ignorance, and the deliberate mismanagement this week’s testimony has displayed publicly. These men are being paid multi-millions of dollars per year, yet are clearly incompetent in their roles. At least, if the goal is what the company publicly states it is–to acquire and publish books successfully and profitably.

On social media, writers across the country are moaning, laughing, and despairing as they read about each day’s testimony. I find myself wondering how many writers, who would otherwise have had a career with traditional publishers, will turn to self-publishing in disgust at the practices so callously outlined, most of which exploit, abuse, and humiliate the very writers upon whom this industry rests. This trial has only begun. We have weeks more of this testimony ahead of us. Will publishing ever be quite the same afterward?

So You Want to Write a Book – Part 4 Ready for Take Off!

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” 

~ Toni Morrison

Welcome back to So You Want to Write a Book!

Remember that notebook? It’s time to pull it out and review our progress. We’ve spent the past few months talking about prep work: defining the type of book, getting to know your genre, and creative brainstorming about your books. Now, it’s time to start moving forward with the actual writing.

We like to think about writing a book as a journey and step four is where you take off into the unknown. Sound scary? It’s not really. Your bags (okay, actually your notebook and your brain) are packed with all kinds of helpful information and you are ready!

But before you take off it’s important to know how you’re going to travel. Have you heard of plotters and pantsers? How about plansters? Basically, most writers fall into one of these three categories. There are the pantsers who write “by the seat of their pants” and plan very little. Then there are the plotters who plan their book before they write it. And finally, there are the plansters who are a combination of the other two and do a little of both. So which are you? It’s simple to determine. Consider the three options and determine your comfort level with each and bingo! That’s you. (At least for this project anyway. The more you write the more you’ll begin forming your own individual writing style.)


If you’re a pantser, this is it. Go! Get writing. You may have to occasionally pull out that notebook to remind you of where you’re going but just keep moving forward. Write, write, write.


Plotters, you’ve got a little more prep before you take off. There are several plotting methods, and we won’t detail them all but here’s our top 7. Find the one that you think will work for you and try it out. Make adjustments to the method as you like. This step is simply getting down the story route from beginning to end.

  1. Synopsis Approach – An overview of the story from beginning to end with the hook, inciting incident, plot points, and resolution.
  2. Detailed Outline – Used to create an outline of major plot points, summary of each chapter, and a detailed scene list.
  3. Snowflake Method – Developed by author and physicist, Randy Ingermanson, where you start small, then build your story.
  4. Story Grid – Created by editor Shawn Coyne using problem-solving methodology and most useful on 2nd drafts but can be used for an initial work plan.
  5. Three-Act Structure – Tried and true this method can be more or less detailed depending on your writing style and it works great for most genre fiction.
  6. The Hero’s Journey or Heroine’s Journey – In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell broke down the 17 steps of the hero’s journey. We’ve also recently read Gail Carriger’s The Heroine’s Journey and would recommend taking a look at it.
  7. Writing from the Middle or sometimes referred to as In Medias Res – James Scott Bell, an award winning and best-selling author explains it well in his book, Write Your Novel from the Middle.


If you’re a combination of the two, meaning you like to plan a little and then write forward. There may be some of our favorite methods that seemed appealing to you. Try them out, use what works, and maybe even do a mash-up of the parts that inspire you.


If you’re writing non-fiction, we didn’t forget about you! Here are a couple of methods that you might find helpful.

  1. Mind mapping Author Rick Lauber shares outlining tips on the Writer’s Digest website.
  2. Scribe Book Outline walks you through the same process they use with their authors on how to outline a book.

The main thing is –  it’s time to get moving!

Next month, we’ll talk about bumps in the road and how to deal with them. Until then, happy writing!

sparkle and abbey

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don’t tell the other neighbors.)

They love to hear from readers and can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest, their favorite social media sites. Also, if you want to make sure you get updates, sign up for their newsletter via the website

Clicking Our Heels – A Day at the Movies

Clicking Our Heels – A Day at the Movies

The past few weeks have been so hot that people have been looking for air-conditioned places to hang out – like movie theaters. In our personal lives, we each have favorite movies and television shows with varied reasons we like them. As authors, we think about movie, television, and other visual media from the perspective of how it impacts our writing. Here’s what members of the gang think:

T.K. ThorneAs Good as It Gets with (Jack Nicholas and Helen Hunt). The characters and dialogue are so amazing, that I hunted down the script and studied it. I hope it impacted my writing!

Kathryn Lane –  Gone With the Wind – I’m a hopeless romantic! In my writing, I want readers to feel they are in that location with my protagonist – a concept surely influenced by television!

Meri Allen/Shari Randall – It’s too hard to pick one! I’m in love with the classics, everything from The Thin Man to Singin’ in the Rain. Movies and television have definitely impacted my writing. Any art that a writer comes into contact with becomes (consciously or unconsciously) part of their tool kit. I feel I’ve been influenced by everything from Murder, She Wrote to Fargo.

Donnell Bell – I love Overboard, the Goldie Hawn. Kurt Russell version. Dave, an American President (guess I’m a dreamer that politics can have a happy ending.) I saw there’s a sequel to Top Gun coming out where Tom Cruise plays the Tom Skerrit flight training character, and Val Kilmer who played Iceman recommends Cruise character for the flight trainer. I would definitely go see that. I loved Hidden Figures, In The Heat of the Night in honor of Sydney Poitier’s passing. Clearly, I haven’t seen a new release in so long!

Debra H. Goldstein – My favorite movies is Giant. Besides having Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and a cast of well-seasoned and then newbies who now are well-known, the way social issues are interwoven with the landscape and language makes me watch it anytime I find it on TV.

Lynn McPherson – I love Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Knives Out. My favorite thing about each of these films is the characters. They are a big reminder for me that great characters are essential for great books!

Debra Sennefelder – Tough question. I really don’t have a favorite movie. Movies/televisions shows can spark an idea for a plotline, location or character. Inspiration is everywhere.

Dru Ann LoveGone With The Wind.

Lois Winston – It’s too hard to choose one, so I’m going to break the rules: The Greatest ShowmanLaLa LandCasablanca, and Shakespeare in Love (not necessarily in that order.)

Linda Rodriguez – It could be one of many, but at this moment, I would say my favorite movie is The Only Good Indian, with the fabulous Wes Studi. It’s a well-researched historical movie, set at the horrible residential boarding school, which became the university at which my son teaches.

Saralyn Richard – I’m a movie buff with many favorites, but since I can only name one, I’ll say, Casablanca. That movie has it all–great dialogue, superb acting, brisk pacing, and the right amount of ambiguity to keep audiences intrigued and enchanted. Casablanca and other movies deeply impact my writing process. When I write, my characters take their places on the screen of my mind, and begin acting. All I have to do is type the cinematic scenes playing out before me.