Have You Read These Books?

As a lifelong book lover, I read newsletters and articles by literary critics on what they think is important to read. So in January, I usually check the various “Best” book lists for the past year.

I’ve long been skeptical of how the books are chosen. When a thriller I helped write earned a spot on The New York Times “Notables” list, it was disappointing to learn why—after five printings in both hardback and paperback and translated into two foreign language editions—it didn’t quite become a NYT “bestseller.” It had more to do with a bookselling logarithm and a publisher’s reluctance to support it than it did with the quality of the book itself.

But to learn what’s happening in the popular culture, I still read the lists. The NYT says the five best novels of 2023 are The Bee Sting, Chain-Gang All-StarsEastbound, North Woods, and The Fraud (written by Zadie Smith, an author I’ve read and enjoyed).

The Wall Street Journal chose an entirely different five: The Lost Wife, The Sun Walks Down, Good Girls, Red Memory, and A Dictator Calls (winner of a Man Booker prize).

Reader’s Digest doesn’t stop at mere books of the year. It also publishes “The 100 Best Books of All Time.” What they do when new books are published is a mystery. They could easily drop Hamlet from the current list. It’s a remarkable piece of literature, but it isn’t a book. But what about the other 99?

In a sign of the times, there’s also a Top 50 Banned Books list. I enjoyed many of those as a child and in high school English class. I’m sure you have, too. Now I’m curious about the rest of them, especially one called Captain Underpants.

When I choose a new book, I often rely on recommendations from friends. I love being introduced to books I wouldn’t necessarily pick up on my own.

So, have you read any good books lately? Tell us about it in the comments below.

And speaking of books, I’m giving away free copies of The Body Business ebook for 24 hours beginning at midnight tonight through midnight tomorrow (Jan. 10th) on Amazon. Tell your friends!

Gay Yellen is the author of the award-winning SamanthaNewman Mysteries include The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and The Body in the News!

Contact her at GayYellen.com 

On Accepting Advice

Dear Readers: I’m slowly but surely recovering from 2023! So much progress. I’m still grieving, but my mother’s estate is settled and I can see the floor to my office. I realized it was my day to blog on The Stiletto Gang so I pulled up an article I wrote in 2016. Funny, the position I took back then is the same position I hold today. After reading, please tell me what you think.  Do you avoid prologues, and how much time do you devote to marketing? ~ Donnell 

“No enemy is worse than bad advice.” – Sophocles

Every once in a while people offer advice that really works. E.g., Look both ways before crossing the street, read warning labels on products and exercise three to five times a week to maintain a healthy weight. Those kinds of input I can use and appreciate. But some of the advice I’ve received of late leaves me shaking my head.

Two weekends ago I attended my local library’s workshop in which a marketing guru offered authors and aspiring authors’ advice for today’s market. She said the days that authors sit alone in their offices and devote long hours to writing are gone. As a matter of fact, she added, authors should be focused ten percent on writing the book and ninety percent to its marketing. “Twenty-four/eight,” she insisted. “Market your book twenty-four/eight.”

This weekend I attended the Pikes Peak Writers Conference where the age-old subject of prologues came up again. An editor told the audience how much he hates prologues and that he skips right over them. Once again people who had paid good money to attend wrote furiously in their notebooks, most likely taking this man’s words to heart and perpetuating this controversy further. While I was thinking of Sandra Brown’s Envy or Robert Crais’s Two Minute Rule and two of the best prologues I’ve ever read in commercial fiction.

There’s a lot of lousy, subjective advice floating around out there—what’s more the experts are touting it. If I have to devote ninety percent to marketing my books, I might as well hang it up right now. I didn’t get into this writing gig to market my wares like a gypsy in a caravan, I got into writing to tell my stories—to sit in my office alone a lot more than ten percent.

New York Times Bestselling Author Robert Crais once told me, “Sure you can write a prologue, just don’t write a bad one.”  If a book needs a prologue, it needs a prologue, and how a few paragraphs at the start of a book can cause such a vitriolic response is beyond me.

So because there’s so much misinformation and bad advice out there coming from people I should otherwise respect and rely on, I’ve decided to break down the ways I will accept advice in the future. One, if it doesn’t make sense, I will completely disregard it, and two, if it doesn’t save my life, I will refer back to rule number one.

About the Author:

Leaving international thrillers to the world travelers, Donnell Ann Bell concentrates on suspense that might happen in her neck of the woods – writing SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. She is co-owner of Crimescenewriter, an online group, in which law enforcement, forensic experts, and a multitude of related professionals assist authors in getting those pesky facts straight in our novels. To learn more or to sign up for her newsletter contact her at www.donnellannbell.com

photo of champagne glasses and 2024 numerals

Doing More of What Works

by Sparkle Abbey

Wish for it, hope for it, dream of it

Happy New Year from us to you! Since it’s the beginning of a new year everyone’s talking about resolutions or goals. It appears that there’s a bit of a divide on whether New Year’s resolutions are considered a good thing or not anymore.

On the one hand the beginning of a new year seems like the perfect time to take stock and see how you’re doing. It’s a fresh start, a clean slate, and perhaps good time to set some goals. Or at least establish some better habits.

A recent Forbes article states that according to their survey 62% of us feel pressured to set a new year’s resolution. With 87% feeling optimistic about keeping it throughout the year. Most goals revolve around improved fitness, finance, or mental health. In the writing community, we find that there are usually similar goals being made around writing, publishing, and reading.

We’re big fans of goals and in previous years we’ve shared our views on making your goals specific and measureable. As well as on planning your path to reach them and tracking your progress.

This year we’re taking a little bit different approach and the simple version of what we’re doing is focusing on what’s working and doing more of that. A recent read “Getting More of What You Want” by Margaret Neale and Thomas Lys focuses on the latest advances in psychology and economics to negotiate well. In short, to get what you want. You can read more about that here: Getting More of What You Want by Margaret Neale and Thomas Lys | by Margaret Neale and Thomas Lys

But isn’t achieving your goals really about negotiating with yourself?

Our previous approaches to goal-setting weren’t wrong. SMART goals are smart, right? (The letters stand for: Specific-Measurable-Achievable-Realistic-Timely.)  But this approach can fall a bit short when you’re reaching for a creative goal. You see, some of those things are outside your control.

Another recent read, “Start More Than You Can Finish” by Becky Blades also provided food for thought. And who can resist a book named MUST READ by the Next Big Idea Club.  An excerpt and more about the book and the Next Big Idea Club here: Start More Than You Can Finish

Because for us this is always an evolving process, where we’ve landed this year on setting goals is this:

  • Make a list of what’s working and figure out a way to do more of that.
  • Make a list of what’s not working and stop doing that.

At its essence, it’s still about defining what you want and planning how you’re going to achieve your goals. But it also acknowledges those things that you’ve accomplished. Things that are going right.  And it also defines what got in your way and how you’re going to eliminate those things. Because maybe the most important thing about achieving your dreams in 2024 is getting started.

What are your thoughts? Do you set goals at the beginning of a new year? Do you pick a word or a thought to focus on for the year? Or are you in the anti-resolution camp?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

book cover for Desperate HousedogsSparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series set in Laguna Beach. Their series features former Texas beauty queen cousins, Caro, a pet therapist and, Melinda, a pet boutique owner. The most recent installments (book nine) BARKING WITH THE STARS and  (book ten) THE DOGFATHER continue Caro and Mel’s murder-solving adventures. And PROJECT DOGWAY is a short that brings the cousins together – sort of.

But here’s some great news, if you’ve not yet started the series (or would like to share the series with a friend) the first book, DESPERATE HOUSEDOGS, is currently on sale for 99 cents in all ebook formats!

Find it at your favorite place to buy books! 

A Ten-Year Journey to a Golden Ticket

By Lois Winston

Many authors mention in their bios that they always wanted to be a writer. Not me. I wanted to be an astronaut. That dream died a quick death due to a right brain that quakes at the sight of anything requiring math skills and a body prone to motion sickness. Some dreams just aren’t meant to be.

I got the urge to write well into my adulthood. While on a business trip, I was attacked by a rabid dream. After a ten-year publishing journey, that dream became Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, which was published nearly seventeen years ago.

The story is a romantic suspense about secrets and revenge and the steps some people will go to protect the former and achieve the latter. I’ve always been fascinated by both secrets and revenge. Who among us doesn’t have secrets? Who among us hasn’t harbored revenge fantasies? Is it possible to get through junior high school without a hefty dose of both?

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

So there I was on a business trip back in 1995, and I guess I was subconsciously thinking about Mr. and Mrs. Perfect Marriage when I had this dream. And what was even spookier was that each night for the next couple of weeks I dreamed another “chapter” of the dream. Eventually, I was dreaming up chapters during the day as well as at night. Finally, I decided to commit the dream to paper. Fast forward a few weeks and I’m the proud author of a 50,000-word romance that spanned thirty-five years.

Talk about clueless!

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

I’d been bitten by the writing bug, though, and I’d already started a second novel. I’ve also got a stubborn streak as long as the island of Manhattan. I wasn’t about to be deterred by rejection letters or lack of knowledge. Undaunted, I handed over my VISA card to a friendly salesperson at Barnes & Noble and walked out with an armload of how-to-write-a-novel books.

Those books introduced me to several national writing organizations where I met some generous people willing to offer advice and share their publishing experiences. Some have remained good friends to this day.

Ten years after I first had that dream, after attending countless monthly writers’ meetings and numerous workshops and conferences, I eventually got enough of a clue to sell my first book. Talk Gertie to Me, a chick lit novel, debuted the following year in 2006.

I never forgot about that first clueless effort, though. I liked the characters I’d created, even if the story needed major surgery. I didn’t think the characters deserved to spend eternity under the bed with nobody but the dust bunnies and me ever getting to know them. I went back and rewrote that book. Many, many times. Eventually that 50,000-word romance spanning thirty-five years transformed into a 90,000-word romantic suspense that takes place over several months.

My publishing journey continued and eventually segued into the world of humorous cozy mysteries, but along the way, I continued to write more romance, romantic suspense, and chick lit. I’ve now published twenty-one novels, five novellas, several short stories, one middle-grade book, and a nonfiction book on writing.

There are many paths to publication. Some people are lucky enough to find the straightest, most direct one. They write a book, send it off, and eventually receive a contract offer. For most of us, it takes years of honing our craft before we’re offered that golden ticket. For me, the journey was certainly worth taking.

What about you? If you’re a published author, how long did it take you to see your first book in print? If you’re in the middle of your own  journey toward publication, how long have you been working at your dream? Does it often seem like you’ll never succeed? Don’t give up! Perseverance is everything.


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. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website www.loiswinston.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.

Thoughts on an aging mother

By Barbara J Eikmeier

My mother, at age 91, helped me up off the floor. It was one of those moments that will stay with me for a long time.

Dementia has left her passive. Arthritis has left her bent over at the waist and often in pain. She uses a walker, moves very slowly, and needs help with most aspects of her care.

Thanks to my dad’s careful financial planning and the round-the-clock caregivers we’ve hired, she still lives in the farmhouse in California where I was raised. I visit her from Kansas for a week or so every month or two. She has become quiet, rarely voicing descent in a conversation, often confused about who I am.

But I still know her.

So, I tell her about my travels, and my children. I show her my embroidery projects and tell her about the book I’m reading.

She thinks I’m her sister. Or one of my sisters.

She tells me “They don’t let me do anything.” Mostly I think she’s bored. After all, she had a busy life. She raised nine children, was active in her church, helped on the dairy farm, and took care of the 20 heifers we raised every year. She did all the bookkeeping and read the daily paper and listened to the evening news. She mended clothing, baked cookies, and served dinner for a crowd every night. Now she paints with water and watches cartoons.

She doesn’t know me, but she remembers how to spoon leftovers into Tupperware, so I set her up at her place at the kitchen table and  leave pot roast and potatoes, lettuce and broccoli next to an assortment of containers. She can perform this task perfectly, without help.

She thinks I’m her sister, but she can use a seam ripper to fix my sewing mistake. So, I gave her a seam ripper and showed her the stitching that needed to come out. She finished in no-time, after all, she was an expert seamstress earlier in her life.

I showed her the grapefruit I picked from her tree. She sniffed it and said, “It’s too old.” I cut it in half and showed her again. She poked at the dry, grainy segments and said, “Throw it away.”

When I’m with her I sometimes need to escort her to the bathroom. She washed her hands and said, “I think my shoe strap has come undone.” I squatted, my bottom nearly brushing the floor as I checked the Velcro on her navy Mary Janes. “It’s ok Mom, but now I have to get up!” I do squats at the gym, but I don’t go that low. My thighs were screaming, but the bathroom is so tiny, and I was trapped between my mother and her walker.  If I leaned forward, I risked toppling into her. That’s when my mother, permanently bent over at the waist, her arms dangling in front of her, reached out, just enough to put her hands around my torso, tuck her palms into my armpits and lift. I popped right up. She smiled and said with a nod, “We have to work together on these kinds of things.”

It’s been a long time since my mother has said my name, but that day, she put her arms around me and for a split second she was the nurturer again.

Barbara J. Eikmeier 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.

Gay Yellen: The Return Trip

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re driving to somewhere you’ve never been before, searching for street signs, hoping you don’t get lost in an unfamiliar part of town. Finally, you arrive, conduct whatever business you came for, and head home.

But as you retrace your route, you begin to notice singular, interesting sights that you’d ignored on your way there. Oh! That must be the new soccer stadium I’ve read so much about, and there’s that new CosMc’s!


E. L. Doctorow once said that writing a novel is like driving at night in the fog. Even though you’re only able to see as far as your headlights, you can still make it to your destination that way.

I’d add this: it’s only after you complete the round trip home that you realize where you’ve been. This is what happened to me when The Body in the News became Book 3 in the Samantha Newman Mystery Series.

The revelation appeared as I recalled a late, spur-of-the moment decision I’d made to introduce a very minor character into Chapter 9 of the book.

Meet Apollo, the sugar glider (and a possible metaphor).


This tiny Pacific island marsupial weighs only 4 to 5 ounces. In the book, he arrives at Samantha’s door, sitting atop the head of a person who’s come to help Sam get through a pesky roadblock in her search for a happy life.

I meant to use Apollo as a bright spot during a dark moment in Samantha’s journey. He’s a creature who is almost too cute for his own good. But as I did my research, I learned that sugar gliders are very popular with exotic pet lovers, and that’s bad news for the little critters.

Now, back to yesterday…

…when I suddenly realized that Apollo and Sam had both been dropped into strange and hostile predicaments. And they each needed to get to a place where they belong.

I could claim that I’d planned Apollo’s situation to be a metaphor for Sam’s struggles, except that I saw the connection only after completing my own foggy writing journey to the end of Book 3. But I’m glad Apollo showed up to help her contemplate new hope for the future, even if I hadn’t seen it coming.

Writers always welcome a little bit of magic to grace our creative attempts, something that can intrigue our readers and add a little spark to our work. Even unplanned, a very minor character can be exactly that.

Gay Yellen is the author of the  award-winning Samantha Newman Mysteries include The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and The Body in the News!  Now available on Amazon.

Contact her at GayYellen.com

Multitasking, Time Management and Organization

Multitasking, Time Management and Organization

By Donnell Ann Bell

Where’s my keys? Where’s my phone? What did I do with my glasses? Sound familiar?

Many people attribute forgetfulness to advancing years. Me? I attribute forgetfulness to distraction, our busy lives, and the ridiculous notion that if we’re doing multiple things at once, we’re efficient and engaged in time management.

I’m not a fan of multitasking. If you’re doing multiple things at once, chances are you’re in a hurry. Slowing down, focusing on one thing at a time, e.g., concentrating on those keys in your hand, solidifies in your brain where you put them.  Even better, if you concentrate on those keys in your hand AND put them in the same place every time, chances are you will find them every time.

It took me a while to figure this out, but now that I put things in a strategic place, I’m less stressed and don’t spend ten minutes trying to recreate my movements. Further, the most amazing thing has happened. I know precisely where everything is and I’m not late anymore!

I’ve been traveling a great deal for the last two years and hopefully will be slowing down. Now that I’m home, I plan on tackling things I’ve left undone.  Mainly all the stuff I’ve crammed into closets, promising myself I’ll get to it later. Well, my friends, it’s later! And to say I’m organized would be complete fiction. However, I have a game plan to become organized, and I’d like to credit my friend Author Mike Befeler for giving me the ideas to get started.

Mike has no idea I’m crediting him or that I’m recommending his book, Unstuff Your Stuff.  I read this book years ago, and the moment I remember where I put it . . . Kidding. It’s on my Kindle. 😉and my Kindle resides on my nightstand.

Typical of Mike’s books, it’s a humorous mystery, but I have to say as I read, I couldn’t help thinking this is also a great self-help book. So, that’s what I’m doing. Taking the tips I learned from Mike’s novel.

In closing, here some great advice I heard from my eye doctor when I continually misplaced my glasses. “If they’re not on your face, they belong in your case.”

For anyone who wants to read a mystery, smile, and read a self-help, here’s the link and blurb to Mike’s novel.  Happy organizing!

About UNSTUFF YOUR STUFF:  68-year-old Millicent Hargrove returns from her Tuesday night bridge game to her house in Boulder, Colorado, to find her husband, George, dead on the floor with a knife in his chest. At the funeral a man she doesn’t know comes up and hands her an envelope. He explains that with George’s death, she will receive special compensation for some work that George once did for the government. She asks what the work was, but he only says it was classified and he can’t discuss it with her. As she cleans out all her stuff to move from her house to a condo, she discovers that she’s good at organizing her things. Her friends encourage her to start a personal organizing business. Millicent gives it some thought and decides it’s a good idea. She calls her business, Unstuff Your Stuff. Millicent gains clients but struggles with her new life and cryptic clues left by her husband. Men hit on her, but she doesn’t want to get involved in any relationship, although she likes the father of the young man who helped her move to her condo. She escapes attempts on her own life and figures out the mystery of the cryptic messages left by her husband. She develops a successful organizing business while sorting through the clutter from the secret life her husband led.

About Mike Befeler: In the May, 2008, issue of the AARP Bulletin Mike Befeler was identified as one of four authors in a new emerging mystery sub-genre. Harlan Coben, president of Mystery Writers of America stated, “We’ve just scratched the surface on geezer-lit. It could be the next frontier in crime fiction.” Mike turned his attention to fiction writing after a career in high technology marketing.  His debut novel, RETIREMENT HOMES ARE MURDER, was published in 2007.  The second novel in his Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, LIVING WITH YOUR KIDS IS MURDER, appeared in 2009 and was nominated for the Lefty Award for the best humorous mystery of 2009. The third book in the series, SENIOR MOMENTS ARE MURDER, was released in 2011. The fourth book in the series, CRUISING IN YOUR EIGHTIES IS MURDER, was published in 2012 and was nominated for the Lefty Award for best humorous mystery of 2012. The fifth book in the series, CARE HOMES ARE MURDER, was published in 2013. The sixth book in the series, NURSING HOMES ARE MURDER, was published in 2014. He also has a paranormal private investigator mystery, THE V V AGENCY (published 2012); a paranormal geezer-lit mystery, THE BACK WING (published 2013), and its sequel, THE FRONT WING (2019);  a theater mystery, MYSTERY OF THE DINNER PLAYHOUSE (published in 2015); a non-fiction biography, THE BEST CHICKEN THIEF IN ALL OF EUROPE (published in 2015); a historical mystery, MURDER ON THE SWITZERLAND TRAIL (published in 2015); a sports mystery, COURT TROUBLE, A PLATFORM TENNIS MYSTERY (published in 2016), and its sequel PARADISE COURT (2019); an international thriller, THE TESLA LEGACY (2017); a standalone geezer-lit mystery, DEATH OF A SCAM ARTIST (2017); a professional organizer mystery, UNSTUFF YOUR STUFF (2018); a novella, CORONAVIRUS DAZE (2020); OLD DETECTIVES HOME (2022); and LAST GASP MOTEL (2023).

Mike is an acclaimed speaker and gives three entertaining and informative presentations titled, “The Secret of Growing Older Gracefully—Aging and Other Minor Inconveniences,” “How To Survive Retirement,” and “Rejection Is Not a Four Letter Word,” which promote a positive image of aging. Contact him at mikebef@aol.com if you’d like him to speak to your organization.  https://www.mikebefeler.com

About Donnell Ann Bell:  Leaving international thrillers to the world travelers, Donnell Ann Bell concentrates on suspense that might happen in her neck of the woods – writing SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. Published with BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books, she has written four Amazon bestselling standalones as well as her award-winning Cold Case series, Black Pearl and Until Dead. Currently, she’s working on book three of the series. For more information, see her website at https://www.donnellannbell.com


Ridding the World of Word Clutter, One Description at a Time

By Lois Winston

I’ve recently had several requests from authors and publishers to write blurbs for soon-to-be-published books. In addition, I’m currently judging a writing contest for recently published novels. Although all mysteries, these books run the gamut of various sub-genres within mystery, everything from cozies to suspense. Disturbingly, I’m seeing one issue that crops up in many of them: over-writing.

Many years ago, the agent who owned the agency that represented me gave me the best writing advise I’ve ever received. He said that every scene and all dialog in a book must do one of two things—either advance the plot or tell the reader something she needs to know about the POV character AT THAT MOMENT. If the scene or dialog does neither, it’s filler and doesn’t belong in your book.

Filler usually manifests in dialog as chit-chat. In narrative, the culprit is often description. Excessive description is the downfall of many of the books I’m reading. Description done well enhances a story. It gives the reader a deeper understanding of the character and the world she inhabits. However, when not done well, description pulls the reader from the story and drags down pacing. No one wants to read a mystery, suspense, or thriller with pacing that induces sleep, but that’s what I’m finding in too many of these books.

Some authors are of the misguided notion that they need to describe all characters from head to toe every time they appear in a scene. They also believe they need to describe every aspect of the setting, from the color of the curtains on the windows to the knickknacks on the shelves. A well-written book only describes that which is pertinent to the character and the scene.

Adjusting your thinking to view filler as word clutter, enables you to adopt a Marie Kondo attitude toward your writing. Doing so will not only aid your pacing but will allow the words that remain to have greater impact.

Here’s an example I’ve used when giving writing workshops. The following is a paragraph describing a fictitious character:

Joe wore a threadbare navy blue and forest green plaid flannel shirt. Two of the buttons were missing, and one was hanging from a loose thread. His legs were encased in bleach-stained black jeans, torn in some places, patched in others. I glanced down at his feet. The cuffs of his jeans were frayed, and his big toe peeked out from a hole in the top of his scuffed and dirt-caked tan work boots. A ratty, stained camouflage ball cap sat sideways on a head.

And this is a one-sentence description of that character that says the same thing in only five words:

Joe wore Salvation Army rejects.

There is no reason to use eighty-two words to describe something that can be described in five—not to mention, described better. Unless there is something about Joe’s clothing that will have an impact on the plot or one of the other characters, the reader doesn’t need to be pulled from the story by having to focus on such minute details. Less is more.

Do you have a pet peeve about books you’ve been reading lately? Post a comment for a chance to win a promo code for a free audiobook of Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide, the eighth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries.


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. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website www.loiswinston.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.


Happy Monday!  Because I’m traveling today, I thought I’d leave you with something that ideally will brighten your day.  Note:  My thought-stolen-purse saga happened some years ago, and yes, I’m still married to the guy.  For the record, I didn’t even change the names to protect the innocent.

By Donnell Ann Bell

My day starts out great.  I have Toastmasters at seven-thirty; and at ten till seven, amazed I’m well ahead of schedule, I gather my books, prepared to grab my purse off the counter, which is tucked inconspicuously inside my gray Adidas gym bag.  After Toastmasters, I’m off to the gym.

Only problem is when I scan the counter on this start-to- a-perfect day, my bag is missing.  I can swear I left it right there. Obviously mistaken, I search my usual places—my office, bedroom, the car.  My gray Adidas gym bag is nowhere to be found.

The minutes tick by and I start to sweat.  Now I’ll be late for Toastmasters.  I call my husband at work.  “Have you seen the gray gym bag I left on the counter?”

“No, honey, very busy,” he says.

I hang up on the verge of hyperventilation.  The gym bag in itself doesn’t worry me; it’s my drivers’ license and the valuables inside.  Where can it be?  I know I left it right here.  But now I’m not so sure.  Could I have left it at the gym?  I must have.  I pick up the phone.

woman with lost purse blog

“No, ma’am,” an employee says at my query.  “It’s not in the lost and found and we don’t see it in the locker room, either.”

My great day continues to dwindle.

With no other choice, I search my house a second time, and when I’m positive it isn’t anywhere inside, I phone my husband again. “Les, are you sure, you haven’t seen a gray Adidas gym bag?  I know you’re busy, but it’s really important.  My purse was inside that bag.”

“No,” he replies adamantly.  “I haven’t seen it.”

I scour the house a third time; I miss Toastmasters, becoming more confused and agitated by the second.  I think back.  I came straight home from the gym yesterday.  I made no stops.  And now my poor little ol’ mother in law is in on the action, determined to help. She looks everywhere, including the freezer and the bathtub.

Yep, I’ve been known to put my gym bag in those places!

During our rummaging, I walk into the den and discover a navy gym bag on the couch.  Frowning, I unzip it, discovering my DH’s [dear husband’s] running shoes and his workout clothes inside.  Frankly, I’m ashamed of myself.  I’m jealous that while my gray Adidas bag has gone missing, he still has all of his gear.

All right.  My bag is not in the house, it’s not at the gym, and I went nowhere yesterday.  It’s been stolen.  Time to call the security company that patrols my neighborhood.  The officer reports no calls of intruders, but says a few cars in our area have been broken into.

I call my neighbors, my critique partner and we connect the dots.  While Les and I were out taking a walk last night, someone entered our house.  Thinking it was empty, the intruder became startled when he heard my mother in law. In his haste, he took the closest thing within reach–my gray Adidas gym bag.

I spend the rest of the morning canceling my checks and my credit cards, totally creeped out at the thought of someone invading my home.

When everything is cancelled, I breathe a sigh of relief and tell myself it could have been worse.  At least no one accessed my credit.

Determined to move on from this disastrous morning, I pause to answer the phone.  It’s my husband.  He’s on his way to his run.  He’s calling to inform me he’s taken the wrong gym bag.  You see, his is on the couch, while mine is in the backseat of his car!dead body on a gurney

Before you take undue sympathy and ask if my husband is colorblind, the answer is no.  But he is the victim in my next murder plot.

About the Author:  Donnell Ann Bell writes both romantic suspense and multi-jurisdictional task force plots, keeping close tabs on her theme SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. Black Pearl, a Cold Case Suspense was her first mainstream suspense and was a 2020 Colorado Book Award finalist. Her second book in the series, Until Dead, A Cold Case Suspense was awarded Best Thriller Novel at 2023 Imaginarium Convention in Louisville, KY. Follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter or follow her blog at https://www.donnellannbell.com




Bethany Maines drinks from an arsenic mug

In Defense of the Day Job

A Day Job? Really?

I know a lot of writer’s for whom the dream is to ditch the day job and become a Stay-At-Home-Writer.  It would be lovely to be solely supporting myself on my writing. But that’s not financial reality for most writers and I would argue that it shouldn’t be.  I think the day job, while being a pain in the tuchus, also gives something valuable to the writer.

It Keeps Us From Going Feral

First there is the emotional and mental well-being that comes with being forced to rub elbows with the weirdos out there.  Like having kids, having a job, means that we are forced to get along with the wider community. It rubs some of the rough edges off.  Staying home means that we come to live very much in our own bubble in terms of information intake and who we talk to. Finding a wider network of people to interact with is an asset for learning to write more diverse characters who think and speak in different ways.

It Provides Ideas

The second value, I see for having a job is related to information intake.  As a writer, I never know where I’m going to find an idea.  Which can be frustrating if I’m supposed to come up with an idea RIGHT NOW.  However, what I’ve learned over the years, is that ideas exist in every field and it only benefits me to talk to people. An AV owner who travels the state setting up for concerts, conferences, and private parties? Expensive parties and rock bands – how could there not be an idea there?  A conference for estate planners?  Turns out there are about 100 murder plots just littering the tax code if you can manage to stay awake long enough to find them.  The front desk staff at a hotel? Oh, don’t get me started on the amazing slice of humanity that traipse in front of them.  But would I know about any of these ideas without my day job?  No!


So if you’re a writer appreciate your job and if you know a writer then help them out by making them talk to you. Know that you’re only helping that little cardigan wearing introvert out by providing them fodder for a novel and keeping them sane. They’ll thank you for it.  Or kill you off in their next novel. Whichever comes first.



Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of action-adventure and fantasy tales that focus on women who know when to apply lipstick and when to apply a foot to someone’s hind end. She participates in many activities including swearing, karate, art, and yelling at the news. She can usually be found chasing after her daughter, or glued to the computer working on her next novel (or screenplay). You can also catch up with her on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and BookBub.