photo holiday gathering

Characters, Holidays, and Changes

by Sparkle Abbey

Do you love all the holiday books that are coming out? We certainly do!

photo holiday gatheringHalloween, All Saints Day, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and more. From now until the end of the year there are celebrations galore. Families and friends getting together for various festivities. Or not.

We’re working on our new series, the Shady Palms Mysteries, which is set in a 55+ retirement community. And we’re realizing that holiday celebrations change as our characters go through new phases in their lives.

Much like what happens in real life, our characters have experienced various events and turning points: a big move, the loss of a family member, meeting new family or friends, and shifting roles.  Some people feel pressure to maintain tradition and others are better at embracing change. And relationships are complicated. Right? And it doesn’t help that there’s just more stress in general around the holidays. So much stress! Some may love the chaos around a bit group gathering and others may just wish for a quiet celebration at home.

Bread and ornaments

Our characters, MJ and Cass, are working through a lot of life events… as well as solving a murder. (We do write mysteries after all.)  Though these life changes may find them changing up their holiday traditions, we know they’ll get through it. These are some smart and resilient ladies! They may have to let go of some long-established traditions, but they are making new ones. And they’re finding that the thing is – sometimes new traditions can actually honor the past.

So as we head into this busy holiday season, we’re thinking about traditions – old and new – and about how life changes can change our celebrations.

Do you have a favorite holiday tradition? Has it continued through the years or is it new one? Or is it one that has morphed over time? We’d love to hear your favorites and your advice for our characters who are going through changes in their holiday plans.

Ornament with bear holding pencil 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.)


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I Am A Published Author by Dru Ann Love

This is a short post while I recover from my recent surgery. It’s hard to sit at a desk when you can’t bend your knee or if you do “ouch.”

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Reflections on the Passing of Time

Reflections on the Passing of Time by Debra H. Goldstein

Despite the temperatures being in the high 80’s and 90’s for the past few weeks, we’ve had just enough of a temperature drop that the leaves are beginning to change colors. It’s a sign of Autumn. The calendar even says Fall has begun. The big tell is that the grocery stores already are prominently displaying Halloween candies.

Personally, I don’t know where the summer went. It feels like I just pulled my white pants from the back of my closet and now it’s time to push them to the back again.

When I was a child, I remember being sent outside to play (I preferred staying inside and reading) and counting the minutes until I could go in again. Time moved so slowly. Yet, one day I woke up and it started whizzing by. For the first time, as this summer has flown by and I see changes in my husband, me, our children, grandchildren, and friends, I’m beginning to think of time as precious – and maybe going by a little too quickly.

Do you ever have thoughts like that?

How the World Turns

by Gay Yellen

Originally, I had planned this post to be all about what led up to the new release of my third book in The Samantha Newman Series. In it, I was going to detail the trials and tribulations that interfered with my ability to finish the story over the past five years, and to offer a free book at the end.

That post was titled “What a Writer Fears.” But with fresh horror happening in the Middle East, this novelist’s writerly problems seem too trivial to consider. Instead of a blow by blow account of the circumstances that held the book back, I’ll just say that for months and months and months, I struggled to create a coherent sentence, let alone a paragraph and chapter.

In short, I feared I would never be able to write again.

Sometimes, moving forward requires taking a step back. Frustrated as I felt, I couldn’t abandon Samantha any more than she could escape her crazy, mixed-up existence—especially when she was about to save another lost soul from ruin and learn an important life lesson along the way.

And so, with the encouragement of my precious fans, and the support of Stiletto sisters Lois Winston and Saralyn Richard, and writer friends Patty Flaherty Pagan and Pamela Fagan Hutchins, Book #3, The Body in the News is now available in ebook and print.

Like the first two books in the series, I wrote the new book to entertain readers, and hopefully, to inform and inspire. I hope it offers a few hours of escape from the messy, scary times we live in.

Life goes on for us lucky ones.

And so—in honor of the debut of Book #3—I am offering the one that started it all: The Body Business, Book #1 in the series, FREE today only. If you haven’t read it, grab it now to follow Samantha as she survives, undaunted, book by book.

May peace reign everywhere in the world. Until then, may we find comfort in books, and joy wherever we can find it.

The Samantha Newman Mystery Series



A Hobbit House!

The mountainous terrain of northern New Mexico, where my husband and I spend our summers, makes me aware of J.R.R. Tolkien’s clever way of segmenting Middle Earth into various regions. I’ve let my imagination fly thinking that he set up different regions, and their diverse inhabitants, by using mountain ranges and valleys to map out Middle Earth. With New Mexico’s diverse cultural heritage, I can imagine that Tolkien’s elves, dwarves, men, hobbits, ents, orcs, and trolls might have been created, each group with their unique characteristics, by studying various cultures and then adding a good measure of fantasy.

Of course, Tolkien was British, not New Mexican, and he was probably inspired by the various European cultures and terrain. Middle Earth, the main continent in his fictional fantasy, was set in a period more than six thousand years ago – so adding fantasy to the saga was essential.

Fascinated by Tolkien’s imagination, I let my own inspiration wander through the mountains and the cultures of New Mexico and surmised that a creative mind can entangle extraordinary stories set in the Land of Enchantment. Especially if the stories are set in the ancient past or centuries in the future!

Back to the present: This summer, a good friend invited me to see a ‘unique’ house. I never envisioned I would be dropped into Middle Earth to experience a hobbit house. Little did my friend know that I love Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the prequel to Lord of the Rings, where the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is hired by the wizard Gandolf to reclaim the treasure from the dragon Smaug.

The house we visited is known in its neighborhood as The Hobbit House. Even more fascinating is the fact that the owners built their Middle Earth abode using materials taken from the land where they were building.

Their daughter, an architect, prepared the blueprints. She assisted in tree cutting, testing the clay content in the soil, and manufacturing the adobe bricks and puddled adobe used in the construction. As you can see from the exterior and interior photos, they constructed a wonderful home. Imagine building your own and creating such a beauty!


Credits: All photos by Kathryn Lane

About Kathryn:

Kathryn Lane writes mystery and suspense novels usually set in foreign countries. In her award-winning Nikki Garcia Mystery Series, her protagonist is a private investigator based in Miami. Her latest publication is a coming-of-age novel, Stolen Diary, about a socially awkward math genius.

For her writing, Kathryn draws inspiration from her travels in over ninety countries as well as her life in Mexico, Australia, Argentina, and the United States.

She also dabbles in poetry, an activity she pursues during snippets of creative renewal. In the summer and fall, Kathryn and her husband, Bob Hurt, escape to the mountains of northern New Mexico where she finds inspiration for her writing.

Personal website

Latest novel: Stolen Diary – a coming-of-age mystery.




Process Delayed Can Still be Progress…of a Sort

By Lois Winston

I’m not someone who immediately jumps into the next book as soon as I finish writing the previous one. My latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, A Crafty Collage of Crime, released on June 6th. Other than promotional blog posts, I haven’t written anything Anastasia-related since then. Haven’t even given much thought to the next book beyond the fact that I know I’ll be picking up Anastasia’s story shortly after the recent book ended.

It’s not that I’m tired of writing about my reluctant sleuth or have no ideas. It’s more about a process I’ve found that works best for me. After a book goes off into the world, I devote the next month or so to promotion. Once the flurry of promotion wanes, I give myself permission to clear my head before once again hitting the keyboard in earnest. We all have our process, and I’ve discovered over the years that this keeps me from burning out or developing terminal writer’s block. We all need the occasional vacay, even if it’s only a vacay from the keyboard.

With that in mind, I had set a schedule to start in on serious pondering, mulling, and research the week of August 21st, the day after the Killer Nashville writers’ conference ended. I’d plant butt in chair and fingers on keyboard in earnest September 5th, the day after Labor Day.

Of course, I didn’t factor into testing positive for Covid shortly after Killer Nashville ended. And I certainly didn’t factor in the far from mild case of Covid that broadsided me and still continues haunting me with lingering symptoms. I haven’t felt this tired since suffering through mono when I was nineteen or dealing with an infant who exited the womb never needing to sleep—ever!

About the only things I’ve been able to accomplish when not napping are watching TV and reading, more of the latter than the former, thanks to the writers’ strike and the absence of many of my favorite shows. For someone who has never been a napper, I’m beginning to suspect I harbor some cat DNA. Don’t they sleep about seventeen hours a day?

At least during my daily seven hours of wakefulness, I was able to make a decent dent in my overflowing Kindle virtual TBR pile. For someone used to juggling multiple balls, if nothing else, I’ve achieved a small sense of accomplishment during my illness and recovery.

Not every book I read is worth mentioning. Several fell way short of expectations. However, there were two books that I thoroughly enjoyed: The Book Woman’s Daughter, the follow-up to Kim Michele Rchardson’s The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, and Kopp Sisters on the March, book 5 in Amy Stewart’s Kopp Sisters series. However, if you’ve enjoyed the other Kopp Sisters books, be forewarned that this book is a bit of a departure from the previous books in the series. Although labeled as a mystery, the mystery element is a minor subplot.

One of the perks of being a published author is getting to read some books before they hit bookstore shelves. I had the absolute pleasure of losing myself in advance reading copies of two books that I highly recommend. If you enjoy women’s fiction, you won’t want to miss the recently released Picture Perfect Autumn by Shelley Noble. It truly is a picture-perfect novel.

If romantic amateur sleuth mysteries are more your speed, you’ll want to read The Body in the News, the third installment in the Samantha Newman Mysteries by The Stiletto Gang’s own Gay Yellen. I was hooked on this series after reading the first book. When I finished this newest addition, I wanted to pick up the fourth book right away. I hope Gay is a fast writer!

What about you? Read any good books lately? Post a comment for a chance to win a promo code for a free download of the audiobook version of Scrapbook of Mystery, the sixth Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery.


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 where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.

Woman of the Year

Woman of the Year

By Saralyn Richard


I found out in April that the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce would be celebrating me as a Woman of the Year for 2023. The announcement, broadcast live on social media, came as a total surprise—overwhelming to this day. The honor entails participating in an all-day video production, inviting family and friends to accompany you to the Women’s Conference (held on September 15), going up on the stage in front of 1500 people to receive the award, and lots more.

As an educator, I always considered myself a star-maker, rather than a star. I revel when my students receive accolades or limelight, but I’m not all that comfortable receiving them, myself. I’ve struggled with the idea of whether I’m worthy of all this attention.

Over the past four months I’ve given a lot of thought to this and similar issues, and I’ll tell you what I’ve concluded. But first, some background. I was born and raised in Galveston. After college and marriage, I moved to St. Louis and Chicago, where I practiced my profession and learned a lot about life. One of the things I always preached to my students was to give back to the communities that they came from. I poured a lot of time and effort and care into the communities where I worked, but, in the back of my mind, I thought, what about Galveston?

When my husband and I were exploring possible places to live in the future, Galveston called to me. I wanted to be part of the community where I grew up. I wanted to volunteer in ways that would make a difference. Fortunately, everything aligned to make that happen, and we moved here in 2005. Since then, I’ve had interesting jobs, met fascinating people, and volunteered here and there in places that stole my heart. I never expected to be recognized—I was happy contributing to my community.

So that brings me to the Woman of the Year award, for which I am eternally grateful and a little uncomfortable accepting. My ruminations, though, have led me to believe that the award creates a valuable opportunity for reflection and evaluation. It has caused me to embrace all that is precious in the way I spend my time, and it’s given me motivation to recommit to my goals and mission, to live up to the standard of those who were honored before me, and to set an example for those who follow.

I also believe there aren’t enough awards given to worthy women. There are so many wonderful angels who give freely of their time and energy to help others. If you are reading this, you are probably one of them. So I want to share my award with you, Woman of the Year. If we all set our sights on making a difference, we can really change the world.

Award-winning mystery and children’s book author, and BOI (born on island), Saralyn Richard, is also an educator whose journey has taken her to schools in St. Louis, Chicago, and all over the country. Her books, Naughty Nana, Murder in the One Percent, A Palette for Love and Murder, Crystal Blue Murder, Bad Blood Sisters, and A Murder of Principal, have garnered many awards, reviews, and fans.

Saralyn and her husband Ed moved back to Galveston in 2005 with the express intent of serving the community by working and volunteering with various meaningful organizations. Saralyn worked for the Galveston Independent School District, the Southern Regional Education Board, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, The Friends of the Rosenberg Library, The Grand 1894 Opera House, and others.

Years ago, Saralyn was a founding member of the Book Nook committee of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce Women’s Conference. The Book Nook is a group of authors who are strategically selected each year to provide mentorship and support for other women who aspire to write and publish books.



A New Story

by Paula Gail Benson

As I celebrate my birthday this week, I’m also partying about a new story being published in A DEATH IN THE NIGHT by Dragon Soul Press. The anthology, released on August 30, 2023, contains eleven tales of assassins, which, as described on Amazon, may be about persons who are well paid, who are paying a debt, or who are being blackmailed. Each hired gun faces a unique journey. Some need to be wary of becoming too close to their marks.

The following authors’ stories are featured in the anthology: Victoria Azzi, L.N. Hunter, Charles Kyffhausen, Barend Nieuwstraten III, Fulvio Gatti, Edgar Mahaffey, Gray Stanback, Hennifer Strassel, Douglas Allen Gohl, Frank Sawielijew, and myself.

My story, “Crossfire in the Crosshairs,” occurs in the pandemic and involves a single mother working as an assassin to support her pre-school aged, precocious daughter. As mentioned in the narrative, “Assassinations remain essential services during Covid.” Chelsea Lebouef, the mom, is tasked to slay a famous cellist, hopefully managing to spill some blood on his instrument to heighten its value. She learns there will be multiple shooters to handle the job, but not until she makes arrangements for her daughter’s care and arrives on the job does she realize her competitor is her ex-husband.

I hope you’ll check out my story and the others. Dragon Soul Press has been a great company to work with and has supplied a lot of beneficial materials for promotion. (Notice the great banner above!)

Here’s a link to purchase on Amazon. Happy my birthday, everyone!


Bouchercon Update!

I missed the blog last month due to a technical error on my part … so here are two blogs in one! Might be fun actually, as I have now just returned from Bouchercon and can give a report. The expectation and the realization!

It was terrific—and my panel was fun, I made it through and enjoyed it.

The Debut authors’ breakfast was a blast. And may I say, the breakfast was delicious, although I was too nervous to eat much.

A Nice Place to Die was available at the bookstore and sold out. That was worth the trip right there.

But really, one of the most fun things is meeting and sometimes becoming friends with fellow authors. I met Ann Cleeves briefly and she was very gracious. I got a picture with her. That’s it, but I now consider her one of my very best friends.

I did spend some time with the  fabulous Iona Whishaw, Canadian readers  know her well…

And the charming S.M. Freedman, we enjoyed the Awards banquet together. And Caro Ramsey, a Scottish writer of mysteries and suspense, she was terrific and we plan to keep in touch. I was able to reconnect with good friends I’d met before; Judy L. Murray, Lane Stone, Sharon Lynn, just to name a few.

And Shawn Reilly Simmons, my editor, and award-winning author herself.


I leave for Bouchercon in a week or so and it’s an exciting prospect. I attended once before In Tampa. I was already in Florida at the time with my husband and decided it was worth the extra expense. As we climbed the steps to the host hotel to register, Ian Rankin walked by reading a guide book. And that about sums the experience up for me. You get to meet your author favourites, listen to wonderful educational sessions on writing, and oh yes, meet people at the bar!

That first time I knew no one. I had the name of an author through a friend and I contacted her, not expecting much. But Marcia Talley was astonishing and friendly and welcoming. I met Sujata Massey, Deborah Crombie and countless others over coffee and at events.

I sat one table over from Lee Child, and extricated the wonderful Lisa Scottoline from an ardent fan. It really was a fabulous experience.

This year I’m going again, this time to San Diego as a published author!

I’m a fairly new writer, compared with my terrific colleagues on the Stiletto Gang, who are all well known and have published many wonderful books across all genres. This time I applied to be on a panel. I don’t know the ins and outs of how to get chosen, but in my request I tried to be flexible to different panel ideas but clear that I needed to know something about the subject.

And so, what was that, my subject? What did I know something about? Murder? Well that might not set me apart and help me get a spot on a panel—what with it being a murder/mystery convention and all. I had to dig deeper.

What did I love writing about—apart from murder? What could I bring to a conversation that might make an interesting panel for readers and other writers?

One of the things I realized from talking to readers who bought and enjoyed my book was their interest in the setting, Belfast––and there you have it. Ireland, north and south.

I was surprised at the number of people who expressed a desire to visit Belfast. Once the death knell for a book or writer, famously and forever connected to ‘The Troubles,’ now miraculously rising from the ashes to become, dare I say it, a favourite tourist destination. We even have cruise ships stopping by with tourists dandering around a city they once watched on the news, with reports of explosions and gunfire all over the place.

But The Troubles are not the focus of my books, because that’s not what my stories are about. They’re about people who are caught in difficult circumstances. About love and hate and jealousy and finally, murder. All in that wonderful setting. Gloomy and sunbright in turn. Rain and wind, blue skies and gorgeous deserted beaches. And that’s what I asked for. I wanted to talk about writing a story set in a country I was born in and love, but no longer live in. How memory and longing play into shaping a book and the characters who populate it. And miraculously I got the word! Yes, a panel. Scary but exciting.

TRAVEL BY THE BOOK: MYSTERIES SET IN OTHER COUNTRIES. Saturday Sept 2 at 8:55am. Please come and listen if you’re at the convention. Should be fun.

Now let me tell you all about the Bouchercon Debut Authors’ Breakfast… Kidding, I’m kidding.

Blood Relations Cover

Blood Relations Cover

And a note about the launch of my second book. BLOOD RELATIONS. It’s due out in The US in August. Here’s a link to Amazon, but you can look for both books, #1: A NICE PLACE TO DIE and #2: BLOOD RELATIONS, at most fine on-line retailers too.

A Nice Place to Die and Blood Relations.

A Nice Place to Die and Blood Relations.

Blood Relations, A DS Ryan McBride Mystery Book #2
Twitter:  @JoyceWoollcott 

Buy the book.

Movie Making

Movie Poster for Suzy Makes CupcakesLet’s Make a Movie!

I’ve have often been told that I write “cinematically”.  I don’t know what that means exactly, but like most writers I’d love to have a movie made of one of my books. And for the past few years, I’ve been experimenting with writing scripts. I took a seminar on how to flip novels into scripts, bought a few books and worked on what are known as “spec” scripts.  Scripts that no one has commissioned, but you feel like writing anyway. I find that concept hilarious.  No one calls a writer’s unpublished novel a “spec” novel.  Although, I suppose that it is. I find the script writing process interesting, the format challenging, and the idea that I could see my work on the big screen exciting.

What I’ve Learned

Along the way I’ve found out some interesting things.  I’ve also found that a novella is about the perfect length to make a TV length movie.  A full novel is… a lot.  Which makes me even MORE impressed with those adaptations that managed to be something great or even come close to capturing the flare of the original novel.  For instance, I believe Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson who adapted LA Confidential  has earned a place in screenwriting heaven–James Ellroy’s novel was massive, sprawling and noir to the bone.  The movie managed to condense it down and make it acceptably noir to audiences (which is to say we had characters that we actually liked).  If you haven’t seen–go watch it.  If you haven’t read it… meh.  Only read if you like (well-written) dark heart of humanity stuff where no one is an actually good person.

I’ve also begun to question whether anyone in Hollywood actually reads.  With novels, an author finds a beta reader(s) to critique the book and then we polish it up.  After that we send off a synopsis and blurb and maybe a few pages to an agent or publisher, who probably has the intern vet the submissions (completely reasonable).  If it ticks their boxes they ask for the complete manuscript and read it.  With movies… You pitch something to someone (if you know the someone) based on a logline.  And if they like it you send in a one sheet with the blurb or synopsis and pitch it MORE.  But to get someone to actually reads the full script and give a critique or edits?  For that you have to submit to a contest or pay someone.  So novels have a more clear cut path forward and movies are a bit… scrap it out and hope you get lucky.

Successes so Far

But… I did get lucky! Through the help of a random friend on Twitter (or whatever it’s being called this week) I sold a script based on my short story Suzy Makes Cupcakes.  It is currently making the festival circuit and picking awards and nominations as it goes.  And now I have a credit on IMDB (Internet Movie Database).  How crazy is that? Suzy won’t be available to watch by the general public until next year, but if you want to read the story it was based on, you can check it out in Shotgun Honey: Recoil.

Have I learned anything else?

I’ve learned that movies are far more collaborative than I even pictured.  I’ve learned that an actor can make something I wrote absolutely sing.  And I’ve learned that watching having something I wrote exist outside my head is a little bit trippy.  And I can’t wait to do it again.


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.