Great to be a new member of the Stiletto Gang, the most talented writers I’ve come across in a group, probably ever. As an introduction, I’ll lay out the highlights of my literary journey below.


In 1962, my mother registered me for a writing class that was offered in summer school after the eighth grade. Only one other girl signed up, so the class was cancelled.


Once in high school, we were assigned a short story. I wasn’t present the day the teacher handed them back—I’d gone to the orthodontist—but when I returned to school, kids congratulated me on my story, saying the teacher read it to the class. The next day when she returned my story, I found she’d give it a B-.


My parents told me I couldn’t be a writer because I wouldn’t be able to make a living. I don’t know whether that is what would have happened. You never know what the future holds. But, I was an obedient child, at least for a while, so I said ok.


I didn’t know what else I might want to do. Dad wanted my sister and me to be teachers, so if our husbands died or abandoned us, we’d be able to support ourselves. My sister did and ended up as an administrator in a small public school district. Me? I dropped in and out of five colleges/universities until I was finally awarded a B.S. degree in Criminal Justice.


I once signed up, as an adult, for a writing class at the community college in our town, excited to finally get something going. When I received my first story back, the instructor had written that I had no talent—give it up.


After I began practicing law, I was lying around my living room once night and told my husband that if a writer could make $5,000 a pop for genre romance novels as it stated in the TV Guide article I read, I should try that. I read everything, including romances. I didn’t think it looked that hard. So, I bought some books on writing romances and sent for tip sheets and finally wrote one. I sent it off and waited for a response. The editor said no, she wouldn’t publish my novel, her rejection including some choice insults, and never to send her anything again.


I began writing suspense/mysteries in the 80s. My father was a criminal defense lawyer, (and later a judge), so I’d been around the law since I was little. I had been a probation officer and was at that time a criminal and family lawyer. Crime, I knew about. By the way, I heard that not long after the aforementioned editor rejected my novel, she died. Just so you know, I didn’t kill her.


When my editor at St. Martin’s Press, Inc. called me about MY FIRST MURDER, (my first published novel) he excitedly asked where I learned to write like that. He loved the book and said my manuscript was one of the best submissions he’d ever seen in terms of preparation, punctuation, etc. He loved it so much, a year later he rejected the sequel.


Enough of that. My point is, never give up. I had that first novel sale in 1988. I used the book as a political tool when I was running for office, donating copies across the county. What a great gimmick! I received free publicity and extra attention at every event, in addition to speaking engagements.


I was elected to the bench and took office on 1/1/91. My focus turned to being a sitting judge, modernizing practices and procedures in that court, including starting programs to help families and children. I continued to write whenever I could, though I didn’t have any other books published until after I left the bench at the end of 2002. In 2004, Eakin Press (a Texas publisher) released my nonfiction books: Heart of Divorce (which I wrote to help pro se litigants who couldn’t afford lawyers to prosecute their own divorces) and Murdered Judges of the 20th Century, which I researched and wrote over the previous six years, (and which began as evidence for the county commissioners that we needed courthouse security).


After that, I started submitting works I’d written while on the bench. I wanted to change my focus from the law to liberal arts. In 2015, I made the decision to self-publish. Though by then I had several mystery/suspense novels under my belt, I had grown tired of the traditional publishing process. I was aging out. The last straw was when an agent told me to cut my manuscript 20,000 words and submit it to her. I did, and never heard from her. That was it.


At sixty-five years of age, I was sick of the abuse most authors suffer at the hands of agents and editors. I was writing because I have to, not because I needed to. Or, as I often phrase it, I can’t not write. There was no joy, no pleasure in experiencing what they were dishing out. Where I had hoped for years to have the guidance and support of an agent and/or editor, I realized that would never happen. I have stories to tell. I’m constantly learning craft. I don’t care if I ever have huge sales. I’m having fun doing what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl with no pressure, no insults, no rejection. I love it.


Now, at 74, I spend a lot of my days writing or reading. I’m having fun living life my way. I never gave up. I suggest if you love to write, don’t let anyone discourage you either.

Susan has published 14 books in the last 30 or so years. Not all of them are mystery/suspense, but all of them have something to do with the law.

Parrott and Tonya Sitting in a Tree by Saralyn Richard



Literary detectives rarely work alone. Sherlock had Watson. Nero Wolfe had Archie Goodwin. Poirot had Captain Hastings. Then there are Nick and Nora Charles, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs, and Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.

Authors make good use of the sidekicks throughout the series. The sidekick provides a sounding board for the detective, someone to help with collecting evidence and processing clues. Sometimes the sidekick offers an insight that might turn out to be a red herring—or not. The dialogue and interaction between the detective and his sidekick add interest and humanity to the story.

The Detective Parrott mystery series features Detective Oliver Parrott, a young, smart, organized person who’s well-grounded and dedicated to finding the truth. An outsider in the wealthy community he serves, he has a sixth sense about sniffing through subterfuge and barriers, and he’s undaunted by rich and powerful people. He just wants to do the right thing and make way for justice to be served.

That’s a big job for one guy to do, and the work can become frustrating and lonely. That’s why Parrott has a sidekick—his lovely fiancée (and then wife) Tonya.  College sweethearts, Parrott and Tonya have similar backgrounds. Both come from single parent homes in underprivileged neighborhoods. They had scholarships to Syracuse, where Parrott was a football star. Tonya majored in political science, while Parrott majored in criminal justice.

When the series opens in MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, Tonya is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan with the Navy. Parrott visits with her on Skype, and, while she can’t tell him much about her work, and he can’t tell her much about his, they both provide significant encouragement and support for each other.

By the time of the second book, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, the Parrotts are married and living in Parrott’s small house with their pet cockatiel, Horace. They have a loving marriage, but from the start, their lives are complicated by Tonya’s PTSD. Without spoiling the plot of this and subsequent books, I’ll say that Tonya’s story becomes inextricably entwined with Parrott’s investigation, and from then on, the Parrotts’ personal lives and the detective’s professional life cross paths.

The pattern continues in CRYSTAL BLUE MURDER and MURDER OUTSIDE THE BOX. At times the elements of humor and romance tip the plots into scenes unusual for a police procedural. Readers and reviewers apparently enjoy the dynamics between the two characters, and I’ve been present at many book clubs where people remark about it. One reader stopped me at the theater to plead with me never to let Parrott and Tonya divorce.

I doubt that will ever happen, although the Parrotts have to go through rough times, just like the rest of us. Right now, Parrott and his lovely wife are getting ready for the holiday celebration in their home, and they’ve asked me to wish each and every one of you the best of the season, and a happy new year. Let me echo those chirpy good wishes. May you have good health, friendship, love, peace, and happy reading!


MURDER OUTSIDE THE BOX will be available January 5. For other books, check out Saralyn Richard’s website here or Amazon page here.

Writing a Series—It’s All in the Protagonist by Saralyn Richard

Writing a Series—It’s All in the Protagonist

by Saralyn Richard


A man wearing a hat photo – Free On Image on Unsplash


I never planned to write a series. My first mystery novel, MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, set in the lush landscape of Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania, centered around a birthday party where old college buddies were reunited for a weekend retreat. Old flames, old rivalries, old resentments resurfaced, and one of the party-goers ended up dead.

Enter Detective Oliver Parrott, young, ambitious, and Black, an outsider in this ritzy community—the better to see through the closed ranks and subterfuge. Undazzled by materialism, Parrott keeps a dogged focus on the people who have had it in for the victim, and readers have responded to Parrott’s character in ways that surprised me.

“We want more Parrott,” I kept hearing, and I found myself wanting to stay with the well-grounded detective, as well. Since that time, I have written a three more Detective Parrott books. I’ve seen Parrott mature and marry. He’s made a name for himself in Brandywine and beyond. He’s tackled challenging cases, faced dangers, stood up for the innocent, and hounded the guilty.

Parrott and Tonya, his fiancée and then wife, make a remarkable duo. Their relationship isn’t perfect (whose ever is?), but whenever one of them needs support and a listening ear, the other is there to give them.

One of my readers leaned over the space between her seat and mine at the theater and said, “Please, please don’t ever let Parrott and Tonya divorce.” Remarks like that let me know that others are invested in my series characters as much as I am. I love spending time with Parrott and his family, as well as the recurring characters in Brandywine Valley and in the West Brandywine police department. It’s like visiting old friends and catching up on their lives.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never run out of things for them to say or do, experiences they need to have, lessons they need to learn. As in real life, there are always surprises, secrets, challenges, and joys. There are always new issues to be confronted, new insights to be gained.

In the next few months, the fourth Detective Parrott book, MURDER OUTSIDE THE BOX, will launch. Parrott is sharper than ever as he deals with an abandoned baby and the murder of a postpartum woman. Parrott’s relationship with Tonya spills over into his case, and vice versa, until the two bits of life are woven into a single fabric.

After more than seven years and twelve hundred pages spent with Parrott and his wife, I’m not sure what path their lives will take next, but one thing I am sure of—they’ll never be bored. And with so much trouble going on in the world, it’s good to have good people like Detective Parrott around to find the truth and right the wrongs.

Who is your favorite fictional protagonist?

Award-winning author and educator, Saralyn Richard writes about people in settings as diverse as elite country manor houses and disadvantaged urban high schools. She loves beaches, reading, sheepdogs, the arts, libraries, parties, nature, cooking, and connecting with readers. Look for her latest Detective Parrott mystery, MURDER OUTSIDE THE BOX, coming soon.

Visit Saralyn at

Chasing an Intruder

Bob and I spend the summers in northern New Mexico. We enjoy the idyllic mountain scenery, the wildlife, the enriching tricultural experience in art, food, and the wonderful people who live here. Some are full time residents while others, like us, are only part timers.

After we arrived at our cabin, I was surprised we’d had a visitor who had left his calling card.

Ever the investigator, I wanted to identify our intruder. I asked friends, family, and long-time residents to help me out. Most people offered suggestions like a cougar, a mountain lion, a bobcat. One person thought they were coyote tracks, and another, trying to be funny, thought they were left by aliens!

I compared the paw prints left in the dust on the front deck to online research, and to photos a friend sent me from a wood block she keeps for easy reference in her mountain home.

It was easy to rule out deer, elk, turkey, or badger.

Next, I could rule out a fox, coyote, or bear since our prints did not have evidence of claws. That left the cougar!

Long time-residents claimed they had not seen any cougars in the area, yet my research indicated that New Mexico has a cougar population of 3,494 that are eighteen months of age or older as of 2023¹.

Sadly, my research also revealed that cougars are considered recreational game animals in New Mexico, and at the current rate of hunting and trapping, they will soon be at risk. In 2019, the state did prohibit trapping of cougars in certain areas.

I fully understand that cougars and other wildcats can be dangerous to people, pets, other wildlife, and livestock. Yet, these are beautiful animals that need protection to prevent them from going extinct.

A friend asked me if I’d be putting cougars into a novel in the future. The truth is I don’t know if a cougar will ever appear in a Nikki Garcia mystery or not. The question is valid since I have included dogs, crows, and mules in previous mysteries. Whenever I’m writing a novel, if pets or wild animals add to the story, yes, I love incorporating them into the story. In the meantime, my husband and I will enjoy the deer, elk, coyote, turkey, and birds we see in this mountain retreat.


¹New Mexico Mountain Lion Foundation

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.

Kathryn’s early work life started out as a painter in oils. To earn a living, she became a certified public accountant and embarked on a career in international finance with Johnson & Johnson.

Two decades later, she left the corporate world to create mystery and suspense thrillers, drawing 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, Kathryn and her husband, Bob Hurt, escape the Texas heat for the mountains of northern New Mexico.

Photo credits:

Paw Prints in the Dust – photo by Kathryn Lane

Wood Block Paw Prints – photo by Sharon Sorensen

Cougar – CA-Jason-Klassi-08

Next Stop: The Islands

Ahhhh…. The Islands

Sounds so dreamy and vacation-y, doesn’t it? I’m working on book four of my San Juan Islands Mystery series.  A book that I have been swearing that I will get to for about three years. And I’m finally doing it! And good lordy do I hate the islands. It’s not vacation. It’s a slog.  All of which is completely unfair to the islands. It’s not their fault that I’ve been procrastinating.  Or that I named three different people Cooper.  Or that I chucked out at least three different plots before I got to this one.

So Whose Fault is it?

Oh.  Yeah. It’s mine.  But taking responsibility really throws off a good rant. Part of the problem is that past self did not set me up for success. At three books in, you would think that I would do what I usually do with a series – start a spreadsheet.  Keeping a spreadsheet of characters names, a general description, and what books they appear in really cuts back on how many people are named Cooper.  (We’re now down to one.  The other two got magical name changes.) But when I started the series I didn’t intend for it to be a series. It was supposed to be a fun standalone mystery about an ex-actress and her ex-CIA agent grandfather solving mysteries in the islands of Washington State. The problem is that Tish and Tobias Yearly are funny and fun to hang out with.  Also, they just keep finding bodies, so… they keep needing more books.  It is not my fault.  It’s theirs. Blame the Yearlys.

And What Are You Going to do About it?

Keep better notes? I really am trying this time.  I revived the spreadsheet.  Added all those extra people I forgot about.  And I’m swear I’m this close >< to being done with book 4 – An Unfinished Storm.  Tish and Tobias are battling life, love, and Hollywood and trying to keep a police detective from jumping to some very wrong conclusions.

If you’re interested in Tish and Tobias Yearlys journey through the San Juan Islands, you can find out more from all the usual book selling suspects.


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.

Macavity, Shamus, and Silver Falchion Short Story (and Other) Award Nominations

by Paula Gail Benson

The nominations for Macavity Awards, Shamus Awards, and Silver Falchion Awards have been announced for best short story or best short story collection or anthology.

The Macavity Award is named for the “mystery cat” of T.S. Eliot (Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats). Each year the members of Mystery Readers International nominate and vote for their favorite mysteries in five categories: Best Mystery Novel, Best First Mystery, Best Mystery Short Story, Best Non-Fiction/Critical, and the Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Mystery. Here are the nominees for best short story:

Best Mystery Short Story:

  • Brendan DuBois: “The Landscaper’s Wife” (Mystery Tribune, Aug/Sep 2022)
  • Barb Goffman: “Beauty and the Beyotch” (Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Jan 2022)
  • Donna Moore: “First You Dream, Then You Die” (Black is the Night, Titan Books)
  • Anna Scotti: “Schrödinger, Cat” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Mar/Apr 2022)
  • Catherine Steadman: “Stockholm” (Amazon Original Stories)
  • Jess Walter: “The Angel of Rome” (in The Angel of Rome and Other Stories, Harper)
  • Melissa Yi: “My Two-Legs” (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Sep/Oct 2022)

Previously, Brendan DuBois’ short stories have won three Shamus awards.

Barb Goffman’s “Beauty and the Beyotch” has been nominated for the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity. It won the Agatha.

Donna Moore’s “First You Dream, Then You Die” was nominated for an Edgar.

Anna Scotti is a former journalist whose stories regularly appear in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. “Schrödinger, Cat” received a third place Ellery Queen Readers’ Choice Award.

Catherine Steadman’s “Stockholm” won the Thriller for best short story.

Jess Walter’s “The Angel of Rome” comes from his collection of stories by that title.

Melissa Yi is an emergency room doctor who writes a medical crime series as well as romance and YA.

The Private Eye Writers of America, an association of fans, writers, and publishing professionals, is devoted to elevating the private eye story from a sub-genre of mystery to a genre of its own. It categorizes private eyes as private citizens paid to investigate crimes. Private eyes may include investigators, company employees, and reporters. Each year the Private Eye Writers of America presents Shamus awards in four categories: Best PI Hardcover, Best Original PI Paperback, Best First PI Novel, and Best PI Short Story. Here are the nominees for best short story:

Best PI Short Story:

  • Lori Armstrong: “No Place for a Dame” (Edgar & Shamus Go Golden, Down and Out Books)
  • Libby Cudmore: “Charlie’s Medicine” (Lawyers, Guns, and Money: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Warren Zevon, Down and Out Books)
  • O’Neil DeNoux: “A Jelly of Intrigue” (Edgar & Shamus Go Golden, Down and Out Books)
  • Carolina Garcia-Aguilera: “The Pearl of the Antilles” (Edgar & Shamus Go Golden, Down and Out Books)
  • Elliot Sweeney: “Bad Actor” (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Nov/Dec 2022)

Lori Armstrong has won two Shamus awards for her novels.

Libby Cudmore writes the Martin Wade PI series for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

O’Neil DeNoux won the 2020 Shamus award for his short story “Sac-a-lait Man” in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s Sep/Oct 2019 issue.

Born in Cuba and based in Miami, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera has been a private investigator for twenty-five years. She is known for her Lupe Solano mystery series.

Elliot Sweeney, born in London, had his debut novel The Next to Die published in February 2023.

The Silver Falchion Awards are presented annually at Killer Nashville, which takes place August 17 through 20. (Note: there is still time to register to attend the conference. Also, online voting for the Readers Choice Awards continues until midnight Tuesday, July 25.)

Here are the nominees for best short story collection or anthology:

Best Short Story Collection or Anthology:

  • Chris Chan: Of Course He Pushed Him & Other Sherlock Holmes Stories: the Complete Collection (MX Publishing; 1st edition; September 2, 2022)
  • Marianne Donley, ed.: An Element of Mystery: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales of Intrigue (Bethlehem Writers Group; September 27, 2022)
  • Marissa Doyle: Countess of Shadows: The Ladies of Almack’s Omnibus No. 1 (978-1-63632-094-6; November 1, 2022)
  • Catherine Jordan, ed.: That Darkened Doorstep (Hellbender Books; September 21, 2022)
  • Lindy Ryan: Into the Forest: Tales of the Baba Yaga (Black Spot Books; November 8, 2022)
  • J.B. Stevens: A Therapeutic Death: Violent Short Stories (Shotgun Honey Books; February 16, 2022)
  • J.D. Webb: Incredible Witness (Wings ePress, Inc.; June 27, 2022)

I’m very proud to be a member of the Bethlehem Writers Group and to have a story in An Element of Mystery. Debra H. Goldstein has a story in it also. Two of our other members, Dianna Sinovic and Diane Sismour, have stories in An Element of Mystery as well as in That Darkened Doorstep.

While I’m mentioning Silver Falchion nominees, let me brag on several of my Stiletto Gang blogging partners whose books placed in other categories: Debra H. Goldstein’s Five Belles Too Many was nominated for Best Cozy and Saralyn Richard’s Crystal Blue Murder and Joyce Woollcott’s A Nice Place to Die were nominated for Best Investigator.

Many great stories, collections, anthologies, and novels for your reading pleasure. Please enjoy!

Out of the Past—Or, How Cell Phones Became the New Swiss Army Knives

by Paula Gail Benson

Lately, I’ve been binge watching the 1980s “soap opera” series Dynasty and Falcon Crest. Not only is it interesting to see how the story arcs were developed and played out, but also it’s amusing to watch the use of establishing shots to indicate location. La Mirage is a hotel run by one of the characters on Dynasty. In the earlier episodes, when a scene occurred there, the same video appeared, showing the front of the hotel with its sign and two couples, one dressed in tennis whites exiting and the other wearing clothes for elegant dining entering. When the programs were viewed a week apart, I imagine people didn’t notice the duplication, but when seen back-to-back, it’s painfully obvious. Finally, in later episodes, only the hotel sign was used to designate the venue. Falcon Crest avoided the apparent duplication by showing only the exteriors of buildings without people in evidence. Of course, Falcon Crest featured several impressive architectural structures.

La Mirage Sign Photo from Amazon

Another dating aspect of those series is the absence of the cell phone. If characters were stranded, they had no way to communicate with loved ones or get help unless they had access to a pay phone. Do phone booths even exist now or have they become extinct?

This pondering has led me to focus on the modern utility of the cell phone. Some people trace its earliest model to the communicators used on the original Star Trek series or Dick Tracy’s wristwatch phone. While those wonders may have initiated progress toward the pocket devices upon which we are so reliant today, I think the current cell phone is more akin to the Swiss Army knife.

According to Wikipedia, the name “Swiss Army Knife” was coined by American soldiers who had difficulty pronouncing the German word “Offiziersmesser,” which meant “officer’s knife.” While the Swiss Army knife (now produced by Victorinox) has become lauded for its numerous applications and versatility, it “was not the first multi-use pocket knife. In 1851, in Moby Dick (chapter 107), Herman Melville mentions the ‘Sheffield contrivances, assuming the exterior—though a little swelled—of a common pocket knife; but containing, not only blades of various sizes, but also screw-drivers, cork-screws, tweezers, awls, pens, rulers, nail-filers and countersinkers.’”

Photo by Victorinox

While the current Swiss Army knives have many of those same features, they may also have scissors, saws, and bottle openers, as well as knives. Anything needed to survive in the wild or live more easily in domesticated settings.

In fact, the cell phone is the perfect accessory for the modern law enforcement officer (see episodes of Law and Order), private investigator, or amateur sleuth. Consider all the items packed into one small item: phone, texting, email, internet, clock, calculator, navigator, camera, notepad, flashlight, weather predictor, social media, shopping apps, and entertainment apps (to get one through those long stakeouts). Imagine how Sherlock Holmes might have functioned with a handy cell phone. Perhaps he wouldn’t have even needed a John Watson. He could have recorded his own adventures with Dragon Naturally Speaking Speech Recognition Software!

Welcome Sarah Stewart Taylor.

By J. Woollcott

This month I’m thrilled to welcome one of my favourite authors to The Stilletto Gang. Sarah Stewart Taylor. I discovered Sarah’s Maggie D’arcy books a couple of years ago and have loved every one of them. This month, Book #4 in the series comes out, A Stolen Child.

#MaggieDArcy #Dublin

Born in the US, Sarah grew up on Long Island, and was educated at Middlebury College in Vermont and Trinity College, Dublin, where she studied Irish Literature. She has worked as a journalist and writing teacher and now lives with her family on a farm in Vermont where they raise sheep and grow blueberries. Sarah spends as much time in Ireland as she can.

I started with the first in Sarah’s series, The Mountains Wild, and was struck by her obvious love for Ireland and her wonderful descriptive prose. In fact, in one quote about her work, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel says; “Razor-sharp… In addition to her intelligent characters, Taylor has sculpted The Mountains Wild as a valentine to Ireland, delving into its beauty, history and varied landscape…We may not be able to travel to Ireland right now, but Taylor has brought the country to us… a terrific series launch.”


I asked Sarah to tell us how she keeps her memories sharp about a faraway country, especially as she is a working mum in Vermont––on a farm no less.

One of the best things about writing the Maggie books is that in order to keep my memories fresh, I of course 🙂 have to take regular research trips to Ireland! After living and going to graduate school in Ireland in the 90s, I moved back to the States and kept my memories fresh by reading newspapers and a lot of Irish literature and history. Then, once my kids were older, I started traveling back again. I did a couple of trips while I was writing The Mountains Wild and I’ve managed to go just about every other year since then. I spend two weeks there, usually a combination of time in Dublin and time driving around, and try to do the research for two books while I’m there. I often do very targeted, specific research for the book I’m currently working on and then more amorphous, exploratory research for future books, coming up with interesting settings or talking to people about current events or neighborhood dynamics, etc.

When I’m in Ireland, I have to really switch on my “research brain,” otherwise I kind of just have fun and enjoy myself and don’t capture the details I need to in order to write the books. I’ve learned to really compartmentalize my time there. When I’m with friends, I just have fun and try to be very present, but when I’m out doing research, I take tons of notes, snap many, many pictures and take lots of video too.

I also use friends and contacts who are on the ground, as well as lots of different kinds of internet and book research.


Process and research, how do you begin a new book. Does a current event or news story trigger an idea or do you always have lots of plots in your head about future novels?

I usually start with a setting. Once I have that, I feel like I have a handle on the tone and often, the kind of crime I’m writing about and who my characters will be. And then, I find that I often am visited by the vision of a scene. It’s often the inciting event of the novel, the body being discovered or something very important that happens before that. Everything kind of flows from that setting and scene and the people who are there. Who are they? How did they get here? What are they hiding? What do they want?

Current events and news stories sometimes do play into my plots, but I find that the connections come later, after I’ve really imagined the characters and figured out why they do what they do.


Where does Maggie come from? Do you base your characters on people you know?

Maggie came from me doing some deep thinking about the family members of people who have disappeared and are presumed dead, but who have never been found. I thought a lot about how that would affect the people in the missing person’s life. How would it change your trajectory? Maggie is someone who probably wouldn’t have been a homicide detective if her cousin Erin hadn’t disappeared and I really wanted to explore that.

I also wanted to create a detective who is a woman near middle age, a parent, and someone who is grappling with a new relationship and trying to be the best partner and parent she can, while also trying to be a stellar cop. It’s not easy. In a way, I guess I based her on a lot of women I know, including myself, who are just trying to keep all the metaphorical pots on the stove going. Sometimes, one or more of them boils over. In real life, it’s stressful, but for my fictional characters it creates all kinds of interesting possibilities!


Introduce us to your new book, A Stolen Child, and are there more Maggie D’arcy books on the way?

Here’s my publisher’s description of A Stolen Child:

“After months of training, former Long Island homicide detective Maggie D’arcy is now officially a Garda. She’s finally settling into life in Ireland and so is her teenage daughter, Lilly. Maggie may not be a detective yet, but she’s happy with her community policing assignment in Dublin’s Portobello neighborhood.

When she and her partner find former model and reality tv star Jade Elliot murdered—days after responding to a possible domestic violence disturbance at her apartment—they also discover Jade’s toddler daughter missing. Shorthanded thanks to an investigation into a gangland murder in the neighborhood, Maggie’s friend, Detective Inspector Roly Byrne, brings her onto his team to help find the missing child. But when a key discovery is made, the case only becomes more confusing—and more dangerous. Amidst a nationwide manhunt, Maggie and her colleagues must look deep into Jade’s life—both personal and professional—to find a ruthless killer.”


I loved writing this book, even though as a parent, the subject matter — an abducted toddler — was territory I hadn’t wanted to go near before. But I loved the energy of a homicide investigation combined with a missing child and a nationwide manhunt for a kidnapper and I had fun injecting some extreme twists and turns into the plot. And yes, I am planning more adventures for Maggie!


J. Woollcott is a Canadian author born in Belfast, N. Ireland. She is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers and BCAD, University of Ulster. Her first book, A Nice Place to Die won the Daphne du Maurier Award and was short-listed in the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence.


A young woman’s body is found by a river outside Belfast and DS Ryan McBride makes a heart-wrenching discovery at the scene, a discovery he hides even though it could cost him the investigation – and his career.

Gay Yellen: Weeding and Wording

Just found out that today is National Weed Your Garden Day, which couldn’t be more appropriate for me at the moment, though instead of culling crabgrass, I’m weeding out words.

The most common offenders I’ve dug up so far are: just, seemed, felt, but, winced, smiled, and a few other crutches a writer too often leans on.

The good news is that this exercise signals my last round of self-editing for The Body in the News, Book 3 in my Samantha Newman Mystery Series. Once this task is completed, I’ll be sending the manuscript to my publisher.

The bad news is, I’ve been so focused on finishing the new book that I completely forgot to plan a subject for this, my monthly Stiletto Gang post. So, in honor of this “national” day, let’s talk about weeds… oops, I meant words.

I was surprised when a friend commented that she thought I consciously chose to use more common language in my books than I use in my natural speech. Well, yes, and no. The characters in my books are not me, and even though I write their dialogue, the way they express themselves is their own.

When the writing is going well, I’m listening to Samantha and Carter and their supporting cast as they dictate their words to me. Older people use different words than younger adults and children do. Sticklers for facts, such as my detective, Buron Washington, are more clipped and precise when they speak. And so on, down to a new character whose vocabulary is unique unto itself.

However, the weeds in this manuscript are entirely my fault, and I must get back to yanking them out, one by one. But before I go, here’s a question:

Does the way a person speaks reveal something unique about their mood or character? How so?

Gay Yellen writes the award-winning Samantha Newman Mysteries including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and out later this summer, The Body in the News.

Believable Characters and Fearless Creating

By Donnell Ann Bell

Happy Monday, Stiletto Gang and readers! I was notified that my third published novel is going on sale June 16 through June 30, 2023, which of course  I find exciting. It also made me think about the story and all that went into it. Research, check. . .Mysterious characters, check . . .Conflict, check . . . Romantic tension, check . . . Interesting settings, check. . . Plot problems . . . .AHEM. Unfortunately, that part of the book received a big red X before I could check off Believable Plot.

The novel I’m talking about is called Betrayed. To date, my publisher has changed most of my working titles. Truthfully, I worried about this title because if you do a search for “Betrayed” you will find a long list. Back when I submitted the book for editing, I thought about changing it altogether or adding an adjective so it might stand out more from the myriad novels bearing the same name. But as one reviewer wrote in her headline:

“Wow! BETRAYED Sums up this One Nicely.”

I couldn’t agree more, which is when I left the working title “as is” and sent it off to my editor. I do admit to crossing my fingers they would keep it. BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books agreed and Betrayed has been one of my bestselling novels.

It’s the story of Irene Turner, a trap shooting champion from Oklahoma City who discovers the stillborn she delivered twenty-eight years earlier is still alive. Irene is damaged so I did my best to slip into the mindset of a woman who’d recently lost her fifteen-year-old son, then receives the shock of her life—the daughter she thought dead is alive and and residing in Denver.

When creating characters, I do my utmost not to intrude on their story. For instance, Irene may be a gun expert and has no fear of them, but her daughter Kinsey despises them and is a proponent of gun control. I wanted to include both points of view, rather than take a stance on a highly volatile issue.

I often enlist beta readers after critique and before I submit to my editor. I was pretty confident when I asked  my 2010 Golden Heart sister and fellow Sisters in Crime member Author Rochelle Staab to give me her thoughts. I expected accolades. What she came back with was, “You know better than this. This would never happen.”

Did Rochelle glitch on the gun issue?  No. Did she glitch on another plot point? You know it.

SPOILER ALERT:  In the story Kinsey is kidnapped by drug dealers. I have a healthy respect for what drugs (particularly illegal ones and what side effects can occur even after a single dose.) Knowing this, I disregarded what would likely happen in reality and intruded BIG TIME on the story. From the beginning of my writing career, I have heard the phrase and abided with MAKE YOUR CHARACTERS SUFFER. 

But @#$# I didn’t want to give her a drug that could potentially kill her!  My intentions were good, honest!!! So I cheated. Instead of a deadly drug the gang members had ready access to, I had them give her a sleeping drought. Yeah, that’s believable. NOT.  Was Rochelle right and did I take her advice and fix this plot problem? What do you think 😉

If you like, you can find out for yourself. Betrayed is available wherever books are sold in trade paperback and digital format.  Also, don’t forget, the sale is ongoing through June 16-30, 2023.  Links on my website:

In closing, I wonder several things.

  • Do my fellow authors reading this blog enlist beta readers?
  • Have you ever had a plot hole in your novels, you knew intrinsically would be a problem, but you thought maybe you could get away with it?
  • Do you work to avoid author intrusion in your novels?
  • Do you consider yourself a fearless creator?

By the way, here’s Rochelle’s final thoughts followed by the blurb:

“Absorbing and fast-paced from the chilling opening chapters to the shocking denouement, Donnell Ann Bell proves once again to be a master of suspense with Betrayed, a tale of consequences from a woman’s long-ago indiscretion that dominoes into a nightmare of deception, bitterness, greed, and murder. A compelling must-read!” ~ Rochelle Staab, bestselling author of the Mind for Murder Mysteries

About Betrayed:

A mother told her baby’s dead was a lie.

A daughter rocked by her true identity.

A detective risking his life to protect them both.

When Irene Turner learns the incomprehensible—that the stillborn she delivered 28-years earlier is alive, she takes the evidence to Major Crimes Detective Nate Paxton in Denver Colorado. Nate can’t believe that the daughter stolen at birth is Kinsey Masters, a world-class athlete, raised by a prominent Denver family, and the unattainable woman he’s loved for years.

Irene, Nate, and Kinsey discover a sordid conspiracy, one that may get them all killed as they face past betrayals and destructive revenge.

About the Author:

Multi-award winning Donnell Ann Bell knows statistically that crime and accidents happen within a two-mile radius of the average residence. For that reason, she leaves the international capers to world travelers, and concentrates on stories that might happen in her neck of the woods.

Over the last few years, Donnell has fallen in love with writing multi-jurisdictional task force plots, keeping close tabs on her theme SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. Her single-title romantic suspense novels, The Past Came Hunting, Deadly Recall, Betrayed, and Buried Agendas, are Amazon bestsellers.

Traditionally published with Belle Books/Bell Bridge Books, Black Pearl, a Cold Case Suspense is her first straight suspense and book one of a series. Her second book in the series, Until Dead is also available wherever books are sold. To learn more, sign up for her newsletter and follow her via Facebook and Twitter  @donnellannbell