How My Muse Revealed Protagonist’s History with Flashbacks & Dreams

I knew I’d be out of pocket today so I invited fellow author Kassandra Lamb to guest blog. Kassandra has departed from her amateur sleuth series to write police procedure. Further, I don’t think I’ve ever met a more helpful muse!  Thanks for joining us, Kassandra~ Donnell 

I am a pantser, which means I write by the seat of my pants. No outline, just a basic story idea, and I sit down and see what pours out onto the page. When I started writing Book 1 of my newest series, I didn’t even know my protagonist’s back story.

I only knew two things. One, a successful Maryland homicide detective would be snatched out of her comfort zone and dumped into a new job as Chief of Police in a small Florida city. And two, her first big case would be a serial killer.

I actually knew very little about Judith Anderson (who was a secondary character from my Kate Huntington mystery series)—other than she was a workaholic, no-nonsense cop who had a lot of integrity.

So imagine my surprise when this happened as she and one of her detectives are making a death notification to a victim’s next of kin…

Detective Jacobs rang the sister’s doorbell, then rapped knuckles against the door.

I jerked.

            Two burly county cops on the porch, the afternoon sun beating down. “Is your mother home?” Me, a scrawny teenager, staring at them, my throat so tight I couldn’t talk.

I shook my head slightly, brutally shoving the memory away.

Jacobs’s back was rigid. Had he picked up that I’d had a brief flashback? More likely, he was bracing himself for the task at hand.

Wow, I was as shocked by this little flashback as my protagonist was!

But I was a psychotherapist for 20 years, specializing in trauma recovery, so I quickly realized that Judith had some demons in her psychological closet. And they were being stirred up by the insecurity of being in a new and challenging situation.

I was quite familiar with the way that flashbacks and dreams often reveal more about such demons. But what was this flashback about?

I only had a vague idea at that point. I knew in my gut that her mother was dead. But was she murdered?

The dream Judith had a few chapters later wasn’t much help…

            The dead woman on the floor got up, as she sometimes did. “Are you hungry? I’ll fix you a snack.” She walked toward the fridge, and I sat at the tiny kitchen table.

            My long legs barely fit under it. She called it our postage-stamp table.

            A buzzing sound. Was it the microwave?

Another buzz.

I opened one eye.

Then a quick flashback in Chapter 10 told me why Judith had little to no social life back in Maryland (in the Kate books)…

More warmth in my chest, offset by anxious butterflies in my stomach.

            Talk about mixed emotions.

Maybe Kate was a friend after all.

A mental flash of a dark-haired woman lying on a floor, seemingly asleep but not.

My chest constricted, the warmth gone. The anxiety prevailed. Letting people in was dangerous.

Then Judith has a lucid dream in Chapter 14 (lucid dream is psychobabble for one in which you know you’re dreaming), and I learned more about how the woman on the floor died…

It was one of those freaky dreams in which you know you’re dreaming.

            The woman lay crumpled on the floor.

            Here we go again, I thought in the dream.

            I walked slowly toward her, trying to convince myself that she was only asleep. But why would she be sleeping on the kitchen floor?

            I saw the pill bottle, empty on its side, and my heart raced.

            The woman raised her head and stared at me.

Okay, that was new. She’d gotten up before and acted normal, but this penetrating stare was a new development.

            Her mouth opened and a mechanical voice came out. “Why didn’t you stop me?”

            It wasn’t my fault,” I said, in a quavering teenager’s voice.

            “You could have saved them,” the mechanical voice said.

            A phone rang.

            My mother stood up and walked to the kitchen wall phone. She picked up the receiver and said, “Hello.” But the phone kept ringing.

I jerked awake. My cell phone was ringing.

When I was writing Book 1, I hadn’t really thought through whether or not Judith would have a love interest, but my muse was a step or two ahead of me (as she often is). Judith meets the sheriff of the adjoining county in Chapter 20…

A rotund man in a khaki uniform and matching Stetson stepped out of the driver’s side of the lead cruiser—a stereotypical rural sheriff with graying hair and a bushy mustache.

“This here’s county jurisdiction,” he said as he approached where I stood.

“I know that. That’s why I called your department.”

The man opened his mouth, but another voice interrupted. “I’ll take it from here, Deputy. Why don’t you join in the search?”

“Harumph.” The rotund man huffed away.

A slimmer, taller man, mid-forties—also in a khaki uniform—stepped forward, hand extended. “Sheriff Sam Pierson, ma’am. You must be Chief Anderson.” His voice was a pleasant baritone.

I shook the hand, trying to hide my surprise. I, of all people, should know better than to make assumptions based on stereotypes. “Good to meet you, Sheriff.”

“Call me Sam.” He gave my hand a slight squeeze and let it go.

I hesitated, then said, “Judith.”

He raised an eyebrow, and I figured it wouldn’t be long before he tried to call me Judy.

He looked around, slowly shaking his head. “A serial killer’s one hell of a welcome to Florida for you.”

Sam never, ever calls her Judy, and over the next 2 books, he slowly but surely worms his way at least partway past her defenses.

But then, in Book 4, Felony Murder (my most recent release), Judith keeps seeing Sam around town, talking to various women. He swears it’s a doppelganger, someone who looks like him. As this issue is coming to a head, Judith is distracted by a flashback during a phone conversation.

“Judith, are you there?” Sam asked.


Should I ask him if he was in town earlier?

            No, the answer came back. Too quickly.

Was that my old distrust bubbling up? Or something else?

My mind flashed to my father coming home from work, and me, as a teenager, hiding in my room and listening for the timbre of his voice. Was he jovial or pissed at the world? And if I couldn’t tell, should I go out there? What if I said something that would set him off?

Not that he’d ever gone after me.

“Judith?” Concern in Sam’s voice still, but more strident.

My insides tensed. A flash of my father’s arm high in the air, his hand fisted. My mother cowering…

I can’t deal with this right now.

“Sorry, I’m kinda distracted. I need to go.”

And toward the end of this latest book, a dream helps Judith sort out her feelings about her stepmother, her father’s second wife…

            The dead woman was lying on the kitchen floor, the pill bottle beside her. She slowly rose and turned toward me. “You really should be nicer to her.”

            “Sheez, Mom, not you too.” The voice was that of a peevish teen. “That’s what Dad’s always saying.”

            “She’s doing the best she can.”

            “But she’s the one who took Dad away from us.”

            “Not you, darling.” Tears pooled in my mother’s eyes. “Only me.”

An annoying buzzing sound interrupted my thoughts.

The buzz came again, followed by a ping. I opened one eye.

I’m starting to have some fun with these dreams and flashbacks my muse keeps producing, and I’m loving how they reveal Judith’s back story and psyche…little snippets erupting from the deeper layers of her consciousness.

Now that I think about it, it makes sense that my muse would be fond of such devices, since all three—flashbacks, dreams and muses—reside in the subconscious mind.

I wonder what will pop out in the next book…

About Felony Murder:

All is not as it seems in Starling, Florida

A phone call from a desperate teen, awaiting trial for felony murder, spurs Chief of Police Judith Anderson to re-open the case of a drug deal gone wrong. But her investigation finds more questions than answers. How did the white gang members involved end up with sweet plea deals, while the Latino kid with no record is charged with felony murder? Meanwhile, attempts on the mayor’s life and glimpses around town of her lover with various women divide Judith’s attention and trigger her old demons of distrust.


About the Author: Kassandra Lamb has never been able to decide which she loves more, psychology or writing. In her youth, she had to decide between writing and paying the bills. Partial to electricity and food, she studied psychology. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe with her characters. The magic portal to this universe (i.e., her computer) is located in Florida, where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her.

She is the author of the Kate Huntington mystery series (about a psychotherapist as amateur sleuth), the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries (about a service dog trainer and her mentor dog), and the police procedural series, The Co.P. on the Scene Mysteries, plus a guidebook for novice writers, Someday Is Here! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing and Publishing Your First Book. She also writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.









Photo of author Sharee Stover

Welcome Special Guest – Suspense Author, Sharee Stover

by Sparkle Abbey

Photo of author Sharee StoverToday we’re thrilled to have a special guest stop by, friend and fellow author, Sharee Stover!

We have some questions for you but before we dive into those, please tell our blog visitors a little bit about yourself.

Hi all!  I’m extremely grateful to be joining you today. I’m a Colorado native transplanted to the Midwest. I joke that I was dragged down Interstate 80 by law enforcement. All true, since my husband was a Lieutenant for the State Patrol, (now retired). In all seriousness, I came willingly for the sake of love to live out my very own happily ever after with him and have never looked back. We have three amazing kids and a brand-new grandbaby. I write full-time alongside our newly rescued German Shepherd, Maverick. My husband and I love the outdoors. We enjoy long daily walks with Maverick as well as regular weekly runs together. In fact, we just completed our first family 5k run! It was a blast. Our youngest daughter plays violin in the youth symphony, so we spend a lot of time driving to and from those rehearsals and practices. Downtime for me includes crocheting and of course, reading (although I love audiobooks and true crime podcasts as well).

And now to our questions.

What started you on your writing journey?

I initially began writing with the intention of documenting my mother’s life story. She is a South Korean war bride, and her story is incredible. After ten years, I’m still working on the book, and I promise myself regularly that I really will finish it someday soon. However, the shift from non-fiction to fiction came after I attended a fiction writers bootcamp about fourteen years ago. I learned a ton and it started me on my journey to hone and write fiction.

What do you write? And why did you choose that genre or sub-genre?

I read mysteries, suspense, and romantic suspense so the transition to writing those genres was natural for me. I love the intensity of a deep who-done-it mystery, combined with nail-biting suspense, and the thrill of falling in love. I write heavy on the suspense because it’s my favorite component. I believe in keeping my stories authentic, especially in regard to police procedures. Having my own subject matter expert at home is a huge benefit. Solving a crime, investigating the case, and taking down the villain are my favorite parts of the story. Add in romance with a hunky hero, and it just doesn’t get better than that.

What’s your favorite part of writing?

Writing is my dream come true and I try to never take for granted the joy of doing it. Even on the hardest days. Brainstorming ideas is so much fun because it’s a blank slate to create characters, drop in clues to the mystery, solve the crime, and develop the hero and heroine’s personalities. If ideas just present themselves without my having to hunt them down or research for them, that’s even better. I enjoy editing because I at least have words to work with and expand on. I love writing about brilliant dogs who help solve the case too!

And what’s your least favorite part of writing?

By comparison, the final edits are a double-edged sword because it’s time consuming and can be frustrating. Especially if my weasel words are taking over the page and I’m having to kill them repeatedly.

How much do you plan before you start a book?

I am a plotter to the max because I need a detailed synopsis to keep me on track as I write. I spend several weeks creating that, as well as deep character development before I ever start writing the story. I require a solid mental visual of the story and characters that translate on to the page. I use programs like One Stop for Writers as well as a physical storyboard with sticky notes to plot out scenes and chapters. I also enjoy research which includes field trips to locations for my books and talking to experts like forensic specialists.

Where do your very best ideas come from?

True crime stories or forensic developments give me the best ideas. For me, the story almost always begins with the crime.

What part of writing is the most difficult for you to write? Characters? Conflict? Emotion? Something else?

Ugh. Conflict is a constant battle for me, especially in romance. Keeping the suspense high while establishing a strong reason for why the characters cannot be together that will sustain the story is tough.

What’s next? Tell us about your next book and when it will be published.

Book Cover for Her Duty Bound DefenderMy current release is Her Duty Bound Defender, and it’s book two in the Mountain Country K-9 series. Here’s the back cover blurb.

Threatened and falsely accused…She’ll need this K-9’s protection.

Only seconds after widowed mother-to-be Naomi Carr-Cavanaugh is rescued from two masked gunmen, she’s accused of multiple murders. Detective Bennett Ford believes he’s finally apprehended the Rocky Mountain Killer—until Naomi is attacked again. Now she must rely on Bennett and his K-9 partner for protection. But with threats closing in, she’ll have to prove her innocence first in order to stay alive…

The Mountain Country K-9 series is comprised of ten Love Inspired Suspense authors working on a continuity story while also developing each individual book. It’s a great exercise in cooperating with other authors as we must keep communication a priority to sync the storyline and characters. The book released on April 23, 2024 in print, ebook, and audiobook.


Up next is the second book in my Heartland Fugitive Task Force series, Guarded by the Marshal, releases September 24, 2024. Here’s the back cover blurb: Book Cover for Guarded by the Marshall

Tracking a fugitive…and shielding an infant.

When police chief Dani Fontaine gets an emergency call, she never expects to be ambushed by gunfire—or to find her friend’s abandoned baby. Now Dani must keep the child safe, while evading assailants and investigating a leak in her department. And that means working with Deputy US Marshal Beckham Walsh, the man who almost destroyed her career. Protecting a child while searching for stolen weapons becomes more perilous at every turn. And with a target on their backs and multiple suspects, it could be their deadliest mission yet…

The cover is amazing with a super hunky hero. Who doesn’t love that? The story is about the Heartland Fugitive Task Force commander Deputy US Marshal Beckham Walsh reuniting with his first love, chief of police, Danielle Fontaine. They’re pitted against each other with Dani defending her evidence technician accused of stealing Beckham’s case evidence. And of course, there’s a brilliant canine included in the story.

Here’s a bit more about Sharee’s background:

Author Sharee Stover with dogColorado native Sharee Stover lives in the Midwest with her real-life-hero husband, three too-good-to-be-true children, and a ridiculously spoiled dog. A self-proclaimed word nerd, she loves the power of the written word to ignite, transform, and restore. She writes Christian romantic suspense combining heart-racing, nail-biting suspense, and the delight of falling in love all in one. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, American Christian Fiction Writers, and Sisters in Crime. Sharee is a triple Daphne du Maurier finalist, winner of the 2017 Wisconsin Fabulous Five Silver Quill Award, and her debut, Secret Past, won Best First Book in the 2019 National Excellence in Romance Fiction Awards. She is also a Publisher’s Weekly Best Selling author. When she isn’t writing, Sharee enjoys reading, crocheting and long walks with her obnoxiously lovable German Shepherd. Visit her at

Thanks for visiting The Stiletto Gang, Sharee! 

If you’d like to find out more about what Sharee is up to next, here are links to join her newsletter and how to find her on social media:


‘Tis the Season with Catriona McPherson

With Sparkle Abbey‘s Special Guest Catriona McPherson

Is HOP SCOT a seasonal romance? I’m going to say yes. Okay Lexy and Taylor are already engaged when they go to Scotland to let him meet the parents, the rest of the regular cast are all coupled up already, and there’s a mouldering semi-skeleton bricked up in the basement.


A. after writing about a Scot out of water in California for five books, this time I get to write a Christmas love letter to Scotland.

And B. there’s an actual romance. Honest. You just need to keep reading. I don’t think I meant it to happen but who doesn’t love a Christmas love story? I know I do and I even love some of my favourites the way you love an elderly flatulent cat, or your beloved aunt’s terrible cooking. Tell me what you think of my list and let me know what’s on yours.


White Christmas Movie photo with characters from the movie.


No bad cooking or feline flatulence here. In my opinion, this is the best Christmas film of any type and the best musical too. I watch it every year. When I was a wee girl, my sister Wendy and I thought Judy (Vera Ellen) was perfection, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) didn’t belong in a film because she looked like our mum, Phil (Danny Kaye) was weird, and Bob (Bing Crosby) was an old man. Now I think Judy needs a good meal, Betty is impossibly gorgeous because she looks like our mum, Phil is a poppet and Bob . . . yeah, he’s still an old man. And the plot is bonkers and Betty’s gloves in the nightclub scene look like she stole them from a welder. But it’s joyous for all that and I wouldn’t change a thing. Even the titles are beautiful.


Book cover for The Christmas Bookshop


Jenny Colgan’s romance about a misfit girl who goes to stay with her annoyingly perfect sister in Edinburgh and transforms the fortunes of a struggling bookshop in the Old Town might have been written especially for me. I adore Edinburgh and bookshop settings (Quiet Neighbors was mine) and, in case you haven’t guessed yet, I’m partial to Christmas too. The follow-up is just out. I’ve told Santa. Incidentally, the one-star reviews of this on are hilarious – mostly concerned with the shocking bad language. I really hope none of these disappointed readers ever goes to Scotland! They’re in for a rude (literally) awakening.


The Holiday movie with photos of Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black.


This the first of my love it or hate it favourites. My mum and dad watch this film (in which KateWinslet (Iris) and Cameron Diaz (Amanda) house-swap between England and LA) like I watch White Christmas. When they persuaded me to join them one summer – that’s significant, I sat stony-faced throughout its run-time. Then I watched it again at the right time of year and found it absolutely charming. Jack Black is a riot, the London office is convincing even if the commute to the Cotswolds is nonsense so the LA film-industry stuff might be accurate too, Eli Wallach steals the whole film (from Jack Black!), the two little kids are among the least sickening screen moppets ever, and the rest of it is pretty people doing silly things. What’s wrong with that? At Christmas-time, nothing at all.


A Castle for Christmas photo of Cary Elwes and Brooke Shields


Now, if you can take THE HOLIDAY and not throw stuff at the telly, it’s time to move on to this instant classic, from 2021. Sophie (Brooke Shields) is a novelist, who has found success in a publishing world that bears not the slightest, glancing similarity to the real one. So she goes to Scotland to stay in a castle. Of course. The castle is owned by a duke (Cary Elwes) who is broke, grumpy and not interested in a new woman. Guess. What. Happens. But the thing is it doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter, either, that the Christmas decorations at the castle would have bankrupted even a rich duke. It almost doesn’t matter that Cary Elwes’s Scottish accent is worse than Star Trek and his own, real accent is exactly what a Scottish duke would sound like. The village is cute. The knitting club that meets (every day, apparently) in the pub is adorable, and Sophie’s tartan Vivienne Westwood ballgown is every bit as gorgeous as Betty’s fur-trimmed dress at the end of White Christmas.


Single All the Way


And finally we find ourselves at the most-advanced level of seasonal disbelief suspension with this Hallmark-adjacent hokum squarely in the Guess. What. Happens. sub-genre. I am glad I put in the training and can love it without trying. Here’s the deal. Peter (Michael Urie (him off Ugly Betty)) and Nick (Philemon Chambers) are just friends, who share a flat in LA. Got that? They’re just friends. But Nick is tired of his loving family, back in New England (flannel alert), nagging him about being single, so they decide to pretend that they’ve got together as a couple and go east for Christmas. Guess. What. Happens. Ah, it’s lovely. Jennifer Coolidge and Kathy Najimy play the mum and aunt, the mayor’s wife from Schitt’s Creek is a sister and, speaking of Schitt’s Creek, the whole story takes place in a small town that’s homophobia-free. Nick’s a children’s writer in a publishing world that bears not the slightest . . . And so we have to think that being a florist/plant nursery specialist is probably tougher than it looks here too, but come on!



Photo of author Catriona McPherson with a Santa hat on.

Merry Christmas and, like I say, let me know what you’ve got on your list that I need to add to mine.

~ Catriona

Catriona McPherson (she/her) was born in Scotland and immigrated to the US in 2010. She writes preposterous 1930s private detective stories, realistic 1940s amateur sleuth stories, and contemporary psychological standalones. These are all set in Scotland with a lot of Scottish weather. She also writes  modern comedies about the Last Ditch Motel in a “fictional” college town in Northern California. HOP SCOT is number six in the series. Catriona’s books have won or been shortlisted for the Edgar, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Lefty, the Macavity, the Mary Higgins Clark award and the UK Ellery Queen Dagger. She is a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime.


We’d like to thank Catriona for visiting today. What a fun look at Christmas and some seasonal favorites! We love the Last Ditch series and have already ordered our copy of Hop Scot, but just in case you haven’t, stop by her website for more info: Catriona McPherson

And we’d like to add our own Happy Holidays to you all.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season with peace and good cheer as we head into the new year!

~ Mary Lee & Anita aka Sparkle Abbey

Judy L. Murray’s award-winning Chesapeake Bay Mystery series

It’s my day to blog, and as I’m all tied up, I would like to welcome my special guest Judy L. Murray this month. Judy writes the award-winning Chesapeake Bay Mystery series, and may I say, having met Judy and read her fabulous books, I think I detect an uncanny resemblance between this author and her heroine, Helen Morrisey! Her latest book in the series has just launched. Peril in the Pool House, welcome Judy…  Joyce Woollcott

Author Judy. L. Murray

Real Estate Rule #3: It’s the rare buyer who wants to buy a haunted house. – Peril in the Pool House

Hello and thank you for the warm welcome! I am excited to announce the release of my third book in the award-winning Chesapeake Bay Mystery series, Peril in the Pool House. If you are familiar with the series, you know my protagonist, Helen Morrisey, is a mid-fifties widow with a quick tongue and sharp brain; a long-time real estate agent with a get it done attitude toward life. She doesn’t like to cook, likes her wine, stashes Twizzlers everywhere, lives on a Chesapeake cliff and is willing to rehab anything she comes across, especially houses and clients’ lives. She consults her own Detection Club of famous amateur sleuths to help her seek justice. As Jane Marple would declare, “It’s important that wickedness shouldn’t triumph.”

Each mystery presents a new real estate rule. Rule #1 in Murder in the Master is “A dead body creates buzz. A dead body in a house for sale is never the buzz you want.” Killer in the Kitchen Rule #2 is “How to sell a house. Offer a drop-dead kitchen”.

Two much appreciated recent reviews give you a taste of Peril in the Pool House: “The grand opening of Captain’s Watch Bed and Breakfast in one of Chesapeake Bay’s historic mansions, is ruined when the body of Kerry Lightner, a high-powered political campaign manager, is found in the pool house with fishing shears in her back. Is the killer a rival politician, an ex-lover, a jealous co-worker, or the ghost of missing harbor pilot Isaac Hollowell? When state senate candidate and B&B owner Eliot Davies becomes the prime suspect, his friend real estate agent-turned-amateur-investigator Helen Morrisey and her Detection Club of fictional women sleuths vow to solve the case—even if it means the end of Helen’s romance with Detective Joe McAlister. Peril in the Pool House, the third in Judy L. Murray’s award-winning Chesapeake Bay Mystery Series is smart, fast-paced, beautifully written, and utterly charming. Five stars!”Connie Berry, USA Today Best-Selling Author of the Kate Hamilton Mysteries


“Cozy mystery fans will delight in following Maryland realtor Helen Morrisey as she solves a double murder with the assistance of the vintage detectives populating her imagination.” Lucy Burdette, USA Today Best-Selling Author Key West Food Critics Mysteries.

As colder weather starts to kick up white crusted waves across the bay, I’m setting in to writing my next book. But my mysteries must have a title before I’m sure of their direction. It’s the way my brain works. I’ve had a lot of interesting suggestions from readers. Since I use alliteration, I’m throwing down the gauntlet – if you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Some of them are very funny or very gruesome. Here’s just a few to help you meet the challenge – Slayed in the Study, Bludgeoned in the Basement (ew!), Evil in the Entry, Death on the Docks, Sunk in the Sauna, Poisoned in the Pantry. Hope you have fun with this and enjoy jumping into my title conversation!

If you would like to learn more, find me at  All my mysteries are available in print, e-format, audible and audio.

Happy reading and writing, Judy.

There you have it, readers. Using alliteration, any suggestions for Judy for her upcoming book title? Thanks for joining us, Judy! ~ Joyce


HOAs: Miss Marple Would Fit Right In

Dear Stiletto Gang Readers and Contributors: No surprise here, I’m traveling again and it’s my day to blog.  I do have an outstanding surprise for you. My dear friend Author Linda Lovely is here in my stead to promote her HOA Mystery series and upcoming release, A Killer App available on November 7th. Please welcome Linda Lovely to The Stiletto Gang! ~ Donnell Ann Bell

HOAs—Miss Marple Would Fit Right In

Author Linda Lovely

By Linda Lovely

Where might Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple hang her hat if she were teleported to the U.S. in 2023? Where could the snoop find the ambience of sleepy St Mary Mead? Where could the spinster sniff out villains among her neighbors?

Some 355,000 common-interest communities offer Miss Marple condo, coop, and homeowner association (HOA) choices aplenty. Societal heirs to yesteryear’s villages—HOAs are now home to 74 million people.

And they make ideal settings for mysteries. If neighbors don’t actually know each other, they’ve heard whispers about the folks they’ve yet to meet. When a murder occurs, the rumor mill makes it easy to churn out suspect lists.

Plus, the inevitable power struggles provide motives and subplots. Think the GOP House of Representatives’ current infighting on a more intimate scale. Who backs more rules and restrictions? Who wants to scale them back? Who favors special assessments to add pickleball courts? Who thinks annual dues are too high?

These power struggles take on real emotional weight if changes directly impact an owner’s home—his or her castle. For instance, how would you feel if a dog park was proposed for the vacant lot next to your house?

Once I decided to write an HOA Mystery series, I knew the crimes couldn’t be confined to a single HOA. After all, who’d want to live in a place like Cabot Cove with its sky-high homicide rate?

To solve that problem, my heroine, Kylee Kane, works for a friend’s HOA management firm. The company has a dozen HOA clients in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Kylee, a retired Coast Guard investigator, has the experience and skills to be a realistic sleuth when trouble surfaces in any of these tight-knit enclaves.

Are HOA management companies common? I was somewhat surprised that only 35 percent of HOAs are run by volunteers. The rest leave the nitty-gritty work to 8,500 firms that specialize in managing HOAs.

Guess it shouldn’t be a shock. Owners who hold full-time jobs aren’t eager to pile more responsibilities on their plates, while retirees may feel they’ve earned the right to relax and travel. By and large, owners in both categories don’t want to prepare budgets, collect fees, manage landscape vendors, assess fines, or force neighbors to tear down a fence that doesn’t meet specs or repaint shutters an approved shade of green.

Of course, a few people LOVE to file complaints against neighbors over nitpick infractions. Guess that’s one reason that 2021 saw 263 complaints filed against 180 different HOAs in South Carolina, where my HOA Mystery series is set.

Like almost any group with more than two people, HOAs can hatch conflict. There’s no guarantee the folks who elect to buy in seaside HOAs will have a shared vision of an ideal community. Some will want to specify which plants are permitted and how many can be planted in a yard. Others will want to install vegetable gardens and native plants.

Some folks will view all trees, especially Palmetto and pine trees, as view-blocking weeds to be cut down. Nature lovers will strive to protect the trees for erosion control and wildlife habitat. As a result, cliques form, gossip passes for gospel, and outcasts long for revenge.

I’ve asked readers to tell me about HOA rules they find unreasonable. I’ve been told the ones listed below appear in the bylaws of at least one HOA.

  • Multicolored outdoor holiday lights are banned. Is the Grinch the enforcer?
  • Owners are only allowed to keep garage doors open five-minutes. Who mans the egg timer?
  • All drapes and window coverings must have white linings facing the outside. What happens if Joe Blow takes down all window coverings in protest and parades in his birthday suit?
  • If an owner wants to sell a home, he must pay the HOA to display a For Sale sign. Said sign can only be appear in an interior window.

While few of us hang out with rock stars, hitmen, or bitcoin tycoons, we know our neighbors—from the quietly heroic to the bullies. Familiar characters and homeowner passions make it easy for readers to relate to HOA tales.

I do attempt to showcase well-run HOAs as well as those in constant upheaval. The difference? Usually it’s the individuals who serve on the board. Did they run to push personal agendas? Or do they want to listen to neighbors and search for consensus on important issues?

My main goal in writing My HOA Mystery series is to entertain. (Okay, there is the bonus of killing off stand-ins for the types of folks who annoy me.) But I also hope my mysteries spotlight strategies to promote peace and harmony within HOAs.

About the Book:

Deepfakes Can Be Murder

Kylee Kane, a security consultant for Welch HOA Management, finds the first victim, Andy Fyke, crumpled at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Kylee suspects his fall’s no accident and is tied to Andy’s campaign to prohibit rentals in his Hilton Head Island community. Yet, Andy’s obvious enemies have ironclad alibis.

When another Lowcountry HOA retiree dies in a hit-and-run boat tragedy, Kylee begins to think the incidents are linked—even though the victims and their assailants have little in common.

The link is the Chameleon, an Artificial Intelligence expert, who can create a deepfake of almost anyone—living or dead. Even more frightening is the Chameleon’s ability to seek out disturbed souls and laser-focus their rage. A talent employed to compel subjects to act as surrogate assassins.

When Kylee begins to pursue the Chameleon, the AI expert decides it’s time to groom an assassin to permanently sideline Kylee.

You can learn more about Linda Lovely and/or sign up for her newsletter at Welcome (


Ten Stories That Worried My Mother by Winona Kent

I’m excited to welcome Winona Kent to the blog today. I served on the board of Crime Writers of Canada with Winona. She is a great writer and has a super new anthology out. Read on to hear more about it…


Earlier this year I decided to release an anthology of short stories. I had two reasons: the first was that I had a few personal appearances coming up, and I wanted something new to sell. I was halfway through my next novel and I was pretty certain it wasn’t going to be ready in time. The second was that I realized I’m mostly only known for my long fiction…and that I actually do have a background in short story-writing! But, for various reasons, very few people know about that. And I really did want to share those stories with my current readers.

I chose the title Ten Stories That Worried My Mother largely because, well, she constantly worried about me being a writer. That’s a subject for a whole other blog—how to deal with a parent who brought you up not to attract attention to yourself, not to say anything that might reflect badly on you (or her, or the family), and most definitely not to write stories with interesting characters and situations, in case friends and relations might think it was about them.

Interestingly, I once took part in a creative writing workshop where the assignment was to write a story using only animals as characters, and the characters had to be based on us, ie, everyone in the workshop. None of us were able to recognize ourselves. Or each other, for that matter. Which convinced me that unless you use really specific character traits or situations that readily identify who you’re writing about, you’re probably on safe ground.

A few months before my mum died in 2021 (aged 95), I thought I might read one of my more recent stories to her aloud. Her eyesight was failing, and I really wanted to share it with her, especially because it had made the shortlist for the Crime Writers of Canada’s Awards of Excellence for Best Crime Novella. The story was “Salty Dog Blues.”

She listened patiently, but punctuated my narration with predictable Oh dear!‘s and Ohhhh‘s. I loved her dearly and I knew that would be her reaction, but I was determined to convince her (in my late 60’s!) that I really was a decent writer, after all.

When I finished, she said, “It’s very good.” I waited. I knew what was coming next. “But you can’t say those things about the cruise line your sister worked for! What if they come back and cause problems for her?”

I pointed out that the cruise line was called something else, and it didn’t have a current ship that was even remotely like the one in “Salty Dog Blues”, and that yes, I’d used my experiences sailing with my sister (who’d been a Captain’s Secretary) in the story’s details, but my sister hadn’t actually worked for them in a very long time and what, exactly, did she anticipate the problems might be?

She didn’t have an answer for that, of course. But my mother was, by nature, a worrier. And she wasn’t happy unless her thoughts were fueled by apprehension.

And so, of course, the title Ten Stories That Worried My Mother was strategically chosen to make her happy. And I’m certain she’s out there, somewhere—very proud of me—but fretting unnecessarily, and absolutely convinced someone in our family will think badly of her—or me—for writing it!

Ten Stories That Worried My Mother (four prize-winners, three mysteries, two previously unpublished works and one where the hero manages to spare-change John Lennon at the premiere of A Hard Day’s Night in 1964), with a foreword by A.J. Devlin, is published on August 22, 2023.

Winona Kent
Author of Ticket to Ride (Book 4 in my Jason Davey Mysteries)
Regional representative, BC/YT, Crime Writers of Canada
Active Member, Sisters in Crime-Canada West




Welcome Melodie Campbell!

Lynn McPherson is delighted to welcome Melodie Campbell as a guest to talk about life, writing, and her new release: The Merry Widow Murders. 

When Life Gives You Lemons…(get out the gin and start writing a new series)

By Melodie Campbell

Ah, the timeless question.  Where do you get your ideas?

I think it was Stephen King who talked about a little mail-order store in small town America…I’ve never been able to find that store myself.  Stephen keeps it a close secret (I hope you’re smiling.)

But I had reason to experience that dilemma about two years ago, a year into the pandemic, and a year after my husband David died.

Damn that covid, and what it’s done to publishing.  When Orca Books told me that they were capping the line that carried my Goddaughter series (translation: still selling the books in the line, but closing it to future books, at least for now)  I was in a tight spot.

I’d had 10 contracts in a row from Orca!  That series garnered three major awards!  How could I leave it behind?

Put another way:  what the poop was I going to write next?

The Goddaughter series featured a present day mob goddaughter who didn’t want to be one.  Gina Gallo had a beloved fiancé who thought she had gone straight.  But of course, in each book she would get blackmailed into helping the family pull off heists or capers that would inevitably go wrong.  It allowed for a lot of madcap comedy.

Some would say I was a natural to write a series about a mob goddaughter (we’ll just leave it at that.)  And I liked the serious theme behind the comedy:  You’re supposed to love and support your family. But what if your family is this one?

Issues of grey have always interested me.  We want things to be black and white in life, but quite often, they are more complex than that.  I like exploring justice outside of the law in my novels.  But I digress…

The Goddaughter books brought me to the attention of Don Graves, a well-known newspaper book reviewer up here.  He commiserated with the end of the Goddaughter series, and immediately suggested the following:

“Why don’t you write about her grandmother?  Prohibition days, when the mob was becoming big in Hamilton.”

The idea burned in me.  Except it wouldn’t be her grandmother.  (Don is older than me.)  It would be her great-grandmother!  Coming to age in the time of Rocco Perri and Bessie Starkman…

I settled on 1928, because that was the year women finally got the vote in England.  The status of women features very much in this novel.  The time frame also allowed me to use the aftermath of WW1, including men like my own grandfather, wounded by gas, and shell-shocked.  I would make the protagonist a young widow, because I knew grief – oh man, did I know grief.  My own husband had died way before his time, the year before.  I could write convincingly about that.

But I would also use bathos to lighten the tale. (I seem incapable of writing anything straight.)  The humour of the Goddaughter books finds its way into The Merry Widow Murders, and so far, has generated smiles for prepub reviewers.

The book took me over a year to write, working full time on it.  It helped me to channel my grief.  It forced me to step out of my comfort zone and write something with considerable depth.

And it taught me that – even widowed – I wasn’t entirely alone.  That ideas are beautiful things that can come from friendship, and the good hearts of readers and reviewers you are fortunate to meet along your publishing journey.

1928, At Sea
When an inconvenient dead body shows up in her stateroom, Lady Lucy Revelstoke and her pickpocket-turned-maid Elf know how to make it disappear–and find the killer. But can they do it before the authorities look into her own dodgy past?

“Miss Fisher meets Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry. The perfect escapist read!”  Anne R. Allen

Called the “Queen of Comedy” by the Toronto Sun, Melodie Campbell was also named the “Canadian literary heir to Donald Westlake” by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.  Winner of 10 awards, including The Derringer (US) and the Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence, she has multiple bestsellers, and was featured in USA Today. Her publications include over 100 comedy credits, 16 novels and 60 short stories, but she’s best known for The Goddaughter mob caper series.

The Writer’s Juggling Act When Writing Two Series

Hey Gang and Stiletto Gang friends, as my wrist is in the final stages of healing, I’ve invited Author Kassandra Lamb to take my spot today. Kassandra is as disciplined as they come. I think you’ll agree when you read the following. See you next month! ~ Donnell

The Writer’s Juggling Act (When Writing Two Series)

by Kassandra Lamb

Author Kassandra Lamb

Some of the most stressful, and most exciting times I’ve encountered as a career author were when I am winding down one series and starting another. This is the second time I’ve done it and I’m a little more organized about it this time. But it is still a writer’s juggling act.

I know a couple of authors who have several series running concurrently. My hats off to them (I’m lookin’ at you, Edith Maxwell 😉 ). I could never keep up the juggling act for that long.

The hardest thing to juggle is the main character’s voice. This past year, I was working on Book 2 of my new series, and also the last two books in my cozy mystery series. The cozies had a fairly young protagonist—in her early thirties at the beginning of the series—who is a bit flip at times, and sometimes downright snarky.

She’s matured a fair amount during the course of the series and is now a first-time mother (late thirties). In the last story (recently released), she is forced to face down evil in her own small town and struggles with how to protect her little family, her friends, and neighbors.

The new series’ protagonist is a tough-as-nails veteran cop. She is thrown off kilter though, when she moves to Florida to take a job as the chief of police of a small city department. She’s mid-forties, no-nonsense, and thought she had a pretty thick wall around her heart.

But she soon discovers several unsettling things. One, she’s lonely in this new place with all her acquaintances—some of whom she is now acknowledging might actually be friends—hundreds of miles away. And two, the learning curve is steep as she struggles to run an entire department, while having two major cases thrust at her in as many months. She’s used to feeling confident about her work, sure of what to do, but now she’s in uncharted territory.

So in the old series, I had Marcia, a soft-hearted, somewhat neurotic and snarky young woman who needed to grow up some. And in the newer one, I have Judith, a mature woman who needs to learn to lighten up some and let people in more readily, and not be so hard on herself when she makes mistakes.

Their voices are very different. But not quite different enough that it was easy to keep them straight. I discovered that the line between Marcia’s snarkiness and Judith’s no-nonsense approach was not always all that clear. I had to rewrite more than one scene to make Marcia a little less no-nonsense, or make Judith a little less snarky.

Part of the juggling act has been the timing, i.e., when should I write/edit which book? Most recently, I was editing and polishing Book 2 of the new series, while finishing the first draft of Book 13 of the old one. I found that if I was editing one in the early part of the day, I really shouldn’t try to write more of the other that afternoon or evening, or vice versa. It was too hard keeping the characters’ personalities and voices separate.

I also had to adjust, back and forth, to very different settings. Marcia lives in a small (fictitious) town, with less than a thousand residents. Some of her family and friends live in other small towns (some fictitious, others real), scattered across the countryside of central Florida. Judith is chief of police of a small (fictitious) city, which borders the much larger (real) city of Jacksonville.

I found I had to stop sometimes and carefully calculate how long it would take people to get from one place to another in these different locales. Plus, small towns and cities have very different vibes.

The exciting part of this juggling act is the fun of writing a new series. Nothing like new characters and new story ideas to get the creative juices flowing. I found that even when I was working on the last book for the cozy series, I was more into the writing process than I had been recently. The words were flowing easier because my muse had been invigorated by the new series.

Now the cozy series is done, and it’s been a bittersweet experience letting go of those characters and their town. But I’m relieved that the juggling act is over, for now, and super excited about writing Book 3 in the new series.

About  Fatal Escape: Two months on the job and barely recovered from a serial killer case, Chief of Police Judith Anderson is called out to the scene of what looks like a suicide—or is it? There’s no ID on the woman, and her abandoned car has been partially wiped clean of fingerprints. Judith’s search for answers leads to a human trafficking ring operating in her city…and the realization that she’s up against more than one ruthless foe, perhaps even someone on her own force. Can Judith stop the traffickers and find a killer…before more lives are destroyed?

Landing page with buy links:

Kassandra Lamb

Retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer, lover of all things

chocolate, and author of the Kate Huntington Mysteries and the Marcia Banks & Buddy Cozy Mysteries

Co-founder of misterio press LLC <>  ~ Author

Website <>


What’s in a Character Name?

Dear  Stiletto Gang Readers: I am pleased today to welcome Author Annette Dashofy to The Stiletto Gang blog. I’ve beta read her Detective Honeywell series and all I can say is you’re in for a roller coaster ride treat!  ~ Donnell

Annette Dashofy

Most writers I know share one common problem. Character names. Not only do we need to create a name that feels “right” for that character, we need to make sure it doesn’t break any of the “rules.”

For instance, we shouldn’t have multiple characters with the same first initial. In the real world, you might have Sharon, Susie, Stephanie, and Sandra all in the same room and be able to tell them apart, no problem. But in a book, readers tend to see the first letter and skim over the rest, causing confusion. This is one of the things my critique buddies almost always catch. The guilty party then bangs our head against the table.

The dreaded duplicate first initial issue becomes even trickier when writing a series. I’ve had a character from an earlier book…one I never planned to have show up again…return and come into close and frequent contact with another character created in another earlier book…and they both have the same first initial. And since they’ve already been established in a published novel, I can’t change either name.

Adding to the befuddlement are town names. In my Zoe Chambers series, one of my regular secondary characters is Detective Wayne Baronick. Wayne works for the county police department, which is based in Brunswick. Yes, Baronick works in Brunswick.

Why did no one point this out to me before publication? Now I have to live with it.

But I’ve upped the ante with my new Detective Honeywell series, which is set in Erie, PA. One of the main characters is Emma Anderson, a recent transplant to the city. Yes, Emma now lives in Erie. This is bad enough, but Emma has a friend from back home, named Eric. (Do you see where this is going?) Eric is a very minor character in Where the Guilty Hide. He lives back in Emma’s hometown and only appears in phone calls and texts. As I created him, I had no plans to bring him back in future books. But I’m working on the second in the series, and Eric has insisted on becoming a bigger character. So now I have Emma and Eric in Erie.

Just shoot me now.

Another issue with character names crops up when the writer discovers the name we’ve chosen is already taken by some celebrity who may not appreciate a namesake who’s a crazed killer, even a fictional one. I do my best to Google the names I choose, especially for the despicable bad guys.

I don’t think there’s a name out there that hasn’t been used.

Honestly, I had big plans to avoid all these pitfalls when I started writing the Detective Honeywell mysteries. Take Matthias Honeywell and Emma Anderson for example. Emma Anderson was my maternal grandmother. I always loved her name. And I don’t believe any of her heirs will sue me for using it.

Emma (the character) has a sister named Nell Anderson. Nell was Grandma Emma’s nickname. (Her middle name was Nelena.) So, I got two characters from one grandparent.

But where on earth did Matthias Honeywell come from, you ask?

A few years ago, I fell into the trap of signing up for Ancestry and was immediately hooked. As I researched my family tree, I discovered Matthias Honeywell was my five-times great-grandfather, who served in the Revolutionary War. Being a war hero was cool enough, but the name? Matthias Honeywell? I knew immediately I had to use it!

Even as unique as it is, I still managed to write myself into a first-initial corner. Matthias’s partner in the Major Crimes Unit is Detective Cassie MALONE.

Matthias and Malone.

I give up.

Fellow writers, do you have character name horror stories you could share? And readers, do these things trip you up when you’re immersed in a novel? (If so, I’m deeply sorry.)

About the Book: On the shore of Lake Erie, Pennsylvania, a body lays half hidden, the waves slowly moving it with the rising tide…

In the early morning mist, freelance photographer Emma Anderson takes pictures of the rocky coastline. She moved to Erie to escape a past that haunts her but the last thing she expects to capture is a dead body.

Erie City Police Detective Matthias Honeywell has been investigating a spate of home invasions but when one of the robbery victims turns up dead, his case evolves into homicide. Emma’s first encounter with Detective Honeywell leaves her shaken when he reminds her of her ex-fiancé-turned-stalker. Matthias misinterprets Emma’s anxiety and suspects she knows more than she’s letting on.

With the threat of another murder and no obvious leads, will Emma and Matthias overcome their mutual distrust and work together to capture a killer?

About the Author: USA Today bestseller Annette Dashofy is the author of over a dozen novels including the five-time Agatha Award nominated Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic-turned-coroner in rural Pennsylvania. Her standalone novel, Death By Equine is the 2021 winner of the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award for excellence in thoroughbred racing literature. Where the Guilty Hide (One More Chapter/HarperCollins UK, January 20, 2023) is the first in her new Detective Honeywell series set on the shores of Lake Erie.



A Good Use for a Dead Darling – Catriona McPherson

Sparkle Abbey’s guest – Catriona McPherson


I was at a two-and-a-half hour Zoom meeting earlier today (the UK Society of Authors’ AGM) and in the montage of the year’s highlights there was a wee tiny clip of another Scottish writer, Damien Barr, talking about how he no longer minds cutting stuff out of his drafts, now he’s published, because he can always return to the cut subject in blogs.

How, how, did that never occur to me in the course of writing thirty novels and mourning the stuff that ended up in the bin?

So, Stiletto Gang, here goes: you are the captive audience for my first resurrected-darlings blog post. Hope that’s okay.

SCOT IN A TRAP (Last Ditch Motel Book 5) is set in the present day but it concerns a time almost twenty years ago when Lexy Campbell was a school and then a university student, falling in (and out) of love for the first time. I wrote her first date, her first [billowing curtains] and the party at which her romance hit the skids. Inevitably, in the over-written first draft, I catalogued everything she wore. (I say “inevitably” because, if anyone can write about twenty years ago and not get there by visualising the fashion,  I never want to go shopping with them.)

In the first draft, however, I made a rookie mistake. I cast my mind back. When I was at school, we were in the height of  New-Romanticism. We crimped our hair, sewed brocade on shoulders and tied scarves round our legs. (Why did we tie scarves round our legs? We had necks.) By  the time I got to university, I was dressing like Bruce Springsteen: sawn-off checked shirt, tight jeans, work boots. I stole my dad’s old cardigans. He didn’t mind: he had moved on to fleeces because it was modern times.

The trouble with mining these memories for Lexy’s look is that she’s twenty years younger than me. Oops.

So, in the second draft, she had ironed hair and wore low-rise boot-cut jeans, hanky tops, and rocked many a barely-there sandal – remember those bloody things? Like a slice of toast with a single piece of string glued to it?

She also wore the ubiquitous gap-year chic of a dress and trousers. I still remember the first time I ever saw someone in a dress and trousers. It was one of my students at the University of Leeds – literally just back from her gap year. Note, I don’t mean a salwar kameez; lots of Pakistani diaspora women wore them throughout my childhood in Edinburgh and, in Leeds, men wore them too. But a western dress over wide-leg jeans? Mind blowing. That was the first time I ever felt old. I genuinely thought she’d been in a rush that morning and got mixed up about what she meant to wear. Like the time I put my skirt on the ironing board, left the iron to heat up, grabbed some toast, brushed my teeth, put my coat on and went to work.

Once I’d got used to the idea, I embraced the dress and trousers trend enthusiastically. And Lexy looked fantastic in the second draft, wearing hers. She was slightly under-dressed in the third draft and, by the time I’d got to page-proof stage, I wasn’t relying on clothes to ground the story in its time at all, which freed up her fashion choices to play a role in the plot. (No spoilers.) It was fun while it lasted, though.

Have you got happy memories of the fashions of yore? Anything you swore you’d never wear and ended up loving? Anything you still swear you won’t be caught dead in if it comes back? I’m not sure I could go round by flares for a third time, but you never know . . .



A mysterious object the size of a suitcase, all wrapped in bacon and smelling of syrup, can mean only one thing: Thanksgiving at the Last Ditch Motel. This year the motel residents are in extra-celebratory mood as the holiday brings a new arrival to the group – a bouncing baby girl.

But as one life enters the Ditch, another leaves it. Menzies Lassiter has only just checked in. When resident counsellor Lexy Campbell tries to deliver his breakfast the next day, she finds him checked out. Permanently.  Shocking enough if he were stranger, but Lexy recognises that face. Menzies was her first love until he broke her heart many years ago.

What’s he doing at the Last Ditch? What’s he doing dead? And how can Lexy escape the fact that she alone had the means, the opportunity – and certainly the motive – to kill him?


Catriona McPherson (she/her) was born in Scotland and immigrated to the US in 2010. She writes: preposterous 1930s detective stories, set in the old country and featuring an aristocratic sleuth; modern comedies set in the Last Ditch Motel in fictional (yeah, sure) California; and, darker than both of those (which is not difficult), a strand of contemporary psychological thrillers.

Her books have won or been shortlisted for the Edgar, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Lefty, the Macavity, the Mary Higgins Clark award and the UK Ellery Queen Dagger. She has just introduced a fresh character in IN PLACE OF FEAR, which finally marries her love of historicals with her own working-class roots, but right now, she’s writing the sixth book in what was supposed to be the Last Ditch trilogy.

Catriona is a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime.