The Letter I’ll Never Forget

Here it is again, a new year. A fresh start, and yet, a hint of gloom still permeates the air. We’ve all had to navigate through and adjust to new realities. How are you managing?

Whenever I’m struggling, I lean on the philosophy of someone I fell in love with years ago:

Vincent Van Gogh.

I was in my twenties and slightly adrift when I picked up Dear Theo, a compilation of Vincent’s letters to his brother. A few years earlier, I had visited the museum in Amsterdam dedicated to him. Though he wasn’t my favorite painter at the time, his spirit spoke to me through his art and grabbed onto something deep inside.

Van Gogh’s letters are an almost-daily account of his struggles. They vividly detail his miserable existence. Yet through it all, he kept working to be better.

The one I’ll never forget

A letter he wrote in 1884 has kept me going through rough moments in my personal and my writing life. Here’s a bit of it, lightly paraphrased and edited for brevity:

One mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes… You don’t know how paralyzing it is, the idiotic stare from a blank canvas that says you can’t do anything. Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas. But the blank canvas is afraid of the truly passionate painter who dares…

Life itself likewise turns toward us an infinitely idiotic and meaningless blank side. But however meaningless life appears, the person of faith, of energy, of warmth, doesn’t get discouraged. He steps in and builds up…

Substitute an author’s blank page for the painter’s canvas, and this is my daily inspiration.

Did you know that Vincent was also a book lover? Here’s this: It is with the reading of books the same as with looking at art. One should, with assurance, admire what is beautiful.

And this: So often, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me and reminded me that there are good things in the world.

And on another subject, this: A woman is not old so long as she loves and is loved.

Yes, he led a tragic, troubled life. Worse than most of us can imagine. But he never stopped wanting to capture truth and beauty in his art and his life.

Perhaps we all could take a lesson from Vincent, dare to face the blank canvas that is 2023, and choose to make this year into our own work of art.

Wishing you a year full of love and good health. And good books!


Gay Yellen writes the award-winning

Samantha Newman Mystery Series:

The Body BusinessThe Body Next Door,

and coming soon in 2023: Body in the News!


My Mother’s Slippers by Debra H. Goldstein

My Mother’s Slippers by Debra H. Goldstein

At this time of year, I think about my mother. She was a driving force in my life until her unexpected death in 2014. There are still times when I want to pick up the phone and share good news with her or ask for her advice, but I can’t. What I can do is keep a part of her with me – her slippers.

Not the pair she wore, but one of twenty or thirty pairs of the identical slippers that she hoarded. My mother was an atypical hoarder. Everything in her house was always perfectly in place and her kitchen floor was so clean that one could eat off of it. Newspapers and magazines were thrown out once read; finished books, except for ones I wrote, were loaned to friends, or donated; and clothes were stylish but took up no more than a closet.

Her hoarding fetish involved shoes. She loved them. Because she had a hard to fit foot (super narrow and only a six or six and one-half), if she found a pair of shoes to fit, she bought them — in every color. If she found something she loved was going to be discontinued, she stocked up on them. The thing about my mother was that she wore all of those shoes. Each one matched an outfit or a mood and while she kept them carefully boxed on shelves in her closet, she believed in wearing and enjoying them.

After she died, my sister and I relished the memory of her cute outfits and her shoes. I was only saddened by the fact that while we had the same shoe size, our feet were just different enough that the last that fit her didn’t work for me. What did work were her slippers. She had found a pair of step-in flower-patterned slippers that she loved because they were narrow enough to stay on and soft enough not to rub her foot. She wore that particular brand for years and when she discovered they were being discontinued, she bought up every pair she could find. When she passed away, there were twenty plus pairs that had never been worn. I tried one on and they were perfect. Although I didn’t take them all, I brought several pairs home with me. Seven years later, morning or night, I think of my mother as I step into a pair of her slippers. The wonderful thing is that I know she will still be with me for years to come because of the ones I have yet to begin using.

Do you have anything passed down from a parent that reminds you of them regularly or that you have that may give someone continuing memories of you?

Always the Season for Kindness

By Saralyn Richard

Photo courtesy of Jasper Garratt and Unsplash Free Photos

When I was an English I teacher, I assigned my students a “Day of Kindness” paper, based on the Shirley Jackson short story, “One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts.” The resulting papers and speeches led to a powerful discussion of good and evil, and how doing good deeds made the world a better place, even for the giving party.

That same concept of good vs. evil is basic to most mystery novels, including the Detective Parrott mysteries. Parrott, like most real-life law enforcement officers I know, chose the profession because he wanted to seek truths, right wrongs, administer justice, and bring a measure of peace and closure to victims and their families.

Sometimes his is a thankless job. The person most grateful for Parrott’s solving a crime might be the deceased victim. But Parrott finds satisfaction in his role, whether he is turning up evidence to prove someone’s guilt or someone’s innocence. In either case, he is protecting the community.

Parrott can be tough when he needs to, but underneath it all, he’s a kind and caring human being. Over and over again, readers see the kindness and compassion he shows to his wife, his mother, his boss, and even his suspects.

Fortunately, we don’t have to be detectives to follow Parrott’s example. We can show kindness at this season, and in every season. Anyone who’d like some fresh ideas for acts of kindness to perform might check out this list.

If you’re inspired to do a good deed by this blogpost, I’ll ask you, as I asked my students, what did you do, whom did you help, what reaction did you receive, and how did the experience make you feel? I hope you agree—it’s always the season for kindness.

Saralyn Richard writes the Detective Parrott Mystery Series, two standalone mysteries, and a children’s book narrated by her Old English sheepdog, Nana. To learn more about her, click here.

NaNoWriMo 2022

Let’s All NaNoWriMo… or Not

by Bethany “NaNoWriMo” Maines

NaNoWriMo Wha?

I don’t really believe in NaNoWriMo AKA National Novel Writing Month.  Partially just because I object strenuously to the clunky abbreviation.  But also because the goal of writing fifty thousand words in a month reduces novel writing to a very basic component—words. Writing fifty-thousand words is an accomplishment of a sort, but having the right fifty-thousand requires a bit more of a skill.  However, the NaNoWriMo community supplies great camaraderie and inspiration to a multitude of writers, and if an artificial deadline and contest get some people to put fingers to keyboard then I raise my glass in cheers.  And usually that’s it.

Soooo why am I doing this?

This year the fates have conspired to arrange my projects to have a novel that needs to be written this month.  I would really like to put out the next trilogy in my Supernatural paranormal romance world next summer.  The Rejects Pack is a fun, Indiana Jones / The Mummy inspired series featuring more wolves, warlocks, romance, and an ancient Egyptian artifact or two.  Also maybe a mummy that comes back from the dead.  (Shhh.  Don’t tell anyone.)  And with Book 1 out to my beta readers already, you would think I wouldn’t feel the need to rush book 2 and 3.  Butttt…. I keep eyeballing the amount of plot I’m intending to shove into book 3 and I’m just a little bit worried that my trilogy is going to become a tetralogy.

Tetralogy means a four book series. In case you don’t want to have to google it like I did.

And then…

And then there’s the fact the holidays are almost here (YAY!!!) and I have a new novella coming out this month!  I’m busy is what I’m saying.  So I’m trying to hedge my bets and leave myself time for a book 4 by cramming book 2 into November.  And of course it will be fun to watch the NaNoWriMo communities progress.  You can keep up with my progress and learn about Killian and Moira and their hunt for the long lost Library of Alexandria on Facebook and Instagram.

But Speaking of Christmas

If you’ve got a hankering for a Christmas mystery rom-com check out Winter Wonderland!

ORDER (all retailers):

WINTER WONDERLAND: When Marcus Winters, a photographer with a bah humbug take on the holidays, meets Larissa Frost, a set designer who loves all things Christmas, sparks are destined to fly. But when a famous diamond goes missing from the shoot they’re working on Larissa finds that Marcus may be the only one who can keep her from being framed for a crime she didn’t commit.



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 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.


“Thrilling and Unpredictable” – Where a Writer Got His Ideas

I’m delighted to welcome author Terry Ambrose as my guest to discuss his new series in the blog “Thrilling and Unpredictable” – Where a Writer Got His Ideas. I’ll be back next month – Debra 

Readers often ask writers where their ideas come from. In my case, the ideas are usually driven by a confluence of events. The Beachtown Detective Agency series idea was different in that the series concept came to me while we were on a weekend getaway to photograph two San Diego area piers.

My interest in piers started when my wife gave me a copy of Piers of the California Coast. After discovering San Diego had several piers, we decided to stay near Pacific Beach. It was a centralized destination with a nice B&B. It seemed like the perfect spot to stay because I was just starting the Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast Mystery series, and that made the B&B location a double win.

We walked into Pacific Beach the first night, wending our way through residential streets until we found ourselves approaching a funky little town with a boardwalk. This was in the days prior to Covid-19, so we didn’t worry about crowds or getting close to strangers. It was nearing 5PM as we made our way along Pacific Beach’s boardwalk. The place wasn’t just alive; it was positively chaotic!

People of all ages were everywhere. From kids to seniors, joggers and walkers to small groups hanging out. From the smell of coconut oil to marijuana, the energy consumed my attention. It reached out, grabbed me by the muse, and shook me with a fervor that demanded I write about it.

Almost on the spot, I began crafting a character who eventually became Jade Cavendish. Jade is twenty-six years old, spunky, and not quite ready to become an adult. She’s also forced to take over the family business when her father announces his sudden retirement.

I eventually moved the location of the series to Carlsbad, which is much closer to home. Carlsbad has a different energy. Where Pacific Beach is constant chaos and manic, the Village in Carlsbad is laid-back and quirky. But, as I integrated the change in location into the book, I realized that energy fit perfectly with my long-term goals for the series. The result was a book that Kirkus Reviews called, “…thrilling and unpredictable.”

Twenty-seven Years Later, Twenty Novels & Now an Audiobook

By Lois Winston

I’ve had a busy September. Guilty as Framed, the 11th book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, officially released on September 6th. My virtual promo tour for the book began before the release date and will extend into next month, but beginning October 1st, I plan to start writing the next book in the series. I’ve given Anastasia enough of a break from murder and mayhem. Now all I need is a plot, but hey, it’s only September 28th. I’ve got three days to figure this out!

And now Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, is an audiobook with the other books in the series to follow.

Guilty as Framed marks my twentieth published novel since my first book debuted in April of 2006. I’ve also published five novellas, a middle-grade book, a nonfiction book, and several short stories during that period. But that’s not the entire story. I began writing back in 1995. It took me nearly ten years to the day I first set fingers to keyboard to sell a book.

My first attempt at writing a novel was the result of a weird dream I had one night while on a business trip. Weird because I normally don’t remember my dreams and weirder still because it didn’t involve anyone I knew. Or even me! And the dream continued to grow every night for a few weeks, unfolding like the chapters in a book.

Eventually, I decided to commit the dream to paper, and by the time I’d finished, I’d written 50,000 words of a highly emotional romance that spanned thirty-five years. I gave it to a friend to read, and she was in tears by the time she’d finished it. From her reaction and encouragement, I thought I’d penned The Great American Novel and began the search for a literary agent.

However, I quickly learned I’d written The Great American Drivel. But I’d enjoyed the process of writing so much that I wasn’t discouraged. I set out to learn what I’d done wrong and how to do it right. I read books, joined writing organizations, and attended workshops and conferences. Eventually, I signed with an agent and sold my first book, Talk Gertie to Me, a humorous tale of a mother, a daughter, and a buttinsky imaginary friend. The second book I sold was the novel formerly known as The Great American Drivel. In the ten years since I’d first written it, I’d revised it into Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, a 90,000-word romantic suspense that spanned a few months instead of thirty-five years.

Then, encouraged by my agent, who loved the humorous voice I’d employed in Talk Gertie to Me, I began writing a humorous amateur sleuth mystery series, giving birth to Anastasia Pollack, my reluctant amateur sleuth.

Looking back over the last twenty-seven years, I’m amazed at what I’ve accomplished. There have been major stumbling blocks and roadblocks along the way, some of my own making and some completely beyond my control. But with encouragement from fellow writers who have become lifelong friends, my late agent, and my own stubbornness, I persisted and persevered. One of those dear writing friends used to add a quote from Galaxy Quest to the bottom of all her emails: Never give up! Never surrender! I’m glad I didn’t.


USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.

A Spark that Inspires a Novel

A miniscule thought that crosses my mind or an article I’ve read in a newspaper can light up like a distant sparkling star and inspire a story. If the spark grows and gains momentum, the concept might become a novel.

The spark in Revenge in Barcelona (my Nikki Garcia Mystery #3), was the city itself, its unique architecture, colorful history, rich culture, physical beauty, and its independent-minded people. The spark grew in my mind until I knew that Nikki should experience action, mystery, and danger in Barcelona.

The process of following a spark of inspiration is similar for many writers. Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, was inspired by a trip to Pamplona, Spain, to witness the running of the bulls and bullfights at the week-long San Fermín festival. He’d intended to write a non-fiction book about bullfighting, which had become a passion for him. Instead, the book became fiction based on Hemingway and his friends. In it, he explored the themes of love and death, a total reversal of what he’d originally intended.

This reversal of original intention happens to many authors of fiction, me included. The spark starts out with one concept, and it morphs into a totally different one. Yet the original spark, such as Hemingway’s bullfights, are often woven into the novel either as a theme or subplot, while the full storyline becomes much broader, richer, more scintillating.

Last week, I started my 5th Nikki Garcia mystery. The spark that lit up my imagination was a belt buckle that a man was wearing. It featured a mule.

I knew at that moment that I had to weave a mule or two into Nikki’s next novel. And where can I put a few mules? In a wilderness adventure, of course!


What sparks your imagination?


All photos are used in an editorial or educational manner.

Photo credits:

Sagrada Familia Steeples – Kathryn Lane

The Belt Buckle with a Mule – Pinterest