Whose Words Are These?

Does the rise of artificial intelligence make you want to scream, “AI, caramba!”? *

While there’s speculation that AI may cost some people their jobs, writers worry that AI will lead to rampant plagiarism. All of which reminds me of a time in the pre-digital era when an entire work of mine was plagiarized by a living, breathing human being. It happened in a manner so blatant, it was almost comical.

Fair Use

20th Century Fox Corp.

I was the editor of a national tennis magazine (my first full-time job in publishing). One day, a freelancer who was looking for an assignment stopped by my office to drop off some samples of his past articles.

We had a brief chat about his experience, which seemed fairly extensive, and we planned to talk more after I’d read his work.

Later that day, I looked through the material he’d left and noticed that one item was an interview he’d conducted with the manager of Jimmy Connors, who was a world-class champion at the time.

I had interviewed the same man some months before. So out of curiosity, I chose the freelancer’s interview with him to read first. Its format was a simple Q. & A.

I read the first question and the manager’s response. I read the next question and answer. It wasn’t until the third Q. & A. that something began to feel familiar.

I went to my back files, found the issue I was looking for, and flipped to the page with my interview on it. Everything was identical, down to the last comma and period, except for the photos and the freelancer’s name instead of mine in the byline.

At first, I was amazed at the audacity. It occurred to me that the thief might have stolen so many works from other writers that he never bothered to keep track of whose article he was submitting to whom.

The pilfered interview.

And then I got mad.

The magazine with the pilfered interview was based in Australia, a big tennis mecca back then, with its own national stars like Laver and Goolagong. I sat down and wrote to the publisher, informing them that they had published a stolen article. I included a copy of my original piece, along with my suspicion that there may be more of the same from that individual.

Two days later, the plagiarizer showed up again and asked me what I thought of his work. I let my fury fly while he sat there stone-faced. After I was through, this is what he said: “So, you won’t be hiring me?”

I kid you not.

I never heard from his publisher, and I never saw or heard from the pilferer again. But I’ll always think of him as a lazy, cheating son-of-a-gun, like a grownup and ever-unrepentant Bart Simpson.

Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the upcoming Body in the News.


*a nod to Bart Simpson, The Simpsons, Twentieth Century Fox Corp. Free use.




How Intelligent is Artificial Intelligence?

By Lois Winston

AI is here to stay, and there is much to worry about. For instance, we’ve all heard about the scams where bad actors contact people and demand ransom for a kidnapped relative. Too many people act out of fear before thinking and wind up losing huge sums of money. Thanks to AI, scammers can now clone the actual voice of the “kidnap victim.”

Writers are worried they’ll become obsolete, that in the future AI will take over publishing. After all, if publishers can use AI to churn out novels, why pay authors? I wondered if authors’ fears are truly founded. So I decided to conduct an experiment. I went on ChatGPT and told it, “Write a manuscript in the style of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries by Lois Winston.”

Artificial Intelligence is supposed to be able to analyze text and produce a new work in the style of the author. There are currently eleven Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries and three novellas. First chapters and back cover copy are widely available online, both on e-retailer sites and my own website. It didn’t take AI long to churn out several chapters. Here’s the beginning of a book created by ChatGPT:

Murder and Mayhem in the Crafting World

Chapter One

Anastasia Pollack had been up since dawn, frantically stitching together a wedding dress for her best friend’s daughter. As a professional crafter and owner of the American Woman magazine’s crafting column, Anastasia was used to tight deadlines, but this one felt especially pressing. After all, she couldn’t let her best friend down, and she wanted everything to be perfect for the big day.

In the first sentence, there are glaring errors. I write in first person, not third person. How intelligent is ChatGPT if it couldn’t even discern this? Anastasia is the crafts editor at a women’s magazine. She’s not a “professional crafter,” and she doesn’t “own” a crafting column in a magazine.

It got worse:

Just as she finished the final stitches, her phone rang. It was her mother, who never called before noon.

“Anastasia, darling,” her mother’s voice came through the phone, “I need your help.”

Anastasia sighed, knowing that her mother’s definition of “help” was very different from her own. “What do you need, Mother?”

“It’s your uncle. He’s in trouble again.”

Anastasia’s heart sank. Uncle Ralph was always getting himself into some sort of scrape or another. “What kind of trouble?”

UNCLE Ralph? Ralph is a Shakespeare-quoting African Grey parrot! He makes his appearance on Page 4 of Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series. ChatGPT scanned enough to know Ralph was a character but wasn’t smart enough to know the difference between a human and a bird.

I won’t bore you further, except to say that ChatGPT also came nowhere close to capturing my voice. I write humorous amateur sleuth mysteries. Anastasia is a Jersey girl with a Jersey girl’s outlook on life. Publisher’s Weekly compared her to Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon from Thirty Rock, and Kirkus Reviews called her, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” ChatGPT obviously isn’t intelligent enough to understand and duplicate humor beyond the standard Knock-Knock joke.

Not to mention the fact that “mediocre” would be a generous description of the writing ChatGPT produced. I worked for a literary agency for a dozen years. If someone had submitted Murder and Mayhem in the Crafting World, it would have received a swift rejection letter.

However, perhaps I was partly at fault. I had asked the AI to write a manuscript “in the style” of my series. What would happen if I tried again, this time saying, “Create a book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series by Lois Winston”?

The results were no better:

A Deadly Yarn in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series

Chapter 1

Anastasia Pollack had been expecting a normal day at the office. She was going through the piles of paperwork that had accumulated on her desk when she received a call from her son, Alex.

“Mom, I need you to come to the yarn store. I think something’s wrong.”

Anastasia’s heart skipped a beat. She knew Alex wouldn’t call her unless it was something serious.

“I’m on my way,” she replied, grabbing her coat and keys.

When she arrived at the yarn store, she saw Alex standing outside with a group of people. He ran up to her as soon as he saw her.

“Mom, thank God you’re here,” he said, his eyes wide with worry. “It’s Catherine. She’s dead.”

Anastasia’s heart sank. Catherine was one of her closest friends and employees at the store. She couldn’t believe that she was gone.

As she flipped through the pages, she realized that Catherine had been keeping a diary. The entries were cryptic, but Anastasia could tell that something was bothering her friend.

Once again, ChatGPT had created a third person narrative. Once again, Anastasia is NOT a shop owner. And once again, ChatGPT wasn’t intelligent enough to tell the difference between a human and an animal.

In my series, “Catherine” is not Anastasia’s best friend. Her best friend is Cloris McWerther, the food editor at the magazine where they both work. “Catherine” is Catherine the Great, her mother’s cat.

Catherine the Great doesn’t show up until Chapter Five in Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, but the AI had scanned enough of the text to find her name. If it were really intelligent, it would have picked up on the fact that she’s a four-legged creature, especially since she’s introduced as “Catherine the Great, my mother’s extremely corpulent white Persian cat.”

All ChatGPT would have had to do is scan any of my books’ Amazon pages where it would have found a large illustration of all three pets in the Pollack household. I’m wondering, if I tried a third experiment, would ChatGPT morph Anastasia’s mother-in-law’s French bulldog into yet another human? I decided not to waste my time.

Post a comment for a chance to win one of several promo codes I’m giving away for a free download of the audiobook version of Decoupage Can Be Deadly, the fourth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series.


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

The Element of Surprise

Remember the American Express Card slogan, “Don’t leave home without it?” Great slogan but as a writer, I have a different take on the saying. “Don’t publish without an editor.” There are different types of editors. A few that come to mind are developmental, copy editing, and proofreading. Many authors rely on their agents to go over their manuscript with the proverbial fine-tooth comb before submission.

I go through these stages, too, when I submit for publication. In truth, I’ve only had two “overall” editors in my fiction career. Despite having a fabulous critique partner and beta readers, my editors are the ones who discovered plot holes I’d never considered on my own. Could it be they’ve pored over a few manuscripts in their day?

Pat Van Wie was my first editor. Pat is a multi-published author and writing instructor. https://patricialewin.com/ She writes in two genres as Patricia Lewan and Patricia Keelyn. As a brand new author, I learned much from Pat. One  is an issue that arose in my debut novel, The Past Came Hunting.  In TPCH, my protagonist Melanie Norris is an ex-con determined to keep her stint in prison a secret from her son. As the story progresses, she is no longer the mixed-up runaway who left home at seventeen. The grownup Melanie obeys the law.

Except one. This law states convicted felons can’t possess firearms and creates a problem for Mel. Particularly when she learns Drake Maxwell, the man with whom she’s accused of committing the crime, is scheduled for release. Maxwell has promised retribution. Mel breaks her own code by locating her deceased husband’s Smith and Wesson revolver and keeps it close by in case she needs it.

I’m sure my goal when I wrote the book was to show how afraid she was of Maxwell and point out to the reader how much she’d changed.

What did my editor have to say about it?

Pat Van Wie’s comment:  “What does she do with the gun?”

Me: “Nothing. She’s an ex-con; she can’t own one.”

Pat Van Wie: “Do something with that gun.”

That’s it? Do something? She might as well have told me to cut off an appendage.  Most authors will agree when you add or delete a thread to the story, it’s not always a simple fix. It often involves pages of rewriting. Pat’s question created a plot problem that left me with some sleepless nights. Something tells me that was the idea because my muse took it from there.

What was the result? Revealing what Mel does with that gun created a deeper level of trust between my protagonists and strengthened their relationship. It also created one of the most poignant and romantic scenes I’ve ever written.

Today, Debra Dixon is my editor. She’s also the publisher of BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books and is the renowned author of GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. When people refer to respected craft books, Goal Motivation and Conflict is listed at the top among Dwight Swain’s Techniques of a Selling Writer and Joseph Campbell’s The Heroes Journey. 

Writers will tell you it’s your book; you don’t have to make changes. But if Debra Dixon glitches on something in my manuscript, I pay attention and work to fix it. When I work through the problem, I deliver a better book.

As you might imagine, Debra Dixon is also incredibly well read. When I veered from romantic suspense to the suspense genre, she recommended I read Under the Beetle’s Cellar by Mary Willis Walker. I devoured that book in a single weekend. If you love suspense, I recommend it as well.

When I was in the throes of writing Black Pearl, she suggested another suspense novel.  Writing is subjective and I didn’t care for it. After I’d finished, I wrote back explaining that while I agree the plot was terrific, I thought the novel went into too much graphic detail and bordered on horror. I didn’t think I could ever write such a book.

Her response? She didn’t expect me to change my writing style or my writing preferences; she wanted me to observe the many surprises the author included in the chapters. I reread and had to agree. As authors we’re trained to end chapters on a hook, to limit backstory and keep the momentum going forward. But suspense readers expect twists and turns.

As storytellers, our job is to engage the reader and never leave them scratching their heads. If you include something in your novel, make sure you have a reason. Finally, surprise is an important element in fiction. I learned these tips from my editors. I recommend an author never publish without one.

How about you? Have your editors taught you a thing or two?

About the Author: Leaving international thrillers to world travelers, Donnell Ann Bell concentrates on suspense that might happen in her neck of the woods – writing SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. She’s written four Amazon standalone bestsellers. These days she’s concentrating on her cold case series, her first two, Black Pearl and Until Dead. Currently, she’s working on book three. https://www.donnellannbell.com/

My Days as a Poet

Like so many people before me, I wanted to write. I’d left my corporate job in international finance and moved to Texas, enrolled in a creative writing course at a local college, and on the first day of class, I sat on the front row, anxious to discover the art of writing.

Much to my surprise, the class would cover poetry for the first six weeks. The first assignment was to create a poem. That night I stressed so much I could not sleep. About three in the morning, rhyming lines about a young horse and an old stallion flowed through my mind. I got out of bed and wrote the entire poem. I later earned $25.00 when I sold that poem, despite its rhyming scheme, to a nature magazine. I became a regular contributor to that magazine.

The professor had reasons to start with poetry. Poems often have a strong narrative voice; they are filled with expressive power and do so with a few carefully chosen words. By the end of the six weeks, I loved writing them and I continue to do so on occasion.

It took my friend Ann McKennis’s inquiry about my poems on the Rothko Chapel to prompt me to look back at poetry I’d written. The Rothko Chapel in Houston is non-denominational, and it also serves as a lecture hall, a meditative space, and a major work of modern art by Mark Rothko who also influenced the architecture of the building. His paintings, in various hues of black, inspired me to write several poems, such as this one:

Red and Black

Painting is about thinking,

not merely spreading paint on a canvass—

not until the idea germinates, sprouts,

spreads like lips, hot lips covered in red lipstick,

fondling every thread of primed cloth,

like a woman arousing her lover,

her tongue licking nectar from his body.

Apply paint with controlled strokes,

drawing out emotions,

pulling passion with color.


Allow wet paint to slosh

from surface to edge, leave it

fuzzy so the eye adjusts before

the brain sees the artist’s inspiration.

Take red, like rage, then black,

which contains it all, and white,

as Melville said, the most fearful color—

for it is the abyss, the infinity of

death. But it is black that

swallows the red.


The Rothko Chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 2000.

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

Kathryn’s own 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 Mexican background as well as her travels in over ninety countries.

She also dabbles in poetry, an activity she pursues during snippets of creative renewal. During the summer months, Kathryn and her husband, Bob Hurt, escape to the mountains of northern New Mexico to avoid the Texas heat.

Rothko Chapel Pictures: Public domain

Permission Not to Write

What do you do when you’re suffering from the literary equivalent of a bad day on the mound? You’re all set to hurl a fast ball that should nip the corner of the strike zone and send the batter swinging at air when you wind up tossing a lob that he hits out of the park. In other words, you’ve got writer’s block.

Some people insist that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Try telling that to someone who spent the last three hours staring at a blank computer screen. There are many reasons why the words don’t always come, but for me, often it’s because I’m just too tired to write. When I’m tired, my brain shuts down.

And when this happens, I’ve learned to listen to my body. I give myself permission to take a few hours off to rejuvenate. I’ll take a walk. Or watch a movie I’ve been meaning to see. Or curl up with a book by a favorite author or a new one I’ve wanted to read. Whatever I decide to do, I give myself permission not to feel guilty about doing it.

And that’s key.

Most writers can’t afford to quit their day jobs. We juggle our schedules to accommodate work, writing, and family responsibilities. Thus, when we have our writing time, we feel compelled to write and feel guilty when we don’t. We’re wasting that precious writing time. What we forget, though, is that we’re not perpetual motion machines. Writers, like everyone else, need down time. Time to relax. To play. To do nothing but daydream.

I’ve found that when I give myself permission not to write, I’m able to return to my writing with fresh energy and a brain no longer blocked.

I know this is counter to the conventional wisdom which states you should write through the block. Just stick your butt in the chair, place your fingers on the keyboard, and start typing – that bad writing is better than no writing, and you can always go back to fix what needs fixing. To me, that’s just as huge a waste of time as staring for hours at a blinking cursor.

Don’t let the purveyors of conventional wisdom bully you. Listen to your body. If you give yourself permission not to write, you might find that when you next sit down at the computer, you’ll be far happier with the words you produce. It works for me. You have nothing to lose by giving it a try.

What do you do when you hit a wall? Post a comment for a chance to win an audiobook of Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, the third book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series.

Also, through the end of the month, the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, Books 3-4, featuring Revenge of the Crafty Corpse and Decoupage Can Be Deadly, is on sale for only .99 cents. Find buy links here.





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

An Interview with Carla Damron

by Paula Gail Benson

Drawing from her own life and work experience, Carla Damron has crafted intriguing mysteries, diverse characters, and suspenseful stories. Her latest, The Orchid Tattoo, explores the world of human trafficking. Today, she joins us to talk about her writing. Welcome, Carla!

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I wrote as a kid—bad poetry about animals mostly. Then I got sidetracked, focusing on psychology in college and then social work. But a part of me always, always loved the beauty of story. I decided to explore storytelling more seriously once my social work career was well underway.

You have brought many of your experiences as a social worker to your writing. How has your awareness of the human condition, learned as a social worker, helped to develop your writing skills and to select the themes you feel are so important to address in fiction?

I don’t select the themes—I think they select me. I find myself writing about issues that trouble or haunt me. Writing can be therapeutic that way. For example, when I worked with folks struggling with homelessness and mental illness, I felt compelled to write a story that examined what their lives are like. Even writing in the mystery genre, there’s room to shine a light on important issues. In The Orchid Tattoo, I focus on how human trafficking happens right here in our communities, because this is something that has haunted me for several years.

Caleb Knowles, your mystery series protagonist, is surrounded by very strong characters as well as by characters who are very much in need. How does he find balance in a world where so much is uncertain or confused? What is his concept of justice?

Caleb feels things strongly, and sometimes this affects his judgement. He makes mistakes and gets himself in trouble, but usually for a good reason. In terms of “balance”, I don’t think he’s found it yet—he tends to get overly involved with his clients, and when he feels things are unjust, it can make him rash. He wants a world where there is racial equity and justice. Where people who have mental illness aren’t defined by their disease. Where people who are unhoused have worth and are helped, not discriminated against. He’s very naïve this way. I guess I am, too.

You graduated from the MFA creative writing program at Queens College in Charlotte. Which writers do you think benefit most from getting a MFA?

The MFA can be expensive. I’d love to say all writers would benefit, but I think it’s a deeply personal decision. It was the right thing for me, because I was struggling with a writing project that was very complex and needed to expand my skill set. And honestly, I LOVED devoting that kind of time and energy to improving my craft. It felt like a gift. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

In The Stone Necklace, you use a style I’ve heard you call “braided” storytelling. How does it work and what do you find most challenging about it?

That’s the book that sent me to graduate school. I wanted each character to have their own arc. I wrote from five POVs—and had to keep each storyline balanced so that one didn’t overwhelm the others. The characters connect, separate, reconnect—like a braid does.

You use a similar “braided” storytelling style in The Orchid Tattoo, in that you tell the story from different viewpoints. Not only are you exploring the world of a human trafficking victim, but also you examine the life of a person co-opted to work for the traffickers. How difficult was it to write from these very different perspectives?

Once the characters crystallize in my imagination, I let them tell me their story. Honestly, that’s what it’s like. Sometimes I have to nudge them a little, but once the characters feel real to me, it becomes a pretty organic process.

Have you heard from trafficking victims about The Orchid Tattoo? What is their reaction?

I haven’t. I’ve had advocates and law enforcement people thank me for telling this story, and that means a lot to me.

Are you planning additional Caleb Knowles novels?

Caleb wasn’t done with me. The fourth in that series, Justice Be Done, is at the publisher right now. I’m hoping it will be out later this year.

In addition to your novels, you’ve also written short stories. Where have they appeared?

Melusine Magazine, Jasper Magazine, Fall Lines, Mystery on the Wind. My latest flash piece, Delilah, was short-listed for the Pulpfictional award (winner to be announced 3/31) and will appear in its anthology.

How important is it for writers to have groups and networks with which they connect?

For me it’s critical. Writing can be a lonely thing. Having a critique partner or a group for support, guidance, and feedback are invaluable. How do you know if your story will gel with readers if you don’t get their input?


Brief Bio: Carla Damron is a social worker, advocate and author whose last novel, The Orchid Tattoo, won the 2023 winter Pencraft Award for Literary Excellence. Her work The Stone Necklace (about grief and addiction) won the 2017 Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award for Best Novel and was selected the One Community Read for Columbia SC.

Damron is also the author of the Caleb Knowles mystery novels, including Justice Be Done, the fourth in this series. She holds an MSW and an MFA. Her careers of social worker and writer are intricately intertwined; all of her novels explore social issues like addiction, homelessness, and mental illness.

Two Things, Two Places, All at Once

Glitz and glamour. Politics and power. Winners and losers. Millions of people tune in to watch the spectacle that appears on our television screens once a year: The Academy Awards.

As with almost everything else these days, the entertainments we each choose to watch have become more and more disparate. Also, movie stars rarely awe us in the same way they used to do. What was once a common annual viewing ritual seems to have lost its place as a shared social and cultural experience.

Back in my Hollywood days, I walked the red carpet. After leaving my acting career behind, I began work at AFI (The American Film Institute), where I learned what good movies are made of. So last Sunday, as always, I watched the Oscars, even though I hadn’t seen any of the nominated films.

A popular game begins immediately afterward, when the critics—amateurs and professionals alike—have their say about the bests and worsts of the broadcast. Most vocal among them are the grumblers who debate the worthiness of the winners. Coming in a close second are those who critique the female attendees’ fashion choices, which put me in mind of the dress I once wore to the Oscars.

The morning after the broadcast, I dug deep into storage to search for it, and also for the printed program from that night, both of which I thought I had stored together. Found the dress, and a couple of old Polaroids of me wearing it, but I didn’t find the program. I don’t remember the exact year it was, or who the nominees and winners were. (I’m sure selective memory is at fault here. Those years were not among my favorites.)

But here’s the dress: a flowered silk jacquard overlaid with gold thread in a Paisely pattern. Still looks new, though I no longer weigh the ninety-eight pounds required to fit into it.

I am late to the party in seeing this year’s nominated films, but I do want to see them, hopefully in a movie theater, the way the are meant to be seen. Though the trailer for the big winner, Everything Everywhere All at Once, looks somewhat headache-inducing, I’m willing to brave it anyway, because I’ve heard that it portrays life in multiple universes, a subject that intrigues me.

Which brings me back to the dress I wore on the red carpet, long ago. When I peer into the photos of me in it, I feel lightyears and multiple universes removed from the person who wore it. Still, I want to find that missing Oscars program, if only to confirm how far I’ve time-traveled beyond those show biz days.

When did you last watch the Oscars? Did you see any of the winning films and performances this year?

Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the upcoming Body in the News!




Readers Love Mysteries…

…and readers also love sleuths that solve mystery after mystery after mystery, such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous protagonist, Sherlock Holmes. The genius detective solved mysteries and crimes during Conan Doyle’s lifetime and today continues to be one of the most popular characters in TV crime series.

Sherlock Holmes is the archetypal detective. He uses observation, deduction, and reasoning to solve complex murders, yet it is Sherlock’s eccentric personality that endears him to readers and TV viewers.

Is it the personality quirks as well as the detective abilities that keep readers attached to their favorite crime solving characters? It’s not just Sherlock Holmes. Protagonists like Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Longmire and Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch have not only taken on a life of their own, but they have also become part of a reader’s or a viewer’s family.

In other words, a series with an appealing protagonist, especially when that protagonist is clever, quirky, and not beyond being arrogant at times, like Sherlock, is golden to an audience. In the reader’s mind, those characteristics humanize the detective and make him or her lovable and therefore worthy of being part of the reader’s family.

Today, most authors of mystery and detective stories write series. Prolific authors, or those who started writing years ago, may have several series going at one time. Readers who love a character will return time and again to help their favorite detective solve the latest mystery.

The mystery genre is one of the most enduring ones. Let’s all continue writing about quirky detectives in stories filled with twists and turns. Let’s keep the mystery series going!


The Nikki Garcia Mystery Series (eBooks version) is on sale from March 7 to March 10 for $1.74.





Kathryn Lane is the award-winning author of the Nikki Garcia Mystery Series.

In her writing, she draws deeply from her experiences growing up in a small town in northern Mexico as well as her work and travel in over ninety countries around the globe during her career in international finance with Johnson & Johnson.

Kathryn and her husband, Bob Hurt, split their time between Texas and the mountains of northern New Mexico where she finds it inspiring to write.


by Saralyn Richard


Do good fences make good neighbors? In the past few months, I’ve gained new neighbors on either side of my house. There’s a brand-spanking-new fence between my yard and that of the neighbor to the north. There’s no fence between my yard and that of the neighbor to the south. I love both sets of neighbors. We’ve shared lots of visits in our front yards, several barbecues and parties, baked goods, pets, children, home improvement advice, and more. They may be pine, and I, apple orchard, but I enjoy spending time with them and being part of their community.

Robert Frost’s MENDING WALL is one of my favorite poems. His last line is the source for my opening question. I find a lot of wisdom in this poem:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

The same analogy applies to my relationships with fellow authors in The Stiletto Gang. I may be police procedural and they cozy writers, but we have much in common, and we can help each other every time we meet to walk the line and re-build the wall (which might just be the website). I’m grateful for my neighbors, my Stiletto Gang colleagues, and everyone who reads this post. May all your walls be mended, and may all your neighbors be good.

Galveston Author Saralyn Richard

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.

Visit Saralyn and subscribe to her monthly newsletter here, or on her Amazon page here.


Image of book pages

New Loves: Starting a New Series

By Sparkle Abbey

Happy February! Hard to believe that it’s February already and you know what that means…  It means winter is not quite over and many parts of the US are feeling that intensely. But it also means Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. We’re thinking you probably already knew that due to the bloom of candy and hearts at the grocery store. And every other store, come to think of it.

But what does that have to do with writing? Well, we kicked off 2023 by beginning to write a new mystery series and as we’ve moved forward with the first book, we’ve realized that starting a new series is a lot like the beginning of a new romance.

A new series involves a lot of firsts:

  • Getting to know your character’s likes and dislikes. Favorite restaurant, favorite movies, what do they do in their downtime.
  • Unraveling their backstory bit by bit. What’s their history? Where are they from?
  • The first time your characters meet each other.
  • The first time they disagree. Their first fight.
  • And of course, because it’s a mystery – the first dead body.

And just like in falling in love, you never forget your first love. So, there are a few things that we’re bringing along to the new series:

  • We loved writing two main characters with different points of view and so there are two protagonists in the new series.
  • Of course, there will be pets, though they aren’t the focus of these stories.
  • We both love a beach so while this series isn’t set in California, the new setting does take place near the sea.
  • And there are some characters that we just couldn’t leave behind, so look for a few cameos in the new series.

We are loving this new series and these new characters, and we’re hoping our readers enjoy the new stories as much as we’re enjoying writing them!

If you’d like to keep in touch with us and get updates about the new series, please sign up for our newsletter here: SparkleAbbey.com

sparkle and abbey

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people: Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mysteries series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don’t tell the other neighbors.)

They love to hear from readers and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, their favorite social media sites. You can also follow them on BookBub to be notified when there are special offers.