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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.

 

On Birthdays and Bucket Lists

By Lois Winston

Have you ever noticed the older we get, the swifter the years go by? I can remember walking home from school and bemoaning the fact that summer vacation was still six weeks away. Six weeks seemed like an eternity to eight-year-old me. Now six weeks often flies by at warp speed.

I bring this up because my birthday month is approaching, and I’m wondering how I ever got this old. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I gave birth to my first son? I remember the day as if it were yesterday. Yet now he’s the father of three, the oldest of whom is in his first year of college.

Who knows where the time goes?

Judy Collins once asked that question in a song. I’m asking it a lot lately. Back in the sixties the Boomer Generation suggested no one should trust anyone over thirty. Now we’re confronted by the derisive insult of “OK, Boomer” by the generations that have followed behind us. To paraphrase a quote from another songwriter of my generation, the times they are a-changin’.

Once upon a time birthdays were something we looked forward to—parties, gifts, cake and ice cream! Yea! So many of those birthdays connoted milestones we looked forward to—Sweet Sixteens, getting a driver’s license, voting, ordering that first legal glass of wine. Wishes were often fulfilled on birthdays, the one other day of the year besides Christmas or Hanukkah when you might receive that new bicycle or pair of skates.

Now at this point in our lives, if we want something, we buy it for ourselves. Most of us have too much stuff already. When we moved nearly two years ago, we got rid of those things we hadn’t used in decades. Why on earth did I keep a soup tureen I received for Christmas more than thirty years ago but never used? Does anyone ever use soup tureens? And I haven’t a clue as to the last time I used the fondue pot we received as a wedding gift. 1980-something? Those items and much more wound up at the donation center. Hopefully, someone will put that soup tureen and fondue pot to good use.

Bucket Lists are now more important than soup tureens and fondue pots. Whittling down the Bucket List had taken priority prior to the pandemic. Now we’re once again thinking about venturing out into the world. I still haven’t gotten to Scandinavia or Great Britain, and I really would love to see the Terra Cotta Warriors in China.

What about you? What’s on your Bucket List?

In celebration of my birthday, I’m giving away several promo codes for a free download of the audiobook version of Death by Killer Mop Doll, the second book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. Post a comment for a chance to win.

 

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.

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New Year’s Resolution: Read a Short Story a Day

by Paula Gail Benson

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope it has been healthy, comfortable, and prosperous for all.

Barb Goffman

If you are still considering resolutions and have any interest in short story craft, may I suggest a recommendation by well-known, award winning writer and editor Barb Goffman? Why not read a short story a day? Debra H. Goldstein has already made an excellent suggestion to get started: the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime’s latest anthology, Hook, Line, and Sinker. In addition, there are plenty of online and periodic publications to choose from, all featuring outstanding authors. Many of the Sisters in Crime Chapters have organized and released anthologies to showcase their members and give newer authors a chance not only for a writing credit, but also to learn how to promote their work.

Even if you are not interested in writing the short form, seeing how it is put together can help you strengthen skills for longer efforts. With a short story, characters, setting, and mood must be established quickly, in only a few carefully chosen words. It has to be wrapped up concisely, without leaving loose ends or unsatisfied questions. Those elements are important for novellas and novels, too. Figuring out how to develop a story and keep a reader engaged is a primary focus for shorts.

If you are interested in writing short stories, please consider the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable’s Annual Short Story Contest. This year, submissions must include a holiday element, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. They must be 2000 words or less and submitted as provided in the description of rules. An entry fee of $15 is required for each submission. The top awards are: First Place, $200 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group’s anthology Season’s Readings; Second Place, $100 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group’s online quarterly, the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable; and Third Place, $50 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable.

Maybe the best news about the contest is that this year’s celebrity judge is Barb Goffman. Here’s a link with an interview where Barb talks about the most appealing aspect of writing short stories, how her careers as a journalist and lawyer have influenced her writing, what some of the most frequent mistakes she sees writers make, and what’s her best advice for submitting to an anthology or contest.

Start you New Year right: reading and writing shorts!

Reeled in by the Hook, Line, and Sinker short story anthology

Reeled in by the Hook, Line, and Sinker short story anthology by Debra H. Goldstein

I’m a sucker for a good whodunit. Whether serious or humorous, I find figuring out mysteries challenging and fun. Best of all, I relax and forget anything worrying me while I lose myself in the author’s storyline. Timewise, it works best for me when it is a collection of short stories because I can grab short bites of downtime when my schedule allows. That’s why I found Hook, Line, and Sinker: the Seventh Guppy Anthology to be delightful.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Guppies, that is short for the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. With over 1000 members, the chapter is an online presence offering a list serv, subgroups, classes, critique groups, craft discussions, and the opportunity to be part of a bi-annual anthology process. For the anthology, a theme is established and then there is an open submission period. Non-Guppy judges evaluate and rank the stories. In this case, the top twenty-three stories dealing with grifters, con artists, and their marks were compiled into Hook, Line, and Sinker, an anthology edited by Emily P.W. Murphy and published by Wolf’s Echo Press.

Although every story shows that devious plots and plans don’t always go as planned, each story is different. As one turns the pages, one finds characters who range from senior citizens to movie producers to séance attendees. The diversity of the characters, voices, and plots make for an enjoyable read. Contributing authors are Sandra Benson, C.N. Buchholz, Lida Bushloper, Judith Carlough, Kait Carson, Susan Daly, M.R. Dimond, Mary Dutta, Kate Fellowes, Wrona Gail, Vinnie Hansen, Ann Michelle Harris, Kim Keeline, Jane Limprecht, Sally Milliken, M.A. Monnin, A.W. Powers, Merrilee Robson, KM Rockwood, Lisa Anne Rothstein, Steve Shrott, Frances Stratford, and Shannon Taft. The interesting thing is that some, like KM Rockwood, are well-established short story writers, but for others, like Sandra Benson, it is their first publication.

For a fun and relaxing read, I highly recommend picking up a print or e-book version of Hook, Line, and Sinker: the Seventh Guppy Anthology. One disclaimer though, Carol L. Wright and I, on behalf of the Guppies, were the co-coordinators of the project. That said, we handled technical issues, but the stories themselves were blindly picked for their quality. Even without participating behind the scenes, I can honestly say the book reeled me in.

 

 

 

 

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!

 

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.

 

 

They Can’t All Be Red Herrings, Right?

By Lois Winston

I’m currently writing my 12th Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery. This one is tentatively titled A Crafty Collage of Crime. As some of you may remember, I moved from New Jersey to Tennessee a year and a half ago. Since then, many people have asked if Anastasia will eventually make the move south. My answer is an emphatic, “No!” Anastasia is a diehard Jersey Girl and will remain firmly planted in the Garden State.

However, I have decided that in this book, Anastasia and Zack will take a trip to Middle Tennessee wine country. Yes, there are wineries in Tennessee. Who knew? Certainly not me until I moved here, but it turns out that there were quite a few wineries in the area before Prohibition, and after Prohibition ended, the wine industry slowly began to revitalize. It’s now once again thriving.

Anastasia and Zack find themselves in Tennessee because Zack has accepted an assignment to photograph the local wineries for a spread in a national wine publication. Anastasia travels to Tennessee with him. Of course, she immediately discovers a dead body. (Doesn’t she always?)

Now, here’s my dilemma: I have a basic plot and characters fleshed out, but I have so many potential suspects, that I’m finding it difficult to choose which will be the killer. Any one of them would work. I’m thinking I may have to write the book several ways, with a different killer for each version, before I settle on the real killer. That’s a lot of extra work. So I’m hoping that as I continue to work on chapters, the killer will eventually reveal himself to me.

If you’re a reader, have you ever read a mystery where you thought one of the other characters should have been the killer? If you’re an author, do you always know right away who your killer will be, or does the killer sometimes change as you write the book?

Death by Killer Mop Doll, the second book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, is now available as an audiobook through Audible, iTunes, and Amazon. If you’d like a chance to win a promo code for a free download, post a comment.

~*~

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.

A New Anthology by the Bethlehem Writers Group: An Element of Mystery

by Paula Gail Benson

The Bethlehem Writers Group holds a special place in my heart. My first short story appeared in its online publication, the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. At that time, the monthly Roundtable was a nonpaying market, but I remember how thrilled I was to be selected as the February featured story and asked to write a top ten list for the issue. I compiled my favorite romantic musicals, including Sound of Music, 1776 (remember the songs between John and Abigail Adams), La Cage aux Folles, Bye, Bye Birdie, and Hello Dolly!

Since that time (2013) and that story (“Nectar of the Gods”), I had two additional featured stories in the Roundtable, “Long in the Tooth,” which received third place in the 2013 short story contest (that year judged by Hank Phillippi Ryan) and later was reprinted in the Bethlehem Writers Group’s winter anthology, Let it Snow, and “Cosway’s Confidence,” which placed second in the 2020 short story contest. My tale of interspecies mediation, “Apple’s Lure,” appeared in the 2014 July-August issue.

During pandemic times, the Group began meeting by Zoom. I felt privileged when along with Debra H. Goldstein I was asked to join.

This year, Debra’s “Death in the Hand of the Tongue” and my “Sense Memory” appear in the Group’s An Element of Mystery: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales of Intrigue. The anthology contains twenty-three stories, all by Group members except for the two by contest winners: “Good Cop/Bad Cop” by Trey Dowell (the 2021 short story winner, judged by Charlaine Harris) and “The Tabac Man” by Eleanor Ingbretson (the 2022 short story winner, judged by Kate Carlisle). Members of the Group whose stories appear in the volume are Courtney Annicchiarico, Jeff Baird, Peter J Barbour, A. E. Decker, Marianne H. Donley, Ralph Hieb, D.T. Krippene, Jerry McFadden, Emily P. W. Murphy, Christopher D. Ochs, Dianna Sinovic, Kidd Wadsworth, Paul Weidknecht, and Carol L. Wright.

While many of the stories involve crimes, the required element was mystery, so some focus on puzzles rather than unsolved offenses. With expert editing and selection of cover design by Marianne H. Donley and Carol L. Wright, the anthology was released in September and is a perfect gift for the holidays. By purchasing An Element of Mystery, you’ll be helping to support a Group that is developing and supporting writers. Please give it your consideration.