Next Stop: The Islands

Ahhhh…. The Islands

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

So Whose Fault is it?

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

And What Are You Going to do About it?

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

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


Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of action-adventure and fantasy tales that focus on women who know when to apply lipstick and when to apply a foot to someone’s hind end. She participates in many activities including swearing, karate, art, and yelling at the news. She can usually be found chasing after her daughter, or glued to the computer working on her next novel (or screenplay). You can also catch up with her on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and BookBub.

Guilty About Reading Genre?

Have you ever felt guilty for reading a cozy, a mystery, or a romantic novel instead of delving into one of the great books, like Homer’s Iliad or Proust’s Swan Way or a classic like Virginia Wolf’s A Room of One’s Own?

I grew up in northern Mexico and I attended a fantastic high school that was accredited in both Mexico and the US, giving students the opportunity to attend the university in either country.

The school offered a two-semester English literature class. The teacher was a dynamic, talented woman who instilled in her students the love for the classics and the great books. She also encouraged us to shun genre and to avoid soap operas, quite popular at the time.

I moved to the US in my mid-twenties and soon discovered romance novels. After devouring a romantic story with a happy ending, I’d run to the library to borrow books by Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky to balance my reading guilt. Compare the fun of reading genre to the lessons of the great books. It’s very different reading! The great books represent the foundations of Western Culture’s ethics, social norms, values, and ideas that stem from the Greco-Roman tradition. Genre, on the other hand, is pure entertainment.

Fast forward a few years when I was working in international finance and traveling the world for my corporate job.

On a flight between New York and Buenos Aires, Argentina, I missed my connection in Miami. I window-shopped airport stores in search of something to do until the next flight. A bookstore, displaying mountains of books set on tables that stretched down the hall, caught my eye.

The year was 2001 – the year I discovered the mystery novel. I purchased Tell No One by Harlan Coben and I was immediately hooked on mysteries. My new-found love in reading would disappoint my wonderful literature teacher back in Mexico, yet for the rest of my international finance career, I carried a mystery or two to read on long flights.

Mysteries became an important part of my life. So important, in fact, that I left the corporate world to write the Nikki Garcia mystery series, setting my stories in a few of those international locations where I traveled. Do I still feel guilty? Not at all!

At a book signing four years ago, I met Harlan Coben. I told him his novels influenced me to write mysteries.

And my former teacher says she loves my novels and she’s thrilled that one of her pupils became a writer. Instead of feeling like a wayward former student, I’ve converted her to reading genre.


About Kathryn

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

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

Two decades later, she left the corporate world to create mystery and suspense thrillers, drawing inspiration from her travels in over ninety countries as well as her life in Mexico, Australia, Argentina, and the United States.

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

Stolen Diary



Photo credits:

Girl Reading by Camille Corot, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Harlan Coben and Kathryn Lane by Bob Hurt

Summertime…and the TBR pile is calling!

By Lois Winston

A Crafty Collage of Crime, the 12th book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, released six weeks ago. After a multi-week blog tour to promote the book, I’ve now officially entered the period I call “me” time, a mini-vacation I permit myself after each new book leaves the security of the laptop womb and before I begin seriously thinking about the next book. Much of that “me” time is spent binge-reading (especially since it’s too hot to leave the house!) I’m trying to make a sizable dent in my virtual TBR pile before I add another book to my Kindle library. Here are the books I’ve read so far (in the order I read them) and what I thought.


Murder at the Pontchartrain by Kathleen Kaska

Kathleen Kaska always delivers, and once again she doesn’t disappoint in Murder at the Pontchartrain, the sixth book in her delightful 1950s era Sidney Lockhart Mystery Series. This time Sidney and Dixon are in New Orleans, having decided to elope, but it doesn’t take long for a dead body to show up in their hotel room, delaying the nuptials and plunging them into yet another murder investigation as the bodies begin to pile up and Dixon finds himself locked up. Kaska had me guessing whodunit until the very end, and those are the best murder mysteries.


The Tiffany Girls by Shelley Noble

A brilliant blending of fact and fiction. When a Parisian woman artist is forced to immigrate to New York, she secures a position at the Tiffany Glass Works, working beside the real women responsible for many of the designs and much of the work attributed to Louis Comfort Tiffany. Noble has woven a well-researched historical novel that will draw you in and keep you turning pages.


The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis

A fascinating look at an American woman who worked as an OSS operative in Spain during WWII. I just wish the author had delved more into her life in this biography and spent less time celebrity name-dropping. I also wanted more narrative action and less dry summarization of events.


Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

For such a prolific playwright, so little is known of William Shakespeare’s life and family, including the circumstances of his young son’s death. In Hamnet, the author weaves an engaging tale of what might have occurred and how it may have become the catalyst for one of Shakespeare’s greatest works.


Dead Men Need No Reservations by Terry Ambrose

The latest edition to Terry Ambrose’s Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast Mysteries doesn’t disappoint. I always love spending a few hours with these characters, especially Alex, the precocious thirteen-year-old wannabe sleuth. If you’re in the mood for a light mystery and a few chuckles along the way, this book will give you both.


Going Rogue by Janet Evanovich

No matter the lemons in your life, spend a few hours with Stephanie Plum, and you’ll be sipping lemonade. Going Rogue is just as entertaining as all the other books in the series and will certainly make you forget your cares–at least for a little while–as you slip into Stephanie’s world.


The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

I had never gotten around to reading this acclaimed Christie mystery, but I did figure out whodunit before the denouement, so for me that was a bit of a disappointment. However, what’s not to love about Monsieur Poirot?


Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel this book lived up to the first in the series. I really enjoyed Magpie Murders, but this sequel seemed forced, contrived, and often plodding. I’m someone who enjoys the “book-within-a-book” format when it’s done well, but that wasn’t the case here. The style works best when the two stories alternate, not when the entirety of the second book is dropped into the middle of the other. However, he did keep my guessing whodunit until the end.


In addition, I’ve read several mysteries for a contest I was judging and one where I was asked to write a blurb, but since the contest winners have yet to be announced, and the blurb book is not yet published, I can’t mention anything about them.

Now I’m off to tackle the next book on my list…but before I go, If you’re planning a road trip and looking for an audiobook to pass the drive time, I still have a few promo codes available for a free download of A Stitch to Die For, the fifth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. Post a comment about your summer reading for a chance to win one.


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.

Believable Characters and Fearless Creating

By Donnell Ann Bell

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

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

“Wow! BETRAYED Sums up this One Nicely.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In closing, I wonder several things.

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

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

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

About Betrayed:

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

A daughter rocked by her true identity.

A detective risking his life to protect them both.

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

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

About the Author:

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

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

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







When a Character Writes the Book

When I write fiction, my approach is to “fly by the seat of my pants”, a style often called pantser, as opposed to a plotter who outlines and plans every minute detail of a story. I’ve said that if I had to plot every trifling item in planning a novel, I’d slit my wrists. Plotting and outlining would kill the fun for me! I like it when I can hear my characters voices in my mind and they guide me through the adventure, thrilling me with surprises and the twists and turns that happen organically.

By being a pantser, new characters can pop into the story, especially if there is a plot twist requiring another person, like a street woman in Danger in the Coyote Zone. Writing about Juana brought me great joy.

Floyd, owner of Security Source where Nikki now works, made his debut in Waking Up in Medellin when it was obvious that Nikki needed a cohort to save her from the life-threatening trouble where she found herself. Floyd became one of the three main characters of the Nikki Garcia Mystery Series.

I could continue describing serendipitous incidents, such as the characters telling me where and how to end a plot, yet my latest novel, Stolen Diary, a coming-of-age story of a young math genius, is the best example of a protagonist guiding me through

her adventure. When I started Stolen Diary, I thought it would be a ghost story. Instead, Jasmin, the protagonist, led me away from the spirit world to her family’s tightly guarded secrets. Secrets are usually entangled with mystery and in this book, Jasmin must investigate them and overcome many hurdles in the process.

After I completed the manuscript, I researched the salient points of a coming-of-age novel to make sure I’d covered the important ones. My research turned up the following life-changing events in a child’s (or teen’s) life that make for a good coming-of-age saga:

  • Child discovers a parent’s secret from the past.
  • Child’s parents get divorced.
  • A family member gets sick or in some sort of trouble that changes the child’s life.
  • The family relocates to another city.
  • The young protagonist must attain a goal.
  • The young protagonist should mature into a responsible person.

Jasmin steered my pantser style to cover all the above points. She’s also told me that plotters write great stories and since they always know where they are going in the manuscript, they write much faster than pantsers! Of course, there is the plantser style, a combination of the other two.

What is your writing style?


­­­Kathryn Lane

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 based in Miami. Her latest publication is a coming-of-age novel, Stolen Diary, about a socially awkward math genius.

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

Two decades later, she left the corporate world to create mystery and suspense thrillers, drawing inspiration from her Mexican background as well as her travels in over ninety countries.


All photographs are used for educational or editorial purposes.


So Many Novels to Read!

The novel – so abundant today was not always so readily available. In ancient times, novels were handwritten on papyrus paper, and they were super expensive.

Before I continue though, I should share the definition most scholars use for a novel:

  • It must be fiction.
  • It must be prose.
  • It must be a narrative.
  • It must be at least 50,000 words.

For more technically oriented folks, the definition might also include:

  • It must have been written by a single author or a group of authors working in collaboration.
  • It must have been written with the intent of publication in some form.

Early publications in the Western world often include:

  • Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Mallory, originally published 1485.

  • Don Quixote by Miquel de Cervantes, originally published in two parts in 1605 and 1616.

  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, originally published in 1719.

When it comes to early books, The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, written in the early eleventh century, is an extraordinary work yet it is Japanese, not Western. Then there are Greek novels written in the first and second centuries BCE. One is a historical romance about King Ninos, the legendary king of Assyria, who was in love with his cousin, Semiramis. The Ninos Romance exists in fragments, but apparently in sufficient fragments that experts qualify it as a novel. Then there are other ones, such as The Milesian Tale, that have completely disappeared but are referenced in other writings.

The likely reason it was referenced by early scholars is that a traveler arrived in the city of Miletos (located on the west coast of what is now Turkey), known in antiquity for the luxurious and debauched lifestyle of its inhabitants! Nothing like licentiousness to entice creation of a story!

Back to the present. With approximately 1,000,000 new titles being published every year in the US alone, it translates to 2,700 books per day or more than 100 books per hour. Readers must be choosy! Yet fans of the romance genre expect their favorite authors to produce a book every four weeks. Can writers have a life when their readers want twelve books a year from them? It that realistic?

Keep reading – there’s lots to read!

Have you read any of the older novels I’ve mentioned?


About Kathryn

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.

Kathryn’s Latest novel:




Photo Credits:

All book covers from public domain. All photos are used for educational or editorial purposes.