On Naming Names

In my first stint as a magazine editor, I looked up from my desk one afternoon to see a young deliveryman at my office door, carrying a flower arrangement. He looked lost. “Can I help you?” I offered.

“Are you Gay?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

He grinned broadly and proudly declared, “So am I!”

We shared a laugh for a good minute before he set the flowers on my desk, wished me a great day, and disappeared down the hall.

In my twenty-four years on earth at that point, it was the first time I realized that, as a name, mine had become an anachronism. When I told my mother about the humorous encounter, she revealed that she and my Dad had debated among three names for me—Joy, Merry, or Gay—before they settled on the one I have.

Ever since the flower guy’s visit, I’ve always tried to avoid startling any new person I’m about to meet with what might sound like a sexual identity announcement. So, instead of the usual “Hi, I’m Gay,” I say, slowly and distinctly, “Hello, my name is Gay.”

“Gay?” one might repeat.

I nod. “That’s my name.

Naming a fictional character

Choosing names for fictional characters is tricky, too, because the name has to fit. What might it communicate about them and their story?

I first pondered this when I helped write the thriller Five Minutes to Midnight. The author was an international expert on terrorism, and not a native English speaker. To start with, he asked for help in naming the main character, who plied the same profession as he did. The hero was bold and dangerous. After playing with possibilities, I came up with Sartain. To my ears, it sounded like a good cross between the word “certain” and the ultimate tough guy, Satan. The author loved it.

In my own Samantha Newman Mystery Series, I chose Sam’s last name because it reflected her unlucky habit of having to reinvent herself in each book. Now, after the first three books, she’s  in a good place. But given her history, who knows how long it will last?

Do you have a favorite fictional character name? Please share it in the comments below.

Gay Yellen writes the award-winning Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including: The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and The Body in the News.


For over 35 years, I’ve been writing, attending conferences and workshops, and making appearances. Like other authors, I’ve often been asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” (Even this morning at a coffee!)

With my background as a probation officer, attorney, politician, and judge (plus having worked s**t jobs over the 9 ½ years it took me to get my B.S.), in addition to being a wife, mother, daughter, aunt, grandmother, and having traveled around the world and lived in several states and countries and being a voracious reader—reading even the backs of cereal boxes and graffiti in public restrooms, I have no shortage of ideas. However, I have an additional resource I’d like to share: Found Objects.

I own a former fruitcake tin in which I keep found objects (except money, which I spend) unless the item is too big to fit inside. When I stumble upon something, my imagination takes off as I scurry to my Found Objects’ Tin to enhance my collection.

Once in the stall of a casino ladies’ room, I spotted a money wrapper on top of the toilet paper container. As a ex-bank teller, I knew money wrappers should not be in the same location as toilet paper since they aren’t used for the same purpose. Why was the wrapper there? Who left it? Should I tell the casino manager? Was someone embezzling money and going to head off down the road like Janet Leigh in Psycho?

One time at a conference, I found a slip of paper on which someone had written “Joe Loves me” “Joe Loves me Not” “Joe Lo” For years I’ve been wondering whether or not Joe loved her (or him). Was she/he at the same conference? Was Joe there? Is she/he married? Is Joe? Are they going to run away together? Maybe she’d been in Las Vegas and embezzled money and was questioning whether or not to flee with Joe? (Maybe she’d seen Psycho).

When my backyard was being prepared for landscaping, I found an earring. My house once belonged to a “mafia” family. Could there be a body below ground? Should I dig?

What about the love letter where a man named Richard apologizes to Phyl for leaving her for a few days while he sorts out his problems. What are his problems? Who is Phyl? For that matter, who is Richard? Does she really occupy all his thoughts as he states in the letter? Or is he thinking about going surfing with his friends while she takes care of the puppy he brought her as a peace offering?

Who in my neighborhood played tennis and lost a tennis ball in my yard? Or was the ball evidence of something? What about the teaspoon I found half buried in the dirt? And a key that could be from a stolen jewelry box? Did the person who dropped the grocery list remember everything she needed to purchase in order to create the perfect meal for her new mother-in-law? Was the skeleton earring part of a costume someone was wearing to a Halloween Ball? Was the inmate letter dropped by the intended recipient, or was it supposed to be trash?

My sister-in-law recently found a drone in her front yard. If I’d found it, I would have wondered, “Why is a drone in my yard?” “Was the drone hovering over my house?” “Is someone stalking me?” She posted about it on Next Door and returned it to the claimant. I’m not sure I would have…though it wouldn’t have fit in my Found Objects Tin.

What creative ways do you use to find ideas?

Susan P. Baker is the author of fourteen books and three in the works. She fends off ideas every day.




Clicking Our Heels – Our Favorite Lines from Books

Clicking Our Heels – Our Favorite Lines from Books

The words authors write are often called “Darlings.” Most of the members of the Stiletto Gang have written several books, stories, or reviews. Have you ever wondered what line we’ve written that is our favorite or what line we’ve read that we wished we wrote? We’re letting you in on our secret favorites:

 Lois Winston – A first line should be a tease that makes the reader want to continue reading the first paragraph, which for me is more important than the first line. One of my favorites is from A Stitch to Die For, the fifth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series:

Two weeks ago my mother, Flora Sudberry Periwinkle Ramirez Scoffield Goldberg O’Keefe, took her sixth trip down the aisle to become Flora Sudberry Periwinkle Ramirez Scoffield Goldberg O’Keefe Tuttnauer. The groom’s daughter was a no-show. At the time of the ceremony her body was being fished out of the Delaware and Raritan Canal in Lambertville, New Jersey.

Gay Yellen – The current favorite is in my newest release, The Body in the News, when Samantha Newman says, “There’s a big difference between working in the news business and being in the news, and right now I wouldn’t give a dime for either one.”

Donnell Ann Bell – What a timely question. I read two great lines today from The Forgotten Man: An Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Novel.  One scene involves fourteen-year-old runaway Elvis Cole, who is hellbent on finding his father. The lines that struck me are: “Parents should come with a license.” Then one with stellar foreshadowing: “You have a knack for this, I gotta give you that. Here you are, a kid, and you track these bastards down like a professional. You’d make a helluva detective.”

Mary Lee Ashford (1/2 of Sparkle Abbey)- This was a hard question, but I’m going to go with the first line from Desperate Housedogs. “I don’t normally break into people’s home, but today I was making an exception.”  It will come as no surprise to my fellow writers that this wasn’t the original first line, but one that came after many passes through the story.

Debra Sennefelder – My favorite line so far is from my newest release, A CORPSE AT THE WITCHING HOUR, when Drew sees Hope’s ugly Halloween sweater.

“Oh. My. Ghouls.”

T.K. Thorne – I actually have two favorite lines, both from Na’amah, a young girl in my historical novel, Noah’s Wife. She is on the spectrum and wants only to be a shepherdess in her beloved hills. She begins her story with this: “My name, Na’amah, means beautiful or pleasant. I am not always beautiful, but I am pleasant.”

Na’amah was amazing with her sheep, but very bad at traditional women’s work. After an intense scene and having sex for the first time, she made a comment to herself that was true to her character but one I wasn’t expecting: “Maybe I will be better at this than sewing.”

Dru Ann Love – “And there she is,” I say, a moment later, “the Cyclone, standing tall for ninety-five years. Isn’t she majestic?” From “Ticket To Ride” from the Happiness Is a Warm Gun-Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of The Beatles anthology.

Saralyn Richard – Quinn’s family always joked about death, but that summer death stopped being funny. —from Bad Blood Sisters.

Bethany Maines – Well, I find myself hilarious, so that’s a tough call.  I’ve had some lines that I love, but oddly I’m probably most proud when I really get it right on my marketing materials.  Writing in a novel, while difficult, is like painting a wall sized mural –there’s a lot of space to work. Getting a line write in a marketing piece where you get maybe 5 seconds to catch someone’s attention is a lot more difficult to do.  So probably, I’m most proud of the line from my San Juan Island Mystery Series, “This island is full of private little wars. And murder.”

Barbara J. Eikmeier – It’s so hard to choose, so I’ll just say that I always love the line, in any book, that explains the title of the book.

Anita Carter (1/2 of Sparkle Abbey) – I can’t think of a specific line, but there have been times when I’ve reread a passage during edits and I’ve thought, hey that was pretty good.

Debra H. Goldstein – “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” (Rebecca)


Great to be a new member of the Stiletto Gang, the most talented writers I’ve come across in a group, probably ever. As an introduction, I’ll lay out the highlights of my literary journey below.


In 1962, my mother registered me for a writing class that was offered in summer school after the eighth grade. Only one other girl signed up, so the class was cancelled.


Once in high school, we were assigned a short story. I wasn’t present the day the teacher handed them back—I’d gone to the orthodontist—but when I returned to school, kids congratulated me on my story, saying the teacher read it to the class. The next day when she returned my story, I found she’d give it a B-.


My parents told me I couldn’t be a writer because I wouldn’t be able to make a living. I don’t know whether that is what would have happened. You never know what the future holds. But, I was an obedient child, at least for a while, so I said ok.


I didn’t know what else I might want to do. Dad wanted my sister and me to be teachers, so if our husbands died or abandoned us, we’d be able to support ourselves. My sister did and ended up as an administrator in a small public school district. Me? I dropped in and out of five colleges/universities until I was finally awarded a B.S. degree in Criminal Justice.


I once signed up, as an adult, for a writing class at the community college in our town, excited to finally get something going. When I received my first story back, the instructor had written that I had no talent—give it up.


After I began practicing law, I was lying around my living room once night and told my husband that if a writer could make $5,000 a pop for genre romance novels as it stated in the TV Guide article I read, I should try that. I read everything, including romances. I didn’t think it looked that hard. So, I bought some books on writing romances and sent for tip sheets and finally wrote one. I sent it off and waited for a response. The editor said no, she wouldn’t publish my novel, her rejection including some choice insults, and never to send her anything again.


I began writing suspense/mysteries in the 80s. My father was a criminal defense lawyer, (and later a judge), so I’d been around the law since I was little. I had been a probation officer and was at that time a criminal and family lawyer. Crime, I knew about. By the way, I heard that not long after the aforementioned editor rejected my novel, she died. Just so you know, I didn’t kill her.


When my editor at St. Martin’s Press, Inc. called me about MY FIRST MURDER, (my first published novel) he excitedly asked where I learned to write like that. He loved the book and said my manuscript was one of the best submissions he’d ever seen in terms of preparation, punctuation, etc. He loved it so much, a year later he rejected the sequel.


Enough of that. My point is, never give up. I had that first novel sale in 1988. I used the book as a political tool when I was running for office, donating copies across the county. What a great gimmick! I received free publicity and extra attention at every event, in addition to speaking engagements.


I was elected to the bench and took office on 1/1/91. My focus turned to being a sitting judge, modernizing practices and procedures in that court, including starting programs to help families and children. I continued to write whenever I could, though I didn’t have any other books published until after I left the bench at the end of 2002. In 2004, Eakin Press (a Texas publisher) released my nonfiction books: Heart of Divorce (which I wrote to help pro se litigants who couldn’t afford lawyers to prosecute their own divorces) and Murdered Judges of the 20th Century, which I researched and wrote over the previous six years, (and which began as evidence for the county commissioners that we needed courthouse security).


After that, I started submitting works I’d written while on the bench. I wanted to change my focus from the law to liberal arts. In 2015, I made the decision to self-publish. Though by then I had several mystery/suspense novels under my belt, I had grown tired of the traditional publishing process. I was aging out. The last straw was when an agent told me to cut my manuscript 20,000 words and submit it to her. I did, and never heard from her. That was it.


At sixty-five years of age, I was sick of the abuse most authors suffer at the hands of agents and editors. I was writing because I have to, not because I needed to. Or, as I often phrase it, I can’t not write. There was no joy, no pleasure in experiencing what they were dishing out. Where I had hoped for years to have the guidance and support of an agent and/or editor, I realized that would never happen. I have stories to tell. I’m constantly learning craft. I don’t care if I ever have huge sales. I’m having fun doing what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl with no pressure, no insults, no rejection. I love it.


Now, at 74, I spend a lot of my days writing or reading. I’m having fun living life my way. I never gave up. I suggest if you love to write, don’t let anyone discourage you either.

Susan has published 14 books in the last 30 or so years. Not all of them are mystery/suspense, but all of them have something to do with the law.

New Year – New Mystery

2024 Brings in the Mystery

As a multi-genre author who has written everything from mystery, sci-fi, crime, and fantasy, I know my genre hopping can get confusing to my readers.  But I started writing back when having a pen name was a closely guarded secret.  Now if you want to write in another genre, people pop out a new pen name.  Essentially they’re sub-branding themselves. I’m enthusiastic about the idea, but at this late stage where I’ve managed to write in all the genres I read as a young person I wonder if I should bother or if I should just do a periodic announcement to let people know where the boundary lines are.  And that means that whenever I announce that I have a new book coming out I get a lot of readers asking…

Yes, but what kind of book is this… like mystery, romance, what? (insert side-eye)

cover reveal image of the mystery novel "Eye Contact" - a young woman with faint text over her face wears cracked glasses with the reflection of a bionic eye in them. Above her the Seattle skyline makes the background for the novel's title "Eye Contact."However, since I haven’t had time to figure out what my pen names would be I guess I’ll just forge ahead with the name I’ve got and announce that I have a new mystery coming out! Eye Contact is a stand-alone, laugh-out-loud mystery set in Seattle. With a quirky cast of characters, including a ten-year-old big time wrestling fan, a few science nerds, and a couple of Chinese spies who REALLY dislike working with a guy who thinks he knows it all, this one should tickle a few funny bones.

EYE CONTACT: Lexi Byrne—UW grad student, brilliant researcher, and neurodivergent—is working on cutting edge research into bionic eye technology. But Lexi’s normal, safe, science-based life takes an abrupt left turn after her prototype is stolen. Lexi must fight her own limitations and lean on the strengths of her friends to stop a misogynistic, greedy thief and recover her work.

Join Lexi and her best friend Shea as they take on theft, spies, and dating.
RELEASE DATE: March 5, 2024
GENRE: mystery-comedy
AVAILABLE: All-retailers – books2read.com/Maines-Eye-Contact

So will there be pen names?

Not unless I get a sudden burst of energy that would enable me to re-brand ALL of my books.  I’m not saying never, but for now I think I’ll stick with just trying to be very clear about my genres and making the occasional announcement.

Oh, look an announcement…

Find a complete list here: bethanymaines.com/catalog/

GENRE: Murder & Crime

San Juan Island Murder Mysteries – Murder and laughs as Tish Yearly and her grandfather Tobias solve mysteries on their tiny Pacific Northwest Island home.
Steam level: kissing the boy next door, everything else is behind closed doors Available: All retailers

Shark Santoyo Crime Series – A very different mobster meets a very different teenager and together they take on the under world, the FBI, and the whatever else is standing in their way.
Steam level: Steamy, but we don’t get any nekkid action until book 3  Available: Amazon & Kindle Unlimited

The Christmas Carols – Crime meets romantic comedy in this trilogy of linked Christmas stories.  Steam level: Kissing  Available: Oh Holy Night & Winter Wonderland –  Amazon & Kindle Unlimited, Blue ChristmasAll Retailers OR FREE if you sign up for my newsletter

GENRE: Romantic Suspense

The Deveraux Legacy – Follow the lives of four cousins as they try to repair their broken family, find love and keep from getting killed.  Steam level: There be nekkid schmexy times ahead!  Available: All retailers

GENRE: Paranormal Romance

The Three Colors Trilogy – The Lucas Siblings want to change the world, they never expected to find their mates.  Steam level: We’re naked by chapter 3 Available: Amazon & Kindle Unlimited

The Rejects Pack – A group of wolves rejected by their birth packs band together to solve a historical and archaeological mystery and maybe find true love along the way. Steam level: We’re making out by chapter 3 and nekkid as soon as the warlocks stop chasing us Available: Amazon & Kindle Unlimited

Maverick & Wild Waters – Stand-alones in the same Supernatural world. Steam level: naked, naked, naked Available: Amazon & Kindle Unlimited – Maverick, Wild Waters



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.


Gay Yellen: The Return Trip

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re driving to somewhere you’ve never been before, searching for street signs, hoping you don’t get lost in an unfamiliar part of town. Finally, you arrive, conduct whatever business you came for, and head home.

But as you retrace your route, you begin to notice singular, interesting sights that you’d ignored on your way there. Oh! That must be the new soccer stadium I’ve read so much about, and there’s that new CosMc’s!


E. L. Doctorow once said that writing a novel is like driving at night in the fog. Even though you’re only able to see as far as your headlights, you can still make it to your destination that way.

I’d add this: it’s only after you complete the round trip home that you realize where you’ve been. This is what happened to me when The Body in the News became Book 3 in the Samantha Newman Mystery Series.

The revelation appeared as I recalled a late, spur-of-the moment decision I’d made to introduce a very minor character into Chapter 9 of the book.

Meet Apollo, the sugar glider (and a possible metaphor).


This tiny Pacific island marsupial weighs only 4 to 5 ounces. In the book, he arrives at Samantha’s door, sitting atop the head of a person who’s come to help Sam get through a pesky roadblock in her search for a happy life.

I meant to use Apollo as a bright spot during a dark moment in Samantha’s journey. He’s a creature who is almost too cute for his own good. But as I did my research, I learned that sugar gliders are very popular with exotic pet lovers, and that’s bad news for the little critters.

Now, back to yesterday…

…when I suddenly realized that Apollo and Sam had both been dropped into strange and hostile predicaments. And they each needed to get to a place where they belong.

I could claim that I’d planned Apollo’s situation to be a metaphor for Sam’s struggles, except that I saw the connection only after completing my own foggy writing journey to the end of Book 3. But I’m glad Apollo showed up to help her contemplate new hope for the future, even if I hadn’t seen it coming.

Writers always welcome a little bit of magic to grace our creative attempts, something that can intrigue our readers and add a little spark to our work. Even unplanned, a very minor character can be exactly that.

Gay Yellen is the author of the  award-winning Samantha Newman Mysteries include The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and The Body in the News!  Now available on Amazon.

Contact her at GayYellen.com

The Places We Go

By Barbara J Eikmeier

One of my favorite things about reading is “going to new places” when the setting in the story takes me away. Sometimes I unintentionally read several books set in similar places, such as WW2 Europe. Or, I end up reading books where the setting is either not well developed or not important to the story. Recent book choices have taken me far away to unique environments. For example,  Lucy Foley places her creepy stories in creepy places like remote Irish islands or desolate lodges in the Scottish Highlands. David Baldacci put his newest FBI superstar in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The unusual settings made for interesting reading.

This past summer I hit a “great setting” jackpot with three books in a row with settings that quickly took me into the story and kept me there for the duration.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate (2022) is the tragic tale of orphans under the care of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in the 1930s. The story alternates between present day South Carolina and in the past near Memphis, TN. The protagonist in the past lived with her family on the Arcadia, a shanty river boat.

As I read Wingate’s words I felt the sun and heard the sparrows sing and saw the “fat bass” jump out of the water. She paints a picture of white pelicans flying over, headed north, indicating that summer has just begun. Later in the orphanage May gets her hands on a copy of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn which makes her long for her home on the river.

The story isn’t about the river so much as it is the people who lived on that shanty boat, but the setting of the river is so beautifully developed that it has stayed with me long past the horror of the orphanage and the final pages of the novel.

One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow by Olivia Hawker (2019) is set in the shadow of the Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming in 1878. This book captivated me at page one. My mother lived until age 14 on a homestead in Wyoming so novels set there pique my interest. Twenty miles from town is not hard to imagine if you’ve ever driven across the Wyoming plains.

The story meanders along and although there are some great climatic moments it is the way the young couple work in harmony in the every day setting of their homestead just to survive that kept me reading. Young Beaulah, ‘a little light in the head’ is fascinated with all aspects of nature and I never tired of her teaching Clyde to notice the neat rows of seeds in a pod, or the shimmer on a bug’s wings or how the river sounds and the grass swishes.

I said to my sister-in-law, who loaned me the book, “That story isn’t in a hurry to get anywhere, and surprisingly, it doesn’t bother me. I sort of don’t want it to end.” Rich in sensory detail I now want to visit the Big Horn Mountains myself.

Hang the Moon by Jeannette Walls (2023) is set in the hollers of Virginia in the 1920s. Walls masterful storytelling places young Sallie Kincaid in charge of collecting rent from residents of the county, most of whom live up in the hollers. The story touches on many social topics, is filled with rich characters and plenty of tragedy all placed in a specific setting in rural Claiborne County of Virginia..  The setting is so well described that when the bootleggers turn their headlights off and move through the county under moonlit it’s as if we can see as well as the drivers.

I read every night before going to sleep. It often takes me 2-3 weeks to finish an average length novel but I flew through these books and I’m hoping the next one I pick up will have just as rich a setting as these past three.

Barbara J. Eikmeier is a quilter, writer, student of quilt history, and lover of small-town America. Raised on a dairy farm in California, she enjoys placing her characters in rural communities.

It’s a Mystery!

 “We should go back down so Nash doesn’t think I’m involving myself in a police investigation.” “Well, Nash is definitely not going to buy that,” said Tobias, leading the way. “He’s not only met you, he knows you, and has seen you naked.” “I’m not sure what that has to do with anything,” said Tish. “Your grandma always knew when I was up to something,” said Tobias. “That’s because you were always up to something,” objected Tish. Quote from the mystery novel - An Unfinished Storm by Bethany Maines

San Juan Islands Mystery #4

This October 23rd will see the release of An Unfinished Storm—book 4 in the San Juan Island Mystery series. When I started the series I had just started my own business, but I was still spending a few hours a week with my grandmother attempting to clean out her house. The things she thought needed cleaning and what I thought needed cleaning were quite different, but I soldiered on because I knew that even if all cleaned up on was the crossword puzzle she didn’t mind because she liked the company.  My biggest complaint were all of the political solicitations for donations that she wouldn’t let me throw out.  At one point I secretly sent about fifty “please remove me from your list” letters.  I also tried to bring in the mail when she wasn’t looking so that I could pre-recycle a large amount before they got to her. I adored my grandmother, but having her fret about not having opened and read every piece of mail was enough to drive me bonkers.  So that was the state of mind I was in when I started this story about a girl who gets fired and ends up solving mysteries with her grandfather.  It was a lovely chance to reflect on my experience and inject some reality into the book.


My grandmother passed away at the age of 96.  She was hilarious and sharp to the end although she did better in a quiet environment because her hearing wasn’t as good as it used to be.  Her collection of Dick Francis and Agatha Christie novels went to good homes, but I know that her legacy can also still be found in my books as Tish and Tobias  putter around, solve murders, and still leave time for afternoon naps and watching Quincy M.D. on VHS.   Not that my grandmother ever solved mysteries, but I like to think that we both would have liked the chance.  We both loved all the murder mystery shows like Perry Mason, Matlock, Quincy M.D., Murder She Wrote and the Rockford Files. I told someone recently that the San Juan series was like if Matlock and Psych had a baby and then threw in some Death in Paradise for island vibes and I stand by that. With Tish and Tobias surrounded by the quirkiness of island life as well as a few murderous villains I hope the books make readers laugh as much as my grandmother would have.  I also hope that readers are inspired to go hug their own grandparent and for goodness sake, throw out the political ads before they make it in the house.  No one needs that much junk mail in their life.


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.

HOAs: Miss Marple Would Fit Right In

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

HOAs—Miss Marple Would Fit Right In

Author Linda Lovely

By Linda Lovely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Book:

Deepfakes Can Be Murder

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

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

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

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

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