Book cover for Deep Blue Cover

Guest Interview with Author Joel W. Barrows

By Sparkle Abbey

Please welcome our friend and fellow author, Joel W. Barrows to the blog today.  Joel is a member of our local Sisters in Crime – Iowa chapter and we’ve mostly conversed via Zoom but recently had the opportunity to meet in person at a fun writers’ retreat – Only Books in the Building – and share some great conversation around a toasty fire with some of the other featured authors.

Author photo Joel W. BarrowsBefore we jump in with our questions, Joel, please share a little bit about yourself.

JB: I am the author of the Deep Cover thrillers published by Down & Out Books. I was born and raised in small town Iowa, though have lived in several larger cities over the years: Des Moines, St. Louis, Washington D.C. … Now, I’m back in Iowa, living in the Quad Cities, where I work as a district court judge. Besides writing, I enjoy boating and playing the guitar.

SA: Thanks! And now on to our first question. What started you on your writing journey?

JB: My wife always wanted to be a writer. Her father was a newspaper editor. She knew I was a bit of a storyteller, like my father. When she read a reference letter I had written for a friend, she suggested I try my hand at writing. One day, after I went on a rant about Big Pharma and what they might be capable of, she said, “that sounds like a good idea for a book.” I went upstairs to the computer. Two days later I had a 15-page outline for my first book, The Drug Lords, a romantic suspense thriller.

SA: And that leads us to another question. What do you write? And why did you choose that genre?

JB: I write about domestic terrorism organizations and the undercover operatives who combat them. I think this is the issue of our time. Many of the books also deal with racism and political issues. They say write what you know. My career has been in law enforcement as a state and federal prosecutor and as a judge. This is an area I know.

SA:  It certainly is and your experience undoubtedly accounts for the realistic details in your books! What about the writing process? What’s your favorite part of writing?

JB:  Inventing characters and writing good dialogue. I have always been a student of the way people communicate, verbally and nonverbally. Other than that, creating the tension.

Book cover for Deep Blue Cover

SA: Characters and dialogue rank up there as favorite parts of the creative process for us as well. So, what’s your least favorite part?

JB:  Really, I enjoy the whole process, though I suppose the research is my least favorite part. But even then, there are aspects of it that enjoy. Outlining can also be a challenge, and it is definitely not my strong suit!

SA:  Partly because we work as co-authors, we have to do quite a bit of planning when we start a project. How about you? How much do you plan before you start a book?

JB: I develop a basic story idea and spend a month or two fleshing it out and doing research. I might then outline the very basic structure of the book. After that, I kind of just let the characters lead me.

SA: Where do your best ideas come from?

JB: My own experiences, the many law enforcement officers, agents and prosecutors I’ve worked with, and the news.

SA:  It seems like some parts of the process come easy for us and others are more of a struggle. What part of writing is the most difficult for you to write? Characters? Conflict? Emotion? Or something else…?

JB: I probably don’t spend enough time on setting, which is something I’m working on.

SA:  What’s next? Are you currently working on a new book?

JB: The working title for the next book is “Deep Orange Cover: The Allegiance.” Let’s just say it involves a very gritty and frightening look at outlaw motorcycle clubs and some of their many illegal undertakings. I promise, it will grab and keep your attention!

SA: Having read your other books, we’re sure that it will! Thanks for talking with us today. We appreciate your time and we will watch for that next book!

Thanks again, Joel. Please check out the links below for more info about Joel and his books! 



Amazon Author Page


Anita and Mary Lee

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery 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, Goodreads, and Pinterest, some of their favorite social media sites. Also, if you want to make sure you get updates, sign up for their newsletter via the website

What Influences a Book?

In many of my books, something from my past has influenced the story. The Past Came Hunting came from a police ridealong. Deadly Recall resulted from my memory of a piano lesson I greatly exaggerated and fictionalized.

On June 16 through June 30, my fourth single title romantic suspense goes on sale. I was actually living the idea behind Buried Agendas at the time and I’d like to share the story behind it.

Although my husband is happily retired these days, in his work life he was a chemical engineer who specialized in industrial water treatment. Over the years, I met his customers and clients. As a storyteller, I’d listen with rapt attention to the goings on of their businesses. Naturally, when I learned his company had been awarded a contract to help with the cleanup of the Rocky Flats Nuclear weapons plant rocky-flats-site-colorado-fact-sheet ( I was intrigued but also concerned.

That project started me thinking about the dangers of environmental contamination, not only nuclear but chemical. I’d read and listened to broadcasts about states rightfully objecting to where nuclear waste should be stored. About drums of illegal chemicals buried in the desert.

Conversely, I learned about the stiff fines and penalties the Environmental Protection Agency inflicted on corporations should they not adhere to these regulations.

Such was my idea behind Buried Agendas and the book would not have been written without a wonderful resource of an EPA staffer in Denver. Not only did we have a long informative phone conversation, afterward, she sent me reams of information on superfund sites (by snail mail no less).

Neither would the book have been written without the help of chemists, plant managers, and an underground tank expert. And by the time I completed interviews and consumed an enormous amount of research material, I came up with what I thought might be a believable inciting incident.

What if a chemical was created that should never have been created?

All right. That seemed to work. But how to develop a romantic suspense plot around such a complicated subject? Here’s what I came up with.

A devastating secret drove her from her lover’s arms; will a secret equally as deadly lead her back to him?

Diana Reid is an investigative reporter skilled at uncovering other people’s secrets. It’s her own she works to keep buried. Eight years earlier, she promised to leave her fiancé and hometown of Diamond, Texas forever. That pledge vanishes when she receives a letter stating people are going to die, implicating her hometown’s largest employer, and making a veiled threat against her mother. With no other choice, Diana will return to Diamond, albeit in disguise, to discover the anonymous author.

Brad Jordan moved on with his life after Diana left him. Preferring to practice law rather than assume his birthright, Jordan Industries, he turns the chemical processing plant over to his brother. Later, Brad runs for office and is elected mayor on his promise to rebuild his struggling hometown. Those plans are jeopardized when he’s notified that the company is suspected of wrongdoing and may be sacrificing the public’s health.

Diana Reid is the last person Brad Jordan wants to see, personally or professionally. But, when he discovers her presence in Diamond, he’s forced to accept that a woman he vowed to forget may be his only avenue to get to the truth.


What readers have said:

“Buried Agendas is a well-written, well-plotted romantic suspense. It kept me reading late into the night to find out what happens to the star-crossed lovers. The story had enough technical detail to be realistic without coming across as a chemistry lesson–well done! I felt the heat of the Texas setting and enjoyed getting to know the characters. I’m looking forward to Ms. Bell’s next one.”


BURIED AGENDAS follows the romantic suspense plots that Bell is known for. A fast compelling read with hot topics in the news today– Chemical waste and the hazards of border crossing. The characters are well developed and carry the reader through an exciting pace to the finish. If you haven’t read her previous books, you’re missing out on great storytelling.


“This is a well written, suspenseful thriller with fully drawn characters and a fast paced plot. Diana, forced to return to her hometown, confronts the fact that she still has feelings for the man she betrayed eight years ago. And now she’s in town to investigate his family’s business and possibly destroy all that he holds dear. Donnell Bell’s character emotions ring true and her plot is all too believable.”


If you enjoy romantic suspense, I hope you’ll check out Buried Agendas, particularly when it goes on sale June 16-30 for $.99.

How about you? Has something in your past influenced you? For authors, did said influence inspire you to incorporate it in a book or to write an entire novel?

About the Author:  Donnell Ann Bell writes both romantic suspense and 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, have all been Amazon e-book best sellers.

Traditionally published with Belle Books/Bell Bridge Books, Black Pearl, a Cold Case Suspense was her first mainstream suspense and book one of a series, and a Colorado Book Award finalist. Her second book in the series, Until Dead, A Cold Case Suspense, released in May of 2022 was voted best thriller in 2023 at the Imaginarium Celebration Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.  Sign up for her newsletter or follow her blog at












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.




Magic Carpet Ride by Saralyn Richard

Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash

At a recent interview, I was asked whether I’ve always been attracted to mysteries, even as a child. That’s not the first time I’ve answered the question, but the more experience I have as a mystery writer, the more I’ve seen the power of mysteries, and I want to share my thinking.

I’m an eclectic reader and teacher of literature. I like to read all genres and nonfiction, plays, poems—you name it. But mysteries draw me in more than any other genre, and I think that’s because in no other type of book are the reader and writer so closely connected.

The intellectual puzzle of a mystery novel is a carefully planned path laid out by the author and followed by the reader. The steps, the clues, the evidence, the red herrings—all are set forth in a grand treasure hunt, and the reader is invited to join in. In accepting the invitation, a reader becomes complicit with the scheme. He enters the story as an ally or a sidekick of the sleuth, and he solves the mystery along with the character.

In order to enjoy the mystery fully, the reader must pay attention, not only to the intellectual puzzle, but also to the emotional puzzle. How do the characters relate to one another? What motivates one or more of them to commit a crime? How will the truth be discovered, and how will justice be administered?

The mystery is less about the actual killing of a person and more about the process of decision-making and problem-solving that will restore order to the world of the book. Yes, bad things happen in life, but clever people can overcome these bad things and find stability again. And if characters in books can achieve successful outcomes, people in real life can, also.

When I’ve read a good mystery, I feel I’ve connected with the author’s heart and soul. I know she’s an upright person who believes in doing the right thing. She’s taken me along with her on the journey, and, even if she’s dazzled and bewildered me, even when she’s twisted my thinking into knots and tossed me around the landscape of the novel, she’s held my hand throughout, and she’s taken pleasure in the fact that I’m still with her at the end.

I know these things because my favorite part of being a mystery author is doing those same things with my readers. The writer-reader connection is central to the mystery, and that’s what makes both reading and writing so much fun. Let’s hop on the magic carpet together and go for a ride.


Saralyn Richard writes award-winning humor- and romance-tinged mysteries that pull back the curtain on people in settings as diverse as elite country manor houses and disadvantaged urban high schools. Her works include the Detective Parrott mystery series, two standalone mysteries, a children’s book, and various short stories published in anthologies. She also edited the nonfiction book, Burn Survivors. An active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, Saralyn teaches creative writing and literature. Her favorite thing about being an author is interacting with readers like you. If you would like to subscribe to Saralyn’s monthly newsletter and receive information, giveaways, opportunities, surveys, freebies, and more, sign up at


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.

Have You Read These Books?

As a lifelong book lover, I read newsletters and articles by literary critics on what they think is important to read. So in January, I usually check the various “Best” book lists for the past year.

I’ve long been skeptical of how the books are chosen. When a thriller I helped write earned a spot on The New York Times “Notables” list, it was disappointing to learn why—after five printings in both hardback and paperback and translated into two foreign language editions—it didn’t quite become a NYT “bestseller.” It had more to do with a bookselling logarithm and a publisher’s reluctance to support it than it did with the quality of the book itself.

But to learn what’s happening in the popular culture, I still read the lists. The NYT says the five best novels of 2023 are The Bee Sting, Chain-Gang All-StarsEastbound, North Woods, and The Fraud (written by Zadie Smith, an author I’ve read and enjoyed).

The Wall Street Journal chose an entirely different five: The Lost Wife, The Sun Walks Down, Good Girls, Red Memory, and A Dictator Calls (winner of a Man Booker prize).

Reader’s Digest doesn’t stop at mere books of the year. It also publishes “The 100 Best Books of All Time.” What they do when new books are published is a mystery. They could easily drop Hamlet from the current list. It’s a remarkable piece of literature, but it isn’t a book. But what about the other 99?

In a sign of the times, there’s also a Top 50 Banned Books list. I enjoyed many of those as a child and in high school English class. I’m sure you have, too. Now I’m curious about the rest of them, especially one called Captain Underpants.

When I choose a new book, I often rely on recommendations from friends. I love being introduced to books I wouldn’t necessarily pick up on my own.

So, have you read any good books lately? Tell us about it in the comments below.

And speaking of books, I’m giving away free copies of The Body Business ebook for 24 hours beginning at midnight tonight through midnight tomorrow (Jan. 10th) on Amazon. Tell your friends!

Gay Yellen is the author of the award-winning SamanthaNewman Mysteries include The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and The Body in the News!

Contact her at 

How I Spent the Summer of 2023

I could sum up the Summer of 2023 in two words: blistering hot! That’s been the headline for so many of us this year.

Humans make plans, and the gods laugh.

Back in June, when the Stiletto Gang posted our plans for the summer, mine included book events, taking a vacation with my sweetie, and promoting my new book.
By mid-summer, I was behind deadline (again) with Book #3 in the Samantha Newman series, and pretty much glued to my desk as I pushed through to the finish line. At least the sturdy air-conditioning kept any outdoor temptations at bay for the duration.
The book is finally done, and early reader remarks are leaving me hopeful for its debut. Fingers crossed!
(More on that below.)

Where did August go?

By mid-August, it was time to get on with the world. We set out on a road trip. First stop, Little Rock, Arkansas, home of an old friend, and as it happens, a great place for an overnight on the road to Killer Nashville, the international writers’ conference where seasoned authors, new writers, and book lovers convene over our shared passion.
The Body Next Door, Book #2 in the Samantha Newman series, was a KN Silver Falchion finalist a few years ago, so this year, it was all about sharing what I’ve learned in my writing career.
I was a panelist on the subjects of Writing Believable Amateur Sleuths, Using Emotion to Appeal to Your Readers, and Adding Romance to Your Story, in addition to moderating two more panels on Writing Suspense.
Whew! Teasing out my thoughts on what makes for good writing was strenuous exercise, but fun, too.
Most fun was making new friends and reconnecting in person with colleagues from around the country.
After the conference we drove east to visit my brother and sister-in-law. Had a great time with them, their darling grandkids, and their remarkable dog, Venus. Then we headed home. All in all, we passed through ten states in two weeks.

Happy September!

Now, finally, I am pre-promoting Book #3, The Body in the News! Huzzah and hooray, it is almost ready to hatch by the end of the month.
Here is a sliver of the new the cover. Stay tuned, there is much more to come in the next few days and weeks!

In the meantime… how was your summer? 

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

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







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.