Can a Book Effect Change?

Good Monday morning. The Stiletto Gang is a group of authors that touch mostly on marketing, the craft of writing, the concept behind our books and/or the genre of what we’re writing. Last week, two of our authors didn’t just touch on a topic, they challenged it and downright addressed the world’s most serious problems.

I respect Linda Rodriguez and TK Thorne immensely. If you haven’t read their two recent blogs, I urge you to do so:

In these blogs, T.K. addresses our relatively young existence in the grand scheme of existence, then writes about humankind’s struggle to fight tribalism and inhumanity. Linda addresses violent massacres against innocents brought on by hatred and racism.

Linda closes out her blog with:

“As writers and readers, we have the power to change this terrible racist rot at the heart of our society. We simply have to muster the courage to insist on truthful, varied portrayals of real human beings, the courage to reach outside of segregated suburbs to learn about people who are not just like us, the courage to call out false, bigoted remarks and portrayals when we encounter them. Let us be part of the solution and no longer part of the problem, actively or passively. Let us bring our society closer to the ideals we claim for it.

Writers shape the way our nation sees the world. Let us shape that perspective with truth and empathy.”

The blog unfortunately didn’t allow for comments, and I had a few.  I also was reading a novel at that time that if Linda’s blog had been an assignment to discover such a panacea, I would recommend David Baldacci’s A Calamity of Souls.

Before I give my thoughts on A Calamity of Souls, I’ll point to what I consider a significant problem(s) in Linda’s thoughtful prose.

  • Would an inherent racist ever read and/or recognize themselves in an author’s pages? And if they do, would they simply rebel and slam the book down?
  • Even though I’m associated with many talented and remarkable writers, the second issue I find with Linda’s plea is the problem of “discoverability.” A few–maybe many–might read and be empathetic and leave positive feedback, but would they have the power to effect change?

Occasionally, an author pens a book that does just what Linda is encouraging us to do. Moreover, that same author has name recognition and a following that may in effect, educate and allow people who may not even consider themselves racist to take the proverbial good look in the mirror.

I believe David Baldacci’s A Calamity of Souls is such a book. I believe this novel may be fated to become a classic in its own right and his most successful of his already thriving career.

Though brilliant A Calamity of Souls is not a fun read. It’s also incredibly hard to put down.

Here’s the back cover blurb:    

Set in the tumultuous year of 1968 in southern Virginia, a racially-charged murder case sets a duo of white and Black lawyers against a deeply unfair system as they work to defend their wrongfully-accused Black defendants in this courtroom drama from #1 New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci.

Jack Lee is a white lawyer from Freeman County, Virginia, who has never done anything to push back against racism, until he decides to represent Jerome Washington, a Black man charged with brutally killing an elderly and wealthy white couple. Doubting his decision, Lee fears that his legal skills may not be enough to prevail in a case where the odds are already stacked against both him and his client. And he quickly finds himself out of his depth when he realizes that what is at stake is far greater than the outcome of a murder trial.

Desiree DuBose is a Black lawyer from Chicago who has devoted her life to furthering the causes of justice and equality for everyone. She comes to Freeman County and enters a fractious and unwieldy partnership with Lee in a legal battle against the best prosecutor in the Commonwealth. Yet DuBose is also aware that powerful outside forces are at work to blunt the victories achieved by the Civil Rights era.

Lee and DuBose could not be more dissimilar. On their own, neither one can stop the prosecution’s deliberate march towards a guilty verdict and the electric chair. But together, the pair fight for what once seemed impossible: a chance for a fair trial and true justice.

Over a decade in the writing, A Calamity of Souls breathes richly imagined and detailed life into a bygone era, taking the reader through a world that will seem both foreign and familiar.

(I pulled the following quotes off Amazon.)

















I could leave my own review, but I guess I just did.  A #1 Bestseller with already 16,671 ratings on Amazon, I recommend A Calamity of Souls to everyone to understand what ignorance is and what hate can become.

Thank you, Linda. Your words impacted me at a time I was already being deeply impacted. I can only pray your vision and dreams come true.

Can a book effect change?  In a word, Yes.







My new novel, The Underground Murders, was released yesterday, July 1, 2024. Do you write (or read) political novels? Or novels that contain even a bit of a political message? Or novels that address societal concerns? Or novels that are pure entertainment? I chose the subject of my latest novel with the intent of speaking out against the direction in which our country headed and knowing there would be backlash. I’ve already received a tongue lashing from one of my advance readers. I’m hoping she, at least, gave some thought to the issue, that her mind, which probably wouldn’t be opened, would get a small crack. Since the book only arrived on the scene yesterday, I’m waiting to see who else protests.

In some of my novels in the past, I’ve included (in addition to murder) gambling addiction, false allegations of child abuse, child trafficking, greed, adultery, characters with a sense of entitlement, judicial corruption, mental illness, theft—well, basically, my characters breaking all Ten Commandments!

History is replete with nursery rhymes that have been interpreted as political commentary or as a rendering of historical events. At many authors give their interpretations of historical pieces. I particularly liked Author Lucinda Brant’s Part Two about nursery rhymes including “Georgy Porgy” and “Jack and Jill.”

Fairy tales were another way authors expressed themselves. A nice piece that discusses how fairy tales can be used as teaching tools today can be found at There is also discussion about how they form the basis for so many current books and movies.

At, there is a book review of Buried Treasures: The Political Power of Fairy Tales by Jack Zipes. Zipes discusses social ills, to put it mildly, and who the authors often were.

I’m a fan of John Sandford and his “Prey” novels. I was pleased to find he addressed environmental problems in his latest novel Toxic Prey, where the protagonists hunt down a mad scientist who believes the violent actions he intends to take will save the planet

It’s 2024 in the U.S. So far we still have the right to free speech. For the most part, we have the right to write what we want, unlike authors in some countries and those in history. I believe it’s my duty to address modern society’s ills. Though there is no guarantee what I write will be read, I fully intend to continue to write as my conscience dictates. If only a few readers will have their eyes opened, I will have accomplished my goal.

Susan P. Baker is a retired family court judge from Texas and the author of 15 published books. You may read more about her at



Summer Reading List

by Paula Gail Benson

Mary Lee Ashford has already visited this subject in her excellent post from June 6 (‘Tis the Season … for Summer Reading). I particularly like her tips for choosing a summer read. She also has a list of guides with current reading lists.

I’ve always enjoyed reading, but I admit that summer allows for greater leisure and flexibility in choice. Every year, in May or June as school recesses for the summer, libraries offer reading programs to keep young minds occupied during the warmer months. When I was growing up, I remember trying to be diligent in meeting the requirements (dependent upon age and comprehension level) so I could qualify for the certificate or award being given.

During high school, I found a list of great books that a person should read to be considered, ah—well-read. I tried to follow it. While I didn’t succeed getting through the list, I did find some different authors to enjoy.

I’ve seen several online lists this summer, many of them with the same or similar recommendations. Here are three you may wish to consider:

17 Books Everyone Should Read Before They Die (

18 must-read classic books that have remained popular years after their original publication (

Read or Regret – 21 Books You Absolutely Must Tackle Before Your Time’s Up (

On June 9, 2024, the online Readers’ Digest featured an article by Leandra Beabout entitled 100 Best Books of All Time. I found the selections she recommended to be inclusive of classics, favorites, fiction and nonfiction, children’s and young adult books, and plays, as well as representative of diverse cultures and literary forms (short stories by Alice Munro and David Sedaris and even a graphic novel published in 2000, Persepolis: the Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi). Among the authors included are Steven King, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Zora Neale Hurston. There also is what I considered a surprise inclusion: Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls (1966).

Please take time to peruse Ms. Beabout’s list. Here are a few of her suggestions:


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1878)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)

1984 by George Orwell (1949)

Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (1865)

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1962)

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (1915)

The Age of Innocence by Edith Warton (1920)

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1603)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)


My Favorites:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997)

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (1989)

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (1995)

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)

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















When I first started out, back in the dark ages (1980s) before the Internet—heck—before home computers, I was as naïve as a newborn baby. I joined Mystery Writers of America, the chapter that met in Houston, and met some lovely, well-published authors.

I didn’t know squat (except what I’d read in magazines and books I’d purchased). I needed all the encouragement I could get, and I did get it. After a while, I was writing and submitting and, of course, receiving rejections, learning craft (we’re always learning craft, right?) and discovering what’s-what in the traditional book publishing business. There was no real self-publishing then (though there were, as now, vanity publishers), or as we call it now, Independent Publishing.

One of the things I found out from some of these published authors was that the author had no say so over her cover no matter how many books she’d written and published. You took what you got. Oh, the stories I heard. One particularly lovely author of over 140 books, Joan Lowery Nixon (1927-2003),, who became a pretty good friend, regaled me with stories of her experiences regarding the covers of her books. The story I remember most is when she set a book in pancake-flat Houston, but the cover had mountains in the background. She said she’d had many “discussions” with the publisher before the book came out, to no avail.

My first published book, My First Murder, which St. Martin’s Press, Inc. published, had a colorful cover, which other than there being what one could assume was a dead woman on the cover, had no relation to the story. By that I mean the cover was in the style of Mexican art. (I like Mexican art, don’t get me wrong.) The book was set in Houston and Ft. Worth.

My First Murder, St. Martin’s Press, Inc.

The third cover of My First Murder. I didn’t keep copies of the second.

Some years later, my small press publisher contacted me one day and asked me what I wanted on the cover of the book they were putting out. You know, I had never given it any thought, my experience having been that I had no choice. One of my friends said if I was going to come up with a design for a cover, I should be paid. What did I know? I gave the publisher ideas, but by the time I sent in photographs and more information about what I thought, they had taken my original idea and run with it. The cover wasn’t that good. Years later, I’ve been re-publishing some books myself (of course I have my rights back) and am on my fourth cover for my first one.

The fourth cover of My First Murder and I hope the final.

Anyway, now, years and a number of covers later, as an “Independent” author I have sole control. There are days I wish someone else had the responsibility, so I’d be off the hook. It’s not easy coming up with ideas. I’m a writer, not an artist. I’m about to put out the 6th in my Mavis Davis series and have been racking my brain. The title is The Underground Murders. If any of you have an idea for a cover, without knowing the plot, PLEASE contact me asap.

You may contact the author at

Susan is the author of fourteen (14) books, mostly mystery/suspense, but not all.

Aerial photo of winding road

Plot Twists in Life and Books

by Mary Lee Ashford

Somehow there’s a lot going on in March. We are preparing for a discussion of our writing process and publishing paths – a program for our local Sisters in Crime chapter. And then at the end of the month, I’m moderating a panel at Only Books in the Building: A Writers Retreat on paths to publishing. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the joy of writing and the twists and turns in the crazy and ever changing publishing business.  Like a twisty road where you don’t quite know what’s around the next turn, it can be both exciting and nerve-wracking at times.

Aerial photo of winding roadAs a part of the writing process the plot twists are, for me anyway, usually planned. Though there are those times when I’m deep into a project that the story takes a turn and I have to decide if that’s a road I want to go down or not. In most cases when I’ve taken that road it has ended up a better book in the long run.

In publishing, you’re not always in the driver’s seat and so the decisions are not always yours. In fact in the publishing world, sometimes the twists and turns are wonderful surprises and other times they are not exactly what you had planned. And sometimes what’s around the corner, much like in the writing process, ends up better than what you had planned.

When faced with one of those crazy turns, I always think about the John Steinbeck quote about writing. “The profession of book writing makes makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.” But also, when there’s an unexpected twist, I find I have to remember why I started down this road in the first place and for me it’s all about the love of writing and the sharing of stories. So when my publisher decided not to continue the Sugar & Spice mysteries series and I was able to get the rights back to those stories, I didn’t know for sure what was next, but I kept writing. Sugar Calloway and Dixie Spicer still had stories to tell!

And now I’m very excited to share some news about what’s next on my publishing journey…

Three book cover for Sugar and Spice mysteries.

I am thrilled to be working with Oliver Heber Books and happy to announce the re-release of Game of Scones, Risky Biscuits, and Quiche of Death.  Book four is on its way soon and there will be more Sugar & Spice Mysteries coming. What do you think of the new covers?

And as 1/2 of Sparkle Abbey, I’m also continuing to work on the new series that we’ve talked about here – Shady Palms Mysteries.

Yes, somehow there really is a lot going on in March!


Photo of author Mary Lee Ashford

Mary Lee Ashford is the author of the Sugar & Spice mystery series from Oliver Heber Books and also half of the Sparkle Abbey writing team who pen the national best-selling Pampered Pets series. She is a lifelong bibliophile, an avid reader, and public library champion. Prior to publishing Mary Lee won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. She is the founding president of Sisters in Crime – Iowa as well as a member of Mystery Writers of America and Novelists, Inc. She lives in the Midwest with her family and her feline coworker.

She loves to connect with readers and other writers. You can find her on social media at Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest or email her via her website at:

crumpled paper with the words ideas

Where Do We Get Our Ideas?

by Sparkle Abbey

crumpled paper with the words ideas

People often ask authors where their ideas for particular books come from. And though it’s quite different from author to author, one thing we’ve discovered from hanging out with other authors is that most have no problem coming up with ideas for stories. In fact, most of us have far more ideas than we’ll ever have the time to write. Story ideas are everywhere.

Writers are innately curious and so a news story, a magazine article, even an obituary can spark a thought that turns into a possibility. The writer imagination is off and running and wondering “what if.” The news of the day may be a big fire at a local business. It could have been faulty electrical wiring, but the writer wonders what if it wasn’t. What if there’s more to the story? What if the fire was actually a cover-up?

Also writers are by nature observers. Yes, that’s us sitting quietly in the corner of the room or on the park bench. That couple holding hands while their body language says there’s something else going on. What’s their story? The three girls in a whispered conversation whose foreheads are almost touching. What secrets are they sharing? The elderly woman with her purse clutched tightly on her lap who keeps checking her watch. Who is she waiting for? And the guy on his phone that looks oddly out of place. Why is he dressed like that with a hat that shades his face? Is he undercover? Perhaps a spy?

Or wait maybe the elderly woman is the spy. Wouldn’t that be a great twist? The guy on his phone may be meeting someone and they’ve gotten lost. We imagine the three teen-aged girls in fifteen years. Will they still be friends? Still sharing secrets? What if they lose touch with each other? What if they don’t? What if a shared secret them keeps them forever bound together?

See how it works? There is drama everywhere, and secrets, and stories. As writers we are sponges for the bits and pieces that are story sparks. We get to bring those stories to life and give them twists and change them around.

Ideas are everywhere.

So now that you know how it works, the only thing to remember is when you’re having a conversation with a writer, and they get that far-away look, there is a good chance they have spotted a potential story across the room and they’re already coming up with ideas. Or the other possibility is that something you’ve said has been the spark, and you’ve provided the story idea.

Writers – Is this how it works for you? Have you come across an interesting story spark that you’ve yet to write?

Readers – How about you? Have you come across an idea that you thought would make a great story?

Do tell…

Mary Lee and Anita

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.)

If you want to make sure you get updates, visit them on Facebook and sign up for their newsletter via the website

Detective Parrott Mystery Series by Saralyn Richard

My introduction to Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania, was at a weekend retreat in one of the country mansions there. I was invited to a birthday party for one of the elite one-percenters who owned a gentleman’s farm. The thirteen guests were treated to three days of luxurious meals and accommodations, fit for royalty. That Saturday night we enjoyed a gourmet nine-course meal with wine pairings for each course. It was over the top, but tasteful at the same time. The conversation was intelligent and witty, and everyone had a wonderful time, especially the birthday celebrant, who beamed at his friends and family members the entire time.

After the elaborate dinner on Saturday night, our bellies and spirits equally full, we sat around near the fireplace in the den and talked about many things. The gathering reminded me of an Agatha Christie locked room mystery, where someone died, and the rest of the guests were suspects. I was struck by the idea that this would be the last place you’d expect a murder to occur. I turned to the person next to me and said, “This would be the perfect setting for a murder mystery.”

From that moment on, I wanted to write about these rich and powerful people, this setting, and the elements of social class that distinguish the ultra-wealthy from those who serve them. That was the beginning of MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT.

Since that time, I’ve traveled all over the country, talking about Brandywine Valley. The Detective Parrott mystery series has become popular, and it’s grown from a single mystery to four, the latest of which is being released January 5, 2024, MURDER OUTSIDE THE BOX. In each of the books, Detective Parrott learns and grows, while his cases intertwine with his real life.

The series, along with two standalone novels set in less opulent environments, has won numerous awards, favorable reviews, and loyal fans. I’ve conducted extensive research on various aspects of the Brandywine community, and I’ve acquired many first-hand sources who are happy to fill me in on details about the topography, history, architecture, artistry, equestrian activities, artistic endeavors, gardens, museums, shopping areas, bank barns, funeral customs, wildlife conservancy, and other aspects of the community.

The area has turned out to be a second home for me and a favorite escape for my readers. I love the less posh settings of my other books, too, but that long-ago birthday celebration in Brandywine Valley has turned out to be a seminal event in my writing life, and my fascination with the Brandywine culture continues to grow.

Do you have a favorite setting, either fictional or real, that holds you with its magic? Tell me about it!




The serene Brandywine Valley wakes up to an intoxicating double shock: a baby abandoned on the porch of a caretaker’s cottage, and a young post-partum woman lying dead on the estate of a billionaire scotch whiskey magnate. Detective Parrott’s instincts tell him the two crimes are connected, but the evidence points him in directions that are both baffling and personal. Parrott searches for answers in high and low places, including his own office.  As he races to find the truth about the baby’s origin and best placement, he untangles chilling murder clues that implicate people who harbor secrets that even their positions of power and trust can’t protect. Once again, Parrott may have to risk his reputation—and even his life—to uncover the real story.

A compulsive and compelling police procedural with relatable characters who remain in your heart. If you like detectives from Louisa Scarr, Clare Mackintosh, and Michael Connelly, you’ll love Detective Oliver Parrott. Purchase at your favorite bookstore or here.

On Accepting Advice

Dear Readers: I’m slowly but surely recovering from 2023! So much progress. I’m still grieving, but my mother’s estate is settled and I can see the floor to my office. I realized it was my day to blog on The Stiletto Gang so I pulled up an article I wrote in 2016. Funny, the position I took back then is the same position I hold today. After reading, please tell me what you think.  Do you avoid prologues, and how much time do you devote to marketing? ~ Donnell 

“No enemy is worse than bad advice.” – Sophocles

Every once in a while people offer advice that really works. E.g., Look both ways before crossing the street, read warning labels on products and exercise three to five times a week to maintain a healthy weight. Those kinds of input I can use and appreciate. But some of the advice I’ve received of late leaves me shaking my head.

Two weekends ago I attended my local library’s workshop in which a marketing guru offered authors and aspiring authors’ advice for today’s market. She said the days that authors sit alone in their offices and devote long hours to writing are gone. As a matter of fact, she added, authors should be focused ten percent on writing the book and ninety percent to its marketing. “Twenty-four/eight,” she insisted. “Market your book twenty-four/eight.”

This weekend I attended the Pikes Peak Writers Conference where the age-old subject of prologues came up again. An editor told the audience how much he hates prologues and that he skips right over them. Once again people who had paid good money to attend wrote furiously in their notebooks, most likely taking this man’s words to heart and perpetuating this controversy further. While I was thinking of Sandra Brown’s Envy or Robert Crais’s Two Minute Rule and two of the best prologues I’ve ever read in commercial fiction.

There’s a lot of lousy, subjective advice floating around out there—what’s more the experts are touting it. If I have to devote ninety percent to marketing my books, I might as well hang it up right now. I didn’t get into this writing gig to market my wares like a gypsy in a caravan, I got into writing to tell my stories—to sit in my office alone a lot more than ten percent.

New York Times Bestselling Author Robert Crais once told me, “Sure you can write a prologue, just don’t write a bad one.”  If a book needs a prologue, it needs a prologue, and how a few paragraphs at the start of a book can cause such a vitriolic response is beyond me.

So because there’s so much misinformation and bad advice out there coming from people I should otherwise respect and rely on, I’ve decided to break down the ways I will accept advice in the future. One, if it doesn’t make sense, I will completely disregard it, and two, if it doesn’t save my life, I will refer back to rule number one.

About the Author:

Leaving international thrillers to the world travelers, Donnell Ann Bell concentrates on suspense that might happen in her neck of the woods – writing SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. She is co-owner of Crimescenewriter, an online group, in which law enforcement, forensic experts, and a multitude of related professionals assist authors in getting those pesky facts straight in our novels. To learn more or to sign up for her newsletter contact her at

Multitasking, Time Management and Organization

Multitasking, Time Management and Organization

By Donnell Ann Bell

Where’s my keys? Where’s my phone? What did I do with my glasses? Sound familiar?

Many people attribute forgetfulness to advancing years. Me? I attribute forgetfulness to distraction, our busy lives, and the ridiculous notion that if we’re doing multiple things at once, we’re efficient and engaged in time management.

I’m not a fan of multitasking. If you’re doing multiple things at once, chances are you’re in a hurry. Slowing down, focusing on one thing at a time, e.g., concentrating on those keys in your hand, solidifies in your brain where you put them.  Even better, if you concentrate on those keys in your hand AND put them in the same place every time, chances are you will find them every time.

It took me a while to figure this out, but now that I put things in a strategic place, I’m less stressed and don’t spend ten minutes trying to recreate my movements. Further, the most amazing thing has happened. I know precisely where everything is and I’m not late anymore!

I’ve been traveling a great deal for the last two years and hopefully will be slowing down. Now that I’m home, I plan on tackling things I’ve left undone.  Mainly all the stuff I’ve crammed into closets, promising myself I’ll get to it later. Well, my friends, it’s later! And to say I’m organized would be complete fiction. However, I have a game plan to become organized, and I’d like to credit my friend Author Mike Befeler for giving me the ideas to get started.

Mike has no idea I’m crediting him or that I’m recommending his book, Unstuff Your Stuff.  I read this book years ago, and the moment I remember where I put it . . . Kidding. It’s on my Kindle. 😉and my Kindle resides on my nightstand.

Typical of Mike’s books, it’s a humorous mystery, but I have to say as I read, I couldn’t help thinking this is also a great self-help book. So, that’s what I’m doing. Taking the tips I learned from Mike’s novel.

In closing, here some great advice I heard from my eye doctor when I continually misplaced my glasses. “If they’re not on your face, they belong in your case.”

For anyone who wants to read a mystery, smile, and read a self-help, here’s the link and blurb to Mike’s novel.  Happy organizing!

About UNSTUFF YOUR STUFF:  68-year-old Millicent Hargrove returns from her Tuesday night bridge game to her house in Boulder, Colorado, to find her husband, George, dead on the floor with a knife in his chest. At the funeral a man she doesn’t know comes up and hands her an envelope. He explains that with George’s death, she will receive special compensation for some work that George once did for the government. She asks what the work was, but he only says it was classified and he can’t discuss it with her. As she cleans out all her stuff to move from her house to a condo, she discovers that she’s good at organizing her things. Her friends encourage her to start a personal organizing business. Millicent gives it some thought and decides it’s a good idea. She calls her business, Unstuff Your Stuff. Millicent gains clients but struggles with her new life and cryptic clues left by her husband. Men hit on her, but she doesn’t want to get involved in any relationship, although she likes the father of the young man who helped her move to her condo. She escapes attempts on her own life and figures out the mystery of the cryptic messages left by her husband. She develops a successful organizing business while sorting through the clutter from the secret life her husband led.

About Mike Befeler: In the May, 2008, issue of the AARP Bulletin Mike Befeler was identified as one of four authors in a new emerging mystery sub-genre. Harlan Coben, president of Mystery Writers of America stated, “We’ve just scratched the surface on geezer-lit. It could be the next frontier in crime fiction.” Mike turned his attention to fiction writing after a career in high technology marketing.  His debut novel, RETIREMENT HOMES ARE MURDER, was published in 2007.  The second novel in his Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, LIVING WITH YOUR KIDS IS MURDER, appeared in 2009 and was nominated for the Lefty Award for the best humorous mystery of 2009. The third book in the series, SENIOR MOMENTS ARE MURDER, was released in 2011. The fourth book in the series, CRUISING IN YOUR EIGHTIES IS MURDER, was published in 2012 and was nominated for the Lefty Award for best humorous mystery of 2012. The fifth book in the series, CARE HOMES ARE MURDER, was published in 2013. The sixth book in the series, NURSING HOMES ARE MURDER, was published in 2014. He also has a paranormal private investigator mystery, THE V V AGENCY (published 2012); a paranormal geezer-lit mystery, THE BACK WING (published 2013), and its sequel, THE FRONT WING (2019);  a theater mystery, MYSTERY OF THE DINNER PLAYHOUSE (published in 2015); a non-fiction biography, THE BEST CHICKEN THIEF IN ALL OF EUROPE (published in 2015); a historical mystery, MURDER ON THE SWITZERLAND TRAIL (published in 2015); a sports mystery, COURT TROUBLE, A PLATFORM TENNIS MYSTERY (published in 2016), and its sequel PARADISE COURT (2019); an international thriller, THE TESLA LEGACY (2017); a standalone geezer-lit mystery, DEATH OF A SCAM ARTIST (2017); a professional organizer mystery, UNSTUFF YOUR STUFF (2018); a novella, CORONAVIRUS DAZE (2020); OLD DETECTIVES HOME (2022); and LAST GASP MOTEL (2023).

Mike is an acclaimed speaker and gives three entertaining and informative presentations titled, “The Secret of Growing Older Gracefully—Aging and Other Minor Inconveniences,” “How To Survive Retirement,” and “Rejection Is Not a Four Letter Word,” which promote a positive image of aging. Contact him at if you’d like him to speak to your organization.

About Donnell Ann Bell:  Leaving international thrillers to the world travelers, Donnell Ann Bell concentrates on suspense that might happen in her neck of the woods – writing SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. Published with BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books, she has written four Amazon bestselling standalones as well as her award-winning Cold Case series, Black Pearl and Until Dead. Currently, she’s working on book three of the series. For more information, see her website at