Tag Archive for: Amateur sleuth

Interview with Stiletto Gang member, Cathy Perkins!

 By Lynn McPherson

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know one of my fellow Stiletto Gang members a little better over the last few weeks.

Cathy Perkins is not only an award-winning author, but also a contributing editor for The Big Thrill, International Thriller Writer’s monthly publication. On top of that, Cathy has worked on the blog and social media for the ITW Debut Authors, and coordinated for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

While I’ve had a life-long love affair with reading, I didn’t start writing until fairly recently. This probably isn’t how most people start, but I had a lengthy consulting job in a city about 90 miles away. I’d listen to music and daydream during the commute. Pretty soon the daydream had dialogue and I thought, hmm, this is turning into a good story. That particular book lives in a box in the closet, but I was hooked on writing, creating worlds and characters. 

Why mystery?

I’ve always loved mysteries and suspense—figuring out the who-dun-it puzzle, delighting when the author keeps me guessing or on the edge of my seat, wondering what will happen next. When I started writing, my stories and characters had secrets, obstacles, and a race to uncover the villain. I’m going to slide a second favorite part of writing in here. I love bringing the characters to life, figuring out what makes them tick, and throwing the challenges of the plot and relationship at them.  So much fun. It’s probably the best part of writing.

What is your writing process and how much time do you spend planning your books?

Like most authors, my stories start with a “what if.” Once an idea takes hold, the plot and character evolve together. I’m a plotter, so the first thing I do when I think the idea has possibilities is sketch an outline of the plot. That outline grows and evolves as my characters’ personalities and motivations flesh out. Things that of course they’d do, add layers or subplots as the story unfolds. 

How important is setting in your novels?

I’ve been told the setting in my stories is another character. My goal is always to place the reader in the scene, to create a place readers can see and feel, even if they’ve never been to South Carolina, eastern Washington, or the Cascade Mountains. The challenge is to create that bubble without slowing the pace of the plot. 

Toni McGee Causey has been a fabulous mentor and offers a terrific perspective on setting and point of view. What the character sees in the place says more about the character than the physical location. I try to keep that in mind—how my characters react to their location/setting and why it matters—as I write.

You are a contributing editor for The Big Thrill, International Thriller Writer’s monthly publication. Do you find yourself editing as you write? Or do you write first and edit after?

I have a rather strange way of putting my stories together. If something isn’t working when I’m sitting with my computer, I switch to pen and paper. Writing by hand uses a different part of my brain and I can roll with the scene. When I type those handwritten pages, I make a first edit pass for flow and word choice. But I generally finish the first draft before doing my heavy-duty editing passes. Of course, my wonderful editor will always have suggestions on how to make the story better…

Do you have a favorite author you read for inspiration?

So many favorites! 

This may sound strange since I’m currently writing at the lighter end of the mystery spectrum, but right now, I’m reading at the introspective end of the mystery/suspense/thriller genre – Jonathon King, John Hart, and pushing even further into women’s fiction, Mary Alice Monroe and Kristan Higgins. Of course, I always have dozens of books on my e-reader to choose among. 

What’s next?

Good question… 

I’ve been battling an aggressive cancer with an equally aggressive treatment regime. Chemo brain is a thing. As a result, not much writing has occurred this summer. When all this hit, I was halfway through Peril in the Pony Ring, the next book in the Keri Isles series. (Keri organizes her first event for the town of Liberty Falls and of course there are complications.) I also had the next Holly Price novel outlined (Holly is back in the Tri-Cities. Her best friend Laurie pulls her into another mystery that naturally has financial overtones.) My editor nudges me periodically about turning that one in….  Once I can string a few coherent sentences together, it’ll be a challenge deciding which one to work on first.

Learn more about Cathy here:

Facebook http://facebook.com/CathyPerkinsAuthor

BookBub https://www.bookbub.com/authors/cathy-perkins 

Website www.cperkinswrites.com 

Olympic Skates

Like many sports fans last week, our TV was tuned to the Olympics. Gymnasts, swimmers, divers, track-and-fielders. Such amazing athletes! This year, for the first time, we also watched skateboarding.

Skateboarding may not strike purists an Olympic-worthy sport, but I can understand how the hobby— embraced for decades by renegade spirits of all ages—made it through the international committee that decides such things. Perhaps it went something like this: “Well, we’ve got snowboarding in winter, so…”


This year’s event aired just in time to put the finishing touches on a scene in my next mystery. In researching the sport, I’ve learned a few bits of language that thrashers (skateboarders) speak—like grind, ollie, and tail-grab five-forty—as they zoom around a skatepark’s cradles and bowls.

Here’s a peek at that scene: 

He leaped into the bowl, flipped his board with his feet, reconnected to it in mid air, zipped down to the bottom and up another slope, gaining speed as he went. On his last approach to the top, his feet left the board and he went airborne, flipped upside down and still somehow managed to reconnect feet to board and land the trick. Someone shouted, “Rip it up, Skeeter!” The crowd went crazy.

After watching eleven- and twelve-year-old girls compete for an Olympic medal in Tokyo, a different skateboard scene, this one in The Body Next Door, popped into my head. (Five years on, I forgot I’d written it!) Instead of a skatepark, it’s set in the parking garage of a high-rise where Samantha Newman watches the forlorn ten-year-old Lizzie Mason struggle to teach herself how to ride her big brother’s cast-off board.

That scene led me to remember another one from the book, one that features Krav Maga, which is a perfect sport for the Olympics. Invented by the Israeli military, and adopted by law enforcement organizations around the world, it’s a form of hand to hand combat in which you learn to neutralize an assailant (or unruly criminal) as quickly as possible. No weapon needed. In my novel, however, the self defense system dissolves into a silly pillow fight between Samantha and the ever-elusive Carter Chapman. While it could be said that their attraction to one another is of Olympic proportions, we shall save that conversation for another day. 😉

Did you watch the Olympics this year? What’s your favorite event?

Gay Yellen writes the award-winning Samantha Newman Mysteries, including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the soon to be released Body in the News. She’d love to hear from you here, on FacebookBookBub, or via her website.


For the Love of Sidekicks!

By Lynn McPherson

I love developing characters for stories. Right now I’m writing the first draft of a new book and I’m in the process of narrowing down the sidekick–who is she and why do I like her? I’ve talked about them before but I think it’s worth bringing up again.

Why is a sidekick so important? Simple. She is an ally to our amateur sleuth–someone trustworthy enough for her to share secrets with. There’s no one better to bounce ideas off of than a best bud.

Top three qualities in a sidekick? Here’s my picks:

1.     Good Listening Skills!
What is the point of having great insight if there is no one around to share it with? A sidekick in a mystery must be willing to indulge the protagonist no matter what they are prattling on about. It goes beyond the passive ability to hear. The character must absorb what the sleuth is saying and sometimes even help progress ideas along so they are not mere musings. The amateur sleuth can either turn them into coherent theories, or pass them off as sheer observations.

2.    Loyalty
Of all the qualities in a friend, this one always tops the charts. The main character in a cozy needs someone to rely on through thick and thin. This is especially important in the business of amateur sleuthing since the protagonist is almost always mixed up in murder! It’s important for the reader to have faith in the friendship, as well. With so many suspects on the loose, there should be at least one dependable friend at all times—someone who will always be there, even when things go awry.

3.    Humor
Part of the charm of mysteries is the knowledge that a solution lies at the end of the book. The puzzle will be solved, order will be restored. Light mysteries require an element of joy that is brought about through close relationships within the surrounding community—most notably, with her ever-present true friend and confidante. Why not make them a funny? It’s a great way to lighten the mood and show the sleuth doesn’t take herself too seriously all of the time.

The name of the sidekick in my Izzy Walsh Mystery Series is Ava Russell. She has all of the above qualities and was my favorite character to write–especially the dialogue. Sassy is probably the best word to describe her. Ava is inspired by Jane Russell’s character in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Dorothy Shaw.

I hope everyone can get outside and enjoy the sunshine.

Until then, happy reading! 

Lynn McPherson has worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, ran a small business, and taught English across the globe. She has travelled the world solo where her daring spirit has led her to jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, and learn she would never master a surfboard. She now channels her lifelong love of adventure and history into her writing, where she is free to go anywhere, anytime. Her cozy series has three books out: The Girls’ Weekend Murder and The Girls Whispered Murder, and The Girls Dressed For Murder.  

Gay Yellen: Flying Dreams

Have you ever had a dream that returns again and again?

When I was a child, I had quite a few. Most of them were scary. In one, I was repeatedly shot by a mean-looking gangster. In another, a gorilla chased me down the street, getting closer and closer as I ran for my life. And then there was my worst high school nightmare, in which a report that was due for my next class was inside my locker, and I could not remember the combination to get it open.

Each dream startled me awake. I would bolt upright in bed, my heart racing. 

But one recurring dream from my elementary school years was a repeated delight,

because in that dream, I could fly.

My partner in the unforgettable adventure was my Aunt Dora.
We would hold hands and soar, light as air, over my school and the neighborhood below.
I entered this lovely dream more than once, and I wish I still could.
Those were the years when I was reading Mary Poppins books. I adored that magical flying governess and envied the lucky Banks children, because among performing other wonders, Mary let them fly with her.
Like Mary Poppins, Aunt Dora was a keen observer of people. When she expressed an opinion, it was almost always witty and to the point, which may be why my young dreaming brain chose her to be the flying nanny’s avatar.

In my twenties, when I had a little bit of spendable income and an apartment with empty walls to fill, I purchased an engraving by Graciela Rodo Boulanger. The moment I saw it, I had to have it, because it felt so similar to what I remembered of my long-lost dream.

The artwork still reminds me of the times when I could fly above the town with Aunt Dora. And though I’ve never consciously emulated her, I can sometimes feel her speaking through me, coloring a line of dialogue I’ve written with her gently barbed humor.

Perhaps, like Mary Poppins, she had a touch of magic, too.

What about you—have you ever dreamed you could fly? Please comment below.

Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of The Samantha Newman Mystery Series.

Gay Yellen: Imaginary Friends

Dickie George was his name, my first imaginary friend. I was the only four-year-old among a household of grown-ups, so I suppose he was my way of having a ready-made playmate whenever I wanted an adventure.

At the dinner table, I would regularly share news of his latest exploits with my Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and teenage aunt. And they lovingly played along.

For me, there was no doubt that Dickie George was real. I was a well-mannered child, but he enjoyed all kinds of tricky activities, doing things that would have gotten an ordinary kid in trouble, like the time he stuck a broom in Grandma’s washing machine. Yes he did.

Somewhere along the way to kindergarten, I lost track of Dickie George. But he remains in the family lore of my childhood, and in my memory, too.

Later, when I encountered the brilliant Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, I would catch myself peering deeply into each panel in search of Dickie George, certain that he and Calvin were soulmates, and maybe even playmates. And Hobbes, too, all of them living together in the fantastical universe created by children’s imaginations.

I have new imaginary friends now, with names like Samantha and Carter and Lizzie and Gertie. As a grown-up author, I’m supposed to describe them as the characters in my books. Yet when I’m writing, they are as alive in my mind as Dickie George was so many decades ago. I often find myself following them and reporting on their activities, rather than forcing actions on them. Not always, but often enough that I can feel a trace of the little-girl me who once had an imaginary playmate. 

Did you have imaginary friends in your childhood?
What were they like? Please share in the Comments, below.

Gay Yellen is a former magazine and book editor. She writes the award-winning Samantha Newman Mystery Series: The Body Business and The Body Next DoorBook #3 is slated for release in 2021. Gay would love to hear from you, here, on Facebook, or at her website, GayYellen.com, where this post was originally published.


Thrillerfest XIV: Experience of a Lifetime

By Lynn McPherson

I have been to my first
Thrillerfest conference! I have to tell you all about it and why you may want
to consider attending it next year. For anyone who isn’t familiar with it,
let me give you a brief introduction. Thrillerfest is multi-day event that
takes place annually in NYC. It is attended by a wide array of thriller
authors, industry professionals, and fans.
so much to choose from, I decided to start with Pitchfest. It gives authors a chance
to meet and pitch to literary agents actively seeking new clients. I made the
wise decision to attend the practice session beginning an hour before the main
event. Up until then, I thought I had done enough breathing exercises and
preparation to stay calm and cool. Nope. When the doors opened and I walked in,
the reality of the situation hit me—this could be the chance I’d been waiting
for—the opportunity to capture an agent’s attention and interest that could
alter my future writing career. Totally psyched myself out. What if they didn’t
like me? They could crush my dreams within an allotted 3-minute session!
I walked shakily
up to my first resident expert. I had gotten there early enough that I was
first in line. I had chosen to talk to Elena Hartwell—a successful author with
several books out, including a new one with Crooked Lane Books, one of my dream
publishers. One look at me and she could see I was a ball of nerves. I sat down
with her and she immediately reminded me that this was a practice session and not the real deal. She told me to take a few
breaths and deliver my pitch. My shaky voice began with much less confidence
and surety than I’d had just an hour earlier when talking to the mirror in my
hotel room. I forgot some words, stumbled upon others, and began to sweat
profusely. Luckily for me, Elena was kind and understanding. She began with
what she liked—my story sounded fun and interesting. Then she went into her
thoughts of how to improve—use comparative books to give the agent a feel for
what I was aiming for, tell them my sub-genre upfront, and focus more on my
protagonist. Good suggestions that made sense. Before heading off, she wished me luck.
My second
attempt was even less polished. I’d tried to incorporate what Elena had said
and no longer had a memorized pitch. Luckily, Gretchen Stelter, an editor whose worked on over 500 manuscripts, was patient and
understanding. She told me that it is okay to be nervous. Not all authors are skilled presenters. She went over the basics of what I was trying to convey and helped me
focus on the main ideas. It was extremely helpful.
From the
practice session, we went right into the main event. Having gotten out a lot of
my jitters, I went into Pitchfest a little calmer and with a better idea of
what I was doing. I also reminded myself that these agents wanted to hear what
I had to say—they were here to look for writers to represent. I knew the agents
I wanted to talk to—there were about a dozen I thought might be a good fit for
me. So off I went.
It was a rough
start—the first agent wasn’t interested. Not even a little bit. However, by that time, I was a calmer. I left the experience unfazed. From there things looked up. I went on to
talk to seven more agents. Six were interested. That doesn’t mean they were
ready to sign me. But, each one asked me to submit my manuscript to them—either
full or partial. A lot of them had specific suggestions to incorporate into my
writing. Each one was focused and listening to what I had to say. The day
whizzed by. By five o’clock, I left with a clearer picture of what I could do
to make my manuscript stronger.
The next day, I
was lucky enough to participate in a panel with fabulous authors and eager
attendees. I did my panel and then went to several others. There were also
cocktail parties and coffees meetups, where an array of accomplished authors,
as well as other industry professionals, were walking around, happy to chat and
I took breaks to walk around the city. I attended a standup show at the
Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village. I took photos and ate some great food.
Overall, the
conference was a success. I left with more focus, more energy, and a better
sense of what I wanted to do in my writing. Before I submit my work, I am going
to incorporate what I learned and do some serious revisions. You get one chance and I want to present the
best manuscript I can. So, if you are looking to further your crime writing
career and have some fun, start savings those pennies—Thrillerfest is worth it.

Lynn McPherson has worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, ran a small business, and taught English across the globe. She has travelled the world solo where her daring spirit has led her to jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, and learn she would never master a surfboard. She now channels her lifelong love of adventure and history into her writing, where she is free to go anywhere, anytime. Her cozy series has two books out: The Girls’ Weekend Murder and The Girls Whispered Murder.  

Walked Right Through That Restraining Order…

Have you listened to the lyrics of “Redneck Crazy” by Tyler
Farr? It details the horrid stalking behavior the singer plans—and of course,
he blames the woman for his behavior, because she broke up with him.
I hate that song.
I lived it—right up to and including the truck on the lawn and the beer cans thrown at the window.
The Nation Center for Victims of Crime has
a section on stalking. It defines stalking as a pattern of behavior that makes
you feel afraid, nervous, harassed, or in danger. A stalker repeatedly contacts
you, follows you, sends you things, talks to you when you don’t want them to,
or threatens you.
Stalking behaviors can include:

  • Knowing
    your schedule.
  • Showing
    up at places you go.
  • Sending
    mail, e-mail, and pictures.
  • Calling
    or texting repeatedly.
  • Contacting
    you or posting about you on social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter,
  • Writing
  • Damaging
    your property.
  • Creating
    a Web site about you.
  • Sending
  • Any
    other actions to contact, harass, track, or frighten you.

It all sounds so benign, even the hundreds of daily calls
and texts, until you get to that last point—actions to harass, track and
frighten you.
Stalking is obsession. It’s about power and control. It’s a
The problem is states are just now getting on board and
adding laws criminalizing stalking. Like far too many crimes against women,
it’s difficult for law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office to develop a
case they think they can take to court—and win. They prefer something less
nebulous—did the stalker break into your house? Hit you? Hurt you? Those are
tangible—yes or no. Forensic evidence supports it. Showing up everywhere you
go? Coincidence, the stalker claims.
The statistics on women who are killed by an intimate partner
are even more sobering. The victims reported stalking and abuse—to friends and
the police—who were often as helpless as the victim to do anything about it.
So what to do with these depressing statistics?
I decided to put a human face on them. As the layers of So About the Money are revealed, the
reader finds stalking in the backgrounds of both Marcy, the murder victim, and
Holly Price, the amateur sleuth heroine. Surviving the ordeal deepens the bond
between the women and drives Holly to find out not just who killed Marcy, but why
was she murdered?
That, to me, is the beauty of an amateur sleuth or cozy. The
author can build depth into the characters and plot without climbing onto a
soap box.
Now of course I would never recommend you poison your
obsessive, violent partner’s black-eyed peas, but I rather liked “Goodbye Earl”
by the Dixie Chicks (written by Dennis Lynde) as an alternative theme song.

So About the Money
When Holly Price trips over a friend’s dead body, her life
takes a nosedive into a world of intrigue and danger. With an infinitely sexy
cop—Holly’s pissed-off, jilted ex-fiancé—threatening to arrest her for the
murder, the intrepid accountant must protect her future, her business…and her
heart…by using her investigative skills to follow the money, before the
killer decides CPA stands for Certified Pain in the Ass…and
the next dead body is Holly’s.



Mystery readers have long been aware that some of the best
literary detectives are rank amateurs. Unlike private eyes, FBI agents, and
police officers, amateur sleuths must fit in crime solving along with their day
job. These part-time detectives not only break the rules, they’re often unaware
of what the rules are. Still, this doesn’t stop them from unearthing evidence,
tracking down leads, and nabbing the killer.
Of course, they do operate with a few drawbacks. For one
thing, most do not carry weapons. An amateur sleuth also can’t obtain a search
warrant or wire tap, which may lead them to breaking and entering – a crime. One
of the biggest risks of not being a professional is the possibility of arrest,
since law enforcement views an amateur with suspicion or irritation. If an
amateur does find evidence or clues, the resources of a forensics or crime lab
are not available. This is why so many cozy mysteries feature police officers
or FBI agents as continuing characters; these characters are often a family
member or a romantic interest of the protagonist.
What an amateur sleuth relies upon are the three ‘I’s:
intelligence, ingenuity, and intuition. And a private citizen interested in
solving crimes is not without resources. Scores of databases are available
online, such as tax assessor records, genealogical history, property records,
military service, etc. And if the sleuth knows the person’s social security
number, the prefix will tell them the state where the number was issued. County
records and newspaper archives also help flatten the playing field for the
non-professional detective. But the most valuable asset for an amateur is
gossip. Most people are wary or fearful of the police. If the person asking
questions is a friend who owns the local bakery, the answers may be more
Cozy mysteries are frequently set in picturesque small towns,
and the amateur sleuth is usually a long-time resident. This allows them easy
access to all the juicy family secrets, and they know where all the bodies –
literally and figuratively – are buried. Such knowledge gives them an advantage
over an outside investigator.  Detectives
in cozies often own businesses such as tea shops, B&Bs, bookstores, and
vineyards. This constant influx of customers and visitors provides an ever-changing
pool of suspects and victims. The reader is also showered with lots of
fascinating details about the pr
otagonist’s business. 

Popular small business
cozies include Laura Child’s Tea Shop Mysteries, JoAnna Carl’s Chocoholic
mysteries, and Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayle’s Herb Shop series.
In real life, amateurs are sometimes sought out by law
enforcement. More than one police department has called in a psychic to help
them unravel an especially difficult case. These are sleuths who possess a
unique skill set rarely found in a forensics lab or police station. Not
surprisingly, mystery series have sprung up which feature paranormal
investigators. These detectives include not only psychics, ghost hunters, and
witches, but also actual supernatural creatures such as vampires and
werewolves. Perhaps the most famous in this subgenre is Charlaine Harris’s
Sookie Stackhouse books.
Readers might guess that placing an amateur sleuth in the
past – when investigative methods were minor or nonexistent – might be easier
to write. Not so. Cozy historical authors setting their stories in London must
be aware of how British ‘Bobbies’ came into service,  and that 1749 saw the founding of the Bow
Street Runners, the city’s first professional police force. In the American
colonies, law enforcement was the prerogative of constables, government
appointed sheriffs, and voluntary citizen “watches” who patrolled the town’s
streets at night. This leaves plenty of opportunity for amateur sleuths,
especially since the country’s first 24-hour police force did not appear until
1833 in Philadelphia. Books set during the early years of law enforcement
include the Bracebridge Mystery series by Margaret Miles, Maan Meyer’s Tonneman
books, and Patricia Wynn’s Blue Satan series set in Georgian London.

While there weren’t established police forces prior to the
19th century, there were lawyers. And it’s not only John Grisham and
Scott Turow who know that attorneys have access to both information and a wide
range of criminals. The practice of law has been a legalized profession since
the time of Roman Emperor Claudius in the first century. What a perfect
occupation for an amateur sleuth, as long as he doesn’t run afoul of the
ultimate arbiter of justice: the reigning monarch. And when the sleuth is the
monarch herself, as in the Queen Elizabeth I series by Karen Harper, then you
have the most powerful detective of them all.

Amateur detectives in historical settings must deal not only
with a budding police force. Ministers and officials could make things quite
dangerous for a sleuth, especially if that sleuth is an ordinary citizen
without wealth and powerful connections to back him up. And depending on the
time period, a wrongly accused victim did not have forensic science techniques
to help exonerate him. Fingerprinting wasn’t admissible in court until after
the turn of the 20th century, along with
photographs of the crime scene and victims. In both historical and contemporary
novels, amateur detectives have a hard time convincing police officials of
their theories. Even worse, the killer invariably targets the sleuth as their
next victim in order to avoid discovery.
Amateur sleuths also need a motive to get involved in a
murder investigation or else it wouldn’t make sense, given the inherent danger.
In our own debut mystery, Eliza Doolittle must prove that Henry Higgins is innocent
of murdering his chief rival; it is her friendship and loyalty to him that
spurs Eliza on. In Cleo Coyle’s first Coffeehouse mystery, the police believe
an attack on Clare’s employee was accidental; Clare believes otherwise and adds
‘amateur sleuth’ to her resume. And in Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake series,
amateur sleuth Julia must rescue her family business while solving a murder on
its remote island premises.
Amateur sleuths take on a load of trouble when they decide
to chase after criminals. Luckily, they seem to be quite good at it.

Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for a hard copy of Wouldn’t It Be Deadly.

D.E. Ireland is a team of award-winning
authors, Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta. Long time friends, they decided to
collaborate on this unique series based on George Bernard Shaw’s wonderfully
witty play,
Pygmalion, and flesh out their own
version of events post-Pygmalion.