Tag Archive for: author interview

Interview with Sarah E. Burr

By Lynn McPherson

I’m so excited to have Sarah E. Burr visiting us today. Sarah is the author of three very different series, including Trending Top Mysteries, Glenmyre Whim Mysteries, and the Court of Mystery series. She is also host of The Bookish Hour and It’s Bookish Time, along with J.C. Kenney. If that weren’t enough, Sarah has a social media content creation service just for authors, called BookstaBundles. Let’s dive in and find out more about Sarah!

You write the Trending Topic Murder Mysteries, the Glenmyre Whim Mysteries, and the Court of Mystery series. How do you manage to keep on top of all three? Do you write one at a time or simultaneously? How do you stay organized?

My characters are the ones who really help me stay organized. Coco Cline, Hazel Wickbury, and Duchess Jacqueline—my three heroines—are all very different in personality, but they are all very vocal in having their moment. It helps that the worlds they inhabit are also very distinct. Coco lives on a beach in Delaware, Hazel solves crimes in an upstate New York town with a supernatural sparkle, and Duchess Jacqueline ventures around a fictional realm. Because of these distinctions, it’s hard for me to mix them up. But I try to make it easy for myself by focusing on one world at a time. I’ll dedicate my writing time to a particular project and work exclusively on the manuscript as much as I can. For instance, I’m working on the next Glenmyre Whim Mystery with Hazel, so Coco and Duchess Jacqueline are on a well-earned vacation.

Each of these series is unique. Do you have a favorite one to write? Are there different readers in each genre?

Ooo, I can’t choose a favorite. Each series offers me a different escape and a new experience to live vicariously through. But I will admit that there are some supporting characters I prefer writing over others (Jasper and Poppy, I’m looking at you—although, please don’t tell them I used the word “supporting,” as they are stars in their own right). As for readers, I like to think I have something to offer to any mystery lover. Readers who enjoy contemporary cozies will have a blast getting to know Coco. Readers who love a little magic sprinkled on their mystery should check out Hazel, and those who appreciate fantasy and exploring new worlds can find something special in Duchess Jacqueline. And if you love all those reading experiences, I have sixteen (and counting) books waiting for you!

I’m currently listening to the audiobook of #FollowMe for Murder. It’s so well done. Coco Cline is hilarious. Where do you draw your inspiration for ideas and characters?

Thank you! It’s always so lovely to hear that someone appreciates my sense of humor because writing humor is challenging for me. It takes me a long time to think up jokes and quips—that’s often the hardest part of my writing process. Regarding the characters in #FollowMe for Murder, I took experiences with charismatic, extroverted people from my own life and dialed them up by one thousand percent. Coco and her friends are larger-than-life, and it’s so much fun writing about the shenanigans they get up to. I also lean into my pop culture interests in the Trending Topic Mysteries. A guilty pleasure of mine is celebrity gossip, so I love to weave references to actors, public figures, and movies into Coco’s dialogue and thoughts.

There are a lot of social media tips readers can pick up on in the book. How did you become so savvy?

Through experience.Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have been a part of my life since my high school days. They’ve just always been something I’ve used. I’m also a big fan of technology, so when something new comes out, I love learning the platform’s ins and outs. Social media isn’t inherently intuitive, so sitting down and taking the time to understand how to use it is a great place to start. Investing your time—not money—in social media is incredibly important.

Each writer seems to do things their own way. Mind sharing your writing process?

Where to start? I guess I always begin a book thinking about the mystery. Before I start writing,
I like to figure out who’s dead, who the killer is, and why they’ve been killed. Once I have that
solved, the rest of the book eventually comes together to support the central mystery plot.
As a series continues, there are subplots I work to develop and explore, but I’m a mystery lover
at heart, so that’s always my main focus. I want to create a great mystery for my readers to try
and solve.

Some of your books are published independently, others with a traditional publisher. Do you have a preference, or are there pros and cons of each?

With my traditionally published series, the Trending Topic Mysteries, it’s fantastic to have the support of a publisher behind you. They help with marketing, editing, formatting, design, the works, and that takes a lot of the pressure off my shoulders. Having that time back allows me to write more. And with my indie books, I love being able to move at my own pace.

Aside from writing and promoting your own work, you also run BookstaBundles, a social media service for authors. It sounds fabulous. Can you tell us about it?

One of the things no one tells you—or no one told me—is that half the work of publishing a book is marketing it. Once I learned this, I began exploring graphic design because I wanted to create professional-looking content for my indie books without having to break the bank by paying someone else. Along the way, I got really great at designing digital art, so much so that I began receiving requests from other authors to make content for them. Eventually, I turned those requests into a service, and BookstaBundles was born. I’m proud of the skills I’ve mastered and sharing that knowledge with others is extremely fulfilling. Since I understand how time-consuming book promotion is and how draining it can be on your finances, I also strive to keep my prices low for my clients. If you’re an author struggling to create content to post online, check out my designs at www.bookstabundles.com – I might be able to help!

You co-host The Bookish Hour and A Bookish Moment on YouTube with J.C. Kenney, another great mystery author. These are both so much fun. How is it going?

Better than either J.C. or I could have ever imagined. What began as an experiment has turned into a growing media empire! In March 2022, J.C. and I were thinking of ways to celebrate our latest releases (Record Store Reckoning and #FollowMe for Murder). We wanted to do something creative and out-of-the-box. So, we decided to do a livestream on YouTube to celebrate, and because we were live, we could take questions from our audience. The feedback we got after our show was incredible, and we had authors emailing us asking if they could do an appearance with us. One thing led to another; now, we’re scheduling The Bookish Hour shows into 2024. Due to the enthusiasm from both the writing and reading communities, J.C. and I recently launched our A Bookish Moment offering. In these thirty-minute, author-driven vignettes, our featured author has the opportunity to interact directly with readers through interview Q & A, book excerpts, trivia, and more — perfect for celebrating a new release or highlighting/announcing other fun book news.

I love your Author Brand Rehab Tips on Instagram. They are helpful and informative. Do you learn through experience?

Absolutely. Experience is the best teacher. I’ve been at this for over five years now. As an author and a blog/podcast interviewer, I’ve seen both sides. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had an author send me a blurry picture or an interview where they don’t mention their book. So, I want to help those folks out. My Author Brand Rehab videos are meant to help authors reinvigorate their marketing efforts and set them up for success in 2023.

I’m obsessed with your covers. They are all amazing. How much say do you have in their design?

Thank you! I love my covers, too, and each series has its own answer to this question. I design my Glenmyre Whim Mystery covers myself, so I have a reasonably large say in their design. The graphic artist for my Court of Mystery series, Mihail Uvarov, is absolutely incredible and such a fantastic collaborator. He will take a chicken-scratch drawing I send him and bring it to life in the most gorgeous way. As for the Trending Topic Mysteries, my publisher designs two or three options based on their vision for the book. From there, we work together to create something that showcases Coco’s bright and bubbly personality.

Do you plan to attend any in-person events this year, such as Malice Domestic?

I will be at Malice Domestic, for sure. Last year was my first time attending an in-person conference, and I had an incredible time. It may surprise some readers to learn that I am beyond introverted and being around hundreds of people sounded really daunting at first. However, as soon as I arrived at the conference, all that anxiety went out the window, and I had a fabulous experience. I can’t recommend Malice enough.

What are you working on next?

As we speak, I am writing the next Glenmyre Whim Mystery. Hazel has really started to come into her own (she is also a fairly large introvert). She’s beginning to realize that solving murders in her small town might be her new way of life, and readers will see how she plans to tackle this challenge. I’m also getting ready to launch another series, the Book Blogger Mysteries. I can’t wait for readers to meet Arwen Lark. Arwen—or “Winnie” is a famous, yet anonymous book blogger with a loyal following. Add in a Hollywood actor brother and a dead body, and Winnie’s real life will soon become stranger than fiction!

Readers: Sarah mentioned going to Malice Domestic in April. I’m going, too! Are you going to attend any fun in-person events this year? Hope to see you at Malice!

Sarah E. Burr is the award-winning author of the Glenmyre Whim Mysteries, Trending Topic Mysteries, and Court of Mystery series. She currently serves as the social media manager for the New York chapter of Sisters in Crime and is the creative mind behind BookstaBundles, a content creation service for authors. Sarah is the co-host of The Bookish Hour, a live-streamed YouTube series featuring author interviews and book discussions. When she’s not spinning up stories, Sarah is singing Broadway tunes, reading everything from mystery to manga, video gaming, and enjoying walks with her dog, Eevee. Stay connected with Sarah via her newsletter: https://bit.ly/saraheburrsignup

Website: www.saraheburr.com
Newsletter: https://bit.ly/saraheburrsignup
Trending Topic Mysteries: https://bit.ly/trendingtopicmysteries
Court of Mystery series: https://bit.ly/courtofmystery
Glenmyre Whim Mysteries: https://bit.ly/glenmyrewhimmysteries
The Bookish Hour & A Bookish Moment Podcasts: www.itsbookishtime.com

Lynn McPherson has had a myriad of jobs, from running a small business to teaching 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. Lynn served on the Board of Directors for Crime Writers from 2019-2021. She is the author of The Izzy Walsh Mystery Series and has a new series coming out in 2024 with Level Best Books. She can be found at http://lynnmcpherson.net/.




James M. Jackson Sends Seamus McCree on a New Adventure

Interview with Paula Gail Benson

James M. Jackson’s suspense/thriller series features protagonist Seamus McCree, a former analyst who specializes in financial crimes. So far, Jim’s work includes seven novels (Ant Farm, Bad Policy, Cabin Fever, Doubtful Relations, Empty Promises, False Bottom, and the recently released Granite Oath), and two novellas (Furthermore and Low Tide at Tybee). In Granite Oath, Seamus’ clients are his eight-year-old granddaughter Megan and her new best friend Valeria, whose mother and Nana are illegal immigrants. When Megan tells Valeria that her grandfather’s name means investigator, he has to explain the difference between “Seamus” and “Shamus.” What Seamus learns while trying to find Valeria’s missing mother is that illegals have to deal with a secretive lifestyle that deprives them of basic necessities and exposes them to danger.

Today, the Stiletto Gang welcomes Jim to talk about Seamus’ latest adventure.

Seamus’ business background is as a financial analyst. How does his perspective influence his methods of investigation?

A hammer initially approaches the world as though everything it meets is a nail. Only when an object clearly cannot be a nail does the hammer consider other alternatives. Seamus is more sophisticated, but if he does not see an obvious explanation for someone’s behavior, his inclination is to try to understand the individual’s financial motivations. He uses his deep knowledge of monetary shenanigans and financial systems to “follow the money” in ways most investigators cannot.

Family is an important aspect of Seamus’ life. How do interactions with the various members of Seamus’ extended family (girlfriends, ex-wife, son, granddaughter, mother, and step-sister) help reveal his character traits?

Granite Oath is told from Seamus’s first-person point of view. This provides the reader direct insight into his thinking and reactions. While this gives a valuable insight into what makes Seamus tick, none of us see ourselves accurately. Seamus would have us believe that he is a hermit-wannabe whose word is his bond. His ex-wife corroborates that Seamus will “turn a pinkie swear into a granite oath that nothing less than a glacier can crush.”

Yet his relationships with his family show a different side to Seamus. He dotes on his granddaughter, and with her we see a more playful side of Seamus. He’s always looking for an opportunity to expand her experiences (even if Megan’s parents would object if they knew). His family and “girlfriend,” as you call Niki, take great joy in pointing out Seamus’s foibles, forcing him to reconsider his perspective. The ending (which I will not spoil) involves another character putting words in Seamus’s mouth about his feelings that he would never speak, but we as readers know to be true.

When Seamus’ mother speaks seriously to him, she uses his full name: Seamus Anslem McCree. I remember you saying your mother called you by your full name when you were in trouble. Did you draw upon some of your mother’s qualities in creating Seamus’ mother?

Good memory, Paula. I think many parents fall into that same behavior of using their kid’s full name to emphasize the gravity of a situation. When my mother confronted a DEFCON 1 (the worst trouble) situation, she’d be so mad, she’d run through the names of my sisters, my father, even our dog before finally landing on my full name as the culprit. That’s when I needed to slide a book down the back of my pants to mitigate the coming corporal punishment!

Now that I think about it, one major strength that my mother and Seamus’s share is both are/were survivors. Life was not always easy for either of them, but after each setback, they picked themselves up and carried on.

Granite Oath is particularly intriguing because Seamus, in seeking to help Valeria and her family, must confront suspicion and resistance as a male caring for young females who are not his own children. His situation seems most precarious when he takes Valeria to see a doctor. Did you research this issue or depend upon your own observations to write these scenes?

When Jan and I traveled with our granddaughters, she had signed permission from the child’s parents, allowing her to act in loco parentis. When we crossed through customs, we made sure Jan was driving to answer the agent’s questions. Agents always asked—often of the child—what my relationship to the girl was.

I attended an informational meeting a few years ago about how to spot human trafficking. An older guy with a young woman or girl, especially one who appears timid or scared, is a huge trigger. Even with my daughter, I’ve had people ask her questions designed to make sure she was not under duress.

In your website biography, you say, “If I can’t be outside enjoying nature, I want to be able to see outside.” Those of us who know you have always appreciated your excellent nature and bird photography. How has seeing the world through a camera’s eye helped your writing?

A good photograph tells a story. Different photographers, when presented with the same scene, will tell different stories beginning with where they focus the lens and what shutter speed and depth of field they choose. Do you focus on the bee, the flower from which the bee is harvesting pollen, or the meadow that includes the flower and the bee?

What I’ve learned is often when I zoom in, I can imply the larger picture with a single aspect. For example, if I focus on the bee’s front, showing pollen on its face and legs, while blurring or cropping everything else, those specific details imply a complete bee, and a flower, and a meadow. I may not have seen that when I took the picture, but through editing, I can crop out the extraneous and highlight what I want the viewer to pay attention to.

Understanding that process helps me turn my early drafts into finished manuscripts. I look for those same opportunities to imply a larger whole through a single detail and crop away anything extraneous—unless I want to hide a clue or create a red herring. Then I widen the lens to hide the telling detail in a cornucopia of extraneous detail, but it will be there if you look/read closely enough.

Your novel titles progress alphabetically. Do you envision 26 Seamus’ books?

No. Sue Grafton only made it to twenty-five, and she started at a much younger age than I. I have a tentative title and core idea for the “H” novel which revolves around Seamus and his nemesis, the Happy Reaper, meeting one final time. But Granite Oath needs to sell sufficiently well to justify the effort.

How did writing the Seamus’ novellas differ from writing the novels?

My novels are four to five times longer than my novellas (and twenty to thirty times longer than a typical short story). I enjoy creating myriad complications and twists and turns between the inciting incident and the story’s conclusion. With novellas, the primary storyline requires most of the words, leaving only a few for a single subplot. I find it helpful with novellas to constrict the elapsed time of the story.

What would be the most important impression you want readers to take away from Granite Oath?

Every reader brings their individual experiences to a novel. Given that, each discovers a different story, none of which is the story I thought I wrote. The best I can hope is that people will enjoy my story and read it to its conclusion. Then it becomes like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Africa: we’ll never know how reading Granite Oath affected anything, but we know it will.

Short Biography:

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. Full of mystery and suspense, these domestic thrillers explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. August 2022 saw publication of the 7th novel in the series, Granite Oath. (Click here for information and purchase links.)

Jim splits his time between the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the city life in Madison, WI. You can find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com or contact him via email.

Marie Sutro: the next Thomas Harris?

An interview with Paula Gail Benson

I had the wonderful good fortune this year to meet and work with author Marie Sutro on the Killer Workshop presented by the Capitol Crimes and Palmetto Chapters of Sisters in Crime. Marie is one of the most organized, resourceful, and congenial creative persons I know. When I learned her second novel was being released, I quickly purchased her first. I was surprised to read Steve Alten’s endorsement: “Marie Sutro’s debut novel, Dark Associations, may just be this generation’s Silence of the Lambs.” By chapter two, I met her psychopathic villain. Marie’s intricate descriptions and fast-paced action combined with a flawed protagonist seeking justice amid chaos keeps her readers turning pages. If you haven’t already discovered her, please join us for this brief interview, then check out her Kate Barnes’ novels Dark Associations and Dark Obsessions.

Welcome, Marie, to the Stiletto Gang!

As a San Francisco Police detective, your protagonist Kate Barnes deals with some sordid and horrifying events in life. Marie, you personally are so outgoing and gracious. How did you find the “dark” place inside Kate and how are you able to revisit it without it overwhelming you?

Thank you for the compliment. I use the same tool to find my way into the dark as I do to find my way into the light. Trying to empathize with the character opens doors into feelings, motivations, and behaviors that at first blush may be entirely foreign to me, or (in the case of a villain) morally repugnant. Once the door is open, research provides the context to put everything into proper focus. One of my goals is to try to shine spotlights on the darker sides of humanity so we can learn from it. That process starts with empathy for our fellow human beings.

Like all lofty goals, it can come at a price. Delving into the darkness repeatedly takes a toll. I’ve learned the value of establishing limits on how much time I spend on dark topics (whether researching or writing). When I near my limit, I’ll get up and take a walk, watch a cartoon, play with my cats, or even run to the store. By focusing on the end goal and managing my exposure, I can keep the darkness at bay.

In both your books, Dark Associations and Dark Obsessions, you use juxtaposition and surprise to bring the readers into Kate Barnes’ world. Dark Associations begins with “the Big Bad Wolf” viewing a beautiful blonde woman. A reader might expect this is the mind of a perpetrator, but in a few paragraphs you reveal it is Kate, who has resisted becoming a mentor for this enthusiastic student. Through juxtaposition, you develop Kate’s character as well as showing the relationship with the Tower Torturer, the serial killer she is attempting to catch and stop. Similarly, in Dark Obsessions, at first Kate appears to be in danger of getting a traffic ticket when she actually is about to be asked on a date. How did you decide to use surprise and juxtaposition to introduce your characters and begin your stories? What advantages did it give you?

Juxtaposition and surprise are great ways to introduce characters and subplots in a detective driven mystery. They give me the ability to immediately tell the reader to expect the unexpected and to be ready to consider facts from different angles while panting seeds for future plot twists.

In Dark Associations readers are encouraged to question whether Kate really is a hero. Like most of us, she is a flawed human being but she has been brutally ravaged by life experiences. The question of what makes one person who faces extreme adversity into a hero, while another is made into a villain is fascinating to me. Juxtaposition and surprise allowed me to plant doubt about Kate’s hero status and whether she can maintain it.

Dark Associations takes place in San Francisco, while your new Kate Barnes novel, Dark Obsessions, has Kate traveling to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. The first has Kate facing a professional dilemma, while the second starts with her confronting personal demons. Did you know from the outset this would be Kate’s journey or did it develop as the plot of the first book progressed?

Originally I conceived of Kate’s story in a three-book arc. The second book was intended to focus on her attempt to confront the personal demons that threaten her ability to do her job as well as her ability to connect with others. At first the story was going to be set in Seattle, but the more I thought about the nature of the issues she needed to confront, I realized there was no better setting that the dark reaches of the Olympic Peninsula. Pulling her from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco and dropping her into a small community where she only knows one person was the best way to challenge her professionally and personally.

On the cover of each book, there is a symbol. Could you tell us about each, how they were selected, and how they impact the stories?

The symbols on the covers are the first puzzles the reader is exposed to in each story. In Dark Associations the epigraph includes the symbol as well as an ancient Norse poem, which sets the tone for the book. The symbol is soon revealed to be a Norse Thorn. It is an ancient Nordic rune used as a calling card by an insidious serial killer known as the Tower Torturer. He chose it for two of its many meanings, which are male power and dominance.

In Dark Obsessions the cover symbol is an original design based on ancient concepts pivotal to the final reveal. After lengthy research and considering different possibilities, I designed it on a cocktail napkin while having dinner with my husband.

What do you see in Kate’s future?

As previously mentioned, I had originally conceived of Kate’s story in a three-book arc. Yet, reader response and my own journey revealed she is definitely a character with legs. I am currently writing the third book in the series, but Kate is persistently whispering she has a lot more to offer.

Marie, thanks for joining us and best wishes with your continuing series!

Brief Biography:

Marie Sutro is an award-winning and bestselling crime fiction author. In 2018, she won the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for the Best New Voice in Fiction, for her debut novel, Dark Associations. Her second novel, Dark Obsessions, was released in April 2022. A member of Sisters In Crime, she also volunteers with California Library Literacy Services.

Her father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served in the San Francisco Police Department, collectively inspiring her writing. Marie resides in Northern California and is currently at work on the next book in the Kate Barnes series.

Interview with Cozy Author, Rose Kerr

By Lynn McPherson

I met Rose Kerr earlier this year at Malice Domestic. We had a few good chats over some delicious cake and I’m delighted to have her here today to talk about her great new book, Death on the Set. It’s the first book in the Brenna Flynn Mystery Series, recently published by Touchpoint Press.

Rose, can you tell us about your debut novel, Death on the Set?

Brenna Flynn is my protagonist in Death on the Set. Brenna’s had some bad luck. Her husband was killed in a highway accident, and then she loses her job as a high school guidance counselor due to budget cuts.

She returns home to Bayview City and works with a temp agency to find work until she can get work as a high school guidance counselor. 

Brenna interviews for the job of a production assistant for a cooking reality show and aces the interview. On the second day at work, she finds a body. The police think she may have something to do with the murder and she’s their prime suspect.

Determined to prove her innocence, Brenna uses the skills she’s honed as a high school guidance counselor to learn about the victim and members of the cast and crew. The stakes are raised with threatening notes, poisonings, and blackmail.

Can Brenna uncover who the killer is before someone else dies?

The story is so much fun. Where do you get your book ideas?

I had a lot of fun writing this book! For Death on the Set, my son and I were watching a cooking reality show and the head chef (who shall remain nameless) was especially nasty to the contestants. I looked at my son and said, one day someone is going to kill him. My son said, Mom, there’s your story. It took a while to get that story out, but it was fun writing it. The other two books in the series came from ideas that had been in my mind for some time.

Why did you choose a former guidance counselor as your protagonist?

I’ve worked with guidance counselors in the past. Some skills they have seemed natural for my amateur sleuth to have. The skills Brenna uses include research, understanding how people think, observant, active listening, drawing people out, critical thinking, problem solving, gathering information, making informed decisions, Brenna genuinely likes people and wants to help them where possible.

How important is setting in your books?

Bayview City is a fictional town on the shores of Lake Superior. My husband and I raised our family in a small town in Northern Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. We had beautiful parks close to our town and took advantage of Lake Superior’s coastline. The lake was a factor in our lives because of how often the weather changed. We had some storms that came up quickly. The lake is vast, majestic, and constantly changing. I’ve used some parts of the town we lived in and parts of larger towns and cities in my books. It’s a setting I’m familiar and very comfortable with.

What’s your writing process? Do you have an extensive outline? Are you a pantser?

I do a lot of preparation for my books; I outline thoroughly. In my series, my main character, Brenna Flynn, takes on temp jobs. It’s important for me to understand the responsibilities  she has for each position. The recurring characters each support Brenna differently. New to the series characters need to be developed. I like to know who is the victim, who the killer is, and why they’re the victim and the killer. I’ve tried pantsing and it just didn’t work for me. I admire anyone who is a pantser! One thing I’ve started doing with book three is ending my writing session with a brief note reminding me of the next scene. It’s been helpful to keep me on track.

Did you always want to be a writer? Why crime?

I wanted to write, but wasn’t sure what to write. I tried my hand at writing romance, but it didn’t stick. I found writing murder mysteries much more fun!

Who are your favorite cozy authors?

I have several authors that I reach for frequently: Connie Berry, Lynn Cahoon, Kate Carlisle, and Vicki Delany. I’m always looking for new cozy authors to read.

What’s next for Brenna Flynn?

Book two, tentatively title Death in Academia, is with my editor. I’m writing book three, working title, Death at the Festival. I don’t think Brenna is going to find work as a guidance counselor for some time!

Rose Kerr lived most of her adult life in small towns. She and her husband raised their family in a small town in Northern Ontario, on the shores of Lake Superior. Rose is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Guppy Online Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and Crime Writers of Canada. For more info visit www.rosekerr.com

Facebook: https://https://www.facebook.com/RoseKerrAuthor

Instagram: @r.m.kerr

Twitter: @rkerrwriter

Pinterest: @rosekerrauthor



Last week I sat down for a long-distance chat with my critique partner and fellow Stiletto Gang blogger Donnell Ann Bell. Today we get together again, but this time it’s my turn to grill—uhm…interview her.

I want to start off by reciprocating the compliments Donnell gave me. I’m very lucky to have her as my critique partner. She makes me a better writer in so many ways but mostly because she makes comments and asks questions that force me to think about my stories in ways that might not ever occur to me otherwise.


But Donnell and I are more than critique partners; we’re friends. Are we two peas in a pod? Hardly! We often disagree—on many topics—but our friendship and working relationship transcend any differing opinions we may have. When we disagree, we agree to disagree and move on. These days, that’s a rare quality between people and one I treasure in her.


So here are some things about suspense author Donnell Ann Bell you may not know.


Lois: Donnell, one of the things I love about your books is the amount of research you put into writing them. You never info dump, but you make sure that your plots, events, and characters are accurate and believable. You have a vast network of experts you call upon for everything from medical issues to government agencies to cybersecurity and beyond. How did you come to meet all these professionals?


Donnell: I pay them – huge bucks!  Actually, it’s how I’m wired, Lois. I know how I learn. Some people can read vast amounts of information and retain it. I’m an auditory, tactile learner—something I learned late in life and not in my formative years, which would have been so helpful. I don’t do as well in online workshops, especially if the lecturer is imparting complicated, technical material. But if I listen to it, I do better. Generally, I request a phone call or a Zoom session. Most of my experts are entirely generous and one question often leads to another.  


LoisYou’ve had a varied career, including working as a court stenographer and a volunteer victim’s advocate. What other jobs have you held, and would you ever consider creating a protagonist who works in one of those fields?


Donnell: I actually thought about creating a court reporter protagonist – wrote a few chapters. Then realism set in. If you’re a court reporter employed in the court system, you work 40 hours in the courtroom and 20-plus hours transcribing (at least in my day before real-time court transcription). As I wrote, my plot fell apart:  I can see it now, my court reporter is trying to solve a murder, but then she’s held in contempt of court for not getting her depositions done.


My previous jobs were administrative in nature. I’ve worked in human resources for a semiconductor plant (processing NSA security clearance applications for our employees), commercial real estate, structural engineering, oil and gas companies, and my favorite, which led me to writing fiction after an injury ended my court reporting days, I went to a weekly newspaper. Later I was considered so good at my job that I was hired as the editor for a parenting magazine. I’m a firm believer that when one door closes, it ALWAYS opens a window. Just be sure to stick your head out and LOOK! Life experience is invaluable. It’s all material.


Lois: Writing is a business where authors need to develop a thick skin to survive. We’ve always been brutally honest with each other when it comes to what’s working and what’s not working in a story. After many years, we’re still critique partners and still friends. Would you like to explain to our readers the secret to our successful working relationship?


Donnell: I think we both are open-minded individuals, and we’re not about to let ego interfere with our ability to create the best book possible. Critique partners do each other no favors by not pointing out problems.  On the opposite side of criticism, however, critique partners should be quick to praise when something is working. I think we both do that.


Lois: Of course, I’ve read all your books. Thinking back, I believe they’re all set in either Colorado or New Mexico, two places you’ve lived. Other than changing planes in Denver once years ago, I’ve never been to either state. Have you considered setting a book elsewhere, or will you continue with the places you’re most familiar?

Donnell:  Maybe. I have a book currently collecting dust somewhere. The unpublished manuscript won first place in RWA’s Haunted Hearts Contest for Gothic Romance Writers and was a finalist for RWA’s Dual on the Delta Contest eons ago. I called it The Memory Maker. Back to the experience I mentioned above, I worked for a structural engineering company, and I got to tour a school in Colorado Springs called The Lowell School. [picture] I took that wonderful experience and wrote a story around it, except the school became Marcum School, and I create a fictitious city called Sherwood, New York.


Lois: You once thought about writing a cozy mystery series. Are you still considering doing so one day, or are you firmly entrenched in suspense for now? Any other genres or subgenres you’d like to write?


Donnell: I never say never. My long-ago critique group said I have a good first-person voice. First person, as you know, requires discipline. I remember once you went into Zack’s POV and I had to say, “Lois, you’re writing first person.” 😊

Lois: Yeah, I remember that. I think I hadn’t had my second cup of coffee the morning I wrote that scene. Moving on…The second book in your Cold Case Suspense Series will release in a few weeks. If Hollywood came calling, who would you like to see cast as Lieutenant Pope, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brian DiPietro, Special Agent Allison Shannon, Special Agent Devon Taylor, and ATF agent Seth Walker?


Donnell:  Ooooh. No fair. This is so tough! Okay, dang. Tyler Perry (I thought was fabulous in James Patterson’s movie-version Alex Cross), Kevin Costner (as I’ve already done so in Black Pearl), Daniela Ruah (who plays Kinsey on NCIS, Los Angeles would be perfect as Allison Shannon), and, wow, for Devon . . . Richard Madden ( Ikaris in Eternals.)  


Lois: I’m excited about the book you have coming out in May 2022. Would you like to tell our readers about it?


Donnell:  The published title is called Until Dead: A Cold Case Suspense. Two years after the Black Pearl Killer’s apprehension, the taskforce that solved the case reunites to solve an equally challenging case. An assistant U.S. attorney is targeted by a deadly, multi-skilled assassin who calls himself The Tradesman. 

Lois: Do you have plans for a third Cold Case book?


Donnell: In the works. I’m currently talking to those experts we discussed above. A retired FBI agent and a forensic psychiatrist have given me the go-ahead that my plot can work. Now it’s all about the storytelling.


Lois: Thank you so much for joining us today, Donnell. Readers, if you’d like to learn more about Donnell and her books, check out her website.


Thank you, Lois! (Now enough slacking. Where’s your next chapter?)

Until Dead

A Cold Case Suspense, Book 2

This killer won’t stop …until she’s dead

When Lt. Everett T. Pope is notified of an explosion in downtown Denver close to the judicial buildings, his first instinct is gas leak. No such luck. As Incident Command and Pope’s own Major Crimes unit move in, he discovers he knows the intended victims—an Assistant U. S. Attorney—and Pope’s former partner, now a private investigator, has died shielding the injured AUSA with his body.

As ATF and the FBI take over investigating the bombing and unraveling motives behind the murder attempt, Pope is relegated to a peripheral role. But the injured AUSA’s aunt is a United States senator used to getting results. She turns to the team that solved the Black Pearl Killer murders with a very big ask—find her answers and locate the bomber.

FBI Special Agent Brian DiPietro must recall his entire cold case team from their far-flung assignments knowing he’s being asked to do the impossible. The senator, however, doesn’t know the meaning of the word. All too soon, DiPietro finds his team working alongside ATF on a red-hot mission. One that uncovers a decades’ old cold case.

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Author Lois Winston Interviews Author T.K. Thorne

By Lois Winston

Today I sit down for a chat with author T.K. Thorne. Learn more about T.K. and her books at her website.

LW: I recently read your historical novel, Noah’s Wife, and found it fascinating. Most authors start out in other careers, and those who have been in law enforcement, like you, often gravitate toward writing mysteries, suspense, or thrillers. What drew you to write the untold story of a character from the Bible? 

TKT: Hi Lois!  I’m so happy you picked Noah’s Wife because it is my first born and special to me. When I finished writing, the characters felt so real, I truly missed them being in my head saying unexpected things. It’s a joyful and magical thing to know when readers open the book because they all come alive again! 


I have never been drawn to the mystery/crime genre, perhaps because it felt too much like everyday work for me! My early reading love was science fiction and then epic fantasy. I wrote four books in those genres, but my dream of an agent and traditional publishing didn’t happen for those books. So, I went looking for a topic that would enthrall me and hopefully snag an agent. 

One day, I was at a poetry reading and a friend remarked that her pastor had dropped the fact that Noah’s wife was unnamed and had gotten only one line in the Bible in one of his sermons. I immediately envisioned the vast, white emptiness that was the life of a woman who played such an important role in the history/mythology of the three of the world’s major religions. Captivated by the idea that I could be the person to fill in that tabula rasa, I began researching what her world might have been like. Learning a historic flood had actually occurred around the year 5500 BCE that gave me a time frame for archeological research. (Did you know scientists can now determine what a person was eating thousands of years ago?) Then the character of Na’amah began to assert herself in my mind, where she lived for the four years it took to write the story.


LW: You’ve also written a novel about Lot’s wife, but your current book, House of Rose, is the first in a planned trilogy that incorporates murder, mayhem, and magic. Do you see yourself ever going back to writing more historical novels?


TKT: I wrote House of Rose as a gift to myself, something fun that didn’t require the research I had been doing for the historical novels and my nonfiction. I sat down at the computer with three little words buzzing around in my head (“You’re a hero.”) Those little words became three books about Rose Brighton, a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama who discovers she’s a witch. So much fun!


LW: I see you’ve also written a nonfiction book, Last Chance for Justice, about the 1963 church bombing in Atlanta. Do you have plans to continue crime-related nonfiction as well?


TKT: Actually, I now have two nonfiction books—Last Chance for Justice and just recently, Behind the Magic Curtain: Secrets, Spies, and Unsung White Allies of Birmingham’s Civil Rights Days. I had to get over my retreat from research for that one! It was an ongoing project for eight years while the Rose books were also being hatched. Both of those books were unplanned. I never intended to write nonfiction, much less about the civil rights era. Living and working in a historical civil rights city like Birmingham, Alabama gave rise to the circumstances that led me to write them. I’m proud that I did and hope they have contributed to our understanding of history and ourselves. 


As to what plans I have, they are ping-pong balls right now. I’ve started rewriting one of those early epic fantasy novels I loved in younger days, playing with the idea of another biblical era historical fiction, and a (non-magical) crime/mystery. But to be honest, the pandemic has sucked my writing energy, and I haven’t filled my well back up yet, or perhaps the right story hasn’t emerged. Until that happens, I’m staying busy with garden projects, painting, and taking care of my rescue horses. I’ve been writing for a long time and who knows. We shall see what arises!


LW: The bio on your website states that as an eight-year-old, you won a ribbon for being stubborn. I think stubbornness is a trait that serves many authors well. So many of us need that stubbornness to persevere through years of rejections before we sell our first book. Tell us more about that award. How did you feel at the time when you received it?


TKT: It was a very hot summer day in Montgomery, Alabama. I was riding in a horse show at Little Lake Farms in Montgomery, Alabama on a bay named Duchess. I was so small, they had to tie my stirrups to get them short enough. The jumps were all barely off the ground. I could have jumped over them myself, but Duchess was not in the mood. The rule was after three refusals, you are disqualified, and we already had about ten or more (I lost count) at one jump, so there was no point in continuing. But I just wouldn’t give up. I kept circling back and aiming her, my little legs flailing against the saddle leather and finally, Duchess gave up, hopped over the crossed beams of the jump and finished the course. The crowd gave me a standing ovation, and the judge gave me an unexpected third place ribbon. 


At the time, I was shocked, knowing I should have been disqualified and felt guilty about it. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood the judge had bent the rules because he admired my spirit and determination. I have had other awards over the course of several years, but none of them, even the ones for my books, meant as much to me as that faded yellow ribbon I still have, because you are absolutely right. Determination and not quitting makes all the difference. I wrote six books before my first one was published and received countless rejections. It’s taken me almost fifty years of stubbornness to get here.


LW: You mention that you have a black belt in Aikido and Jujitsu and dove the Great Blue Hole in Belize. You sound like a woman who loves adventure. What are some of the other off-the-beaten path places you’ve explored and adventures you’ve had?


TKT: Well, you are right again! I love adventure and new vistas. I think that is part of what I enjoyed about police work—not knowing what was going to happen next. And a martial arts is an “art” and hence, a process of constant discovery. Travel, of course, also presents those kinds of opportunities. Visits to Israel and Turkey were part of research for Noah’s Wife and Angels at the Gate (Lot’s wife). Martial arts took me to Japan years ago. In addition to Belize, I’ve been with friends and hubby to New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Croatia, southern England, Thailand, and Cambodia. Machu Picchu and Galapagos in South America were on the menu before the pandemic, but that will have to wait. Right now, I am trying to find adventure in my backyard battling renegade wisteria and getting to know the two rescue horses I recently acquired.


LW: Finally, is there something I haven’t asked that you’re dying to tell our readers, either about yourself or your books…or both?


TKT: Lois, having just read Assault with a Glue Gun, when you say the word “dying,” I just sit up and take note of what’s in your hands!”  😂


Thanks for the questions. It’s been fun!

LW: As it was for me.


USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.


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Three Things: With Debra H. Goldstein

 by Shari Randall

If you’re a reader of the blog, you’ve made the acquaintance of the multi-faceted Debra H. Goldstein. Judge, litigator, author are just a few of the words that describe her. 

I thought it would be fun to play a game to learn a bit more about Debra, things you might not know. I stumbled upon a Facebook game called Three Things that was a lot of fun, so here’s “Three Things With Debra!” I loved learning more about her, especially our shared love of pizza and dark chocolate.

Three Things You Might Not Know About Debra H. Goldstein

Three favorite foods:  Pizza, ice cream, dark chocolate
Three places I’ve lived: New Jersey, Michigan, Alabama
Three jobs I’ve had: Salesperson, litigator, judge
Three things I can’t do without: Family, books, and it is a toss-up between pizza and dark chocolate
Three favorite places: Beach (any place with water), New York City (Broadway), almost anywhere in Europe (I love exploring)
Three favorite hobbies: Reading, Writing, Piano
Three things I’m looking forward to: my son’s wedding; more grandchildren (this may take awhile to achieve); Four Cuts Too Many (Sarah Blair Mystery) was released on May 25, 2021, but I can’t wait for Five Belles Too Many to come out in June 2022.

How about you, readers? What are three things about you that you’d like to share?

Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series. Yes, she plays too many games on Facebook. Three things about her? She loves to dance, can’t do without cardigan sweaters, and writes the new Ice Cream Shop Mystery series as Meri Allen.

On Birthdays, Bucket Lists & Shots in the Arm

By Lois Winston

Have you ever noticed the older we get, the swifter the years go by? I can remember walking home from school and bemoaning the fact that summer vacation was still six weeks away. Six weeks seemed like an eternity to eight-year-old me. Now six weeks often flies by at warp speed.


I bring this up because February is my birthday month, and I’m wondering how I ever got this old. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I gave birth to my first son? I remember the day as if it were yesterday. Yet now he’s the father of three, the oldest of whom recently turned seventeen. 


Who knows where the time goes?


Judy Collins once asked that question in a song. I’m asking it a lot lately. Back in the sixties the Boomer Generation suggested no one should trust anyone over thirty. Now we’re confronted by the derisive insult of “OK, Boomer” by those under thirty. To quote from another songwriter of my generation, the times they are a-changin’.


Once upon a time birthdays were something we looked forward to—parties, gifts, cake and ice cream! Yea! So many of those birthdays connoted milestones we looked forward to—Sweet Sixteens, getting a driver’s license, voting, ordering that first legal glass of wine. Wishes were often fulfilled on birthdays, the one other day of the year besides Christmas or Hanukkah when you might receive that new bicycle or pair of skates.


Now at this point in our lives, if we want something, we buy it for ourselves. Most of us have too much stuff already. We’re at the point in our lives where we’re thinking of downsizing and getting rid of those things we haven’t used in decades. Why on earth did I keep a soup tureen I received for Christmas thirty years ago and still have never used? Does anyone ever use soup tureens? And when was the last time we used that fondue pot? 1980-something? Those and more—much more—recently made their way to a donation center.


Bucket Lists are now more important than soup tureens and fondue pots. Whittling down the Bucket List had begun to take priority, but then all those Bucket List items were sidelined, thanks to the pandemic. I still haven’t gotten to Scandinavia or Great Britain, and I really would love to see the Terra Cotta Warriors in China. But now all that has to wait. Top priority on my Bucket List these days is getting an appointment for a Covid-19 vaccination. So far, I’m striking out.

Meanwhile, like so many people I’m living a virtual life these days. Recently, I was interviewed on the Chatting with Authors YouTube Channel, the brainchild of husband and wife writing team Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zellinger. Check it out.


USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

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