Tag Archive for: Barb Goffman

Recognizing a Character’s Name in a Mystery Story

by Paula Gail Benson

Barb Goffman, writer and editor extraordinaire

Barb Goffman, whose stories have been finalists for exactly forty national crime awards, will be celebrating two nominations at San Diego’s Bouchercon. Her story “Beauty and the Beyotch,” already the winner of the Agatha Award at Malice Domestic, is among those nominated for the Anthony and Macavity.

Originally written for a themed anthology about theatre, Barb liked the final version of the story so well that she decided to submit it to major publications where it might be seen by a larger readership. Published in Issue 29 of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Barb describes the story as “a tale about three high school girls told from two perspectives about . . . the struggle to make their deepest desires come true. What happens when those dreams collide?”

The first time I read the story, I immediately recognized one of the character’s names: Elaine Naiman, who lives in Canada and is a friend I’ve met at Malice Domestic. When I approached Elaine about an interview, she mentioned that Barb had included another name in the story, that of Joni Jackson Langevoort.

Joni explained: “Both Elaine and I learned of this opportunity for a character name in one of Barb’s stories at the Malice Domestic live charity auction; Barb asked me for a donation to my favorite local animal charity (she knew my four rescue cats and one rescue pup!), and she would use my name in a story. I did that happily, to the rescue agency where I found my beloved pup Arthur. I said she was welcome to use my full name, but because so many in the mystery community know it, she might want to use my maiden name of Jackson. I didn’t ask for any input, I felt whatever Barb wrote would be fabulous! She is an amazing short story writer, truly. And I loved the story, was so excited when it won the Agatha and have voted for it for the Macavity and Anthony awards!”

Elaine also was delighted with the outcome. She said: “Barb had a ‘Name a Character’ in an auction at Malice. I bid, but didn’t win. When I spoke to her, she told me if I made a donation to an animal charity, she’d put my name in a story. I didn’t say not to use my last name, so she used both. I didn’t have any input about the character, but I loved the story and was glad to be the ‘Beyotch.’ Usually, I’m a good person when I’m in a book.”

Joni Jackson Langevoort

I had the opportunity to ask Barb some additional questions about her story. Here are her answers:

  • Did the story idea come first or did knowing the names of the characters help inspire it?

The story idea came first. When I name a character after someone who wins naming rights at an auction (or, in this case, when two people I’m friends with bid for naming rights at an auction but lost, and I offered to name characters after them if they’d make a charitable donation), I try to use the name for an important character in the story. If the character is going to be a bad guy or a victim, I make sure to ask first if the person would mind that. Some people shudder at the idea. Others relish it.

That said, sometimes the real life person influences the character. In this case, Joni the character and Joni the person both have blond hair. I could have sworn I remembered Joni the person once having a cute pixie cut, so I gave Joni the character that hairdo. The real Joni subsequently told me I’d never seen her with that haircut. It’s a good thing I write fiction.

Elaine Naiman with a figure of Chris Pine at Rock of Ages Quarry where a Star Trek movie was shot. Elaine has photos with everyone!

  • How difficult was it to balance multiple points of view in the story?

“Beauty and the Beyotch” is told from only two points of view: Joni, a shy introvert, and Meryl, her new and more outgoing friend who is best friends with Elaine. Elaine views Joni as a strong rival for the starring role in the school play, which Elaine thinks is her due.

At first I’d thought about writing the story from the points of view of all three main characters (switching POV when scenes change), but I realized it wouldn’t work for the story I wanted to tell. When writing a crime story, you want to keep some things secret from the reader for part of the story—motives or thoughts or actions. Sometimes you can achieve that by having something happen between scenes or by having a character think something in a scene in which she’s not the POV character so the reader doesn’t see those thoughts. In the end, with this story, I thought it best to keep Elaine more removed from the reader. What we know of her comes only from what we see her do and say and what other characters think about her. We don’t see her thoughts.

Getting back to balance, it was a little difficult. Although I went back and forth, scene by scene, for most of the story (the story opens with a Joni scene; it’s followed with a Meryl scene, then a Joni scene, etc.), when I neared the end, storytelling needs dictated that the last three scenes be from Meryl’s perspective. The part of me that likes consistency remains bothered I didn’t have a Joni scene between Meryl’s final two, but I’m probably the only person who noticed or cared. Thankfully, I don’t think the story feels too weighted toward Meryl. If it did, that would have been a problem.

Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue 29

  • In my previous interview with you for The Stiletto Gang, you mentioned that a key scene from the story is based on a real-life experience. Could you tell us more about that?

When I was in high school, a group of girls—whom I thought were my friends—snubbed me publicly, telling me that I couldn’t sit with them at lunch anymore. It was mean and humiliating. I like to build my stories from emotions that readers can tap into. That helps make the characters—their thoughts and actions—more real and relatable. So when I decided to write a story involving high school girls, this is the memory that popped into my head, and that’s why there’s a scene in “Beauty and the Beyotch” based on that incident. When I was plotting the story, I thought about why that incident could have come about—not why the real-life girls did what they did but why my characters might act as those girls did that day and how I could build a crime story (and a coming-of-age story) around that memory. And I did.

  • Are you pleased with the reception the story has received?

Wow, yes. How could I not be? Three major award nominations for this story with one win (so far at least—fingers crossed!). I’ve heard from a bunch of readers who said they really enjoyed the story. One reader even named it his story of the week. That’s everything. I write to be read, and I write to entertain and make an impact. With “Beauty and the Beyotch,” I’ve achieved all three things. And I’ve been given the chance to reach even more readers with interviews like this, so thank you, Paula, for inviting me to do this.

Barb, Elaine, and Joni, many thanks to you all for recounting your experiences with “Beauty and the Beyotch.” For readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet, here’s a link for the story. I know you will truly enjoy it!

New Year’s Resolution: Read a Short Story a Day

by Paula Gail Benson

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope it has been healthy, comfortable, and prosperous for all.

Barb Goffman

If you are still considering resolutions and have any interest in short story craft, may I suggest a recommendation by well-known, award winning writer and editor Barb Goffman? Why not read a short story a day? Debra H. Goldstein has already made an excellent suggestion to get started: the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime’s latest anthology, Hook, Line, and Sinker. In addition, there are plenty of online and periodic publications to choose from, all featuring outstanding authors. Many of the Sisters in Crime Chapters have organized and released anthologies to showcase their members and give newer authors a chance not only for a writing credit, but also to learn how to promote their work.

Even if you are not interested in writing the short form, seeing how it is put together can help you strengthen skills for longer efforts. With a short story, characters, setting, and mood must be established quickly, in only a few carefully chosen words. It has to be wrapped up concisely, without leaving loose ends or unsatisfied questions. Those elements are important for novellas and novels, too. Figuring out how to develop a story and keep a reader engaged is a primary focus for shorts.

If you are interested in writing short stories, please consider the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable’s Annual Short Story Contest. This year, submissions must include a holiday element, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. They must be 2000 words or less and submitted as provided in the description of rules. An entry fee of $15 is required for each submission. The top awards are: First Place, $200 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group’s anthology Season’s Readings; Second Place, $100 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group’s online quarterly, the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable; and Third Place, $50 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable.

Maybe the best news about the contest is that this year’s celebrity judge is Barb Goffman. Here’s a link with an interview where Barb talks about the most appealing aspect of writing short stories, how her careers as a journalist and lawyer have influenced her writing, what some of the most frequent mistakes she sees writers make, and what’s her best advice for submitting to an anthology or contest.

Start you New Year right: reading and writing shorts!

Short Story Month and a Diabolical Treat

by Paula Gail Benson

In World News ERA, Ashleigh
Durden wrote an article
is May Short Story Month?”
that delves into the history and practices to
celebrate short fiction. She traces declaring May short story month to Dan
Wickett, the founder and editor of the Emerging Writers Network (EWN), who on
April 7, 2007, posted an article suggesting a short story month, just as April
had been designated National Poetry Month. That following May, Wickett read and
reviewed a short story a day. Due to reader enthusiasm, the next year it
increased to two stories a day and in the third year to three stories a day.

Meanwhile, writers were urged
to set a goal of the number of stories they would write during the month.
StoryADay.org continues
this tradition with suggestions for short stories to read and prompts and advice
about writing short stories.

Earlier this month, on May 9,
Malice Domestic released its latest anthology,
Mystery Most Diabolical, published by Wildside Press and edited by
Verna Rose, Rita Simmons and Shawn Reilly Simmons.

Art Taylor featured three of
the stories in his The First Two Pages:
in the Planning”
by Marco Carocari, “There
Comes a Time”
by Cynthia Kuhn, and “Fly
Me to the Moon”
by Lisa Q. Mathews.

In addition, Barb Goffman, winner of the Agatha Award twice as well as the Macavity,
Silver Falchion, and 2020 Readers Award given by 
Ellery Queen’s Mystery
, described her story, “Go Big or Go Home,” in her Sleuthsayers post “Everything
is Fodder”
, where she explains how almost any irritation can lead to a
mystery short story.

Contributors to the anthology
include editor, Edgar nominee, and Derringer award winner Michael Bracken; Agatha
and Thriller award winner Alan Orloff; Agatha nominees Alexia Gordon, Cynthia Kuhn, and Keenan
Powell; Al Blanchard award winner Mary Dutta; and Margaret Lucke who wrote an
excellent craft book,
Schaum’s Quick Guide to
Writing Great Short Stories

I’m proud and humbled to have
my story included with those of many accomplished and distinguished writers.
Here’s a complete list:

Leah Bailey · “A Killer in the Family

Paula Gail Benson · “Reputation or Soul”

M. A. Blum · “Little White Lies”

Michael Bracken · “Locked Mesa

Susan Breen · “The Demon Valentine”

Marco Carocari · “All in the Planning

Mary Dutta · “Devil’s Advocate”

Christine Eskilson · “The Reunion

Nancy Gardner · “Death’s Door”

Barb Goffman · “Go Big or Go Home

Alexia Gordon · “Happy Birthday”

B. J. Graf · “Servant of the Place of Truth

Maurissa Guibord · “Into the Devil’s Den”

Victoria Hamilton · “Reunion with the Devil”

Kerry Hammond · “Strangers at a Table”

Peter W. J. Hayes · “The Ice House”

Smita Harish Jain · “Keeping Up with the Jainses”

Cynthia Kuhn · “There Comes a Time”

Margaret Lucke · “The Devil’s-Work Ball”

Sharon Lynn · “The Professor’s Lesson”

Tim Maleeny · “A Cure For Madness”

Lisa Q. Mathews · “Fly Me to the Morgue”

Adam Meyer · “Crime Rate”

Alan Orloff · “There Once Was a Man Named Larue”

Keenan Powell · “Miss Millie Munz”

Graham Powell · “A Rough Idea”

Lori Robbins · “Accidents Happen”

Cynthia Sabelhaus · “Exegesis”

Nancy Cole Silverman · “The Case of the Sourdough

Shawn Reilly Simmons · “The Devil’s in the Details”

C. J. Verburg · “A Terrible Tragedy”

Andrea Wells · “Taking Umbrage

Here’s a little about the
background for my story, “Reputation or Soul.” When I saw the call for
Mystery Most Diabolical, I looked up “diabolical”
in the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It had a note about the origins of
the term, from the Greek “diabolos” that means “slanderer.” Usually,
“diabolical” is associated with the devil. I began thinking about a trade off:
if given a choice, which might a person be willing to live with–losing a soul
or having a maligned reputation?

I started with an image
of a jilted bride, sitting in a turret room in the church, knowing with certainty
that her groom had skipped the ceremony as well as stealing a substantial sum
of money. I was certain the bride remained calm about this occurrence and
equally certain that her younger brother, the narrator of the story, was
completely puzzled about her response.

Together, they went to
visit their abusive father, now confined in a nursing home. The father berated
them, but the sister spoke kindly to him without telling him about the runaway
groom. Then, the sister asked her brother to go with her on her honeymoon trip,
to a location where she expected the groom might resurface.

Whose action will hurt
most? In a scenario where almost everyone has a reason to seek revenge, will it
occur and what will be the consequence?

There are still a few more days left in the
short story month of May 2022. Why not check out the stories in
Mystery Most Diabolical? 

Celebrating the 2022 Agatha Nominated Authors for Best First Novel and Best Short Story

by Paula Gail Benson


Next weekend, after a two year absence,
a group of devoted readers and writers will gather in Bethesda, Maryland, to
celebrate the traditional mystery at Malice Domestic. Each year, it
s been a great
privilege for me to interview the Agatha nominees for Best First Novel and Best
Short Story.
Through this message, please enjoy meeting or reacquainting
yourself with these wonderful authors
, and dont forget to click on
the links to read the nominated short stories!


Congratulations to all the nominees and
thank you for spending time with us at The Stiletto Gang!


Best First Novel
The Turncoat’s Widow by Mally Becker (Level Best Books)
A Dead Man’s Eyes by Lori Duffy Foster (Level Best
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala (Berkley)
Murder in the Master by Judy L. Murray (Level Best
Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel V. Reyes (Crooked
Lane Books)


What has been
your most unexpected experience with the publication of your first novel?


Mally Becker


The nomination of The Turncoat’s Widow for an Agatha Award
in the “best debut” category is one of the most unexpected and humbling
experiences of my life. I am honored beyond belief, and the nomination still
doesn’t feel real.

Beyond that, I am
gobsmacked by how much kindness has come my way in the wake of writing and
publishing this book. There were historians and curators who gave their time
gratis, authors (you know who you are)
who shared their wisdom and support freely, and family, friends, librarians,
and strangers who took the time to reach out and send good wishes.

Each act of kindness feels like a moment of grace,
reminding me that, even in this time
of discord, there is a tremendous amount of goodness in the world. That
revelation has been the most unexpected, welcome surprise of all.


Book promotion has been much more time-consuming than I
had expected, but what has surprised me most is the level of support I have
experienced from my local community. There are huge advantages to living in a
rural area. We are spread-out, but we are also tight knit. Everybody really
does know everybody even if they are separated by ten or fifteen miles. I
expected some support, but not like this. Everywhere I go, people ask when the
next novel is releasing. I feel like they are honestly happy for me. I am truly


Mia P. Manansala


I wrote this book after the previous novel I’d written failed on
Arsenic and Adobo was meant to be a book for me and my mom,
who’d introduced me to the world of cozy mysteries in the first place. So the
fact that something I wrote for mostly personal reasons has managed to connect
with so many people is amazing and completely unexpected.


Gaining an Agatha Award nomination for Best First Novel is an
absolute, unpredicted thrill. I’m so, so honored to be a part of this legacy of
talented writers. I discovered an amazing community of people open to helping
each other grow. I need to do the same in return.

I recently held a two-hour book talk and the joy and fun of
discovering how much
Murder in the Master readers were totally engaged
in my characters’ lives was fantastic. They laughed and questioned and probed.

Raquel V. Reyes

I’d add that for Murder in the Master, launching the
storyline with a murder in the first paragraph was a big leap. Pure instinct. Thank
goodness so many readers love that opening! I also deliberated, with a whole
lot of angst, about the concept of creating my squad of favorite, famous
sleuths to help my protagonist investigate the crime. Readers love it.
They enjoy seeing these
favorites bring their crime solving talents and uniqueness into a current day
mystery. They’ve also told me Helen’s personality has struck a chord. She’s
quick-witted and likes to verbally spar, especially with her possible love
interest, and readers are cheering her along. Overall, I’d like
to encourage other writers to get their
creativity down on paper. Don’t allow, like I did, life’s practicalities to
delay their writing.


In my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined that Mango, Mambo, and Murder would get a NYT
Book Review.


Best Short Story
A Family Matter by
Barb Goffman (
Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Jan/Feb
A Tale of Two Sisters by
Barb Goffman in 
Murder on the
Docs at Midnight by
Richie Narvaez in 
Midnight Hour (Crooked
Lane Books)
The Locked Room Library by
Gigi Pandian (
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine July/Aug
Bay of Reckoning by
Shawn Reilly Simmons in 
Murder on the
 (Destination Murders)


How do you create realistic
antagonists in short stories?


Barb Goffman


The process for creating a realistic antagonist is the same as the
process for creating a realistic protagonist and other characters. Think about
their feelings, their motivations, and their emotional needs, because it’s
these things that prompt each character’s actions.

One good way to do this is to put yourself in the characters’
shoes, which will allow you to see the situation in question from their
perspectives. With this insight, you should be able to have each character act
and react as real people would and also act differently from one another.

In “A Tale of Two Sisters,” Robin is strong while her sister, the
bride, is anxious. Robin is determined to ensure the night goes well for Emma.
It’s that motivation that prompts her actions throughout the story. If Robin
were anxious too, the story would have unfolded quite differently.

Similarly, in “A Family Matter,” Doris reacts negatively to
the family that moves in next door, not because she’s a mean person but because
she believes it’s vital that this family not bring the neighborhood down. If
Doris were more low-key, like another neighbor, Audrey, she would have reacted
differently to things the new neighbors did. As a result, she wouldn’t have
discovered a certain secret, and the story would have had a very different

So, given that characters could act differently in any situation,
it’s imperative for the author to understand who each character is, what
motivates him or her, and think about how those motivations come into play with
every action. This applies whether the character is the protagonist,
antagonist, or even a sidekick.



The same as you would a protagonist: Make them as
tangible as possible. Does he have a favorite flavor of ice cream, a certain
way of speaking, a pet cockatoo? Little details help the reader see them as
more than just cartoony two-dimensional people. And we should know their
motivations. Most of us are happy to pay rent and vacation once in a while, but
what makes this person want to kidnap, murder, lie, steal, take over the world?


“Doc’s at Midnight” is fairly short, so we don’t get to hang out with the antagonists for very
long, but when we do we get their motivation, and we see how it is anchored in
a decades-old pain that echoes the struggle that the two main characters are
going through, attempting to review and recover from the past.


Gigi Pandian


Such an interesting question! For me, in a short story it’s
the puzzle itself that’s the antagonist, more than any particular person. The
motive of the person behind the crime needs to be realistic, but I’m far more
interested in creating a satisfying locked-room puzzle that makes the reader
smile at the end of the story because the solution is both surprising and



To me finding conflict between characters is one of the
easier parts of writing. We’re all wired differently, all based on how we were
raised and our life experiences since. The potential for conflict to arise is,
unfortunately, all around us on a daily basis. My process is to think about how
that character feels about a certain situation, and why they may have an issue,
based on their beliefs or a perceived slight or outright injustice they feel
has happened to them. It’s fun for me to think how a character might think, and
have them react in a way that might be surprising in the face of


Now, a question for all the nominees:

What shoes
would your protagonist (or another character in your book or story) wear to the
Agatha Banquet?



Becca will wear the kitten-heeled satin slippers that
Martha Washington gave her just the other day. The shoes are cobalt blue, shot
through with shimmering metallic threads and topped with silver buckles. Lady
Washington, as she was known, loves shoes and occasionally gifts them to
special friends. After all the unpleasantness last winter–the less said about
that, the better–Becca certainly qualifies as one of those special friends.


Lori Duffy Foster


Boots, of course! Lisa would want to look good, but she
would also want to be super comfortable. To settle her nerves, you know? So she
would choose a pair of leather cowboy boots, probably light brown with a simple
design, with about a one-inch heel. It be a pair she has worn often enough to
break in, but not so often that they are scuffed or worn-looking. Lisa loves
boots. She lives in them.



This is tough because my protagonist is way, WAY more fashionable
than me. She favors dark color palettes and stacked heels, so I’m picturing
glittery or velvety black wedges that lace up and have fun, sexy cut-outs. Her
mom taught her about couture and famous designers when she was younger, but she
cares less about brand names and more about the style and vibe of a design.



No question, Helen would wear four-inch heels, maybe red. She’d
be taking her fashion direction from Nora Charles and Agatha Raisin, who both
know how to sashay across a room. Unfortunately, for me personally, those heels
have been shoved to the back of my closet. Too many years of heels for work
have turned my feet into pretzels. I can hear Jane Marple tsk- tsking in my


Judy L. Murray


My protagonist, Miriam Quiñones, a Cuban-American food anthropologist
turned cooking show star, is on the practical side—so, probably a simple,
classic pump. But if her BFF, Alma, had anything to do with it, Miriam would
wear a stylish and strappy shoe with some tasteful bling to it. 



Robin in “A Tale of Two Sisters” would wear flats. At her last
fancy affair, she had to wear heels and they made her evening even more
difficult. It’s hard to chase a dog when you’re in heels. So, she wouldn’t make
that mistake again. After all, who knows if a dog will crash the Agatha banquet

Doris from “A Family Matter” would wear shoes with a narrow,
pointy toe and a tall heel. They were the stylish choice for women in the
spring of 1962, and Doris is all about projecting the right image, which means
she must wear the right thing.


Great question! Well, the protagonist of “Doc’s at Midnight,” is actually a character
from the 1961 movie West Side Story, Chino, but he’s older now and not
flush with cash. So I think he would wear something that harkens back to his
past, but not expensive—so, Capezio lace-up dance shoes in faux leather
featuring one-inch heels with suede-covered bottoms for shock absorption. In
black. Used, but buffed to a shine.

Richie Narvaez


Sanjay would be wearing his signature tuxedo and bowler
hat, which he wears when he performs on stage as The Hindi Houdini.



Sabrina Westfall, the protagonist in my story, is a
former beauty queen, so she would wear heels, but she’s also very sensible and
practical, so they would be modest and elegant, much like her. She’d also have
an updo and be wearing a lovely gown, chin up and toe turned out for photos
(she’s media trained!). 


Shawn Reilly Simmons


Mally Becker combines her love of history and
crime fiction in mysteries that feature strong, independent heroines. In
addition to being nominated for a 2022 Agatha Award, The Turncoat’s Widow has also been named a Mystery & Mayhem
finalist in the Chanticleer International Book Awards. The next book in her
series will be published in June 2022 by Level Best Books.



Duffy Foster

Lori Duffy Foster is a former crime reporter who writes
fiction and nonfiction from the hills of Northern Pennsylvania, where she lives
with her husband and four children. She was born and raised in the Adirondack
Mountains of New York State, where a part of her heart remains.



Mia P. Manansala is a writer
and book coach from Chicago who loves books, baking, and bad-ass women. She
uses humor (and murder) to explore aspects of the Filipino diaspora, queerness,
and her millennial love for pop culture.


L. Murray is a real estate broker with a not-so-secret passion for deals,
divas, and danger. Her passion for mysteries began with smart girls like Nancy
Drew and Trixie Belden, grew deeper with not-to-be-ignored women like Miss
Marple and Nora Charles, and finally evolved into her own gutsy heroine – Helen

Raquel V. Reyes writes stories with Latina characters. Her
Cuban-American heritage, Miami, and the Caribbean feature prominently in her
work. Raquel is a co-chair for SleuthFest. 

Barb Goffman, a short story author and a
freelance crime-fiction editor, has won the Agatha Award twice and has also
taken home the Macavity, Silver Falchion, and 2020 Readers Award given by 
Queen’s Mystery Magazine
. She’s been a finalist for major crime-writing
awards thirty-five times for her stories, including sixteen Agatha Award
nominations (a category record), and multiple nominations for the Anthony,
Macavity, and Derringer awards. 

Richie Narvaez is the
award-winning author of the collection
 Roachkiller and Other
 the gentrification thriller Hipster Death Rattle, and
the historical YA mystery 
Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco.
His latest book is the collection 

Gigi Pandian is a USA
 bestselling mystery author, breast cancer survivor, and
locked-room mystery enthusiast. Gigi is a co-founder of Crime Writers of Color,
and she writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, Accidental Alchemist
mysteries, and Secret Staircase Mysteries, beginning with
Under Lock & Skeleton Key—which came out in March 2022. https://www.gigipandian.com/

​Shawn Reilly Simmons is the author of seven
novels in the Red Carpet Catering mystery series featuring Penelope Sutherland,
chef-owner of a movie set catering company. She’s also written short stories
which have been published in various anthologies. Shawn serves on the Board of
Malice Domestic and is co-owner/publisher/editor at Level Best

Better Than Christmas! – Mystery in the Midlands is coming!

 Better than Christmas! –
Mystery in the Midlands is coming!  by Debra
H Goldstein

 Mystery in the Midlands is coming virtually, and I can’t


Last year, over nine hundred (you read that right – over 900)
readers and authors attended the virtual four and one-half hour Crowdcast conference
co-sponsored by Southeast Mystery Writers of America (SEMWA) and the Palmetto
Chapter of Sisters in Crime. The line-up, led by Charlaine Harris was
phenomenal —- but in some ways, for me, this year is even more exciting.


Why?  Because I’m a die-hard
fan of every panelist and I’m getting to interview the keynoter, Dr. Kathy
Reichs. Who hasn’t seen Bones, the television show that was based upon her
books and her life? As if it wasn’t a thrill to be interviewing her, I’ve been
given the extra treat of being able to read an advance copy of her upcoming
book, The Bone Code. You can bet it will be one of the things we’ll be

Dana Kaye will be moderating Mystery in the Midlands’ steaming
three panels: Searing Suspense, Hot for Historicals, and Scorching Short Stories.
How can you go wrong with hearing Robert Dugoni, Yasmin Angoe, Alex Segura,
Laurie R. King, Caroline Todd, Lori Rader-Day, Barb Goffman, Michael Bracken,
and Frankie Y. Bailey – especially when the entire cost (merely to defray
expenses) is $5 (once again, yes, you read that right – simply five dollars)? Look
at their pictures below, but don’t close your browser. Hurry and guarantee your
spot by registering now! https://www.crowdcast.io/e/mystery-in-the-midlands-2/register
 #Mystery in the Midlands

Partners in Crime: Operation Anthology (#giveaway!)


Partners in Crime: you’ve heard of Thelma and Louise, Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Today, we’d like to introduce a new type of criminal duo, Cathy Wiley and Karen Cantwell. Working together, they’re publishing the soon-to-be-released cozy short story anthology MURDER ON THE BEACH. Welcome to Stiletto Gang, Karen and Cathy!

We’d like to share with you the pros and cons of working with a writing and publishing partner.

First a little history: we originally met in an online forum sometime in 2010. Later, we were surprised to learn we were both members of the same chapter of Sisters in Crime, and therefore neighbors (well, Virginia and Maryland), after having stories accepted in the chapter anthology.  From there, we became fans of each other’s work, as well as good friends. In 2020, Karen had the bright idea of publishing a themed anthology of short stories, and Cathy was one of the first people she approached. After brainstorming ideas, we thought this would be an easier task if we worked as partners.


So, let’s get to those pros and cons…


We’re not going to state the obvious, like “you can share the workload.” Unless your partner is that slacker kid from your tenth-grade group project, that should be the case.

We soon learned there are other pros beyond shared workload. 



You have someone to bounce ideas off of. This might sound like another duh moment, but it’s amazing how creativity flourishes when two people share ideas. Even the theme and title, MURDER ON THE BEACH, as well as the concept of making it a series came from bouncing ideas back and forth.  


Working together is more fun than working alone; we meet at least once a week (virtually) and our meetings are often filled with laughter.



Money is involved for cover design, ads, etc. When it’s your own money, it’s your own risk. When you are working with someone else, (not just the two of us, but all eight authors in the anthology who will be sharing profits), it feels harder to take risks.

Finding the time to meet or discuss: Cathy is a night owl and Karen is an early bird. That sometimes made it hard to communicate, since Cathy would have a brainstorm at night, then have to wait until the next morning when she’d read Karen’s reply. Likewise, Karen would write an email early morning, then have to wait hours before Cathy would wake up (and get her coffee).


Things to watch out for if you are thinking of partnering with someone, whether it be for an anthology or co-authoring a novel:


It really helps to like the other person. You’re going to spend A LOT of time with each other, and like some couples found out during this pandemic, it helps if you enjoy that time together.


Whether you like them or not, you have to be able to be honest with each other and communicate well. This isn’t the time for white lies—like saying you enjoyed the ending of that first draft of the blog post when you really meant you were just happy that the blog post had ended.


You also have to trust the other person and know their vision, especially if other people are involved, like with this anthology. If one of the other authors asked a question, it would take forever if we had to consult with each other before answering. 


Finally, don’t take it too seriously. Is it a lot of work? Sure. Everything is. But ultimately, while working your buns off, have fun with the process, talk often, laugh more. You know—like life, it’s all what you put into it.


MURDER ON THE BEACH is the first in the new Destination Murders anthology series, coming out on May 28, 2021. It’s now available for a special pre-order price of 99 cents. 


In addition to stories by Karen and Cathy, there are also short stories from Ritter Ames, Lucy Carol, Barb Goffman, Eleanor Cawood Jones, Shari Randall, and Shawn Reilly Simmons.


Karen Cantwell grew up on heavy doses of I Love Lucy and The Carol Burnett Show. She loves to laugh as much as she loves bringing laughter to the world. A USA Today bestselling author, Karen writes the Barbara Marr Murder Mystery series, the Sophie Rhodes Ghostly Romance books, and currently has a new humorous series under construction. When she isn’t writing, Karen can be found wandering aimlessly, wondering why she isn’t writing. To learn more, visit KarenCantwell.com and If you are on Facebook, join her @KarenCantwellAuthor.


Cathy Wiley lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, with one spoiled cat and an equally spoiled husband. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. She’s written two mystery novels set in Baltimore, Maryland, and has had several short stories included in anthologies, one of which was a 2015 finalist for a Derringer Award.

She is currently working on a series featuring Jackie Norwood, a former celebrity chef trying to reboot her career. The first novel, CLAWS OF DEATH, will be published in the fall of this year. For more information about this series and her other books, and to sign up for her newsletter, visit www.cathywiley.com. You can also visit her author page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CathyWileyAuthor


Ready for MURDER ON THE BEACH? One lucky commenter will win a digital copy of this fun cozy mystery anthology. Just tell us, what’s your favorite kind of book to read on the beach?





An Interview with the Authors of the 2020 Agatha Short Story Nominees!

by Paula Gail Benson

year, it is such a delight for me to welcome the authors whose short stories
have been nominated for the Agatha award, presented at Malice Domestic. This
year, the event may have been postponed, but that’s no reason not to celebrate the authors and their nominated stories! These authors are not only expert at the craft of short story writing, but
also dear friends. Their nominated stories offer the depth and emotion that
fine storytelling always evokes. Please take time to read each of the stories at
the following links:
“Grist for
the Mill”
Kaye George in A Murder of Crows (Darkhouse Books)
“Alex’s Choice” by Barb Goffman in Crime
Travel (Wildside Press)
The Blue
 by Cynthia Kuhn in Malice
Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible (Wildside Press)
“The Last
 by Shawn Reilly Simmons, Malice
Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible (Wildside Press)
 by Art Taylor in Ellery
Queen Mystery Magazine
Kaye, Barb, Cynthia, Shawn, and Art to the Stiletto Gang!
How do you decide the point of view or who
will tell your short story?
Kaye George
theme of the anthology was animal group names. You know, those odd ones, like a
Murder of Crows (not coincidentally, the name of the anthology)? I looked up a
bunch and discovered a Grist of Bees. I got the go-ahead to use that group and
so my MC had to be a beekeeper.
is usually an organic issue for me. I don’t come up with a plot and then think
about who would be the best person to tell the story. My stories are character
driven, so once I know a character’s story—his/her situation that I want to
tell—the point of view to use has already been decided. This was true of my
Agatha-nominated story “Alex’s Choice.” That said, sometimes for a story to
work, I need to tell it from multiple perspectives, so I do so. (You may be
thinking, stories with multiple POV from Barb? I don’t recall those stories.
That’s true. They haven’t been published—yet!)
Cynthia Kuhn
to depend on the story—some require access to the protagonist’s perspective and
some require more distance.
Reilly Simmons:
me every story is different, but I do tend to focus on one POV of a character
with a strong motivation to move the story forward. For this particular story,
the character driving the story has a strong motivation to take inventory of
his friendship with one of his oldest acquaintances.
I’ve used a variety of
points of view across my stories—both in terms of prose point-of-view (I, you,
he, she) and in terms of character (a detective’s perspective, a criminal’s,
whoever’s). The narrator of “Better Days” is a journalist who was downsized
from a major newspaper and has picked up a job at a small coastal North
Carolina newspaper—in the same town where his father now lives, father and son
both trying to build better relations in the years since the narrator’s mother
died. That father-son relationship is core to the story, and it was important
for me to show that relationship through the eyes of the son—both some of the
frustrations about the relationship and also some redemption too. While the
narrator sets out to investigate the crime here, the dad is the one who steps forward
as the detective solving the case—not quite a Watson-Sherlock relationship, but
certainly echoes of that, and there are many reasons that Watson is the
narrator of the Sherlock stories, of course.
Each of your stories take place in a
unique “universe” that becomes an important part of the plot. Which came first,
your characters or the setting, or, if they were somehow melded, how?
characters were first, and the setting is just their homes and yards in
Anywhere USA. I think people have backyard gardens and keep bees in a lot of
places, so I didn’t specify where it is, exactly. I’d love for the reader to
imagine this is their town.
Barb Goffman
for me. Sometime in the year before I wrote my story, I read a newspaper
article about a tragedy involving a California family. They had been on the
beach, and after their dog went into the ocean and didn’t come out, the father
went in to save him. When he didn’t come out, another family member went in
after him, and it went on and on until they all were gone—only the dog
survived, eventually crawling out from the water. It was a horrendous
occurrence, and I wished I could change things for those poor people. And then
my beloved dog Scout died, and I wanted to bring him back. Both of these terrible
events were the springboard for my story “Alex’s Choice,” which involves a
couple who die in the ocean after their dog is swept away. Thanks to time
travel, their child has the chance to go back and change what happened but is
unexpectedly forced to make a choice that no one—let alone a child—should have
to make.
“The Blue Ribbon,” the setting came first—in fact, the moment that I read the
description of the anthology project, the bakery and competition popped into my
head. It doesn’t usually happen that vividly; typically I only get a wisp of an
idea that has to be coaxed out of hiding.
Shawn Reilly Simmons
Reilly Simmons:
was both in my case—for “The Last Word” I wanted the setting to be a high end
restaurant in New York City, a location I can picture very well from my own
experiences of living and working there, and a chef who is seasoned enough to
have been through the ups and downs of a culinary career—praise, wealth,
hunger, professional jealousy, failure. Maybe it’s because I wrote this story
very quickly, but the setting and characters came to me simultaneously, I
Art Taylor

“Better Days” is the
sequel to an earlier story that was also set on the North Carolina coast: “A
Drowning at Snow’s Cut.” To that end, characters and setting both were already
in place for the new story. But I will say that setting helped to determine to
a great degree what happens here: a coastal town, a newcomer on a big yacht,
the cocktail bar where this newcomer begins to move in on one of the local
women, and then the narrator interested in the same woman—relatively new to the
area himself and still trying to make peace with his life after having been
laid off at the big-city newspaper. Character, plot, and place come together
here in key ways.

If you had a spirit animal, what would it
Kaye George:
kind of beautiful bird. I’m afraid of heights and would love to be able to soar
like they do. Maybe a hawk or an eagle.
had to look up what a spirit animal is. I’ll go with the badger, whose
attributes apparently include focus on the task at hand, self-reliance,
persistence, and strategy.
psychic told me that my spirit animal was a butterfly; another said it was a
giraffe. Still confused.
Reilly Simmons:
had no idea so I just took an online quiz! The result: I’m a Turtle: The turtle
totem wisdom teaches us about walking our path in peace and sticking to it with
determination and serenity. Yeah, that sounds about right. While I do have a
lot on my plate, I do keep a Zen attitude about it, and am always seeking
balance in all things….I’ll take Turtle any day.
I took two quizzes to
try to figure this one out. The first determined that my spirit animal was a
whale, because I listen to inner voices and embrace my emotions. The
second said that it should be a snake, because I’m “powerfully connected
to life force and primal energy.” Also, my sign is Pisces, and my Myers-Briggs
is INFJ. Somewhere in all that, that’s where you’ll find me.
shoes will you (or if you prefer, would a character from your nominated short
story) wear to the Agatha Banquet?

Kevin isn’t much for dressing up. He’ll probably wear leather tie shoes and
slacks, though, after I stress to him that we are being honored there. If
Vivian, the protagonist, shows up, she’ll wear low heels and a dress, I’m sure.
These are not young, stylish people, see.
wear the same shoes every year. They are black. They are flat. They are
flip flops allowed? If so, that would be my first choice.
Reilly Simmons:
likely something way more fancy with a higher heel than I normally wear, which
is no shoes at all when I’m writing or doing yoga, or trainers when I’m running
or lifting weights at the gym….yeah, I’ll have to acquire something more
appropriate for an elegant event!
I’ve leaned toward
more formal or more flashy in previous years—black wingtips, white bucks, this
pair of hand-crafted blue-and-tan suede shoes from Portugal (no lie). But I’ve
got a new pair of brown Clark’s—which my wife Tara says looks like every other
shoe I wear on regular basis—and I think I’ll wear those. My character would
appreciate too: down-to-earth, nothing flashy, just who he is.  
you all for taking the time to be with us and answer questions. And, many
thanks for all the wonderful stories you have written! During this time of
social distancing, it’s grand to have terrific reading material!
Kaye George:
Kaye George is a
national-bestselling, multiple-award-winning author of pre-history,
traditional, and cozy mysteries (latest is Revenge Is Sweet from Lyrical
Press). Her short stories have appeared online, in anthologies, magazines, her
own collection, her own anthology, DAY OF THE DARK, and in A MURDER OF CROWS.
She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Smoking Guns chapter, Guppies chapter,
Authors Guild of TN, Knoxville Writers Group, Austin Mystery Writers, and lives
in Knoxville, TN.
Barb Goffman:
Barb Goffman edits mysteries by
day and writes them by night. She’s won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver
Falchion awards for her short stories, and she’s been a finalist for national
crime-writing awards twenty-eight times, including thirteen times for the
Agatha (a category record). Her work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies,
including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred
Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine
Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and
the 2019 anthology Crime Travel, which Barb also edited. To support
her writing habit, Barb runs a freelance editing service, specializing in crime
fiction. She lives with her dog in Virginia.
Cynthia Kuhn:
Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mysteries: The Semester of Our
The Art of Vanishing, The Spirit in Question, The Subject
of Malice
, and The Study of Secrets. Her work has also appeared in Mystery Most Edible, McSweeney’s
Quarterly Concern, Literary Mama, Copper Nickel, Prick of the Spindle, Mama
and other publications. Honors include an Agatha Award (best first novel),
William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant, and Lefty Award nominations (best
humorous mystery). Originally from upstate New York, she lives in Colorado with
her family. For more information, please visit 
Shawn Reilly Simmons:
Reilly Simmons is the author of The Red Carpet Catering Mysteries
featuring Penelope Sutherland, an on-set movie caterer, and of several
short stories appearing in a variety of anthologies including the Malice
Domestic, Best New England Crime Stories, Bouchercon, and Crime Writers’
Association series.

Shawn was born in Indiana, grew up in Florida, and began her professional
career in New York City as a sales executive after graduating from the
University of Maryland with a BA in English. Since then she has worked
as a book store manager, fiction editor, mystery convention
organizer, wine rep, and caterer. She serves on the Board of Malice Domestic
and is co-editor at Level Best Books.

Shawn is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the
International Thriller Writers, and the Crime Writers’ Association in the

Art Taylor:
Art Taylor is the author of the
story collection The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other
Tales of Suspense 
and of the novel in stories On the Road with
Del & Louise, 
winner of the Agatha Award for Best First NovelHe
won the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Short Story for “English 398: Fiction
Workshop,” originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine,
and his other awards have included the Agatha, the Anthony, the Derringer, and
the Macavity.  He is an associate professor of English at George
Mason University. 

What’s Today’s Celebration?

by Paula
Gail Benson
From: https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-soft-ice-cream-day-august-19/
you know that today, August 19, is National Soft Ice Cream Day? Shari Randall, you should take note of this commemoration!

According to
the National Day Calendar website,
while no one has been clearly identified as organizing the special designation,
soft serve ice cream began around Memorial Day in 1934 when an enterprising
salesman with a flat tire pulled into a parking lot and knew he had to get rid
of a load of melting ice cream quickly. Later, he patented a machine and
developed a secret formula. The product’s popularity caused a decrease in
business for hard ice cream and the Minnesota legislature briefly required that
it had to be pre-packaged instead of sold from a machine. The site suggests
that people observe the holiday by getting a dipped cone or sundae.
site boasts of over 1,500 national days. It also lists some international ones.
For instance, today also is International Bow Day, a tradition started by Claire’s.
20, tomorrow, is National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day. Not to be confused with
National Pecan Pie Day (observed July 12) or National Pecan Torte Day (August
22) or National Pecan Month (April).
can check out the recognitions that share your birthday. For example, my
birthday, on September 13, is National Celiac Disease Awareness Day (based on a
2005 unanimous resolution passed by the United States Senate) and Uncle Sam Day
(because New York meat packer Sam Wilson, born on September 13, 1766, supplied
meat to soldiers during the War of 1812 in containers stamped “U.S.” and they
called it Uncle Sam’s grub).
website allows you to register a national day, shop for merchandise, search for
recipes, and play National Day trivia.
does this site have to do with writing? (Please note that World Calligraphy Day
is celebrated August 14.)
writers are asked to submit a holiday story for a collection. You can imagine
that well-known holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Valentines Day will
have numerous stories, but going with something like Talk Like a Pirate Day
(September 19), as Cathy Wiley did with her “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” published
in Homicidal Holidays (Wildside
Press), an anthology organized by the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, could
be unique. Barb Goffman currently is editing a collection of time travel
stories to be released on December 8, Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day.
consider taking a look at the National Day Calendar website, for a story idea
or just to celebrate a slice of life. Happy holidays!

A Pre-Malice Domestic QUIZ!

by Paula Gail Benson

At the end of this week, many of us will gather in Bethesda, Maryland, to celebrate the best of the traditional mystery. It will be a homecoming, family reunion, and all round party blast–wonderful in the anticipating and attending, yet over far too soon.

Let’s get the party started early with this quiz. Can you match the following words (from their stories or novels) with the authors in the Best Short Story and Best First Novel categories? Answers at the end!

1. Harvard

2. Speed Dating

3. Mermaid

4. San Juan Hotel

5. Teen-aged Brother

6. Syllabus

7. Homeless Person

8. Mission

9. A Royal Blue Gown

10. Nancy Drew

A. Art Taylor
B. Shari Randall

C. Tara Laskowski
D. Keenan Powell
E. Barb Goffman
F. Aimee Hix
G. Susanna Calkins
H. Edwin Hill

I. Leslie Budewitz

J. Dianne Freeman

Answers: 1. H.– 2. E. — 3. B. — 4. G. — 5. F. — 6. A. — 7. D. — 8. I. — 9. J. — 10. C.