Tag Archive for: Paula Gail Benson

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.

An Interview with Saul Golubcow

by Paula Gail Benson

Last Monday, I introduced you to Saul Golubcow, whose Frank Wolf and Joel Gordon mysteries have just been compiled in The Cost of Living and Other Mysteries, available through Amazon and the publisher Wildside Press. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’ve enjoyed reading each new story and been bold enough to ask Saul for more! I think you’ll find his characters and situations so intriguing it’s difficult to put a story down until the end. Saul’s been gracious enough to answer some questions about his life and how he found his way to writing fiction.

Thank you, Saul, for agreeing to be with us.

If you haven’t already been reading his work, now is a great time to start!

(1)        What made you decide to write fiction? 

Hard question as it suggests a definable or rational causality. But here goes. I think when I was much younger, feeling inside a pulse and rhythm of the English language and resonating viscerally to so much of what I read, I thought perhaps I could bring forth life through a fictional rendering. And perhaps I thought if others can do it, why can’t I? But in the same way I try to present Joel in my stories, I was immature not so much from an impulsive or know-it-all perspective, but rather as Joni Mitchell may have put it, I couldn’t see “both sides now.” It took decades of growing up to feel comfortable with myself writing fiction. Writing non-fiction opinion pieces demands much less in its two-dimensional approach to a subject. But I realized if I wanted to really depict Holocaust survivors, I had to devise a multi-dimensional way which could only be done through a fictional world of relationships, tensions, nobility, hypocrisy, loss, and vindication. I thought I was finally ready to create lives.

(2)        How did you create the characters of Frank Wolf and his grandson Joel Gordon? 

An easier question. As I mention in the “Acknowledgments” section, for one of my drawer-kept projected stories, I thought about the life and personality of my father-in-law. He had lost his first family during the Holocaust, and he arrived in the United States in later middle age following the Hungarian Revolution. He was well versed in religious practice, history, arts, the sciences, and the technologies of his time. I was also struck by his various observations of the human condition. Although he never attempted private detective work, he often spoke of “critical analyses” as an imperative for reining in impulsive and rash decision-making, the core skill of a good detective. I back then wondered, might I create a Holocaust survivor character who becomes a private detective in Brooklyn?

But also, Frank Wolf represents that spirit of Holocaust survivors that has insisted that while they suffered horrible victimization, they would not succumb to victimhood. Even before I met my father-in-law, this response to suffering was bred in my bones. I also saw it in my own family. My parents also lost whole families in the Holocaust. Grateful for the opportunity to make a living as poultry farmers in South Jersey even though they knew nothing of farming, nor later of being hotel managers in Atlantic City, they demonstrated a resilience in the midst of enduring pain, building a new life in which my sister and I were protected and a path into our future developed. My father often insisted, “I can’t give up.” These traits are infused into my Holocaust survivors’ characters, regardless of their individual and differing personalities.

As for Joel, I think my wife and I are the models for his character. Young, sometimes over-confident, sometimes self-doubting, sometimes respectful, sometimes imperious, we wrestled with our “Frank Wolf” and learned a good deal about love, trust, and respect as we did so.

(3)        Tell us a little about Frank’s background, which is unique. How did you develop it? 

As mentioned above, I took my father-in-law’s real-life background as the blueprint for Frank Wolf’s character. Before the War, though not a university professor, he was well educated in both secular and religious studies. He may have become a professor or a Rabbi or both had he, as the eldest male in the family, not been forced to take over the family business after the early death of his father. Frank Wolf before the Holocaust was the easiest task for me. The challenge was conceptualizing his life after, and seeing him as a private detective the way I present it in the stories seemed the right way to go.

(4)      How do you determine the length of a story? What length do you feel most comfortable writing? 

Intriguing question. When I am in short story conceptualization mode, I must deal with the constraints of forums accepting just so many words. So I go into “less is more” mode, and that’s ok for that particular genre. But as it occurred for me with “The Cost of Living” which was originally published as a short story, I wanted to say so much more about Frank’s background and life story that turned it into novella length. I gave myself the same leeway with the other stories (especially “The Dorm Murder”) because I wanted the reader to understand so much more about psyche, feeling, and crime solving method that I couldn’t advance in a word limited short story. I am comfortable novella length, but it’s possible my next mystery will be even longer.

Saul Golubcow

Saul’s Bio:

When he is not immersed in the New York of the 1970s with his detective Frank Wolf, Saul Golubcow lives in Potomac, Maryland with his wife, Hedy Teglasi. His Jewish themed fiction centers on the complexity of and challenges Holocaust survivors in the United States have faced. His stories have appeared in Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Weekly, and Jewish Fiction.NetThe Cost of Living and Other Mysteries is his first book-length publication featuring Frank Wolf, a Holocaust survivor. In addition, his commentary on American Jewish culture and politics appear in various publications.  

Saul Golubcow, author of the Frank Wolf and Joel Gordon Mysteries

by Paula Gail Benson

I began reading Saul Golubcow’s stories in the issues of Black Cat Weekly Mystery Magazine. His protagonist, Frank Wolf, survived the Holocaust with his daughter and resettled from Vienna, Austria, to New York City. In his earlier life, Frank was a scholar, but proof of his academic background was destroyed by Nazis. Unable to pursue a career as a professor, Frank became a security guard for a library. Then, eventually, he set up an office as a private detective.

Meanwhile, Frank’s daughter marries and has a son, Joel. When Frank’s daughter is widowed, Frank steps in to help raise Joel, who makes them both proud by attending law school in the 1970s.

So far, there are three Frank Wolf mysteries, now collected in The Cost of Living and Other Stories.

I enjoyed these stories so much that I wrote Saul a fan letter. He graciously responded and agreed to answer questions for posts here and on Writers Who Kill. Today, he tells us about his background and previous experience with writing. Next Monday, we’ll talk about his stories.


I can’t say I’m an up and coming young writer but rather a “been there” baby boomer ready to write. As a member of what is called the “Second Generation” child of Holocaust survivors, I was born in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany after the World War II and came to the United States when I was two. I don’t remember how I learned English, but I am told my first English words were “push me” when sitting on a swing at my cousin’s house in Brooklyn. But even though we did not speak English in our house when I was growing up on a poultry farm in South Jersey, I somehow at a very young age came to love the English language, its nuances, choreography, possibilities for expression and meaning (perhaps much like a musician who is drawn to sounds and rhythms). I was that one kid in sixth grade who loved sentence diagramming.

I cannot remember a time I wasn’t reading, and so I believe expression through language became a part of me waiting for the right time for it to come out. I dabbled in high school writing immature fiction and newspaper articles. In college at Rutgers, I wrote short stories for the literary magazine, and my writing was noticed by an English Department professor who was the editor of a prestigious literary journal (I won’t drop names). He encouraged me to tend bar in New York after graduation as a way of nurturing my writing. But I am not temperamentally a Hemingway, or Kerouac, or Mailer type of person. I might properly be called “the writer as a homebody.” For instance, I am now married 50 years and still love my wife. So I used the Vietnam War and draft as an excuse why I couldn’t follow his advice and, instead, went into VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America, the stateside Peace Corp) and served in the South Bronx (an experience as good as bar tending).

I then worked for a weekly newspaper before heading off to graduate school at SUNY-Stony Brook earning a doctorate in English Literature (I got to read voraciously with a payoff). I wrote my dissertation on “Baseball as Metaphor in American Fiction.” As I indicate in the “Acknowledgments” section of my book, “in graduate school, I had started to scope out stories about Jewish Holocaust survivors in the United States. I had wanted to offer my perspective on these extraordinary people who came with their shattered lives to this wonderful country and, somehow, emphasized living and the future despite the death and destruction they had experienced.” One such character was to be Frank Wolf, loosely based on the personality of my father-in-law. I put these notes away in a desk drawer thinking I would soon come back to them. It took 50 years, as life including raising two wonderful children happened. I taught university level English for three years before leaving teaching and entering the business world (mortgage also happened). During those decades I wrote “thought” pieces on various American and Jewish cultural issues that appeared in different local outlets.

After receiving my doctorate, I taught English courses in Western Pennsylvania at a Penn State University campus and at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. My wife Hedy was also an academic, and when she was offered a position at the University of Maryland teaching school psychology, we couldn’t turn down such an opportunity, so we moved. But at that time in the late 1970s, we were in the midst of hard economic times (stagflation) with few jobs opening in English. So I left academia to work (ala Wallace Stevens) in an insurance company as a project director (two children and a mortgage driven also). But I did enjoy my work and also did pro bono teaching of my beloved English grammar to customer service representatives whose enthusiasm and thirst for growth was wonderful. From time to time, I tried to write fiction, but I think the exigencies of work and home life did not allow me to create new worlds (and perhaps I still had more growing to do). So I wrote non-fiction opinion pieces which were much easier to construct. But when I retired, the opportunity to create opened to me, and I said, “It’s time.”

When I retired six years ago, my writings increased dramatically. But I wasn’t satisfied as regularly I would pass by that desk with the aging notes inside. Finally a few years ago, I opened the drawer, retrieved the notes, and felt I was ready to fulfill my younger days’ mission. I’m not sure having tended bar would have hastened the fictional output, but my own version of “bar tending,” living my life and growing up and becoming older made me more ready. So I started writing stories about Holocaust survivors in the United States, and when I published a short story with Frank Wolf as Holocaust survivor turned private detective, I wanted (and encouraged by readers) to keep writing about him.

Please join us next Monday when I ask Saul about his fiction. If you haven’t already discovered him, I’m sure you’ll want to add him to your “to be read” list!


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? 

First Signing at Malice Domestic

by Paula Gail Benson

For many of us, a return to
an in-person Malice Domestic this year was truly a reason for celebration.
Having the opportunity to greet and spend time with folks who have become like
family was completely joyous (even though an outbreak of Covid marred the
occasion at the end).

Elizabeth Crowens, Kaye George, Marilyn Levinson, Leslie Karst, me, and Kathryn O’Sullivan

Alan Orloff, Art Taylor, and Janet Laubgross

I’ll remember this Malice for many terrific experiences: (1) a blurring
genres panel with a group of terrific authors (marvelous moderator Elizabeth
Crowens, and fellow panelists Kaye George, Leslie Karst, Marilyn Levinson, and Kathryn
O’Sullivan); (2) being at the Agatha banquet table with wonderful authors and dear
friends Alan Orloff, who won for Best Young Adult Novel for his I Play One on TV, his wife Janet Laubgross,
Art Taylor and Tara Laskowski, John Copenhaver, Julie Hastrup,
and Marco Carocari; (3) enjoying a few quick meals with excellent cozy authors Dorothy
McFalls and Victoria Gilbert; (4) having a group photo with my super blogging
partners for Writers Who Kill; (5) spending some time with Art and Tara’s talented
son Dash; and (6) getting to tour Washington with a delightful guide, Aziz
Rakla, and the charming Michael Bracken and lovely Temple Walker (who would
leave the next day to celebrate the Edgar best short story nomination for “Blindsided”
written by Michael and James A. Hearn).

Tara Laskowski and John Copenhaver

Even with all of those and many other memorable moments (like hugs
from Edith Maxwell and Dru Ann Love and great conversations with Charlaine
Harris, Toni Kelner, Terrie Farley Moran, and Jeanne Dams), this Malice will
always stand out in my mind as the one when my short story “Reputation or Soul”
was published in Malice Domestic’s 16th anthology Mystery Most Diabolical and, for the
first time, I participated in a Malice signing. Following the live charity
auction, from 9:30 until 10:30 pm on Friday, April 22, 2022, the contributors from
Malice Domestic 15: Mystery Most Theatrical and Malice
Domestic 16: Mystery Most Diabolical
who were
at the conference gathered at tables in the hallway outside the ballrooms and
became part of a conveyor style signing process.


I’m proud not only to be in a Malice Domestic anthology, but also
to have my story with the works of other authors I greatly admire. For the
signing itself, I got to meet Lori Robbins who shared a table with me. And, I’m
very grateful that a kind soul offered to take my copy of the anthology around
to get signatures while I participated in the signing.

At signing with Lori Robbins

you to all the Malice planners. You always make the event a wonderful occasion.
And, particular thanks for my signing experience, a dream come true.


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

A Tale of Two Chapters: Sisters in Crime Across the Country, Part One

by Paula Gail Benson

During 2020, the year of the pandemic, when so many meetings
went from being in-person to virtual, I had the good fortune to meet Sonja
Hazzard-Webster online. Sonja was the President of the Capitol Crimes Chapter
of Sisters in Crime (based in Sacramento, California) and I was the President
of the Palmetto Chapter of Sisters in Crime (based in Columbia, South Carolina).
When Palmetto Chapter had to convert its annual Mystery in the Midlands program
to an online format, we sent the information out on the Sisters in Crime
Presidents’ List Serv. We were lucky. With Charlaine Harris as our keynote and
people anxious to attend writing conferences, we had over 900 people to

What meant a great deal to me in 2020 was that Sonja reached
out to me with encouragement. She had links to South Carolina and registered to
support us. Our friendship was online only, but very genuine. I remember “meeting”
her in person at a virtual cocktail hour hosted by then SinC President Lori
Rader-Day. I witnessed Sonja’s vivacious charm, which captured everyone’s

Sonja Hazzard-Webster

Sonja passed away suddenly on June 15, 2020, but her happy
spirit continues to guide the Capitol Crimes Chapter. Because Sonja’s kindness
meant so much to me, I decided to join the Capitol Crimes Chapter. Penny Manson,
who succeeded Sonja as President, became another friend. As Presidents of two
chapters, Penny and I began talking about a joint program, sponsored by both Capitol
Crimes and Palmetto, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Sisters in

This year, with Sarah Bresniker as President of the Capitol
Crimes Chapter and Carla Damron as President of the Palmetto Chapter, the two
chapters are working together on a Killer Workshop to be presented on Saturday,
May 14, 2022. This unique program combines two events in one: (1) if you are in
or near Sacramento, you can attend a day-long in-person workshop featuring
authors, forensic and publishing professionals, and an exciting keynote, and
(2) if you can’t get to Sacramento, you can join us virtually for three panels
of authors and an exciting keynote.

Both the in-person and virtual events will share the
exciting keynote, who is Gregg Hurwitz, the New York Times #1 internationally
bestselling author of 23 thrillers, including the ORPHAN X series. His novels
have won numerous awards and been published in 33 languages.

Gregg Hurwitz

The ORPHAN X novels are part of what got me through the pandemic.
Hurwitz’ protagonist, Evan Smoak, is the rumored “Nowhere Man,” a person who
can rescue anyone from the most dire of circumstances. Evan was trained as a
government assassin, but left the program to use his skills for individuals
whose troubles seem unresolvable. DARK HORSE, the seventh novel in the series,
has just been released. In addition to the ORPHAN X novels, Hurwitz has written
screenplays, comics, poetry, and articles.

Early bird registration rates are available for the Killer
Workshop through March 31, 2022. For the in-person event, members pay $65 and
nonmembers $80. After March 31, members pay $75 and nonmembers $90.

For the virtual event, the early bird rate is $25. After
March 31, the virtual event rate is $35.

Here’s a link to register for the Killer Workshop (in-person
or virtual): https://capitolcrimes.wildapricot.org/Workshop

By checking out the information about the Killer Workshop, you
can sign up for a dream editing giveaway at: https://capitolcrimes.wildapricot.org/Dream-Editing-Giveaway (Those who register for the Killer Workshop are automatically eligible for the giveaway!)

During our planning for this in-person/virtual joint chapter
event, I’ve felt Sonja Hazzard-Webster’s continuing enthusiastic influence. She
would have loved the opportunity to bring writers together.

Please consider joining us. Mark your calendars for
Saturday, May 14, 2022. If you can’t attend during the event, the virtual program
will remain available to registrants until July 31, 2022.

please check out tomorrow’s post on Writers Who Kill for more information about
how our two chapters planned the Killer Workshop and selected its participants!

A Founding Mother


by Paula Gail Benson

On this President’s Day, as we
remember George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and their contributions to the
United States, I’ve been reading about Betsy Ross. I knew she had been asked by
George Washington to sew the first U.S. flag, but I was not aware of her

Elizabeth Griscom was born in
New Jersey, the eighth of seventeen children in a Quaker family. They moved to
Philadelphia when she was three.

Betsy was an enterprising young
woman. Following her
formal education, she
apprenticed to an upholsterer, where she met her first husband, a fellow
apprentice and Anglican named John Ross. They eloped when her family did not
approve and set up their own business on Chestnut Street, where they were
employed to make curtains for George Washington when he served in the Continental

In 1774, two years after their marriage, John
passed away, leaving Betsy a twenty-four year old widow without children. She
had to fend for herself and continued her business. From their past dealings,
Washington knew he could trust her and approached her to make a flag he

From: Flagline.com

George Washington’s battlefield standard
featured thirteen six-pointed stars on a blue background. His original design
for the U.S. flag also had six-pointed stars, but according to an account by
Betsy’s grandson, William Canby, she convinced him to agree to five-pointed
stars by folding a paper into triangles and creating a five-pointed star with a
snip of her scissors.    

From: Wikipedia Commons

her first husband’s death, Betsy married Joseph Ashburn, a seamen whose vessel, The Lion, was captured. After being charged with treason, he died in
the Old Mill Prison in Plymouth, England. He and Betsy had two daughters, only
one of whom lived to be an adult. A fellow prisoner, John Claypoole, brought
Betsy the news of Joseph’s death. John and Betsy married and became members of
the Society of Free Quakers, which supported the colonists’ fight against Great
Britain. The Claypooles had five daughters, one dying while young.

As she grew older, Betsy Ross took in many
family members and offered them a home, including nieces, Betsy’s widowed
daughter Clarissa, and Clarissa’s five children. With Clarissa’s help, Betsy
continued to work as an upholsterer and flag-maker until she retired at the age
of seventy-six and went to live with her daughter Susanna outside Philadelphia.
Despite losing her vision, Betsy made the weekly carriage ride into
Philadelphia to attend services at the Free Quaker Meeting House. Three years
before her death, Betsy was completely blind. She spent the last years of her
life with her daughter Jane in Philadelphia.

From: Mommie Nearest

maintains 239 Arch Street as the building where between 1776 and 1779 Betsy Ross resided, conducted
her business, and created the first U.S. flag. In 1876, her descendants identified the building as the place where she lived
and worked. Today, it continues to house a collection of Ross memorabilia as
well as being a place where history is interpreted and presented and where
events (private or public) may take place.

As we celebrate the founding and continuing of
our country, why not check out the
Betsy Ross House?