Tag Archive for: Shawn Reilly Simmons

Celebrating the Third Virtual Mystery in the Midlands with a Matching Game

by Paula
Gail Benson

to attend a writing conference? Here’s one that costs only $8!

Saturday, July 16, from 10:30 am to 3:15 pm ET, the Southeast Chapter of
Mystery Writers of America and the Palmetto Chapter of Sisters in Crime, are
proud to present their third virtual Mystery in the Midlands.

Our wonderful
participants include keynote David Heska Wanbli Weiden, who will be interviewed by Hank
Phillippi Ryan. In addition, three panels will be moderated by Dana Kaye. The
panelists are Alan Orloff, Shawn Reilly Simmons, and Joseph S. Walker, talking
about short stories; Daryl Wood Gerber, Raquel V. Reyes, and Abby L. Vandiver,
talking about cozies; and Hallie Ephron, John Hart, and Hank Phillippi Ryan,
talking about settings and suspense.

We would love for you to join us. You can register

If you can’t attend the broadcast, by registering, you can watch the recording.

At $8, it’s a bargain!

Following is a little game to match our
participants with fun facts about them. See how much you know about our
distinguished authors and check your results with the answers at the end.

Hope to
see you on Saturday, July 16! Don’t forget to register:



Hallie Ephron

Daryl Wood Gerber

John Hart

Alan Orloff

Raquel V. Reyes

6. Hank Phillippi Ryan

Shawn Reilly Simmons

Abby L. Vandiver

Joseph S. Walker

David Heska Wanbli Weiden



A. Has been to baseball games in 21 different
major league parks

Edited Midnight Hour anthology

C. Cheese-phobic

Considered being a professional violinist

Has 2 rescue Bichon Frise dogs

Grew up among writers, but only reluctantly became one after age 40

In addition to a writing passion, loves riding a tractor

H. Successfully sued the CIA for information on a
sunken Russian submarine

Worked as a parrot wrangler at a pet store

Has made over 30 fairy gardens


1. F

2. J

3. G

4. C

5. I

6. H

7. D

8. B

9. A

10. E

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

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. 

An Interview with Shawn Reilly Simmons by Paula Gail Benson

Shawn Reilly Simmons has an impressive resume. Born in Indiana, she grew up in Florida and graduated from the University of Maryland with a BA in English. She’s worked as a sales executive, bookstore manager, fiction editor, convention organizer, wine consultant, and caterer. Since 2003, she’s served on the Malice Domestic Board of Directors. Those who have attended the annual meeting near Washington, DC, have seen Shawn calmly overseeing the registration desk or confidently moderating terrific panels. In addition, she’s a founding member of the Dames of Detection and an editor at Level Best Books, which publishes the Best New England Crime Stories Anthologies.

Oh, and did I forget to say that she’s the author of the Red Carpet Catering Mysteries (published by Henery Press) that features Penelope Sutherland, a movie set caterer, and has contributed the short story “A Gathering of Great Detectives” to the Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional Anthology? Not to mention that she’s Mom to an adorable fellow named Russell.

Obviously, Shawn knows how to prioritize so she gets lots of things done and done well. Many thanks to her for taking time to visit with us and tell us how she manages everything so beautifully.  
Have you always loved writing?
Yes! I’ve wanted to be a writer, in some capacity, since I was in
elementary school. I won Best Creative Writer when I graduated from high
school, and I was encouraged by my professors in college to pursue writing as a
career, so it was always an aspiration of mine. The trick was making that
aspiration a reality.
Many of us know you as one of the smiling faces of the Malice Domestic convention.
How did you become involved with Malice?

I got involved with Malice when I met Anne Murphy, our Volunteer Chair,
at a panel during Malice 14. She was a Reilly before she was a Murphy, and she
was curious if we were somehow related. Next thing I knew, I was invited to
meet with the Board, and I accepted the vacant PR Chair position the following
year. Fifteen years later, I’m still there, which is crazy–not that I’m still
there, but that so much time has passed. It feels like yesterday! 
How has Malice influenced your writing?
I got involved with Malice because traditional mysteries are my favorite
stories to read, and to write, it turns out. I’ve learned more than I can begin
to say from the authors I’ve met, the friendships I’ve made, and the advice
I’ve been given by so many writers and fans I admire. I think I would still be
writing stories if it weren’t for Malice, but I’d probably be flailing around
trying to find my way.

You’ve had many diverse work experiences. How did you start catering for
My sister is a chef, and started cooking on movie sets right after
graduating from culinary school. Over the years, I would go and help her in the
kitchen when she needed an extra set of hands. She had transitioned into being
a personal chef and was in between clients when the on-set catering company
she’d previously worked for began filming a movie in the DC area. I was
freelance editing at the time, so we were both available, and were hired to be
part of the crew. Like so many things for me, it was a matter of luck and being
available when different opportunities presented themselves.

Tell us about your protagonist, Penelope. How much of you is in her

Penelope Sutherland is chef-owner of Red Carpet Catering, an on-set
movie catering business. She shares a house with her best friend, up-and-coming
actress Arlena Madison, who is one of the many children of acting icon Randall
Madison. Penelope is like me in some ways: she’s loyal, hardworking, and loves
to cook. She’s younger than me, and has a bit more confidence than I did at her
age, which is working out for her so far.
What do you plan for Penelope’s future? 

Penelope is building up her catering business, and she’s going to get
bigger and better opportunities based on her skill and business sense, not just
because she’s along for the ride with the Madison family. She’s going to have
some setbacks too, both personally and professionally, like we all do. Penelope
is also embarking on a romantic relationship with her friend from grade school,
Joseph Baglioni, who also happens to be a Homicide Detective for New Jersey PD.
They both work crazy hours–Penelope is on set sixteen hours a day sometimes,
and is often away on location for months at a time. Penelope and Joey have to
make the time they do have together special, which doesn’t always work out
perfectly, but they’re sticking with it. 
Your novels have been published by two sources. Tell us about your
publication journey.

wrote my first book after I had my son and decided to stay home with him. I
wasn’t sure if I could even write a mystery, or if it would be any good, but I
had my characters set in my mind, and I had never read anything about on-set
catering before, so I felt I had a fresh take on the movie industry. What I
didn’t have was an idea about how to proceed to publication when my manuscript
was finished. I decided to publish through an offshoot of my mother’s
publishing company, mostly for friends and family, and didn’t do much else with
the book after that. To my surprise, people (other than my family) read it and
liked it, and I was approached by an agent (at Malice, of course). She said she
could definitely sell my book to one of the big five publishers, but I had to
write the second one quickly, so they could see I could carry a series. I did
what she asked, and then heard back from the agent that the publisher loved the
idea of working with me, and that I was a strong writer, but that books about
movies hadn’t worked well for them in the past. They wanted me to think of
another series idea and get writing it quickly. 


I had just finished my
second book, and was on the fence about what to do. I went the same route as
the first one with it, and began toying with the idea of conceiving a new
series. I basically had to decide whether to abandon Penelope and the gang, who
I had grown to love, or move on to something the editors at the large
publishing house considered more marketable. A few weeks later, I approached
Henery Press (at Malice, of course), and was thrilled that they were interested
in the Red Carpet Catering books. They signed me and I re-wrote the first two
books under the guidance of my editorial team, and wrote the third book (from
scratch). That book is Murder on a Designer Diet, which was just released on
June 7th. I’m so glad I was able to find a welcoming home for Penelope &

In addition to your delightful series, your short story appears on the
recent Malice anthology. How is writing a short story different from writing a

You know, I hadn’t written a short story since college, and hadn’t
thought about writing them seriously. A year or so ago some local friends
hosted a short story pot luck dinner where everyone brought a dish and read an
original story they’d written. I had so much fun coming up with something for
my friends, it got the juices flowing again, and I decided to give the blind submission
for the Malice anthology a try. I was happily surprised that my story was
selected, to say the least. Now I’m working on a few different short stories,
for different projects.
Also, you have a new venture with the Dames of Detection and Level Best
Books. Tell us about this experience, particularly what it’s like to be an

Yes! We’re very excited to be the new editors of Level Best Books, which
publishes the annual Best New England Crime Stories anthology. I’d seen a note
on Facebook that the previous editors were planning to release their final
anthology, and that they weren’t continuing the series. The Dames felt the
anthologies are such a great tradition, and so many authors have gotten their
start there, that we decided to approach the previous editors about keeping
them going. Luckily all eight of us agreed to everything, so we transitioned
over this year. Our first anthology, Windward, received 225 submissions, and
we’re just about through our blind evaluation process. We’ll have our final
decisions made by mid-July. Being an editor is very fun, while also a lot of
work. We plan to do at least two anthologies next year, and are all in
agreement to do even more going forward.
How do you balance your many responsibilities and still find time for

days are more successful than others! But I do tend to be a scheduler and a
list maker. I work hard to keep everything organized and on track. I get up
early to write, usually at 5. I’m most productive and creative during that
quiet time. Later in the day I’m either working on Malice, editing for the
anthologies I’m involved with, or performing other tasks related to the books.
Then there’s the regular life stuff: being a good wife & mom, managing the
household, getting dinner on the table. And I always make time for myself: I
read every day and get in a workout of some kind. It’s safe to say I’m never

Does Russell enjoy having a writer for a Mom?
does! He says every morning: “Daddy went to work, I’m going to school, and
Mommy works on the computer.” He’s actually started writing stories of his
own–one of his teachers has really been encouraging him at school. We started
reading together every night when he was six weeks old, and by the time he was
3 1/2 he had learned to read, which was so exciting. We still read every
night–it’s such an ingrained habit now, the main part of our bedtime ritual.
We’ve been sick, we’ve gone to bed really late, but no matter what, we always
end the day with a book. 

Shawn, thank you for taking the time to be with us. Check out Shawn’s website at: