A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!

Julie Moffet . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Farley and Me: A Writer and her Anti-Muse

Newsflash! There’s an extra-special bond between writers and their pets. But you probably knew that already. Just click on practically any author’s Facebook page, and there’s a good-to-excellent chance you’ll see plenty of pics featuring their loyal keyboard companions.

Hemingway had his polydactal cats (you can visit more than 60 of their descendants roaming his Key West home). Emily Brontë tromped the moors with her formidable mastiff, Keeper. Sartre and Twain often wrote with cats in their arms.  And Agatha Christie was a confirmed dog lover.

I love the fantasy of a snoozing pet curled on my lap as I write the Great American Mystery. Maybe with a toasty fire going in the background, and a cup of cocoa—or, in warmer weather, gently whirring ceiling fans overhead and a giant glass of iced tea with lemonade. Even better, what if my pet wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill muse, but actually wrote those gripping tales as I slept?

Sadly, none of those things are ever going to happen. My dog Farley hasn’t shown much interest in penning books—only in eating them. And his co-pet, a devious black cat named Lucy, isn’t much help, either. In fact, the two of them work in tandem to make sure I have zero words on the page by the end of each writing session. They’re a great team.

I always get the same question when people meet Farley. Did I name him after the dog in that cute movie with Jennifer Aniston? The naughty dog with the fur and heart of gold? Sorry, no. My dog is Marley with an “F.”  He was actually named after Chris Farley, the late comedian. The two have quite a few similarities, it turns out. They’re both on the larger side, blond, extremely talented, and always in motion.

We chose Farley from a litter of four adorable brothers. He seemed the most enthusiastic on the days   we visited and we had this crazy idea about letting a puppy choose us. 

We ignored that he was also the one circling the perimeter, over and over—kind of like me in the writing process. And he always had something in his mouth. That was cute when it was a mini Lamp Chop toy. Now it’s shoes and toilet paper off the roll or my feet when I’m trying to talk on the phone. And once it was an entire folder of handwritten notes for my manuscript in progress.

He’s been to nonstop obedience classes—I have the bank statement to prove it. In puppy class he literally chomped on his fancy completion ribbon as they took the group picture. In the more advanced classes he was a champ in the ring—and a crazy hellion the minute we got home. We tried agility for a while, until I won five months in PT. When I have a serious deadline, I’ll admit that I dump him off at doggy day care, and pay extra for the dogbone-shaped pool.

 Am I terrible dog mom? I hope not. I know my fiendish Farley loves me—and I love him back, crazy as he may be. Maybe we’re both crazy. But sometimes I need a time out from furry muses. Anyone up for a pet play date? The kind where the mommies drink wine, except maybe we could get some actual writing done?

Do you have a helpful muse, of the pet (or any other) variety? Let us know in the comments--and include a pic if you'd like!

LISA Q. MATHEWS is a former lifeguard, competitive figure skater, and Nancy Drew editor. Like her co-sleuths in The Ladies Smythe and Westin, her first series for adults, she enjoys rich desserts, Nora Ephron movies, and above all a good mystery. Visit Lisa at  

Monday, March 19, 2018

Following the Trail of Crumbs

The first bread I remember baking was a pizza, fresh out of the oven of my junior year college apartment. It wasn’t right. Something about the dough tasted raw, underdeveloped. We ate it anyway.

I kept making pizzas after this, with similar results. But the desire to get it right persisted. The experience with the dough led me to attempt loaves of bread. I would follow each recipe to the letter, and still that incomplete flavor would not go away. It didn’t matter if it was a whole wheat loaf or regular white bread.

Should I have quit? Bread is easy enough to get, even the good, crusty loaves that go well with the kind of cooking I mostly do. But every time I’d look at the ingredients for something that should be fundamentally simple, I’d get all fired up to do it myself again.

To find the first successful dough I can recall making, we have to return to the pizza. This time, though, it was a deep dish. Finally, the underdeveloped flavor wasn’t there. The crust was nicely browned on top, crispy with olive oil on the bottom. And here’s one of the mysteries of this journey. I have no idea what I did differently.

If I’d been approaching this scientifically, there would’ve been notes on the past successes and failures. Perhaps I was using different ingredients, or paying attention to different aspects of the process. I will never know, and that’s okay. This is a journey that plays out with each piece of bread, living in the moment.

Once the deep dish pizza was working, I started to push the envelope. How about a large hamburger, but the buns are individual deep dish pizzas? Yes, I made it. But only once, on a New Year’s Eve.

Hawaiian Style Rolls (made in a deep dish pizza pan)

With this confidence in hand, I turned my attention back to individual breads. Focaccia. Rustic Tuscan loaves. Pan de mie. It was starting to work.

Japanese Milk Bread

But it’s never a guarantee. Even with this experience, every time I mix the wet into the dry, I’m not sure how it’s going to come out. In that way, it’s a lot like writing. Sure, I’ve done it before, but this time might be different because each dive into the process is unique.

Lately, I’ve had success with the no knead method bread devised by Jim Lahey. The recipe is online, as well as in his book, My Bread. If you have a dutch oven and a desire for a crusty round of bread, this is the way to go. The biggest challenge with this method is the timing (the first rise is 12-18 hours). I’ve found that if I can get it started by around nine at night, the fully cooked loaf will be ready for dinner the next day.

No Knead Bread

I keep a challenge list of recipes I want to try. I think the next up will be English muffins. But what’s really looming over me is sourdough. It’s been on the list for years, untouched. The idea of keeping a starter alive, then developing part of it into something usable for a loaf is intimidating. Which is exactly why I should do it.

So do you bake bread? Is there a recipe you’ve always wanted to try? Or is there a recipe you want to challenge me with?

Nico Rosso writes the award nominated romantic suspense series Black Ops: Automatik for Carina Press and can be found on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and his Website.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

When the Story Just Doesn't Work

There are few things I find more painful as a writer than discovering a story I’ve been writing doesn’t work. If I’m lucky, this happens before I’ve written too much of the book.

In truth? I’m usually not that lucky. My deleted scenes files tend to end up being an average of 100,000 words.

Sometimes it’s the characters that I can’t get a handle on.

Sometimes it’s the plot.

Many years ago, I came up with an idea for what I thought would be the first book in a new series to be set in West Africa. I really loved the hero, Rico, and the heroine, Jane. I came up with a bunch of dangerous situations Jane and Rico had to escape from. I had fascinating secondary characters who had interesting interactions with Jane and Rico. But I couldn’t get the overall story to gel. No matter how much constructive feedback I received and no matter how many times I tried to fix it, the character arcs and plot just wouldn’t meld together into a powerful story.

I think I have at least two or three completed rough drafts of that book, all with different plots. On top of those, I probably have several dozen openings and first acts. I tried so hard to do those characters justice, but in the end I had to admit defeat and put the book aside.

Years later, I had another idea for a book set in Africa. This one involved a heroine who was a primate researcher, a hero who was a reporter, and some extraordinarily intelligent gorillas.

I had a lot of fun writing an opening sequence where the gorillas helped the heroine and hero fight off some poachers. Unfortunately, after reading it over, I realized that the gorillas were acting too human, putting the story closer to science fiction than romantic suspense.

Now, I’m not afraid of bending reality. After all, I’ve created an alternate history and geopolitical structure of West Africa for my WAR series. And in the SSU series I pushed the mad-scientist-creates-superhuman-soldier envelope to the edge of science fiction.

But there was something about those gorillas that just felt as if I’d be crossing a genre line I wasn’t ready to cross. So I threw out that plot.

Now, why didn’t I just downgrade the intelligence of the gorillas? Because in my mind those human-like aspects of the gorillas were set in stone. Once certain aspects of the story become “real” to me, I can’t change them. That’s just the way my creativity works.

At least this time, I’d only written about a third of the book before I set it aside.

After a lot of brainstorming, I eventually came up with new characters: Emily is a former prima ballerina and Max is a rogue black ops agent. But yeah, it took a while to find the correct story for these two, as well. Their story is WAR: Disruption, the first book in the WAR series.

To my surprise, while I was writing the second book in the WAR series, one of my characters made a comment and I finally realized why I’d had such trouble with Rico and Jane’s story. I hadn’t understood that Rico was undercover.

I renamed Rico to Rio, because I didn’t want him rhyming with Niko, the hero of Vengeance. Rio then became a point of view character in the third book in the WAR series. Not only that, but Rio and Jane will finally get their story in book six in the series. I’ve written snippets of their new book and there’s almost nothing left of the original idea.

Funny how my subconscious was able to work all that out.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I frequently struggle to find the right characters and plot for each book. It doesn’t matter if I outline ahead of time and do extensive character development sheets, or if I just jump in and write with little to no preparation. Either way, I still end up sending a ton of writing to my deleted scenes file. I’m not happy with the time this takes, but I’m grudgingly beginning to accept that it’s just part of my process.

Still, is it any wonder that after struggling so much to get my story right my muse makes things go terribly wrong for my characters? You know what they say about payback.


Vanessa Kier writes action-packed romantic thrillers with an edge. She’s set her latest series, WAR, in West Africa, where she lived for a time. She also coaches writers in Scrivener and other tech.

You can find her at: and

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Message in a Bottle: The Need to Write

You won't find the need to write specifically listed on Psychologist Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Need, but it's there. Maslow's theory is that humans are driven to satisfy needs, urgent survival-based physiological ones first, such as the need for air, water, food, shelter, sleep, and clothing. After these needs are met, we seek safety, love and belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization.

Sometimes, the need to write transcends all other needs. The Diary of Anne Frank wasn't written for publication. Anne wrote to understand and to escape from the horror of hiding from Nazis. She documented evil as well as the kindness of her protectors and she left a legacy for generations of readers to understand her brief life.

Why do we write?

We need to. Whether we write to entertain, to enlighten, or to inform, we write because stories matter. Wilke Collins wrote The Woman in White to expose how English law deprived women of basic rights. The injustices he presented through compelling fiction led to changes in English law.

People write out of need. When we write what matters most to us, we often sacrifice other needs. We give up time with family and friends to research and compose stories. In the heat of first drafts, we skimp on food and sleep. Investigative journalists sacrifice personal safety to get the truth and report it, because they value the sharing of the truth higher than their comfort and safety. Authors also become so vested in creating their stories, they forgo time with friends and family.

My dear friend named Terri's story took decades to write. Like Anne Frank, my friend wrote because she had to. Her son committed suicide. At first, she wrote because people didn't talk with her when she needed to cope. Some didn't know what to say. Some didn't want to know more than the newspaper account of the tragedy. Terri was burdened with grief, doubts, questions, and the stigma of being the parent of a troubled teen who committed a social taboo.

Terri privately expressed her feelings in poetry and journaling while struggling to find a new normal life for her other two sons and herself. Her journey took decades because at different stages her perspective grew clearer, broader, and easier to grasp.

At first, she wrote because no one listened, no one spoke with her. She wrote to make sense of her loss, to document a life that might have been, to leave a record for her other sons. Now, from her decades-later perspective, she views her writings as a way to help others who have lost a loved one to suicide.

The courage to share her story comes from a source greater than self. She will soon publish the story in her life that matters most--The Write Way to Grieve: Journaling Through the Aftermath of a Suicide by Terri Johnson. She wants her story to be a light for others in the darkest time of their lives.

We write because we must. Even if we never meet our readers, we write. Like Robin Williams needed to make others laugh to stave off his personal pain, like a shipwrecked sailor tossing a message in a bottle into the tide, writing gives us hope and connects us to others.

We write because that hope, that connection matters.

After working decades in journalism, Joni M. Fisher turned to crime. Her Compass Crimes series has garnered attention in Publisher's Weekly and earned recognition in the 2017 National Indie Excellence Awards, the 2016 Royal Palm Literary Awards, the Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest, and the Sheila Contest. She serves on the Arts and Humanities Advisory Board for Southeastern University and is a member of the Florida Writers Association, the Kiss of Death Chapter of RWA, and the Women's Fiction Writers Association. She's also an instrument-rated private pilot. For more information, see

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Let's Get Cozy

Let's get cozy!

Why not?

When people find out I’m a writer and ask me what genre. I respond with cozy mystery. You can probably guess the next question. Cozy? What is a cozy?

Trust me, I’ve been around long enough (26 novels) to know that cozy mystery genre doesn’t get the same hats off, Baptist nod, and thumbs up that thriller mystery or even just mystery writers get.

And if it’s not bad enough, I have to tell them that I write cozy mystery. That really gets the quizzical looks that make me feels as if I have two heads.

My explanation generally goes like this:

Cozy mystery is kinda just that. Cozy. More along the lines of Murder She Wrote where the sleuth of my novels has a job that is in a craft or a special talent. She stumbles on a murder that is somehow tied to her life and she has to solve the murder/crime on her own.

There is no blood, guts, or gore and cozies are centered on the sleuth’s craft or gift. In my case with Cold Blooded Brew, the sleuth is a young woman who lives in a small gossip town of Honey Springs. She owns a fun little coffee shop called The Bean Hive.

Somehow she always gets involved in a murder and uses her gift of gab, her former life as a lawyer and a little gossip from the quirky secondary characters to help solve the crime.

Cozies have relatable characters set in small towns with a cozy setting. Even though romance takes a back seat in the mystery, there is still a love interest to sweeten the pot.

By the time I’ve given my spiel, the person who asked me about what a cozy was, is spouting off movies or television shows that fit the cozy mystery genre.

What do you love about cozy mysteries?

Cold Blooded Brew
A Killer Coffee cozy mystery Book 4 
Small town, animals, coffee, food, a smidgen of romance and a dash of mystery, you're going to love this coffeehouse mystery series.

For years, USA Today bestselling author Tonya Kappes has been self-publishing her numerous mystery and romance titles with unprecedented success. She is famous not only for her hilarious plotlines and quirky characters, but her tremendous marketing efforts that have earned her thousands of followers and a devoted street team of fans. HarperCollins and Witness Impulse is thrilled to be publishing this insanely talented and wildly successful author in her hilarious and spooky Ghostly Southern series. Be sure to join Tonya’s newsletter and receive a free ebook download!

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Laura Lippman in Gainesville!

Meeting with authors I admire is like a big-old jolt of inspiration, and I got a Venti Double Shot of it last Saturday when Laura Lippman came to Gainesville!

I was introduced to her fiction several decades ago when my sister gave me a copy of Baltimore Blues as a Christmas present.  Since then, I've looked forward to every new Laura Lippman novel and consider her one of the premier crime novelists working today. As creator of the Tess Monaghan series along with several stand-alone novels, her books are expertly plotted--with more twists and turns than the wild Ocklawaha River--but it is the authentic and superbly-drawn characters that keep  me coming back for more.

Laura Lippman
Now, I had tried for years to meet Laura at some conference or book tour, but never quite got the timing right. So I was over the friggin' moon when I learned she was coming to our library in Gainesville--a mile from my home!

From her smart novels, I already knew Laura was a smart woman, but in finally meeting her, I found her to be kind and gracious as well, with an almost working-class approach to her writing that I can relate to.

  Simply put, writing is her job and she does it well.

Although Laura was there to talk about her latest novel Sunburn, she admitted that everything past the first two chapters contained spoilers, so the discussion was wide-ranging. One thing she shared about her own writing really struck home.

When Laura first set out to write, she made a conscious decision to cast herself as a genre writer, partly because the idea of writing the great American novel was a bit beyond her. I think it was a way to take some of the pressure that goes along with the craft. 

I experienced something similar when I decided to try my hand at writing fiction. As a former English teacher, I loved Fitzgerald and Shakespeare and Faulkner, but I was no Faulkner. Heck, I wasn't even Sidney Sheldon, though I wouldn't have minded having his sales. But I might be able to write a mystery. But I'd read enough mysteries to fill a library. Maybe--just maybe--I could write one. 

Sometimes we women are often way too hard on ourselves. We demand perfection of ourselves, yet
forgive all sorts of transgressions from those we love. So calling myself a genre writer was a way of giving myself a break. 

I think that learning the craft of writing is sort of like climbing a giant ladder, the top of which is hidden in the clouds. Rather than worry about what's beyond your reach, it's best to concentrate on getting onto the next rung.

And who knows? Maybe someday, you'll reach the clouds.

Friday, March 2, 2018

What's in a Name?

Last month, I re-released a favourite mystery/romance of mine called FREEMAN. It's a bit of a mysterious title in itself, isn't it?  Why didn't I call it "Tense Suspense in London's Seedy Clubland" or "Romance Blossoms Between Two Very Different Men While Foiling Dastardly Plots"? Many fabulous titles are published in the Romantic Suspense/Mystery genre, which grab a potential reader's attention with an immediate snapshot of the book's content, in just a few words.

Well, Freeman is the name of my main character. And he's mysterious in his own way, throughout the book. One name, one purpose, one narration. But - Confession time! - that's not the only reason I chose the title.

The easy answer is that it was a working title that stuck. Authors, have you ever found that to be the case? A title isn’t immediately obvious when you start writing, so you decide to file the work in progress as "book XXX", "FinishByXmasOrElse", "The Mystery One", or just "That B****y Book". Then, as time goes by and the novel takes shape, the working title can’t be shaken off.

And for the character himself? The same thing happened with him. I can’t even remember where I got his name from, but one day it was there, and it stayed. Determinedly. Relentlessly. Doggedly. Dear me, that’s just like Freeman himself!

And why only one name? No one ever mentions Freeman’s first name in the book, not even the man himself. Maybe it’s like Inspector Morse, who doesn’t reveal his first name until the end of the series. Or like many a star in the public eye who’s known only as a single name. Is that behaviour kitsch? Coy? Paranoid? There are probably a variety of reasons for it, and to be honest, I can’t presume to know Freeman’s motivation.

He just is.

Names of books and characters are important to me. Sometimes the names declare themselves very firmly to me, right from the start. Even if I try to change them later on, it just won’t work! (like Freeman)

And sometimes I have to seek for a while to find the right names. As an author, I’ll often look for inspiration in a poem or a popular saying. Or search lists of baby names of all ethnicities and sources, looking for the right sound and meaning. For example, Maen in my fantasy novel Branded came from the Welsh word for “rock”, because that’s what he is to Dax and the other soldiers under his command. Niall in my suspense thriller 72 hours means “champion”: Red in my romance Flying Colors is a nickname for Richard, meaning “powerful leader”. I like to play with the names, you can see!

What do you think about names? Do you like seeing unusual ones? Readers, do they turn you on or off in a book?

Thanks for visiting today!


Freeman’s return to the city is quiet, without fuss. Another client: another case. He’ll source what they need and be on his way. But he’s been missed by more people than he thought: his ex-wife, his ex-lover, and his ex-business partner. And at least one of them wants him the hell gone again. 

Freeman — private, controlled – just does his job. But when he strikes up an unusual friendship with the young runaway Kit, trouble comes looking for both men, ready to expose secrets that can destroy their fragile trust. Yet, for Kit, Freeman’s more than ready for the challenge.

BUY Freeman today at Amazon | in other formats plus excerpt.
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