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 . Clare London . 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, November 22, 2017

Judge this book by its cover!

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We’ve all heard this, right? But let’s face it, we all do it. Heck, according to this article from the Normal Rockwell Museum’s Illustration History Project website, even when the purpose of a cover was simply to protect a book’s pages, it was likely to be decorated with gold and jewels. As cover materials changed and mechanical book-binding came into play, it became possible to print onto the covers. This led to the cover serving as a type of advertisement for what was inside.

Not all “modern” books follow this trend of having an illustrated cover, however. Growing up, my parents gave me the Children’s Classics series of books, which had no cover art. The book pictured with its front toward the camera is the action-packed Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, but you’d never know it from the cover. Yes, I still have the books! :D

Unfortunately, in today’s crowded book market readers make judgments about our books based on a digital thumbnail. So it’s crucial that the cover conveys what type of reader experience the story provides. Which is why, even though I loved my old covers, I just finished rebranding all of my books with new covers.

Here are the primary considerations that went into the decision to redo the covers:
  1. With my old covers, I felt as if I was promising a more sensual read than I was delivering. There’s a lot of action and explicit violence in my books. By switching to covers with a more thriller-like vibe, I hope readers will understand that the focus of the book is on the action.
  2. I’d grown increasingly unhappy about the disparity in tone between the first two books in the SSU series. The original cover of the first book was dark and brooding, while the second book cover was lighter and playful. I hope the new covers even out the expectations, because while the first book is darker than the second, the second book also has some dark moments.
  3. My books frequently show up in the Mystery and Suspense/Thriller categories on Amazon. My naked man chest covers stood out like a sore thumb among all the thriller-y covers. I wanted my covers to appeal to the Thriller audience as well as the Romantic Suspense audience.
What was I looking for in the new covers?
  1. The covers had to look good in thumbnail size. To me, it’s more important to have my name be readable than the title. I hope to eventually have enough name recognition that books will sell on my name alone. Until then, as long as my name is clear in the smaller size, any reader viewing that thumbnail on a non-retailer site will be able to go to a retailer and type in my name to find my books. Whereas, if they only saw the title, there are dozens of books titled Vengeance they’d have to wade through to find me.
  2. The covers had to convey the overall tone of the story. I don’t care if the scene on the cover isn’t present in the book. I’m more concerned that the reader sees the cover and knows the type of emotional experience they’ll get from the book.
  3. The colors had to be in line with my brand as an author. One of the cover concepts I received was pink. Nope. I nixed that. Pink doesn’t fit with my brand of dark action-adventure. I even told my designer to make a note in my file never again to include pink on one of my covers unless it’s part of a sunset. ;) 
  4. There had to be some indication that there are two protagonists in each story. So I asked my cover designer to include figures of both a man and a woman.
  5. The new covers had to match the overall look I wanted. This took a couple of rounds to get right. I'm glad I persisted, though, because I love my new covers!
So how did it all turn out?

Here’s the original cover for Vengeance, Book 1 in the SSU Series on the left. The new cover is on the right.

Here’s the original cover for Betrayal, Book 2 in the SSU Series on the left. The new cover is on the right.

To see all of my new covers, go to my website,

Will the new covers be popular with readers? It’s too soon to tell.

What do you think? What’s your favorite from the new covers? My favorite is the cover for the next book in the WAR series, which I’m not revealing until I have the book finished.


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’s also coaches writers in Scrivener and other tech.

You can find her at:

Monday, November 20, 2017

Plot twist!!!

Yay! This is my first post as a group member of Not Your Usual Suspects. I'm happy to be here! This invitation came at a great time! I'm a member of another blog group, Killer Characters, where my characters blog...not me! So now it's my turn to spill what's going on in my head.
This is perfect timing! I'm currently under three deadlines. The fifth Kenni Lowry Mystery Series book for Henery Press, the first Southern Baker Mystery Series book for Crooked Lane, and the third Killer Coffee Mystery series book I self publish...and boy is there a lot in my head!!!

*changing the killer at the end of the first draft that's been plotted out.

Tonya Kappes is a USA Today Bestselling author who's married (to Eddy) and has four grown children, grown is an overstatement. According to the law they are grown, but they are all in different colleges in the United States.  She's known for her super charged characters that not only spill humor all over the pages, but end up tripping over a lot of dead bodies. Be sure to check out her Front Porch Sittin' tab on her website at for freebies and contests.

Have you checked out all my books? Here is a list and links! 

Olivia Bloom Paranormal Mystery Series

Magical Cures Mystery Series

Spies and Spells Mystery Series

Grandberry Falls Series

A Laurel London Mystery Series

A Divorced Diva Beading Mystery Series

Bluegrass Romance Series

A Ghostly Southern Mystery Series

Kenni Lowry Mystery Series
AX TO GRIND (9/2017)
SIX FEET UNDER  (4/2018)

Women’s Fiction

Young Adult

Be sure to join me everywhere!!

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Be sure to check out my web page for up to date information on all my books as well as a complete list of books in order at

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Embracing Change

I don’t particularly enjoy characters that don’t change. 

I don’t understand the appeal of say, James Bond. There’s not much character growth with that guy and frankly, I find him kind of boring. (Obviously, considering the success of the movie franchise, this opinion of mine is in the minority.)

I like characters that develop along the way. Those are the ones I can’t stop thinking about. Characters who have an internal, emotional journey that is just as compelling as whatever external adventure they’re having.

I suspect that the reason I, and so many others, love change so much in fictional characters is that it can be such a challenge to achieve in real life.

Professionally, there’s nothing more rewarding for me than hearing from readers about how much they love how the characters in my CONFESSIONS OF A SLIGHTLY NEUROTIC HITWOMAN series have developed. It’s something I’m always working on and I just love that their character arcs resonate with fans.

Personally, I’m easily bored when I find myself being stagnant. I’m always working on ways to stretch myself.  I’ll give you two examples of how I’ve changed in the past year:

1) I’ve become a beach person.

I was so NOT a beach person that even when I moved to the city with the Best Beach in the U.S. I didn’t go there for the first ten months.

But after listening to a local friend rhapsodize about their love of the sand and sea, I decided that maybe my long-held prejudices should be reexamined.  I took myself to the beach a couple of times and fell in love. Now if I don’t get to dip my toes in the surf at least three times a week, I feel deprived.

2) Twice a week I have appointments outside my comfort zone.

I’m a quiet, shy, extremely reserved introvert who thrives on constant worry and has a compulsive need to plan ahead. To combat these natural tendencies (not that there’s anything wrong with any of them) I’ve been taking improvisational comedy classes.

Not surprisingly, I’m not a good performer. But surprisingly, I’ve made more progress than I would have thought I was capable of. I’m still quiet and shy and reserved, but the lessons I’ve learned on stage about worrying less and being in the moment more have served me well in other areas of my life.

What about you? What kinds of character change do you love? Have you made any changes in your life recently?

Written by JB Lynn
"If you love series such as Evanovich's Plum and Bond's Body Movers, you'll love Confessions of A Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman."

Monday, November 13, 2017

Three Martinis Make For Weird Book Titles...

I think the question I get asked the most is, "How did you come up with the title, 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY?

It's a fair question (I'd ask it). When I pitched my first book to my first publisher, this dark comedy about a family of assassins was called DEATH IN THE FAMILY.  My publisher hated that title, because it said nothing about the fact that this was a comic mystery. I thought I was so clever (which should've been a red flag) to come up with DITF. 

So, I sat down with a few martinis and came up with a list of possible new titles. Somewhere around the third martini (which should've been another red flag) - I mangled Jimi Hendrix's lyrics as a joke (actually, I have a long history of mangling song lyrics - much to my husband's endless amusement). Of course my editor would hate it, but it might get her attention long enough to realize I was an idiot and she'd have to come up with a title for me. 

Imagine my surprise when my publisher loved it. Which was good and bad - because then I had to come up with more appropriate mangled lyrics. And I did with GUNS WILL KEEP US TOGETHER (btw - millennials have no appreciation for the genius of the Captain and Tenille), STAND BY YOUR HITMAN, I SHOT YOU BABE, and more. It was not easy. I won't even show you the list of rejects I've brainstormed, because that would be considered torture in most cultures. 

So, I got to wondering about unusual mystery titles. Was I the only weirdo out there (don't answer that)? Turns out I was not.

Harlequin - now known for romance, used to publish mystery. And they had a strange way of naming books. A novel's title is supposed to reflect what the book is about, and grab the interest of your target readers. It's an important step in the marketing process. 

Which makes me wonder what exactly Harlequin and its authors were thinking with these:

In my experience, sandwiches only 'dance' when they've been left out in the sun way too long. And then the 'dancing' is what your insides do to you as you 'dance' off to the bathroom. But I might be missing something here. Maybe back in the 1940's, sandwiches were quite terrifying...

Considering that the corpse is a dead stripper, it seems a little mean to give her applause when she's dead and can't enjoy it. Although, this does explain what kind of book this is with the word, 'corpse' and with 'a great big hand' that it has something to do with the entertainment business. So they score some points there.

Basically - this is true, except that I thought at first this was a book about a sad ghost who has no friends. Turns out, it wasn't. 

Why are there seven sneezes? Is this a case of lethal allergies? Did the murderer give himself away by sneezing or did the victim sneeze herself to death? Okay - this just proves that I really want to read the book, even though I'm a little worried though that it has nothing to do with sneezing. Which would be disappointing.

This is just plain old, sensible advice. Santa does have a 'naughty' list, you know. 

I have absolutely no idea what 'kiss your elbow' means. Must be some kinky, 1950's metaphor for something murdery.

How can you look at your own skull? Was this guy surprised to find his own skull in a desk drawer? And is he a killer who finds out the lady he's supposed to kill is a killer? I'm not sure I can wrap my skull around this one, but maybe after a few martinis I could figure it out.

My personal favorite - I love the look on the man's face as he stares in horror, and the smug look on the woman's face as she casually holds the bloody knife. I'm convinced that the victim must be a man. And that he definitely had it coming.

If I had to guess, I'd be willing to bet that these titles came from those famous, three martini lunches that authors and their publishers had back in the '50's and '60's. From my experience with three martinis (that I consumed alone, in my kitchen - which seems sad) and writing titles, I'd say it's a safe bet.

Leslie "3 Martini" Langtry

Monday, November 6, 2017

Ready to Double Down?

“Double Down” used to mean a calculated gamble – and maybe it still does. The technique certainly can increase the odds of winning. These days the term can mean anything from a bold decision to an increased resolve to stick to a position. Of course, it can also be a media euphemism with huge political overtones about certain statements, but that’s a different discussion.

What do the words have to do with books?

DOUBLE DOWN, a story set in the Holly Price mystery series world, is my newest release.

While this story was fun to write, I have a couple of confessions to make:  

People always ask authors where we get our story ideas. Confession #1 – The premise for this story was a given. A group of us challenged each other to write a story where luck changed the protagonist’s life.  Of course, for a mystery writer this means someone is likely to die. That isn't the life changing event. 


Characters are as important as the plot in my stories. My heroine, Maddie Larsson, leapt onto the page. The inspiration for Maddie came from a friend’s daughter—a single parent who works in a casino as a blackjack dealer. Maddie’s determination to forge a stable life for herself and her son draws the admiration of one of the casino’s gamblers, attention that changes her life for the better but also threatens to ruin—or end—it.

I wrestled a bit with the male lead character. So many readers wanted to see JC Dimitrak’s side of events (JC is the hero in So About the Money, book 1 in the series) I decided to put him in charge of the investigation. Maybe he was a little too charming since my beta readers …well, telling you would be a spoiler.

Confession #2 – I didn’t know anything about gambling. Honestly, I don’t understand the attraction but clearly it’s a popular pastime. Fortunately I had a willing “resource” (aka my friend’s daughter) to teach me the basics and give me insight into the dealers’ world.

Take all that and place your bets - DOUBLE DOWN released October 23rd

Murder isn’t supposed to be in the cards for blackjack dealer Maddie Larsson. Busted takes on a new meaning when her favorite customer, a former Poker World Tour champion, is murdered. His family claims—loudly and often—Maddie is the gold-digging murderer. She better prove she’s on the level before the real killer cashes in her chips. 

If the victim’s body had been dumped five hundred yards up the road, Franklin County Sheriff’s Detective JC Dimitrak wouldn’t have been assigned to the Tom Tom Casino murder case. Instead, he’s hunting for suspects and evidence while dealing with a nemesis from the past and trying to preserve his own future. He better play his cards correctly and find the killer before an innocent woman takes the ultimate hit.

Special release week pricing! 

Amazon       B&N       Kobo       iBooks  

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories.  When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.

Find out more or sign up for her newsletter at 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Writing sex scenes

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ... *sex* and how to write it - or not! - by Clare London.


Sex scene writing – it’s like Marmite, isn’t it? You love it or hate it! LOL. Confess now – have you ever written “insert sex scene here” (or those very useful XXXXs) on your manuscript, then continued on with the rest of the story?
It’s A Significant Event for many writers’ stories, but:
- You shouldn’t be scared of it
- You should make it the best you can, and
- You should make it work for the book!
And I want to give you some thoughts and tips on how you can do all that.

The Fear!!

What of? Being embarrassed to visualise intimacy in print? Thinking it’ll reflect on you the author? Winning the Bad Sex Writing award? Forget all those and be brave!

Now, if you are *truly* embarrassed or horrified at writing sex in your book – then please don’t! No one insists. HONESTLY. Okay, so there’s the saying that sex sells – and it does, to many readers – but a good book is much better. Many, many readers like romantic tension instead, many like the intimacy to stay beyond the bedroom door. Imagination is often far more powerful than we can put into words. Your good book will last in a reader’s memory far longer than another shower sex scene.

And if you force the issue – well, that’s when the “XXX”s start to appear, because you think you *have* to write sex scenes, but you don’t have the *feels* for it. All that will happen is that you’ll be mortified, your writing will be uneven, and the reader will feel either dissatisfaction or discomfort. You have to want to write it – to like writing it! - to make it convincing.

But I want to have sex scenes in my book…
Okay, that’s great! So make them the best you can!

Sex doesn’t have to be unique. It doesn’t have to be shockingly different / more dangerous / outrageous than other sex scenes in literature. Anyone who’s ever had sex knows that there are a limited number of physical permutations *wink*. Consider what you find sexy, and channel that feeling into your writing. For so many authors, what they like to read is what they enjoy writing. But at the end of it all, what makes a sex scene GOOD are the characters and the emotion between them.

Following on from the logistical issue is another reason why the “XXX”s should be avoided. Your sex scene is JUST a scene i.e. it will be one part of the flow of the overall story. If the characters are getting close, if their feelings are moving towards sex, then the build-up will already be in the story. The sex scene will just be the next narrative step. No one should be having sex out of the blue, with no warning. Even it’s a business transaction, even if it’s a drunken fumble, even if it’s Lust hitting them between the eyes with its flaming arrow. There should *always* be something in the text – however short, however wacky, however unexpected - that leads up to it, to tantalise both the characters and the reader. Just as there will be an aftermath, a cooling down, a period of shock / delight / love / dismay / where did I put my trousers etc.

Make the sex part of the story. Use it to move on either your characters or the plot. They will be changed by it in some way, and not just physically. Make that as much a part of the story as their jobs, their families, their battle against global supervillains!

Well, one reader’s Tab A into Slot B is another reader’s purple prose LOL. It’s difficult to say if there are right or wrong ways to write sex, though I’d recommend avoiding ridiculous phrases like purple-headed flowers and squelching grottos! I mean, who would ever say that in real life?
Referring back to the point about keeping it part of the story. THINK your way into it – I call it method writing, as I often try to project into one of my characters to see how they would speak and respond in a situation. If your character is shy, he’s not going to suddenly spout reams of personal feelings OR a full porn movie script. One character may be clumsy – it’s their first time, maybe? – and he’ll apologise a lot. They may laugh as they get ready: they may want to do it in the dark. They may be impatient, they may be nervous, they may know exactly what they want. This is all so much more important than describing the body parts in action.

If you want to excite, use bold words like thrust, hard, grip, push, passion, throb, shove, penetrate, arch. Short sentences, fractured dialogue, unfinished sentences and thoughts. Characters will gasp, grunt, growl, shout, grit teeth.
For a sweeter, slower romance, use words like stroke, caress, sigh, ache, cling, slide. Take longer over description and dialogue, the characters will share emotions, consider their surroundings, savour the sensual feelings. They will whisper and murmur.
Consider your characters’ backgrounds – are they athletic / body conscious / not very fit? Are they experienced, have they dated a lot or a little? Would they say cock and pussy aloud? Would they swear a lot, or just give inarticulate cries? Keep it real in the context of the story.

THINK your way through the scene. It doesn’t have to – probably shouldn’t – go on for 8 pages LOL. If they’re excited, things will be explosive and passionate but probably fast. Try and plot the progress as if it were happening in front of you. By all means, imagine yourself in the scene yourself! If you feel sexy on behalf of your characters, that’ll shine through the writing. Remember to imagine/fit that single scene into the rest of the book, so there’s balance between Sex and Story. Pacing is important – and that will add credibility to the story.

So now we’ve established the principle that, whatever you do, one reader’s love of raw f***ing is another’s love of unicorns singing, and you can’t anticipate either, so you must write the story you want to LOL. It’s YOUR story, your characters, your plot. You want readers to love it, but you can’t write for them all. Be true to your own feelings, whether they’re sexy or sweet. Many readers like a whole range of books, from hot to sweet to inspirational. Your book will suit many of them, and in many moods.

Craft it well, make it plausible, and you’ll have a showcase for your style. Your characters will be remembered as sexy – not just for what they did in bed.

~~Clare London~~~

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Universal stories readers love—well almost

Travel is one way to discover stories that touch the heart, ignite adventure, and carry us along for a riveting tale. One such tale, the Forty-seven Ronin, I discovered in Japan. The story touches on the universal concepts of warriors’ honor, righting a wrong, and promising to protect even if it cost their life. It’s a true story from 1701, has had more than seven movies from 1941 to a Keanu Reeves fantasy version of it made it 2013, and a slew of books written on the event. What is it about this tale that makes it legendary to the Japanese and resounds relatively well around the world?
Samurai armor at Tokyo National Museum
First, there is a tragic event that deals with a strong, honored daimyo (lord) and his samurai, the famous warriors known to protect their lord, and who were trained military men. Samurai are famous for being deadly proficient with swords, but also for tending to their gentler side and writing poetry or gardening. They had a code of ethics known in all Japan and lived by it at all times. The samurai in this tale were protectors and soldiers for Lord Asano, who had been called away to Edo (Tokyo) to assist with duties at the Shogun’s palace. While there, Asano had difficulties with a supposedly arrogant official, Kira, who detested him. After numerous occasions of being insulted by Kira, Asano drew his sword and attacked. Kira lived, but it was against the law to strike another in anger, particularly in the Shogun’s palace. Judges ordered Asano to commit suicide for the dishonor. What makes the tale particularly poignant, is Asano is claimed to have said to the judges that he did do the deed and only wished he had killed Kira. That is the classic strength of heroes readers love.

The rest of the story encompasses the samurai for Asano that were unable to prevent his death, which is later rumored to have been a plan initiated by Kira in the first place. Such a wrongful lord’s death is supposed to be revenged by his samurai, who are no longer considered samurai without a lord, but lowly ronin. However, Kira fully expected Asano’s samurai might try to assassinate him and protected himself with extra men. All seems lost for the ronin, but great heroes find a way to fight back, even when the odds are against them.

The samurai created a plan to make it appear they had no interest in revenge, so played the role of ronin and dispersed. Tales claim some left their families, made a display of public drunkenness, and other things to show they were no longer a formidable enemy. In nearby towns over the next two years, though, they secretly plotted and maintained their skills. As time passed, Kira lowered his guard and that’s when the ronin struck. Of course, there was a fight as Kira had protective samurai who valiantly died. He fled the scene, to be discovered hiding in the outhouse (toilet). A rather fitting end for a man who caused so much grief. The ronin took Kira’s head and placed it at their lord’s grave. 

Wow. What a story. Now you can see why so many movies were made and books written about this tale. However, here is where cultural differences might make the story less palatable for some, and completely heroic to others. The ronin knew that the attack on Kira would also be perceived as an attack against the ruling shogun, and to go against their ruler as a samurai was against their code. If they were successful in killing Kira, they would likely be forced to commit suicide. The authorities of the time supposedly deliberated on the situation after his death, because these men were sworn by their code to avenge Asano. Yet, because they had intruded on the shogun’s authority, they had to die. They were buried with Asano and today the cemetery is a popular place to visit. In the years following this event, numerous scholars have debated whether the ronin could have been pardoned or whether by the nature of their code they had to commit suicide.

As a reader, this amazing story of heroic characters living up to their principles and ethics, ended in tragedy, but to others, the story had the right conclusion. What about you? When you read a book or watch a movie, what expectations do you have for a story, and what kind of endings do you prefer?

*Sandy Parks writes adventure thrillers with strong heroes and heroines. Stop by her website at and get a free ebook when you sign up for her newsletter.

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