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!

NOTE: the blog is currently dormant but please enjoy the posts we're keeping online.

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

Monday, February 28, 2011

What's in a Title?

Okay, I'll admit it. I love titles. In fact, I'm a title junkie. I enjoy choosing the titles for my novels while having abundant hope the publisher will like them, too.

Unfortunately, I don't always get what I want. I've written eleven novels. The first three books I wrote all had their titles changed leaving me to wonder about my particular skill in this area. When I got to keep my fourth and fifth titles, I was elated. Maybe this title thing wasn't so hard after all. Then...CRASH. The sixth and seventh titles were changed. Still I kept the faith. To my delight, I was permitted to keep the titles for my eighth through eleventh books. Hooray! (For the time being, anyway)

I especially like it when a title fits a novel. I mean, really fits it. When I'm reading along and I come across a passage that makes the book title make sense, it gives me a thrill. For my latest mystery release, NO ONE LIVES TWICE (Carina Press/August 2010), I tried to play upon my love for titles by choosing one that specifically fit this book. Since my story is a high-tech spy caper, I chose a twist on a James' Bond movie title, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. The theme and style seemed to play well with my novel. But if you read the book, you'll discover that the title is actually an important clue to the plot of the story. I must say I was tickled pink when I later read a positive review that mentioned how well the title fit the book. Yeah! Mission accomplished!

Here are some of my all-time favorite titles: "Something Wicked This Way Come" by Ray Bradbury, "The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things," by Carolyn Mackler, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," by Milan Kundera, and "The Sound of Building Coffins" by Louis Maistros. There are a dozen more examples I could cite, but these are a few that I like the best.

So... do titles attract you to a book and are you a title junkie like me? What are some of your all-time favorite titles?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Right now.

I was all set to blog about my favorite writing books. Or websites I refer to again and again. Or building the iceberg of a story, what’s underneath the text that the reader never sees. But I had some trouble in the writing department this month.

My mother in law, on the lam from the chaos of a home under construction, came for an extended stay. Followed by my god-child, bless his heart, who’s struggling right now.

Oh, and my husband had a party at our house for friends. Fifty friends.

Whoot! My Speech Team kids, (I’m a speech coach at the local high school,) made it to the state level meet. State competition happens in Peoria, a place renowned for being in the middle of nowhere. (“But will it play in Peoria?”)

Then my sister lost her job. And my best friend’s husband had to have a biopsy.

Life and death. Family and friends. Urgent. Necessary. The real stuff of life.

This morning, I went digging in the refrigerator. I found the box of raspberries bought while party shopping. (“Who put the berries in the cheese drawer?”) The poor berries were beginning to mold, one or two, right in the middle of the pile.

I started to cry.

Those berries reminded me of my manuscript. The one I’d hoped to finish editing a month ago. Juicy, ripe. Ready to devour. To be devoured.


Hidden behind my MIL’s milk, and party leftovers, and the meals I packed for my sister and my friend, and the pizza my daughter and godson shared last night, the berries couldn’t wait any longer.

I haven’t worked in weeks. Maybe I squeezed in a few edits. I dragged my manuscript pages to Peoria. At the end of the day, half asleep, most of what I wrote read like this: “Thes aer the tmes that fry wo-mens douls.”

As a wife and a mother and a person whose gender creates the hormonal tendency to connect and care take, sometimes, I go a little mad.

Writing requires a certain amount of isolation. It requires quiet.

Life isn’t that way. Not my life, anyway.

I washed the berries and ate the good ones, all at once.

They were juicy and ripe. I devoured them.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Characters Without Blood

We all have them from time to time.  How often have you seen an inanimate object play a prime role in a novel? Some notable lifeless characters that come to mind are Wilson, the volleyball and even Linus's blanket.  

As a child, the believability of inanimate characters is nurtured by fantasy. Herbie the Lovebug seemed completely feasible to me at the time, and my brother will testify that the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard far out-acted the leading characters. 

In romantic suspense, heroes or heroines sometime host inanimate characters.  Perhaps a doll that holds enough significance to warrant its own spotlight-or even a gun that is used with enough frequency to be referenced by name. Some people have pet dogs...who is to say our characters don't have pet weapons? 

In ENDLESS NIGHT, my upcoming Carina release, a house shares equal billing with the two main characters.  Wakefield House sits on a rocky Maine cliff like a gargoyle with its claws sunk into the bedrock. It is riddled with wraith-like sounds and offers the charm and enthusiasm of a funeral home.  

As a fan of gothic romances, the house was critical to me. Do you know what they list as the fundamental element of a Gothic romance?  "The setting is in a castle, preferably connected to or near caves." I'm glad they got specific on that!!! Well, I don't have a castle, nor do I have any caves, but Wakefield House offers enough atmosphere to qualify. It definitely would not be the first time a building took top-billing. Perhaps the best example would be the hotel in the "Shining", although one could make the argument that "The Overlook" was indeed alive. 

Can you think of any other famous inanimate characters?  

Thursday, February 17, 2011

No, Hollywood Is Not a Credible Source

While I have the attention span of a gnat and am in the middle of ten different books at any time, I do pay attention to details. I can recall entire passages from books I read at the age of seven. It's the anal-retentive, OCD part of me that only gets worse with age. I also have an amazing amount of useless information in my head. Like knowledge of martial arts, blowing things up, and Michael Bay flicks. (Yeah, I'm a philistine.)

Now, imagine my horror when I came across a fight scene where the hero makes every mistake in the book. As the scene played in my head, I was thinking a nice, solid low kick to the side of the knee or a good head butt to the nose followed by a strike to the Adam's apple would do the job. But this hero does a bunch of fancy things that would make my hapkido instructor shake his head. Me, being me, flipped to the back of the book and noticed the author bio says she holds a black belt in Korean karate. Yeesh. Either she's lying or her instructor's a fraud because there's no such thing as Korean karate.

I should've stopped at that point and filed the book under DNF, but that OCD part of me doesn't like it when I don't finish what I start. So I kept reading--and had to put the book down unfinished. I was defeated when it became obvious the author depended on Hollywood for her research.

The villain tossed a blob of C4 into the microwave, set the timer for fifteen minutes, and--miraculously--the bomb went off when the timer hit zero.

Yeah, I've seen that scene in many movies too, but I always take Hollywood with a block of salt. And had the author realized Google is her friend or spent a little time watching the awesomeness that is MythBusters on the Discovery Channel, she would've known her microwave bomb would be a fail.

So, moral of the story: Hollywood is not a credible source. And watch MythBusters. It's fun to blow things up in the name of science. You'll thank me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Toni Anderson’s blog about language differences between the English and Americans not only made me laugh, her blog made me think about how words have different meanings depending on your profession.

For example:

Break a Leg: Means good luck. If someone wishes a performer Good Luck—that performer is in trouble.

Standby: The performer who gets his or her big chance when the star is out sick. Often mutters Good Luck.

Apron: Not something you wear to keep spills off your clothes when cooking but the section of the stage floor that projects into the audience.

Motivation: For actors—many directors say, “It’s your paycheck, honey.” For writers—the goal that enables the character to overcome conflicts and drives the character through the story.

Straight Play: A drama without music—has nothing to do with sex.

And whatever you do * Do not mention the name of Shakespeare’s Scottish play to an actor or actress.

Subject matter jurisdiction: Is not a disagreement between a writer and her editor.

Slander: A rotten review. Well…maybe.

Simple assault: In my view--cutting a writer’s favorite line.

Pleadings: Between the writer and God after she mails her manuscript.

Toxic Tort: Another rotten review? No—personal injury or property damage due to a toxic substance. Hmmm.

False Labor: An article that’s rejected more than once? No false labor is a false pregnancy.

Normal Body Temperature: Of great use to Paranormal romance Writers or 98.6?

Hook - Not Captain Hook of Peter Pan, not the hook that drags mediocre performers off-stage. Hook is the paragraph that captures the reader’s attention.

Tight - We aren’t drunk, squiffy, high, inebriated or intoxicated--our writing just needs to be concise and accurate.

I know many of you have worked or are working in other professions in additional to writing. Let us know about the words you used that others would use in a different fashion.



Monday, February 14, 2011


First, Happy Valentine's Day to all. Since I write romantic suspense, you'd think I'd remember my blog fell on the holiday that celebrates love. Nope, not me. So this blog will cover a topic completely unrelated to the romantic aspect of "romantic suspense" and focus on the suspense part.

While trying to come up with a topic for my blog, and since this is after all a suspense/mystery writer's blog, I tried to think about how I write romantic suspense. I'm pretty much a plotter in that I need to have the basic guidelines and bones of the story outlined before I get started.

One of the first things I need to decide is do I want the reader to know who the villain is right away or wait until the end of the book for the big payoff?

Both these formats work well with mystery/suspense writing and I've used both to my advantage. Sometimes letting the reader know from the beginning who the "bad guy/gal" is can lead to complexities in a story you might not otherwise be able to develop.

In Desperate Choices, my Carina Press release (available now), the reader knows from the beginning who the "bad guy" is. What they don't know and I try to delve into are the reasons and motivations behind his actions and the choices he makes along the way. The suspense is interwoven, layer upon layer, and hopefully keeps the reader turning the pages to see when the hero and heroine realize "who did it" and make sure that good triumphs and the villain's actions are revealed, all with a satisfactory and hopefully happily ever after.

I've also written stories where red herrings are strewn along the way, as the readers weave their way through the plot, hopefully following each pathway as they try to discern from the clues revealed again "who did it" as well as why they did it and the consequences of their actions. Again, all leading to that big black moment where good trumps evil every time, and everybody (except the bad guy/gal) lives happily ever after.

So, I my question of the day is this . . . which do you prefer? Do you like to know whodunit right away with all the psychological ramifications to come? Or do you like to be led down the winding—often fraught with danger path—where the evildoers are revealed and caught at the end of the story? Which would you choose?

Again, Happy Valentine's Day to all our faithful readers here at Not Your Usual Suspects. May your day be filled with happiness, flowers, and loads and loads of chocolate. :-)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten: My Favorite African-American Mystery Series

In honor of Black History Month, I’d like to share my favorite African-American mystery writers and their series. Sadly, these series have either been dropped, run their course, or are on hiatus. Many are no longer in print. But you can always check your local public library and with many author’s backlists being made available digitally, it’s still possible to purchase some of them. So in no particular order, here they are!

Barbara Neely’s Blanche White Series-featured Blanche White, a plus sized domestic and amateur sleuth whose razor sharp wit and keen insight into racial and social dynamics helps her to solve crimes.

Eleanor Taylor Bland’s Marti MacAlister Series-Set in fictional Lincoln Prairie, Illinois, this series features widowed homicide detective Marti MacAlister as she solves crimes and juggles motherhood.

Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins Series-If it’s possible to be in love with a fictional character, then I’m head over heels for PI Easy Rawlins. This excellent long running series came to its conclusion in 2007, with Blonde Faith. Easy, you are missed!

Valerie Wilson Wesley’s Tamara Hayle Series-Newark PI, and single mom, Tamara Hayle has starred in eight novels, the most recent, Of Blood and Sorrow, was released in 2008. I hope there are more forthcoming.

Kyra Davis’s Sophie Katz’s Series-Sex in the City meets Miss Marple featuring mystery writer and amateur sleuth Sophie Katz and her wacky gang of friends. Not sure of the status of this series but have a good feeling we haven’t seen the last of Sophie and Co.

If you haven't already, I hope you'll check out these excellent series. I have even higher hopes that any author  whose series has been dropped will resurrect it. With the growth of digital and self-publishing, no author should have to abandon a series when a publisher makes a decision not continue it. 


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February Reflections

Snow days for kids. Mountains of soggy play clothes, mittens, and muddy boots for young mothers. For those of us in our second childhoods, it's coffee, tea, or cocoa by the fireplace, a good book on the iPod, Sony, Nook, or Kindle. and sometimes the quirkiness of making an adult snow angel and photographing our pets or grandkids frolicking outside.

For me, it's margaritas and Mexican fare with girlfriends, hatching new plots with critique partners, and baking cookies (for those moments by the fireplace with my iPad and my romantic suspense of choice.

I'm also developing my website...launching soon, hopefully. And I'm staring at my new cover for my first book with Carina Press, cover done by the fabulous Frauke Spanuth. I discovered after I had my cover that Laura Phillips, a good friend from MARA (Mid-America Romance Authors) had interviewed Frauke for Novelists, Inc.

What I love about Carina is that we get to color outside the box. Instead of a heroine with amnesia, I have a hero who can only remember a phone number...hers. Problem is, someone paid for his facial reconstruction after a devastating auto accident, and now he doesn't look like himself. But to prove it?  Both will risk their lives, their careers, and the love they once had.

Hope you will join me when Memories Of You debuts,
March 21, 2011, 978-14268-9134-2. My editor (okay, on ONE...everybody bow)...Melissa Johnson. She was so great to work with...I am spoiled.

And if you can't read the full cover, the blurb says: The one man she can never forget. Problem is, he can't remember her...

How about you? How goes your frosty February?  And have I intrigued you with Memories?


Monday, February 7, 2011


So, where do your ideas come from?

Writers get asked that question all the time. I’m not sure why, really. Maybe it stems from a fascination with the creative process. For instance, I’m curious about how the idea for Velcro came about. A Swiss man got tired of removing burrs from his clothing and actually looked at one under the microscope. From there, he began to see the possibilities. That’s how writing is, at least for me.

My story ideas come from all over the place. Usually I’ll come across something that will suggest a premise. For On Her Trail, my first Carina release, the idea came when I saw a bench perched on top of a cliff overlooking the Yukon River at a distance. I wondered who would use that bench and why the bench was so far from the edge and the best view. Thus Fay, the haunted mother of my heroine Laura, was born.

My next Carina release, The Shoeless Kid (May 2011), started as idle speculation. Where do all those singleton shoes come from? You know the ones I mean. You’re driving down the highway and suddenly there’s a boot or a shoe in the middle of the road. In the middle of nowhere. How can you not speculate about what happened? In Shoeless Kid, a homeless man finds a kid’s shoe on the highway and it’s up to Chief of Police Kate Williams to figure out if the kid really was kidnapped, or if it’s a figment of the old man’s troubled imagination.

I once wrote a whole novel based on a trick of moonlight that had me thinking there was a man sitting in on my deck with a sword resting across his knees. I kid you not.

I love hearing writers’ “origin” stories. A lot of writers’ stories come from a character that just won’t leave them alone until they write his or her story but that’s not my way. How about you?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Everyday Mysteries

Have you ever thought about the mysteries in your everyday life? We all have some mysteries and I think we suspense authors should be better at solving them than your average Joe.

Being the mother of a teenage daughter, my life is filled with mysteries. Like what happened to half my teaspoons and where did that green spot on the bathroom rug come from?

As I build suspense plots in my book, I find myself becoming more adept at figuring out our household who-done-its. My husband was amazed a few months ago when I tracked a missing bag of candy the day before Halloween. Despite her numerous denials, my daughter was guilty of pilfering said candy and eating it with two of her friends—the usual suspects.

I knew she’d hide the evidence well because she probably had an inkling I’d check out her room the first chance I got. My strategy? Get into her head, think like a teenager. She wouldn’t be foolish enough to leave candy wrappers in her trashcan—way too easy. If I were in her shoes, I’d leave the evidence where I could easily take it out of the house at my first opportunity. This led me to her school backpack. Voila!

When constructing the suspense plot for a book, I’d have to be much more stealthy than she. But frankly, I’m relieved she didn’t outthink me.

Now, if I could only figure out whose peanut butter fingerprints those are on the cabinet door and who left the bathroom without replacing the toilet paper roll. And who hit my mailbox and knocked it over? Give me time and I will.

What everyday mysteries drive you crazy?

Please check out my brand new release from Ellora's Cave, Blackout and my new FREE read, The After Party.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Careful ... or you'll end up in my next book

Three years ago, I gave a talk to a local women's group. Meetings were held monthly and speakers would be engaged to talk on varied subjects from baking to mountain climbing. I was there to talk about my books and my writing career to date.
About 40 women were present and the talk was going well. Only one woman was unsmiling. I checked that everyone could hear me. She could so that wasn't the problem. Undaunted, I talked about how I'd learned to read at the age of 3 and how I'd rarely been seen without a book in my hands since, I showed off copies of my books, and got a good discussion going on the hard-boiled detective fiction I write, on cozy mysteries, our favourite fictional detectives, etc. It was all good - except for the unsmiling woman.  
An hour passed, and I asked if anyone had questions. People did and we had lots of fun with that. The unsmiling woman was looking positively hostile by now. In fact, she couldn’t have looked worse if I’d been urging people toward a life of debauchery that included sacrificing babies.
I ended my talk and it was time for tea and biscuits. I was working my way through a mouthful of chocolate biscuit when the unsmiling woman made her way - tanklike - toward me. She sucked in a breath and said, "I'm 79 years old, I've never read a book in my life and I shouldn't want to."
I was so taken aback that I only managed to mutter something incoherent through my biscuit.
"In my day," she went on, undaunted, "we were taught to do something productive with our time. Like mend socks." She glowered at me, determined to point out that she was superior. "I bet you don't mend socks, do you?"
Well, no. Guilty as charged. To steal her words, I've never mended socks and I shouldn't want to. 
Having said her piece, she strutted off. She'd long gone by the time my brain thought up all the witty retorts. I should have demanded to know why she’d just spent over an hour listening to me when she could - should - have been doing something productive. I should have asked how mending socks can be considered more productive than learning about other places, times and people.
Three years later, the memory of that woman still haunts me.
But guess what - yup, she's going in the next book. Lonely, cantankerous, sock-mending old spinster gets clubbed to death by irate crime writer.

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