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

Friday, March 30, 2012

Golden Heart Suspense

Golden Heart and RITA announcements went out this week. Once upon a time, I was a Golden Heart finalist in the Romantic Suspense category. It was a long time ago. Back when you used to get candle wax on your books. Back when you used to hitch your horse up in front of of the general store. Back when you used to wash your clothes on the rocks by the river. Back when Route 66 was a dirt path. 

Anyway...I embarked on my very first trip to the ROMANCE WRITERS OF AMERICA conference. There was definitely an element of suspense to the whole process. I had no idea what to expect and quite honestly, I was nervous as all heck. But I packed up my bags, along with my conviction, and I boarded that plane. As the cab pulled up in front of the hotel, I walked through the sliding front doors into the lobby and witnessed a throng of nearly 300,000 women (or so it appeared to me at the time). Hyperventilating, I spun around to leave, but the cab had already pulled away.

I had no choice but to 'man up' as they say. I took a deep breath and walked directly into that throng (with my head ducked down). But try as I might to stay invisible, the Golden Heart ribbon affixed to my shirt was like a beacon. People I didn’t know would stop and say, “Ohhh, you’re a finalist. Congratulations! What category?” After my fifth congratulatory comment I decided the RWA Conference was a really cool place to be. :)

The day before the award ceremony they made us practice walking up the steps and onto the stage. They even made us go up to the microphone and speak into an empty arena to get used to the sound of our voice over the speaker system. The rule they recited over and over was to NOT drink any alcohol before the ceremony so that you didn’t embarrass yourself by tripping or saying something silly.

The night of the ceremony came, and no, I didn’t win my category, but it’s an honor just to be nominated, right? :) I had to chuckle that night, though. A very prominent NY Times best-selling author won a RITA. She walked up to the podium and held up her award and very loudly announced, “And guess what…I’ve been drinking!”

Congratulations to all the RITA and Golden Heart finalists.

Maureen A. Miller
Golden Heart Finalist 02

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Rake Hero

Or, as I prefer to call him, The Male Slut.

(Yes, I know this post may be more appropriate for a historical romance blog, but this phenomenon has creeped into contemporaries and even romantic suspense and I feel it needs to be stopped for all our sakes.)

This type of hero abounded in the early romances I read. Old-school historical romances usually opened up with a scene of the hero and one or more women who were definitely not pure enough to be the heroine. Or a duel between the hero and the husband he cuckolded. Some of these heroes also cheated on the heroines mid-way through the book, usually as a way to drive the heroines away because they felt they weren't good enough for them. (Susan Johnson, however, basically stuck with the tenet men cheat when their significant others are not around.)

These heroes were considered virile, manly, et cetera, et cetera because all women wanted them--and had them. They are commitment-phobic because why should they settle for only one woman when they can have them all? Of course, then they would meet the feisty, virginal heroines who would make them change, see the error of their ways, and they would no longer want any other woman but these paragons.

The fantasy of taking a male slut rake and reforming him appears to be shared by many, many women (how else to explain the trope's popularity?)...but I'm not one of them.

Frankly, they skeeved me out. It's not a morality thing for me. Every time I came across one of them, my stomach would shudder as I imagined the possible STDs they would have from sleeping around. And I would always wonder how many bastard children they might've sired and didn't know about. And the whole cheating-for-her-own-good pissed me right off. Made me want to reach into the books and shove the heroes over the nearest cliff, and maybe the heroines with them for forgiving the jackasses.

SNL did a skit back in the 90s about the world's ultimate rake that perfectly portrays my take. If you have a few minutes, Google "SNL James Bond STDs".

Monday, March 26, 2012


Justice will be served when those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are. Benjamin Franklin

Has there ever been a case where deep down you’ve cried ‘foul’ when the criminal is either acquitted or receives a light sentence?  Intellectually and morally, you understand and believe in the bedrock principle that a person charged with a crime is entitled to a jury of one’s peers who must find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt but still…  The murderer, child abuser, or white collar swindler has gotten off scot-free.  That’s not right!  Shouldn’t the person pay?  

I explore this morality quagmire n my latest Carina Press book, HER DARK PROTECTOR, which is out today.  Against the backdrop of South Florida, the justice system has been rendered impotent with corruption permeating the highest levels.   The bad guys are winning; it’s time for the good guys to take a stand.
Differing philosophies and motivations pit a secret justice society and a vigilante group in the fight against crime. On the surface what the two groups share is a sense of belonging and purpose in a society weary of crime.  However, the Justice Alliance and its membership of Justice Hunters seek to aid the justice system by gathering evidence, tracking down witnesses and protecting those law enforcement individuals at risk.  In contrast the ‘Veritas’ have found a way to exact justice for a price; they are vigilantes for hire.

Add to the mix a heroine who as a state attorney believes justice is society’s glue and a drug lord who follows law of the jungle, and the battlefield is set.

I did think of the unlikely mix of the Death Wish movie series starring Charles Bronson and the comic strip series The Justice League as I wrote this book.  What appeals to you as a reader about stories where a person takes a stand against crime?

Carol Stephenson



Barnes & Noble

Carina Press

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


According to my American Heritage Dictionary, the meaning of the word stimulus is—“Something causing or regarded as causing a response. Something that incites or rouses to action.” As writers we can’t wait for stimulus. We pick up a pad and pencil or sit down at our computer and begin. At the end of the day, we may tap the delete key and erase every word we wrote but when morning comes we begin again.
But sometimes an ahhah moment occurs and we jump out of bed, throw on a robe, and turn on the computer and a flow of words gushes forth like some magic waterfall. Our brains cells have been stimulated by a book, an article, a painting, music, someone we love or a stranger passed on the street.
I remember the effect stories my mother would tell me on rainy days had on me, the first time I read Edna Ferber’s Show Boat in the school library and decided to become an actress, and the love of words resulting from a class in Shakespearean plays I took at night. Touring with shows led to a love of travel and articles.
In Verona I stopped by Giuetta’s House—an idyllic setting for a lover’s tryst. Romeo’s home is at 2-4 Via Arche Scaligere behind the Della Scala cemetery but in Verona, Juliet gets top billing and the story is called Giuletta and Romeo. The houses are fiction but it doesn’t matter—visitors believe. Young girls lean over the balcony and recite, the lovelorn leave messages and the setting was used as a backdrop for a motion picture.
Verona was a crossroads with merchants coming through for centuries. The Capulets, it’s said, were hat merchants and their competitors were the Montagues. A novel, titled La Giulietta, written by Luigi da Porto, was translated into French in 1525. But it is said that da Porto adapted the story from one in a collection written by Masuccio Salernitano, a poet who lived from 1410-1475, and is the story of Mariotto and Giannozza. Others claim it is da Porto’s tragic personal story—he fell in love with Lucia Sarvognan but his uncle's relationship with her guardian doomed the romance. The Italian Renaissance had a great influence on English poetry and drama and the Italian novella became extremely popular in 16th century England. Shakespeare turned La Giulietta into a long-running play titled Romeo and Juliet, around 1595. A festival of Shakespeare’s work may be enjoyed every July and August at the Roman Theatre at Rigaste Redentore—the perfect setting in the perfect city for a production of Romeo and Juliet. Ballets, musical comedies and operas have also been influenced by the Bard’s work.
In our time, P.D. James has channeled Jane Austin with her (or their) mystery Death Comes To Pemberley. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre inspired many future authors. The most famous is Wide Sargasso Sea, written in 1966 by Jean Rhys. The most successful novel written by Rhys and a prequel, the book tells the story of an unhappy marriage from the point of view of the first Mrs. Rochester. Many other authors have reworked the story including a 2010 novel that has Jane battling with vampires.
Who was your role model? What, where and when were you stimulated, inspired and hooked on writing?



Monday, March 19, 2012

Have you discovered KINDLEGRAPH yet?

lets authors send personalized inscriptions and signatures ("kindlegraphs") directly to the electronic reading devices of their fans.

Readers - contact your favourite authors and collect e-autographs!

Authors - reach your readers in an even more personalised way!

There's a very useful mini-video on how it works on the site, but here is a brief, additional run-down.

I'm an Author, what do I do? 
* Sign up for Twitter, if you haven't already. You DON'T have to use Twitter after that, although you may learn to love it :). Either way, you only need a Twitter ID at the moment for Kindlegraph.
* Go to Kindlegraph and use your Twitter ID to register you as an author. You'll be asked to add a contact email address. Now readers can find you there!
* Add your book(s). All you need is the Amazon ASIN reference, it's listed on the Amazon book page. Copy or type that in, then the book will appear on your Author page with a "Request Kindlegraph" button underneath for a reader to use.

* When a reader requests a Kindlegraph, you'll get an email letting you know. You sign into Kindlegraph, find "Requests" at the top right of your screen, follow that link to the request and write something to them. Kindlegraph offers an automated signature for your message, but you can add your own. Press "Send Kindlegraph" and off it goes!

I'm a reader, what do I do?
You don't need to own or buy the book in order to receive a Kindlegraph, nor do you need to own a Kindle. The Kindlegraph is not inserted into the e-book. It arrives as a separate document. This allows a reader to create a "collection" on their reading device and keep all of their Kindlegraphs together.
* Sign on to Twitter as above.
* Go to Kindlegraph, search for your favourite author(s), click on any of their books and send a request. You can add a personal message to them if you want.
* When they've completed a Kindlegraph back to you, you'll get an email notification. You can then access it on your Kindle, on your iBooks, or directly from the Kindlegraph site. Log in, look for "My Collection" at the top right of the screen, and your Kindlegraphs are accessible as PDFs, attached to a copy of the cover art.

Authors, want to check how it works?
Request a Kindlegraph for yourself, from your own book! Or buddy up with another author and request from each other. Then you can follow through the process and see what it looks like.

To request a personalized signature go to or click on the authors link:

Participating Carina Press Suspense and Not Your Usual Suspects authors:
Toni Anderson   
Wynter Daniels   
Marcelle DubĂ©    
Rita Henuber      
Kathy Ivan         
Clare London     
Maureen Miller   
Julie Moffett       
Wendy Soliman  
Carol Stephenson
Shirley Wells      
Julie Wachowski
Josh Lanyon       
Sharon Cullen     
Shelley Munro    
Angela Henry     

Come and support these great authors. It's a chance to say "HI", and enjoy a personalised souvenir for books you've enjoyed - or are looking forward to!


Friday, March 16, 2012

Pinterest: Inspiration for Authors

“No! Not another form of social media to soak up my writing time.”

To be honest that’s what I thought when I first heard about Pinterest. I’m chronically short of time these days, so I turned my back and tiptoed away. But Pinterest was determined to nab me. I started to see posts about Pinterest in my blog feeds. Curious about this new “thingie” that seemed to be stalking me, I read the posts about this shiny new toy. I was intrigued. Hooked,
darn it!

“Okay,” I told myself. "Maybe Pinterest would be helpful with the new series you're percolating. You could use it as a visual storyboard."

My experience with Pinterest:

1. I requested an invitation from Pinterest, which turned up in my inbox in a few hours.

2. Once I received my invitation, the actual joining was easy. (You need to be either a Facebook or Twitter user to join.) During the sign up stage, tick the subjects that interest you. Pinterest automatically sets you up with people (friends) who have common interests to get you started. You can unfriend people later if you change your mind.

3. Since my main purpose in joining Pinterest is as a source of inspiration and a visual storyboard, I haven’t bothered searching out people to friend.

4. Each of the heroines in my new series now has a board, and the pinning process has helped me consider different facets of their characters. It’s a work-in-progress.

5. I started a board for my blog, and it occurred to me I could do a board for my latest release, Cat Burglar in Training. A brainwave struck, and I added a link for this board to my website as an added extra for readers to check out. Cat Burglar in Training Pinterest board.

Images of elements from Cat burglar in Training, ranging from ball gowns, cars and jewels to peanut butter, plus the cover populate this board. The purpose of these boards is to direct traffic to my website and my book.

6. The Cat Burglar in Training board pleased me so much I started one for my paranormal MiddlemarchMates series too.

Conclusion: Pinterest is fun. It's perfect for those who are visual during the creative process. There’s no pressure to visit if you're short of time. When I do visit, I find the process relaxing and inspirational. Win-win!

For those of you who are unconvinced here is a link to a useful article:
Pinterest: 13 Things Authors Should Know by Rachelle Gardner, agent

Do you Pinterest?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Apologies readers, but Josh Lanyon is ill (Get Well Soon, Josh!) and his next I-Spy post is postponed until the 15th of next month.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

JUSTIFIED questions

I think any good suspense or mystery novel is riddled with questions. Figuring out the answers is what makes them interesting reads.

I've been thinking about the power of questions to build suspense as I watch each episode of the television show JUSTIFIED (Warning: Small Spoilers Included In This Post).

Despite the fact I think this is the program's weakest season, I keep tuning in because I want answers to the questions they've raised.

(Questions other than: What the hell has Raylan EVER seen in Winona? and Why isn't the best bromance ever (between Raylan and Boyd) not getting any screen time this season?)

This season I've particularly admired the use of "The Room". "The Room" where this season's biggest baddie, Robert Quarles, does his Very Bad Things, is brilliant in its simplicity. We got one glimpse inside it early on, and then "the room" has never been seen again.

We've heard terrible sounds coming from it, we've listened to Quarles talking about cleaning it and getting it painted (to cover up the evidence of the very bad things) and we've held our breath waiting to see if Raylan or a deputy would stumble in and discover the atrocities committed there. At this point "The Room" is practically a character.

And yet we don't REALLY know much about it. The writers have left it an open question and as viewers we try to fill in the disturbing answers. It is, in my opinion, a brilliant device.

I'm also loving the character of Ellstin Limehouse (played with sublime perfection by Mykelti Williamson). He reminds me of an older and wiser Boyd. We KNOW he's not a good guy, but he's so clever and charming that it's hard to root against him. Plus, he's been providing shelter to abused women for decades, so he does have his redeeming qualities. I love the way the writers have played with the question of just what was his relationship with Raylan's mother, way back when? And why on Earth would that crafty Mags Bennett do her banking with him? All the questions surrounding this man is what makes him an interesting character!

Even though my books THE FIRST VICTIM and CONFESSIONS OF A SLIGHTLY NEUROTIC HITWOMAN are very different styles, they both revolve around the central question: How far would you go for someone you love?

If you're a fan of JUSTIFIED, what do you think is the central question of the series?

If you're not a fan of the show, what kinds of questions do you like to see characters struggle with?

Do you prefer stories that leave questions open-ended or do you demand answers?

Monday, March 12, 2012

About That Contest

Are writing contests relevant? Worth the money?

Those questions surface periodically on loops and blogs, but I’ve heard from other contest coordinators that entries are down, perhaps in response to the lingering effects of a crummy economy, but maybe because people aren’t sure it’s something they should do.

Whether a contest is relevant or worth the money depends on what you’re hoping to accomplish. If you expect to get an agent or a book contract from them, you’re probably going to be disappointed. It does happen. Final judges often request full or partial manuscripts. Some people do sign with an agent or sell to an editor based upon a contest.

If you’re entering for feedback on your manuscript, then you may feel you’ve won something, regardless of your entry’s final placement. Even if you aren’t a finalist, you may receive enough positive responses to keep you encouraged.

What if your comments are less than stellar? Do the judges mention the same things? These strangers, who haven’t seen ten versions of your story like your critique partners, can tell you if what’s in your head is hitting the page. Allow for different tastes and perspectives, but if there are consistent references to… whatever, try to find a class or online workshop that can help you in those areas. Good critique partners or a good writers’ workshop can also help as you learn the craft of writing.

But let’s do the happy dance because maybe the contest coordinator just called and said your entry reached the finals. Does it really have an impact on your writing career?


Several years ago, one of my critique partners encouraged me to enter The Professor in an RWA contest. The first round judges pointed out spots to polish and I’m sure that helped my manuscript final in the Golden Heart. Of course the contest wins don’t guarantee a sale, but I suspect having those contest credentials in my query letter helped move the manuscript over the first set of hurdles when I sought publication. I’m happy to say Carina Press acquired The
Professor (it released in January!)

For me, those early contest finals were an affirmation by other professional and a much needed ego-boost when I wondered if I was beating my head against the proverbial brick wall. People liked the characters, the story, my voice – the encouragement I needed.

So what if things don’t go as you’d hoped? We’ve all heard the story of “that judge,” the grammar police who treat your paper as if it were part of English 101 (Side bar, I use sentence fragments. A lot. It’s fiction. Deal with it.), or the one who wants to rewrite your story the way they would write it.

They happen. Just like the rest of your life, chance is an element in contests. As the coordinator for the Daphne du Maurier mainstream category (deadline is March 15, get your entry turned in!) I can tell you most judges are trying to give back to the writing community, taking time away from their writing, family, the rest of their life, in an attempt to nurture other authors. I can also share that the overwhelming majority of our contest judges offer constructive feedback. (As the coordinator, I see all the entries) Any judge who isn’t doing so will not be invited back the next year. On the very positive side, our rate of returning judges is incredibly high.

There are numerous contests in addition to the Romance Writers of America ones I’ve mentioned. If you enter a contest, make sure you know who is actually sponsoring it, read the fine print and watch out for the scams.

With the explosive growth of self-publishing, I’ve heard people question whether contests add any value. Why try to attract an editor or agent if you plan to ‘do it yourself?’


Is your material ready for the harsh reality of publication? Are there still holes you need to patch in the all-important opening?

One last point. I’ve seen some concern on the loops about someone ‘stealing’ your contest material. An important thing to remember is your voice, the way you tell a story, is as unique as you are. Generally contests only cover the first 15 -25 pages. Even with a synopsis, no one is going to tell the story the same way you would. So put that worry aside and concentrate on writing the
story of your heart.

I polled a number of friends about this topic and this is the summary of their advice:

1) Inexpensive way to get impartial feedback
2) Learn how to work with negative feedback – protect your voice but stay open to constructive criticism
3) Compare your work/skill level to your peers

Potential drawbacks:
1) Subjective comments may not be consistent – learn to trust your voice after you acquire sufficient skills
2) Feedback can be overwhelming – and confidence shaking – to a new writer; make sure you and your manuscript are ready before entering a contest
3) Don’t turn into a contest junky – don’t endlessly polish the beginning and neglect the rest of the manuscript. You need the whole book to sell it.

What has your contest experience – as a judge, contestant or coordinator – been?

Can you add to the benefits or offer another caution?

Friday, March 9, 2012

That is the long and short of it ...

Calling all original authors!

So how often have our heroes “played fast and loose”? Or been “hoodwinked”? Or proved to be a “tower of strength” to their partners? How often have we written a “stony-hearted villain”, or “star-crossed lovers”, or had a character “laugh themselves into stitches”?

We authors are all individuals and proud of our original work. But if the truth were known, and as I have a tongue in my head – we’ve all been quoting Shakespeare!

I was recently given a wall poster from the Globe Theatre gift shop in London, showing a selection of some of the phrases he’s contributed to our language. Of course, Shakespeare himself borrowed inspiration - from other plays, from popular history, and from classical tales. But his work has caught the public imagination over the centuries, and stays in our mind, with its wonderful blend of irony and ire, drama and danger, passion, humour and happy-ever-after.

Isn’t that just perfect for romantic suspense plots?!

I love Shakespeare’s plays – at least, most of them, though only my son’s (abridged) school version of Hamlet managed to keep me awake until the end :). My favourite is Twelfth Night, a delicious blend of romance, mystery, angst, humour and passion. Oh, and some cross-dressing :).

So Barry Manilow may claim to write the songs, but it was William Shakespeare who coined the phrases - he contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual, and most of them are still in daily use.

And if you think you’ll try to track back the source of some of our most favourite phrases …?

Oh that way madness lies!

Just for fun, try this link to the BBCwebsite, where there are some very witty 60-second plot summaries of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, in tabloid-style :).


Clare London
Writing ... Man to Man

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Suspect is a Suspect is a Suspect...

I wouldn’t say that I’m indecisive exactly, it’sjust that I’ve got a lot of things to say about a lot of different subjects so can’t seem to confine myself to just one genre. That’s why my name can be found on the covers of marine crime mysteries, romantic suspense and, my first love, historical romance. One thing all of my books do have in common is a strong ‘who-dun-it’ element, albeit murder, fraud, thieving or just general skulduggery.

Take The Perfect Impostor for instance, my third Regency romance with Carina Press which will be released on April 2nd. Carina artists do awesome work on their covers, don’t you think, and I haven’t had one yet that doesn’t beautifully encapsulate the mood of the entire book. If readers do actually judge a book by its cover then I have high hopes for my impostor.

However, I digress. In regency times there wasn’t a red-hot squad of detectives standing by to keep the populace in order, so when valuable jewels start to go missing from society house parties and finish up funding Napoleon’s cause, the powers that be cry foul and despatch Lord Leo Kincade to the latest party to sort out the mess.

Three ladies are suspected of being involved in the scam, one of whom is Julia Dupont, now a marchioness, formerly engaged to Leo. Bit awkward that!

Katrina Sinclair, recently widowed, is struggling to make a name for herself as a modiste. Her childhood friend Julia Dupont could make that happen when she asks Katrina to design her wardrobe for an upcoming society house party. One small snag, though, Julia wants Katrina to swap places with her for the duration of that party. They did it often enough as children. No one could tell them apart then and can’t now.

Against her better judgement, Katrina agrees. What harm can come of it? Only problem is, Julia’s husband, equerry to the prince regent, puts in a surprise appearance, expecting to spend the night with his wife. Katrina will do much to protect Julia, but sleeping with her husband is several steps above and beyond the call of friendship. How will she get out of that one?

Leo knows almost at once that the woman he meets at Lady Marshall’s isn’t Julia Dupont. But who is she? Why is she pretending to be Julia and why is he drawn to her in a way that he never was to Julia? More to the point, what does she have to do with the thefts?

It doesn’t look too good for Katrina!

The Perfect Impostor by Wendy Soliman available from Carina Press and all good ebook stores from April 2nd 2012.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Write about what you know?

When I hear experts telling aspiring authors to write about what they know, I think “Yeah, right, and how many serial killers do you know?”.

Having said that…

It’s a well-known fact that I hate research. Hate it. I’m glad that, if I need to visit foreign shores, I can jump onto Google Earth and fly straight to the street, cathedral, house, park or whatever it is I’m describing. It’s not as good as actually being there, but it does help. On the whole though, I like to set my books locally so that if I need to describe a special place, I can whistle the dogs and set off with them to have a good look at it.

One advantage of this is that when I’m asked if there are any visual elements to the book that might help a cover artist, I can say “Why, yes…” and send a photo I’ve taken.

In Silent Witness for example, one scene takes place on a bleak hillside where the only signs of life are a few sheep and the Singing Ringing Tree. This a musical sculpture, designed to resemble a tree bending in the wind, that hums through specially designed pipes. For the story, I needed to hear it ‘sing‘ so I took the dogs for a walk and we had a good listen. I then needed to convey the impression of the sculpture to the cover artist so I sent her this:

The result was this - a fabulous cover showing one of my favourite places. 

This is from the back cover:

After his ex-wife bled to death in a bathtub covered in his fingerprints, the case against Aleksander Kaminski seemed open and shut. Though sentenced to life in prison, he swears he's innocent, a claim supported by his current wife.

Private investigator Dylan Scott finds himself drawn back to dreary Lancashire in a search for justice. The evidence against Kaminski is damning, but having been unjustly jailed himself, Dylan is compelled to pursue the case; if there's even a small chance the man is innocent, he has to help. The other obvious suspect--the victim's second husband--has a watertight alibi. But Dylan has a strong hunch that as usual, there's more going on than meets the eye in Dawson's Clough.

The deeper Dylan digs, the more secrets he unearths. The question remains: If Kaminski didn't murder his childhood sweetheart, who did?

Silent Witness releases today - yes, today! - and I'm busy celebrating. (Help yourself to virtual chocolates and champagne!) 

So while I’ve never had dinner with a killer (to my knowledge), perhaps being told to write about what you know isn’t quite as stupid as it sounds. What do you think?

Friday, March 2, 2012


I'm in the midst of a book buying binge courtesy of a generous gift card my sister gave me, so I'm loading up my Kindle Fire with new books. As I've been browsing various sites, the choices and variety of books is mind-boggling. Which in turn got me thinking—what attracts me to certain books?

1. Cover. A striking cover on a book will definitely get me to take a second look. Whether I'm in a physical brick and mortar store or cruising the internet, an eye-catching cover will make me pause, just to find out what the story is all about.

2. Author name. Of course, we all have our favorites, right? Some are auto-buys. Some have certain series that we read every single book therein. Others are authors recommended by a friend or colleague or somebody that we know, a fellow reader who passes along his/her favorite writers.

3. Back cover. How many times have you picked a book for whatever reason, turned it over and the back cover blurb just riveted your attention from the first word? You immediately turn that book into your basket, knowing you have to have it. Other times you will read the back and right back onto the shelf it goes. A good, well-define and thought-provoking back cover is an important component when choosing a book.

4. Reading the first few pages. Okay, admit it, some of you (me included) will open the book right there in the bookstore and read the first couple of pages to get a feel for whether it is a good fit, something you would read. Does it hold your interest? Is the author's voice one you want to continue reading? On-line sites sometimes offer the first portion of a book as a "sample" which really does help because as a reader, I really like to check out what I'm buying before shelling out my hard-earned dollars on something that I might not finish.

5. Reviews by readers/review sites. While not my highest criteria, I do tend to look at some of the reviews, especially if I'm buying books on-line. Just saying . . .

How do you choose your books? Do you do the same things I've listed above, or do you have another way of findings books—I want to know.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I-Spy: How to...Research

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 How to ... Research with Toni Anderson
No matter how diligent you are, the likelihood is, you WILL make mistakes. I’ve made errors that make me want to kick myself. My advice is this—let it go and move on. More advice—don’t advertise your mistakes unless you can fix them :) (why give someone ammunition with which to shoot you?). 

Most of the information below is pretty simple. I find the best advice often is :). As my stories often involve crime/murder/death the emphasis is on more law-enforcement based resources, however, the underlying principles remain the same whatever the genre.

So, how do you research a novel? First, decide what you need to know.
There’s always a lot to think about when writing a book: setting—including flora and fauna, culture, jobs/occupations, life experience, medical conditions (psychological and physical) and often in RS/Mystery stories, some sort of police or military procedure to grapple with that involves everything from weapons to law.

Figure out what details you need to know. Don’t go off on too many tangents or you’ll never get started on your novel.

There are so many resources available today that weren’t available when I finished my first novel, Her Sanctuary. Back then (not that long ago) the FBI hadn’t admitted to having a section dedicated to art fraud. So I made it up. Nowadays they have a fantastic website (FBI), so be sure to Google <insert search engine of your choice> the obvious. Most of the big organizations have great websites, FBI, CIA, even GCHQ :)

This leads me to the primary method of research in today’s technological world. The Internet.
After Google, Wikipedia is the next obvious step. My advice is don’t assume all the information here is gospel. Check the facts. What I find most useful about Wikipedia is the External Links citation section, and also finding alternative search terms (i.e. when researching the SAS, I was reminded by Wikipedia to also search ‘The Regiment’ which is another nickname for the British Special Air Service). 

For settings I spend a lot of time looking at images and watching videos on Youtube. I’m lucky, I’ve traveled a lot and, when possible, I use personal experience in my writing. But my last story was set in the Wakhan Corridor and, no matter how much I might want to, there’s no way I can leave my kids while I trek around Afghanistan on a yak. But YouTube has allowed me to visit this fascinating spit of land. 

I also borrow travel guides from the public library—my favourites are The Lonely Planet Guides. And I read autobiographies/essays set in places where I want to set my stories. Once, I remember dripping sweat in the heat of a Queensland summer and shivering as Rick Bass took me on a haunting journey through the wilderness of Montana.
And, for a literal look at the place you want to set your story, try GoogleEarth and get a 360° view. 

Blogs might have gone a little out of fashion, but if you want details about a particular way of life they are worth spending time reading through. I found blogs especially helpful when writing a character who has type-1 diabetes (Cameran Young in EDGE OF SURVIVAL). People talk about everything from their deepest fears to their most mundane routines. Every detail is important when creating realistic 3-D characters. A lot of front-line soldiers blog. Another fascinating blog I found when writing my snow leopard biologist heroine was this.  I found it an invaluable insight into the biologists’ daily routines and common frustrations. 

Books (More books. I love books). 
I also scour the local library search engine and Amazon ( and because they list different books). If I find a suitable book I add it to my wishlist and go back and search for it in the library. I do the same with DVDs. Some of my wishlist books have been there for years—they are so expensive I just can’t justify getting them, but every time I see them I remember a story idea. Kids books can be really useful too. I have way too many books, but it will never be enough.

Writers groups.
In terms of delving for facts on anything from death to taxes, writers groups are an invaluable resource. I’m a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA) mainly because I wanted to join their Kiss of Death Chapter (KOD). RWA and KOD give me access to several writing loops where I can ask my questions. I also belong to Crimescenewriters which is a similar resource but free and with more law-enforcement personnel involved. Through these organizations and loops I’ve attended some phenomenal field-trips. Prior to RWA’s yearly national conference, KOD always arrange a tour. I’ve visited a Sheriff’s Department in Reno, the State Department, the US Postal Inspection Service, and other writers visited the Pentagon, Quantico and the Coastguard. Through Crimescenewriters I heard about the Writers’ Police Academy run by Lee Loftland. It’s offered down in North Carolina and offers a packed schedule of hands on experience for wannabe crime writers. This year the keynote speaker is Lee Child, when I went it was Jeffery Deaver :)

If you can’t get to a workshop then see if you can find experts in the field you are interested in who will talk to you. I have friends in the secret echelons of the Ministry of Defence and, despite all the dirt I have on them, they won’t tell me a damn thing. I’ve actually found people who I don’t know personally to be more helpful than friends or relatives (I’m not sure what that says about me but what I’m hoping to encourage is the confidence to reach out). I did have a rather hilarious incident recently when I’d contacted a RCMP officer who wrote a newsletter. I then managed to get the email address of the media relations person. I received two replies pretty much on the same day. The former said, “We can’t tell you that sort of information. We don’t want the bad guys getting hold of it and, you’re writing fiction, so you can make it up.” I chuckled so hard I also gave myself a hernia. The second reply had all the details I needed for my story and he was happy with follow-up questions too. So, where possible, reach out to the media relations people from whatever organization you’re interested in. They will help you.

As a former scientist I want to say don’t be afraid of science/medical journals. The Introduction and Discussion sections often contain easy-to-understand information and might just summarize exactly what you want to know. 

I’m way over my word count for this post. I’m going to leave you with one more piece of advice. When you’re writing, your book you should only include the tip of the iceberg in terms of the information you have gleaned. The depth of your knowledge will shine through in the veracity of your writing, not in a dull list of facts.
I hope this helps.
Toni Anderson, Ph.D., is a former Marine Biologist and Research Scientist turned Romantic Suspense writer who now lives in the Canadian prairies with her husband and two children. Her stories are set in the stunning locations where she’s been lucky enough to live and work—the blustery east coast of Scotland, the remote isolated mining communities of Northern Labrador, the rugged landscapes of the U.S. and Australia. You can learn more on her website. LIKE her on facebook :)
FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
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