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, April 28, 2017

IT MAKES SENSE - by Kathy Ivan

A lot of you may not know, but I had surgery on my left eye this past Monday (cataract removal).   It had progressively gotten worse for the past few years, and I really didn’t notice the decreased/foggy/cloudy vision right away.  I have a degenerative retinal condition which is under treatment, and when the vision started deteriorating, I (wrongly) assumed the retinal condition was the culprit.  Boy, was I wrong!  Things had escalated to the point that when I finally saw my retinal specialist in March, he did my usual retinal scan, and couldn’t do the procedure on my left eye, which was worrisome, so I had to have an additional test – an ultrasound on my eyeball. 

Once I’d had all the tests done, he told me that he had good news and bad news.  The good news was my retinal condition had improved markedly, and he was extremely pleased with the progress I was making.  That’s awesome news, right?  Then he broke the bad news.  “You’ve got cataracts—really BAD cataracts.”  So thick they couldn’t do the scan through the density of the left lens.  He couldn’t understand why I burst out laughing at his pronouncement.  I had to explain that cataracts were actually good news, because that was something that could be fixed, and my vision might improve markedly.  I’d been dreading the news that I was going to lose my sight completely, and be legally blind within a very short period of time. 

Anyway, I had the first of two procedures this past Monday, and the difference is astonishing.  Unbelievable.  Mind-blowing.  There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the vividness of the colors, and the intricacies of patterns.  Watching television has become a whole new experience.

But, this also got me thinking about our senses and how they pertain to the craft of writing.  Have you every fully contemplated being without or losing one of your senses?  Try it sometime.  Walk around with a set of noise-canceling headphones on for a few hours.  What is it like around you?  Yet as writers, we often forget how important it is to include these senses in our stories.  How boring would it be if we had to read a book that never mentions what the characters hear?  Not just the dialogue, but also the other sounds around us.  Birds chirping.  Car tires squealing as they race away from a scene.  Even the sound of music playing softly which our characters share a romantic dance. 

The same thing applies to our outer senses, like smells and scents.  Try cooking your food without being able to smell what you’re fixing.  It’s a lot harder than you’d think (I tried doing this with cotton stuffed up my nose, but that’s a whole other story.)  Cooking really doesn’t work the same.  But utilizing the scents around us can add a subtle nuance to a book that would otherwise be lacking. 
Most of us try to utilize the five senses (or six if you write paranormal) throughout our work, but maybe I’ve inspired you to try a big harder to make sure the story has that extra little oomph with sight, sound, scent, touch, and taste.  A little bit goes a long way. 

And I'll have the surgery on the right eye on May 15th.  Honestly, I can't wait.  

Kathy Ivan can be found most days at her computer, working on the next romantic suspense in her bestselling New Orleans Connection Series.  You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and BookBub.   And you can pick up her latest book, Fatal Intentions, at the links below: 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Shot Heard Round the World

This past week, April 19 in fact, was the anniversary of Shot Heard Round the World, i.e. the beginning of the American Revolution. They say no one knows who fired the first shot but I think they do and they’re just not telling. The American Revolution is extremely fascinating to me. So many untold stories. I marvel at the battles that took place. At the tactical mistakes made. The arrogance and inability to adapt by the British military. The fact that several officers of the Continental Army were former British officers. They resented rabble, undisciplined, uneducated, officers like George Washington and Benedict Arnold. Most notably was Gen. Horatio Gates who did his best to undermine everything George Washington did. General Gates led the battle of Saratoga. He feared, so it is said, Benedict Arnold would outshine him in the battle so he ordered him to stay in camp. Arnold disobeyed the order and led his men to ultimately take the win for the battle of Saratoga.

Washington and Arnold had very similar early lives. In my opinion they were both brilliant tacticians and military officers and loved the infant country they were fighting for. So why, how, did Arnold go astray? There are lots of theories. Many history books depict Arnold as arrogant and selfish. He was. Guess what? So was Washington. Arnold wasn’t quiet about what he thought, what he wanted. Washington was. I think he knew how to play the game of politics before it was even called that.
 But what I think really did Arnold in was Peggy Shippen. Yup. Yet another general getting into trouble because of his privates.

For a long time it was thought that Peggy was taken in by Arnold and forced to help in his treachery. But the last 30 or 40 years things have come to light that make it seem as though Peggy was an accomplice. In fact, encouraged Arnold. My own opinion is that she was an agent of the British. Why do I think this? Because a long period of time before she became involved with Arnold she and a British officer, Maj. Andre, were romantically linked. Hmmmm. All very interesting. BTW the above picture of her was done by Maj. Andre.
Some military and political historians credit Arnold’s treachery with actually turning the war around. The colonists were at their lowest point. Hearing of Arnold’s dirty deeds rallied them. I mean, go figure. Americans, what can you say?
I so wish my historical author sisters would write about these times. Maybe when one of them has a free weekend they can write about it. (That’s a joke.) 
AMC network has a series called TURN about the Revolutionary war and does present some of these characters. Doesn’t an historical romantic suspense sound interesting? I’ll write it, if someone will do all the research for me. Any takers?

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Bad Side of A Good Neighborhood

by Janis Patterson

I’m angry. And I’m scared.

I live in a good neighborhood. The lawns are maintained, the houses are nice and so are most of the people, but by no stretch of the imagination is it considered a rich neighborhood. I grew up in this house and, after my parents passed away and left it to me, The Husband and I moved in. It’s bigger than the house we had, and light years closer to his work.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, it is – partially. I love the house and the neighborhood, but over the years this area has become a target for all kinds of miscreants. We have a weekly email notification of crimes and every week there are several worthy of police reports – all in a neighborhood barely half a mile square.

Anything left outside is apparently fair game for burglars; cars are routinely broken into for what might be inside them and we are warned to keep our cars either in garages or behind locked gates. For a while one gang of crooks was brazen enough to jack up the cars and steal the wheels!

Nor are houses safe. Reports of break-ins come in waves, as one gang or another smashes their way in to take whatever they can. Most have no qualms about hurting anyone - human or animal - who gets in their way, either. During the long years The Husband was deployed overseas to war zones and I was alone in the house I tried not to let him know that our neighborhood was becoming a war zone in itself. I kept several handguns around and made no secret of the fact I would happily and without reservation blow away any intruder. Sometimes having the reputation of the Neighborhood Crazy Lady is a good thing. We also have an alarm system that is set most of the time, whether we are home or not.

When we first moved here the very idea of that seemed ridiculous. In my late mother’s day she didn’t even lock the doors half the time and had no problems at all. This was a nice neighborhood, and crime like that didn’t happen in a nice neighborhood.

No more. Besides burgling houses and yards the crooks have expanded operations, now openly attacking primarily women alone and the elderly in gas stations and grocery store parking lots – in the daytime, no less. No one has died yet, but I am so afraid eventually it will happen.

So far The Husband and I have been very fortunate – our house has been left alone and we have been unmolested as we go about our business. Hopefully it will always be so. Unfortunately, far too many of our neighbors have not been so lucky. I am so alarmed by these events that I have put my wedding ring (along with my few other pieces of good jewelry) in the safe – my beautiful, beloved wedding ring that was bought both as an investment and a symbol of love. The other day I bought a cheap cubic zirconia ring to wear in its stead; it’s pretty, it looks quite real, and I would have no qualms about giving it to a robber, but it infuriates me that there is a climate in this world which makes it unsafe for me to wear and enjoy my own property without fear.

For those of us who write crime for a living it is very uncomfortable to have real life so closely mirror our fiction in so many ways except one. In our books justice is always served; in real life it seems to be a hit and miss proposition. This is in no way a criticism of the police; they are understaffed and underpaid and all too often not given the respect they deserve. They simply cannot be everywhere, and the criminals depend on that.

It makes me livid that there is a far too prevalent mindset which believes simply because this lowlife scum wants something they can just take it with impunity. This must be changed. There must be consequences, and decent people must reclaim the right to feel safe again.

I don’t mean this as a political post slanted to either side; my politics are my own, and not to be aired in this space. This is a justice post. We work; we pay our taxes; we obey the laws; we deserve to feel safe, to be able to enjoy that which we have legally purchased. Crime is fine, when it is confined to fiction, where it will be dealt with according to the law. Real crime has no place on our streets or in our homes.

And as mystery writers, we have the responsibility and duty to our fellow man to entertain - not to instruct. We should never write anything that some enterprising crook can translate to real life with criminal consequences. For that reason we must not put in complete instructions on anything. It's okay to play with 'mysterious untraceable poisons'  - but not give instructions on how to make it. Want a ballistically clean bullet that cannot be matched? Fine - invent a gun with sketchy details accurate enough to convince the reader but not enough to teach a criminal. (In case you wondered, there is a way to make a ballistically clean bullet - and I have been sworn to secrecy as to how it's done, so don't ask.)

In real life thank God an increasing number of states have the Castle Act which gives people the right to protect themselves, others and their property. As for me, I will always stand my ground.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Five *New* TV Crime Show Cliché I'm Already Tired Of (And I Bet You Are Too!)

Does not play well with others
Like all genre fiction, crime fiction is riddled with clichés, some of which are fun and generally beloved (by writers, anyway) and some of which are just...overused.

For example, one of the most treasured (i.e. dusty) old school crime fiction clichés is that anyone--but particularly law enforcement personnel--due to retire in the foreseeable future is doomed. As in probably deader than a door nail before the end of their next shift.  Or--this was enormously popular for a while--the coroner who eats lunch in the morgue. Who cares about forensic evidence; I'm hungry!!

Anyway, here are my current all-right-all-ready!! crime show eye rolls:

1 - The Detective Chats With the Corpse - And I quote: "I'm really sorry this happened to you." Yeah, I realize that steely internal resolve is perhaps not cinematic, but what is with these Q&A sessions between detectives and victims? It's just...embarrassing to all concerned.

Uncle Sam wants YOU!
2 - The FBI Takes Over the Case - And naturally everyone hates them for it. Not least because these FBI agents are such total stone-face assholes and clearly up to no good. But come on! The FBI isn't working for a foreign power (so far) and they don't just swoop in and take over an investigation except in very--VERY--rare circumstances. Plus FBI resources are actually a really useful thing to have for your task force!

3 - This Time it's Personal - Okay, this is not new, which is probably one reason I'm so tired of it. For the love of God, can someone just work a case that doesn't directly tie back to their own misspent past? I mean, what happened to making a crime interesting and involving without it having to be personal?  IT'S NOT PERSONAL. Or shouldn't be.

Jeez, dude, she was on stakeout all night! 
4 - The Detective Has a Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Home Life - In fairness, working in law enforcement does put strain on a marriage, but come on. You'd think detectives would be better at noticing psychotic behaviors in a potential mate. Does he never wonder about that cache of explosives in the back of the closet? And even if the boyfriend/girlfriend is not a terrorist, and it's just the normal run-of-the-mill horrible TV/film marriage, do the problems have to be SO dramatic? How about the more normal stuff that happens? People grow apart and move on. Does it always have to lead to an affair with the protag's partner followed by descent into alcoholism and someone having a tragic car crash?  Can't anybody know...act like a grown-up?

5 - Terrorists - Yes, they're a real and present danger, yes they're out there, yes terrorism is the new arsenic, but sometimes it's nice just to have a simple murder with no world wide implications. Sometimes murder is not part of a vast global conspiracy--in fact, mostly murder is not part of a vast global conspiracy--and that's OK.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Evolving Readers and Writers

I will be moving into a new house this summer so I’m sorting through all the things I’ve accumulated since my last move—including my book collections. Since I enjoy physical books as much (and sometimes more) as eBooks, my shelves are overflowing. Yes, it’s time to winnow down both my fiction and non-fiction books.

I’m clearing a shelf at a time, alternating between fiction and non-fiction. My criteria? For non-fiction it usually revolves around research books for past, current, and future books I wrote, am writing, or will write in the near future. History books, medical books, and books on writing. Some have lost their relevance as I’ve changed my writing focus and some contained only a small section related to what I was researching or I found a better, more up-to-date source.

For fiction, do I enjoy reading the book a second (third or tenth) time? If not, why not? I’ve learned that what I enjoy today as a reader is not the same as it was ten or fifteen years ago—and in some instances, not even two or three years ago. Why? What’s changed?

I’ve changed. And it made me think about how my writing has changed—it’s evolved as I’ve learned more about the craft of writing. As I’ve learned better ways of developing a compelling story, my voice has emerged and become stronger, more me. So why wouldn’t my choice in reading material evolve too?

My fiction reading has become a little more eclectic. I’ve branched out into fantasy, paranormal, urban fantasy, steampunk, and rediscovered science fiction. Romance, especially romantic suspense, is still my go-to sources when I want a feel-good read. Still not a fan of cozy mysteries (but I’ve enjoyed a few), women’s fiction (yes, I’ve enjoyed some of these too), or horror. But I used to turn my nose up at historical novels and now enjoy a number of different historical authors.

And I have some authors I can read their books over and over again. I can still get lost in the worlds they’ve created—like visiting old friends and talking about shared adventures. Sometimes a good story is timeless. And those books will always find a home on one of my shelves.

All of which gives me hope. I’ll never run out of things to read. I’ll never run out of new authors to “discover.” And I really hope it means I’ll never run out of evolving readers who will discover my old and new books. New readers who find their taste in reading material has evolved and changed just as mine has done.

As for the books I no longer want or need, they are going to the library to find new readers, to be shelved or sold for money to buy new authors and research books so the cycle can continue. 

What about you? Do you periodically clear your shelves of books no longer needed or wanted? Do you have favorite books you love to revisit over and over?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Arrhhh, me hearties!

Arrhhh, me hearties! There's been a recent upset in my community about book piracy, so I thought I'd blog about it today. The lovely Janis Patterson has also blogged about it in bygone times at NYUS, but hey - it hasn't gone away! so I thought we could revisit.

All my books are out in ebook formats, and in many cases, that's their only exposure. That means, in essence, they're just a file - you know, like the pdf file of an instruction booklet, or a sheet of notes students share from a lesson, or even a favourite recipe. Eminently easy to prepare, copy and email wherever and to whomever you like. That's the blessed joy of modern technology, right?

Apart from the content, of course. That's far less easy or swift to prepare! If it's yours to do with as you like, that's fine. If it's someone else's... then there are rights to consider. Like any commodity, there should be fair exchange of value. An author puts a hell of a lot of time, effort and imagination into their product, and the fair value for offering that to the world should always be considered. We don't just write "book" 60,000 times and call it a novel *heh*. And, to be honest, most of our books are already sold at way below minimum wage, if you calculate the Book Maths i.e. hours spent plotting and writing + hairs pulled out + coffee drunk vs. actual retail selling $.

So what happened this week, Clare? you ask. I'm not talking about the reasonable matter of sharing an ebook with a book club friend, or receiving a free copy as a prize, gift, or in request for a review.

It was a rather unfortunate incident of a reader/blogger receiving an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) of a brand new book, in return for a featured, honest review - and then it turning up on a book piracy site before the book had even been published. In other words, the source copy could only have come from the ARC. *sigh*. The facts are still being investigated, but we've all felt a sense of betrayal, and all the more so for it being close to home. The author feels the rug has pulled out from under her feet, our promotional agencies are distressed because they work closely with trustworthy and supportive review sites, and genuine readers are angry that another reader has made a mockery of the relationship with a favourite author. To say nothing of the loss of income to the author.

I've been pirated since I first published - and still am - and have lost the energy to post takedown notices every time. Luckily, my publisher is more tireless in chasing pirates. And there are all kinds of arguments not to sweat the small stuff on piracy - that the pirating readers wouldn't have bought the book in the first place, that the pirated copy doesn't really represent lost sales.

But when it's perpetrated on a copy that hasn't even been paid for in the first place? Even more upsetting.

Many authors are now suggesting security measures for handing out ARCs, if any authors do this direct. For example (and with a grateful nod to a fellow author Chris McHart whose newsletter covered this topic recently):
- know your reviewer. Ask them what and where they've reviewed, including their link at Amazon. If they're genuine, they'll appreciate a proper relationship with you.
- use a site like Instafreebie to issue copies. These are then individually watermarked so you can maybe trace a source document.
- reward those reviewers and readers who are consistently trustworthy and professional. Better to have 20 reliable reviewers than 50 dodgy ones!

Apologies, this post had ended up much longer than expected. I must feel strongly about it *hohoYeahYouBetIdo*.

Clare London

Friday, April 7, 2017

Wicked Florida

I've always said that Florida is the ideal home base for a mystery writers--there are just so many interesting ways to plan a murder. 

This point was reinforced last year when I attended a fun exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History called Wicked Plants, based on the amazing book by Amy Stewart. While perusing some of Mother Nature's nastier botanical creations, I couldn't help notice that many of the plants could be found in my home state of Florida--a few are even in my garden.

Along with the usual suspects such as deadly nightshade and water hemlock, I discovered a wonderful new villain called the rosary pea, so-named for its beautiful, but highly toxic seeds that resemble rosary beads. Rosary peas have long been used in jewelry making, but many a careless person has died after pricking a finger while handling one of the seeds.

Rosary Peas
This immediately put my writer's imagination in gear. Under the right circumstances, the little rosary pea would make a clever murder weapon. All a crafty killer had to do is slip a few rosary peas, which had been carefully pricked to release the toxin, into the bead box of an annoying jewelry maker. Pretty darn close to a perfect crime, don't you think?

Inspired, I created a little video about not only the  wicked plants, but all the reptiles and critters that make up the darker side of the Sunshine State, the place I call  Wicked Florida.

Some of the creatures/poison plants are Florida natives, but many--like the rosary pea--are invasive, hitchhikers from all over the globe who've made their home in Florida and now thrive. So far I've used three of the wicked species from the video in my novels, though I've not yet been able to work a snake into one of my murderous plots, which is regrettable because snakes are such a vital part of the wild Florida that I love.

Last December, this pretty garter snake came in
through the doggie door and make itself comfortable in the guest bedroom.
The guest was not amused.
Although I'd come with several scenarios--one involving a pet python--none quite passed the credibility test. Sure, there's a suspension of disbelief in fiction, but there's a limit as to how far it will stretch before breaking.

So imagine my surprise when last month one of my discarded plot points became reality when a deadly cobra escaped its cage in a quiet Ocala neighborhood!

I followed the case closely, providing updates on my Facebook page. On April 1, I posted this video, which details the twists and turns of the harrowing case of the Ocala Cobra.

So the next time a seemingly impossible plot occurs to me, I'm going with it.

After all, I live in Wicked Florida. Do come and visit.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Making Monsters

As romantic suspense authors we are familiar with crafting monsters. In my last romantic suspense book, DUSK, my villain was a young man who murdered a couple on a remote road in South Africa. Twenty years later he went after their daughter. Monsters are the nature of the beast in this genre. Romance doesn’t come easily for the protagonists of a romantic suspense novel. They have to overcome such nefarious characters to reach their happy ever after.

Well, in addition to romantic suspense, I am the author of a young-adult science fiction series. In the last installment of the BEYOND series, which will be released next month, I had to truly create a monster. The Dallek. It's not so easy crafting a real monster, but that is why I enjoy this brief diversion into Science Fiction. I have a blank slate. This creature lives in a chasm high up in the mountains of an alien planet, and I can make him into anything I want. Suffice to say, the end result isn't too pretty. You wouldn't keep one in your house as a pet.

As a writer, is it a challenge to create your monsters–be they real, or some rogue beast on an alien planet? 

As a reader, does the monster in the book make the plot that much more beguiling?

And yes, if we're going to talk about monsters, you know I have to throw in a picture of the creature that stalks my home. She is a beast. If you don't believe me, look at her puppy training certificate. This was Level 1. The trainer suggested Level 43 for her!! 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Hawaiian Adventures, A blizzard & An Alias

I go to a lot of writers' events. What can I say? I'm a total book and industry junkie. I'm also a severe introvert - until I'm surrounded by my people, and then I'm just plain excited. So, when I heard this year's Left Coast Crime Conference was planned for Honolulu, I signed up and started packing!

Left Coast Crime is an annual Author-Reader convention held at a different location on the West Coast each year. I live in Ohio, so I'd never given it much thought until I saw that location. HONOLULU! Well, I'm so glad I went!

It was the experience of a lifetime. From driving to Toronto at night in an East Coast blizzard, to missing our first plane, being stranded at the Toronto airport, then again overnight at the Chicago airport, then finally arriving on our should-have-been 18-hour trip a whopping 42-hours later. It was an adventure. I called it other things along the way as well, but adventure also works.

We left in a dangerous winter blizzard, white knuckling the desolate highway through New York and Canada, but we arrived in paradise.

Totally worth it.

The view from my room was amazing. The hotel, Hilton Hawaiian Village, was amazing. Everything was jaw-dropping gorgeous.

Then, I got to the conference. Surrounded by books and readers and authors, oh my! And for the first time ever....I was Julie Chase in the flesh. I write under two pen names now, plus my actual name-name, but I'm very open about the fact that I am those other names. The names were a publisher request that I rolled along with. Regardless, I'd never gone around introducing myself as someone else before. It was....odd. But I met lots of other authors who do it too. They do it for all sorts of reasons and do it well. So, I'll figure it out eventually. Heck, I barely answer to my own name most days.... I'm a mess. Let's get back to the trip.

Thanks to the blessed blizzard, I'd missed the Author Speed Dating and a panel where I would have promoted Julie Chase's debut novel, Cat Got Your Diamonds,  BUT I was there to moderate my Saturday panel and meet my new author friends in person.

I also walked to a local hotel and had breakfast with another author, Maia Chance, and four readers who'd signed up for an Author-Reader Connection. Honestly, we all just felt like old friends. Books do that to people. You know? Then, I co-hosted a table with Marla Cooper during the Lefty Awards Banquet, which was lovely.

When the conference ended, I stayed on for another couple of days and got away from the resort a bit. I ate with locals, my husband had this bizarre surfer breakfast called a Loco Moco which consisted of a hamburger patty on brown rice, topped with 2 eggs and served in gravy. I laugh every time I remember his face when the thing arrived. I mostly stuck with pineapple and banana everything, and it was all perfect.

From there, we walked the streets. Took a dinner cruise. I ate a lobster for the first time. That was an adventure all by itself. We went whale watching, visited Pearl Harbor and toured the North Shore. I also ate a ton of shave ice.

I have to say, whether you're a reader or a writer, I hope you will one day get the chance to leave your cares behind and travel to a destination conference like this. Thanks to these kinds of events, I've been all over my home state, to Nashville, New Orleans, Chicago, Kentucky and many places I would never have made it otherwise. I've also made friends to last a lifetime. I've learned more about the books and authors I love, and explored new towns. I'm shoring up an admirable pile of life experiences to share with my children one day and my readers as soon as possible.

Oh! An added bonus with these conferences it that the hotels are always heavily discounted, saving you lots of money, and for the writers out there,,,,you can write it all off on your taxes. Huzzah! Business Trip! Ain't writing grand?

I have two more big trips this year. I will be in Orlando for the RWA conference in July, and in Toronto for Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, this October. Will I see any of you there? Where will your bookish life take you?

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