Interview: Joan Leotta

We are delighted to welcome Joan Leotta, author of the Legacy of Honor series and other works.

ABowlofRiceCoverArtWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?
A perfect day is one spent with my family–that is my husband and daughter. It doesn’t have to be an active day. We can be watching a movie, shooing, on vacation together or simply sitting in the same room, each doing our own thing–puzzles, reading, writing.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
This was hard for me to answer. I don’t think of myself as a person with a distinctive style–at firs tall I could say was pasta (any type of pasta from rigatoni to rotini) in marinara sauce. Then I remembered my sea glass necklace and bracelet. They are definitely signature jewelry. I wear them all summer long. In the winter I wear my garnet jewelry most often. Rings are one of my signature items. I usually wear three on my right hand and three on the left.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Inspiring my creativity? Well there are two ways to take that–a person who was an unwitting muse or a person who actively sought to push my creative powers. Speaking about persons who inspired, having recognized my need to write and to perform, I think of three people in my youth. The first was Sister Anne, a teacher at Ursuline Academy in Pittsburgh. I was in fifth grade when she started a student newspaper. We had to mimeograph it to print it. She also encouraged me to send my poetry to all-county poetry anthologies and several of my poems were chosen. Years later, when I was living in Washington DC, on a return trip to Pittsburgh, I brought my husband and children to meet her and see the wonderful Victorian mansion where I went to school. Sister Anne told me that she started the newspaper specifically to encourage me to write.

The next teacher to give me a substantial push was a Mercy nun at our Lady of Mercy Academy. Sister Leonora encouraged my friend, Barbie and me to send our poetry to Horn Book Magazine. I did and received my first check for my writing! That was a great boost.

The next person of significance is the woman (name, long lost to me although I can see her face in my mind!) who was the preschool director when our son was three. She hired me to perform as a storyteller, starting a wonderful career of performing, (writing my own material in the form of adapted folklore and later, original tales and scripts based on women in history). In addition to the writing that goes into the prep work for performing, the very act of performing and interacting with an audience feeds my creativity and often, I come home and write something completely unrelated after a performance.

Do you listen to music when you write?
I should but I don’t. I understand Mozart increases creativity. I write with background noises to block out, a TV show or in an open café, or with no noise at all.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate covered caramel, because that’s what I like, although I had to give up chocolate due to my migraines.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
The particular story in the book for which I have included the cover is not a mystery per se. It’s a romance with a small element of mystery. It is book four in my Legacy of Honor series tracing an Italian American (that becomes Italian-Irish!) through several generations. A Bowl of Rice deals with the Vietnam era.

In the area of mystery, I have had more good fortune in short stories. In fact, one of my short stories will be a part of the SinC Guppy Anthology coming up. The anthology is Fish or Cut Bait and my story is, “Egidio Decides to Fish.” The inspiration was my Uncle Egidio who was gassed while fighting for the USA in World War I. I wanted to write a story that would honor him and reveal some of the leadership problems endemic in that struggle. This past spring I visited several WWI battlefields in Belgium.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
That’s easy! Family and food!

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Again, I’ll give you two–the woman in the book whose cover I gave you and the mann in my latest mystery story coming up for publication. My main character in A Bowl of Rice, Anna Maria is influenced by her family. She is a young woman with good values and a strong sense of duty. My Uncle in the short, well his character is based on my Dad (his brother) and various men in my family,

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Anna Maria has the common sense of Nancy Drew, the lack of ability to judge men that shows up in early romantic heroines, no particular one, and the “moxie” of a Katherine Hepburn heroine. She is smart and not afraid to assert herself in a man’s world.

Egidio is a man of action. Is he part Clark Gable? Tom Selleck as Magnum PI? The third actor is the hardest–anyone who plays the loyal friend ready to sacrifice self for his friends– Sydney Carton, the hero in A Tale of Two Cities. Ronald Coleman played him in the old movie I recall watching as a young girl, late at night on TV with my Grandma.

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Pearl Buck (who I have met!), Italo Calvino, Alexander Dumas, O’Henry, James Joyce, and Louise Penny. Oh, do I have to stop at six? What about North Carolina’s Shaber and Maron? And, how about Donna Leon and Ellis Peters and Elizabeth Peters and….. Hey, I’m Italian, I cook for crowds!

What’s next for you?
Well, right now I am working on Book Four for the Legacy of Honor series for Desert Breeze. This one has more mystery in it—stolen treasure in the Gulf war, a Civil War prequel treasure hunt and…(You can see why it is taking me a bit longer than the others did to finish!). This October, an eclectic collection of my short stories (all either published or award winners) comes out thanks to the wonderful folks at Cane Hollow Press. Three of my mysteries, and a fourth story that is a Western/mystery combo, are included. Title of the collection? Simply a Smile. Each story in this collection was inspired by an object–a smiling statue, recently-discovered Roman fasces from the time of Cesar, and so on.

My next story performance will be at the el Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Myrtle Beach Art Museum. I try to list upcoming on my blog.

Thank you so much for inviting me to visit!


Joan Leotta has been writing and performing since childhood. Her “motto” is “encouraging words through pen and performance.” Her award-winning poetry, short stories, books and articles have been published in many journals, magazines and newspapers. She performs folklore shows and one-woman shows on historic figures at venues up and down the east coast. She lives in Calabash, NC with husband Joe. You can learn more about her at


Interview: Kimberly G. Giarratano

We are delighted to welcome Kimberly G. Giarratano, author of Grunge Gods and Graveyards.

GrungeGodscoverWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?
My perfect day would start off with brunch in Key West. If it’s going to be perfect, then I’m going to be on vacation. There would be some type of spa treatment involved and I’d have hours to myself to write in a café overlooking the water. Oh, and it would be childless. I love my kids with all my being, but if we’re going to be honest, then my kids are going to be hanging out with their grandparents so Mama can be by herself. That’s a perfect day. Oh, my husband can come too if he wants.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
When people think of me, they think of guacamole. It’s the best thing I make and it’s to die for. The secret is garlic. And perfectly ripe avocados.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Writers inspire me so I’m going to say….Holly Black, J.K. Rowling, and Ernest Hemingway.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No. I require monastery-like silence to work. Which is why I struggle so much to write with three small children in the house.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Lindt’s chili dark chocolate because Grunge Gods and Graveyards is a spicy YA romance with a dark, suspenseful mystery.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wanted to write a YA version of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I find a relationship between a girl and ghost so romantic because it can’t end happily…or can it? I had set the novel in the 90s because that’s when I was a teenager and I wanted 90s alternative music to figure prominently in the story. I guess I was just nostalgic for my youth.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Identity is a constant theme in my work. Grunge Gods talks a lot about identity and trying to fit into various groups. Characters struggle with being Jewish, being Latino, being a teenager, being popular, being an outsider, being gay. I find myself fascinated with how my characters try to be all these things and still be true to themselves. Especially because my characters are teens. Adolescence is so much about figuring out who you are and who you want to become.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Lainey Bloom had a very normal childhood. She was a kid in the 1980s. She played outside all the time. Tag, manhunt, and hopscotch were a part of her daily routine. She and her best friend would run through the cemetery and tell ghost stories. She had sleepovers and plenty of friends. Then when she was a teenager, during the most insecure and unsure time in her life, her mother died of cancer. Lainey’s sister emotionally checked out and her father became a workaholic. Lainey withdrew and isolated herself among her peers.

The prologue is one of the most emotional scenes in the book because Lainey’s friend, Danny, is killed in a hit-and-run. When she starts school in September, everyone blames her for his death and she can’t avoid the intense guilt and shame she feels over her part in the tragedy. So, in the beginning of the novel, Lainey is really depressed and lonely and heartbroken. It’s a lot for anyone to overcome, let alone a teenager. But somehow Lainey rallies. She’s damaged and scarred, but she’s doesn’t give up easily.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Lainey is one part Courtney Love (angsty rock chick), one part Veronica Mars, (sharp sleuth) and one part Jane Eyre (neglected soul).

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Ernest Hemingway
Holly Black
Jane Austen
J.K. Rowling
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Stephen Colbert

What’s next for you?
I’m working on another YA ghost story/mystery, but this one is set in Key West, Florida. It’s told in dual POV and has a dynamic cast of characters. I’m also working on a short story mystery for a YA Sci-Fi anthology and I have a YA historical mystery in the outlining stage.


Kimberly G. Giarratano lives in the woods of northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband and small children. Before staying home with her children, Kimberly was an ESL teacher and a YA librarian. One day Kimberly hopes to move to Key West, Florida where she can write in a small studio, just like Hemingway. Grunge Gods and Graveyards is her first novel.


Interview: Sparkle Abbey

We are delighted to welcome Sparkle Abbey, author(s) of the Pampered Pets Mystery Series.

Thanks so much for inviting us, Mysteristas! Great questions.

Fifty Shades of Greyhound - CoverBBBWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?
A perfect day is a beach and a book. If there’s a fun drink with an umbrella involved that only adds to the fun, right?

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Signature accessory is definitely our Sparkle Abbey t-shirts which we wear at conferences. We got them to wear for our author pictures because we did the pictures with the real Sparkle (ML’s Cat) and Abbey (Anita’s dog) and then we’ve continued to wear them (not the same shirts, new ones) because they’re easier to read than a name tag.

Our signature phrase has to do with explaining our books. We often say, “No pets are harmed. People are dead.” ​

We have a couple signature drinks. We love margaritas and find that while drinking them we come up with some of our most memorable titles. Then there’s our coffee drinks: Skinny hazelnut latte and a nonfat, no-water, chai latte.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Cheryl St. John – Author/Friend. Always there with an encouraging word or a swift kick in the pants, whichever was needed.
Laura Levine – Author. She writes such doggone funny mysteries. We aspire to write like Laura Levine when we grow up. ​
Twyla Tharp – Dancer, Choreographer. Her ideas around the discipline of creative work are amazing.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Absolutely. What we’re listening to is dependent on the type of scene we’re writing.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Definitely dark chocolate with nuts! Dark because, after all, people are dead. With nuts because we’ve had so much fun with the quirky characters that make appearances in our books. Though the two cousins take turns as narrators, some of the secondary characters carry over from book to book. Characters such as Betty Foxx, who our readers call “Pajama Betty” because she thinks PJs are comfy any time of day, and Ollie, our favorite dog-loving rocker, who ​entertains us with his colorful British slang.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
This particular story started with the title. As you’ve probably already figured out we love the play on words of using familiar titles and adding a pet twist. ​Once we started researching greyhound rescue the story really began to tug at us. Then the fun starts! We always begin with “What if? and in this case the what if was: What if a someone was killed right in the midst of a fancy-smancy fundraising party? ​

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Well, rescue pets, of course, but we also revisit the theme of family relationships and especially mother/daughter relationships, which are often complicated.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her to be the person she is today?
Caro Lamont, Laguna Beach’s favorite pet therapist, is the lead in Fifty Shades of Greyhound. She is a former Texas beauty queen who walked out on that life (much to her mama’s chagrin) and became a psychologist. However, after her ex-husband betrayed her, compromised their joint practice, and caused her to lose her license, she packed up and moved to Laguna Beach where she loves using her people insights to deal with problem pets. Caro is always champion for the underdog. Canine or human.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Caro looks like Isla Fisher but has the brains of Jessica Fletcher and the outspoken attitude of Katherine Hepburn.

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Mark Twain
Agatha Christie
Mary Stewart
Nora Roberts
Carolyn Hart
Laura Levine

What’s next for you?
Next up is The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo – Book 6 in the series.

Again, thanks so much for inviting us to stop by.


Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of mystery authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. They have chosen to use Sparkle Abbey as their pen name on this series because they liked the idea of combining the names of their two rescue pets.  The authors co-write the best-selling Pampered Pets Mystery Series which focuses on the wacky world of precious pedigrees, pampered pooches, and secrets in posh Laguna Beach, California. The main characters and amateur sleuths are Texas cousins, Carolina Lamont, a pet therapist, and Melinda Langston, a pet boutique owner. The two would join forces and work together if they were speaking, but they’re not. Midwest Book Review calls the series “A sassy and fun mystery!”The first book in the series Desperate Housedogs, an Amazon Mystery Series bestseller and Barnes & Noble Nook #1 bestseller, was followed by Get FluffyKitty, Kitty, Bang, Bangand Yip/Tuck.  Fifty Shades of Greyhound is the latest installment.

Readers who would like more information can find us online in the following spots:







Interview: Paisley Ray

We are delighted to welcome Paisley Ray, author of The Rachael O’Brien Chronicles.

Jcakes_final_sRGBWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

Sitting under a beach umbrella, with a fully stocked cooler next to the Atlantic in South Carolina.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?

I wear a Swatch watch—an updated version of the one I wore in the 80’s—Just like my main character Rachael O’Brien wears.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Growing up, I got hooked on Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. I really loved watching the series on Masterpiece Theatre. I also became a fan of Ed Gorey who designed the pen-and-ink Victorian and Edwardian sketches of tombs and a woman on a tower in peril, which introduced the mystery each week. Those images stuck with me. Once I completed the first books in The Rachael O’Brien Chronicles, I had an artist design my book covers in a whimsical hand inspired by him.

Do you listen to music when you write?
The only music in my writing space is the snore of my fourteen-year-old pug, Quigley, and the hum of a fan on a hot day.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A milk chocolate turtle. Lots to chew on and a bit nutty.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
The span of years between teenager and young adult are when young adults step into their own skin and find their gumbo. I remember that time well and luckily, am able to laugh about it. My books are set in the Carolinas, a place I absolutely love to visit and where I have a lot of memories.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Enduring friendships, changing family dynamics, boy drama, local cultures and an art mystery

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality.
Rachael O’Brien thinks she’s knows what’s best and considers herself savvy, and sensible in a laid back kind of manor which couldn’t be farther from the truth. She’s good at reading others, but terrible at recognizing her own weaknesses. Neurotic about avoiding trouble, she falls right into it.

What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Rachael grew up in small town Ohio, with a normalish family until Freshman year when her mother left to find her inner psychic self. Once her mother left, the dynamics between her and her dad changed and Rachael discovered hidden family secrets. It turns out that nothing was as she thought, which continues to mess with her head.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I tell people that my books are Bridget Jones meets Fried Green Tomatoes with a Nancy Drewesque art twist.

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Shakespeare & Agatha Christie – no introduction needed

Colin Dexter – Inspector Morse

Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes

Jennifer Saunders – Almost Famous 90’s UK BBC sitcom

Patrick O’Brian – Aubrey-Maturin series

Edward Stratemere – Nancy Drew series

Can you tell, I’m a big fan of English authors–

What’s next for you?
Swamp Cabbage—book 6 in The Rachael O’Brien Chronicles

Paperbacks of my first five plus audible versions.


Paisley Ray, a steel worker’s daughter, was Born and raised in rural Pennsylvania. After eighteen years, she had a diploma from North Allegheny High School and a part-time job at a local fruit stand, Soergel’s Orchards.

Freshman year, she attended college at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, for a year before transferring to Marquette University. Certain life experiences become seared into your brain. For Paisley Ray, being a furry blue college mascot, dumped head-first into a trash can by Bucky the Badger at the Marquette University rivalry basketball game, was one of those unforgettable moments. Fortunately, she is now able to look back and laugh, more than cringe.

After graduation, she worked for Jorgenson’s chocolate factory until it went bust. On the plus side, she can now easily identify caramels, creams and nuts before taking a bite. After that she had a stint at Holsum Foods, a salad dressing and olive packager, before landing a gig with Jockey, the tightie-whitie underwear company. The idea of writing a novel peculated and over the years, she took a stab at evening writing classes while she penned rough drafts of short stories.

They say necessity is the mother of invention and when the 2009 recession hit, Paisley was summoned to a hotel lobby, where her laptop was commandeered by her boss and the head of Human Resources. It was that moment that changed the course of her life. After a few hours of what now, she made a pact to write that damn novel and over the course of five years, The Rachael O’Brien Chronicles were born.

Married to a Brit, she is the mother to a eleven-year-old daughter and a fourteen-year-old pug. When she’s not taking care of her cronies, she can be found crafting the antics for the imaginary characters in the newest book of The Rachael O’Brien Chronicles. Book 6, SWAMP CABBAGE is her latest endeavor and is due to release winter 2014.


Twitter: @heypaisleyray


Guest Post: Marilyn Levinson

Twelve Things to Remember When Writing a Mystery Series

  1. Your sleuth should be likable, interesting and resourceful, with a definite personality that includes quirks and personal issues that have yet to be resolved. Your sleuth needs to have a personal stake in solving the mystery.
  2. Consider your setting a major character. Use your setting well–its geography and flavor, its contrasting neighborhoods, businesses, parks and restaurants. Set your scenes in various locales to avoid monotony.
  3. Occasionally change your setting. If most of the books in your series take place in a small town, you might have you sleuth solve a murder in Manhattan.
  4. Your sleuth needs a best friend or confidant with whom to brainstorm. Consider his/her having a nemesis, as well, to up the tension and add red herrings to the mix.
  5. A love interest or interests spices up your plot and adds another dimension. While your reader enjoys the puzzle-mystery aspect of your novel, his/her ties to your sleuth are even stronger.
  6. Choose your victim carefully. Why was he/she murdered? What connects the victim to the suspects? Why was the second victim murdered?
  7. As for suspects, have many, with various motives, and with varying connections to the victim(s). Don’t telescope the identity of the murderer, but let your murderer appear often enough so that your reader doesn’t feel cheated when all is revealed.
  8. Secrets relating to the past are like chunks of dark Belgian chocolate in a chocolate brownie. Every character should have a secret or two. Reveal each secret only when necessary. Use them to your advantage.
  9. Every mystery should have a theme. Be it a dispute regarding an inheritance, collecting butterflies or coins, each mystery should include a theme that reflects the concerns of the village or the outside world.
  10. Decide what role official crime solvers play in your mystery. Even if you’re writing a cozy series, the police must appear in your books. Is your sleuth friendly with the homicide detective? Do they have an adversarial relationship?
  11. Sub plots are essential to any novel, including your mystery. They arise from the theme such as a dispute over land development, or from an issue in your sleuth’s personal life.
  12. Make sure your personal viewpoint comes through in your writing. You are unique. Your take on the human condition will help make your series stand out.


A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and books for kids.
 Two of her mysteries, Murder a la Christie and MIITAFinalMediumA Murderer Among Us–the first book in her Twin Lakes Mysteries series–are on Book Town’s 2014 Summer Reading Mystery List. A new e-edition of Murder in the Air, the second in the series, is now available. All of her mysteries take place on Long Island, where she lives. Her books for young readers include No Boys Allowed; Rufus and Magic Run Amok, which was awarded a Children’s Choice; Getting Back to Normal, & And Don’t Bring Jeremy. Marilyn loves traveling, reading, knitting, doing Sudoku, and visiting with her granddaughter, Olivia, on FaceTime. She is co-founder and past president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Her website is:

Fireworks: New Kitten

“We fooled around and fell in love.” We have a new tortoise shell calico kitten.

“She’s of feral origins,” they said.

“Oh, but she’s so cute,” I said.

“We’ve had feral cats before and tamed them,” he said.

But we forgot about the Queen at home, a 10-year-old calico who has her own wild streak. It is my theory that cats allow us the illusion that they are domesticated. They hang out with us because, frankly, humans attract mice.

We separated them at first, like the experts say. The kitten had been recently spayed. Plus, we wanted to gain her trust before trying to get the two cats to bond.

Being feral, however, the kitten escaped into the whole house and hid in a place we really couldn’t reach her. Did you know you had such places in your house? We didn’t. The big girl waited patiently with an occasional yowl. When the kitten came down, she made her move before we could blink. Instant fireworks. We thought the older cat was fat and slow. Let’s just say kittens breathe new life into everyone.

Since then, we’ve had a divided house: one cat in one part, one in another, with occasional attempts to bring them together. They stare at each other, the kitten anxious to play, the cat anxious to put an end to this intrusion once and for all.

“Have you called the behavior specialist?” the animal rescue friend asks.

“Have you consulted with an animal communicator?” my meditating friend asks.

“Squirt guns,” says the vet friend.

We’ve gotten out the old spray bottle we used to help our cat understand the rules in our house in her kitten days. No, you may not put your claws into me. No, you may not climb the curtains. A small squirt will disrupt an impending attack. If you can get there in time.

Cats are fast.

Let’s just say it’s been a month of intermittent fireworks punctuated by long periods of stalking and sulking. But peace will come, even to the most devious feline heart and maybe even to the most thorny regions of the globe. “Hope is the thing with feathers.”

No, wait. Please don’t kill the bird.

Writing on the Road—Risking Fireworks!

As this posts, I am returning home from 3 weeks on the road. It’s been a lovely trip, visiting my family who lives abroad, but that’s a big chunk of time out of the writing schedule.

Luckily, writers have flexible schedules and can work most anywhere, most any time, as long as the hours get logged. Publishers have their own schedule, which doesn’t always coincide with a writer’s schedule. I am contracted to deliver my next book soon, and if I don’t deliver the book, I risk fireworks with my publisher. On the other hand, if I spend too much time locking myself away from the family to write, I risk fireworks with them. What’s a writer to do??

Here’s what I’ve found that works for me while on the road:

1. Write every day. This is key for me. It doesn’t matter how little I write. It can be only a paragraph. But if I miss a day without any thought toward my WIP, then I break my continuity. This either gets me stuck or I end up going backwards, rather than forwards.
2. Stealing time. I usually rise an hour or so before the rest of the family, and that’s when I steal my time to write, so as not to interfere with any family activities. If jet lag keeps me awake in the middle of the night, I write then, too.
3. Overstimulation. In a new setting, with so much to see and do, it’s super easy to get distracted from the WIP. I may not remember what I’m supposed to write next, so I give myself permission to write any scene I want. Forget about transitions, just write it now and piece it into the draft later.
4. Ignore Critical Voice. Sure, the writing is bad. Really bad. But I just keep writing it anyway. I can throw it away later, but chances are, once I’m farther into the story, I’ll discover that what I thought was bad isn’t so bad after all.
5. Chill. If all else fails, I don’t beat myself up. I give in, and maybe just write in my journal, some sensory stuff that I can use later in some other project. Or I will do some plotting work, or studying by reading a good book, or research, or just plain old think time.

When a writer goes on the road, it’s not always vacation time. It’s a big challenge to keep on going. How do you handle traveling and writing? I’d love to learn some more tips!