“Where’d you get that hair?”

I’ve heard that question all of my life. Picture me: complexion so light that only a redhead would be fairer. Freckles. And kinky hair, red during my youth, now faded to the color of lint mixed with white.

So what’s the real question when a total stranger asks “where’d you get that hair?

Growing up in the 1960’s, I’m thinking the real question is “what race are you?” In those days, no one doubted that privilege was determined by your race: where you lived, where you went to school, where you sat on the bus. And in turn, where you lived, where you sent to school and where you sat on the bus influenced how far you could get in our upwardly-mobile society, whether you could go to college and what college that would be, whether you would end up drafted and fighting in Vietnam.

These are the responses I developed roughly in chronological order:

  1. No, I did not put my finger in an electrical socket (said without reflecting the faux-jovial mood of the inquisitor),
  2. No, I did not have a bad perm (again, said with deadly seriousness),
  3. My scalp,
  4. It grows this way,
  5. What business is it of yours?
  6. What, you writing a book? (I learned that one from my ex-husband, the New Yorker),
  7. And where did that hair hanging from your scalp like over-cooked spaghetti come from?
  8. I’m Irish (the truth but oddly enough not very satisfying to most people). When they’d respond, “I didn’t know Irish people had hair like that,” I’d say, “I wouldn’t brag about being ignorant if I was you.”
  9. Let me explain hair to you. Your hair is round. My hair is flat. If my flat hair strand thins as it grows out, it makes an angle because of the different stresses on each side of the strand. You did pass physics, you do understand what I’m talking about? (One of my personal favorites.)
  10. A long, long time ago, the Normans invaded Ireland. Before they came to Ireland, my Norman ancestors lived in northern Italy at the same time the Moors were there. Then I look at the inquisitor like he should be able to put it all together by himself because if he had listened to junior high school world history, he would, in fact, have all the information he needs. Usually, the response is a blank look. (Another personal favorite.)

You’ll note over time my responses have become increasing belligerent.

Some of the other responses have included being told I look “high yellow”, “redbone” and like an “albino negress.” Nowadays, people just say “I thought you were black.”

Many, many people don’t talk to me at all; they stare from a distance.  I’d seen that look in their faces all my life but I didn’t know what caused it. It’s as if they just smelled something nasty.  One day about thirty years ago, I was walking down the street with a black friend of mine who grew up in Alabama. A man gave us that look and my friend said something under his breath, some response he used when confronted with the phenomenon he’d grown up with. And I blurted out “Is that guy a racist?” like an excited kid identifying a zoo specimen. I realized for the first time how insidious racism was. I had been swimming in it all my life and hadn’t even noticed because I was so accustomed to it.

I’m here to tell you that even in 2015 United States of America it’s a lot nicer to be treated like a white person than it is to be treated like a black person.

So why is my genetic composition important to some people? I believe it’s fear-driven. It’s the old “haves versus have-nots”. Some people draw the line at race, at what you look like. Because appearance is an easy distinction to make. And when they see someone like me, the distinction is not so easy and they become anxious. They’re afraid I might get something I’m not entitled to, something they should get instead.

I’ve tried to blend off and on over the years (and thus avoid the question). In so doing, I put my scalp and hair through the rigors of straightening (which is literally melting your hair chemically), curling irons (melting with heat), curlers and pins, potions and goo of all kind.

Now I wear it natural and short. Not because I necessarily like the look, but because I’ve made a truce with my hair. I just don’t have the inclination to screw around with it anymore. If someone doesn’t like me because of my hair, then they can leave the room.  I’m fine with that.

I like to think I’ve become the matriarch of my own little tribe (I imagine most grandmothers do). My beautiful grandchildren are a mixture of Irish, Puerto Rican and Yup’ik Eskimo. There are blue eyes, amber green eyes and brown eyes, one blonde and one brunet and one with almost black hair, straight hair, wild Maid Marian hair and “the hair” (as it’s known in my family) and they run around screaming ecstatically at the holidays just like any other group of cousins because in may family, they are all “haves.”

My grandchildren have grandparents who dote on them, parents who love and support them. They have food, shelter, clothing, video games and way too many dogs. And their potential is limited only by their own imaginations because in our little tribe, we are loved and cherished for our uniqueness.

Were that only true for everyone.

Quintessential Community

Holidays mean family time, and I have been counting down the days.  Now the feasting season is nearly upon us!  I can’t wait, because family is my most basic community.

I count my best friends as part of my extended family.  In today’s mobile world, family is far-flung, and we can’t always be together.  (Besides, we’re fiction writers; we can make up our worlds the way we want, right?)

Dear Hubby and I are sharing Thanksgiving with our best friends this year, so I have been thinking about 5 of my top reasons why my community of F&F (family and friends) is most quintessential:

5.  F&F cheerfully clean grease from the ceiling when the bird spatters grease coming out of the oven only an hour or two late.

4.  F&F welcome you in the middle of the night when you’re evacuated from your house on account of a fire in the neighborhood.

3.  F&F take you to the emergency room when Dear Hubby is out of town.

2.  F&F understand why you dream your impossible dreams—and they encourage you to fulfill them.


1.  F&F even think that your first book is brilliant!

On behalf of the Mysteristas, I wish everyone peaceful travels and Happy Thanksgiving!  May your feast day of giving thanks be filled with loving family and friends wherever and whenever such equivalent is celebrated.

Mystery Writers: The Nicest Killers You’ll Ever Meet

The mystery writing community is one of the nicest groups of people I’ve ever encountered. Based on the posts this month, the rest of the Mysteristas agree. I find it funny, though. The nicest group of people I’ve ever met is made up of people who spend all their time plotting murder.

I’m not kidding about mystery writers being nice. It’s not a “nice to your face only” crowd. My writer friends are the kind of people who would give your car a jump in the Target parking lot in a twenty below windchill, good-to-the-bone, down-to-Earth people. It kind of makes sense, though. I’ve written three genres: romance, mystery, and legal documents, if you let me count “the law” as a genre (which might expose why I’m a better novelist than a lawyer). Out of those three genres, writing a mystery is the most blue collar, hands-on pursuit. It’s like fixing a car, dirty with lots of moving parts. Theoretically–it’s not like I’ve ever fixed a car.

I’m getting carried away, though. Writers can’t ever be as cool as car people, unless you count Steve Ulfelder (actual car person) or Kristi Belcamino, who considers leather pants and a faux fur jacket to be winter wear. Most mystery writers look a little more library-esque.

Murderous thinking or not, I would vouch for any mystery writer as a last-minute wedding date. For one, thinking about death is normal. My kids certainly talk about it enough. I’m not so sure thinking about murder is normal, but certainly death. I asked a psychologist if it’s normal to think about murder all day long (over coffee with no context). Her response: “Normal is so relative. Thinking about murdering relatives might be normal. Relatives thinking about murdering all day might be normal, depending on the relatives.” So there you have it, we’re normal!

I’ve also noticed that people who reflect on the darkness in life tend to be easier to hang out with. I haven’t met any saccharine or phony mystery writers. Not to mention, a book needs a lot of dramatic tension. Murder is arguably the worst crime, so that’s what most of us write about. So on that note, I leave you. Mystery writers might spend all day pretending to kill people, but they make great dinner dates.


Giveaway: comment on today’s post to enter! One winner will receive an e-copy of SMART, BUT DEAD by Nancy G. West (Aggie Mundeen Mystery #3).

SMART BUT DEAD cover front

“An impetuous, warm-hearted heroine with an insatiable curiosity, passion for learning and unquenchable zest for life.” – Mystery People.

Pushing forty and appalled at the prospect of descending into middle-age decrepitude, Aggie Mundeen blasts off to the local university to study the genetics of aging. She’s fascinated with scientific discoveries but finds a dead academic. Dangerously curious and programmed to prod, she winds up prime suspect and is on target to become next campus corpse.


Squeeeeeee-worthy Announcement

Folks, I’ve been holding out on you.

It about killed me to keep my mouth shut, but I did it. And now that I can finally say something, I’m totally ready to scream from the proverbial rooftops, even though I know that’s totally uncool.

I know it’s way better to act like you expected it. To just shrug your shoulders and smile like it’s no big thing.

I’m not sure what kind of major self-control allows someone of any personality to pull that off because a life’s dream is a life’s dream, no matter how cool you are.

So, here I am, being majorly uncool because I still can’t believe I have the chance in this lifetime to say this.

I have a book deal.

With HarperCollins.

In less than two years, I’ll be the author of a hardcover, honest-to-God BOOK.


Maria Barbo at HarperCollins’s Katherine Tegen Books has bought a debut YA fantasy by Sarah Henning, tentatively titled Heartless and pitched as the never-before-told origin story of the sea witch from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” told in the vein of Wicked—from the villainess’s point of view. Publication is set for fall 2017; Rachel Ekstrom at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency did the deal for world rights.

Yesssssss. I KNOW, RIGHT???


I also know that if you’re reading this space you’re probably me to have a deal for, say, a mystery. Yeah, confusing, I know. But that’s the great thing about being a writer: your imagination doesn’t ever need to be penned in. My imagination doesn’t know that the other stories it’s told happen to be mysteries, it just knows that it wants to tell a good story.

And I am SO PYSCHED to share this story with you. It was so incredibly fun to write and I’m hoping it’ll be just as fun to read.


Comings and Goings

dianeA fond farewell to Diane Vallere, who is leaving the blog at the end of December. She has been a Mysterista from the beginning, when we were a Twitter Chat group (!), and we will miss her very much. Please join us in wishing her the best, and keep up with Diane’s activities over at her website: Also be on the lookout for her Costume Shop mysteries, coming out in February!



And please welcome our newest Mysteristas–look for their first posts in January:

Kate Lansing writes cozy mysteries and short fiction. She is an award-winning short story author whose work has appeared in the Brave New Girls Anthology and the Crossing Colfax Anthology. She grew up in the Rocky Mountains where she shared a backyard with black bears, mountain lions, and elk, to which she attributes her active imagination and love for story-telling. She works as a statistical analyst and currently lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and a chair-napping tabby cat named Maple.

pegbrantleyPeg Brantley spent over 25 years in corporate America, many of them running her own businesses. At any given time she could have helped you finance some real estate or sold you a bag of popcorn or a tube of lipstick. She’s unabashedly happy to have those years behind her. A Colorado native, she and her husband (who wishes she wrote romance rather than thrillers) make their home southeast of Denver, where they have shared their space with the occasional pair of mallard ducks named Raymond and Deborah and their ducklings, snapping turtles, peacocks, assorted other birds, foxes, a deer named Cedric, and a bichon named McKenzie. You can find her at,,, and on Twitter at @PegBrantley.

beckyclarkBecky Clark is the seventh of eight kids, which explains both her insatiable need for attention and her atrocious table manners. She likes to read funny books so it felt natural to write them, too. Her newest titles are Banana Bamboozle and Marshmallow Mayhem. She surrounds herself with quirky people and pets who end up as characters in her books. Ordinary people who are thrust into chaos, usually involving murder, are her favorite characters to write. Find out Becky’s least favorite words and subscribe to her newsletter to win cool stuff, at

Interview: Lida Sideris

Please welcome Lida Sideris, author of Murder and Other Unnatural Disasters.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My ideal day would be to wake up early, rarin’ to go, with plenty of clearly conceived characters and situations for my new book so that by day’s end, I have written about 15,000 perfectly formed words, sentences and plots. That way, I’d have my first draft done is less than a week! Yes!

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I love nail polish. My feet won’t see the light of day without it. I like color – color in my clothes, my food, my flowers, my peoMurderandOtherUnnaturalDisastersple, my world.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
There are a lot more than three, but these pop into mind: Harriet Beecher Stowe – if she could write the epic, 19th century bestseller, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in a time when women novelists were few, and while managing a household full of children and chores, than I could certainly write a light-hearted mystery while working a full-time job. And I did! Janet Evanovich for her talent of writing so simply and effectively and for making me laugh, and Ramona Long who taught a Sisters in Crime Guppies course that forced me to up my writing a notch (maybe quite a few notches).

Do you listen to music when you write?
I prefer quiet – I don’t want to miss a word my characters may have to say to me.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Mounds chocolate bar: shredded cuckoo nuts hiding inside dark, rich chocolate. Oops, I mean coconuts.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
My day job can be rather intense. I was seeking a way to have fun in the legal profession, doing something I thoroughly enjoy (writing). So I turned the legal world that I worked in upside down, twisted things around, filled it with some slightly offbeat characters and a suspicious death, threw in a catnapping, an alien encounter, and a low speed car chase, in a setting I knew well (Southern California), and I had a ball creating my novel!

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Friendship, daddy issues, self-control and indulging one’s sweet tooth despite a lack of hunger.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
I wanted a smart, strong, but feminine, lead character whose gene for caution is a recessive one. When the story opens, Corrie is a newly minted lawyer who miraculously lands a dream job in a film studio. She suffers from a lack of confidence since she has zero experience and soon finds herself enmeshed in a cannibalistic industry. But her tough side won’t let her fold. At least, not without a fight. She honed the toughness when she shadowed her renowned private investigator father on his high-profile cases. Corrie’s comfortable in the P.I. world, whether she’s willing to admit or not. She knows her way around weaponry, legal and otherwise, crime scene investigations, and shifty characters. She’s also adept at inventing plausible lies, as needed. All of which come in quite handy when she’s blackmailed into investigating the suspicious death of a co-worker

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Nancy Drew, James Bond, Philip Marlowe and Elle from Legally Blonde. You did say four characters, right? :) Like my heroine, I tend to bend rules ever so slightly.

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Janet Evanovich, Lisa Scottoline, Plum Sykes, Alexander McCall Smith, Neil Gaiman, and Amanda Brown

What’s next for you?
I’m working on the second installment in the Corrie Locke series. Corrie’s best friend and possible love interest, Michael, is implicated in a homicide and Corrie has to save him.


Like her heroine, Lida Sideris hails from Los Angeles and worked as an entertainment attorney for a film studio. Unlike her heroine, she was not blackmailed into investigating the suspicious death of a co-worker. She resides in the northern tip of Southern California with her family, their rescue shepherds, and a flock of uppity chickens. She was the recipient of the Helen McCloy/Mystery Writers of America scholarship for her first novel, Murder and Other Unnatural Disasters.

Twitter: @lidasideris

A paradoxical community

We’ve been talking about community this month and a lot of us have talked about personal communities. Colleges, writing groups–things that are intensely personal. But earlier this week, Kait brought up a point. Our global community has become much more accessible through technology.

Last week, Paris was rocked by a series of terrorist attacks. It didn’t take long before the message spread. Hashtags appeared on Twitter. Photos on Facebook. People posted reactions: sorrow, fear, support. And yes, some hatred.

I saw a photo montage of buildings in cities across the world lit red, white and blue in support of Paris (the Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh was not majestic enough to be included, but it was also lit). Thousands, if not millions, of people came together to mourn and express defiance in the face of terror. Regrettably, others supported the terrorists and some used the opportunity to spew more hatred. The point is, we knew what had happend–and continue to learn new facts–almost in real-time.

Now, go back twenty years. Maybe even less. Would the same thing have happened? Maybe eventually, but not as quickly. What changed?

In a word: technology.

Twenty years ago, even fifteen years ago, there was no Twitter. No Snapchat. No Instagram. I can’t remember when Facebook started, but it certainly wasn’t as big in 2000 as it is in 2015. All of these services have allowed people to connect with others across the country, across oceans, across the globe. Our world has not physically shrunk, but it sure has gotten smaller. We used to have to wait for the traditional media to print a story in a physical newspaper. Now we can learn about things hours or even minutes after they happen.

It’s kind of overwhelming if you dwell on it. I’m not on Snapchat or Instagram, but watching my Twitter feed is kind of like watching water come out of a fire hose. A new message pops up every second. Technology has upped the “do it NOW” factor. Email or text messages mean we’re never very far out of touch. The pressure to respond to that alert can be overwhelming.

But at the same time, technology has opened doors that may never have even been known about. The only other Mysterista I’ve met in person is Diane Vallere. And when I saw her at Bouchercon Raleigh, we threw our arms open and yelled “Mysteristas!” I’d never “met” her until that moment. But the community here online meant I felt like I’d known her for months and we could greet each other as old friends. And I’m sure it will be the same when I get to meet my other Mysterista sisters someday.

So yeah, the world has shrunk. And the shrinking means increased pressure. But it also means increased opportunity: to meet and interact with people from differing backgrounds, faiths, nationalities, etc. And that means increased opportunities to grow.

So readers, how has technology affected your community (positive or negative)?

Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73