Writing While Afraid

Only recently did I discover another reason why I write: to face something that bothers me; something I’m afraid of.startled

When I wrote THE MISSINGS I had to research cults, at least minimally. What I discovered left me queasy and uncomfortable. The cult that scared me the most was called Santeria. Evil perpetrated by hateful people stopped me in my tracks.

Eventually, the plot moved on to something equally evil, but I couldn’t get the bits and pieces I’d learned about Santeria out of my head. It was the stuff of nightmares.

So I wrote THE SACRIFICE which is about the missing young daughter of a drug cartel leader who left home voluntarily with someone she trusted. It turned out that someone was involved in—you guessed it—Santeria, and had terrible plans in store for the young girl.  I researched deeper into the cult so I could write the scenes legitimately.

When I began noodling around with the idea of writing a book about human trafficking, I thought I’d base it in Italy. My husband and were planning a trip there and I thought the Colosseum in Rome would make a great creepy setting.

But then someone I admired (she’s a global diplomat, primarily for women’s issues) made me promise that if I did write a book on trafficking I’d base it here, not anywhere over there. I didn’t think research would be particularly easy, but when I first googled human trafficking colorado, I was blindsided by the volume of real stories. (I googled again for this post… 2,180,000 results in 0.49 seconds.)

Once again queasiness became my motivator, and I wrote TRAFFICKED.

I was afraid to go online to Backspace (a prominent advertising source for sex) and see for myself what was going on. Only after meeting with a detective who gave me a bit of an education on the site using her tablet was I able to use my own computer and plug into Backspace. However, I still haven’t used Tor or been on the Dark Web. There’s only so much queasiness I can take.

What am I working on now? A story involving the alt-right and hate groups. Yeah, tell me about it.


It’s all better with friends.



Interview: Leslie Karst

Welcome Leslie Karst, author of the fabulous Sally Solari mysteries!

Death al Fresco coverTell us a bit about your new book.

Death al Fresco is the third book in my Sally Solari culinary mystery series. Sally practically grew up in the kitchen of her family’s Italian seafood joint out on the historic Santa Cruz wharf. But ever since inheriting the trendy, upscale restaurant Gauguin from her aunt, she’s been trying to extricate herself from Solari’s so she can concentrate on running her new place.

Alas, it is not to be. In this third book, Sally’s been roped into helping her dad host a huge outdoor dinner at Solari’s in honor of the visiting mayor from Liguria, the birthplace of Sally’s great-grandfather. But just weeks before the big event, her dog sniffs out the body of an Italian fisherman—one of the Solari’s regulars—entangled in a pile of kelp on the beach. And when Sally’s father is accused of allowing the old man to plunge to his death after drinking too much during dinner, Sally’s life becomes very complicated, indeed.

What inspired you to write it?

Although the first two books in the series certainly involve the family restaurant, Solari’s, they were a bit more concerned with Gauguin, and with Sally’s trial by fire in learning the ropes of running a restaurant so very different from the old-school eatery she grew up around. So for book three, I decided it would be fun to focus instead on the Italian-American culture surrounding Solari’s, and the colorful cast of characters who frequent the hundred-year-old fisherman’s wharf on which the restaurant sits.

What do you think makes a good story?

Any good mystery story requires that perfect balance between being possible to solve (i.e., the proper placement of clues) yet being sneaky enough to make the solution tricky, all without being unfair. To my mind, this is by far the most difficult aspect of writing the book.

But to make the story truly engaging, it needs more than simply a clever whodunit. My favorite crime novels also incorporate separate themes and subplots that are woven into the mystery, and which serve to flesh out the story and give the reader a glimpse into some new culture or way of life. Dorothy L. Sayers was a master at this, with her peeks into the worlds of London advertising (Murder Must Advertise), bell ringing (The Nine Tailors), and academia (Gaudy Night).

Lastly, a good culinary mystery must, of course, abound with food and cooking, the more delectably described the better. In the best of the genre, the food is at the heart of the story, but as long as the reader is left salivating and hungry, I’d say the author has done her job well.

How do you incorporate all that into your books?

As far as the placing of the clues and red herrings goes, that’s basically a matter of careful outlining, painstaking attention to detail, and sleepless nights stressing about your plot. As I said before, this part is hard.

But the other two items are, if not easy, at least way more fun for me. Death al Fresco is, at its most basic level, simply the story of Sally trying to figure out if the old fisherman found washed up on the beach was murdered and, if so, who did it. But other parallel plot lines keep the story moving forward as well: How will Sally juggle managing Gauguin, the restaurant she recently inherited, as well as putting all that time and work into helping her dad with the big dinner at Solari’s? And how will her involvement with Gauguin effect her relationship with her father who, fiercely proud of the family’s traditional restaurant, is convinced that Sally now looks down on her family heritage?

And as for the culinary aspect? Well, that’s the candy part for me. Nothing is more fun that inventing mouth-watering dishes for my characters to cook and consume, and then describing them in the most enticing manner possible. The only downside is that nine times out of ten, I get so hungry writing the food bits that I have to stop mid-scene and head to the kitchen for a little smackerel of something.

What’s next for you?

I’m just finishing up the first draft of Sally Solari number four (working title, Murder from Scratch), which concerns the sense of touch. The mother of a distant cousin of Sally’s has just been found dead at home of a drug overdose, and the cousin—Evelyn, who is blind—is too freaked out to go back to her house right away, so Sally’s dad convinces Sally to let her come to stay for a few weeks.

Initially leery of having to “babysit” this twenty-year-old while she’s busy running her restaurant, Gauguin, Sally quickly realizes that Evelyn is amazingly competent, and has a wry sense of humor, to boot. In addition, due to her lack of vision, Evelyn’s other senses—in particular that of touch—are much more heightened than Sally’s. As a result, not only can Evelyn whip up a mean batch of fresh pasta for a nightly special at Gauguin, but she becomes invaluable to Sally as the two of them delve into the real reason for the death of Evelyn’s mom.


The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. Putting this early education to good use, she now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder, Death al Fresco), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California. An ex-lawyer like her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts.

Website: http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lesliekarstauthor/

Mickey Mouse Monday

If all has gone according to plan – which, if you only knew what I know, you’d know that this is unlikely – I’m currently exploring the wonders of Disney’s Animal Kingdom as you read this post. In theory, my family already has enjoyed the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and we’re at the last of the three parks we’ll be visiting during this trip.

I’m cautiously optimistic.

You see, that lovely storm from Tuesday? Yeah – it caused cancelled  flights (for Wednesday), a mad dash of rescheduling flights, hotel, dinner reservations, fast passes, pet/house sitter, and…well, you get the idea. Mother Nature and I are not friends right now.


This will be the first time our family has visited Disney together, and my husband’s first time as an adult. While it’s not our typical vacation (we lean toward tropical locales with fantastic reefs for scuba diving and snorkeling, and lots of beach lounging and boat rides), we’re pretty excited. We’ve very deliberately limited our activities and time, in hopes of keeping the typical vacation stress to a minimum. The weather in Florida is looking sunny and warm, and what’s not to love about the Mouse?

In addition to the sights, sounds, shows, and crazy rides that magically combine (see what I did there? magic?) into a wonderful vacation experience, there are people. LOTS of people. And while I despise crowds (you’re wondering at my destination choice, right?), I also recognize that crowds, especially at a venue such as Disney, create a virtual smorgasbord of character potential.

People watching is one of my favorite hobbies, and where better to see the happy, sad, frustrated, annoyed, overwhelmed, and joyous than an amusement park? Especially THE amusement park?  It will be hot, there are lines everywhere, lots of black asphalt and little shade or seating – it’s the opposite of those malls where they pipe in the scent of chocolate and the soothing lullaby of good classical music (or whatever music encourages spending). This is the perfect place to watch how folks behave when challenged by a variety of conditions. Which ones flush and sweat, and which ones look fresh? Who is snippy and rude, and who is kind to the children jostling in line? How does the overwhelmed parent with the cranky toddler fighting the stroller – and a nap – respond?

We all have our ideas on what responses to various situations look and sound like, but we imagine them through the filters of our own life experience. Opportunities like this force us to see without those filters, and perhaps see something new or different. While I’m excited to ride Space Mountain and explore the Haunted Mansion, I’m also eagerly anticipating the wealth of experiences and emotions I can capture as I observe my fellow park-goers.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish us luck!

Interview: Shawn McGuire

Welcome Shawn McGuire, author of the Whispering Pines mysteries. 

OriginalSecrets_CVR_SMLDo you listen to music when you write? 

I do listen to music. Plugging the earbuds into my ears is almost like a starter’s pistol. It’s my signal to go, write. The music coming through those buds, however, depends on what I’m writing, because each series I write requires a different kind of music. My Gemi Kittredge novella series is set in Hawaii, so I listened to slack key guitar music for those. My Whispering Pines series is set in a small, quirky village that’s populated with equally quirky residents. I find folk music, the Appalachian style, is best while writing those books. The one thing that is the same is, no lyrics. I can’t listen to people singing while I’ve got characters talking in my head!

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

I love this question. It would be a chocolate-nut-fruit cluster. The chocolate would need to be very dark, to represent the secrets going on in the village. The nuts, probably almonds, would represent the “nutty” characters. I think the fruit would be dried cranberries (sweet and tart) to represent the sweet/tart characters that live there and the sweet romance going on between the main character, Jayne, and Tripp, the man helping her with her bed-and-breakfast.

What is your favorite/least favorite thing about the writing process?

No question, the first draft. I HATE first drafts. To get through them, I write them really fast. For example, I just finished the first draft of the fourth book in my Whispering Pines series, tentative titled Hidden Secrets. I wrote that draft in fourteen days, averaging 5,000 words per day. By the last chapter, I was writing only dialogue just so I could be done with it. Now is when my real fun starts. I LOVE the revision process. I get to really dig in and add details and setting descriptions and really bring the story to life.

What do you think makes a good story?

I was just having this conversation with someone. To me, a good story is obviously well-written with a good pace and characters that we want to root for. As a writer, it’s a story I can’t wait to get back to writing. As a reader, it’s one that I don’t want to stop reading, but also one that leaves enough wiggle room for me to have my own experience with it. I know that readers don’t experience my stories in the exact way that I do when I write them, and I’m fine with that. I love when someone contacts me with a takeaway that I never even thought of. If they want to believe, for example, that there’s magic going on in Whispering Pines and I didn’t intend for there to be, wonderful. (By the way, I’m not going to tell you what my intent was!!)

Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!

In five years, I see my Whispering Pines series completed and readers still loving to read them, and I’ll be hard at work on at least one more series. I see my husband and I traveling the country in a fifth-wheel trailer. I love the thought of hauling our home somewhere and plunking down to stay for a while. I love to experience new people and places. To be able to “live” in a new community for a while, to really experience it, rather than just pass through while on vacation, sound like a wonderful adventure to me. At the same time, I need a home base as well so there will be a house on a lake … somewhere …


About Original Secrets

The Northwoods village of Whispering Pines used to be a safe haven for outsiders, but after three deaths in two months, it’s become a hotbed of murder.

Exhausted from being the only law enforcement official on duty, while also trying to open a bed-and-breakfast, Jayne O’Shea welcomes the escape she finds in her grandmother’s journals. Each entry gives her a deeper understanding of why her grandparents moved to the secluded spot so long ago. But as questions are answered, deeply hidden secrets are unearthed.

If Jayne can put all the pieces of this puzzle together, she’ll not only learn the truth behind her grandmother’s death, she’ll catch a killer whose been wandering the village for forty years.


headshot 1.1Suspense and fantasy author Shawn McGuire started writing after seeing the first Star Wars movie (that’s episode IV) as a kid. She couldn’t wait for the next installment to come out so wrote her own. Sadly, those notebooks are long lost, but her desire to tell a tale is as strong now as it was then. She grew up in the beautiful Mississippi River town of Winona, Minnesota, called the Milwaukee area of Wisconsin (Go Pack Go!) home for many years, and now lives in Colorado. Shawn is a homebody and loves to read, craft, cook and bake, and spend time in the spectacular Rocky Mountains. You can learn more about Shawn’s work on her website http://www.Shawn-McGuire.com.

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Full Irish Breakfast

Every Saint Patrick’s Day, I prepare a full Irish breakfast for the family. It seems only fitting that we gorge ourselves in honor of those who left our ancestral home in search of food. I generally make enough food to feed the entire family and have leftovers for one day because the kitchen will be trashed. It’ll take all weekend to get it clean when I wake up from my nap.

Full IrishStarting at the 12 o’clock position and going around the plate clockwise, this includes:

Black pudding. It’s really a sausage. What’s in it? Don’t ask.

Baked beans. I make them myself in a crockpot using dried beans that I had soaked overnight, then simmered for 40 minutes, then dumped in the crockpot with the other ingredients and added a little extra water, cooked on high for 4 hours. Perfecto.

Rashers. It’s bacon, really. Tastes kind of like Canadian bacon.Irish soda bread

Fried potatoes. Skin on, please. All  the flavor is in the skin.

Scrambled eggs.

Fried tomatoes.

Sautéed mushrooms.

Irish soda bread. I use a gluten-free recipe from Annalise G. Robert’s Gluten Free Baking Classics. The thirteen-year-old grandson deigned that he would eat that for breakfast every day.

JuicesThe scribe, Irish breakfast tea and coffee

If you can’t find black pudding or rashers at your local store, you can order them on-line from Food Ireland: http://www.foodireland.com/. I order from them every year and have always been happy with how quick the food came. And, they have Mars bars!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!





Murder by Moose

I’m very pleased to announce my latest release, Murder by Moose:

Murder by Moose-eBookretailers

For this release, I’ve joined the Seven Sinister Sisters (along with our own Becky Clark) for a blog tour, and last week the 7 visited Mysteristas.  And now it’s official!  The Moose is finally here!

Murder by Moose is the fourth book in the Nell Letterly series.  This book takes Nell up into the mountains for a self-defense retreat during leaf season (which is also hunting season).  Of course she finds a body!  Moose trampled?  Or something much worse…?

When I wrote the first draft of my first Nell book some years ago, I wanted to tell the story of how Nell, a suburban, menopausal single mom of a teenage daughter, comes to teach karate in Boulder, Colorado. I never expected to do a series.  But at the end of that book, I found that there were still a lot of issues I hadn’t addressed–issues that tell the larger story surrounding Nell–and I suddenly found that I was writing a series.

One of the first questions a series has to figure out is how much time should pass overall?  A mystery bookseller once gave me some advice that made me decide to keep this series short–maybe only 6 or 7 books.  I figured that two or three months between each book would be about right for what I wanted to do.

The first book takes place in March, the second in May, and the third in August.  When I started to plan the fourth book, I already knew it was going to have to take place sometime in the fall.  In Colorado that means a high country setting with golden aspen leaves, hunters, and…moose!

I had such a fun time writing this.  But now I have to figure out:  where should I take Nell next?  There will probably be a turkey dinner…and a body…and…?

The Oscar goes to…

1446751375574The 2018 Academy Award for best adapted screenplay went to James Ivory; little, if any attention went to André Aciman, the author of the book “Call Me By Your Name.” A film or a TV series “based on the book by …” generates a lot of publicity, but not much attention is given to the original book itself. Even readers fall into the adapt-for-film-or-TV trap, and one of the questions frequently asked of an author at a book signing, is “When will this be made into a movie?”

Why, why, oh why?

Yes, I know; the deal to adapt a book for film or TV generates a lot of publicity, fame, attention, and MONEY, but I really feel the book is always better than the movie. (I will discuss one exception in a moment.)

Films are short, only about an hour and a half or so long, so by design they limit the scope and the depth of the story. Films do have the advantage of being able to immediately define the sense of place with vivid indoor and outdoor shots. However, time constraints dictate that they leave out many of the rich details and intense characters that make books great.

A TV series has greater flexibility than a film since writers have multiple episodes in which to tell stories, and have the flexibility to pull details from multiple books rather than having to follow book with a linear story line. This makes TV “based on a book by …” much more “appealing” to me, a book reader.

Craig JohnsonUnfortunately, sometimes the TV series is so successful that the original books get lost in the whole process. At a recent book signing, Craig Johnson shared this story about his “Longmire” TV series. He was wearing a cap with the Longmire series logo while having lunch. The waitress commented that she loved the TV show, and asked him how he got the hat. He replied that he writes the books on which the TV show is based. Her astonished reaction was “There are books?”

Earlier I mentioned that there was one film I liked better than the book. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is based on the book by Lionel Shriver. The librarian recommended the book, but since there was a waiting list for it at the library, I found the 2011 movie on Netflix. For those not familiar, it is the anguishing story of Kevin’s mother as she struggles with Kevin throughout his life and “something” that happened, details of which were not revealed until near the end. We agonize along with her, observing her trauma and pain as well as his “lack” of it.  (It is a powerful movie with a VERY current theme, and if you haven’t seen it you should.) The movie was gut-wrenchingly tragic. Now I also loved the book, but in the book, there it was; the event that was hidden for so long in the movie was right on page twelve. The book was still excellent, but for tension, drama, and angst, the film wins.

Now, what do you authors think? Have your books been adapted for film or TV? Did you have input during the process? Is the film as good as your book? What is your favorite film or TV adaptation of a book?