A fireside chat with James Ziskin

Every once in a while, I get embarrassed. Like recently, when I got the opportunity to score an ARC of James Ziskin’s latest Ellie Stone book. Now, I’ve been wanting to get to these for a while (yeah, yeah, you probably beat me to the punch). So my first reaction to the ARC was “hell to the yeah,” but then I thought, “Wait, don’t I have to start at the beginning?”

Screw it, I decided. This might be the kick in the pants I need.

Which it was.

DSP0101207I’m happy to report that the book is phenomenal – and if you are already an Ellie Stone fan, you’re probably thinking, “Well, duh, Liz.” And if you’re like me, and have inexplicably not read these books yet, I’m happy to report that the book is very readable — and you can gobble up this one, then go back to the beginning.

I’m equally happy (how many times can I use that phrase?) to say I immediately emailed to ask if James would answer a few questions and he was more than pleased to.

Without further ado…

LM: I loved Ellie’s voice. You probably get this a lot, but…I know authors who have a real challenge writing authentically from the viewpoint of the opposite gender. But Ellie never sounds anything but like a woman of her time period. Does this come naturally to you or do you have “experts” to keep you on track?

JWZ: I get that question a lot. Serves me right. I’ve asked myself the same thing for years. And I’ve come to realize that, besides listening better and striving to be empathetic toward a gender that is not my own, I’m more or less successful at creating a believable female voice thanks in part to the fifty-five years of distance between today and the early sixties. None of us is living in that time period. We’re all looking back through the lens of time. There are old movies, television shows, books, and newspapers, of course, and I use those resources and many more to hone Ellie’s voice. I can paint a character who is still surrounded and swamped by the expectations and prejudices and mindset of that period. I can even permit Ellie to be a little—just a touch—sexist herself, since everyone was back then.

As for experts to keep me on track, I have several trusted beta readers who fit the bill. My sister recently reminded me that good girls in the sixties were taught to keep their knees together. I just had to put that in the book.

LM: Betrayal and hypocrisy, and the results, struck me as big themes in A Stone’s Throw. Do you write with theme in mind or does it come out as you develop the story?

JWZ: Yes. I begin each book with the themes decided, at least in broad strokes. Of course better ideas come to me as I write, even though I outline and plot in advance. But the overarching themes don’t change. In A Stone’s Throw, I wanted to explore long-festering, cruel betrayal and its destructive effects on the people involved. Another theme that obsessed me in this book was the slow, slippery progression from good to bad. When do people cross the line?

LM: I’m so jealous. I can never identify “theme” until I’m at least done with the first draft, and I usually need people to bash me over the head with it even then.

I am ashamed to admit this was my first Ellie Stone book. What was gratifying was how I didn’t feel “lost” knowing this was not the first book in the series. I think it’s something every series author has to think about. Do you have particular tricks for making new readers like me feel “at home” in the series (and whet their appetites to go back)?

JWZ: I try to make each book stand on its own. One trick I use is to make sure I provide a brief recap of certain characters. It doesn’t have to be long. For instance, Ellie has to explain who Fadge is at the beginning of each book. And her nemesis at the newspaper, George “Georgie Porgie” Walsh. I usually have Ellie fire off a humorous insult at his expense or recall a memorable gaffe that he’s made in the past. In A Stone’s Throw, Ellie observes that sharpening pencils is the only skill George has that’s even remotely related to writing. This provides quick and painless insight into the character, as well as the contentious history he shares with Ellie.

Another thing I do with each book is a separate editing pass where I read exclusively looking for mentions of people or events from previous books. I believe I’ve explained how Ellie’s company car was driven into the lake by a drunken colleague—before it was fobbed off on her—in four books now. The key is not to be long-winded about it. One of my mantras for description is, “If it can’t be memorable, make it economical.”

LM: I love that; I’ll have to remember it for book 2.

Fadge speaks very knowledgeably about the race track and betting. Be honest: was this research or do you have some personal experience (and if so, what are your best tips – the only two times I attempted to bet on horse races I lost everything)?

JWZ: Most of my knowledge of the horse racing and betting comes from my teenage years when I used to go the races at Saratoga every August. I was a terrible gambler. No aptitude and no patience to pore over the Racing Form and handicap the horses. But knowing the results of the races in my book, I can tailor the fictional betting to make sense. And pay off. Or not. Growing up, I had a friend, Robert, who was the inspiration for Fadge’s character in these books. Robert was a scary bettor. A true plunger. He won big and lost big as well. And he lived life as if the clock was running out. Good thing, since he died of brain tumor at the age of thirty-five. A Stone’s Throw is dedicated to his memory.

LM: Maybe I should have gone over to the Erie County racetrack more growing up.

Ellie is an interesting character for me. She lives at a pivotal time in social history, and she definitely has opinions, but she doesn’t seem to wear them on her sleeve. For example, she’s very sensitive to people who make jokes or are critical of Jews, but she isn’t overtly Jewish. Was this something you set out to do or did you learn it about her personality as the character developed?

JWZ: As you see in A Stone’s Throw, an elderly bank executive’s attempts to lure Ellie back to the faith fail. But she cannot and, indeed, does not want to escape her Jewishness. She remains culturally Jewish even if she was raised by atheist parents. I definitely set out to paint her as an enlightened humanist, so, yes, it was part of her character from the start.

I would say that Ellie has a thicker skin about anti-Semitism than you might think, with the following proviso. She won’t lose sleep over a stale Jewish joke. Or even when her dear friend Fadge thoughtlessly uses the term “Jewish lightning” to describe arson. She gives him a sharp poke in the ribs for his trouble, by the way. But when people she likes and admires reject her for her Jewishness, it can knock the wind out of her. It’s a maddening prejudice that she can do nothing to change.

LM: James, thanks so much for answering the questions!

Readers, James graciously agreed to stop and answer questions throughout the day, so feel free to post your own!


A fireside chat with Randy Rawls

Randy Rawls was a guest on Mysteristas last year with a delightful Christmas-themed book. He’s back, this time promoting his new release Saving Dabba: A Beth Bowman Adventure.

It’s such a pleasure to be here to talk about my books and my history of writing. I’d love to tell you I was born to write and have been doing so since . . . Can’t do that. It would be a lie. I can say I was born to read, though, because I’ve been doing it as long as I remember. It’s probably good that I don’t have a copy of every book I’ve read because I’d have to rent a warehouse for storage. And I’d still be adding books to that warehouse. Reading is one pleasure no one will ever take from me.

From that reading pleasure comes my interest in writing. I started many books during my early adulthood but didn’t have the perseverance or patience to finish any of them. The stubby pencil approach was not to my liking. Then along came the desktop PC, and I, like many, many others, rediscovered writing. The days of the boom in books available to us was born. And I was in the stream.

Of course, like I said, I wasn’t born to write—honestly, I don’t think anyone is—so I had to learn. Since I was a career US Army officer who wrote many, many papers of various lengths during my career, I was sure I knew how to get the job done. NOT! With my first book—probably one of the worst ever written—I discovered my approach was one of ignorance. I simply did not know how to capture a story on paper. It was a far different world from anything I’d ever put together before. And so, I set out to learn and am still learning. The most critical thing I’ve learned is that writing fiction is an acquired skill. (Incidentally, I’ve written a book I named Randy’s Boot Camp to Writing Fiction to show what I learned the hard way.)

Now I’m up to book 15 and loving every minute of it. With Saving Dabba, I hope you’ll decide that I’ve reached some degree of ability. Saving Dabba takes a hard look at the professional demonstration business. Please understand I’m not talking about those who hit the streets with valid grievances. I truly believe in the First Amendment to the Constitution. I’m talking about those who use grievances, real or imagined, as a way to riches and fame. So, with that said, I wrote Beth into a situation with Friends Intent on The Environment (FITE), a 501c3 organization that brings its message to Coral Lakes. It’s an excellent name and attracts many followers. However, the concurrent brutal deaths of homeless people might be more than coincidence. The police are baffled, so Beth believes she must act or lose more of her friends. Infiltration of FITE appears to be the best approach.

David, Beth’s doctor boyfriend, prefers that Beth stay clear of the situation. However, he knows that once Beth makes up her mind, there is little that will change it, short of an atomic blast. So, to Beth’s surprise, he supports and participates with her. The police have their hands full trying to maintain order because of the “demonstrations,” but the violence runs beyond their control.

Dot, Beth’s homeless friend, disappears, leading to Beth’s problems. Everything is in such turmoil the situation seems beyond control.

The story behind Saving Dabba is raw, but my book presents a capsule look at things happening across our country. I invite you to read it. When you’re finished, you will have every right to yell at me if I’m overreaching. Or, if you have fears for our country as I do, you can nod your head.


RandyRawls2017Randy Rawls was born and reared in Williamston, North Carolina, a small town in the northeastern part of the state. From there, he says he inherited a sense of responsibility, a belief in fair play, and a love of country. As a career US Army officer, he had the opportunity to learn, travel, teach, and hone talents inherited from his parents. Following retirement, he worked in other ventures for the US Government. Every job has in some way been fun. Even the dark days of Vietnam had their light moments, and he cherishes the camaraderie that was an integral part of survival in that hostile world.

Today, he has short stories in several anthologies, and a growing list of novels to his credit. As a prolific reader, the reads across several genres and takes that into his writing. He has written mysteries, thrillers, an historical, and two fantasy/mystery/thrillers featuring a Santa Elf. The count is now at fourteen and growing. He is a regular contributor to Happy Homicides, a twice annual anthology of cozy short stories. He also has a series of short stories featuring a cattle-herding burro. Wherever his imagination will take him, he follows.



Buy Saving Dabba at Amazon

Buy Jingle and his Magnificent Seven at Amazon

A fireside chat with Judy Alter

I’m very happy to welcome back a previous visitor to Mysteristas, Judy Alter.

Who remembers small-town cafes? Cozy little spots with home cooking and fabulous desserts. Are they disappearing where you are?

The Small-town Café

Small-town cafes across the country are being crowded out by Dairy Queen, Subway, Sonic, and other chain fast-food service. We Texans of course think everything about our state is special and distinctive, and so it is with the slow food of a real down-home café. The Shed in Edom (on the Dallas edge of East Texas) is one such café. Not much has changed since the late seventies when my family and I first went to this cafe.

Edom is unusual among Texas towns in that it is home to a small craft colony and, occasionally in years past, a craft festival. You could browse the wares of a leatherworker, a ceramic artist, painter, potter, or silversmith and then share chicken-fried steak with the artists.

Chicken-fried steak is always on the menu and fresh home-made pies are always available, but daily specials vary from fried chicken to meatloaf, from pot roast to occasional enchiladas. On Saturday nights, it is always all-you-can-eat catfish and lemon meringue pie. Breakfast includes hot biscuits right out of the oven, and the coffee pot is on all day. I did once order a chicken salad sandwich and recognize the salad as having come straight from a Sam’s Warehouse plastic container.

People gather there as much for the camaraderie and local news as for the food. On Sundays, locals mingle with the church crowd and tourists. We used to go with Charles and Reva, friends who owned a guest ranch nearby. They were local favorites, and people would call out Charlie by name. Once I wrote an article identifying him as Uncles Charles for my children, and he said café patrons had a grand old time calling him Uncle Charles in jest. One Saturday night, he ordered the meringue pie and said to me, “See, Judy, no calories. It’s just spun air and egg whites. I pointed out that meringue has some sugar in it, and the custard base of the pie surely had a lot more. He replied, “Shut up, Judy.”

One way to judge a Texas café is to count the pickups in the parking lot. Several pickups mean good food; their absence is a strong hint to stay away. The section of highway between Wichita Falls and Amarillo is dotted with small towns, each with its own distinctive café. We never could remember the good places to eat, so we counted pickups and were rarely disappointed. The parking lot at The Shed is always full of pickups.

Searching for the thread to bind a new mystery series, I knew I wanted to write a culinary mystery, but I also knew my foodie skills were not up to the level of the dishes in a Diane Mott Davidson mystery. The Shed was a natural role model. I chose it, too, as a tribute to Charles and Reva. She had died by then, and he was in assisted living. I thought it might amuse and please him to help me plot mysteries in familiar territory. I hasten to add no one has ever been murdered or gotten food poisoning at The Shed, nor do I know of any murders in Wheeler. I used my fictional license.

I also created the central character, Kate, out of whole cloth, making the café a family tradition. Kate introduces new dishes to the menu—a tuna salad plate, for instance—and generally modernizes the place a bit. But she remains true to the tradition of Texas small-town cafes.

Want some chicken-fried steak? Eat at The Shed. Can’t make it to East Texas? Do the next best thing and read Murder at the Bus Depot, or the earlier Blue Plate Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at Tremont House, and Murder at Peacock Mansion. Recipes included in every book. Find them all on my web page: http://www.judyalter.com.


3x4.5hires (002)Dallas developer Silas Fletcher sees endless real estate opportunities in Wheeler, Texas if only he can “grow” the town. Blue Plate Café owner Kate Chambers likes her hometown just the way it is, thank you very much, without big box and chain stores. When Fletcher tries to capitalize on a thirty-year-old
der, Kate know she must fight for her town, and she uses historic preservation of the old bus depot as one of her weapons. A suspicious death and a new murder make her also fight for her own life.


Judy-BGBlurred2 (004)


Judy Alter is the award-winning author of three mysteries series: Kelly O’Connell Mysteries: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, Deception in Strange Places, Desperate for Death, and The Color of Fear; three in the Blue Plate Café Series: Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at the Tremont House, and Murder at Peacock Mansion; and two Oak Grove Mysteries: The Perfect Coed and Pigface and the Perfect Dog.

She is also the author of historical fiction based on lives of women in the nineteenth-century American West, including Libbie, Jessie, Cherokee Rose, Sundance, Butch, and Me, and The Gilded Cage, and she has also published several young-adult novels, now available on Amazon.

Meet the Agatha Best First Novel Noms

This is very exciting.

Next week is the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, MD. If you aren’t familiar with Malice, it is one of the premiere mystery fan conferences. Like most such get-togethers, it very much resembles a family reunion — if your family is from, oh, all over and adores crime fiction (Malice focuses on “traditional” mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie, but we crime writers aren’t at all snobbish, so everyone’s welcome).

The high point of the conference is the Agatha Awards banquet, where coveted teapots are given for Best Short Story, Best First Novel, Best Contemporary, etc. I was absolutely tickled when the nominees for Best First Novel reached out to me to make Mysteristas part of their “pre-award” tour.

Agatha Best First Novel Nominees Final

They are a fantastic group of writers and today are here to answer one question:

What three things would your protagonist want on a desert island and why?

Adrift_Browning (1)Micki Browning:

First, Mer would choose a fire-starter, because fire is truly elemental to survival. The second would be Selkie, her enigmatic neighbor, who is as close to a real MacGyver as one can be—plus, he cuddles. The third item may be a bit of a surprise. Mer would want the seahorse pendant her Grandmother had given her after Mer survived a near-drowning as a child. She’d promised Mer it would keep her safe. And it had. Through childhood, through grad school. Through four of the seven seas. And what could be more practical than peace of mind?

The Plot is MurderV.M. Burns:

If Samantha Washington was stranded on a deserted island, the first thing she would need is plenty of cozy mysteries to keep her mind engaged and sharp. Second, she would need coffee, because….well, coffee. She’s pretty sure she could survive on coffee and bacon but given a choice between the two, she’d take coffee. Lastly, she would need her poodles, Snickers and Oreo for company and cuddles.

Kellye Garrett:

Hollywood Homicide CoverIf Dayna was stranded on an island that wasn’t Manhattan, Catalina or any island in Hawaii, she’d do the full glamping experience. First, she’d need digs because she sure isn’t building anything. (With no nail salons on the island, she’d need to preserve her mani for as long as possible.) A deluxe multi-room luxury tent would be a must. It would also have to come fully furnished. Second, she’d need sustenance. Since she definitely wouldn’t be bringing any scales to this island, she could eat whatever she wanted. And what she would want is a lifetime supply of Tommy’s Original chili-cheeseburgers—with fries. And finally, as anyone who has read Hollywood Homicide knows, Dayna can’t go anywhere without her bestie. So Sienna would be right there with her.

DOBM_Cover_hiresLaura Oles:

Jamie Rush is a woman who enjoys games of chance, so playing cards would certainly be included in the top three things she would take with her if stranded on a desert island.  While Texas Hold ’em is her favorite, she would have to make due with Solitaire.  Jamie also never leaves without a notebook and pen–can we count this pair as a single item? Investigation and surveillance require putting details on paper. Although she wouldn’t share her deepest thoughts and concerns in print, she would write regularly, perhaps focusing on her surroundings and recalling humorous memories to keep those experiences close. Her practical side would make sure to pack a tricked out Swiss Army knife, and she would keep busy with projects to help pass the time.

Protocol cover front (2)Kathleen Valenti:

The three things Maggie would want on a desert island are her running shoes, Dr. Pepper and a microscope. As an avid runner, Maggie would want her broken-in running shoes to keep her heart pumping and her endorphins firing. (Being stranded can be stressful, after all.) Maybe it’s a reach, but she also wouldn’t mind an unlimited supply of Dr. Pepper. (Very refreshing with all of those coconut cream pies she’ll be eating àla Gilligan’s Island.) Finally, the scientist in Maggie would want her microscope handy so that she could analyze the island’s silica and perhaps engineer a way off the island. Hope—and science—spring eternal!

Thanks, ladies! As you can see, the voters have their work cut out for them. But I can practically guarantee that any of these is a sure-fire winner if you are looking for a new read!


BrowningMicki Browning:

A retired police captain, Micki Browning writes the Mer Cavallo Mystery series set in the Florida Keys. In addition to the Agatha nomination for Best First Novel, Adrifthas won both the Daphne du Maurier and the Royal Palm Literary Awards. Beached, her second novel, launched January 2018. Micki’s work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. She lives in South Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba equipment she uses for “research.” Learn more about Micki at MickiBrowning.com.


Marine biologist-turned-divemaster Meredith Cavallo thought adjusting to a laid-back life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze. But when the host of a ghost-hunting documentary crew hires her as a safety diver and then vanishes during the midnightdive, Mer’s caught in a storm of supernatural intrigue. Determined to find a rational explanation, Mer approaches the man’s disappearance as any scientist would—by asking questions, gathering data, and deducing the truth. But the victim’s life is as shrouded in mystery as his disappearance. Still, somethinghappened under the water and before long, she’s in over her head. When someone tries to kill her, she knows the truth is about to surface. Maybe dead men do tell tales.

BurnsV.M. Burns:

V.M. (Valerie) Burns was born in Northwestern Indiana and spent many years in Southwestern Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline. She is a lover of dogs, British historic cozies, and scones with clotted cream. After many years in the Midwest she went in search of milder winters and currently lives in Eastern Tennessee with her poodles. Receiving the Agatha nomination for Best First Novel has been a dream come true. Valerie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. Readers can learn more by visiting her website at vmburns.com.

The Plot is Murder

Samantha Washington has dreamed of owning a mystery bookstore for as long as she can remember. And as she prepares for the store’s grand opening, she’s also realizing another dream—penning a cozy mystery set in England between the wars. While Samantha hires employees and fills the shelves with the latest mysteries, quick-witted Lady Penelope Marsh, long-overshadowed by her beautiful sister Daphne, refuses to lose the besotted Victor Carlston to her sibling’s charms. When one of Daphne’s suitors is murdered in a maze, Penelope steps in to solve the labyrinthine puzzle and win Victor. But as Samantha indulges her imagination, the unimaginable happens in real life. A shady realtor turns up dead in her backyard, and the police suspect her—after all, the owner of a mystery bookstore might know a thing or two about murder. Aided by her feisty grandmother and an enthusiastic ensemble of colorful retirees, Samantha is determined to close the case before she opens her store. But will she live to conclude her own story when the killer has a revised ending in mind for her?

Kellye Garrett Author PhotoKellye Garrett:

Kellye Garrett writes the Detective by Day mysteries about a semi-famous, mega-broke black actress who takes on the deadliest role of her life: Homicide Detective. The first, Hollywood Homicide, won the 2018 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery Novel and 2018 Independent Publisher Gold Medal for Best First Book – Fiction. It was alsorecently nominated for Agatha and Barry awards. The second, Hollywood Ending, will be released on August 8, 2018 from Midnight Ink. Prior to writing novels, Kellye spent eight years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for the TV drama Cold Case. The New Jersey native now works for a leading media company in New York City and serves on the national Board of Directors for Sisters in Crime. You can learn more about her at KellyeGarrett.com and ChicksontheCase.com.

Hollywood Homicide

Actress Dayna Anderson’s Deadly New Role: Homicide Detective

Dayna Anderson doesn’t set out to solve a murder. All the semifamous, mega-broke actress wants is to help her parents keep their house. So after witnessing a deadly hit-and-run, she pursues the fifteen grand reward. But Dayna soon finds herself doing a full-on investigation, wanting more than just money—she wants justice for the victim. She chases down leads at paparazzi hot spots, celeb homes, and movie premieres, loving every second of it—until someone tries to kill her. And there are no second takes in real life.

laura_croppedLaura Oles:

Laura Oles is a photo industry journalist who spent twenty years covering tech and trends before turning to crime fiction. She served as a columnist for numerous photography magazines and publications. Laura’s short stories have appeared in several anthologies, including Murder on Wheels, which won the Silver Falchion Award in 2016. Her debut mystery, Daughters of Bad Men, is a Claymore Award Finalist and an Agatha nominee for Best First Novel. She is also a Writers’ League of Texas Award Finalist. Laura is a member of Austin Mystery Writers, Sisters in Crime and Writers’ League of Texas. Laura lives on the edge of the Texas Hill Country with her husband, daughter and twin sons. Visit her online at lauraoles.com.

Daughters of Bad Men

Jamie Rush understands what it takes to disappear because her parents taught her that long ago. Leveraging her knowledge of why and how people run from their own lives, Jamie has built a business based on bringing those in hiding back to answer for their actions. She takes pride in using her skills to work both inside and outside the law.

When her estranged brother, Brian, calls and says his daughter is missing, Jamie initially turns down the case. Kristen has always been a bit wild, frequently dropping off the grid then showing up a few days later. But Brian swears this time is different, and even though Jamie vowed years ago to keep her conniving sibling at arm’s length, she can’t walk away if Kristen could be in real trouble.

As Jamie begins digging into Kristen’s life, she uncovers her niece’s most guarded secrets. Uncovering the truth will put a target on Jamie’s back and endanger the lives of those she loves.

ValentiKathleen Valenti:

Kathleen Valenti is the author of the Maggie O’Malley mystery series. The series’ first book, Agatha- and Lefty-nominated Protocol, introduces us to Maggie, a pharmaceutical researcher with a new job, a used phone, and a deadly problem. The series’ second book, 39 Winks, releases May 22nd. When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning advertising copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running. Learn more at http://www.kathleenvalenti.com.


Freshly minted college graduate Maggie O’Malley embarks on a career fueled by professional ambition and a desire to escape the past. As a pharmaceutical researcher, she’s determined to save lives from the shelter of her lab. But on her very first day she’s pulled into a world of uncertainty. Reminders appear on her phone for meetings she’s never scheduled with people she’s never met. People who end up dead.

With help from her best friend, Maggie discovers the victims on her phone are connected to each other and her new employer. She soon unearths a treacherous plot that threatens her mission—and her life. Maggie must unlock deadly secrets to stop horrific abuses of power before death comes calling for her.

For the love of jelly beans

Liz, writing in Pittsburgh and not amused by the fresh coat of snow on the ground Monday morning.

Easter is recently in the rearview and with it one of my favorite candies. No, not chocolate.

Jelly beans.

(I am actually a fan of any fruity, chewy candy, but I digress.)

starburstEnjoyed by President Ronald Regan, jelly beans are one of those “once a year” things, at least where I live. Growing up, choices were limited. We usually had Brach’s, which were perfectly adequate, but nothing fancy.

Now, though, seems like everybody has jumped on the jelly bean train.

In years past, my brother-in-law played the Easter Bunny and brought the Easter candy from Buffalo and a local chocolatier (including sponge candy – yum, but again, I digress). But since he has relocated to Pittsburgh, we had to forage for our own candy this year. We wound up with a selection of chocolates from Sarris and Betsey Ann, two local chocolatiers. (Betsey Ann does amazing truffles – again, digression.)

The Hubby originally picked up the “giant jar of jelly beans” from Sam’s Club. But he swapped it out in favor of three smaller bags of jelly beans from Betsey Ann – two fruit and one black. Quality over quantity, he reasoned (or more accurately, hoped). To his credit, the jelly beans were quite good, if a bit on the smallish side.

But that got me thinking about jelly beans in general. The modern market looks a lot different than the Brach’s of my youth.

starburstFruit-flavored jelly beans: These are my choice. The Betsey Ann beans were good (I was not fast enough to get a picture, the bags had been ripped open and poured into the mix by the time I got up). Inexplicably, however, I am also a huge fan of Starburst jelly beans. They come in different varieties: the traditional Starburst fruit, tropical, and their “all red” bag. One of my teams at the day job stocks these throughout the Easter season, which makes me grateful I work remotely a lot, because I cannot leave them alone. The best part? No black jelly beans at all.

Jelly Belly is another entry. I will say, their fruit-flavored beans are very good. However, Jelly Belly contains some rather…untraditional flavors. Buttered popcorn? I’m sorry, if I wanted something that tasted like buttered popcorn I would, you know, make popcorn. I want a jelly bean, doggone it.

jellybellyJelly Bell is also responsible for the horror that is Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans – yes, the candy treat of Harry Potter fame. Now, I have to be fair. The flavors that are “normal” are pretty good. But gras? Dirt? Pepper? And yes, booger? Ugh. I bought my daughter a box of these at a specialty candy store years ago. On the drive home, because I needed to focus on driving, she fed me every…single…disgusting…flavor…bean in the box.

Ixnay on the Bertie Bott’s.

Then there are spice jelly beans. My main objection to spice jelly beans is they look too much like fruit-flavored ones, especially when you have a family that insists on mixing everything together. Pick up a nice red expecting cherry and what do you get? Cinnamon. Not bad, but when you’re a kid and you have expectations…well, you get the idea.

But the all time, “please don’t feed me any” aware goes to black jelly beans. Now, if you like black licorice, you probably like black jelly beans. This is a “love ’em or hate ’em” opionion. I have never met anyone who was “meh” on black licorice/jelly beans. My son and I fall firmly in the “those are disgusting” camp. The rest of the family (Hubby, daughter, and brother-in-law) like them.

Well, they can have all the black jelly beans they want, thank-you-very-much. Unfortunately, they were not on board with The Boy’s and my suggestion that they take all the black jelly beans and we get all the fruit ones.

Oh well.

So tell me fellow Mysteristas and readers: what’s your stand on jelly beans? Black or no black? Inquiring minds want to know.

Photos courtesy of Judlt Klein, FergleFam007, and Kristy Johnson on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

Special guest, Judy Penz Sheluk

I am delighted to have Judy Penz Sheluk visiting with us today. If you were at Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto, you might have met her. And if you follow her on Facebook, you’ve seen her adorable Golden Retriever Gibbs (which endears her to me, since Jim Duncan’s faithful canine companion is a Golden named Rizzo).

Judy is here to talk about the second in the Glass Dolphin Mystery series, Hole in One. Take it away, Judy!

Getting Ready for Golf Season

michelle & judy
With friend, Michelle, at the Fairmont Southampton Golf Course in Bermuda.

If you live somewhere that golfing year round is possible, lucky you. Where I live (about 90 minutes northwest of Toronto, Canada), our season is relatively short—in fact I like to joke we have two seasons: Winter and July.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but best-case scenario, we might get on the links by mid-late April, though if you’re a betting person (or like to golf without wearing dollar store gloves), May is far more likely. From that point on, I find myself craving the heat and humidity of July and August (temps in the 90s aren’t unusual) and not just because I should have been born on the equator: I firmly believe the hotter and stickier the weather, the further the ball travels. And trust me, my game needs all the help it can get.

It was while playing golf one summer day at Silver Lakes Golf & Country Club (http://www.silverlakesgolf.com/) in Holland Landing, Ontario, that I thought of the premise for my latest book, A Hole in One. Readers of The Hanged Man’s Noose, the first book in my Glass Dolphin Mystery series, may know that my fictional town of Lount’s Landing is loosely based on Holland Landing, where I lived for many years.

Hole 3
Hole 3: The third hole at Silver Lakes, and the early inspiration for A HOLE IN ONE.

Anyway, I digress…there I was on the third hole, a par three surrounded by trees, sand traps and a big old pond, when I hit my tee shot straight into the woods. When I went to hunt for it, using my putter while trying to avoid poison ivy, I thought, “What if I found a corpse here?” Here’s a teaser from the book:

Arabella Carpenter let the others go first. All three managed to clear the pond with their tee shot and land on the green, but not one was anywhere close to getting a hole in one. Arabella breathed a sigh of relief—since they were sponsoring the contest, their foursome might not be eligible to win, but it still freaked her out to think someone else might. She went through her mental prep, took her swing, and watched as her ball went directly into the woods.

“Hey, you made it over the water,” Hudson said, hopping into his cart. “For someone just starting out, that’s not a bad shot.”

Arabella caught Emily’s look and smiled. He really was a nice guy. “Thanks, Hudson. Whether I can find my ball is an entirely different story. Why don’t I look for it while you guys putt in? I’m sure one of you will be able to make the shot.”

They crossed the pond on a wooden bridge just wide enough for their golf carts, parked on the path next to the hole, and grabbed their putters. Luke, Hudson, and Emily went to the green and began debating which ball to hit. Arabella trundled over to the woods, feeling stupid and hoping like hell it wasn’t infested with poison ivy. The woods were thicker than she’d expected. She walked in a couple of feet, using her putter to push the branches aside.

That’s when she started to scream.

If I’ve gotten your attention, you can find A Hole in One at all the usual suspects in trade paperback and all eBook formats. I’ve even included some links to make it easy for you! And if you want to find out more about my books, and me, check out my website, http://www.judypenzsheluk.com.

9781941295731-cov.inddPurchase Links

Amazon: http://authl.it/9f0

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-hole-in-one-judy-penz-sheluk/1127967500?ean=2940158640827

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/a-hole-in-one-3

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Judy_Penz_Sheluk_A_Hole_in_One?id=IERMDwAAQBAJ

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/a-hole-in-one/id1350574649?mt=11

Barking Rain Press: https://barkingrainpress.org/a-hole-in-one/ – 1473022241950-de2dbbf6-9e98

About the book:

Hoping to promote the Glass Dolphin antiques shop, co-owners Arabella Carpenter and Emily Garland agree to sponsor a hole in one contest at a charity golf tournament. The publicity turns out to be anything but positive, however, when Arabella’s errant tee shot lands in the woods next to a corpse.

They soon learn that the victim is closely related to Arabella’s ex-husband, who had been acting as the Course Marshal. With means, opportunity and more than enough motive, he soon becomes the police department’s prime suspect, leaving Arabella and Emily determined to clear his name–even if they’re not entirely convinced of his innocence.

Dogged by incriminating online posts from an anonymous blogger, they track down leads from Emily’s ex-fiance (and the woman he left Emily for), an Elvis impersonator, and a retired antiques mall vendor with a secret of her own.

All trails lead to a mysterious cult that may have something to do with the murder. Can Arabella and Emily identify the killer before the murderer comes after them?


Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015, and in audiobook in November 2017. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was first published in August 2016, and will be re-released in trade paperback and all e-book formats in December 2017. The audiobook version was released in November 2017.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves on the Board of Directors representing Toronto/Southern Ontario.

Find Judy on her website/blog at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors, shares “New Release Mondays” and blogs about her writing journey.

DNA – The story of you

Seems like DNA testing is all the rage.

I watch the Olympics and I see advertisements for companies that will test your DNA. 23andme is one such company and I believe Ancestry.com offers a testing service. I keep reading stories of people who have jumped on the DNA-testing bandwagon. They are simply curious or they are deliberately tracing their roots.

Part of me is intrigued by this. See, I know almost nothing about where my ancestors came from. My maternal grandfather is from Croatia. That’s about all I know. I know–or more accurately, suspect–the rest is a melange of northern European; English and German, maybe a smattering of other stuff.

My aunt (my sister’s mother) is big on researching the family tree. At least on her mother’s side. She’s compiled lists of people going back over 100 years and even used to ask me to take pictures of gravestones for family members buried in Pittsburgh.

I have no such reference for my father’s family. His father is the only one of his family to escape being an alcoholic and there was very little interaction between my father and his father’s family. He knew one brother (at least) from his mother’s side, but that’s about it. And he’s never shown any interest in knowing.

I’ve spend most of my life being content at seeing myself as your stereotypical American mutt as far as ethnicity. Sure, it caused some consternation during elementary school (for me and my kids) when those days of “bring something from your ethnic background” came around, or when teachers assigned the “family tree” project. But I muddled through.

Now, though, I admit to being intrigued. I could finally find out if my suspicions for the last 40-odd years are right. But then, my writer brain being what it is, I go off on tangents:

  • …what if I find some weird genetic information, like a small percentage of my DNA is from West Africa?
  • …what if, somehow, my biological material (along with countless others) wound up in nefarious hands?
  • …what if DNA was being obtained by a company for secret biological/genetic manipulation purposes?

And so on.

I know that points 2 and 3 above are pretty far-fetched. But all of it is great story fodder. And, well, I don’t think I could help myself going there and I really don’t want to.


Plus, someone recently raised the question of does this DNA testing also tell you if you’re at risk for disease? I wouldn’t want to know that unless I could take some sort of action. For example, my mother died of breast cancer. When my doctor suggested I get tested for the gene, I declined–because the suggested treatment was something I wouldn’t do at the time. I’m not big on “here’s this potential problem, but either there’s nothing you can do except worry OR choose this treatment that is really awful.”

So what about you? Would you choose to do DNA testing?