A few of my favorite things…

Sally: Hey there, Mysteristas! I’m Sally Castle and this is Jim Duncan. We’re the two main characters from Liz’s Laurel Highlands Mysteries series.

Jim: Uh, hi.

Sally: Liz asked us to cover for her this month. At the end of the year, she ran out of things to say-

Jim: Now there’s a shocker.

Sally: Be nice! She’s nice to us…usually. Anyway, like I said, she ran out of things to say and figured it might be a nice change of pace for the Mysteristas readers to hear from us.

Jim: Isn’t it funny how when there’s work to be done, Liz manages to slough it off on us? This isn’t the first time, you know. I had to do a, what do you call it, “guest blog” once and, wow, awkward.

Sally: That’s only because you don’t like talking about yourself. Liz is really busy. She has that day job, all the writing deadlines, social life, her family…I can see where it gets crazy. And it’s not like she’s leaving us on our own. She did leave questions. So are you ready?

Jim: Might as well get it over with.

Sally: You’re such a wet blanket, sometimes. Okay, first question. What’s your favorite thing about Christmas? I’m going to make you go first because you’re being so difficult.

Jim: Fine. Favorite thing. Actually, this is easy. I don’t have kids, but my sister, Meg, does. Zach is seven, Hannah is five. They live in Seattle, so I don’t get to see them often. However, on Christmas, Meg sets up a Skype call and the kids open their presents on the call “in front” of me, as it were. Because I tend to work the day shifts on Christmas, so family folks can be at home, this often means they have to wait to open their gifts. But they get such a kick out of it, they don’t mind. Or at least that’s what they say.

Sally: Aww, that’s so sweet! Mine is similar. I spend Christmas Day with my sister and her family. She has kids, so I take my gifts over and we have a big “present unwrapping ceremony.” Noreen (I call her Reen, from when I was little) passes out the gifts one at a time and the person unwraps. Everybody else ooo’s and aaah’s appropriately. Very solemn, but fun at the same time.

Okay, next question: favorite Christmas treat. I’ll go first because this is another easy one for me. Sugar cookies. The cut-out kind you decorate. I can always tell the ones the kids made, because they are kind of blobby with lots of frosting and sprinkles, opposed to my sister’s, which are perfectly shaped and decorated. But they all taste the same – yummy!

Jim: Another easy one – eggnog. Preferably with a splash ofTia Maria and a sprinkle of nutmeg. I’ll take one of those cookies, too.

Sally: Why am I not surprised? Okay next question, favorite Christmas song? I’m a traditionalist. I love “Carol of the Bells,” it’s just so haunting.

Jim: I bet I surprise you with this. Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas.”

Sally: You’re joking!

Jim: Nope. You absolutely cannot be in a bad mood listening to that song. I blast it while I’m decorating. Secret confession: I’ve even danced while listening.

Sally: Get out! I can’t even imagine you dancing.

Jim: See? You don’t know everything about me.

Sally: Last question, what do you want most for Christmas this year? You first.

Jim: I can’t skip this one?

Sally: Nope.

Jim: Da…rn. Well, I always want a quiet Christmas shift. It seems so wrong to be responding to domestics and breaking up fights on this day, but I do it every year. But this year, well, it would be really nice to go home to someone other than my dog after said shift. Skype calls are nice and all, but eggnog and Christmas dinner alone is getting old, if you know what I mean.

Sally: Stop looking at me like that. I’m kind of the same as you. It would be so nice not to go to work the day after Christmas to find a new pile of cases on my desk. I wish crime would take a holiday between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. And yeah, as much as I enjoy going to Reen’s, it would be nice to have a cozy meal with a special someone on Christmas Day.

Jim: Now you stop looking at me. Is it warm in here? Are we done?

Sally: With our portion, yes. So Mysteristas, what would you really like this Christmas? And Jim? Quit hogging the eggnogg.


Bookish Gratitude

I’m up in Buffalo, NY visiting family this holiday (side note: I’m writing this the week before Thanksgiving and hopefully it’s not snowing in the future). As I sit down surrounded by family, including a new nephew (whose picture I can’t share, but gosh he’s a cutie), I figure it’s a good time to reflect on things I’m thankful for. And I’m going to keep it to books and writing-related things, otherwise I’ll go on forever.


So here’s the top 10 bookish/writerly things I’m grateful for this year:

10. A warm house full of books, so I never lack for anything to read.

9. A roaring fire to read in front of.

8. A mug of hot chocolate to enjoy while I read.

7. Wonderful friends, many of whom write wonderful books for me to read.

6. A new, cozy writing nook where I can spin my tales.

5. A fertile imagination that keeps me spinning tales.

4. The folks at Level Best Books – Harriette Sackler, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Verena Rose, and Angel Trapp – who have made my fantasy of being a published author reality by giving Jim and Sally a literary home.

3. A kick-butt critique group (Annette Dashofy, Jeff Boarts, and Tamara Girardi) who help me make the stories the best they can be.

2. The readers who have embraced Jim, Sally, and company and become as invested in their fortunes as I am.

1. A family, especially my husband, who supports my writing dreams and ambitions.


Readers, what are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?

Guest Post: Frankie Bailey

From Liz, on her way to Magna Cum Murder: If you are a member of Sisters in Crime, odds are you’ve heard of Frankie Bailey. A past president at the national level, she’s also a fabulous author and writer of Frankie’s List, a list of POC/LGBTQ writers published in the crime fiction world. Looking for a new author? Check the list! She’s visiting today and writing about the pleasures – and perils – authors experience when they step into the lives of their characters.

Other Lives

One of the pleasures of being a writer is that we step into the lives of our characters. We know their thoughts, feel what they feel. This intimate knowledge is also one of the perils of writing crime fiction. Even those of us who work in criminal justice-related fields find some types of crime, some offenders, some victims more than we can handle. We might prefer not to write about child victims or serial killers. We might cringe at the thought of describing domestic violence or sexual assault.

DeathsFavoriteChildcoverWhat we feel comfortable writing about reflects who we are and what we believe. But our perspectives may change over time. I don’t think of myself as a “cozy” writer because I deal with social issues that may make my readers uncomfortable. But, I’m not “hard-boiled” because I’m unlikely to write graphic descriptions of violence.  Or explicit sex (for fear of making readers laugh out loud at my efforts and/or wonder how much research I do). On the other hand, one of my favorite characters appeared in the fourth book in my Lizzie Stuart series (currently being reissued). That character – Lizzie’s long-missing mother Becca – strolled in and stole the show. She’s a femme fatale. More than one reader described her as “the mother from hell”. I knew she was out there – she had been discussed in the first three books — but I was unprepared for my own reaction to Becca. As much as I felt I should disapprove of her, I loved seeing the world from her point of view. She will return.

Now that the series is getting a re-boot, I’m looking forward to catching up with what has been going on in Lizzie’s life. Series time has passed slowly. The year of the last book was 2004. One of the other pleasures of writing other lives is having the ability to time travel.


F BaileyCriminologist Frankie Bailey has five books and two published short stories in a mystery series featuring crime historian Lizzie Stuart. The Red Queen Dies, the first book in a near-future police procedural series featuring Detective Hannah McCabe, came out in September 2013.  The second book in the series, What the Fly Saw came out in March 2015. Frankie is a former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.

Website URL: http://www.frankieybailey.com

Twitter:  @FrankieYBailey

Amazon: Death’s Favorite Child


Amazon: What the Fly Saw



Guest Post: Annette Dashofy

I am so happy to introduce friend, critique buddy, and frequent travel companion Annette Dashofy to Mysteristas. Annette is celebrating the launch of her seventh book in the three-time Agatha-nominated Zoe Chambers Mysteries sers, Cry Wolf. She’s gotten used to dealing with crowds by now, but she’s also discovered the joys, and potential pitfalls, of a certain type of crowd.

The Joys of a Hometown Crowd

CryWolf cover front REVsmallWith my seventh book now out (how did THAT happen???), I’ve become fairly accustomed to standing in front of a crowd and talking about anything book related. Sometimes the “crowd” consists of two people. Sometimes it’s a hundred or more.

The size of the audience doesn’t bother me. Much. I thought I’d overcome all my public speaking jitters. Then last week, a local restaurant and I hosted a Dinner With the Author event. By “local,” I mean four miles from home in the town where I’ve lived my entire life.

I was petrified.

Maybe “petrified” is too strong a term, but I definitely had a stream of potential disasters playing on a loop inside my head.

For example:

Let’s play Stump the Author.

I’ve done local events before and it never fails that someone from my high school days shows up, all smiles (or smirks…it depends), and expects me to know who they are. I’m really sorry, but I rarely do. We all change over the decades. Facebook has helped with photos, but I still have trouble pulling a name out of my brain when faced with someone I know I should recognize.

And let’s be honest. They have an unfair advantage because my face is on the promotional material!

Waldens dinnerThe worst of these old friends is the one who flat-out refused to tell me who he was and instead offered clues. (If you’re reading this, John, I’m pointing at you.)

It’s not just old high school friends, though. When you’ve lived in the same area for your entire life, you meet a lot of people along the way. I’ve worked on the ambulance, been involved with horses, worked retail, been a professional photographer, and taught yoga. Plus a few other jobs and careers along the way. At this particular Dinner With The Author, I encountered folks who knew me from my EMT days, a woman who had hired me to take monthly photographs of her daughter from birth to one year—a daughter who is now in her thirties, farming neighbors from over the hill who used to lease property from my grandfather, as well as an old friend from high school.

Thankfully, I had a chance to mingle and unscramble all my identity crises during dinner and before my talk.

Which leads me to my other big fear during local appearances.

Let’s play Embarrass the Author.

Also known as history hecklers. Those people who have known me for years or knew me way back when and love to pull out the mortifying little anecdotes. “Remember the time you…?”

These are the kinds of things that don’t happen in appearances farther from home. Thankfully, they don’t happen all that often close to home either. But I still live in fear of these “fun” games every time I step in front of a local crowd.

So, Mysterista friends, have you ever been placed in an embarrassing position in front of a hometown audience? Or have you ever been heckled, even if it’s all in good fun? Feel free to share! Or not.


Rural Pennsylvania’s Vance Township Police Chief Pete Adams is down an officer and has been dealing with extra shifts as well as a pair of bickering neighbors, one of whom owns a machete and isn’t afraid to use it. Golden Oaks Assisted Living is outside Pete’s jurisdiction, but a murder in the facility his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father calls home makes the case personal.

Paramedic and Deputy Coroner Zoe Chambers has been itching for an opportunity to take the lead in a death investigation. She gets her chance when her boss is hospitalized and not only assigns her to the Golden Oaks homicide but puts her in charge of the county coroner’s office. As if she doesn’t have enough to handle, a long-lost, over-protective, older half-brother walks into her life threatening to drive a wedge between her and the man she loves.

A second dead body leads them to realize the case may have dark ties to a distant past…and if Zoe doesn’t untangle the web of lies, Pete will be the one to pay the ultimate price.


USA Today bestselling author Annette Dashofy has spent her entire life in rural Pennsylvania surrounded by cattle and horses. When she wasn’t roaming the family’s farm or playing in the barn, she could be found reading or writing. After high school, she spent five years as an EMT on the local ambulance service, dealing with everything from drunks passing out on the sidewalk to mangled bodies in car accidents. These days, she, her husband, and their spoiled cat, Kensi, live on property that was once part of her grandfather’s dairy. Her Zoe Chambers mysteries have received three nominations for the prestigious Agatha Award. Cry Wolf (September 2018) is the seventh in the series.


Bouchercon bound

I love mystery cons like Bouchercon and Malice. Yes, it sounds corny, but it really is like a family reunion. Especially since readers are there and, well, if it weren’t for them we’d all be out of a job, right?

In two weeks, I’ll be in St. Petersburg, Florida attending my fourth Bouchercon since 2012 (I missed Albany, Long Beach, and Toronto due to this pesky thing called a budget). So to get ready, I thought I’d take a spin through memories of Bouchercons past.

Cleveland – 2012

My Bouchercon “posse”

My first Bouchercon. I had no idea what I was doing. At this point, I’d had a couple of short stories published, but that’s about it. I was not smart enough to book in the conference hotel, but I was only a couple blocks away. How bad could the walk be? Turns out, when you get bad directions and walk four blocks going the wrong way, pretty bad. I’d worn these cute shoes I was sure would be comfortable–and they would have been if I hadn’t trekked over downtown Cleveland. But fortunately, I soon ran into my friend Annette Dashofy who literally gave me the shoes off her feet.

Rhys Bowen at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

I wasn’t on any panels and I was too shy to volunteer for much. I spent much of that Bouchercon trailing after Annette. But I did see Hank Phillippi Ryan, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and met the delightful Rhys Bowen.

I also had my first chocolate martini. It was not my last.

But probably the biggest deal was meeting Mary Higgins Clark. Yes, that MHC. She was the Guest of Honor that year and her interview was delightful. Annette told me she’d ridden the elevator with MHC, who was as lovely as she was on stage. Color me jealous. Stillwatch was and remains a seminal work in my journey to author-dom.

Fast-forward to Saturday. I was with Annette and we saw MHC leaving. Annette dragged me forward while I protested. “Ms. Clark,” she called, “there’s someone I want you to meet.”

MHC shook my hand. I have a vague memory of rambling through something like “I love your books” (lame, right?) and her asking very kindly what I was writing. When I told her short fiction, she said, “I started writing with short stories. Keep it up and someday you’ll have a book out.”

I don’t think I washed my hand for a week.

Raleigh – 2015

Out to lunch with some fellow Guppies

I had a bit more of a clue by the time Raleigh came around. I’d collected all the Laurel Highlands stories that had appeared elsewhere into a self-published anthology, plus a bonus story. When Mysterista emeritae Cynthia Kuhn said she couldn’t attend and had suggested me as a replacement for her panel, I was flattered. But who would include me on a panel, right?

Uh, apparently the programming committee. I wasn’t at all nervous – until I read the bios of my panel mates (who included Greg Herren and Lou Berney, by the way). Talk about feeling outclassed! But I am assured I had one of the sound bites of the panel. Asked about the theme of trouble marriages/relationships in my stories, I blithely answered about the stress of relationships and one day it becomes too much “and bam! You’re standing in the kitchen with a meat cleaver.”

“Just say no” to fried okra

I did a little more socializing at Bouchercon Raleigh. I still felt way out of my league, but I did chat with a lovely reader who was familiar with the Laurel Highlands at the Anthonys and Greg Herren said he enjoyed our panel so much he was going to look up my short story collection (I have no idea if he did – but he’s a nice guy, so I appreciated the compliment).

I even got invited to have drinks with other writers in the bar. And my friend Martha discovered she doesn’t like fried okra (after seeing this face, I declined an opportunity to try them).

New Orleans – 2016

Signing Blood on the Bayou

This was a big one. It was my Year of the Short Story. Not only had “Three Rivers Voodoo” been accepted for Blood on the Bayou, that year’s Bouchercon anthology, I’d placed “Home Front Homicide” in Mystery Most Historical from Malice, and “The Far End of Nowhere” in Fish Out of Water, that year’s Guppy anthology. I had finally Arrived. Where, I wasn’t sure, but it felt significant.

It was also my 20th wedding anniversary, so The Hubby and I made it a trip.

I ate awesome New Orleans food. Drank my first real mint julep (not impressed). Participated in my first Big Deal book signing.

Mint julep

I was still a Small Fish in a Big Pond. But New Orleans was the first Bouchercon where i felt like less of a pretender among the “stars” of the crime fiction world. I had creds now. Short fiction, but still…legitimate creds. Things to talk about.

Not that the crime fiction community ever treated me like one, but I felt like less of an impostor, if that makes sense.

So this year, St. Petersburg. And a new list of “firsts.” I have my first book. My first Author Speed Dating as a participant, not as a listener. My first New Author Breakfast. I’ll have bookmarks! Now I truly have Arrived!

I just hope I remember to take pictures.

Houston, we are ready for launch

Well, sort of.

This coming Saturday, August 11, is the launch part of my debut book, Root of All Evil. Much like a wedding, I want everything to go well.

Much like a wedding, things could get dicey.


The tradition in my Sister’s in Crime chapter is to have cake with the book cover on it for the first book. Sounds easy, right? Call bakery, order cake, send photo. Done. But…

Launch supplies ready to go!

What kind of cake? How much? I ran a poll, asking readers if they preferred white almond or red velvet. I thought there would be a clear winner, thus solving my cake-ordering dilemma.

Oh no. It turned out to be a dead tie. Okay, so half and half. Except…you have to order a full sheet cake to get half-and-half (this makes sense, each flavor is a quarter sheet then it’s iced over). I’m almost certain this means there will be too much cake. Um, lucky I have a teenage boy?

And did you know it is ridiculously difficult to find sparkling cranberry juice in August? I’d almost say it’s impossible.


Books ready for readers!

Now, you’d think this would be easy, right? I mean, I’m having the launch in a bookstore. Of course they’ll have books!


I received an email from the store owner in light of my promo activities leading up to release day. “Uh, I’m thinking I didn’t order enough books. Do you have any you could bring just in case we run out? I’ll reimburse you.”

Fortunately, I do.

The miscellany

I need a pen. A good pen, one that isn’t going to cramp my hand and will write smoothly throughout the event.

I need to do my nails. Color or French tips?

I need to pick out some clothes. I hate clothes decisions. I will pull in my Fashion Consultant (aka, The Girl).

I need to pick a bit to read in case the audience asks me to do so.

And the number one fear…

What if no one comes????

I mean, okay. I know there will be a few members of my Sisters in Crime chapter there. My critique group. My family. I know one family friend who is planning on being there.

But what if that’s it? Since the store is changing ownership, this is the current owners last big event and as she said, “they are going out with a bang!”

No pressure, right?

Readers, got any advice for calming the jitters? I’d love to hear it! If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, stop by – 514 Allegheny River Blvd, Oakmont, PA 15139.

And if you want to get ready by learning about Jim and Sally, look for Murder Most Scenic, my collection of Laurel Highlands Mysteries short stories!

The peace of the morning

It’s quiet as I write this.

My house is rarely quiet, but at this moment, the only noise is the clacking of my keyboard. My husband is gone to work and everyone else is still asleep.

I would go outside, where the only noise would be keyboards and birds, but the humidity is too much right now.

I have checked my email, read my blogs, perused my social media. The day job awaits, as does the hours of writing I did not get done yesterday, and the task of taking my son for his learner’s permit test.

It’s a moment when the whole world seems to be holding its breath.

I know people who are intimidated by moments like this. They need constant action and noise to feel comfortable. I think that’s a shame. The quiet like this is so perfect for so many things…energizing for the day, prayer, meditation, solving a tough plot problem. In a life filled with tasks, technology, selfies, social media, and the like, this solemn silence is sacred. And so unusual that maybe it’s not so odd that people are intimidated by being silent and alone.

<pause to soak up the silence>

Thump, slam. Someone’s up. Silent time is over.

Readers, what about you? Do you enjoy your silent alone time? What’s your favorite spot to enjoy a peaceful moment?