Guest Post: Christina Hoag

SkinofTattoosCoverSmallWhere do I start? I’ve got a lot of “if only I knews”! Perhaps the biggest “if only I knew” is how much more I should have done to build my author’s platform before I was even published. In fact, this may have helped me get published as agents and editors are all looking at an author’s platform as much as their manuscript these days.

As a journalist, I should have had a website up and running with my nonfiction book that I co-authored, and I should started other social media sites such as Instagram, GoodReads and a Facebook author page. (I’m glad to say I did do something right—I built my Twitter following to 20.4K over the course of steady daily tweeting.)

I should have started joining writers’ organizations that are open to unpublished authors, like Sisters in Crime, which would have allowed me to network and make more connections that could have helped me gain marketing and promotion expertise. Ditto with writers’ conferences. I could have saved myself so much time and energy in cold-querying agents by pitching them directly at conferences, and again doing that crucial networking.

GirlOnTheBrinkCoverSmallI should have thought more about branding myself and developing one genre instead of, as my former literary agent told me, writing “all over the place.”

So why didn’t I do all this stuff? In short, I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t have the confidence in myself and my writing that I should have. I was intimidated by conferences and organizations because they were just for published authors, or so I thought. According to me, I was just another one in the mass of aspiring novelists begging for a contract. I was afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously until I was published.

So I got published and then ventured out into the woolly world of trying to get my books discovered. Then began a whole other set of “if only I knews.”

I had no idea developing a genre or writing a series of books was essential to building a publishing career. To me, writing the same stuff over and over again seems boring (and frankly, still does, but….). I also had no idea just how competitive publishing has become and how writing a good book just isn’t enough to catapult you above the heads of everyone else. I didn’t realize getting readers to write reviews was a Promethean struggle.

I didn’t realize I was way ahead of the game in being a newspaper reporter and foreign correspondent for many years, which gave me a far more interesting bio than many as well as more expertise in the subject matter of crime, as I’ve covered real life crime and cops, done ride-alongs and so on.

I also didn’t realize that agents were basically sales people and weren’t going to invest a lot in an author they hadn’t sold, such as in advising them that they should build a platform or social media, or give editorial advice on early-stage manuscripts.

But here’s the thing. If I had known all these things, maybe I wouldn’t have even attempted this foolhardy game of being a novelist at all. I might’ve decided it was just too damn hard. Instead, I focused on my writing, all the time improving so I can be proud to put my name on it. And let’s face it, writing the best book you can write is at the heart of this business. Still, if only I had known there was more to it than just that.

So now I’m building my author platform, slowly but steadily. It’s been a steep learning curve, that’s for sure, but now I know.


ChristinaHoagAuthorHeadshotChristina Hoag is a former journalist for the Miami Herald and Associated Press who’s been threatened by a murderer, had her laptop searched by Colombian guerrillas and phone tapped in Venezuela, hidden under a car to evade Guatemalan soldiers, posed as a nun to get inside a Caracas jail, interviewed gang members, bank robbers, thieves and thugs in prisons, shantytowns and slums, not to forget billionaires and presidents, some of whom fall into the previous categories. Kirkus Reviews praised Christina as a “talented writer” with a “well crafted debut” in Skin of Tattoos (Martin Brown Publishing, 2016), a gangland thriller. Her YA thriller Girl on the Brink (Fire and Ice, 2016) was named to Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 YA list. She also writes nonfiction, co-authoring Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence (Turner Publishing, 2014), a groundbreaking book on violence intervention used in several universities. Christina makes her home in Santa Monica and lives on the web at

Connect with her on:

Interview: C.T. Collier

Planted coverWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

I love this question! Coast of Maine, brilliant sunshine to start, changing throughout the day—misty, foggy, windy, stormy. I’m out with a friend and our cameras, stopping only to warm up over hot soup.

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

Pure White Linen is my go to fragrance every morning. It’s a promise to make very day feel like a walk in a summer garden.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

Mystery author William G. Tapply’s Brady Coyne series had so many elements I enjoyed—Boston harbor, fly-fishing, puzzling plots, satisfying solutions, a pinch of romance. I was not fortunate enough to take one of his classes on mystery writing before he passed, but I have his excellent book The Elements of Mystery Fiction: Writing the Modern Whodunit.

Do you listen to music when you write?

Often, yes, especially if there’s noise I need to block. Classical music keeps me calm and productive, and both my sleuths, Kyle and Lyssa, groove on Classical.

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

A delicious dark chocolate peanut-butter truffle. Kyle loves the luxurious allure of dark chocolate, but Lyssa only likes it when it’s paired with peanut butter.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

Most of us have turned up an assortment of odd things in our backyards. My own experience, discovering bits of junk while creating a woodland garden, got me thinking about what would happen if my garden had turned up a gun. Hmmm. A gun wouldn’t have gotten there by mistake, would it? So . . . what’s the story?

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

Having been a terrible eater until 15 years ago, as well as a Type A personality, I make sure my protagonists eat nutritious delicious meals. Even better, they cook together! They frequently have long talks outdoors while exercising, and most of them enjoy stress-busting activities, like Yoga or photography or a hot game of pick-up basketball. Finally, my villains are likely to be secretive, self-serving, and working hard for their own gain.

Tell us about your main character.

You’ve probably guessed from the series name, The Penningtons Investigate, my mysteries have two main characters, Kyle (38) and Lyssa (28). Although both have PhD’s, aside from that, they’re more different than alike. Kyle is a wealthy luxury-loving Brit who runs his own computer-network security company out of London. Lyssa, would rather sew a skirt than buy one, and she earned her way through University of Texas Austin by getting scholarships and working at part-time jobs.
The two met when Lyssa was on a post-doc fellowship in London making a TV series about financial literacy for women. Once she gets a college teaching job in the Finger Lakes of upstate New York (to be close to her only family, her sister), they split their time between the Finger Lakes and the UK. Where do the mysteries take place? The books in The Penningtons Investigate all involve murders associated with Lyssa’s workplace, Tompkins College in Tompkins Falls, NY.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Kyle is brainy like Steve Jobs, looks like star Ewan MacGregor, and is committed to the great outdoors like John Muir.

Lyssa is a ringer for Hallmark Channel’s Sarah Rafferty; her career was inspired by Women’s Hall of Famer Muriel Siebert; and, back in her drinking days, she could hold her own with Amy Schumer.

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

What a great idea! I’d invite three women authors: Louise Penny, Agatha Christie, and Josephine Tey. And three men: William G. Tapply. Robert B. Parker, and Peter Lovesey.

What’s next for you?

Getting the second book in The Penningtons Investigate ready for publication. Fingers crossed for publication of Stuck this April!


C. T. Collier was born to solve logic puzzles, wear tweed, and drink Earl Grey tea. Her professional experience in cutthroat high tech and backstabbing higher education gave her endless opportunity to study intrigue. Add to that her longtime love of mysteries, and it’s no wonder she writes academic mysteries that draw inspiration from traditional whodunits. Her setting is entirely fictional: Tompkins College is no college and every college, and Tompkins Falls is a blend of several Finger Lakes towns, including her hometown, Seneca Falls, NY (AKA Bedford Falls from It’s a Wonderful Life).

Facebook: kate.collier.315
Twitter: @TompkinsFalls

Interview: Susan Bickford

Welcome Susan Bickford, author of A Short Time to Die.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

short_time_to_dieI roll out of bed easily, wide awake and ready at dawn or a bit earlier. I check email and do a bit of free writing and I actually have time for my stretching routine before I head out to my favorite aqua and swim combination class down the street at the local pool. After class, some of us have breakfast and coffee around the corner from the pool.

This day is completely open—no meetings, no errands, no cleaning. I head to the fabulous Mountain View public library, directly after coffee. There are wonderful work spaces upstairs that remind me of college. I write until lunch on my iPad using a separate keyboard.

I work in several one hour intervals in the afternoon so that I can relax and not write at night. I’m an introvert and I am thrilled that my evening is completely free for a change. If it’s cold, I make a fire, enjoy some wine with dinner. Because I was so productive during the day, I can watch something streaming or perhaps actually read a book.

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

I love bright highlight colors, but red is my favorite by a long shot. I like a fragrance-free zone in my house and on me personally, although scent from flowers is OK if it doesn’t permeate the whole place. What I like about food is something that surprises me—something new I hadn’t thought of before or that is easy to make if I’m eating at home.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

Like most writers, I was always an avid reader. In my tweens, I discovered two books that were seminal: Cherokee Boy, by Alexander Key, and The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury. Cherokee Boy is the story of a band of children and teens who escape from the Trail of Tears forced march and work their way back to their homeland. The combination of injustice, sorrow, and the adventure of the journey was magical to me. The Martian Chronicles were the first adult-type stories I read and many of them stick with me, even today.

After that came all the usual suspects, of course. When I started reading genre fiction seriously, I was captivated by Ross MacDonald and Dashell Hammet, but it wasn’t until I read Sue Grafton that I thought, “This is something I want to do.”

Once I finally started writing I was taken with Daniel Woodrell. Best known for Winter’s Bone, he coined the phrase country noir and his stories are all set in a very vivid location with some overlapping aspects but are not a series.

Do you listen to music when you write?

No. I can tolerate just about any kind of background noise when I’m freewriting or doing a first draft, but it cannot impose in any significant way. When I do revisions I must have absolute silence.

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

Something with a very high percentage of cacao – 85+% – laced with interesting chunks of salt or an unusual flavor. It should break off in brittle snaps along irregular lines.

A Short Time to Die is dark with sharp edges but rich with hidden secrets and delights.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

I tend to be obsessed with women and girls who overcome adversity. I tie this back to an incident when two of my freshman homeroom classmates were brutally murdered when I was a freshman in high school. The murderer(s) was never caught.

Those girls—Kathy and George Ann—were from rather dysfunctional family situations and an isolated, disadvantaged area, and I have always believed that their murders were downplayed because of that. In addition, many blamed them for their fates. I keep creating young women who need to escape and live to make their own mistakes or successes.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

First and foremost, moral ambiguity. What kind of choices do we make when there is no clear good or bad? Of course I love creating choices that I personally would never make.

I like to portray the conflict from the victim’s perspective, what I woud call the inside-out, rather than the outside-in from the perspective of a private detective or a cop. In A Short Time to Die, I ended up having both, with the result that Marly, the protagonist, knows things the cops will never find out, and the cops figure out things that Marly doesn’t know, but only the reader has the full story.

I also believe that there is a primitive side of humanity that is instinctively cruel. Perhaps this is what our ancestors needed to identify the weakest in a herd of animals and identify which ones to kill for food but in the present day this leads to sad abuses of those who are vulnerable.

However, on the other side of the coin, we have empathy combined with the ability to create narratives and transform ourselves. Empathy is our higher power that gives us the ability to feel the pain of others and reach out.

Tell us about your main character.

There are two protagonists. When the book opens, Marly Shaw is a senior in high school, living in a very isolated village in Central New York. Her step-father’s family controls all the local crime in the surrounding area and are a vicious, murderous bunch. Marly is smart and focused on figuring out how to get away, but she is emotionally bound to help her mother, sister, and her sister’s children. She eventually makes her escape but she never feels safe … with good reason.

Vanessa Alba is the child of Colombian immigrants and a big success story for her family as a Detective for the Santa Clara County (California) Sheriff’s Department. She would like to build a family of her own, but she lives with her aging parents, partially for financial reasons—housing in Silicon Valley is so expensive—and to help manage parents’ medical needs. Meanwhile, she needs to figure out why a couple of bodies turned up in the Santa Cruz Mountains—bodies of known criminals from a very small town in Central New York.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

For Marly, I would first pick Ree Dolly from Winter’s Bone, who is tough and grounded, followed by Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone. Kinsey is fiercely independent and has a very keen and subtle sense of humor. Last, I would choose Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. Like Elinor, Marly has a beautiful, flighty sister, prone to bad decisions, and is the calm, sensible anchor for her rather dysfunctional family.

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

I would definitely incude Daniel Woodrell, Ross MacDonald, and Sue Grafton. I would probably also invite Ray Bradbury because I understand that he was a self-taught writer, and Val McDermid because I love her dark writing. The sixth guest might have to be a mystery, but I would be tempted to invite someone very different like Phillip Pullman or Neil Gaiman.

What’s next for you?

I just turned in Dread of Winter, which should be out in 2018. It is not a series, but it is set in the same fabricated location in Central New York as A Short Time to Die, with some overlapping spots and characters.


In A Short Time to Die, Marly and her friend Elaine must escape their town of Charon Springs to save their lives. Dread of Winter is about the women who choose to stay and fight.

Susan A. BickfordSusan Alice Bickford was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up
in Central New York. Her passion for technology pulled her to Silicon
Valley, where she became an executive at a leading technology company.
She now works as an independent consultant and author. She splits her
time between Silicon Valley and Vermont.
@bixxib (Twitter) (author page) (personal page)

Interview: Micki Browning

Welcome Micki Browning, author of Adrift and winner of the 2017 Dorothy Cantrell Scholarship.

adrift_browningWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

My perfect day is a simple one…where I have time to write and read and drink tea before it cools, a day where I can spend at least some time in the water, and share a lovely meal with my husband.

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

Let’s see. Wetsuits are a necessity, not an accessory. Perfume and I have a difficult relationship. My favorite phrase isn’t fit for children. But I make a mean clam and smoked oyster chowder, and there is always a bottle of champagne in the fridge!

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

I learn something from every author I read. Recently, I read Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. The subject matter is very dark, and the setting in the Ozarks is stark, but the writing is beautiful, evocative, even poetic at times. I’ve dealt with crime my entire professional life. Woodrell proves a writer can capture the darkness in people without sacrificing their humanity. After I finished it, however, I had to reread all three volumes of The Complete Calvin And Hobbes.

Do you listen to music when you write?

I listen to soundtracks when I write. Lyrics distract me, so I restrict the playlist to instrumental pieces only. A few of my current favorites are Game of Thrones (season 5), Westworld, and Outlander (season 2).

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

Bittersweet with a couple of nuts thrown in. Of course, it would be melted from the Florida Keys heat.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

After a career in law enforcement, my husband and I retired to the Florida Keys. We are both avid divers and I hold a professional divemaster certification. The story was triggered by the real-life medical emergency suffered by a diver. The diver recovered, but the event prompted a bevy of “what-ifs” that became Adrift.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

Family, the search for Truth (with a capital T), and redemption—all coated with a bit of wry humor.

Tell us about your main character.

Dr. Meredith (Mer) Cavallo is a marine scientist. She is curious, analytical, and driven in her pursuit of truth. Occasionally she forgets to engage her filters and her outside voice runs amok, but she has a good heart, is dedicated to her friends and family, and is awed by the beauty of the ocean.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (the actress I cast on my storyboard), Temperance Brennan (a socially awkward character on the TV show “Bones”), and Sylvia Earle (Marine biologist, explorer, author, and Time Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet in 1998).

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

J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, Elizabeth Peters, Christopher Moore, Mark Twain, and Anna Komnene, a Byzantine princess who wrote the Alexiad in 1148.

What’s next for you?

Beached, the second in the Mer Cavallo Mysteries, followed by Chum.


micki-browning-author-photoFBI National Academy graduate and award-winning author Micki Browning worked in law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a division commander. Her debut mystery, Adrift, set in the Florida Keys, was published by Alibi-Random House in January 2017. It won both the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence and the Royal Palm Literary Award.


mickis-logo-scaledLearn more at
Like me on Facebook: MickiBrowningAuthor
Or follow me on Twitter @MickiBrowning


Interview: Nupur Tustin

Today we get to know Nupur Tustin, author of the Haydn Mysteries.

deception_final_500x800What’s your idea of a perfect day?

I have three toddlers, so, as far as I’m concerned, a day when I can get some writing done is a perfect day. Beyond that, if it’s warm and sunny, and the kids are happy, I’m happy, too. And, if I also get to spend some time at the piano. . . well, at that point my cup runneth over!

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

I’m quite fond of burgundy—the color, not so much the wine. I use it a lot in the Haydn newsletter, so you could say that’s a signature color. As far as a fragrance is concerned, it would have to be Estée Lauder’s Beautiful. I wear it because the scent is just heavenly, and it makes me feel beautiful.

My signature meal—please don’t laugh—is whole wheat bread with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese. It seems to have been the favorite meal of every fairy tale character who decided to set out on an adventure. I suppose that accounts for my fondness for it. Add a few tomato slices and some cucumber, and you have a gourmet meal!

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

For the Haydn mysteries, apart from his earliest biographers and Haydn’s own life, Stephanie Barron, whose Jane Austen series is simply out of this world, and Emily Brightwell and Kate Kingsbury, both of whom write historical cozies, have been my strongest influences. Stephanie Barron influenced the voice I chose to adopt for a series set in eighteenth-century Austria.

Emily Brightwell’s ability with plotting helped me develop a good puzzle-plot mystery and Kate Kingsbury’s natural way with dialogue enabled me to unfold the story, to a great extent, via dialogue.

Do you listen to music when you write?

I listen to the music—or noise, depending on your perspective—of toddler-speak as I write. When my children screech and squabble, they drown out most sounds. If I could listen to music, I’d be forced to listen to heavy metal because all three kids are metal-heads!

I’ll often hear my five-year-old daughter belting out the lyrics to Killpop—”she’s sticking needles in her skin, I turn with an ugly grin”—while my three-year-old son growls out some Crowbar— “I gave my heart to you, my friend, you let me fall. . .I live my life as a man would do. Why’s it so hard to find the truth?”

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

What an intriguing question! I’d have to say a marbled blend of dark and milk chocolate. I think dark chocolate is sophisticated, while milk chocolate is fun. A Minor Deception, is equal parts sophistication and fun! The downstairs dynamic provided by palace maids Rosalie and Greta is, I think, very milk chocolate.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

I’ve always been fascinated by historical mysteries, in particular those that feature real-life historical figures. I love history, but I know many don’t. So, for me, historical mysteries are a wonderful way of getting people interested in history. In my case, I wanted to draw people’s attention to the history of music and to, perhaps, revive an interest in classical music.

Haydn, Brahms, and Liszt frequently drew upon folk music. Haydn, the son of a wheelwright, had grown up listening to folk songs, and working in the backwaters of Hungary, had plenty of opportunity to hear Hungarian folk music. In the eighteenth century, you could visit a pub, and hear a minuet, dance music. This isn’t “learned music,” and it isn’t music for the elite. It’s music, period. There are pieces you’ll like, and works you’ll hate. When you listen to Pearl Jam, SlipKnot, Tool, or any other modern band, you don’t like every single song you hear, do you? Well, you’re not going to like every single work written by the classical composers, and that’s fine.

Through my writing, I’m trying to do what British percussionist Evelyn Glennie does with her wonderful music. The same kind of thing Mr. Holland tries to accomplish with his students in the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus. My husband, a confirmed metal-head, has actually begun enjoying classical music as a result of the Haydn mysteries. He listens to it on his car radio these days! And he’s discovering it can be just as “badass” as heavy metal.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

Deception and the dichotomy between appearance and reality seem to come up a lot. These are old literary themes, and they go back as far, at least, as Shakespeare whose comedies often treat of these ideas. But they lend themselves particularly well to mysteries, where the reader and the sleuth are frequently deceived in both the characters of the perpetrator and the many suspects, who all seem to have plenty of reason to have committed murder.

Unfortunately, though, this theme comes up in real-life crime as well. Ted Bundy wasn’t the only serial killer who seemed like a polite, well-spoken man. There’ve been countless others. People aren’t always what they seem. Mysteries teach us that as well as comedy.

Tell us about your main character.

Joseph Haydn, the Austrian composer, was a fascinating man. The son of a wheelwright, he had none of the advantages of the young Mozart. His parents enjoyed music and his father played a little by ear. When the young Haydn was sent to the Parish School of a neighboring town, it was in the hopes that the musical training he received would equip him for a career in the church.

At the age of eighteen, Haydn was thrown out of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna where he’d been a choirboy since the age of eight. He had no intentions of going into the Church, and he resisted his parents’ advice that he do so. Instead, he eked out a bare living giving music lessons and playing at churches and private chapels, all the while studying music theory and the writings of the great Southern German composers, Hasse, Mattheson, and the northern German, C.P.E. Bach. It took ten years before he managed to get a job as Kapellmeister—Director of Music—but when the noble family employing him lost their wealth, he lost his position.

But by 1766 when my story opens, he was known throughout the Holy Roman Empire for his music. Haydn epitomizes for me, the importance of believing in oneself and one’s dreams. He worked very hard, but was quick to recognize that without the help and support of numerous people he’d likely never have made it. He was very generous with both his time and money, and, just as he’d been helped in his younger days, he sought to help those in need.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

What an interesting proposition. Let’s see now. Haydn had such diverse interests—he enjoyed hunting, and was a good shot, and he had the complete works of Shakespeare in his library—that he reminds me a little of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve always marveled at Holmes’s wide-ranging interests. He always seems to have written a monograph on something or the other.

Haydn was also a shrewd judge of character, and knew how to appeal to his musicians to get the best performance out of them. In this respect, he’s very reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple. Christie’s detectives are often underestimated by the villain, and both frequently elicit confidences from all sorts of people. Haydn, like Poirot and Miss Marple, was very approachable, too. He soon earned the nickname of Papa Haydn.

He was short, pockmarked, and one time he was even mistaken for a servant, and a visiting priest hotly contested his identity. How could the famous Haydn be such a small, insignificant fellow? Surely, this man was not he!

His helpfulness, his affability, and his easy ability to get on with upper and lower classes alike remind me a little of Kerry Greenwood’s delightful Phryne Fisher.

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

I’d love to invite Naomi Hirahara. One of my piano teachers used to refer to Glenn Gould as a pianist’s pianist—so great only a fellow pianist could truly appreciate his performance. She’d probably refer to Naomi as a “writer’s writer.” You really have to be a writer to appreciate the depth of characterization and the sense of Los Angeles Naomi captures in her two series without ever sacrificing pace.

I’d love to have Kendel Lynn, whom I met at LCC last year. I’ve really enjoyed her Elliot Lisbon series, but more than that I admire her for forging her own path. It’s amazing how far Henery Press has come since it’s inception. Sylvia Johnson, another Henery Press author, would be an invitee, too. She has something of Naomi’s deft style, and her mysteries capture a very different side of Los Angeles.

Emily Brightwell, who truly is a contemporary Agatha Christie, would be at the table as well. Sheila Connolly said quite astutely that contemporary mysteries need to have more action. The actual business of investigating and questioning people is rather tedious. Well, Emily Brightwell has the amazing gift of making it fascinating, the red herrings are cleverly thrown in. And everyone seems like a plausible suspect.

I love Susan Wittig Albert’s mysteries. I became a fan when I read the Beatrix Potter series. Her China Bayles series is very different, but equally good. I sense that she enjoys research, and with each new book, she offers the reader a wealth of information on whatever topic her mystery plot is grounded in.

I enjoy that aspect of mystery writing, too. Fiction needs to transcend reality, but even when it does, it can take inspiration from and be grounded in reality. And, in this way, it opens a doorway to a new body of knowledge for the reader.

Finally, I think I’d have Amanda Carmack, who writes a historical mystery series as well as historical romance. I find myself amazed at how prolific she is. The research alone must taken an incredible amount of time. She used to work at a radio station, hosting their classical music programs, so we have in common a love of music and a love of the past.

What’s next for you?

I’m researching the third Haydn book, Prussian Counterpoint—the second, Aria to Death, is already written. I’m also working on short stories, and delving deeper into FBI investigations, in particular the exploits of the Behavioral Science Unit. I find it absolutely fascinating that a crime scene can yield such invaluable information about the killer’s personality and profession, and even, in some cases, their appearance! It’s uncanny how accurate they are.

I always like to see how much of what I read about modern investigative techniques might translate over into a historical context. Not all of it does, of course, so I set my short stories in the contemporary world. One of them, “The Christmas Stalker,” was published in the December issue of Heater Magazine, Vol. 4, Issue. 11.

Another short story, “The Evidence Never Lies,” is a contemporary variation of the armchair detective with a former crime reporter piecing together a serial killer’s identity as she delivers her firstborn child.


A former journalist, Nupur Tustin relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her musical works. A Minor Deception, the first in the Haydn Mystery Series, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks.

Haydn Mysteries:

Guest Post: Sybil Johnson

Please welcome Sybil Johnson, author of the Aurora Anderson mysteries, to the blog

Relationships and Plot

Relationships are at the heart of every story. In many ways, they drive it, affecting how a character acts and reacts to the events and obstacles thrown in their way. People make different decisions based on their relationships with others. Let’s say we’re talking about a child and a parent. If the relationship is good and a parent is accused of murder, the child will likely fight to clear their name. But if the relationship is bad or nonexistent, why go to all that trouble? Some kids might even work to get a conviction!

A Palette for MurderI’ve heard some people say that characters and their relationships don’t matter much in genre fiction, it’s the plot that counts. While plot is certainly very important in a mystery, so are relationships between characters. Both are crucial to any story, especially books in a series. Readers come back to them again and again not only because they enjoyed the story, but also because they like the people inhabiting it, want to revisit the world the author has created and see what’s up next for the recurring characters.

That’s why, after the initial idea for a story comes to me, I immediately turn to developing the characters and their relationships with each other. In my most recent book, A Palette for Murder, I knew the story was going to take place in August in my fictional town of Vista Beach during an unusual heat wave, it would involve someone who was homeless, there’d be a trompe l’oeil class in it and my main character, Rory Anderson, would find the body of a neighbor. That’s it.

At that point, I asked myself what new characters would inhabit the story and why Rory would feel compelled to investigate. Was one of her family members being accused of the crime? A close friend? Or was a family business being threatened? Whoever, or whatever, it was the relationship between Rory and the person or business had to be strong enough she would want to investigate. I also work out the interconnections between the victim and murderer as well as between the victim and other suspects.

Once the characters and relationships are worked out, I begin to plot and write. Whenever I’m stuck, I go back to my character notes and examine those relationships again. Usually within a short period of time, I think of what comes next.

Nothing is written in stone, of course. I’ve been known to change characters and their relationships to each other when something isn’t working out as I’m writing the story. But it’s figuring out those initial thoughts on the relationships that gives me somewhere to begin, to figure out the story I want to tell.


Sybil Johnson’s love affair with reading began in kindergarten with “The Three Little Pigs.” Visits to the library introduced her to Encyclopedia Brown, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and a host of other characters. Fast forward to college where she continued reading while studying Computer Science. After twenty years in the computer industry, Sybil decided to try her hand at writing mysteries. Her short fiction has appeared in Mysterical-E and Spinetingler Magazine among others. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Sybil now wields pen and paintbrush in Southern California where she crafts the Aurora Anderson mystery series (Fatal Brushstroke, Paint the Town Dead and A Palette for Murder) set in the world of decorative painting.