Mysterista Monday: What are you reading?

Fall has, um, fallen (at least where some of us are). That means color changing leaves, pumpkin spice everything, and of course new books. Tell us, Mysteristas, what are you reading? (And whose TBR pile did I steal a pic of?)

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Guest Post: JT Bishop

Please welcome back guest JT Bishop, author of Spark! She’s talking about something every author gets asked: where do your stories come from?

What do you want to write about?

I get asked a lot about how I come up with my ideas. Where do I get my inspirations?

Spark coverFor me, and I’m sure for most authors, it’s about what piques my interest. I personally love the unknown. I’m curious about the mysteries it can hold. Ghosts, aliens, Atlantis, and Big Foot are just a few of the things that I would love to know more about. Are these things real? I don’t know, but what if they are? That’s where I get excited. There’s a whole world of fascinating ideas to ponder and a million stories that can spring from those ideas. And the more I learn about them, the more interested I become.

When I heard a theory back in 2012 that the earth was a hub of alien activity thousands of years ago and that extraterrestrials would meet here to exchange ideas and information, I was hooked. I started wondering, what if they were still here? A story, although only a small one, began to form. I started writing and couldn’t stop. As I wrote, it got bigger and before I knew it, I had a trilogy. From those three initial books, four more were spawned into a sister series. To say that it inspired me is an understatement. But once you find that one thing that inspires you, then the writing comes easily. At least it did for me.

I think ideas are everywhere, whether you like the unknown, or prefer the facts. Pay attention to the world around you, jot down anything that pops into your mind no matter how strange it may seem, and you will easily find at least five ideas per day. You do that every day, and one of those ideas is going to bear some fruit.

I think that’s what we all want as writers. To find the one thing that gets everything flowing. Once you find it, sit down and put pen to paper. You will see how quickly a story will show up for you.

It surprised me, and it will surprise you, too.

So, what inspires you? What are your interests? What are the stories you read or the tv shows you watch? Are you jotting down your ideas? Pay attention. You’d be surprised at where it may lead.

Take a second and let me know in the comments what intrigues you and what ideas you’ve got churning. The crazier the better. If you’re lucky, you might just have your story.


JTBishopBorn and raised in Dallas, TX, J. T. Bishop began writing in 2012. Inspired by a video that theorized the meaning of the end of the Mayan calendar, J. T. began the Red-Line trilogy. The video surmised that the earth was the central hub of activity for extraterrestrials thousands of years ago. J.T. didn’t know whether that was true or not, but it did spawn an idea. What if those extraterrestrials were still here? Two years and a lot of work later, the first three Red-Line books were complete, but she’s not done. The Red-Line saga develops as she continues to write new books.





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Guest Post: Eleanor Cawood Jones

Today we welcome noted short story author Eleanor Cawood Jones. Take it away Eleanor!

I’m just back from Bouchercon 2018, the world mystery conference. This year it was held in St. Petersburg, Florida. Imagine 1,500 or so mystery readers and writers running around a historic Art Deco hotel by the waterfront, rushing off to panels to hear their favorite authors or discover new ones, dashing off to buy books and getting them signed, and nipping down the next hallway to hear mystery-guest-of-honor interviews.

bouchercon signingDoes just reading about all that sound exhausting? Well, it is! And it’s grand fun. You might run into the likes of Lee Child, Lisa Scottoline, or William Kent Krueger right around the next corner. Or you might find the likes of me, grinning like an idiot because she’s so excited to be one of the authors in this year’s Bouchercon Anthology, titled Florida Happens: Tales of Mystery, Mayhem and Suspense from the Sunshine State. It’s my 20th published short story and perhaps the one I’m most excited about.

But I say that every time a story comes out.

I’m pleased to be appearing alongside such authors as Reed Farrel Coleman, Brendan DuBois, and Lawrence Block. There’s even a John D. MacDonald story in it! My own tale is titled “All Accounted For at the Hooray for Hollywood Motel.” The book is edited by Greg Herren and presented by Three Rooms Press.

I was doubly blessed to appear on a conference short story panel called “Short But Deadly.” Which brings me in a roundabout way to my topic: The most popular questions short story authors get from readers and writers. I think this is a great way to talk about the mystery/crime fiction short fiction niche.

With Barb Goffman Florida Happens co authorPerhaps the best known short fiction magazines are Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock, to which I subscribe, but the short story market is rich and robust. Many authors, such as myself, publish their own anthologies or participate in books with other writers. Your favorite novelist may have gotten started with short fiction or have a collection of their own out there. So here I go with the top three questions I’ve gotten over time.

#1: What inspires you?

I hear lots of answers to this. Current events is a popular one. For me, it’s purely and simply people. If you listen to people or accidentally/on purpose overhear a conversation, you hear the most astounding things. I once overheard the following: “Why did you want to meet at 7-11?” “Oh, it seemed like the most convenient place.” No kidding, right? And my mind is off and running about what exactly 7-11 could be a meeting spot for. (You can read about it in A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Tales of Murder and More if you’re curious. And it’s more fantasy suspense than mystery.)

Or the guy who wanders up to me at work the other day (I’m in customer service, which is 24/7 inspiration) and starts telling me about a kid he knew in kindergarten who had one lung and grew up to play the tuba in the high school marching band. (Don’t write that one. It’s mine. Don’t know where it’s going yet.) (Murder by Tuba?) (Death by Ooom-Pah-Pah?) Anyway, about people… Listen, watch, become inspired.

Stories come out of all kinds of things. Driving through backwoods Tennessee and wondering what was going on in the little white farmhouses. The small-town meeting where everyone shares doughnuts and votes straight party lines, no matter what the issue. And that tour guide who loves to share behind-the-scenes information which may or may not be true. (Ask me about my Easter Island tour guide, Rinko “Call me Rinko Starr,” who may or may not have inspired a little ditty I called “Keep Calm and Love Moai,” in Malice Domestic 13.)

Ah, people.

#2: What are your favorite short stories?

Do kids still have to read short fiction in school? I hope so. What would the world be without the likes of “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl of Willy Wonka fame, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” or that astounding classic, “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner? Each one is an exercise in surprise twists, superb writing, and proof that a singularly fascinating story can be told in a few thousand words. And you know what else they are? Pure fun.

#3: Are you writing a book?

Of course. I write books all the time. Then I go off on a tangent and poof, there’s a short story. I’ve written a full-length fantasy book which belongs in the drawer where I put it, I’ve tried to write romance novels but I keep accidentally killing the characters… I despair over finishing a book. But I think this may be my year. Thinking back on the conference, and hearing Krueger’s take on setting as character, and Scottoline talking about emotional truth in fiction—yep, this may be my year for that full-length tome. But first, that tuba story…

Whether you’re writing, reading, or both, I do hope your reading season includes some time for short fiction. There are some excellent stories out there. And I’m always taking title suggestions for new tales. (Hint, hint.)


Eleanor Bio PicEleanor Cawood Jones began her writing career in elementary school, using a #2 pencil to craft short stories based on the imaginary lives of her stuffed animals. A former newspaper reporter and reformed marketing director, she spends her spare time traveling, writing, and telling people how to pronounce Cawood (Kay’-wood). She’s published two short story anthologies and appeared in several others. For a list of her books, visit Follow Eleanor Cawood Jones on Facebook and Twitter @eleanorauthor.



Interview: David Corbett

Please give a warm welcome to David Corbett, author of The Long Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday.

Tell us about your main character.

This is something of a story, so take a moment to freshen your cup of coffee, settle into your chair, and pull the cat onto your lap.

doc hollidayI was about 100 pages into this book with the same protagonist as the last—Phelan Tierney, the hero of The Mercy of the Night—when I had a conversation with my agent about taking it to a new publisher. She quite reasonably informed me that she couldn’t take the second book in a series to a new house, and then added that editors were crowing for strong women protagonists. “Could you do that?”

Of course I could.

This obliged not just complete revision of what I’d written. It required creation of a whole new character from nothing more than “strong woman protagonist.”

Fortunately, I’m blessed with a number of formidable women friends to cannibalize—ahem, rely upon—for inspiration.

I knew the character was going to be a lawyer, given the story, and I happen to be very close to an impressive litigator named Allison Davis—brilliant, funny, tough, i.e., perfect.

I also wanted to give my character a bit of a wild streak and a complicated backstory. Fortunately for me (if not so much for her), I’m also friends with the poet Kim Addonizio. Seriously, read her work, especially Tell Me, which was nominated for the National Book Award, or her set of biographical essays, Bukowski in a Sundress. Kim gave me more than enough to work with, especially when I melded her incendiary spirit with a lawyer’s mind.

But the real, original inspiration for the character who would become Lisa Balamaro, my protagonist in The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday, was a friend of my wife’s whose identity I will keep secret. The moment that convinced me I needed somehow to use her as a character occurred at our wedding.

It was that moment when the DJ announces, “I want all the single ladies out on the dance floor.” The dreaded bouquet toss.

None of my women friends bothered to respond—no way they were going out there. Most were well beyond hoping for (another) husband. But one of my wife’s dearest friends—call her Belinda—bravely went out as requested. Alone. As in absolutely—except for the four-year old daughter of another friend.

It was one of those excruciating gaps in time when you almost close your eyes, hoping the seconds will tick on by and it will all be over soon.

But then suddenly a voice cried out, “Okay buddy, come on,” hands clapping, “chop chop, let’s go!” Another friend, a Philly Italian in a vivid red dress, came out on the floor, pushed up her sleeves, and dared the DJ to throw those damn flowers. It took all the attention off Belinda, and made an otherwise unbearably awkward scene into comedy. It was so selfless, so caring, so funny I knew I had to use it, use her. Here was my big fat Italian heart.

In the book, these three women meld together into one composite character, with some additional inventive touches of my own. The result is a young arts lawyer, the black sheep of a prominent east-coast family, with a generous heart, a savvy mind, and a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She’s been dismissed as a mediocrity if not an outright embarrassment by her famous father, her demanding mother, and her over-achieving siblings, but she’s about to show them and everyone else just what she’s really made of.

This entails dealing with the man on whom she has a secret crush: Tuck Mercer, one-time bull rider and sketch artist (“The Rodeo Rembrandt”), reformed art forger (“The Man Who Forged the West”), and real-time possessor of the most infamous romantic correspondence in American history: the letters Doc Holliday wrote to his cousin Mattie and she to him both before and after she entered the convent. Those letters become the cherished prized in a battle for possession that pits Lisa not only against a corrupt judge from the Tombstone area, but a quartet of highly motivated ex-marines.

Do you listen to music when you write? 

Sometimes. Nothing with lyrics or too inviting a melodic line. If it becomes a distraction I switch it off.

But on occasion, especially when I’m too much in my head, I will turn on something largely for the sake of atmosphere. The stuff I listen to is pretty obscure, and depending on what mood I’m after it might be:

  • Morten Lauridsen, a composer of stunningly beautiful choral music and an “American mystic”
  • Arvo Part, another composer of spiritual music, but Estonian, not American
  • Russian church music, Gregorian chant, or the canonical polyphony of Palestrina or Josquin
  • Richard Strauss, in particular the “Four Last Songs,” Metamorphosen and Verklärte Nacht
  • Max Richter, a “post-minimalist” composer perhaps best known for his film scores
  • Kultrum, an album of fluid, haunting pieces with just bandoneon and string quartet
  • Classical guitar pieces from Cuba and Argentina

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

The struggle for truth, justice, authenticity, and decency in a world driven by greed, power, cruelty, and cynical deceit.

The need for honest love, while frequently getting driven off-course by our romantic or sexual obsessions.

Our hunger for kindness.


David Corbett is the award-winning author of six novels, including 2018’s The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday. Other works include the novella The Devil Prayed and Darkness Fell, the story collection Thirteen Confessions, and the writing guide The Art of Character (“A writer’s bible” – Elizabeth Brundage). George Pelecanos remarked, “Corbett, like Robert Stone and Graham Greene before him, is crafting important, immensely thrilling books.” His short fiction has been selected twice for Best American Mystery Stories, and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, Narrative, Bright Ideas, and Writer’s Digest, where he is a contributing editor. For more, visit:


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Guest Post: Paula Munier

Please welcome phenomenal agent-turned-writer Paula Munier talking about her debut A Borrowing of Bones!

My Secret Wish: Writing Mysteries

A Borrowing of BonesI’ve wanted to be a mystery writer since I was six years old and read my first Bobbsey Twins mystery. It was a secret wish for a very long time, and as a result I managed to avoid becoming a mystery writer for decades.

I did not, however, avoid becoming a writer. I started off as a reporter, writing and editing for newspapers and magazines. I went on to join the book business, first as a managing editor on the production side, and later as an acquisitions editor. During this time, I wrote several nonfiction books, including a memoir called Fixing Freddie: A True Story about a Boy, a Mom, and a Very, Very Bad Beagle.

#1 Declare Your Intention

This success writing nonfiction encouraged me to declare my intention to write a mystery—and I joined Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. I went to meetings and made friends and even served as the president of the New England chapter of Mystery Writers of America and on the planning committee for the New England Crime Bake writers conference. This went on for years and years and years—and still I never wrote a mystery. I started many, but as my brilliant and blunt pal Hallie Ephron would tell me, “You know what your problem is? You don’t finish.”

And I had to admit that she was right. An especially embarrassing admission for an editor who spent her working life sweetly bullying writers into meeting their deadlines.

When my own agent, the marvelous Gina Panettieri of Talcott Notch Literary Services, invited me to join her agency, I started representing lots of fabulous crime writers and selling lots of fabulous crime fiction. I wrote three books on writing for Writers Digest Books: Plot Perfect, Writing with Quiet Hands, and The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings. After writing the book on plot, I couldn’t use the excuse that plotting a mystery à la Agatha Christie and Elizabeth George and Louise Penny and Colin Dexter always terrified me. Still I demurred.

But when I was writing The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings, I needed an opening chapter that I could use as a sample in revision exercises throughout the book—one illustrating several drafts. While I used a lot of excellent openings from excellent books, I couldn’t use another writer’s opening chapter and subject it to all those revisions. Like it or not, I knew I had to write my own.

#2 Get Inspired

I had just been to a fundraiser hosted by thriller writer Leo Maloney for Mission K-9 Rescue, a first-rate organization that rescues and rehabilitates and finds forever homes for military working dogs. At the fundraiser we met a lot of working dogs and their handlers, both soldiers and their bomb-sniffing dogs as well as local law enforcement and their working dogs.

I fell in love with the dogs and their handlers. Especially a certain Belgian Malinois and his Massachusetts State Police trooper. Back at home, we rescued a happy if goofy Newfoundland retriever mutt named Bear from Alabama. Inspired by these lovely dogs, I wrote that first chapter and I used it as a sample throughout the book showing various ways to revise and tighten and polish your work.

When my agent read the book she said, “Whoa, I really like that chapter. You should finish that book.” So, I kept on writing it and she sold it and the next thing you know, I was a mystery writer.\

#3 The Sweetness at the Bottom of Your Secret Wish

The debut mystery novel that started as an exercise in a writing book—A Borrowing of Bones—is my secret wish come true. And it’s nothing less than exhilarating. Now I go to the same book signings I’ve been going to for years and years and years, where I see all my clients and my friends and my heroes—the real crime writers—and I am one of them.

What began as a dream once dreamed by a little girl who couldn’t wait to read her next Bobbsey Twins mystery has become a great honor and a sweet privilege and a humbling experience. And now I can’t wait to write my next Mercy and Elvis mystery.

It just doesn’t get any better than this.


Paula and Bear bright bluePaula Munier is a literary agent and author whose first crime novel A Borrowing of Bones debuts from Minotaur in September 2018. Her other books include the bestselling Plot Perfect, Writing with Quiet Hands, and The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings. In her fab day job at Talcott Notch Literary Services, she reps many great crime writers

Interview: Barb Schlicting

Please welcome Barb Schlicting, author of The Whitehouse Dollhouse Store mysteries and The First Lady Mysteries series!

14pts2deathWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

I love being able to get up refreshed and get in a nice walk down by the lake. I start at the park next to the campus and walk to town along the lake.  It’s so beautiful. I love to see the ducks, loons, all the wildlife. The air is clean and fresh.

After the walk, get a good cup of coffee, a chocolate, and sit and write until noon. The rest of the day free and clear for other activities.

How did you get started writing?

I have had a penpal in England for 55 years. Chris is like my best friend forever. My BFF. Ever since we began writing, we’ve told each other our secrets from our first dance to first kiss and first time making love.  All the emotions of a young teenage girl would have, we both poured into our writing.  We’re friends on FaceBook, of course, and keep in touch that way, however, three years ago, I spent two weeks with her, and we’ve decided to go back to writing letters.  It’s great.  I’m usually the delinquent and have to be reminded to get in gear and write.  Writing emails or typing letters just doesn’t cut the mustard, as it were, long hand is the way to write.

I believe that because of my good friend, I became interested in writing. I’ve always loved to read, but writing is different. I learned to spin stories and express myself through the process of writing.  I also learned that I had a knack for telling stories.

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

I fell in love with the First Ladies since I was a little girl. I absolutely adored Jackie Kennedy and felt so sorry for her and the children. I was in sixth grade at the time of the assassination, which made an impact on me.  I also loved Betty Ford, Barbara Bush and Michelle Obama.  I fell in love with them all. That being said, I got a ‘bee in my bonnet’, and sent a letter to each of the presidential libraries requesting an autographed photo of each one.

The first one to respond was Rosalynn Carter. Barbara and Laura Bush sent a photo of which they’d calligraphy their signature.  Barbara Bush also sent me a note.  I received a signed photo of Nancy Reagan which is similar to a Christmas card and it has the presidents picture on it, also.  It was more difficult to receive Hillary Clinton’s because they kept wanting to send me her photo as Secretary of State.  I finally told whoever it was, that I’m not a moron, just send the picture. I received an envelope full.  Betty Ford died when I realized she had been alive so I screwed up with her.  However, here’s the big one, Michelle Obama sent me a letter on White House stationery plus the signed photo.  I’ll be her fan for life.

Now, I don’t know what to do with them.  I’m afraid of something happening to them, so they’re in the banks safe deposit box.

This story leads me to my First Ladies Mystery series.

Tell us a bit about your new book.

Edith Wilson: Fourteen Points to Death is the first in a White House Dollhouse store series. A horrible murder of a First Lady Edith Wilson actress generates backlash from cast members. Liv, the store’s owner, takes on the role and does her own investigation. Little did she know that the death sentence stems from one-hundred year old resentment for the treatment of the Suffragists.

This is the first in the White House Dollhouse Series. I’ve decided to publish the series under my own imprint. The series is a great way to learn bits and pieces of history without being tested!





0Barb 028I’m a First Lady fanatic which is why I write the First Ladies Mystery Series.

My high school was Theodore Roosevelt in Minneapolis so I was bound to be a history nut from the start. My dad graduated from the same school. I should’ve paid attention to karma and majored in American history instead of elementary and special education.

I have three First Ladies mystery books, one historical fiction mystery, a new White House Dollhouse Store mystery, and two picture books. A recently published picture book features the first few days in New York City with First Lady Martha Washington. I also write poetry and have a published book. I live in Bemidji with my husband and walk outside, weather permitting, by the campus and along the lake Bemidji boulevard.

Guest Post: Judy Penz Sheluk

Welcome back to frequent visitor, Judy Penz Sheluk. She has a new book coming, the second in her Marketplace Mysteries, Past & Present. Today, she’s talking about a question ever author faces…multiple times, usually.

Finding Inspiration

pnp3“Where do you get your ideas?” That’s probably the number one question I’m asked, whether I’m at a backyard potluck, a conference panel, or a library/bookstore event. My stock answer is, “From life,” and then I’ll usually cite the premise behind my 2015 debut novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose: A greedy developer comes to town with plans to build a mega-box store on the town’s historic Main Street, thereby threatening the livelihoods of all the indie businesses. After all, most, if not all, of us have seen what happens to small business when big box moves in. So yeah, ideas, I get them from life.

The idea for my latest book, Past & Present, however, was inspired by death. Gosh that sounds macabre doesn’t it? And yet, it really isn’t. You see, I was trying to come up with a plot for book two in my Marketville Mystery series (the sequel to Skeletons in the Attic) and I was completely stuck. And then, on September 21, 2016, my mother, Anneliese Penz, passed away after a lengthy battle with COPD and a multitude of other health-related issues.

Going through her bedroom closet, I came upon a train case, the sort of case you’d have taken for toiletries and the like back in the 1950s. Tucked inside were a variety of documents, including her passport and immigration papers from 1952, documents from the ocean liner she came from England to Canada on (the TSS Canberra), old pictures and postcards…well, you get the idea. The thing is, I’d never seen any of these things before, and my mom never talked much of her life before coming to Canada to marry my father. The writer in me had to know more.

I started by researching the Canberra, reaching out to a friend who collects ocean liner memorabilia, and before long, a story began brewing. The end result was Past & Present, and while the story is fiction, the research undertaken by my present-day protagonist, Callie Barnstable, mirrors my own, right down to the occasional (and frustrating) roadblock as she digs into the past of one Anneliese Prei, who came to a “bad end” in 1956.

The Past & Present release date of September 21, 2018 marks the two-year anniversary of my mother’s death, and the book is dedicated to her memory. I like to think she’s still watching over me, handing out bookmarks in heaven, my father by her side.


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About the author: An Amazon International Bestselling Author, Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, the first in the Glass Dolphin Mystery series, was published in July 2015, and is also available in audiobook. The sequel, A Hole In One, was published March 2018, with audiobook to follow Fall 2018.

Skeletons in the Attic, Judy’s second novel, and the first in her Marketville Mystery series, was first published in August 2016 and re-released in December 2017. It is also available in audiobook format. The sequel, Past & Present, will be released September 2018. Judy’s short crime and literary fiction appears in several collections.

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 as a representative for Toronto/Southwestern Ontario.

Find out more about Judy at