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.

Guest Post: cj petterson

Today we welcome cj petterson to the blog.

ebook-cover-the-possecj Sez: Relationships. I’ve read some really good articles recently on this subject, and the following essay is a product of some of the things I’ve learned.

The dictionary defines the word this way:

[ri-ley-shuh n-ship]

1. a connection, association, or involvement.
2. connection between persons by blood or marriage.
3. an emotional or other connection between people: the relationship between teachers and students.
4. a sexual involvement; affair.

Really, you don’t need another person to have a relationship. You can have a relationship with anything, animate or inanimate

In the movie Turner and Hooch, Tom Hanks’s Turner character builds a crazy relationship with a big, slobber-faced dog. You have a compulsively neat, bachelor detective whose tidy world encounters household destruction and chaos. . . The Odd Couple redux.

In the 2000 movie Castaway, Tom Hanks’s marooned character creates a relationship with an inanimate object. A Wilson volleyball takes on a persona. He gives it a face and a name and talks to it as if were another person. . . In the mid-1970s, it was the Pet Rock craze.

Every day we interact with animals, objects, and people of all stripes—family, friends, coworkers, strangers, et al. Our relationship with each is different, depending on the need.

Authors create relationships (interactions) between characters in their stories.

cr-deadly-bundle-calif-kiss-17-01-30One of the most important relationships authors can have is the one they have with their readers…the relationship they build with their writing.

If I’ve gotten you interested enough to continue reading this brief essay, then I’m beginning to build a relationship with you. This is about how long I can continue to entertain your interest in what I’m saying…the excitement of learning something new or discovering a statement that suddenly makes sense to you.

One comment I read on author/reader relationships went something like… “I don’t need every detail explained to me. Rather, let me see the details and discern for myself.”

This is how stories must progress if you’re going to keep your audience interested in your work. Write the truth. Appeal to their intellect. This is especially true for fans of mysteries, suspense, and thrillers. These readers love to learn something new. They’d rather not be told but want to discover things on their own. They want to feel smart at having figured out the puzzle. It’s about writing in Deep Point of View. It’s about positive reinforcement. We all need it.

A writer’s skill at creating a story that draws in a reader emotionally and intellectually is what keeps the reader coming back for more. That’s when you’ve got the beginnings of a relationship.

So, how do you maintain and grow your fan base? Know your intended audience as thoroughly as you know your characters, understand their wants, and write the best story you can that appeals to their emotions and intellect.

Caveat: It is the author’s responsibility to maintain the relationship. The reader doesn’t owe you anything and can end this promising author/reader relationship at any time, sometimes for no apparent reason.


cj petterson
Amazon Central Author Page:
Choosing CarterKindle / Nook / Kobo / iTunes/iBook
Deadly StarKindle / Nook / Kobo
blog at:
California Kisses — a 10-book bundle of romance stories 99 cents on Amazon
Coming in mid-February 2017—“Bad Day at Round Rock” a short story in The Posse, a Western anthology of tales of action, romance, myth and truth.


Interview: David Corbett

Welcome David Corbett, author of The Long Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

A day when I get in at least 4 solid hours of writing.

corbett_thirteenconfessionsWhat made you interested in writing your latest novel?

The novel (The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday) centers on the lifelong correspondence Doc Holliday conducted with his cousin Mattie, who became Sister Mary Melanie of the Sisters of Mercy, and was the inspiration for the character Melanie in Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell was related to the Holliday clan). These letters, which supposedly have been destroyed, have always fascinated me, as has Doc Holliday, who I think is America’s prototypical antihero.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

In no particular order:


God’s Pocket, Pete Dexter
Clockers, Richard Price
Angels, Denis Johnson
The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler
Double Indemnity, James M. Cain
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
Case Histories, Kate Atkinson
Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, and A Hall of Mirrors, Robert Stone
The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes, Joseph Conrad
Citizen Vince, The Zero, and Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
The Power of the Dog, Don Winslow
The Complete Stories, Franz Kafka
The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor
A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams
The Homecoming and No Man’s Land, Harold Pinter
The Price, Arthur Miller


Dispatches, Michael Herr
The Face of War, Martha Gelhorn
Homicide, David Simon
When Things Fall Apart, Pena Chödrön
The Quest for a Moral Compass, Kenan Malik
Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, Albert Camus


The Palm at the End of the Mind, Wallace Stevens
Tell Me, Kim Addonizio
The Complete Poems, Wiliiam Butler Yeats

Do you listen to music when you write?

Seldom. If I’m writing an article, I may listen to soundtrack music, especially pieces by Bernard Hermann, Alex North, Nino Rota, Randy Newman (especially his music for Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, which I love), or Mark Knopfler.

If I’m writing fiction, even melodies are distracting, and lyrics make it impossible for me to focus on my own words.

However, I have on occasion used classical music, but even then it needs to be non-intrusive and atmospheric. This will sound hopelessly snooty and esoteric, but these are the pieces I listen to if I do indeed play music in the background while writing fiction:

Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen, Transfigured Night, Four Last Songs
Alban Berg: Altenberg Lieder
Morten Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna
(These vary from eerily passionate to airily abstract)

I also have a CD featuring Dino Saluzzi on bandoneon with the Rosamunde Quartet that is very evocative of a tango danced amid beautiful desolation, like the desert at night, or the dark side of the moon.

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

The difficulty in knowing what’s the right thing to do, let alone doing it. The primacy of honesty, courage, and love among the pantheon of virtues, in particular the role of love in creating meaning and purpose. We do not know ourselves by ourselves. A lone wolf is a lost wolf. Learning how to live despite “the benign indifference of the universe” — Camus

Tell us about your main character.

I don’t have a series character, so I’ll tell you about the protagonist of my current novel, which I just finished. Her name is Lisa Balamaro, and she is an arts lawyer in her late twenties who grew up in Philadelphia and has never earned the love and respect of her father, a brilliant and famous jurist. The lack of love led her into some serious alcohol and drug abuse, and her life nearly cratered early on. But she pulled herself out of the wreckage, moved to California where she shares a practice with her former mentor, and is smitten with her most intriguing client: a former rodeo rider who became known as The Man Who Forged the West, due to his mastery at imitating famous western painters (and serving time in prison for it). His name is Tuck Mercer, and he’s the one who comes into possession of the supposedly destroyed letters between Doc and Mattie Holliday.

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

Actually she is a mash-up of three women I know, one of whom is famous, the poet Kim Addonizio. The other two are friends, whom I’d prefer not to identify too closely. But I will tell one story that was key in my using one of them, whom I will refer to as Lisa, my protagonist’s name.

At Mette’s and my wedding, the DJ called out all the single women in attendance for the traditional bouquet toss. His call was met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm (to put it mildly). Only two “women” obliged, one a very dear friend of my wife’s, the other a four-year-old girl. It was potentially humiliating for my wife’s friend, standing out there all alone—but then Lisa came out with her thick Philly accent and bright red dress and drew all the attention to her, rolling up her sleeves, clapping her hands, bellowing, “All right, big guy! C’mon. I’m ready.” By redirecting the focus and making all of us laugh, she turned a potential disaster into a triumph, and I will forever love and respect her for it. I also thought that what she did was a wonderful basis for a character, and I ran with it.

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

I’d just invite six of my friends. (Don’t tell the others.)

What’s next for you?

I hate talking about works-in-progress, because it diminishes the fascination with seeing it come to life in my mind and on the page. Sorry. I know that sounds like a cop-out. I will say it includes a distinct departure for me, in that I let go of the reins of realism just a bit. And Lisa Balamaro will return. Is that vague enough?


John and Pete aren’t just neighbors—despite their obvious, heated political differences, they seem the best of friends. Then on New Year’s Day, Pete strangles John for reasons not even he comprehends. He joins twelve others—including his ex-wife, a neighbor, John’s daughter, the judge—in confessing their lack of any answer, their fear of what that means, and their nakedly honest judgments of the killer, the victim, and themselves.

This title story joins a dozen others, both new and previously published—including one chosen for Best American Mystery Stories—that together provide a baker’s dozen of the very best short fiction from award-winning novelist David Corbett. Though they cover the breadth of the author’s experience—from the casinos of Vegas to the barrios of Central America—they all share a common theme: the inexhaustible search for dignity even in the face of life’s last chance.


mette-and-david-in-hat-on-birthday-copyDavid Corbett is the award-winning author of five novels, including 2015’s The Mercy of the Night, the story collection Thirteen Confessions (2016), and the writing guide The Art of Character (“A writer’s bible” – Elizabeth Brundage). 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.

Guest Post: DP Lyle – What If?

Welcome back Mysteristas friend DP Lyle with a very important question.

rtg-300x450Every author has been asked: Where do you get your ideas? The short answer is: Everywhere. Something you see or read germinates an idea and a story unfolds. Sometimes the story comes together quickly, but most often weeks of building mental scenes and snippets of dialog, setting, and action must be waded through before pen meets paper.

An overheard conversation might be the spark. Or a couple talking/arguing/laughing at a nearby restaurant table. Maybe an odd character strolling down the street. Perhaps an idea simply pops into your head from wherever those thoughts arise.

Okay, so you have an idea. Now what? An idea isn’t a story. Ideas are a dime a dozen. They are literally everywhere. The key is to find an idea that can stand up through a 100,000 word manuscript. No small trick.

To do this, the original idea must be refined and fleshed out. An idea can become a scene, but to be a full-length novel it must evolve and expand. It must become a premise, or what many call “The Central Story Question.” It’s what the story is really about.

To become a premise, the original idea must ultimately lead to the question: What if?

What if this happened? What if that person did this? What if that dude in the shabby clothes was actually a rogue undercover agent with a deadly agenda? What if the restaurant couple was planning a murder? What if that briefcase contained state secrets? Or an explosive device? Or a deadly virus?

From those two words–What if?–stories arise.

The power of your story’s What If? can’t be overestimated. If it is done correctly and not lost in the writing. A good What if? states the main character, the situation, the stakes, and, most importantly, the central story question.

It is the answering of this question that is the story.

Okay, so our restaurant couple is planning a murder. Who, what, when, where, and, most importantly, why? It’s always the why that makes a great story. Is it to get out of a messy marriage and save all that alimony money, or to cash in that million-dollar insurance policy, or to cover an embezzlement from a company they work for, or to seek revenge for some act? Even though the original idea was a couple planning a murder, each of these scenarios generates a different story. Each will lead your sleuth, who must solve the murder, into a different world.

What if a forensic evidence and criminal behavior expert must track down a seemingly average, very religious couple who murdered the killer of their only child, dumped their entire lives, and disappeared?

This is the What If? for my latest Dub Walker thriller, RUN TO GROUND. See how it introduces the protagonist and states the major story question? Will Dub be able to find the couple and what will happen if he does?

The What If? should be stated in about 25 words or less. The one above is a little long but it works. Because the What If? is brief, it’s often called the elevator pitch or the agent pitch. It communicates your story in the most efficient terms. We’ve all heard writers respond when asked what their story is about by saying things like, “Well, there’s this guy who lives on an island. And he hates the water. And a big shark is killing people and this is threatening to shut down the town’s beaches on a holiday weekend. And then there’s this other guy who is a shark expert and he has a really cool boat. Oh, I forgot, the first guy is the chief of police.” Yawn.

What if a hydrophobic, island-community police chief must go out on the water to kill a predatory shark to save the town’s summer economy and to prove his own self worth?

What if an FBI trainee must exchange personal information with a sadistic serial killer in order to track another serial killer and save a Senator’s daughter?

What if the youngest son of a mafia family takes revenge on the men who shot his father and becomes the new godfather, losing his own soul in the process?

These are of course Jaws, Silence of the Lambs, and The Godfather, respectively. See how these What If?s reveal the protagonist and cleanly state the story premise? Read these books or watch the movies and you will see that each scene moves toward answering the story’s What If? Each of your scenes should, too. If not, consider cutting, or at least reworking, those that don’t.

Many authors consume weeks creating the What If? for their story. Constantly refining it, making it more on point. You should, too. It’s that important. It concisely states the Central Story Question.

Here’s a tip: When your What If? is completed to your satisfaction, print it out and tape it to your computer or the front of your writing pad so you will see it every time you sit down to write. Before writing each scene, read your What If? and ask yourself, “Does this scene help answer the Central Story Question?” If you do this, you will never lose sight of what your story is about. Particularly in the dreaded middle, where so many stories get lost in the jumble of character and backstory and cool dialog all the other stuff that goes into a manuscript. The What If? keeps you focused and on track.


dpl2016-13DP Lyle
Crime & Science Radio:–science-radio.html

Interview: Dawn Barclay

Welcome Dawn Barclay, author of Expired Listings!

expired-listings-300-x-250hrWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

Lying on a pristine white sand beach in 80 degree sunny weather, near a palm tree for shade, with a drink and a great book.

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

I think my signature meal would be lobster or anything with cream sauce over rice. Chicken Pot Pie, also very me.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

I love authors who combine humor with whatever else they write so Marshall Karp, Jennifer Crusie, early Linwood Barclay and Harlan Coben, Jeff Strand.

Do you listen to music when you write?

No, I prefer it absolutely quiet. I’m going to zone in and ignore anything else anyway. My husband has had long discussions with me while I was writing and I guess he never noticed I never heard a word of what he said.

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

It would be a truffle because you wouldn’t know what was inside until you bit into it. You never know what you have until you look underneath the surface!

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

I wanted to convey to fellow Realtors the dangers inherent in our industry and I also wanted to demystify the BDSM scene that I’ve observed from friends (it’s really not what others are writing about.) I also love writing satire so I knew it had to be funny and way over the top.

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

The search for validation, the fact that nothing is ever what it seems (everyone has an agenda you know nothing about.) And also looking at anything in a satiric fashion.

Tell us about your main character.

Dana Black is a kinky but emotionally skittish former travel writer, now Realtor, who was abandoned by her mother at age 6, following the death of her father, and was left to live with her grandmother in the coal mining town of Centralia, PA–which if you don’t know anything about it, is worth some research. She’s sharp and resourceful and likes challenging herself. In many ways, she tries to overcome as an adult the issues she faced as a child. But she’s also burdened with recurrent blackouts, so she’s never sure where she’s been or what she’s been up to.

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

Wow, what an interesting question. I don’t know a lot of strong fictional or famous female characters that are already involved in the BDSM scene. But if we are just talking about strong, resilient, crime-solving, punny characters, not necessarily women or kinky, I would have to say Myron Bolitar (Harlan Coben), Andrew Mayhem (Jeff Strand) and Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich).

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

Ayn Rand (not mystery but she’s always going to be invited!), Harlan Coben (I met him and he’s hilarious), Marshall Karp (a friend already), Michael Connelly (met him too and he’s so nice), John Lescroat (met him at Thrillerfest, a doll) and Karin Slaughter (saw her interview Gillian Flynn at Thrillerfest, she is hilarious!)

What’s next for you?

I am writing a contemporary women’s fiction novel titled, “Slashing Mona Lisa.”



By day, a mild-mannered salesperson, wife, mother, rescuer of senior shelter dogs, happily living just north of New York City. By night, an author of sex, suspense and satire.

My background includes stints in travel marketing, travel journalism, meeting planning, public relations and real estate. I was, for a long and happy time, an award-winning magazine writer and editor. Then kids happened. And I needed to actually make money. Now they’re off doing whatever it is they do (of which I have no idea since they won’t friend me on Facebook) and I can spend my spare time weaving tales of debauchery and whatever else tickles my fancy.

The main thing to remember about my work is that I am NOT one of my characters. For example, as a real estate broker, I’ve never played Bondage Bingo in one of my empty listings or offed one of my problem clients.

But that’s not to say I haven’t wanted to…

Guest Post: Mary Feliz

Welcome back longtime Mysteristas friend Mary Feliz, author of the Maggie McDonald Mysteries.

When life imitates art, life becomes creepy…for a mystery author, that is.

Many writers recount chills they’ve experienced when an fictional disaster begins unfolding in reality. Authors feel responsible and are tempted hold back while plotting their next thriller or murder mystery.

I used to scoff, thinking, “We strive to write things that seem real. Why be alarmed or surprised if similar things actually happen?” But that was before I wrote and published two mystery books.

ADDRESS+TO+DIE+FORAddress to Die For introduces Maggie McDonald, a professional organizer who has more luck tackling her clients’ untidiness than she does setting her own house in order. She plans a seamless move to Silicon Valley, after which all hell breaks loose, starting with the discovery of a body in their basement.

Scheduled to Death has Maggie helping a high-profile Stanford University professor downsize, move, and beat a murder conviction.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when, within months of signing thefeliz-scheduled-to-death-cover contract for the first three books in the series, my husband and I put our house on the market and launched a plan to remodel and move to our thousand-square-foot vacation condo. Nor should I have been astonished when that decision, and the thousands that rapidly followed soon had us feeling scheduled to death.

Luckily, our move was completed with less drama than the crisis-filled mess I threw at my characters, but it had challenges of its own.

Early on in the process, I was up to my ears in boxes and late for a dental appointment. A foundation-rattling rumble sent me scurrying outside. An enormous truck-mounted auger pulled to the curb. The driver announced he was ready to dig the 15-foot hole for our soil test. What soil test?

I called our realtor, who promised to phone the buyer and sort it out. It turned out that the 15-foot-long trench I’d imagined was going to be a 4-inch-diameter core sample 15-feet deep.

Shortly thereafter, a Pacific Gas and Electric engineer rang the doorbell. When I answered, she took a wary step backward. I checked to make sure I was dressed. Managing our move meant I often packed and sorted in my pjs…and showered afterwards to wash off dust and newsprint.

The engineer said PG&E was told the house was vacant. She’d come to turn off utilities and mark the gas lines to ensure safe demolition. My car in the driveway suggested something wasn’t as it should be. She’d thought she’d double check. Smart gal! Our move was still months away.

Eventually, we sailed over all the hurdles. We donated, discarded, or stored seventy-five percent of our belongings, moved the rest, settled into our newly remodeled condo, and stopped to catch our breath.

Our first inkling of a new problem was a clogged toilet we cleared with a plunger. A simple fix, but it got worse. The sink gurgled ominously and the pipes clanked. Plumbers arrived trooping past our front window with hoses and compressors and dour looks. They were followed by Association employees, spontaneous confabs, raised voices, and nervous laughter. And then came the knock on the door.

After much scanning and probing with equipment emitting R2-D2-type chirps, the plumbers completed the equivalent of a full-body MRI on our condo. An elderly sewer pipe needed replacing. We’d need to move out for two weeks while they dug up our living room’s slab floor.

In the end, it worked out like most things do in the real world. Our remodeled kitchen survived undamaged. We didn’t find a body under the slab. No one tampered with the equipment. They didn’t puncture a water pipe and sawing into the slab didn’t weaken the building’s integrity. As mystery fiction, it was a total bust.

We were dispossessed for two weeks, during which we discovered that our characteristic stores of resilience were down a few quarts. But a team of hard-working and sympathetic association employees moved us back in without a hitch. We’ve met most of the staff and other residents it would have taken us longer to befriend under normal circumstances.

So it’s all good. But I have another new book release for Dead Storage in July. Coincidentally our local storage complex recently changed ownership and hours. Trucks pull up, deposit their loads, and leave under cover of darkness. Some of the units emit odd clanking noises at strange hours. The possibilities are endless…

Have you experienced a chill when reality mirrors fiction? Or read a novel with the eerie certainty that the author spied on the darkest hours of your life? Please share in the comments!

For more about the Maggie McDonald Mysteries, visit my website and sign up for my newsletter at: On February 10, I’ll be giving away five ebook editions of both books to randomly selected names on my newsletter list.


MaryFeliz5895_C5x7PrintMary Feliz writes the Maggie McDonald Mysteries featuring a Silicon Valley professional organizer and her sidekick golden retriever. She’s worked for Fortune 500 firms and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character’s stead, but Maggie’s skills leave her in the dust.