Interview: Paisley Ray

Please welcome Paisley Ray, author of The Rachael O’Brien Chronicles.

Jcakes_final_sRGBWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

Sitting under a beach umbrella, with a fully stocked cooler next to the Atlantic in South Carolina.

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

I wear a Swatch watch—an updated version of the one I wore in the 80’s—Just like my main character Rachael O’Brien wears.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Growing up, I got hooked on Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. I really loved watching the series on Masterpiece Theatre. I also became a fan of Ed Gorey who designed the pen-and-ink Victorian and Edwardian sketches of tombs and a woman on a tower in peril, which introduced the mystery each week. Those images stuck with me. Once I completed the first books in The Rachael O’Brien Chronicles, I had an artist design my book covers in a whimsical hand inspired by him.

Do you listen to music when you write?
The only music in my writing space is the snore of my fourteen-year-old pug, Quigley, and the hum of a fan on a hot day.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A milk chocolate turtle. Lots to chew on and a bit nutty.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
The span of years between teenager and young adult are when young adults step into their own skin and find their gumbo. I remember that time well and luckily, am able to laugh about it. My books are set in the Carolinas, a place I absolutely love to visit and where I have a lot of memories.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Enduring friendships, changing family dynamics, boy drama, local cultures and an art mystery

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality.
Rachael O’Brien thinks she’s knows what’s best and considers herself savvy, and sensible in a laid back kind of manor which couldn’t be farther from the truth. She’s good at reading others, but terrible at recognizing her own weaknesses. Neurotic about avoiding trouble, she falls right into it.

What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Rachael grew up in small town Ohio, with a normalish family until Freshman year when her mother left to find her inner psychic self. Once her mother left, the dynamics between her and her dad changed and Rachael discovered hidden family secrets. It turns out that nothing was as she thought, which continues to mess with her head.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I tell people that my books are Bridget Jones meets Fried Green Tomatoes with a Nancy Drewesque art twist.

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

Shakespeare & Agatha Christie – no introduction needed

Colin Dexter – Inspector Morse

Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes

Jennifer Saunders – Almost Famous 90’s UK BBC sitcom

Patrick O’Brian – Aubrey-Maturin series

Edward Stratemere – Nancy Drew series

Can you tell, I’m a big fan of English authors–

What’s next for you?
Swamp Cabbage—book 6 in The Rachael O’Brien Chronicles

Paperbacks of my first five plus audible versions.


Paisley Ray, a steel worker’s daughter, was Born and raised in rural Pennsylvania. After eighteen years, she had a diploma from North Allegheny High School and a part-time job at a local fruit stand, Soergel’s Orchards.

Freshman year, she attended college at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, for a year before transferring to Marquette University. Certain life experiences become seared into your brain. For Paisley Ray, being a furry blue college mascot, dumped head-first into a trash can by Bucky the Badger at the Marquette University rivalry basketball game, was one of those unforgettable moments. Fortunately, she is now able to look back and laugh, more than cringe.

After graduation, she worked for Jorgenson’s chocolate factory until it went bust. On the plus side, she can now easily identify caramels, creams and nuts before taking a bite. After that she had a stint at Holsum Foods, a salad dressing and olive packager, before landing a gig with Jockey, the tightie-whitie underwear company. The idea of writing a novel peculated and over the years, she took a stab at evening writing classes while she penned rough drafts of short stories.

They say necessity is the mother of invention and when the 2009 recession hit, Paisley was summoned to a hotel lobby, where her laptop was commandeered by her boss and the head of Human Resources. It was that moment that changed the course of her life. After a few hours of what now, she made a pact to write that damn novel and over the course of five years, The Rachael O’Brien Chronicles were born.

Married to a Brit, she is the mother to a eleven-year-old daughter and a fourteen-year-old pug. When she’s not taking care of her cronies, she can be found crafting the antics for the imaginary characters in the newest book of The Rachael O’Brien Chronicles. Book 6, SWAMP CABBAGE is her latest endeavor and is due to release winter 2014.


Twitter: @heypaisleyray



Guest Post: Marilyn Levinson

Twelve Things to Remember When Writing a Mystery Series

  1. Your sleuth should be likable, interesting and resourceful, with a definite personality that includes quirks and personal issues that have yet to be resolved. Your sleuth needs to have a personal stake in solving the mystery.
  2. Consider your setting a major character. Use your setting well–its geography and flavor, its contrasting neighborhoods, businesses, parks and restaurants. Set your scenes in various locales to avoid monotony.
  3. Occasionally change your setting. If most of the books in your series take place in a small town, you might have you sleuth solve a murder in Manhattan.
  4. Your sleuth needs a best friend or confidant with whom to brainstorm. Consider his/her having a nemesis, as well, to up the tension and add red herrings to the mix.
  5. A love interest or interests spices up your plot and adds another dimension. While your reader enjoys the puzzle-mystery aspect of your novel, his/her ties to your sleuth are even stronger.
  6. Choose your victim carefully. Why was he/she murdered? What connects the victim to the suspects? Why was the second victim murdered?
  7. As for suspects, have many, with various motives, and with varying connections to the victim(s). Don’t telescope the identity of the murderer, but let your murderer appear often enough so that your reader doesn’t feel cheated when all is revealed.
  8. Secrets relating to the past are like chunks of dark Belgian chocolate in a chocolate brownie. Every character should have a secret or two. Reveal each secret only when necessary. Use them to your advantage.
  9. Every mystery should have a theme. Be it a dispute regarding an inheritance, collecting butterflies or coins, each mystery should include a theme that reflects the concerns of the village or the outside world.
  10. Decide what role official crime solvers play in your mystery. Even if you’re writing a cozy series, the police must appear in your books. Is your sleuth friendly with the homicide detective? Do they have an adversarial relationship?
  11. Sub plots are essential to any novel, including your mystery. They arise from the theme such as a dispute over land development, or from an issue in your sleuth’s personal life.
  12. Make sure your personal viewpoint comes through in your writing. You are unique. Your take on the human condition will help make your series stand out.


A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and books for kids.
 Two of her mysteries, Murder a la Christie and MIITAFinalMediumA Murderer Among Us–the first book in her Twin Lakes Mysteries series–are on Book Town’s 2014 Summer Reading Mystery List. A new e-edition of Murder in the Air, the second in the series, is now available. All of her mysteries take place on Long Island, where she lives. Her books for young readers include No Boys Allowed; Rufus and Magic Run Amok, which was awarded a Children’s Choice; Getting Back to Normal, & And Don’t Bring Jeremy. Marilyn loves traveling, reading, knitting, doing Sudoku, and visiting with her granddaughter, Olivia, on FaceTime. She is co-founder and past president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Her website is:

Fireworks: New Kitten

“We fooled around and fell in love.” We have a new tortoise shell calico kitten.

“She’s of feral origins,” they said.

“Oh, but she’s so cute,” I said.

“We’ve had feral cats before and tamed them,” he said.

But we forgot about the Queen at home, a 10-year-old calico who has her own wild streak. It is my theory that cats allow us the illusion that they are domesticated. They hang out with us because, frankly, humans attract mice.

We separated them at first, like the experts say. The kitten had been recently spayed. Plus, we wanted to gain her trust before trying to get the two cats to bond.

Being feral, however, the kitten escaped into the whole house and hid in a place we really couldn’t reach her. Did you know you had such places in your house? We didn’t. The big girl waited patiently with an occasional yowl. When the kitten came down, she made her move before we could blink. Instant fireworks. We thought the older cat was fat and slow. Let’s just say kittens breathe new life into everyone.

Since then, we’ve had a divided house: one cat in one part, one in another, with occasional attempts to bring them together. They stare at each other, the kitten anxious to play, the cat anxious to put an end to this intrusion once and for all.

“Have you called the behavior specialist?” the animal rescue friend asks.

“Have you consulted with an animal communicator?” my meditating friend asks.

“Squirt guns,” says the vet friend.

We’ve gotten out the old spray bottle we used to help our cat understand the rules in our house in her kitten days. No, you may not put your claws into me. No, you may not climb the curtains. A small squirt will disrupt an impending attack. If you can get there in time.

Cats are fast.

Let’s just say it’s been a month of intermittent fireworks punctuated by long periods of stalking and sulking. But peace will come, even to the most devious feline heart and maybe even to the most thorny regions of the globe. “Hope is the thing with feathers.”

No, wait. Please don’t kill the bird.

Writing on the Road—Risking Fireworks!

As this posts, I am returning home from 3 weeks on the road. It’s been a lovely trip, visiting my family who lives abroad, but that’s a big chunk of time out of the writing schedule.

Luckily, writers have flexible schedules and can work most anywhere, most any time, as long as the hours get logged. Publishers have their own schedule, which doesn’t always coincide with a writer’s schedule. I am contracted to deliver my next book soon, and if I don’t deliver the book, I risk fireworks with my publisher. On the other hand, if I spend too much time locking myself away from the family to write, I risk fireworks with them. What’s a writer to do??

Here’s what I’ve found that works for me while on the road:

1. Write every day. This is key for me. It doesn’t matter how little I write. It can be only a paragraph. But if I miss a day without any thought toward my WIP, then I break my continuity. This either gets me stuck or I end up going backwards, rather than forwards.
2. Stealing time. I usually rise an hour or so before the rest of the family, and that’s when I steal my time to write, so as not to interfere with any family activities. If jet lag keeps me awake in the middle of the night, I write then, too.
3. Overstimulation. In a new setting, with so much to see and do, it’s super easy to get distracted from the WIP. I may not remember what I’m supposed to write next, so I give myself permission to write any scene I want. Forget about transitions, just write it now and piece it into the draft later.
4. Ignore Critical Voice. Sure, the writing is bad. Really bad. But I just keep writing it anyway. I can throw it away later, but chances are, once I’m farther into the story, I’ll discover that what I thought was bad isn’t so bad after all.
5. Chill. If all else fails, I don’t beat myself up. I give in, and maybe just write in my journal, some sensory stuff that I can use later in some other project. Or I will do some plotting work, or studying by reading a good book, or research, or just plain old think time.

When a writer goes on the road, it’s not always vacation time. It’s a big challenge to keep on going. How do you handle traveling and writing? I’d love to learn some more tips!

Fireworks 2: Back to School Edition

Take a deep breath, shoppers.  It’s school-supply-list season!

Each year, we lurch around Target, while I try to (a) read the lists with one hand and steer the cart with the other, (b) find the cheapest item that will fulfill the obligation, (c) stay out of the way of other irate supply-list shoppers, (d) keep my children in some kind of close proximity, (e) explain to Youngest that no, he can’t get anything off of THAT list because his grade uses THIS list, and (f) explain to Eldest that although he is indeed picking things out, he won’t be able to keep them because they are headed for the “community pile,” so we don’t really need to spend a half hour deciding between the green folder and the blue folder.

Here’s an idea: why doesn’t the school just order all of the supplies themselves?  We’re already paying fees for books and technology and field trips…how about just add another fee to that and keep us out of the equation?  Plus, if the school ordered supplies in bulk, they’d get a discount!  And everything would come out of the community pile (rather than going into it) so it would be like the school was giving the kids presents!! It’s a win-win!

I’d happily kick in a few extra bucks not to have to do this Odyssey of The Absurd every year–especially since the list goes far beyond your basic items.  Folders and notepaper?  Absolutely.  Garbage bags and reams of paper?  Not so much.

Husband’s response to the news that we had to provide EIGHT large glue sticks: “Well, then I better see something glued come home Every. Single. Day.”

Fireworks: Jumping Off a Cliff

We’ve talked about many different types of “fireworks” this month as associated with all things books: debut day, romance, etc. But I have to say that, personally, my most favorite of all the literary fireworks in general is the one that just goes BOOM and then leaves you hanging.

The cliffhanger.

But a very specific kind of cliffhanger: the chapter-ending cliffhanger.

I do not like books that end in cliffhangers. In fact, if I get wind at all that a book ends with a “too be continued,” chances are I’ll wait until the next book comes out to pick up the first.

This isn’t exactly what the author or publisher want me to do, but I’d much rather push several books in my to-be-read pile to the top than read a book with an unsatisfying ending and then have to pick the story line up again in a year.

Sure, you have to leave some things unanswered in a series, but if the arc just does an anvil-assisted Wile E. Coyote hop off a cliff for a year, chances are I’ll wait the year rather than torture myself. (And, yes, I read the Game of Thrones books. I do think George R.R. Martin answers enough questions that I can’t get mad at him between books.)

That said, the chapter-ending cliffhangers are perfect. They’re my favorite thing to write and they’re my favorite thing to read, especially in my beloved crime novels. I love how they push the plot forward, keep you on your toes, and skew the story in any possible direction. The just work as a device and add so much tone to the piece as a whole.

What’s your favorite writing device/firework?

Interview: Carmen Amato

Please welcome Carmen Amato, author of the Emilia Cruz mystery series and The Hidden Light of Mexico City.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
First, thanks so much for hosting me here at Mysteristas! I love reading the blog and finding out about great books and creative authors who love mysteries as much as I do.

My perfDIABLO NIGHTS_moon_final_300ect day starts with coffee and watching the news with my husband, followed by a session in the treadmill or the pool. The next six hours are devoted to writing, without social media distractions, having to do laundry, or the phone ringing. Remember this is a perfect day.

Once I’m done killing off characters, I find that all the ingredients for dinner are at home and don’t have to make any strange substitutions. A glass of wine, some good conversation over the evening meal, and time to connect with family and friends. Perfection.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I have a black leather Furla handbag. There’s a funny story on my website about the day I bought it in Rome, Italy. I travel a lot and over the years it has been photographed in some unusual places. The signature Furla bag is a consistent design element on my website, Twitter profile, and Facebook page.

Dark red is my signature color. It frames my name on all my book covers and it is the dominant accent color on my website,

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
The late Leighton Gage, author of the Inspector Silva mystery series set in Brazil, was a huge inspiration. I’d been advised that books with Latino characters would never sell. It felt like a big breakthrough to find an author who’d done exactly what I wanted to do. He let me shrug off the bad advice I’d been given.

My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Taverna, was extremely creative and imparted his enthusiasm to his students. He wrote funny short stories featuring various Italian foods as the main characters and taught us fractions using pizza and brownies.

My college-age kids are both very creative. I often bounce plot ideas off them. My son once helped me figure out a tricky storyline over a plate of fried calamari at an outdoor café in the Monastiraki district of Athens, Greece.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, I focus all my attention on the text in front of me and don’t like distractions. That being said, I keep lists of songs that should be included in the soundtracks if any of my books become movies. You can see the dreamcast and playlist for The Hidden Light of Mexico City and for the Emilia Cruz mystery series on my website.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
My latest book is Diablo Nights, the third novel in the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. The series includes Cliff Diver, Hat Dance, and the collection of short stories Made in Acapulco.

Emilia Cruz is the first and only female police detective in Acapulco. The iconic Pacific resort city is on most observers’ list of top 10 most violent cities in the world these days, thanks to drug cartels competing for the lucrative market in El Norte. Emilia Cruz is constantly challenged by not only drug cartel violence but also Mexico’s culture of machismo. Good thing she’s a fighter.

If Diablo Nights, was chocolate, it would be dark chocolate blended with bits of bitter orange and chopped nuts. Dense, rich, tangy rather than sweet, with a satisfying crunch.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Many of the themes in the Emilia Cruz series are inspired by the headlines coming out of Mexico. Issues include drug cartel violence and government corruption.

In the case of Diablo Nights, I also drew on a historical event. The Cristero War was an uprising caused by the Mexican government’s effort to eradicate the Catholic Church in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Father Miguel Pro Juarez was a priest who eluded capture by the Mexican Army in order to continue his pastoral duties, only to be caught and executed in 1927. It’s a little-known but fascinating episode in Mexico’s history.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The Emilia Cruz series has a continuing subplot in which Emilia keeps a record of women who have gone missing and searches for a girl missing from her own neighborhood.

As many as 80,000 people have gone missing or have been killed in Mexico due to drug cartel violence in the past 10 years. Despite the high number, many outside Mexico aren’t aware of the toll. The series is my small effort to bring this appalling circumstance to light.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz is a good liar, a fast thinker, a determined investigator and a mean kickboxer. An Acapulco native forced to grow up too fast, she’s been a cop for nearly 12 years and a detective for two; a strong woman in a squadroom that didn’t want her and is still trying to break her.

She lives in two worlds much of the time. There’s the Acapulco that tourists know; luxury hi-rises, candlelit nights on the beach, the sweep of the most beautiful bay in the world, the majesty of the clear blue Pacific.

But there’s also the Acapulco that is a prize to be fought over by drug cartels; the city that is home to hookers and thieves, the streets where life is cheap and poverty is as pervasive as the wind off the ocean.

Both of these versions of Acapulco claw at each other and force Emilia to survive between them. No investigation will be easy, no crime will be simple.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Last year I wrote that Emilia’s character was inspired by 3 famous Latinas; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, actress America Ferrera, and Olympic boxer Marlen Esparza. Each has qualities that form part of Emilia’s character: determination, perseverance, and focus on goals. You can read the whole article here:

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
They’d all be writers of mystery series I enjoy: Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell, Donna Leon, Alexander McCall Smith, Leighton Gage, and Robert B. Parker.

I’d make carnitas from The Emilia Cruz Cookbook: 7 Mexican Recipes from the Mystery Series— readers who purchase the Kindle version of any Emilia Cruz mystery will find a link at the end of the book where they can sign up and download a copy. Each recipe in the cookbook includes an excerpt of the mystery in which the food was featured.

Sangria and mojitos would keep the party lively and we’d concoct a mashup mystery in which all our detective characters solve a crime together.

What’s next for you?

Two more Emilia Cruz mysteries, Shattered Siesta and Tequila Row, are slated for release in 2015. A paranormal suspense novel is also in the works for 2016 and will be my first book set in the US.

I’ll also keep offering free Emilia Cruz stories to readers. Right now, readers can sample the Emilia Cruz series with a free download of the first Emilia Cruz story, “The Beast,” which reveals how Emilia won the right to become Acapulco’s first female police detective. The free download is available here:

Carmen Amato is the author of political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City and the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Originally from New York, her novels are sharp-edged stories that combine complex plots with characters and settings drawn from her experiences living in Mexico and Central America. Find more at and connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects.