Guest Post: Cathy Perkins

Thanks for inviting me back to the Mysteristas!

It’s been fun reading all the collecting posts this month.

I was at the beach last week—a writing retreat with a wonderful group of authors—and watched people stroll the beach, head down, collecting shells. Don’t get me wrong, I have quite an scstateshellassortment of shells at home—whelks, sand dollars, scotch bonnets, conchs and shark’s teeth. Bits and pieces that remind me of places we visited and good times with our children.

That day I was looking for shells for a friend—another author who’d never seen a lions paw or auger, much less a lettered olive, the smooth shiny official state shell. Of course, she’s convinced an alligator is going to lumber out of the shallows or a shark will show up in the waters beyond our island cottage—but that’s a different story.

Except, when you think about it, maybe it is the story. Everyone at the rereat needed to write to meet deadlines—and because writing is what we do—we were also collecting memories, weaving new sections of a friendship tapestry. Those shells serve as a trigger—a remember when—to memories that nurture freindships. A network of friends sees you through the darkest—and brightest—times.

In my latest release, CYPHER, Cara Wainwright calls on her network of friends for insight into the deadly mystery surrounding Cypher, her family’s business. Although Detective David Morris wishes Cara would stay out of the investigation—and out of harm’s way—Cara can’t stand by and watch her family be destroyed.

My network of friends offers a different kind of support from brainstorming to cheering each stage of a new story. While I write stories where the plot twists and turns and everyone has a secret, I’m glad I’m not running from an assassin when I do it!


Cypher-Cover-Final-72dpiAn award-winning author, Cathy Perkins works in the financial industry, where she’s observed the hide-in-plain-sight skills employed by her villains. She writes predominantly financial-based mysteries but enjoys exploring the relationship aspect of her characters’ lives. A member of Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America (Kiss of Death chapter) and International Thriller Writers, she is a contributing editor for The Big Thrill, handles the blog and social media for the ITW Debut Authors, and coordinated for the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense.

When not writing, she can be found doing battle with the beavers over the pond height or setting off on another travel adventure. Born and raised in South Carolina, the setting for CYPHER, HONOR CODE and THE PROFESSOR, she now lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.


Social Media


Twitter: @cperkinswrites






Book links

ISBN                1942003005

ISBN13           978-1942003007







Lately I’ve been reviewing old journals written at various times in my life. I’m quilting together a new novel and finding amazing little pieces that are just what I need to tickle my memory. What a treasure trove. And to think I was considering just tossing them.

There’s the one from my first writing group. That phrase calls up a critique group, but this one was a journal writing group. We were fledgling poets, fiction writers, and academics meeting in a yellow house in Seattle. We each picked a prompt, wrote about it during the week, then read to each other. I have a hyper-active critic, so I made a rule during this period in my life that I couldn’t cross things out. Because, really, my drafts looked like a redacted CIA document more than anything. That one thing helped my writing more than anything. Words flowed. Some good, some indifferent, some downright terrible. But words flowed. I learned how to just keep going.

In this journal I found the first draft of my first published short story, a list of what was in all the drawers in my childhood house (which people loved for some unknown reason), and a tribute to Beatle John Lennon who’d just been shot. I’d studied with the same meditation teacher as the Beatles, and the piece took me there and to that first record Maharishi made (yes, vinyl) that talked about Transcendental Meditation. I listened to it very seriously at 16.

Another journal was from Ira Progoff’s Intensive Journal Program which I attended twice. Progoff divides up lives into several categories—daily pages, dialogues with the self, dreams to name a few. This process helped me dig into myself in interesting ways. It honed my writing as I dug.

Then there were notes and writing exercises from two summers at Women’s Voices in Santa Cruz where I studied with the likes of Valerie Miner, Gloria Anzaldúa, Judy Grahn, Andre Lorde, even Adrienne Rich. A poem I wrote there was published in Rich’s journal Sinister Wisdom. I love that title. Did I realize I was in heaven, that this glorious time would pass? No, I thought this was how life would always be.

Do you still keep a journal or has it gone by the wayside as deadlines loom?

Collecting—Erasers and Revision

My family says I’m a packrat.  If you saw my bulging shelves, drawers, and closets, you might agree.  But really, all that stuff is necessary:  all the books, the fabric and yarn, the family keepsakes, the trophies of milestones.  And yes, even my eraser collection.

I started collecting erasers back in junior high, when I lived in Brazil.  In those days, in that place, we didn’t shop self-service in a giant office supply store.  Instead, there was a narrow, street-front shop, no wider than a glass counter and a space for the customer to stand.  You told the clerk what you wanted, and the clerk pulled out the item from behind the glass counter.

All I needed was one eraser, but they came in different sizes and shapes and colors and textures.  The clerk pulled them all out for me and waited for my decision as I inspected each one.  I was enchanted.  Who knew if I would need to erase pen or pencil?  Maybe the green would erase cleaner than the brick-colored one.  Or the white one?  What if the nubby, gummy one worked the best of all?  How could I only take one home with me?

Well, I didn’t.  I took a whole pencil box full of erasers home with me that day because I couldn’t decide which was the right one.

It’s like that in writing.  Decisions can be hard, especially in revision.  How do you know which characters, which subplots, which scenes are necessary, and which aren’t?  How do you –erase– cut out your darlings?

My first draft of Murder in the Dojo was almost 100,000 words long.  It’s an amateur sleuth mystery, and that kind of traditional mystery typically runs much shorter.  But I was getting to know my sleuth as I wrote that draft, and I threw everything in, including the kitchen sink.  My first rewrite only ended up growing longer.

Despairing, I figuratively got out my eraser collection.  But I loved all of my secondary characters and all of my subplots and some of those clever scenes.  How could I possibly part with any of them?  I came up with 5 easy steps to help me with those hard decisions about revision:

  1. Identify the central mystery:  whodunnit, whydunnit, and howdunnit.
  2. Who are the 5 most important possible suspects, and how are they connected to the central mystery?
  3. How does my sleuth become entangled in the central mystery?  (i.e., motivation)
  4. What mistakes does the villain make that reveal him/her to my sleuth?  (i.e., plot:  what are the clues that the sleuth tracks throughout the story?)
  5. How is justice served?

Once I identified those 5 areas, it became a lot easier to see that everything else just had to go.  I eventually got my book down to 60,000 words.  (And no, the trimmed scenes didn’t make it into the second book.)

Murder with Altitude, the second in the series, is coming out next month!

A See-Saw of a Post

Part the First:

This is not about collecting.  It’s about reluctantly letting go.

Our Mysterista sister Kristi Belcamino is leaving the blog.

Kristi has been with us from the beginning and will be very much missed.  But, of course, we wish her the very best! She has two new books out (Blessed Are the Dead and Blessed Are The Meek) with more on the way.

Keep up with Kristi’s activities over at her author blog:


Part the Second:
We have a guest blogger for the next two months!

Sarah Fox is a cozy mystery writer represented by Jessica Faust of BookEnds. When not writing mysteries or working as a legal writer, Sarah is often reading her way through a stack of cozies or spending time outdoors with her English Springer Spaniel. She is covering for Mysterista Sarah Henning during the months of September and October.

Please join us in welcoming Sarah Fox!


Collecting: Children

My final post of August won’t be about writing.


Rather, it’s about why I won’t be writing for a bit.

Because I am “collecting” something, as the theme goes: A new baby.

I’m due with a baby girl in September. She’ll pair nicely, I’m sure, with my rather spunky five-year-old boy.

And because babies can be really unhelpful most of the time in letting a mama know A. When they’ll be appearing and B. How much work they’ll be from the get-go, I’ve asked another Sarah to take my place for September and October.

The fantastic Sarah L. Fox will be subbing for me, and you’re going to love her!

She’s a Canadian cozy mystery writer and all-around great human being. I’ve had the luck of reading many of her words and I can tell you that they’re beautiful, poignant and perfect for those of you who like to curl up with a mug of tea, a blanket, and a fun mystery starring an amateur sleuth.

I really hope you enjoy Sarah’s posts for the next few weeks. It’s such a special treat for all of us that she’s visiting.

Oh, and, yes, I’ll let you all know when the newest piece is added to my collection.

Interview: Marilyn Larew

Please welcome Marilyn Larew, author of The Spider Catchers.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My idea of a perfect day would be nothing interrupting my writing time (doctors appointments have been big recently), barbecued chicken for dinner, anSpider cover 1d a good book to finish off the day.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My signature color is navy blue. My signature word apparently is “apparently.” I have to go through every manuscript and take it out dozens of times.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are inspirations for the mean streets Lee must sometimes walk down and Eric Ambler for the international intrigue she deals with.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No. I’ve tried, but I don’t really listen, so I don’t bother anymore.

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

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wanted my protagonist to be a strong woman with some connection to the CIA. I wanted my plot to deal with current issues, so I fell back on what I know. My dissertation was on money and banking, and I taught a course in the history of terrorism before I retired. The funding of terrorism, which includes drug smuggling and human trafficking, attracted my attention as an important theme. I put all these interests together in the plot of The Spider Catchers.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
My protagonist, Lee Carruthers, regularly works against gun and drug smugglers, human traffickers, and terrorists. None of these criminal endeavors can be wiped out. They are eternal Hydras, but Lee can occasionally cut off the head of one of the snakes.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Lee is the third generation of her family to work in intelligence. Her grandmother ran a safe house and escape route in Paris for OSS during World War II, and her father sold counterfeit piastres on the Hong Kong black market during the last days of the Vietnamese war to finance Agency projects. She has a masters degree in Islamic Culture from Yale. By the time we meet her, she’s tired of Islamic culture, tired of wearing black suits and covering her hair and trying to be invisible in a man’s world. She is not the invisible type. She’s seen too much and done too much, so she’s cynical and a bit world-weary, but underneath it all she still believes.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I’m finding this question hard to answer. Strong female protagonists are relatively new on the thriller scene. As you see, all the writers who influenced me. Lee is probably the lineal descendent of Emma Peel of the TV series The Avengers, always ready to take action. She also has a lot of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher, the Melbourne flapper, in her. Phryne has a clear-eyed view of the rot that lies under the surface of modern society.

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Jane Austen must come first. Although I suspect in her day she sat quietly watching the human comedy, I think her dinner table conversation would be delightful. John Buchan must be another guest. His work shows all the prejudices of his time, but Greenmantle is a superb World War I adventure tale. I’d like to seat Eric Ambler next to him and watch the sparks fly. Robert van Gulik’s Judge Dee series led me to a lifelong interest in Chinese history. His famous collection of Chinese erotica would be an interesting topic of conversation. Perhaps I’ll seat him next to Jane Austen. Finally, Charles Todd (the Inspector Rutledge series), a unique mother-son collaboration, whose portrayal of the effects of World War I on British society, will also be an interesting contrast to the work of John Buchan. This seems to me to be an interesting combination of nationalities and time periods. I don’t think it would be much trouble to keep the conversational ball rolling. Besides I’d like to meet each of them.

What’s next for you?

I’m in the process of revising the second book in the Lee Carruthers series, Dead in Dubai, which I hope to bring out late this year or early next year. It takes me to the fabulous Emirate of Dubai, which I hope my readers will find as fascinating as I do.


Marilynn Larew was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and after a living in a number of places, including the Philippines and Japan, she finally settled in southern Pennsylvania, where she and her husband live in an 150 year old farmhouse. She has taught courses about the Vietnamese War and terrorism at the University of Maryland and travelled extensively in Europe and Asia. She likes to write about places she has been or places she would like to go. She has published non-fiction about local history, Vietnamese history, and terrorism. The Spider Catchers is her first novel.

Collecting characters

We’ve talked a lot about the things we collect here this month (who knew we collected so much?). Recently, I realized, that as a writer, I collect something else.

I collect characters.

This realization came through Facebook exchange on my author page. I posted about my new project, a story that makes use of a new set of characters. In the post, I said, “I hope Jim and Sally don’t get too jealous and stop talking to me.” Because that would be kind of bad (and yes, if you’re a writer, you totally get the concept of imaginary people talking to you and you understand it completely; if you aren’t a writer, I would like to take this opportunity to say I am okay, and you don’t need to call the guys with padded rooms and jackets that snap in the back).

A reader responded, “New characters? Isn’t it getting a little crowded in there?” My head, she meant.

Well, yes.

See, I share head space with a lot of people, as I write two different series and now this third book (which, hey, might become a series – I’ve been told they are series-worthy characters). I am currently offering room and board to the following:

  • Jaycee/Lyla, Stu, Roger, and Starla, the crew of the Hero’s Sword series;
  • Jim, Sally and their friends (such as deputy coroner Tom Burns) from The Laurel Highlands Mysteries;
  • Jackson and Max, the characters for the new book.

That’s a lot of people. Thankfully, they don’t eat much.

People ask me, how do you keep them all straight? Honestly, it’s not that hard. They all have different voices. Jaycee, as a 13-year old girl, talks much differently than Sally, a professional woman in her early 30s. Jim, my Pennsylvania State Trooper, sounds a lot different from Jackson, my Niagara Falls homicide detective.

They have different stories and different ways of telling their stories. So it’s fairly easy to keep them straight. That’s not the problem.

The problem is when all of them want to talk at the same time.

Some writers can work multiple projects at a time. Me, not so much. My attention gets fractured. I can’t give each person the care and dedication that he/she deserves. Their voices get muddled and it’s harder to hear them. Although, when one of them has something to say, well, he or she can get pretty loud.

It makes me sound a little schizophrenic, really, that I’ve got all these voices in my head. But I do. And I love all them like dear friends. I’ll never turn them off with my wardrobe, or my language, or my bad habits – because my habits are their habits. They are not only friends, but each of them reflects a facet of my personality.

Yes, the collection can get a little scattered and frenetic at times. They’re a hard bunch to keep up with. But honestly? I wouldn’t have it any other way.