A fireside chat with Randy Rawls

Randy Rawls was a guest on Mysteristas last year with a delightful Christmas-themed book. He’s back, this time promoting his new release Saving Dabba: A Beth Bowman Adventure.

It’s such a pleasure to be here to talk about my books and my history of writing. I’d love to tell you I was born to write and have been doing so since . . . Can’t do that. It would be a lie. I can say I was born to read, though, because I’ve been doing it as long as I remember. It’s probably good that I don’t have a copy of every book I’ve read because I’d have to rent a warehouse for storage. And I’d still be adding books to that warehouse. Reading is one pleasure no one will ever take from me.

From that reading pleasure comes my interest in writing. I started many books during my early adulthood but didn’t have the perseverance or patience to finish any of them. The stubby pencil approach was not to my liking. Then along came the desktop PC, and I, like many, many others, rediscovered writing. The days of the boom in books available to us was born. And I was in the stream.

Of course, like I said, I wasn’t born to write—honestly, I don’t think anyone is—so I had to learn. Since I was a career US Army officer who wrote many, many papers of various lengths during my career, I was sure I knew how to get the job done. NOT! With my first book—probably one of the worst ever written—I discovered my approach was one of ignorance. I simply did not know how to capture a story on paper. It was a far different world from anything I’d ever put together before. And so, I set out to learn and am still learning. The most critical thing I’ve learned is that writing fiction is an acquired skill. (Incidentally, I’ve written a book I named Randy’s Boot Camp to Writing Fiction to show what I learned the hard way.)

Now I’m up to book 15 and loving every minute of it. With Saving Dabba, I hope you’ll decide that I’ve reached some degree of ability. Saving Dabba takes a hard look at the professional demonstration business. Please understand I’m not talking about those who hit the streets with valid grievances. I truly believe in the First Amendment to the Constitution. I’m talking about those who use grievances, real or imagined, as a way to riches and fame. So, with that said, I wrote Beth into a situation with Friends Intent on The Environment (FITE), a 501c3 organization that brings its message to Coral Lakes. It’s an excellent name and attracts many followers. However, the concurrent brutal deaths of homeless people might be more than coincidence. The police are baffled, so Beth believes she must act or lose more of her friends. Infiltration of FITE appears to be the best approach.

David, Beth’s doctor boyfriend, prefers that Beth stay clear of the situation. However, he knows that once Beth makes up her mind, there is little that will change it, short of an atomic blast. So, to Beth’s surprise, he supports and participates with her. The police have their hands full trying to maintain order because of the “demonstrations,” but the violence runs beyond their control.

Dot, Beth’s homeless friend, disappears, leading to Beth’s problems. Everything is in such turmoil the situation seems beyond control.

The story behind Saving Dabba is raw, but my book presents a capsule look at things happening across our country. I invite you to read it. When you’re finished, you will have every right to yell at me if I’m overreaching. Or, if you have fears for our country as I do, you can nod your head.


RandyRawls2017Randy Rawls was born and reared in Williamston, North Carolina, a small town in the northeastern part of the state. From there, he says he inherited a sense of responsibility, a belief in fair play, and a love of country. As a career US Army officer, he had the opportunity to learn, travel, teach, and hone talents inherited from his parents. Following retirement, he worked in other ventures for the US Government. Every job has in some way been fun. Even the dark days of Vietnam had their light moments, and he cherishes the camaraderie that was an integral part of survival in that hostile world.

Today, he has short stories in several anthologies, and a growing list of novels to his credit. As a prolific reader, the reads across several genres and takes that into his writing. He has written mysteries, thrillers, an historical, and two fantasy/mystery/thrillers featuring a Santa Elf. The count is now at fourteen and growing. He is a regular contributor to Happy Homicides, a twice annual anthology of cozy short stories. He also has a series of short stories featuring a cattle-herding burro. Wherever his imagination will take him, he follows.



Buy Saving Dabba at Amazon

Buy Jingle and his Magnificent Seven at Amazon



When I first learned about ghostwriting it felt wrong to me. Like someone was playing on their famous name to make money without doing anything. I thought it was deceitful. Kind of a con to readers. “Read the book by Celebrity X!” Only it wasn’t actually written by Celebrity X.

Just plain wrong.

Then I learned more about why some books are ghostwritten.

For the most part, the people who find someone to ghostwrite their book have an interesting story to tell. It might be their biography, or that of someone they love. I know of one woman who bought a book at a garage sale for 25¢ on how to make a million dollars in real estate. Guess what? She did it. It could be a book that would help someone going through the process of addiction recovery, or surviving cancer, or the loss of a child. Maybe it’s a book about building and selling a small business. It could also be a dramatic/traumatic period in someone’s life that would make for a great novel based on fact.

My bet is, the true owners of these stories tried to write the book and discovered, for whatever reason, it wasn’t going to happen. But the idea persisted. The need to tell their story didn’t go away just because they weren’t able to write it.

In comes the ghostwriter.

I’m writing one now, and happy to do it. The owner of the story has contracted with a publisher to bring something important to them to print. The publisher, who has a good reputation, brings writing talent to the table. That’s me… the “talent.”

I’m only a couple of weeks in, but here are the pros and cons as I see them now:



  • The story isn’t mine. I’m not creating it from scratch. I pretty much follow a transcript from hours of interviews. Essentially, the transcripts are the first draft, which for me is always the hardest part of the process.
  • In my case, a supportive publisher.
  • Helping someone bring their idea to life.
  • A paycheck.



  • The story isn’t mine. I’m not creating it from scratch. I have to stay within the probabilities of their recollection of events. My opportunity to invent is limited.
  • If my voice isn’t the one they’re looking for I need to be able to change it.
  • At least initially, the time commitment is greater than what I’d expected. That means…
  • The new manuscript I’m working on is taking a hit. But I think it might level out in the next few weeks. That’s what I’m counting on.

I’m learning as I go through this process. So far, I’m not regretting a thing.

And oh, by the way (in case you didn’t hear me yell) TRAFFICKED walked away as the winner in the Mainstream Fiction category at the Colorado Authors’ League Awards Dinner a couple of weeks ago. 

Writers, have you ever thought about ghostwriting? Readers, does it matter to you how the story was written?


It’s all better with friends.

Interview: Jill Orr

Please give a rousing Mysteristas welcome to Jill Orr, author of the Riley Ellison Mysteries!

Bad Break cover.jpg.FINAL_frontWhat themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

For reasons that will probably buy some therapist a beach house one day, I seem to continually revisit that time of life just after college, when we’ve got one foot in adulthood and one foot in late adolescence. There is something beautiful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful to me about that in-between time. It’s when we try figure out who we are going to be, what we want from life, and what we’re willing to do to get it. So much richness for character development there!
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I’d describe Riley as is one-part Hermione Granger, one-part Elizabeth Bennet, and one-part Tina Fey.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Agatha Christine, JK Rowling, Janet Evanovich, Alan Bradley, Liane Moriarity, and Maria Semple.
Tell us a bit about your new book.
The Bad Break is the second in the Riley Ellison mysteries, though it stands alone as a self-contained mystery. The book opens when a local cardiologist is found dead and Riley is tasked with writing his obituary for the local newspaper. When it is revealed that the good doctor was murdered (and may not have been so good after all) Riley ends up covering the murder investigation as well. Feeling a bit in over her head, Riley reluctantly enrolls in a 30 day free trial of bestmillenniallife.com, “a life coaching service by millennials, for millennials.” Will her new life coach’s pop culture-fortune cookie-song lyric wisdom help her solve the case? No. No, it won’t. But it will hopefully make you laugh and luckily, Riley is smart and determined and has a few tricks up her sleeve to get the job done on her own.

What do you think makes a good story?
For me, the best stories center around character. I figure if I’m going to spend 300 pages with someone, I want to feel invested. I don’t always have to like them or be rooting for them to get what they’re after, but I do have to care about what happens to them. Everything else is secondary to that – genre, plot, setting. If I am genuinely interested in the characters in a story, I could read about them doing almost anything. And not-so-surprisingly, that’s also how I write. When I begin a new project, it always starts with character!
Color bio photo2017Jill Orr is the author of the Riley Ellison mystery series. She lives in Columbia, Missouri with her husband and two children. The Bad Break is her second novel.

A Few of My Favorite Things

I’m a bit under the weather, so today I’m sharing a few of my favorite things – this month’s favorite mystery, thriller/suspense, and paranormal series NOT written by current or former Mysteristas. Tell me yours in the comments!

Favorite Series – Mystery

  1. J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) – In Death
  2. Agatha Christie – Miss Marple
  3. Jana Deleon – Miss Fortune Mysteries
  4. Carole Lawrence – Ian Hamilton Mysteries
  5. Leighann Dobbs – Lady Katherine Regency Mysteries
  6. Ellen Byron – Cajun Country Mysteries

Favorite Series – Thrillers/Suspense

  1. Catherine Coulter – FBI Thrillers
  2. Meg Gardiner – All of the them
  3. Allison Brennan – Lucy Kincaid Novels
  4. Kendra Elliot – Mercy Kilpatrick Series
  5. Laurie R. King – Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series

Favorite Series – Paranormal Mystery/Romance

  1. Patricia Briggs – Mercy Thompson Novels
  2. Kristen Painter – Nocturne Falls
  3. Lily Harper Hart – Ivy Morgan Mysteries, Harper Harlow Mysteries
  4. Michelle M. Pillow/ Jana Deleon/ Kristen Painter/ Mandy M. Roth – Happily Everlasting Series
  5. Devon Monk – Ordinary Magic Series

Guest Post: Susan Bickford

Please welcome today’s guest Susan Bickford–talking about a very important word.

The D Word

a short time to die - cover smallerDiversity is one of the Holy Grails in genre fiction. It can also be a contentious topic. Not only is the ultimate goal elusive and very personal, the landscape is constantly changing.

This winter, I basked in joy when A Short Time to Die was a Lefty (Left Coast Crime) nominee for Best Debut Novel. Quite a thrill.

All of the nominated books were terrific, so I set my expectations accordingly. Although I had a twinge of regret when I didn’t win, I was thrilled to see that African American author Kellye Garrett won with Hollywood Homicide. The voters at the conference—overwhelmingly white and somewhat older—enthusiastically embraced a story about a character by a writer who was not either of those.  Kellye went on to win an Agatha as well.

Last year, Joe Ide, a Japanese American writer, won a number of debut novel awards with IQ (which I loved), a book with an all African American cast of characters.

At the same time, there have been well-publicized controversies over how racial, ethnic, and gender issues have been portrayed in fiction. Apparently sensitivity readers are now a fixture in some aspects of the publishing world.

Meanwhile, I had a potential thorny problem: how to tackle diversity in my second book, Dread of Winter. I was in the midst of edits for my publisher and needed to address this head on.

Of course writers hate to be told they can’t create a voice in their work for characters not like them. Putting ourselves into the heads of people not like us is exactly what we do. I am never likely to commit a murder. How am I going to create a believable murder mystery or thriller without delving into the psyches of other people? Add to that, the world around us is increasingly diverse. Am I supposed to keep my book world filled with people just like me? Yuck.

On the other hand, it’s hard to deny that people of color, different ethnicities, and cultural allegiances don’t sometimes have a point. Looking back, we can find a number of cringe-worthy pieces in literature that we’d rather not acknowledge.

In my first book, A Short Time to Die, the world of Marly Shaw in Central New York was comprised almost exclusively of white people, much as the way that I remembered it from long ago. However, when the action shifted to California’s Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley, the challenge was more interesting. I definitely wanted to reflect the world around me in California.

I chose a second narrator, Vanessa Alba, a first generation Colombian American. Vanessa is a detective with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department. She is assigned the task of figuring out why human bones found in the Santa Cruz Mountains can be traced back to two individuals from Central New York. She teams up with Jack (Jackson) Wong, a detective from Santa Cruz County, and heads off to Central New York in the middle of January, where the temperature is dropping to forty below at night—not exactly the tourist season.

Although I speak Spanish, I made a point of interviewing several Latinx acquaintances to gain a better insight into Vanessa’s world. One of my neighbors, a blonde, blue-eyed university professor with a common Hispanic / Spanish last name, told me she could not find temporary housing for her family during their remodel, unless she used her husband’s last name when calling landlords. The things I never thought to notice.

I was comfortable with taking on Vanessa in part because she was a secondary character. I didn’t try to insert myself into her head the way I did with Marly, whom I consider to be the primary protagonist of the book.

My second book, Dread of Winter, will be out in 2019. This is another standalone story. Or rather, the setting of Central New York is the main character that returns to the stage and twists my characters into submission.

As I began this work, I revisited my old haunts and realized that the area “from Albany to Buffalo” (to quote “The Erie Canal” song I sang every week for at least thirteen years) is a lot more varied and diverse than I remembered it, and growing more so every day.

For example, the tiny burg of Peterboro, part of my school system at Cazenovia Central School, was a stop on the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War, and is home to the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum. There are African American families living in that area today that can trace their roots there. Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a cousin of Gerrit Smith, an abolitionist and temperance leader living in Peterboro. Elizabeth met her future husband in Peterboro.

I also had a number classmates and friends who were members of the various nations comprising Iroquois Confederacy—the Haudenosaunee (People of the Long House). The guiding principles of the Iroquois Confederacy influenced the thinking of colonial leaders like Benjamin Franklin when it came to designing our own Constitution. Although reduced in size, the Iroquois had a significant impact on the creation of our country, my personal upbringing, and continue to enrich our lives today in New York State and beyond.

I couldn’t back away from these challenges. I was determined to bring these flavors and more into my second book. Stay tuned for Dread of Winter in 2019.

What are your feelings about diversity in books as readers and / or as writers?


Susan Alice Bickford low res - ColorSusan Alice Bickford was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Central New York.

After she discovered computer graphics and animation her passion for technology pulled her to Silicon Valley, where she became an executive at a leading technology company.

She now works as an independent consultant, and continues to be fascinated by all things high tech. She splits her time between Silicon Valley and Vermont.

Website: SusanAliceBickford.com



Barnes & Noble






Malice Domestic 30: A Very Good Time!

Malice Domestic, the mystery convention, celebrated its 30th anniversary April 27-29, 2018 in Bethesda Maryland and I was there along with 600 mystery fans. Check out book bag that is given (filled!) to every Malice attendee. Attendees included Guest of Honor Louise Penny, Poirot honoree Brenda Blethyn, Lifetime Achievement honoree, Nancy Pickard, and the author of the Vera and Shetland books, Ann Cleeves. It was a three-day fan-girl extravaganza.

On Thursday night before the conference opened, BritBox treated us to a special screening of Vera, season 8 episode 3, with real British Cadbury candy bars for everyone in the audience. Mine was eaten quickly so as not to distract me from the show.

Friday, Toastmaster Catriona McPherson opened the convention, setting the party tone as only she can do with that intelligent and off-beat humor only she possesses.

You Got Fan Mail panel: Nancy Pickard, Louise Penny, Catriona McPherson, Brenda Blethyn, Verena Rose

There were too many panels to mention, but one of the highlights was You’ve Got Fan Mail with Brenda Blethyn, Catriona McPherson, Louise Penny and Nancy Pickard. I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. That afternoon, Martin Edwards, author of the award-winning The Golden Age of Murder, interviewed Ann Cleeves and Brenda Blethyn. What a treat it was to learn about how it was sold to ITV, the production of the show, and the fierce protection of “their” Vera character from the the lady who created her and the one who brought her to life.

Saturday was the long day with many panels from 9 AM to 4 PM, and then an interview with Louise Penny by her good friend Rhys Bowen during which I came to understand whence the gentle and kind, but formidable, Inspector Armand Gamache came. That evening was the Agatha awards banquet, during which Louise Penny touched all our hearts speaking about the writing journey she traveled with her late husband, Michael, who inspired Gamache. I sponsored my own table, bringing my Alaska-themed swag bags (birch syrup candy, a fridge magnet and a small vial of gold flakes). I thought about collecting some moose droppings and covering them in glitter. Maybe next year. Or, maybe not.

My banquet swag bag

My panels were on Sunday morning. In the new author breakfast sponsored by Mystery Scene Magazine, newly published authors are interviewed for a few minutes about their book while everyone is treated to fruit and baked goods. Then, I had a lot of fun serving on the Law & Order panel with moderator Robert Downs, and authors Bruce Robert Coffin, Roger Johns, Catherine Maiorisi and Michael Rubin.

That afternoon, Lori Rader-Day interviewed Catriona McPherson. Who knew Catriona has PhD in Linguistics? Who knew her thesis had something to do with things that don’t exist (it was way over my head.)? And that she quite a teaching job at a university to write, moving to an old farmhouse that she wrote into The Child Garden? And that she’s releasing three books this year! The very funny Scot-Free, the next Dandy Gilver coming out soon, and a new stand alone in the autumn.

I always stay for the Agatha Tea on Sunday afternoon complete with finger sandwiches, scones and pretty little cakes. Like any good party, no one wants it to end, and the tea is another chance to linger.

Official photographer framing the Agatha tea goodies

The new digs, Marriott Bethesda North, was easy, convenient and made us feel welcomed. Ellen Byron and Gigi Pandian escorted this frightened-of-the-big-city Alaskan through the metro (underground railroad) from the airport to just across the street from the hotel. The metro isn’t that bad! It’s kind of like the Disneyland monorail – without princesses.

The hotel had five elevators, all of which worked, a breakfast buffet that included tasty gluten-free choices, a gym that I walked past several times, and a small Starbucks stand. The convention center is attached to the hotel and is mostly above ground. It only took ten minutes to travel from my ninth-floor room to the banquet rooms on the first floor and then another few minutes downstairs to registration, the dealer room, hospitality room, and smaller meeting rooms. And, room service delivered warm, delicious food within 20 minutes of ordering no matter how busy the restaurant was.

Good thing UPS sets up a shipping room on Sunday. There was no way I could get my haul into the one bag I had brought.

Big thanks to Alaskans Patricia Watts and Glen Klinkhart who both donated their books along with mine for our Alaska-themed silent auction package. Together with the other silent and live auction bids, a total of $22,000 was raised for Keen Greater DC’s children literacy program.

Our Alaska silent auction donation

Mark your calendar for Malice Domestic 31: May 3 – May 5, 2019. Registration discounts are available until 9/30/18. And if you sign up before December 31, you will be asked to nominate your favorite 2018 releases for an award. Visit the website: www.MaliceDomestic.org.

Block that Writer’s Block!

One of the fun things about writing is seeing how every writer has a different process.  There are so many ways to write a book, and each of them is the right way.  

But sometimes the book doesn’t cooperate, and the writer “gets stuck.”  Words dry up, and we stare at a blank page (or screen) while we think this is the stupidest story ever created on the face of the earth.  Many of us suddenly experience an urge to clean our ovens.  

We call this “writer’s block.”  

Sadly, many writers just give up at this point, and the world loses another potentially wonderful story.  Because who knows?  Maybe it really would have been, if only we’d finished the story.  

Writers all have different methods for overcoming writer’s block.  Some examples include:  

  1. Brainstorming with trusted readers
  2. Switching to another project
  3. Taking a writer’s retreat
  4. Interviewing the character (why are you being so stubborn?)
  5. Typing a letter to yourself, explaining why you don’t want to write this book
  6. Taking a day off
  7. Spending some time researching
  8. Trying a different writing venue or using a different writing tool 
  9. Tricking yourself with a reward method 
  10. Sending the problem to your subconscious, which will eventually return with an answer

Fine and good, but what happens when the stuck writer has a deadline?  And panic sets in?!?  You don’t have time to take any time off or to trick your subconscious, or…  What then?  

  • First of all, take a deep breath.  
  • Then, bite off one chunk of the elephant at a time.  Do the math to figure out how big the daily chunk will have to be.  
  • Consider this quote, which I keep taped to my computer:  “If this were real, with what the character knows, with what he/she is capable of, what could he/she do next?”  
  • To get to the end (you do know your end, right?) make a list of the information the characters need to learn in order to reach that end.  Possible scenes generate from such lists.  
  • Rent a room somewhere, free of distractions, and stay there until the book is done.  A writer friend of mine always swore by this.  
  • And never give up, because magic tends to happen under deadline.  There’s nothing like a deadline to motivate us to finish.  

Are you a deadline person?  Do you have another method to overcome whatever block tries to stop you?