Reading the paper and other things by Triss Stein

JPGphoto SteinTriss Stein is a small–town girl from New York farm country who has spent most of her adult life in New York the city. This gives her the useful double vision of a stranger and a resident for writing mysteries about Brooklyn neighborhoods in her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home. The third, Brooklyn Secrets, will be out from Poisoned Pen Press on December 1, 2015. In it, Erica find herself immersed in the old and new stories of tough Brownsville, and the choices its young people make.



There is a public relations question in this post, but I am starting with the New York Times arriving on my steep front steps every morning.  I still like to spread the real paper out and read it over breakfast. On November 1 I was greeted with a substantial article on the reinvention of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.


Why should I care, you may ask? Because my work-in-progress Brooklyn mystery is about that very subject.  I am writing a mystery series about Brooklyn’s diverse and changing neighborhoods and they include some history, too. The Navy Yard has a fascinating back story, and a current story of decay and renewal. There are lots of ways to set crime stories, and human stories, old and new, against that background. So there I am, about one third in, and there it is in the news.


This has happens to me a lot, sometimes just after the book comes out. In the first in the series, Brooklyn Bones, a not-so-old body is found behind a wall in a very old house. A few months after it was released, my inbox was flooded by friends sending me the same news item:  the body of a long-missing woman was found walled up in a cellar, in her husband’s home, after he died. The law officers always thought he killed her, but could never prove it. And he got away with it.


The second book, Brooklyn Graves, is partly about a forgotten and hidden Tiffany window. Sure enough, not long after the book came out, a lost Tiffany window was found walled up in closet in a historic Brooklyn high school.


On December 1, the new book, Brooklyn Secrets, launches, and it is about a neighborhood called Brownsville, definitely not part of hip, happening Brooklyn Secrets Coverchic Brooklyn (Even in Paris, they say it’s chic these days)  It is one of the lowest income, highest crime districts in the city. And I worked there for a while, a lifetime ago, and never forgot it. And it has an interesting history of organized crime activity, back in the day. Is it obvious where I am going? There was at least a story a week about Brownsville struggles this month alone.


It is always fun to send these articles to my editors –the Brownsville ones more heartbreaking than fun – as support for the idea that I am writing about topics people want to read. Sometimes it’s a little spooky, too. Am I really so connected to this time and place, I can foresee events? (Just joking. I don’t actually believe that, though I do appreciate the proof that maybe I am on to something. )


And here, finally, is the public relations question: how can I use these moments, these news items, these connections, to generate more attention for my books? (In a perfect world, authors would not have to think about any of this. We do not live in that world.)  I write mysteries, so my goal is storytelling, entertainment if you will, but they are all about something beyond that. The best stories always are. Memory, how the place and the past creates the present, how some things don’t change and some things should.  In Brooklyn Secrets, that would be crime and desperation and also the hopes and dreams of young people. Only the faces and the accents change.


Readers, have you any good ideas? Something that worked to connect your writing to the bigger picture?  Something that might work and is worth a discussion?


Milking Chickens by Betty Webb

betty2015.4Betty Webb is the author of the nationally best-selling Lena Jones mystery series (DESERT RAGE, DESERT WIVES, DESERT WIND, etc.) and the humorous Gunn Zoo mysteries (THE KOALA OF DEATH, THE PUFFIN OF DEATH, etc.). Before beginning to write full time, Betty worked as a journalist, interviewing everyone from U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, Nobel Prize-winners, and polygamy runaways. She has taught creative writing classes and workshops at Arizona State University and Phoenix College, and has been a nationally-syndicated literary critic for more than 20 years, and is currently reviewing for Mystery Scene Magazine. In addition to other organizations, Betty is a member of the National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and the American Association of Zoo Keepers.




Yesterday, while I was speaking to a Phoenix-area book club, I made an inadvertent slip when describing my chores as a kid growing up on a farm. I said, “I milked the goat and chickens…” when I meant to say, “I milked the goat and fed the chickens.”

My verbal gaffe got a big laugh, of course, but the phrase “milked the chickens” remains with me. It perfectly describes the writing life.

Every single day, we writers attempt the impossible.

The first impossible thing is in trying to create something from nothing, to build a universe from a void. The second impossible thing is in attempting to transfer the multi-colored visions in our heads to the stark black-and-white of the printed page. The third impossible thing — the most impossible, actually — is in struggling to lead a “normal” life.

In other words, we writers are constantly trying to milk chickens.

At this point in my writing life, I’ve written thirteen mystery novels. Well, twelve if you don’t want to count my one-hundred-page novella (“Desert Deceit”) as a book. Each novel started with little more than a vague idea in my head. My mean-streets Lena Jones “Desert” novels (“Desert Wives,” “Desert Rage,” etc.) were all triggered by newspaper accounts of certain human rights abuses. My cozy Gunn Zoo series (“The Koala of Death,” “The Puffin of Death,” etc.) emerged from my years of volunteer work at the Phoenix Zoo.

I’ve been lucky. Not only did all those books find a publisher willing to pay me for them (!), they went on to receive glowing reviews in media like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and that publishing-world bible, Publishers Weekly. Only Kirkus continues to hate them.

Yet as lucky as I’ve been, none of these published books matched the original idea in my head. My most recent book – “The Puffin of Death” – provides an example.

When I first came up with the idea of writing a mystery centered around those bizarre-looking birds, I pictured a rocky slope in Maine being studied by a group of American zoologists, one of whom was a killer. Somewhere along the line, and for the life of me I can’t remember when and how it happened, the coast of Maine was replaced by a windswept cliff in Iceland. Since I’d never been to Iceland, I decided that a trip there was necessary. So I went.

A month later, I was back home and writing a totally different book than the one I’d originally planned. Gone was my original killer, gone were my original suspects, gone was my original victim. The only thing that remained the same was the puffin, but even she was eclipsed by the antics of an orphaned polar bear cub named Magnus.

And this is not necessarily a bad thing, because change can be good.

Like many writers, I construct an outline before beginning to write, and “The Puffin of Death” was no different. I plotted out the action chapter by chapter, making certain I alternated indoor scenes with outdoor scenes so my readers wouldn’t suffer from claustrophobia. I provided method, means, and motive for my wannabe-murderer, and made certain that my about-to-be victim had done something awful enough to get what was coming to him.

This outline was awesome. Rational, detailed, with none of those pesky plot holes that so annoy readers.PuffinofDeath

But three chapters into the outlined version of “The Puffin of Death,” I junked it.

The book had become its own thing. “Puffin” refused to be dictated to and wrote its own pages, ignoring my every attempt to rein it in and make it conform. The murderer refused to do the deed, and someone else stepped forward. The puffin, instead being a cute, cuddly little bird, developed a mean streak. And Iceland? Instead of the frozen north I’d envisioned, it became a lush August paradise where shaggy Icelandic horses pastured on the slopes of active volcanoes.

Because I was writing by the seat of my pants – as they say in the trade – I wound up writing a book I hadn’t intended to write, a book that had nothing to do with the outline I’d so laboriously put together. In short, I failed. But guess what? That “failure” turned out to be much better than the book I’d planned, and judging from what the critics have been saying about it, they agree.

Have I learned anything from this?

Sure. I’ve learned that no matter how hard you try, you can’t milk a chicken, so don’t even try. Instead, bypass that stuffy chicken coop and head for the open, green pasture. The view’s better out there.



Mary Reed and Eric Mayer co-author the John, Lord Chamberlain, historical mystery series set in 6th century Byzantium. The eleventh, Murder In Megara, was published in October 2015 by Poisoned Pen Press. The Guardian Stones,  a World War Two mystery set in rural Shropshire, will appear under the pen name Eric Reed in January 2016 from the same publisher.



Mary  @marymaywrite
Eric @groggytales

Murder In Megara links

Poisoned Pen Press


Barnes & Noble



Writers of historical mystery fiction are occasionally handicapped by not being sure whether certain matters could take place in any given time period.

Some eras are relatively easy to research but others, well, not so much. Our time-tested method for overcoming such difficulties?

Note what is known and extrapolate from the information in a fashion that will not break the laws of the universe. In this way writers are able to describe scenes that sound unlikely but are not when the
mandatory explanations are offered.

The writer has often to plough some fairly far-off fields to obtain needed information but we have found it will often pop up in casual reading rather than deep research, thus underlining the need for writers to find time to read as much as possible.

So, escorting you behind the scenes to provide examples from our work, we might mention spontaneous combustions occurred and the sea caught fire in Two For Joy. How these feats were accomplished involved looking into accounts of early miracles and investigation of certain natural phenomena.

In Three For A Letter the automatons — including musicians, an archer, and the mechanical whale played an important part in the plot – were based upon the writings of Heron of Alexandria, to which we added
something of our own, while our protagonist Lord Chamberlain John’s brief flight from atop a Constantinople tower as related in Four For A Boy became possible by combining information obtained from perusal of
accounts of failed Victorian suicides and an historical record of a 17th century flight in the city.

Occasionally information comes to hand long after publication supporting what appears at first blush to be the over-inventive imagination of certain writers of mysteries not a hundred miles from this blog.

Cat mummies spring to mind.

In Six For Gold we sent John to Egypt, accompanied by Cornelia and John’s servant Peter, to look into the matter of sheep committing suicide. While the trio are in Alexandria Peter meets Pedibastet, purveyor of cat mummies. They are certainly mummies but not as ancient as presented, for Pedibastet manufactures and sells them to unwary visitors as genuinely ancient artefacts.

A forger of mummies, we thought, and why not? Visitors to Egypt think of pyramids and mummies. Greed knows no bounds and such souvenirs would be easy enough to accomplish — the reader can tell from their description these are not the highest grade of mummy — so although the notion pained us no end, to keep his expenses down we arranged for Pedibastet to breed or steal his basic material. It would be just the sort of thing
this type of seedy character would do — and so he did.

Even so, one of Pedibastet’s creations plays a part in assisting John and his companions to put on a somewhat scurrilous street performance in Alexandria. This unlikely event was necessary because, Peter having been
robbed, the party needs funds to pay for their passage up the Nile in connection with John’s investigation.

At least there were cats in Pedibastet’s mummies, unlike some mentioned in a BBC report this past summer.

A team investigating the contents of animal mummies via the use of an x-ray machine and CT scanner discovered some mummies contained only partial remains or none at all. Experts were divided on why this should be so: were they made for sale to pilgrims and there was more profit to be made in such spurious artefacts or was it believed even a part of an animal was considered as sacred as the whole?Murder in Megara

Cheops, as Cornelia dubbed the cat mummy, returned to Constantinople with the travelers and currently resides in John and Cornelia’s bedroom.
Evidence for his presence there occurs in an early chapter in Murder In Megara, latest entry in the series to published by Poisoned Pen Press in October.

Using resources by John Desjarlais

000_JohnDesjarlaismugMy contemporary murder mysteries include a supernatural phenomenon, another kind of ‘mystery’ to be ‘solved’ by the protagonist along the way. BLEEDER portrays a stigmatic priest (well…maybe he is or isn’t), VIPER contains Marian apparitions (or is it an illusion?) and SPECTER has a ghost (unless it’s only nervous people being spooked (sorry) or possibly a soul reaching out from Purgatory, if you believe that stuff). Secular readers appreciate the non-preachy ambivalence, while committed Catholic readers recognize such ‘higher mysteries.’ Reaching the former, more ‘general’ audience requires the ‘usual’ avenues: media releases, reviews in mystery venues, a virtual book tour via blogs, social media, mystery writer/fan conferences, library events, radio interviews and the like. But reaching the decidedly devout Catholic subculture requires some specialization.

This is where belonging to the Catholic Writers Guild has been so important. The instruction, encouragement, friendship and networking – as one finds in any writers’ organization – has been (ahem) a blessing. When it comes to promotion, let me mention three specific ways:

First, the Guild uses a panel of member readers/editors to evaluate the ‘catholicity’ of books in order to award a Guild “Seal of Approval.” This isn’t about “I Iiked it or didn’t” or about its ‘cleanness’ in terms of sex and violence (honest expression of such realities is fine if it’s not merely gratuitous). It’s a way to assure Catholic bookstore and giftshop owners that the book is authentically Catholic: faithful to traditional Catholic teaching and respectful of traditional Catholic values. It’s something they can place on their shelves without being embarrassed. Books granted the Seal are promoted in a colorful monthly newsletter sent to the nationwide network of bookstores and are eligible for display at the many conferences where the Guild has a presence, such as the World Meeting of Families (a huge conference held in conjunction with the papal visit to the U.S.), homeschool conferences (there are many of these), various retreats, and the annual Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show, where bookstore/giftshop owners from all over the U.S. and Canada – just like other retailers do — place orders for the year from publishers and other vendors.

That’s the second thing: “CMN” is a major promotional event for new books. My publisher displayed my titles prominently at its booth and took orders while I greeted passers-by with my bookmarks. My distributor (different from my publisher) sponsored a major book giveaway where I met dozens of bookstore managers. The Guild hosted a book signing with multiple authors, promoted in the CMN program and with flyers, generating lots of traffic. Radio and TV interviewers came to the Guild booth asking for authors to interview (as a result, I was on two radio shows and had a 10-minute slot with EWTN, a major Catholic television network). The Guild grants a “Catholic Arts and Letters Award” for excellence in fiction and non-fiction, an award given during a CMN breakfast for maximum exposure (my book VIPER was a CALA nominee last year, so everyone in the vast room heard the title and saw the cover art on the flyer placed at every table). In addition, the Guild held a writers’ conference in conjunction with the Trade Show where, as a panelist and a presenter, I was able to inform the dozens of attendees about my titles and distribute promo postcards.

That’s the third thing. The Guild sponsors two writers’ conferences each year: an online conference in March that is free, and the CMN-related ‘live’ event in August. Participants at each conference happen to include writers and editors from Catholic publications who are hoping to grow in their craft, of course, but who are also looking for content – that is, authors to interview and books to review. With such contacts, I’ve had reviews and features in some prominent national periodicals such as Catholic Digest, St. Anthony Messenger, and The National Catholic Register.

In all these ways, the Catholic Writers Guild has been crucial for me in reaching this particular readership.


A former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, John Desjarlais teaches journalism and English at Kishwaukee College in northern Illinois. His first novel, The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990, 2000), was a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee, and his medieval thriller, Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993, 2009) was a Doubleday Book Club Selection. Bleeder, Viper, and Specter (Chesterton Press, 2009, 2011 and 2015 respectively) constitute the ‘Higher Mysteries’ series. A member of Mystery Writers of America and The Catholic Writers Guild, he is listed in Who’s Who in Entertainment and Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.


SPECTER: a mysteryuntitled

Selena De La Cruz would like to leave the past behind as she plans her wedding … but the past no longer sleeps. In 1993, a Cardinal was murdered in Mexico at the Guadalajara Airport.  Nearly twenty years later, the Vatican revisits the case … and finds that Selena’s dead father might have played a key role.  Selena is forced to confront her family’s ghosts … in more ways than one.

Living the Literary Life by Catherine Dilts



For as long as I can remember, I craved what I thought of as the Literary Life. Being surrounded by other

Photo by Kari L. Vollaire, Artsy Phartsy Design -

Photo by Kari L. Vollaire, Artsy Phartsy Design –

writers. Having deadlines. Casually mentioning meeting my editor for lunch. Fame, fortune, and all the trappings. But perhaps I had put the cart before the horse. I had to get something published before I could live the Literary Life. Didn’t I?


That dream was put on hold while I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.


Then in one astonishing year, I sold my first short story and my first novel. My family prepared for the life of leisure on the island my royalties would purchase until harsh reality intruded. Unless you hit the New York Times bestseller list, don’t quit your day job.


On a drive to the Florida Keys to visit Hemingway House, I experienced a revelation. After years of craving the Literary Life, I had finally earned my place in that world, no matter how humble. I might not have the stature of Hemmingway, but I was a Published Author. I should be savoring the victory. Instead, I felt deflated.


I had accomplished my goal of publication. Now where were the rewards I had so long anticipated reaping?


Redefining Fame and Fortune:


  • Fortune: Non-writers seem to think that once you sell a book, you have won a magic lottery ticket. They view you with skepticism when your small press novel is not available on the shelf at the local brick and mortar bookstore. It can be humbling to explain why you are still working the day job. That initial thrill of holding a modest advance or royalty check can fade quickly. Yes, I have actually had people ask how much I was paid for a story or novel. Those same folks would not dream of asking how much my day job pays. I had to learn to politely tell people to mind their own budget. I am doing what I love. Stephen King and J. K. Rowling didn’t make their fortunes with their first story or book.


  • Fame: I sat next to a well-known cozy author at a library event. She regaled me with tales of the early days, when her New York publisher sent her on book tours, picking up the tab for travel and nice hotels. It was like meeting Snow White and hearing about the fairy tale castle and Prince Charming. Those days are gone for all but the biggest names. My fame moments have come unexpectedly, at a conference when someone bought my book and asked me to autograph it, or at the day job when coworkers introduced me to visitors as the company author. Savor these bits of glory, for the flecks of gold can meld into substantial nuggets with time.



The lesson I am learning is to enjoy the present moment. Stop to smell the roses, carpe diem and all that. I am living the Literary Life right now. My focus on an imaginary future kept me from realizing I was living it all along, well before I became published.


I might not own an island. Yet. But I do hang out with other writers, I have deadlines, and I’ve had breakfast with my editor. This is my fame, fortune, and all the trappings, and I’m going to enjoy it to the max. I have recaptured the joy of writing, and I’m finally reveling in the Literary Life!


Have you had a low moment on your publication journey? What did it take to rekindle your love of writing?


About Catherine Dilts


To Catherine Dilts, rock shops are like geodes – both contain amazing treasures hidden inside their plain-as-dirt exteriors. Catherine caught mountain fever after a childhood vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park. Determined to give up her flat–lander ways, she moved from Oklahoma to Colorado. Her husband, a Colorado native, proposed to her as they hiked Barr Trail on Pikes Peak. Catherine works as an environmental scientist, and plays at heirloom vegetable gardening, camping, and fishing. Her short stories appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. In her spare time, she attempts to lure wild donkeys to her property in the mountains.


Find Catherine and Stone Cold Case online:StoneColdCase

Official Website



Barnes & Noble

Tattered Cover


Synopsis of Stone Cold Case

Rock shop owner Morgan Iverson’s discovery of human remains reopens a cold case and unhealed wounds in a Colorado mountain town, while her find of a rare gemstone sparks a dangerous treasure hunt.


Sixteen years ago, prom queen Carlee Kruger vanished. When Carlee’s mother asks Morgan to investigate her death, the clues seem as convoluted as the coils on a fossilized ammonite. The hunt for the truth heats up as the local newspaper editor helps Morgan uncover the past. The rock shop’s mascot donkeys and an elderly cowboy chase after a Sasquatch look-alike who may hold the key to Carlee’s death. Whoever knows what happened to Carlee will do anything to keep the truth buried.  


In book two of the Rock Shop Mystery series, amateur sleuth Morgan Iverson digs into gemstone prospecting to solve a Stone Cold Case.


Kirkus review for Stone Cold Case


Stone Cold Case – A Rock Shop Mystery

ISBN # 9781432830991

Release date September 16, 2015 by Five Star – Cengage

Covers We Love Too Much by Lise McClendon

LiseWe all have book covers that speak to us, to our visual senses, to our emotions, to our literary curiosity. Maybe it’s that dog on the cover. Maybe it’s the blood dripping from the knife. Maybe it’s that zombie or the half-naked man. Hey, I’m not judging your reading habits. We read what we like, and that’s the way it should be.


That old chestnut ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ doesn’t really apply to books.

Every reader looks first at a book’s cover then makes some conscious or unconscious decision to look inside for more, or move on.


As an author have you ever tried to consciously copy a cover? Is there a cover you wish you’d had for your novel? For the last five or six years I’ve been doing most of my own covers, finding stock photos, fiddling with PhotoShop, making messes but having fun. I got serious a couple years ago though, when the sequel to one of my best selling books was due to release. I hired a very talented cover artist who re-did my own attempts (for ‘Blackbird Fly’) and designed another one for the sequel, The Girl in the Empty Dress, that released last year.


I explained to the designer that I adored one book cover and could she do something similar. The book cover I loved was for ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette,’ a fun novel by Maria Semple. I’m a sucker for graphic images. Since the book sold so well it has been copied a lot and was the subject of an article on Salon about why books covers look alike. Ouch. My cover artist went her own direction, not doubt wisely. She did a lovely job and I was very pleased with her results.


Fast forward to my new project. In conjunction with Thalia Press five seasoned mystery authors (including me) wrote a crime novel. Together. Serially, sequentially, and with many delays, but eventually it all gelled. It’s a darkly comic send-up of a famous novel, not exactly a satire because we admired the original. And mostly we very much loved that book’s cover. The book is the iconic Eat Pray Love with its pasta, prayer beads, and flower petal design spelling out the simple title.


Our crime story isn’t as spiritual or life-affirming or nice as Elizabeth Gilbert’s. Let’s get that out right away. (And we do apologize, Ms. Gilbert.) We twisted her title and a couple plot points but what we’ve written is really a send-up of food mysteries, chick lit, and serial killer novels. The gist of it is this: a humiliated chef has revenge on her mind and takes an All-American journey to make those she despises pay in spectacular culinary fashion. It’s got humor, mayhem, food porn, reality TV, sexual pranks, and a whole lot more, wrapped up in one decidedly-uncozy novel. We’re calling it the first culinary thriller.


But back to that cover. How to portray the foodie-ness of the story without seeming too twee? As the resident PhotoShop journeyman I volunteered to play with some food and see what I could do. We voted (we are very democratic, we five) to have some kind of meat on the cover– bacon, sausages, hot dogs, whatever, to give it some hearty flavor. Then I tracked down some squid ink pasta, mentioned in the book, and black as… ink. For the final word on the cover I fudged and used a stock photo of chili peppers but added a little mystery flare of the bloody knife.


My photography skills were tested. Also my microwaving skills and my pasta handling skills. Luckily my design skills weren’t needed as we laid out the cover similarly to the paperback version of Eat Pray Love. (I hope it’s not a crime to copy a green border and a white background…) We added a fantastic quote we got from Charlaine Harris on the top and voilà. Stick a fork in it. It’s done.


Beat Slay Love launches October 1. I just hope I can find another cover to copy that’s as much fun as this one.

  • • •

The novel is available for pre-order on Amazon (where you can also find out who my co-authors are) and we’re encouraging those on Goodreads to add it to their ‘Want to Read’ shelf.


We’re also launching a Thunderclap campaign this week. (Thunderclap is a new crowdsharing promotion site where your friends can donate a status or tweet all at the same time, thereby making the skies roar with your message.) If you’d like to donate a tweet in exchange for a recipe book called Thalia Filbert’s Killer Cocktail Party, check us out here



Are We There Yet? by Molly MacRae

P1030513Until I sat down to write this guest post, I hadn’t really thought in terms of “lessons I’ve learned along the way.” “Along the way” suggests I’ve gotten where I’m going and might stop, and although I’m a string of short stories and seven novels along the way, I hope I haven’t reached the end yet. Also, I know that I still have a lot to learn. But I do like lists, and I have learned a few things along my writing road. So I put the things down and gave them numbers, and then I revised them (see number 18, below) so I ended up with a nice, round dozen and a half. A piece of advice before you read my list, though: keep a pinch of salt handy (see number 4, below).


  1. If you don’t already have them, grow a thick skin and a sense of humor.
  2. Take interest in the world around you – in news items, community activities, and the details of other people’s lives. Be nosy. Eavesdrop. Carry paper and pen or pencil so you can take notes. Be the one at the party sitting quietly in the corner watching. Be the one listening to that guy talking on his cell phone, loudly, in a public place. Read obituaries. Take pictures.
  3. Join a writers group, either one that meets regularly in person, or an online group. Don’t let a writers group stifle or paralyze you.
  4. Listen to advice, but take it with a grain of salt. Anyone can tell you how to rewrite your story or novel. That doesn’t mean you have to listen to them. The only ones you need to please are yourself and the editor you’re trying to sell to.
  5. Believe that miracles can fall into your lap in real life. Work hard to make sure your lap is in the right place, at the right time, to catch a miracle.
  6. Go easy on the miracles in your writing. Don’t settle for convenience and a string of coincidences to wrap up a story.
  7. Be egalitarian. Treat your villains the same way you treat the rest of your characters. They all need believable motivations, actions, reactions, and dialogue. You want readers to sympathize just enough with the villain so they’re lulled into ignoring obvious signs that she or he is rotten to the core.
  8. Play fair with clues in your mystery, but do let your characters run with scissors and pointed sticks.
  9. Assume the role of a stage director when you’re writing. Your job is to make the surroundings (location, season, era, predicament, etc.) believable.
  10. Read, read, read. If you don’t read, how can you write?
  11. There’s a sort of postpartum depression that happens after finishing a manuscript and sending it off to the publisher. Let yourself have time to decompress, but try to have another project ready to jump into so that you don’t end up wallowing.
  12. There’s also a danger of too much navel-gazing after a book comes out because of all the hoopla surrounding that really cool, momentous day. Keep your head and keep moving forward.
  13. Promote your books on social media, but do it without shouting “Buy my books!” Instead, share your interests, your hobbies, your milestones, your funny bone, and the pictures you’re taking in number 3, above. Did the picture I posted on Facebook that my husband took of me typing while wearing the cat in a baby carrier sell more books? Possibly not, but I write humorous, character driven cozies, and the picture offers a glimpse of my personality. Three hundred and sixty one people “liked” the picture, seventy four commented on it, and sixteen shared it. Those numbers aren’t way out there, but they show that people were paying attention, and the ones who liked, commented, and shared that post were, in effect, promoting for me.
  14. Remember your manners. Be kind, treat people the way you’d like to be treated, and say thank you when you should.
  15. Combining a day job with a contract to write a series will consume most of your waking hours. Making the combination work takes stamina and a love for ignoring housework.
  16. Show up for the job.
  17. Don’t give up.
  18. Revision is the key to success.



The Boston Globe says Molly MacRae writes “murder with a dose of drollery.” She’s the author of the award-winning Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries, Knot_the_usual_suspectspublished by Penguin/NAL. Molly’s short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine since 1990. After twenty years in northeast Tennessee, Molly lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois.

You can find out more about Molly at You can find her blogging on the first Monday of each month at and on the 23rd of each month at


Buy link for Knot the Usual Suspects, book 5 in the Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries: