Saved by the Book by Ken Kuhlken

My friend Don Merritt has often criticized me for my faith in Christ. He imagines I’m smart and questions how a smart person could possibly believe in such nonsense. I have tried to explain that all us humans encounter different experience, which can lead to different views of reality. He argues that no experience should lead anyone sensible to belief in the ridiculous.


Maybe he’s right. Anyway, the longer I live, the less I care for arguing. But in case some readers or descendants of mine wonder about the cause of my ridiculous beliefs, I’ll give some details about how a book pointed me on the road I have taken ever since, for better or worse.


First came a whole lot of tragedy. Within a couple years, my dad died, then my mom fell sick with spinal meningitis and got stuck in a hospital isolation ward for some months. I was an only child, on my own at sixteen. My friend Eric moved in to keep me company. I’m pretty sure we became closer than most brothers.


Soon after my mom came home, Eric began receiving dark premonitions. Then he got expelled from school for a minor offense, which you could find depicted in Reading Brother Lawrence. About a month afterward, a Volkswagen driven by a careless friend of ours careened off a mountain road.


Eric died in February of our senior year.  In June, I went to work as a restaurant’s pot washer. Because I worked a split shift, ten to two and six to ten,  six days a week, I hadn’t much time to devote to my girlfriend Liz. And on my night off I sometimes preferred a party or a dance to hanging out alone with her. One of those nights, she declined to go with me and I left the dance with Serena whom I didn’t know sat next to Liz in summer school.


Girls talk. Liz decided I was a creep. I probably was. In any case, I felt mighty guilty. Not just about my disloyalty to Liz.  Also about my dad’s death, the rude way I sometimes  treated my mom, about Eric having gone on a road trip I backed out of, and simply about my inability to  be the kind of person I admired. Like St. Paul, I grieved that I didn’t practice what I wanted to do, but instead often did what I hated.


That summer, Serena flew out of a convertible and died (no seatbelt), and around that time I picked up a copy of Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment.


Lots of readers consider the book difficult. I suspect they only shy away because Russian nicknames can get confusing. The basic storyline is rather simple. A university student falls for a currently fashionable idea that superior people have the right to break any law in order to achieve goals that will benefit humanity. He suffers severe depression because of his poverty and other factors, and in this state decides to knock off an evil pawnbroker, steal her money, and use it for good causes.


The brilliance of the novel resides in the characters, especially with the readers’ access into the mind of a fiercely disturbed man, and even into the perspective of a reprobate drunkard who’s daughter is both a prostitute and an archetype of purity and heroism. Marmeledov, the drunken father, tells Raskolnikov, the murderer, “He will come in that day and He will ask: ‘Where is the daughter who gave herself for her cross, consumptive step-mother and for the little children of another? Where is the daughter who had pity upon the filthy drunkard, her earthly father, undismayed by his beastliness?’ And He will say, ‘Come to me! I have already forgiven thee once…. I have forgiven thee once…. Thy sins which are many are forgiven thee for thou hast loved much….’ And he will forgive my Sonia, He will forgive, I know it… I felt it in my heart when I was with her just now! And He will judge and will forgive all, the good and the evil, the wise and the meek…. And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us. ‘You too come forth,’ He will say, ‘Come forth ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!’ And we shall all come forth, without shame and shall stand before him. And He will say unto us, ‘Ye are swine, made in the Image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!’ And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, ‘Oh Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?’ And He will say, ‘This is why I receive them, oh ye wise, this is why I receive them, oh ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.’


I copied a part of that scene onto the back of a business card and kept the card in my wallet for years.


I’m hardly a fast reader and no book ever written could keep me up all night. But Crime and Punishment — 211, 561 words (I looked it up) — I read in a few days, shut in my bedroom between pot washing shifts, refusing to speak to my mom or to eat unless she graciously brought me a sandwich and lemonade,


Crime and Punishment convinced me to write novels. I have finished about twenty. Half of them belong to the Tom Hickey series, which is more about crime than punishment. In most of the others, I tackle issues of guilt and how it punishes both the truly guilty and those who erroneously take on guilt, as most of us humans do.

My latest, Newport Ave, is about both crime and punishment.



About Ken

Some of Ken’s favorites are early mornings, the desert in spring, kind and honest people, baseball and other sports played by those who don’t take themselves too seriously, most kids, and films he and his Zoe can enjoy together.

He reads classic novels, philosophy, theology, and all sorts of mysteries. On his blog, he offers some

hard truths and encouragement about living as a writer.

He has long been the author of novels, stories, articles, poems, and essays. Lots of honors have come his way, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship; Poets, Essayists and Novelist’s Ernest Hemingway Award; Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel and Shamus Best Novel; and several San Diego and Los Angeles Book Awards.

Though he advocates beer in a video, he actually prefers Scotch.


Some links to buy Newport Ave: AmazonSmashwords; or Goodreads and other stores, or directly from Hickey’s Books.


Excerpt from Newport Avenue:



GREG MAIRS WAS a high school senior when his girlfriend called with the news. The next day, his amigo James said, “Come on, Romeo, make up your mind.”

The boys were carrying longboards on their shoulders down Newport Avenue toward the pier.

“Crap,” Greg said.

“Jesus, man, do you love her or don’t you?”

Greg shifted the board from his right to left shoulder. “Sure, I guess. I mean, she’s a babe, a lot of laughs, we have a good time.”

Then James stopped cold, staring downhill at the Silva brothers. Tony stood in the middle with legs spread, his stance and shoulders as wide as the sidewalk. Junior was stationed in the gutter. Leaning against the schoolyard’s chain link fence was Marco, the oldest and boss of the family since their papa got gaffed.

“No sweat,” Greg said. “They just want to talk.”

James harbored no such illusion. He was plenty enough acquainted with Portuguese families who made up the Point Loma tuna cartel to know they were big on honor. Knock up the little sister, you’re liable to die.

Junior made the first move. He aimed a forefinger at James. “Scram, Dobchek. This ain’t about you.”

“Yeah, then what’s the deal?”

“Just get lost, Whiz.”

Before James could decide how best to give his amigo a getaway op, whether to take a swipe with his board or to drop it and lead with his fists, Greg passed him by.

Greg was approaching Junior, their classmate through whom he met Lonnie Silva, when Tony blindsided him with a sharp jab to Greg’s cheekbone.

When Greg’s board hit the pavement, the fin cracked. As if he prized the board more than life, he bent and began to flip it over.

Tony launched a kick that caught Greg in the ribs and landed him on the board. Now Marco joined in, blasting James’ amigo in the face and skull, in the side and belly and neck with his pointed toe Mexican shoes.

While his brothers kicked and stomped and used their fists to prevent Greg from rising, Junior hopped onto the sidewalk and held up his hands, warning James to stay put.

But James was no observer, not since the incident that sent his dad to prison. The pulse in his head throbbed. All his faculties felt powered by hot blood. And his mind had split in two. Half stayed behind. The rest flashed to six blocks down Newport Avenue and three years back when a man came running into Virgil’s grocery yelling threats while James stocked shelves and his sister Olivia was sweeping.

But even with part of a brain and stoked with adrenaline, he was smart enough to calculate the odds of a schoolboy taking on three tuna fishermen. He spun around looking for help. All he saw was a weapon in the schoolyard, propped against the backstop a few yards inside the gate.

Fear of sharks, saying goodbye, and starting anew by Nancy Jarvis

I just turned seventy and, yes, all the trite comments you’ve heard about, “Where did the days go?” are true. It’s so time-consuming fitting writing into our schedules and then trying to promote what we produce, that it’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of busyness and not consider what comes next in our lives and our writing careers. Sometimes, though, there are milestones and events that force us to pause and reevaluate the future. Sometimes, even if there aren’t, we should do so anyway.

After seven books in The Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series, I decided it’s time to say goodbye to the characters I‘ve shared the last decade with and shake things up a bit. I’m afraid of sharks, you see, or rather, jumping them. If you’re old enough to have witnessed the Fonz water skiing over a shark in Happy Days, you know what I mean. After that episode, faithful watchers said the show’s quality declined. Henceforth, “jumping the shark” became a term noting a downward arc. Seven books is a lot for a cozy mystery series, and while it’s true that there are some writers―Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, and Janet Evanovich come to mind―who wrote many longer series, for me, while I wasn’t out of ideas, I thought my characters’ adventures were in danger of becoming predictable and formulaic. Regan and her husband, Tom, were starting to show their age. It was time for them to retire.

Saying goodbye to the series was painful, though, and I might have decided to keep it going if not for a very personal event. When I started The Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series, Tom was based on my husband, Craig. Tom didn’t stay Craig for long, but Tom’s blue eyes were a hold-over. They remained the same shade of blue as my husband’s. Those intensely blue eyes were the first thing that attracted me to Craig when I met him, and I’m sure the same was true for Regan the first time she spied Tom across a crowded room.

Craig died about a year-and-a-half ago and it was difficult to write in Tom’s voice because, when I did, I saw Craig’s blue eyes. It took twice as long to finish “The Two-Faced Triplex” as it would normally take me to write a book because I knew coming to the end of the story meant saying goodbye to a special connection I had with the love of my life.

Books are full of chapters just like life is, and saying goodbye to Regan and Tom was certainly the end of a chapter in my life. But it’s also an opportunity to find new stories and write new adventures. You all know how much you hate to finish a book you’ve loved reading, but isn’t it exciting to discover the next book in what you hope will be a great series? That’s where I am right now, getting ready to begin working on a new mystery series, Geezers with Tools, about two older handymen who take up home repair as a way to meet single older women. (“Who knows,” Jerry who thinks of himself as a player tells recent widower, George, “we might get lucky. Even if we don’t we’ll probably get dinner.”) and P.I.P. Inc. about an almost private investigator named Pat.

So I’m wiping away a goodbye tear with a big smile on my face, ready for the next chapter in life and in writing.

Nancy Lynn Jarvis was a Santa Cruz, California, Realtor® for more than twenty years before she fell in love with writing and let her license lapse.

After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, she worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News. A move to Santa Cruz meant a new job as a librarian and later a stint as the business manager for Shakespeare/Santa Cruz at UCSC.

Nancy’s work history reflects her philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years, a philosophy she applies to her writing, as well. She has written seven books in the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series, but she has taken breaks to write a stand-alone book called “Mags and the AARP Gang” about a group of octogenarian bank robbers, and to edit “Cozy Food: 128 Cozy Mystery Writers Share Their Favorite Recipes.”

She plans to start a new series, “Geezers with Tools,” is about to release, “The Truth About Hosting Airbnb” about her experiences as a first-year host, and editing an anthology of short stories from Santa Cruz authors with the title and theme “Santa Cruz Weird.”

Buy links are (you can find additional sizes there for JPGs using the publication button) and my Amazon page for all the books

Social Media connections are:


The service was nondenominational and a representative from the chapel, who clearly had never met Martha, read a brief synopsis of her life in a decorous monotone. He droned on about her parents — like her daughter, Martha had been an only child — where she grew up, her education, her marriage to Mireya’s father and her widowhood four years before, the joy Mireya’s birth brought and how wonderful grandson Jackson’s arrival had been for her, and listed all of the charities Martha supported. It was a dry recital, especially for someone as delightful, warm, and interesting as Martha had been. Regan was relieved when his words trailed off.

“Oh my God,” a silver-haired woman from the front row who was dressed, not in dark mourning colors, but in bright red and purple, jumped to her feet and seized the microphone from his hand. “Martha lived, relished life, and enjoyed it fully,” she exclaimed, “but you’d never know it from listening to him, would you?

“I’m Judi Pardini, Martha’s best friend.” She surveyed the room with a raised eyebrow and a mischievous smile on her face. “Now, I know many of you think you should have that title. After all, to Martha there were no strangers, only people she wasn’t best friends with yet, but I’m the one she shared all her secrets with and I bet none of you can say that. If you want to challenge me, please do; let’s hear from you. Who’s first up to tell a Martha story?”

Heads turned and people squirmed, but no one rose. Regan hadn’t intended to, but she didn’t mind public speaking and thought perhaps she should say something to break the ice. She was about to accept Judi Pardini’s prompt when Martha’s friend began speaking once more.

“Oh, I know. This is a difficult situation,” Judi continued, this time without mirth. “Martha treasured the friendship of all of you who are here. Being Martha, she would have still prized the friendship of those who didn’t come, but her heart would have broken a bit that they couldn’t bring themselves here to pay their respect. Knowing what to say and what to do when a loved-one passes is always difficult, but suicide adds to that burden and we all know the police believe Martha committed suicide.

“Every one of you in this chapel knows what zest for life Martha had, so I want to reassure all of you who did come here today. I don’t believe Martha committed suicide. Not for a minute. Martha wouldn’t do that, especially not now. Martha didn’t commit suicide; she was murdered.”


Regan signs on to play consoler-and-chief after the body of Martha Varner, one of her favorite clients, is found and the woman’s distraught daughter begs Regan to stop escrow from closing on a purchase her mother was about to make.

Martha Varner’s death, at first ruled suicide, is quickly ruled homicide. The dead woman’s best friend thinks she knows who Martha’s killer is. The police have a different suspect. And Regan? Well, she has her own ideas about who killed Martha Varner.

She just can’t imagine how complicated playing amateur sleuth will make her life and how dangerous her investigation will prove to be for her husband, Tom.

Suspects by Duffy Brown


Reagan Summerside here from the Consignment Shop Mysteries. In Lethal in Old Lace, it’s spring in Savannah! I know, I know, spring is amazing everywhere, but here in Savannah, all the colors make the city a full-out Van Gogh painting. But that doesn’t mean all is right with the world.

The Abbott sisters are accused of murder! How can this be? Those two adorable little old ladies who live right next door to me wouldn’t hurt a fly unless that fly is named Willie Fishbine. He just happened to swindle them out of a ton of money. They got sucked into the great Spring Chicken vitamin scam that was supposed to make everyone feel young again. A great idea but crushed dandelions, wheat germ and a dash of gummy worms just don’t do the trick.

All seemed circumstantial and the sisters were okay until BW…that’s Bruce Willis the canine version and my BFF…went bone hunting and dug up a body in the sisters’ garden. He announced this great accomplishment by carrying a blue purse covered in dirt right to the head Savannah detective.

Now I have to try and find the real killer or the best neighbors and dearest friends ever will go to jail for a really long time. So far my main suspect is Dexter Thomas. Not only does he own the House of Eternal Slumber mortuary, but he wants to buy the Sleepy Pines retirement home. What better way of driving down the price than knocking off the residents. That’s one way to get the Pines for cheap.

And another suspect is Arnett Fishbine who had her eye on her daddy’s money for years and is presently on a non-stop spending spree. Of course, the killer could also be those two gold-digger gals who married for money and want to get their antiquated husbands into Sleepy Pines so they can start enjoying their money. They need two openings to get them there. Knocking off residents is one way to get those openings.

All this and the dead body keeps disappearing and I’m trying to plan a wedding. Did anything ever run smoothly in planning a wedding? Thanks to the bridesmaids my wedding colors are now fuchsia and gold! And Mamma and Auntie KiKi want me in a wedding dress with enough tulle to cover the entire state of Georgia.

I have to focus on the good part that I’m marrying Walker Boone, the best guy ever. I just hope we get to the altar and the Abbott sisters are there to see it all.

Here’s a little excerpt so you can see how things are going:

“If we lathered it in Crisco and shoved like the dickens it’s still not going to fit,” Mercedes said, the four of us staring at the end of the casket sticking out of the trunk of the Beemer.

Auntie Kiki had moved the car next to the delivery door at the House of Eternal Slumber so the Beemer was in the shadows and we wouldn’t have to roll a casket clear across the parking lot.

“So what should we do now and we better think fast,” Mercedes said in a panicky voice.

I snagged the brown tarp draped over a mound of mulch. “We wrap the end in this and we use BW’s leash to hold it in place. I’ll tie my yellow scarf at the end so what we’re hauling looks legal. The last thing we need is the cops stopping us.”

“All we need to do is get t my house. I’ll park the Beemer in the garage and tell Putter that the car manual says BMWs need to rest every twenty-thousand miles. He’s a mighty fine cardio guy but not exactly a car expert.”

You read a manual?” I shook my head in disbelief.

“Honey, if I add in that there’s pot roast for dinner the man will believe anything.”

Mercedes held the tarp in place while I wrapped the leash. KiKi added the scarf, a smile breaking across her lips as she took a step back. “Looks good to me. You know, I think this is going to work just fine and dandy.”

“What’s going to work fine and dandy?” Police Detective Aldeen Ross wanted to know as she drew up beside Mercedes. KiKi grabbed my hand, I grabbed hers and the only thing that kept us from fainting dead away was Aldeen’s electric green nightshirt with I see guilty people on the front in day-glow pink. Neither of us wanted to miss that or the police car slippers strobing red and blue when she walked.

And so it goes…by Nancy Sweetland

I’m Nancy, and I have a problem.

Okay, I admit it. I’m in danger of becoming a webinar junkie. And it’s seriously encroaching on my writing output. What? You too? I guess we’ve come to the right place, then. Let’s talk.

Of course we all want to write better, create the next New York Times bestseller. I’ve never heard any of my writer friends say, “Nah. Not me. I just write for my own enjoyment.” Bosh. We want our stories to be read, and not only by grandma and aunt Edith.

But what’s a writer to do? Of course we want that glory (and that money. Or at least enough to buy printer ink). It isn’t that we’re not willing to work for it. But should it be so difficult? Shouldn’t we just be able to work at our trade, get the books finished, put them out there either traditionally with a publisher (if we’re lucky), or self-publish now that it’s so easy, and hope for the best?

Ay, there’s the rub. That isn’t enough. There’s work to be done. And help is only a click away. Trust the webinars.

There are so many pundits reaching out from cyberspace, creeping into my computer or my iPad, even my iPhone, showing up unbidden in my gMail, all dangling the most tempting of carrots (SuccessRead on!), all more than willing to gobble up my time as they offer me their expertise. All I need to do is sit back, watch and listen to learn from this latest oh-so-earnest speaker how I, too, can crack that glass ceiling that’s keeping me from publication heaven.

Surely I must want to learn how to write faster; that’s bound to beef up my output, and of course, my income (which needs a boost, for sure!) To hear some of these presenters tell it, I could be—should be—turning out a book a month, at least. Hey, they’ll help, yes they will, just listen for the next hour and a half and you’ll be convinced . . .

Unquestionably, any working writer should be open to delving deeper into their characters, right? Writing the kind of people whose inner turmoil grabs readers by the throat and won’t let them go? What? Your heroine was abused by her stepbrother? How can you make sure your reader understands what she goes through to overcome those memories now that she’s attracted to the hunk who lives in the next apartment? Don’t you want to get into her deepest, most heart-wrenching feelings and tackle them, bring her up into the light of Happy Ever After? Try this new approach to get down and intimate with your heroine, connect with her very soul. Just keep listening, we’ll show you how . . .

Do you want an agent? (Who doesn’t?) Here’s help for that, guaranteed! Just buy into this presenter’s one-on-one sessions and in no time you’ll have agents reaching out to you, practically begging to represent your novel. Read the gushing comments by his students who’ve gone on to the next level of success . . .

New to the writing/publishing game? Of course you need to understand what does or doesn’t work in dealing with the media in today’s world. We can do that for you, just sign on to our program and learn the ropes from our expert (details below)­­­ . . .

And of course every one of the webinars ends with those details. How much this absolutely innovative program, these however many sessions, will cost you at the specially discounted price (only available until midnight today, so don’t delay) . . .

And another hour and a half of writing time (maybe along with some ready cash if the presentation was a dandy) is gone, never to be retrieved. (Sigh)

Thanks for listening . . . coffee’s on in the back of the room.


I hope you’re smiling. And I’d love to hear your comments.

Brief Bio:

Nancy Sweetland has been writing since she received her first rejection slip at age 13 and determined to become a published writer. She is the author of seven picture books, a chapter book mystery for young readers, many short stories for juveniles and adults, three adult romances, “The Door to Love,” “Wannabe” and “The House on the Dunes.” “The Perfect Suspect,” “The Spa Murders,” and “The Virgin Murders” are available with other mysteries and short stories on She lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin and loves to hear from readers. She can be contacted For your free copy of “The Door To Love,” go to and leave your name.

Her latest novel, “The Shopkeeper’s Secret” will be out on March 20 from Divine Garden Press. (Sorry I don’t have the link as yet – if it comes before the 10th I’ll send it along.)


            Lia doesn’t believe in a happy ever after. But she never thought secrets from her past would lead to blackmail and murder, either. Or that Detective Moss, recuperating from being shot on duty, would be so appealing.

            When her sister destroys important evidence, danger escalates. Lia is threatened, and it’s Moss’s job to find the murderer before he kills again.

            Will a clever sting capture the killer or just put Grant in front of a bullet again? The choice—an uncertain future with Grant or a safe but lonely life—is Lia’s.


“Damien will meet us behind that tavern, early morning before anyone will be around,” Karen had said, her telephone voice stressed. “We’ll make him show us the pictures—and the negatives—before we hand anything over to him.”

“And what would that anything be?”

“You’ll see. I’ll take care of that.”

What’s she got planned? It can’t be good. Oh, Karen, Karen, always full steam ahead . . .

Not to be thwarted again, this time Lia was wearing a small video device in a flowered brooch on her blouse.Amazing what you can buy over the Internet. She lowered the backseat window just enough for Rufus to stick his nose out into the wind.

The sun was rising over pines at the east end of the tavern’s parking lot as Lia drove in, relieved to see it empty except for Damien’s silver BMW and a rusty pickup next to a dumpster. A beautiful summer morning that surely should be put to better use than meeting a dirt bag like Damien. She parked a short distance from the BMW and told Rufus to stay.

Karen swept in beside her. They got out, expecting Damien to do the same. He didn’t.

“Guess we’re supposed to come to him,” Karen muttered. “Just to let us know who’s in charge.” She carried a small duffle bag, the kind you might see on a TV crime program stuffed full of stacked bills.

Lia knew it was probably full of cut up newspapers, and that Karen wouldn’t give it to him until he’d shown them their pictures. What Lia wasn’t sure about was what would happen next. She remembered Damien’s temper when he was crossed. It wasn’t pretty.

She clicked on the video camera. If nothing else, they’d have a record of what went down. Taking a deep breath, she motioned Karen forward. Whatever came, they’d meet it together.

Damien’s driver’s window was down. He didn’t move. Didn’t call out.

Karen scowled. “Something’s wrong here.”

“Right,” Lia said. “Don’t touch anything.”

Moving with caution, they approached the silver car.

Damien was slumped in the driver’s seat. His head tilted back against the headrest. A trickle of blood ran sideways down his face from a dark hole in his left temple. The seat behind him was covered with a slimy, grey substance mixed with blood. It looked fresh. Flies buzzed around, settling on the mess. Lia’s stomach roiled. She turned away, trying not to throw up.

“Oh, God!” whispered Karen, clutching Lia’s arm. “He’s been shot! Is he—is he dead?”

Lia forced herself to look around the parking lot. Only the empty pickup, no sign of anyone. Birds chirped in the trees, sunshine crept across the lot. The beautiful summer morning had morphed into a crime scene, and they were part of it. She pulled out her phone.

“What are you doing?” Karen asked, her voice choked. “Put that away!”

“What do you think I’m doing? Calling nine-one-one.”

Karen grabbed at the phone. “Are you crazy? We have to get out of here! Let somebody else blow the whistle. We were never here. Got that? Never here!”

Lia stared. “Karen, use your head. We can’t just leave him like this.”

“Somebody already did.” Before Lia could speak, Karen thrust the duffle bag into Lia’s hand. “Take this.” She darted around the BMW, wrenched open the passenger side door and pulled out a distinctive maroon leather briefcase.

“Put that back, Karen, for God’s sake! It’s one thing to just leave him. It’s another to take that.”

“Don’t you understand?” Karen’s face was mottled red. “Our pictures are here. We have to get rid of this, then there’s no connection to us.” She rushed to her Prius and tossed the briefcase onto the passenger seat, then ran back to the BMW and wiped her fingerprints off the door with the tail of her shirt. “Come on! Let’s get out of here before somebody comes. Meet me at your shop.” Without a backward glance she slid into her car, spun her wheels and sped out of the parking lot.

Lia stared after her, hesitating with her phone in her hand. Of course she should call nine-one-one.

She didn’t. She sprinted to her van, tossed the duffel bag on the floor and, living a nightmare, left the lot and turned right onto the county road, speeding up as though the very devil were chasing her.

What Makes A Book Series Unique? by Helen Dunn Frame

One of the topics that P. J. Nunn suggested that she felt would be of interest to her blog readers is book series. I realized that my approach had to be different from someone who had at least three or more books in a series. Why? Because I only have two in my series and am contemplating a third.

So far, I have published two books in the Jennifer Haslett Vandergriff/Lady Sarah Clarke series. Jennifer becomes a sleuth because of her husband Paul’s death in a suspicious helicopter crash. Sarah is part of the minor British royalty who works undercover with Interpol. The first book is Greek Ghosts; the second, Wetumpka Widow, Murder for Wealth. The third book is currently a twinkle in my eye and a bunch of notes written partly in shorthand on scraps of paper.  While I created the detectives from my imagination, I based various parts of the first two books on real experiences.

Back in the day when people dubbed self-publishing as vanity press, I hired iUniverse to publish the original Greek Ghosts. It annoyed me when one of the company’s reviewers, probably a female college student because they would work for minimal wages, said that Greece’s currency was Euros, not Drachmas. Obviously, the person had not noted the years in which the story took place. She questioned my descriptions of places in Greece. She did not realize that I had been to the country five times and had studied Greek Mythology.

The second reader, who seemed to be a man, complimented me on my knowledge of Greece, saying it made him homesick. iUniverse awarded the novel “Editor’s Choice.” As I held the rights to the story, I published the book again years later with a different cover to connect it to the second in the series, a marketing technique.

To lend credulity, I used my own experiences, including visiting the island of Leros and Athens, Greece, and living in Wendelstein, Germany. I feel that by using actual places—even those that no longer exist—the reader envisions descriptions as more real. One of my editors confirmed this by telling me she felt that she was having a conversation with me when she read my books.

The second in the series utilized my experiences traveling several times to Montgomery, Wetumpka, and other areas of Alabama, and San Diego, California, I based the story in part on my son’s death. An elder Greek friend believed that my daughter-in-law had somehow contributed to his demise. While I was not convinced of that, I found that writing the fictional story helped me deal with my grief.

The murder of my daughter-in-law’s first husband years before her marriage to my son provided the basis for another segment of the story. I researched the event as I created the villain’s personality in keeping with the theme of a black widow. I did not use this in the title because it has been overworked. The artwork on the cover, however, features a black widow spider to express the idea visually.

While currently I am writing a non-fiction book, I have been investigating ideas about how to take my sleuths to England in the third in the series where they wind up solving another murder. Although I lived outside London for two years in the 1960s, I have to research London early in this century. Without disclosing the entire plot, I want Jennifer and her lover Jason, who reentered her life in the last book, to open a store around the corner from the famed Harrods Department Store where I loved to shop. British friends told me about a unique shop in another part of England that will serve as inspiration for their retail endeavor.

Each book stands on its own because enough of a core story about the personal lives of the sleuths provides a backstory. It is similar to a TV program like NCIS. The characters solve cases in each segment so a casual viewer may watch each independently, but over the series, the devoted viewer learns about their personal lives and that make the characters more real.

Initially, the first step in promoting the third book will be to design a cover that ties into the covers of the first two books. As usual, after the book is published in paperback and Kindle, I will write blogs to announce to the readers that their presumably favorite sleuths are back.

I will add the book to my email signature block and create a flyer to send to prospective readers that I will tuck inside the hardcopy books I personally sell. I will contact people who have enjoyed the first two books and include a blurb in my annual newsletter that goes to my mailing list. Of course, my marketing will include the tag “If you enjoy this saga, you may enjoy reading the first two books in the series.” This and teasers about the other books will be included at the end of the third book. In addition, I will contact associates who have promoted my other books and ask them to review this one. Eventually, I may update the first two books with a blurb about the third.

For all of my books, I use whatever venue I can to promote my writing. Just because a person constructs a new football stadium does not mean people will come. A writer cannot be shy no matter what naysayers may criticize about self-promotion. Just because an author writes a book, an article, or poem ▬ I have written other books, articles, and columns, both fiction and non-fiction, and edited newsletters ▬ does not mean readers will buy them. It is necessary to inform them about the availability and let them determine if the genre is one they enjoy reading. In addition, whenever I call a company, for example about a credit card, at the end of the conversation I say to the rep, “If you are a reader, I’m a writer.” When the person responds positively, I direct them to Amazon for more information.

Have you heard, as I have, that once a writer has three books in one genre, sales will increase? That is why I am eager to make the third book the best in the mystery series. Perhaps I can eventually box the three books together, setting the stage for additional promotion. In the end, I will learn first-hand if the rumor about having three books in the series makes a difference.


During Helen’s business career, she wore many hats including professional writer, editor, marketing/public relations specialist, Real Estate Director for franchisees, sales, and commercial real estate broker (licensed in Texas and specializing in restaurants and retail).

In Costa Rica, where she has spent most of her time since 2005, she wrote a nonfiction anecdotal book based on extensive research and her adventure with input from other expats. The goal of the book is to help Baby Boomers jump-start their due diligence in order to find their paradise for retirement or possibly for a vacation home or investment in Costa Rica. Her books, the third edition (2017) of Retiring in Costa Rica or Doctors, Dogs and Pura Vida,” “Secrets Behind the Big Pencil, Inspired by an Actual Scandal,” (2014) Greek Ghosts, (2003, listed on Amazon 2011 and given a new cover 2016) and Wetumpka Widow (2016) are available in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon. A booklet called Retirement 101 (2017) is available on Kindle only.

Writing in retirement by John Desjarlais

Many writers fantasize about a leap from writing-on-the-side to full time. An old rule of thumb was that when you were earning 50% of your day-job salary by writing, you could consider making the move, especially if you were comfortable with – and skilled about — the business.

Or you can retire, like I’m doing, and not really depend on the income.

Like any long-term endeavor, one must determine the ultimate goal. If the aim is to supplement retirement income — and it will be for some — then an earnest freelance effort is needed: cultivating clients, querying actively, searching, or seeking gigs on other such venues. Income can also be generated by savvy blogging, editing services, speaking, and landing continuing ed opportunities in community colleges. Oh, and selling fiction – which is hard and rarely profitable.

For those not driven by the need to supplement income, writing for non-profits without pay is a noble option.

For the fiction writer like me, for whom writing income is not an issue (thank goodness), it means having full discretion of my time. At the moment I have no agent and I am not under contract (darn!), so I have no deadlines and no external pressure. I must set goals for myself and discipline my own time as I would when I was “working,” determined to not allow “leisure” to make me lazy about the craft. Because I’ll be “working,” of course, in a new way. I expect to set time goals or page-count goals to stay on a schedule to produce excellent work by a reasonable deadline.

One danger of no-deadlines and no-pressure, it seems, is to neglect the work or to keep revising over and over. But can’t this be an issue for the weekend writer and the 5-am-before-work-writer, too?

As a teacher, I realize I’ve been ‘rehearsing’ retirement during summer breaks. And the thing is, I never wrote “full-time” in summer, although I had more time for it. As a practicing Catholic, I believe a retirement – like my summers — must be balanced, like the Benedictine monastic life, by prayer, study, work, and leisure for renewal.  So I expect my schedule to be governed by a four-fold rotation:  (1) recollection (a monastic term for prayer and contemplation) and (2) reading, (3) leisure (the fourth item in that list) which includes time with family and friends, travel and enrichment, and (4) working in voluntary service to others and – here it comes – in writing.

Let’s face it:  no one who writes “full time” does it all the time. I certainly won’t. Writers must live life, too – or they’ll have little to write about. For me, writing in retirement will be part of the balanced Benedictine mix.

Come to think of it, taken another way, writing in retirement will embody all four:  work (because it just is, right?) – requiring study (gotta do research) — and leisure (because it’s fun) –and an act of prayer. The author of Psalm 19 – a poem about how visual art and the written word communicate truth — concludes with a couplet that offers the poem as a literary “sacrifice” to the Creator in saying, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).


John Desjarlais teaches English at Kishwaukee College in northern Illinois – well, until June. His first novel, The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990), was a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee, and his medieval thriller, Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993) was a Doubleday Book Club Selection. Bleeder, Viper (a Catholic Arts and Letters Award nominee), and Specter (Chesterton Press, 2009, 2011 and 2015 respectively) constitute the ‘Higher Mysteries’ series.