One Size Does Not Fit All by S.K. Rizzolo

I tend to hibernate while working on a book. I do not participate in much social media and do very little, if any, active promotion. The truth is that it’s hard for me to switch my brain from creative into marketing mode. During the gestation of a project, I need time apart, a quiet space to contemplate. Maybe that’s because real-world considerations shatter the fictive dream, disrupt my thought processes, and sometimes make me anxious. Worrying about promotion stops the writing cold every time. I guess I have a one-track mind.


There are writers who are able to organize their days, allocating an hour or two to posting on Twitter, running their own blog, or doing whatever they deem useful to help them sell books. But I find writing a novel to be a messy, eternally demanding pursuit that absorbs all my energies. Thus, I tend to launch into marketing only when the book is done and the publication date approaches. At that point I set up blog tours, update my website, write historical essays, send out a notification in my newsletter, arrange Goodreads giveaways, attend conferences—anything I can think of. On publication day I make an announcement on social media, but I don’t often post about individual reviews after that. Blazing a trail in terms of marketing and promotion? Not so much.


Still, occasionally I’ll try something new. For example, a few months ago I teamed up with a travel company and wrote a post that highlighted some iconic sites of Regency London, the setting for my historical mystery series. The company generously combined this post with a giveaway that included a set of my books and a tea set. The result: the promotion attracted over 2700 entries, so at the very least I made contact with 2700 people who had probably never heard of me or my books. For my next release, I plan to purchase some extra copies from my publisher and give them away to readers. It’s a simple idea. Since I am traditionally published and can’t offer deep discounts or perma-free series openers, I’ll supplement the free copies provided by my publisher with a few autographed ones to send out into the world (not unlike messages in a bottle tossed into the ocean). With these gifts I hope to tempt a reader here, a reader there—anyone who likes the genre in which I write and would like to try my work. It’s fine with me that building a readership is a slow, organic process that can take years. Finding even one loyal fan is a big deal.


No doubt this isn’t the most effective or efficient approach, but it’s the one that works for me. Which, I suppose, is my point. As 21st-century authors, we hear a lot about what we are supposed to be doing to sell our books—as if we can singlehandedly determine their fate if we follow all the right steps and push all the right buttons. But I don’t think “success” is that easy, and I’m quite sure it means different things to different people. The bottom line: Each author needs to discover his or her own version of authorship through trial and error. Marketing is a highly personalized skill that develops over time and evolves as the writer evolves. I don’t mean to suggest that we should sit back and do nothing. Our books deserve that we make an effort to introduce them to others in order to give our work a chance to contribute something positive to another person’s life. Maybe we can entertain that reader or provide a much-needed distraction from troubles or even shed some light on the human condition. Overall, I find that focusing on this essential goal of communication keeps me on track in both art and business.


Author’s Biography

An incurable Anglophile, S.K. Rizzolo writes mysteries exploring the darker side of Regency England. Her books feature a trio of crime-solving friends: a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. Currently she is at work on the first novel in a new series introducing a female detective in Victorian London. Rizzolo lives in Los Angeles with Oliver Twist and Lucy, her cats, and Michael, her husband. She also has an actress daughter named after Miranda in The Tempest.



Synopsis for On a Desert Shore (most recent release)


London, 1813: A wealthy West India merchant’s daughter is in danger with a vast fortune at stake. Hired to protect the heiress, Bow Street Runner John Chase copes with a bitter inheritance dispute and vicious murder. Meanwhile, his sleuthing partner, abandoned wife Penelope Wolfe, must decide whether Society’s censure is too great a bar to a relationship with barrister Edward Buckler. On a Desert Shore stretches from the brutal colony of Jamaica to the prosperity and apparent peace of suburban London. Here a father’s ambition to transplant a child of mixed blood and create an English dynasty will lead to terrible deeds.


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Must a mystery have a murder? by John Lindermuth

Modern readers have come to expect one or more dead bodies in crime stories. But, with the increasing violence encountered in ‘real life,’ many are becoming offended with the amount of gore in fiction, which may partly account for the growing popularity of those novels termed ‘cozy’. In these books murder exists, though it’s mentioned after-the-fact and never seen in its most brutal aspects.

Still, the questions remains–must a mystery have a murder?

What’s most important for many readers in a crime novel is a puzzle. Why a crime was committed and who did it? And, if they can answer those questions before the author reveals them, more the joy. This is most evident in ‘classic’ crime tales which often didn’t focus on murder as the highlight of the menu.

Murder is absent from several of Conan Doyle’s best Sherlock Holmes tales. Wilkie Collins didn’t need a murder to intrigue us with The Woman in White. And there’s no murder in Dorothy Saylor’s Gaudy Night.

Yet, as P. D. James tells us (Talking About Detective Fiction), “Readers are likely to remain more interested in which of Aunt Ellie’s heirs laced her nightly cocoa with arsenic than in who stole her diamond necklace while she was safely holidaying in Bournemouth.” Truth is, as abhorrent we may find it in reality, murder fascinates the human species and always has.

There are several murders in my latest novel, The Bartered Body, but they come late in the story and are not its main focus. Here’s a blurb:

Why would thieves steal the body of a dead woman?

That’s the most challenging question yet to be faced by Sylvester Tilghman, the third of his family to serve as sheriff of Arahpot, Jordan County, Pennsylvania, in the waning days of the 19th century.

And it’s not just any body but that of Mrs. Arbuckle, Nathan Zimmerman’s late mother-in-law. Zimmerman is burgess of Arahpot and Tilghman’s boss, which puts more than a little pressure on the sheriff to solve the crime in a hurry.

Syl’s investigation is complicated by the arrival in town of a former flame who threatens his relationship with his sweetheart Lydia Longlow; clashes with his old enemy, former burgess McLean Ruppenthal; a string of armed robberies, and a record snowstorm that shuts down train traffic, cuts off telegraph service and freezes cattle in the fields.

It will take all of Syl’s skills and the help of his deputy and friends to untangle the various threads and bring the criminals to justice.

Read more about my writing on my website:

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Rising and Falling as a Genre Writer by Peg Herring

Jack Elam, Hollywood regular for years in (mostly) westerns, once summed up the career of a character actor.

1.       Who’s Jack Elam?

2.       Get me Jack Elam.

3.       Get me a Jack Elam type.

4.       Who’s Jack Elam?

Genre authors often have a similar experience. At first no one recognizes your name, and you sit at events with your single offering as people pass without a glance. I was once seated next to Sue Grafton at a signing (H for Herring, G for Grafton). Her line was around the room and out the door. Mine was…well, there wasn’t one.

So the first stage is “Who’s Peg Herring?” I was lucky enough to get a respected publisher for my first books and smart enough to work at promotion. I did talks from Michigan to Florida and sent out mailings to bookstores and libraries. My publisher found reviewers, so I saw my name in Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus with kind words about writing style, plot, and character development. In a small but helpful way, that first question was answered: Peg Herring is a mystery writer. Over the years I’ve worked to get as many readers as possible familiar with that six-word sentence.

In a perfect world, that would lead to “Get me Peg Herring’s books,” and I’m still surprised at how many libraries across the Midwest have the Simon and Elizabeth Mysteries on their shelves. Experts tell authors the best incentive for someone to buy the next book is their enjoyment of the last one, so the series served both my publisher and me well–until they decided to stop publishing mysteries.

That was okay, sort of. I had branched out to contemporary and what I call “vintage” mysteries, set in more recent times like the 1960s. My fans bought them, but without major reviewers and a direct library connection, it was harder to let book lovers know the Loser Mysteries and the Dead Detective Mysteries existed. When I finally went independent, promotion became even crazier. The reading world is choked with entries, so new releases fall into a dump truck full of titles, some well-written and edited, some not. A writer must decide when spending her limited promotional funds: To whom should promotions be targeted? Fans who liked my historicals might not enjoy, my humorous caper novel, but readers who’ve never heard of me might look right past an unfamiliar name, since they have no sense of my abilities and style.

I use a varied approach to promotion that depends on the book itself. Of course I start with an eye-catching cover and a great blurb. At promotional sites I match what I have to offer with the types of books their members like. (A site with two dozen covers depicting scantily-clad women grasped by bare-chested men probably isn’t for me.) Since these sites vary in quality, it takes work to figure out whether their membership, format, and pricing fits my needs. Still, the results are better if I take the time to do that rather than a scatter-gun approach. Of course there are no guarantees in promotion, even when an author gives books away. I know people who have hundreds of free books downloaded to their devices. If they never read them, how does that help me sell more books?

Since I write what interests me and not just what sold before, I work to let readers know my name means 1) quality mystery, 2) strong female characters, and 3) a satisfying ending. It isn’t easy. Last week I spoke at a library in Tampa, and after my talk, a woman picked up a book and skimmed the back cover. With a little shriek she said, “Oh, this is you? I read this whole series! I loved it!” If she’d read four of my books and still didn’t recognize my name, you can bet she hadn’t gone looking for my other offerings.

Though it’s an uphill battle, I enjoy the challenge of finding new readers and convincing them to try my work. Looking back, I generally like what I’ve done with my writing career over the last decade. And I don’t really care if ten years from now people are back to asking: “Who’s Peg Herring?”



Peg Herring reads, writes, and loves mysteries. As an educator, she once set the stage on fire. As a tourist, she’s been so lost she passed through the same town in Pennsylvania three times in one day. Friends have lost count of how many times she’s locked herself out of her house. As the award-winning author of several series and stand-alones, she’s safer if she stays in her office and writes, either as herself or as her younger, hipper alter ego, Maggie Pill. Peg’s newest release is Not Dead Yet…, suspense with a big surprise that’s set in 1960s Chicago. Maggie just released Book 6 of the Sleuth Sisters Mysteries, Peril, Plots, and Puppies.

Peg’s website:

Maggie’s website:

Thinking Outside the Box Unique Ideas for Promoting Your Book(s) By Ron Corbin

People who don’t know me that well seem a little surprised when they discover I have a PhD. Most likely because they don’t see me as the “typical” erudite that a Doctorate of Philosophy usually invokes … whatever that may be.
However, for friends who know me “up close and personal,” they aren’t surprised at all that I don’t portray the image of a college professor. Probably because, since there is already too much drama and seriousness in the world, I like to tease, joke, make puns, and use humor in daily activities. Thus, it is likely that some of the suggestions below for promoting my book may seem a little bit unusual, quirky, or out of the norm.
Poker Chips — Being from Las Vegas, rather than just having the personalized business cards and book marks promoting my book like most authors, I had customized poker chips made up. One side of the chip displayed the cover of my book, and the flip side had a photo of an LAPD helicopter.
These chips can be used as part of the “buy-in” to your weekly “Guy’s Night Poker Game.” Sometimes, one of the poker players will cash-in these poker chips to buy one of your books.
The chips can also be used as a challenge coin to exchange with your military and public safety friends who collect these kind of mementos.
Doctor and Dentist Office — Having the same family doctor and dentist for years, these professionals know about some of my family business, including my endeavors in writing and publishing a book. As a Christmas gift to them, I gave them one of my books. I then asked them that, if they are willing, I’d appreciate them allowing me to place one of my books in their office waiting rooms…with a sticker or handwritten note saying, “Please Don’t Remove – Leave in Office.”
I think that this is a perfect way for exposure to great numbers of people; patients who might start reading a chapter or two and, if interested, will copy the book title for future self-purchase. As a bonus of doing this, I even found that one of my doctors is an author herself, and we were able to exchange books.
Contests — I have held contests at writer’s conferences, with the winning prize being one of my books. Use your imagination and make twists to the old version of “guessing how many jelly beans in a jar” game.
One contest was where I took one of my wife’s sewing projects. She had made a basket from material-hand-wrapped cotton corded clothesline. I had conference attendees guess how many feet of clothesline was involved in the basket construction.
Another contest was to guess what this object was used for. Hints included:
·       They are made of plastic and come in pairs.
·       They come in four basic colors (i.e., red, green, blue, yellow).
·       They are from the 1950s.
·       They use one AA battery to make a small light and illuminate the plastic’s color.
Do you know what they are? Take a guess. (Answer at the bottom of this article.)
Cruise Ship Libraries — My wife and I like to take cruises. Generally, every cruise ship has a game room and/or library. I take one of my books on each cruise trip and leave it in with the other books in the ship’s library. Even if the ship’s staff monitor this and remove my book as being unauthorized, I feel confident that it won’t simply be thrown away, and maybe taken to the crew quarters for their use. In any case, I figure that this is a way to expose it to hundreds, if not thousands, of passengers.
So, these have been some of the ways I have promoted my book. They may seem quirky, but then again, I told you that I had a PhD. I like to say that it’s “thinking outside the box.” Honestly, though, I don’t know how successful these unique ideas are. But you may want to try them.
Oh, and the answer to those green plastic light thingies is … they are lights that attach to the bottom of roller shoe skates. When the roller rink lights are turned down, and a waltz or couple’s skate is called, guys and gals would turn on their shoe skate lights. If a boy had a girlfriend, then they each would swap one light from their pair, so they had a different color on each foot, but were seen matching as a “couple.”
Ron Corbin
Ron Corbin is a decorated Vietnam veteran, having served two tours as a combat helicopter pilot. After a crash in 1976 with LAPD’s Air Support Division, he was forced to seek other careers, including school teacher and principal, counter-terrorism and security trainer, body guard, corporate security director, and manager of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept’s (Metro) Police Training Academy. His specialty is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), and he attended training in this domain at The National Crime Prevention Institute, at the University of Louisville. On behalf of Metro, he has served the community by providing expert advice and hundreds of security surveys or vulnerability assessments for commercial and residential customers; including such notables as the Fremont Street Experience architectural team, Ch-3 and Ch-10 television studios, Las Vegas and Clark County Housing Authorities, Desert Springs Hospital, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Ron’s CPTED credentials and experience has led to him being interviewed as a subject matter expert in articles published nationally in “Reader’s Digest,” “Sunset Magazine,” “PetroMart Business,” Las Vegas Life”, “The SIREN (Municipal Motorcycle Officers of California)”, “Vegas Life”, “Las Vegas NOW”, “Around Your Home”, the “Crime Reporter” (Ventura, CA PD),  and “PORAC-LE News” magazines. He was the Editor of Training Publications for LVMPD. He has been a contributing author and columnist to “Avista” magazine. He currently writes a safety column for the “PSWA Newsletter.” He is also a 10-time award-winning writer for short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. BEYOND RECOGNITION, Ron’s award winning book (Public Safety Writer’s Assn- 1st Place, 2013) was written as a means of closure and dealing with survivor’s guilt, a form of PTSD. It’s his memoir of a tragic helicopter crash he had as an LAPD pilot; one which killed his student pilot trainee, and put Ron in a burn ward for 70% burns. It’s a story of how he overcame his physical, mental, and emotional pain, and provides a recommendation for others who suffer from tragedy.
Ron Corbin, PhD

Vietnam Veteran (1966-67, 69 – Army Helicopter Pilot)
Member of the Public Safety Writers Association
Member of the Wednesday Warrior Writers 

Author of “Beyond Recognition”

First Place Award Winner

Why I’m an Indie Author By Judy Alter

In the 1970s, my first novel was published by Wm. Morrow & Co., then a major New York publisher and now an imprint of a larger house. For a beginning writer, it was a coup, and I thought it promised a golden road to the New York Times bestseller list. Instead, I’ve followed a rocky, bumpy road, and I’ve landed, if on the radar at all, on the lower rungs of the midlist ladder. I have been agented and non-agented, published by large New York publishers, small independent presses, university presses, and publishers who specialized in books for school libraries. Today I am non-agented, and I publish my own books. No, I’m not getting rich by any means, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In the 1970s and beyond, self-publishing was a dirty term. It meant you couldn’t get a legitimate publisher to look at your work. The implication was your writing was not good,  not salable, not publishable. If you self-published, you paid companies, known derogatorily as vanity presses, great sums of money to publish your work. They produced a quantity of your books and stored them in their warehouse. Publicity and marketing were up to you. After a certain period, the publisher would need the warehouse space, and they would—yes, it’s true—offer to sell you the books you’d already paid to publish.

Then came the revolutionary developments of digital or electronic books and print-on-demand. Both changed publishing forever, by reducing publishing costs and making books more accessible. About the time we were getting used to this sea-change in publishing, I decided to try my hand at mysteries. I was a lifelong fan but never thought I could write one. I went from being a western writer to a mystery wannabe.

I joined Sisters in Crime and began a whole new educational experience. One thing I learned, to my dismay, was that it wasn’t as easy to contract with an agent as it had been in my early experience. Some people submitted 200 or more queries; lots of work never found a publisher. Long story short, after several harsh lessons that cost me a few wasted years, my first mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space (A Kelly O’Connell Mystery), was published by a small press that specialized in romance. I was their mystery experiment, and I stayed with them through seven novels before they went out of business a few years ago.

It’s no secret that I am in my golden years. When that press went out of business, I didn’t want to spend time on endless agent and publisher searches. I wanted to write. If one of the major mystery houses had come begging, I don’t think I’d have been interested, because I didn’t want the pressure to produce two or three books a year or to maintain my sales. I am fortunate not to need the income, so the slower pace and lower returns of self-publishing are all right with me.

I would not have gone indie (we prefer that term to self-publishing) without a following, but with five books under my belt and a growing audience for my blog, I knew I had readers out there. Not an astounding number, but enough to make me feel good about continuing to write. So now, in my late seventies, if not for money, why do I do it? Because it keeps me and my brain young and active; because I enjoy both the writing and the involvement with the mystery community and with readers; and because some people really like my stories.

A reader once swore to me she saw Kelly O’Connell going into her favorite restaurant. That’s how powerful a reader’s imagination can be if you feed it. I like that a lot.


Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, two books in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; and two in the Oak Grove Mysteries. Pigface and the Perfect Dog follows The Perfect Coed in this series of mysteries set on a university campus. Judy is no stranger to college campuses. She attended the University of Chicago, Truman State University in Missouri, and Texas Christian University, where she earned a Ph.D. and taught English. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of the university. The author of many books for both children and adults primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries.

She holds awards from the Western Writers of America, the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Texas Institute of Letters. She was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and recognized as an Outstanding Woman of Fort Worth and a woman who has left her mark on Texas. Western Writers of America gave her the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement and will induct her into its Hall of Fame in June 2015.

The single parent of four and the grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her perfect dog, Sophie.

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Buy link for Murder at the Bus Depot:

My 3 Biggest Promotional Errors by James M. Jackson

It’s been nearly six years since the release of my first book in the Seamus McCree series, and even before that day, I struggled with the best way to introduce people to the series. Barking Rain Press, a small publisher in Vancouver, Washington, published the first book. It received good reviews (4.3 on Goodreads), but sales were meh. When the second book came out a year later—also published by Barking Rain—I hired someone to promote the book. That wasn’t the mistake; the error was what I had her focus on.

She spent considerable time (and therefore money) building my Twitter following and setting up a bookstore tour. Problem was, she liked Twitter a lot, but I am not a 140-character guy. I enjoy more nuanced “conversations” and am much more comfortable with Facebook. That waste of time and money is minor compared to the bookstore tour fiasco. Perhaps this is the right time to mention that although I am a social liberal, I’m a numbers guy and a fiscal conservative. Well, usually, I’m a numbers guy. This time I let my ego get in the way—and that was a huge problem.

Michael Connelly or Janet Evanovich can generate lines stretching down the block for a book signing. As a mechanism to introduce lots of new people to an author, it is a colossal waste of time and money. First, there is the time and effort to set up the tour, which my hired publicist did. Second, driving to independent bookstores takes time that could have been more productively spent. Third, meals out and motels are expensive. The economics are terrible. Let’s say I had a terrific event (for an unknown) and sold a dozen books. Net royalty to me is about $24. But, whenever bookstores order too many books, the costs of returns to Ingram are ultimately charged back to the author. My net might even be negative!

I enjoyed those events, and if I do say so myself, I’m good at them. I’ve learned to only do local events with a natural draw. The net result on book two, you ask? A 4.3 Goodreads rating, a few more books sold, a lot of money lost.

My third published book won a Kindle Scout competition, which meant a bigger advance and an Amazon imprint would publish the Kindle version of the book. The Kindle Scout model is to give away copies of the title to those who voted for your book during a 30-day competition. Of course, I worked hard to get everyone I knew to vote for my book—which meant that since my fans already received the book for free, sales would have to come from people who didn’t know the Seamus McCree series. Exactly what I needed, and I’d have Amazon’s marketing efforts behind my book!

And therein lies my second huge promotional mistake. A math guy like me should have realized that Amazon is driven by algorithms with very little human intervention. Books that do well get major support to drive them to do even better. Books that languish are left to wither. The positive of all the Kindle copies they gave away was that I received more reviews for that book than for any of the others. The reviews for the book were excellent (average 4.4 on Goodreads), and sales of the other novels in the series also increased.

And then the whole engine died. I thought Amazon would drive sales with “If you liked this, you’d like . . . “ mine. Not so much. As with any publisher, Amazon controlled the pricing, and I couldn’t run price-promotions. I expected them to and then to advertise them. It didn’t happen. What I needed to do was invest in advertising right at the beginning to encourage more people to read that book. Without positive statistics, Amazon’s algorithms don’t kick in to help. It was a grand opportunity that I wasted.

Over time I regained rights to my books and introduced advertising and periodic price promotions. I increased my newsletter followers and reader by reader continued to add fans. I was confident (and I still am) that since readers rated the series well (4.38 on Goodreads over the entire series), I just needed to develop a wider marketing tool. If I could reach readers who like to read the kind of books I like to write, they’ll try my books and enjoy them.

Over the years, I have received some good newspaper reviews, and I thought one way I might reach new readers was through a national review. I have my own nano-press now and used my publishing arm to purchase a Kirkus review. It cost $425, which I figured would be money well spent if my book earned one of their coveted starred ratings. It did not receive a starred review (sigh), but every reviewer has his or her own perspectives, and what was promised was a fair review, not a great review. Okay, gamble lost. What was disappointing was the review contained two egregious factual errors and consisted mostly of a plot summary containing spoilers. Unusable, and one more lesson learned: despite the so-called level playing field of fair reviews, it’s still tilted against independent authors.

So, this time with a new book out, I’m reaching out to the blogging community, hoping my posts will encourage readers who like character-driven suspense novels to take a chance on a new author. I’d be interested to learn how y’all decide which new authors to try. Let me know in the comments.


James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series consisting of five novels and one novella. Jim splits his time between the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s Lowcountry. He claims the moves between locations are weather-related, but others suggest they may have more to do with not overstaying his welcome. He is the past president of the 700+ member Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. You can find information about Jim and his books at You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and/or Amazon.

You can order paperback versions of his books from your favorite physical or online bookstore (or from his website if you’d like them autographed). You can find his Kindle books here.


Empty Promises Blurb

In Empty Promises Seamus McCree’s first solo bodyguard assignment goes from bad to worse. His client disappears. His granddog finds a buried human bone. Police find a fresh human body.

Seamus risks his own safety and freedom to turn amateur sleuth in hopes he can solve the crimes, fulfill his promise of protection, and win back the love of his life. Wit and grit are on his side, but the clock is ticking . . . and the hit man is on his way.

All aboard for adventure by Janet Dawson

Now arriving on platform three, the California Zephyr—historical mystery series, that is. All aboard for adventure! Also mystery, murder and a touch of the supernatural.


The Ghost in Roomette Four, the third book in the series, features strange shimmering lights, an unearthly chill and tapping sounds that may mean someone—or something—is trying to communicate with my protagonist, Jill McLeod.


Jill is a Zephyrette, a train hostess, the only female member of the onboard crew for the streamliner known as the California Zephyr. The train was often called the CZ or the Silver Lady, because of its silvery stainless steel cars. It ran from 1949 until 1970, jointly operated by three railroad companies—the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and the Western Pacific.


The first book in the California Zephyr series is called Death Rides the Zephyr. It takes place in December 1952, while the second, Death Deals a Hand, happens a few months later, in April 1953. By the time The Ghost in Roomette Four leaves the station, summer has rolled around and it’s July 1953.


The series features a specific historic train linked with a female protagonist who is a train crew member rather than a passenger—at time when working for the railroad was primarily a man’s job and a man’s world. That’s what first attracted me. When I found out about Zephyrettes, I knew I had to write a book with a Zephyrette sleuthing on the train and solving crimes.


I am having fun with the early 1950s setting, researching fashions, hair styles, figuring out what movies were showing at the local picture palace, the music my characters enjoyed, and what books and magazines they would read. I’m also looking at the cars my characters would drive and what was in the newspapers of the time, whether news of international and national importance, or something local.


It’s a time when memories of the Korean War, World War II and the Great Depression are still fresh in people’s memories. It’s the era of postwar prosperity in the United States, yet a time when casual racism directed at the mostly African American porters was common. In the 1950s, women married young and it was unusual for young women like Jill to have careers. In fact, in the third book, Jill is feeling the subtle pressure to get married—and she finds she doesn’t like it. She enjoys riding the rails and she’s not yet ready to settle down.


For the mystery reader who enjoys transportation linked with murder, there are lots of train books out there. Certainly we think of Agatha Christie, Jill’s favorite mystery writer. Murder on the Orient Express and The Mystery of the Blue Train both feature Hercule Poirot. And 4:50 from Paddington involves Miss Marple in a murder aboard a train. There’s also Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, the movie version released in 1951.


Here’s a link to a blog post about mysteries set on trains, though it’s several years out of date.


It lists a great many train books. Since the list provided on this blog is several years old, I’m sure readers could add more. My latest discovery is Barbara Nickless, whose series, set in contemporary Denver, features a railroad special agent, Sydney Rose Parnell and a K9 partner named Clyde. The books are Blood on the Tracks and Dead Stop. Her website is at


Here’s hoping you’ll buy a ticket on the California Zephyr, my fictional version, and enjoy the adventures of my sleuthing Zephyrette.

Marilyn Monroe singing Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which opened in July 195. Jill and her boyfriend are planning to see this movie.

Percy Faith Orchestra playing Where is Your Heart, the popular song from the 1952 move Moulin Rouge. This is the song playing at the restaurant where Jill has lunch with her friend Tidsy.

Fifties fashions and hairdos:

The poodle cut, called the style that defined the 1950s:

Some illustrations of the popular full skirt and pencil skirt:

Good clothing photos here:

Some of the clothes that Jill might have worn:

profile of Zephyrette Nellie O’Grady from the Saturday Evening Post in 1955 has some good photos of a working Zephyrette:

This is part of the website called the Virtual California Zephyr Museum, which has lots of photos and advertising brochures.



Tips for changing genres by Kathleen Heady

My first three novels were mysteries. After the third one, Hotel Saint Clare, was published, I started playing around with a fantasy story just for fun.

I created a young girl with magical powers who became involved with a real mystery in English history, the disappearance of the Crown Jewels during the reign of King John, of Magna Carta fame. I have been fascinated by English history since my childhood, so this was a fun way to let my imagination run wild.

I soon had enough of the story written to continue and complete the novel, and this was how I made the “big switch,” from contemporary mysteries for adults to young adult historical fantasy.

I put the mysteries on hold for the time being, and worked on the new novel, called Jewels in Time, with two different critique groups.

Now that Jewels in Time has gone to my publisher, I have entered a whole new world of promoting a young adult novel. I have shifted my focus from a primarily online presence, to include libraries, schools, and teachers.

I will probably go back to mysteries, but I am happy that I followed my imagination and didn’t allow myself to get stuck in one genre. A friend who read the manuscript told me that it cries out for a sequel, so that may happen, too.

As far as promotion goes, this puts me in the position of wearing two hats. I still work on promoting my “back list” of mysteries. I am a member of my local chapter of Sisters in Crime, a national organization for writers and readers of crime novels. This is a fantastic resource for getting to know other writers and learning about the craft as well as tips on publishing.

If you are a writer who is considering changes genres, here are some pointers from my experience:

  1. Follow your inspiration. If you have a story idea that you can’t get out of your mind, go with it. There is a reason why that idea is there.
  2. Research the new genre. I have been reading more young adult novels, and talking to young people about what they like to read. Look at websites and get involved in groups dedicated to your new genre.
  3. Join a critique group, and or find readers for your new manuscript. But don’t feel bound to follow every criticism. You know what you want to say.
  4. Follow it through. I have always reached a point in writing a novel where I think: I have this much written, it would be a waste not to finish it.
  5. Enjoy the process. There are parts of writing that are just not fun – like editing for me – but ultimately we are writers because we like to create imaginary worlds, and that is fun.

Kathleen Heady is a native of rural Illinois but has lived and traveled many places, including numerous trips to Great Britain and seven years living in Costa Rica. She is the author of three mystery novels, Hotel Saint Clare, The Gate House, which was a finalist for an EPIC award in 2011, and Lydia’s Story. Jewels in Time is her first novel aimed at young people. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and two cats, Tang and Sirius Black.

Switching Genres by Marianna Heusler

I’m a cozy writer. I love reading them, I love writing them, and I love watching them on television. I love the puzzle – and the way that the crime is never too violent, or bloody, and the dead person is never too nice or too useful. Cozies make me feel safe.


And yet my latest novel One Stone Left Unturned is very different. For one thing, although it’s a mystery, it’s also an historical fantasy and it’s aimed at the middle grade market.


I’ve always been fascinated with the fall of the Russian dynasty. When I was teaching junior high in a Catholic School, I taught the film Nicholas and Alexandra. The students loved the story and I was able to incorporate the theme into many subjects.


In religion we debated the power of Rasputin, the crazy monk, who brought down the empire. Was he a saint or a sinner? Where did his power actually come from? (In my novel it comes from a jewel sewed into Tatiana Romanov’s clothing when the royal family is exiled.)


And, of course, there is history. How did Russia and why did Russia end up as Communists? We computed the days that the royal family was in exile for math, and the children were mesmerized by the science of hemophilia, which afflicted the heir to the throne, for science.


If my students loved the story, I figured other kids might too and I wrote the novel from the point of view of Tatiana, one of the little princesses. The question soon became – how to promote it.


When you write for middle grade children, you are really writing for two markets, the kids themselves, and the gatekeepers. Middle grade kids don’t often shop for books by themselves, so you have to get the parents, the teachers and the librarians on board.


The easiest way to do this (although none of this is easy) is through school visits. I booked myself into some classrooms. I do a small reading (kids have very little attention spans), a little mystery to solve, a brief lesson on writing, and then a contest with a prize. I leave a copy of the book for the library and bookmarks for the kids in case they can get their parents to order a copy. And sometimes the entire grade will order the book before I even arrive. Where else can you sell two dozen books in a few hours?


I did have a stroke of luck – a publisher from Croatia agreed to translate the novel and make it available to every library in the country. That won’t necessary increase my sales, still it’s nice to know that people half way around the world are enjoying the book.


It’s hard when you switch genres, because whatever fan base you may have acquired isn’t coming with you. And unless you plan on writing a sequel, any new fans won’t be of any help to you in the future.


But sometimes, an author has to write a story because it’s just itching to get out. Sometimes a writer thinks it’s a tale that must be told. And sometimes veering away from your comfort zone gives you new strengths.


And sometimes that’s enough.




Marianna Heusler is an Edgar nominated author of nine novels and hundreds of short stories. A former elementary school teachers, she lives in New York City with her husband, Joel, her son Maximilian and her little dog, Dolce.




My middle grade novel, One Stone Left Unturned, is part mystery, part fantasy and part history, and is told from two different points of view.


The novel follows the final days before the Romanov massacre from the eyes of their daughter, Tatiana. The second point of view is that of Augusta Ashford, a lonely teenager.


On July 16th, 1918 the Romanov family was murdered, thus signifying the end of the Romanov Empire. Historians believe that a peasant by the name of Rasputin was instrumental in the downfall of the dynasty. Because the royal family believed that he could cure their son, Alexis, who was suffering from hemophilia, Rasputin was able to influence the Imperial Family.


But what if Rasputin’s power did not come from God as he claimed, but from a simple jewel, a tri-colored fifteen caret tourmaline? And what if that very stone landed in the hands of a teenager a century later?


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At first I wasn’t even sure I wanted to review this book as it didn’t seem to fit into any of my preferred genres. However, one good thing about being a reviewer is that it widens your literary horizons and I am so glad I agreed.


The story of the last days of Tsar Nicholas’ rule of Russia is extremely well researched, and, as a history fan, this part of the story really appealed to me. I wasn’t so sure about the stone with the special powers as though this seemed a bit far-fetched to begin with. It didn’t take long, however, before I was avidly reading to find out more about the parallel contemporary story of Augusta and her grandmother. The stories are expertly interwoven and I have to admit to enjoying everything about the book. Marianna Heusler is a skillful storyteller and this book will have you gripped as you wait to see how the power of the tourmaline unfolds.


It is a historical novel combined with a modern contemporary story of teenage bullying and a bit of mystery thrown in for good measure. Somehow this just works. Although it is aimed at YA, it is a story that would appeal to adults too.


  • Julia Ryan


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