The Aging Writer: Adjusting to the Changes by Lesley A. Diehl

I have a cat who is eighteen years old and experiencing difficulties walking because of weakness in her back legs and spinal issues. The vet thought she was a candidate for euthanasia earlier in the fall, but she has fooled all of us by hanging in there through the winter. With the arrival of spring, she enjoys the smells that come through the open windows. She is what my mother would call “a good eater”, she loves sitting on my husband’s lap, and she braves the steps to the upstairs several times each day. She is a trooper. Watching her aging process and experiencing my own, I find her an inspiration. I, too, have been having my share of age-aggravated issues, and many impact my writing.

Because of a balance issue which went misdiagnosed for over five years and degenerative problems in my spine and neck, sitting at the computer to write has become more and more difficult. Those same problems have cut into attending conferences and in doing in-person author events. What my younger body was able to compensate for now presents challenges that need interventions of many sorts.

But healthy aging itself presents its own set of issues.  Unless we write about protagonists our own age—and most of us write about characters considerably younger—we are creating characters and their worlds from what we learn from sources other than our own experiences. There are comic strips I find puzzling because I do not catch the references or recognize the names in them. Writer friends younger than I post on social media about television shows they enjoy, but I cannot connect with most of these programs. Recommendations for movies seem to be written by someone much younger than me. Yep. I’m getting old.

Sue Grafton seemed to find her way around some of the problems of a younger protagonist in contemporary society by freezing Kinsey in time, but her approach was unique, and one not followed by many contemporary writers. It’s interesting that many of the readers of cozy mysteries, the genre of my work, include younger readers, not necessarily young, but many years my junior. How can I continue to write a protagonist enveloped by life here-and-now? Perhaps the aging writer needs to approach the task of the younger protagonist by researching society the way those who write historical fiction research the past.

Here are a few suggestions all of us—because, let’s face it, we are all aging—can use now or in the future. There’s nothing new here, but a reminder never hurts.

Develop good habits while at the computer. My occupational therapist encouraged me to take a closer look at my desk and my desk chair to make certain they helped me maintain good posture. It’s also important to consider issues of lighting, not only the adequacy of the light but also the direction of the light source. In addition, monitoring posture while writing at a computer and taking frequent breaks are keys to avoiding neck, shoulder and back stress. See. You already knew this. Your challenge is to remember this ten years from now. Begin preparing by doing these things now. Don’t beat up your body. It finds ways of getting back at you.

Choose carefully the size, location and kind of writing conference you attend. Perhaps it’s time to limit the number of conferences where you are present each year. Conferences at which you reconnect with old writing friends may deliver more joy to you than ones where you appear on numerous panels. Don’t knock it. Joy in your work is an important consideration and is the bedrock of good writing. Some writing organizations hold monthly meetings where you can make in-person contact with other writers, a less intensive way of staying recent and getting yourself out there,

If in-person meeting and writer conferences are too difficult for you, on-line workshops, guest blogging, author social media sites, and promotion and publicity sites are excellent ways to make your presence known and get your work out to a wide audience. You may have to spend more money on promotion, but it can be the money you save by reducing the number of conferences you attend. Be certain that if you increase your on-line presence you attend to good computer skills. Part of this includes taking frequent breaks. I cannot stress this too much because it’s so easy to underestimate time at the keyboard and pay for it later with neck and back issues.

This may be the time in your writing life to re-evaluate what you are writing. Growing older means you have added to your reservoir of experience and wisdom. You may find this changes what you want to write. I’ve always written humorous cozy mysteries. A good laugh has always been part of my writing life and my personal life as well. Funny had gotten me through some bad times, and it always will, but I’m now beginning to consider writing more serious mysteries and perhaps stand-alones rather than series work. Getting older has a lot of benefits and one is being more and more honest about how to invest energies and creativity. Taking on new things may keep us younger longer. Doing the old ones in a smarter way can keep us at what we love longer also.

My elderly cat has much to teach me. She’s enjoying her life, now so different from what it once was. Perhaps it pays to sit back, sniff the spring smells and consider what I can do in this new chapter in my life. And, of course, she stretches often.


Bio: Lesley A. Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in Upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle. The author of several mystery series, mystery novels, and short stories, Lesley is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime – International and Guppies. To learn more about her work, go to


About Killer Tied, Book 6 in the Eve Appel Mysteries:


Eve Appel Egret is adjusting to married life with Sammy and their three adopted sons in Sabal Bay, Florida. While still running her consignment stores, she is going pro with her sleuthing by becoming an apprentice to a private detective.

Until her marriage, Eve’s only “family” was her grandmother Grandy, who raised her after her parents died in a boating accident. Now, in addition to her husband and sons, she has a father-in-law who clearly dislikes her. Sammy’s father, a full-blooded Miccosukee Indian long presumed dead, has emerged from the swamps where he’s been living like a hermit, and he isn’t happy about Eve’s marriage to his half-Miccosukee, half-white son.

As for Eve’s family, are her parents really dead? A woman named Eleanor claims to be Eve’s half-sister, born after her mother faked a boating accident to escape her abusive husband, Eve’s father. Then Eleanor’s father turns up dead in the swamps, stabbed by a Bowie knife belonging to Sammy’s father, Lionel. Strange as Lionel Egret is, Eve knows he had no motive to kill this stranger. In order to clear him, Eve must investigate Eleanor’s claims, and she might not like what digging around in her family’s past uncovers.


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Don’t get attached to the outcome by Thomas Coffey

I’ve spent most of my career as a newspaper editor, and over the years I’ve developed an attitude that I’ve tried to convey to my colleagues — particularly my younger ones, who have yet to develop a sense of perspective:

Don’t get attached to the outcome.
This is easy to tell someone else, but much more difficult to accept when you’re the one who has a stake in that outcome. I’ve been thinking about this lately because my writing career seems stalled. I’m not blocked; I continue to write, and I’ve just started working on a book I’ve been thinking about for a while that promises to be challenging.
But the most recent books I’ve worked on, and that I’m trying to sell… Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Big goose eggs.
Some of this is my own fault. My last novel, “Bright Morning Star,” was printed in 2015 by an independent publisher. My first three novels came out with traditional houses and, despite the problems writers have had with publishers over the years, they do provide an infrastructure that helps you promote your book. When you go with an independent, you are on your own. You have to do your own publicity, which is a full-time job in its own right. I already have a full-time job, and as I tried to flog “Bright Morning Star” I had the feeling the parents of newborns often confront — there are not enough hours in the day.
So, with my latest efforts, I decided I wanted a traditional publisher who would provide (at least a little marketing help. To do that, of course, I need an agent. I’ve had several agents over the years, but I’ve never been able to stick with one. Still, I know how the process plays out so in 2017 I began pitching a novel titled PUBLIC MORALS, a murder mystery and crime novel set (as I put in my query letter) two very different cities: the New York of the 1970s, and the New York of today.
While I was waiting and hoping to get a positive response, I began working on a sequel, which is titled SPECIAL VICTIM. I’d never written a sequel before, and it proved to be an interesting exercise. I already knew many of the characters, but I felt there was still much to explore in them, and their journeys continued in ways that sometimes surprised me. I found myself enjoying the ride.
As I wrote the sequel, I received, somewhat unexpectedly, an expression of interest in PUBLIC MORALS from an agent at a reputable organization. After he read it he had a suggestion that forced me to say, “Bleep, why didn’t I think of that myself?”
The suggestion led to a rewrite of the second half of the book. (I thought I was going to repaint the walls; I wound up doing a gut renovation.) It took a while but I was pleased with the revisions. Of course, by the time I was done …. you guessed it …. the agent I’d been working with had left the business. To be fair, he looked over the rewrite, praised it, and told me to keep looking.
Which I’ve done. In the meantime, I kept working on the sequel, and completed a second draft of it, which I’d be happy to show anybody who’s willing to take on the first book. (I’ve also got an idea for a third book in the series. But I’m not gonna write a word of that unless somebody pays me.)
And so sometimes, well, I get discouraged. You can probably see why. But at the end of the day (actually, at the beginning, when I do most of my writing), I find that I enjoy the process. I like to think of myself as a creative person,  and I like the feeling of seeing something that I have created take shape. So I wind up telling myself: Don’t get attached to the outcome. The process of creating is way more important than getting a top 100 ranking on Amazon.
Although we could use the money. My daughter attends an elite private university that has been much in the news lately, but my wife and I can’t afford to bribe anybody.
And, wouldn’t you know it, just a few days ago an agent said he wanted to look at PUBLIC MORALS.
People can follow me on Facebook, email me at, or look at my website:

And now, this one really IS by Triss Stein

I’ve just read a new blog post here by Betty Webb, acclaimed fellow Poisoned Pen Press author, who wrote something personal she has never told before.


It’s a fascinating story that relates to the books Betty writes, but I thought, oh, dear, I have nothing that dramatic to tell today, or ever.


In fact, I am in limbo. My next mystery novel, Brooklyn Legacies,  is complete, in the hands of the publisher but not out until December. I have no cover yet, or pr material or any ARC’s to offer as a gift. It is too soon to pre-order. The (next) next one, after that, is just a gleam in the author’s eyes, a fun first chapter and some scrawled pages of notes. And It’s been awhile since the last one, Brooklyn Wars. Life got in the way, and the Legacies story itself took some wrestling to get into shape. Maybe I can just tell a little about where the December book came from.


All of my books are about different Brooklyn neighborhoods. My protagonist is an urban historian who researches and writes about changing Brooklyn. That gives me a good excuse to have her stumble upon old and new mysteries and questions no one wants answered. After writing four, I realized I had overlooked Brooklyn Heights even though I actually lived when I was just getting to know New York. That’s surprising, because it is a natural  for my kind of book, with a rich history and both old and current conflicts. (Conflict is where we find plots)  It was New York ’s first suburb and first official historic district. It is both dramatically beautiful and charmingly quaint. When I lived there, in an attic at the top of a townhouse, I had a sliver of a view of Brooklyn Bridge, a witchcraft shop down the street in one direction and Truman Capote’s old home in the other. There was a  Jehovah’s Witness dorm across the street.  How had I overlooked this as a setting?


But my attic apartment was a whole lifetime ago. What did I remember? And was any of it accurate, anyway?  I went over there for a few note-taking walks. I did some extensive library research, catching up on politics I ignored when young and on what has happened since. I interviewed someone who was deeply involved in the epic civic battles between preservationists, real state developers and city planners. The famous and scary Robert Moses was involved.  Somehow, that would become the perfect background for my book..


I was disconcerted to find out that it didn’t. A lot has happened since then. Now the largest landholder was a religious organization. Huge tracts were being sold, bringing unknown changes. And there were secret tunnels connecting many buildings. That was news to me and fascinating to a writer of mysteries. And that witchcraft shop was long gone but well remembered. Was there a way to slip it in?  I certainly found wonderful material I could not fit it into the book and turned some of it into stories. (People really did sell the Brooklyn Bridge – repeatedly – and there was once a house there shared by Carson McCullers,  WH Auden,  Benjamin Britten and Gypsy Rose Lee. )


Did I succeed in turning this material into a book? A mystery? That will be up to readers to decide.  I will be back here when Brooklyn Legacies is much closer to being out in the world. Today is really step one in the birth announcement process. “It’s a book!”  Many thanks to PJ Nunn for inviting me to start here.


Triss Stein is a small–town girl from New York farm country who has spent most of her adult life in Brooklyn. She writes mysteries about different Brooklyn neighborhoods  and their unique histories, in her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home. In the next book, Brooklyn Legacies, murder gets in the way of heroine Erica Donato’s efforts to understand historic Brooklyn Heights’ clashing cultures and seismic current changes.

How Place Became a Brand for Me by C. Hope Clark

           Setting my first series in South Carolina came with no choice because the first book in my series is quasi-autobiographical. I’d been offered a bribe at my work which, in a wild unraveling of events, led to my handling internal investigations for a federal agency in South Carolina. Knowing the state like the back of my hand and loving it dearly, I used it as practically a character in the Carolina Slade series.

I showed off my state, wanting to become the Sue Grafton of South Carolina, meaning I’d put Slade’s investigations in each of the 46 counties. My mission was clearly defined for the rest of my writing career, but my publisher felt otherwise.

After three Slade books, they asked for a new series. Admitting that I loved the Carolina setting, they dared me to choose one place and stick to it. One place that had immense appeal, but also that I felt passionately about. Thus, the Edisto Island Mysteries were born.

The largest seller of my books, other than Amazon, is the Edisto Bookstore. Who’d have known that a tiny bookstore, set at the end of the world on an island, would sell hundreds of my books?

Setting defines Callie Jean Morgan in the Edisto series. She reluctantly arrived on the island, leaving her other self behind, across the Big Bridge as is said on the island. I incorporated every saying, venue, street, and custom of the island into the mysteries. On an island where everyone escapes the rat-race, where doors remain unlocked, and people relax without reservation of what others think, I created crime where people assumed there was none. The juxtaposition of nonchalance and hidden danger.

Readers loved reading about where they visited, or where they lived. They cross the marsh on highway 174 and see where the officer drowned. They drive down Pine Landing Road and envision the shootout. They cruise Jungle Shores Road trying to identify where the police chief lives. . . where her mentor was murdered. . . where her yoga mistress best friend resides a stone’s throw away. . . where the break-in took place. Readers have come to signings asking if they got the addresses right as to where things went down in the books.

And they are hungry for more. Every time they come to the beach, they want another mystery to solve. . . something else to make them peruse the island beach and envision the crime, the sleuthing, and the place where it all went down in the end.

So now, when I have a new release, I start with setting first. . . and work outward. The locale is likewise the big splash for the book announcement, like my last book, Newberry Sin. Newberry is a small town in South Carolina, and when the book came out in 2018, the Friends of the Library had a luncheon that was well attended by 200 people eager to read fiction about their town. The year I released Palmetto Poison, the tiny town of Pelion made me their guest of honor at their annual festival.

By deeply entrenching a book into a real community, I gained loyal fans who repeatedly invite me back to libraries, bookstores, and book clubs for each new release.

So if I had to define what makes my series unique, it would be a strong sense of place. Strong enough to make people want to live there. A church, a silt road, a marshy bog, or the big bay where dolphins play. Each becomes a central, pivotal point around which the characters react. . . and the crime happens. And if readers gravitate to my stories for place first rather than mystery, I’m quite happy with that, because once they savor the story, they’ll be back to read anything else….that takes place anywhere else.


BIO – C. Hope Clark’s newest release is Dying on Edisto, a crossover book set on Edisto Island, where both her series protagonists finally meet to handle a lethal situation. Hope is the author of nine novels and three nonfiction books. She is published with Bell Bridge Books. Also, she is founder of, chosen by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 18 years. Her newsletter reaches 35,000 readers. /


Dying on Edisto


One death. Two detectives. And unexpected backup.
A Callie Morgan and Carolina Slade crossover, standalone mystery!

When a renowned—and now dead—travel blogger washes ashore on the banks of Indigo Plantation, Edisto Beach Police Chief Callie Morgan agrees to head the investigation as a favor to the county sheriff, whose reasons are as questionable as the death itself.  When death turns to murder and a watchdog from the county makes her investigation difficult, Callie reluctantly turns to Carolina Slade and Wayne Largo, vacationing agents with the Department of Agriculture.

Because poison is growing on this plantation and someone knows how to use it well.

Drought or Deluge By Catherine Dilts

Are you in a slump? You are not alone. The majority of authors are juggling day jobs, school, family, and other responsibilities. Consistency can be difficult to maintain. You get on a creative binge, churning out page after page of your next great story, and suddenly life intervenes, plugging that creative well. I have three suggestions to help you take advantage of times of drought or deluge.

  • Log your time or your output

Some writers track pages per week or words per day. I use an Excel spreadsheet to track hours spent on actual writing and separate out critique, volunteer, and business hours. I even note life events that disrupt my writing time. Come up with a system that works for you.


Seeing your time or output can motivate you to keep writing until you hit your goal. It can relieve guilt during times when life legitimately gets in the way, and you can still see baby step progress despite adversity. Writing is the sort of activity that the more you do it, the easier it gets to slide into that creative zone. Write frequently, even if all you can manage is fifteen minutes at a time.


Once you start tracking time/output, you will begin to see a pattern of drought and deluge.


  • Surviving Drought

Writing can be a lonely task devoid of reward. Inspiration may dry up from time to time. There are things you can do to make it through a creative drought.


Experiment with your writing schedule. If you’re too exhausted at the end of the day to be creative, try waking up an hour earlier, and writing when you have morning energy. Can you write during your lunch break? In a coffee shop for thirty minutes on the way home from work? Do you write best at night, when the rest of the household is in bed? Change things up. Try something new.


To stoke the creative fires, clear your head. Go for a walk. Meditate. Get away from distractions like your phone, television, all those things that scramble your brainwaves. Enjoy a creative hobby like sewing, painting, woodworking. Put together a jigsaw puzzle.


For a serious creative drought, dip into your reservoir of rough drafts and story idea files. Try switching gears to focus less on art and more on craft.


  • Creating a Reservoir from Your Times of Deluge

Times of drought can result in stunted creativity and blunted motivation. In contrast, there are times of deluge – creative downpours where story ideas, character descriptions, and even entire scenes race out of your head and onto the computer screen. When the fever is on you, commit those ideas to paper or computer. Don’t sweat the polishing. That comes later.


Make use of those precious stretches of inspired writing to stock up for the times of drought. I’ve heard many authors relate how they pulled an old story draft out of a drawer, polished it, and sold it. Or maybe you’re talking to an agent at a writers’ conference, and he or she asks, “what else have you got?” Draw that idea from your well-stocked reservoir.


Keep a file of story ideas, either electronically or in a paper filing system. Hang on to those stories that just aren’t working. Maybe you need time to gain the right perspective on how to tell the story. When creativity dries up, or you don’t have a juicy stretch of time to brainstorm ideas, drag something out of your reservoir of unfinished work.


Learn the cycles and rhythms of your writing life by tracking your time or output. Stock your creative reservoir during times of deluge, so you have something to work on when the Muse has abandoned you. When your well is dry, focus on the craft side of fiction writing by editing rough drafts. You won’t stay stuck forever. Eventually, the deluge will return. Be ready!


Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She takes a turn in the multi-author cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library. Working in the world of hazardous substances regulation, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. The two worlds collide in Survive Or Die. You can learn more about Catherine’s fiction at Contact her at

Keep Dreaming by Jane Tesh

Sometimes in life you’re faced with a difficult decision.  You have to stop and ask yourself, “How much am I willing to compromise to get what I want?  What is my dream worth to me?”

Many years ago B.C. (Before Computers), I was eighteen and finally realized what I had been doing all my life, writing stories and poems and plays, could be my career.  My goal in life was to have a book published.  At the time, self-publishing was very expensive and the product didn’t look very good, so from the beginning, I wanted to be traditionally published.  For all you young folks out there, that meant typing your novel on a typewriter, correcting mistakes with Wite-Out or Correcto-Tape, very messy and time-consuming techniques, finding a box the right size, making sure you had enough return postage, mailing it to New York, and waiting months and months for a rejection slip. This went on for years until something magical happened: personal computers and the internet.

Woo hoo!  Now I could cut and paste and delete with ease. Now I had my own printer instead of having to haul three hundred pages down to the copy shop. Now I could email queries and sample chapters, save tons of money on postage, and be rejected in no time, at all!  Then a real miracle happened.  After twenty years of sending manuscripts out and getting them back, I got an agent. Okay, this was it!  My future was assured!

Just one slight problem.


My agent said she could sell my book if I changed my hero to a woman.  At the time, mystery authors with female protagonists were all the rage.  I understood this.  However, my Grace Street series featured a private investigator named David Randall.

In the first book, Stolen Hearts, Randall, struggling with the death of his little daughter, had come to stay with his best friend Camden, who was psychic and also a man, in Cam’s boarding house at 302 Grace Street, in my fictional city of Parkland, North Carolina.  Having a setting like 302 Grace allowed all kinds of characters to move in and out as the series progressed, including Kary Ingram, Randall’s love interest, and Camden’s girlfriend, Ellin Belton, head of the Psychic Service Network.  Way too many relationship problems to solve if Randall became a woman.  Maybe there was a way out.

So I tried another angle. I wrote a book with a female PI, ex-beauty queen Madeline “Mac” Maclin and her con-man boyfriend, Jerry Fairweather, and set this book in a small fictional town much like my town of Mt. Airy, NC.  I called it A Case of Imagination.  Okay, now we’re good to go, I thought.

            My agent didn’t like it.

Here’s where the story gets dark.  I spent quite a few sleepless nights thrashing this out.  I’d waited twenty years for a breakthrough.  I finally had an agent.  She was telling me what I could do to get published, and I couldn’t do it.  I’d spent those twenty years creating characters I loved, and I had thirteen manuscripts all finished.  If David Randall became Donna Randall, the relationship between Randall and Cam would be dramatically different.  So would Randall’s relationship with Kary.  If I changed Randall, I had to change his entire world.  My entire world.

I couldn’t do it.

The hardest phone call I’ve ever had to make was the one I made to my agent.  We parted ways, and I went back to Writer’s Market.  Many years later, I found Poisoned Pen Press.  They didn’t require an agent.  Ironically, the first book they published was A Case of Imagination, but since then, they’ve published four more of Madeline’s adventures and so far, six of the Grace Street mysteries with everyone’s original gender intact.

I started my quest when I was eighteen.  I received my first book contract when I was fifty-five.  It took longer than I’d hoped to be an overnight success, but I learned a lot about myself in the process.  I’m grateful I didn’t have to compromise on my dream.  So is David Randall.


Jane Tesh, a retired media specialist, lives in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s hometown, the real Mayberry.  She is the author of the Madeline Maclin mysteries and the Grace Street Series. Her mysteries are set in fictional North Carolina towns and are on the light side with humor, romance, and a touch of the paranormal. They are published by Poisoned Pen Press. She is also the author of four fantasy novels, Butterfly Waltz, A Small Holiday, The Monsters of Spiders’ Rest, and Over the Edge, published by Silver Leaf Books.  When she isn’t writing, Jane enjoys playing the piano and conducting the orchestra for productions at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.


“A P.I. and a psychic team up to solve a series of crimes.  Tesh gets her new series off to a promising start.”

Kirkus on Stolen Hearts


“A gratifying blend of the surprising and the spirited.”

Publishers Weekly on Stolen Hearts


“The mystery plot is convincing and motives abound, but the vivid characters are the main draw, in particular the wryly observant Randall, who narrates the story with verve. Fans of cozies with a paranormal twist will be rewarded.”

Publisher’s Weekly on Death by Dragonfly


“Beauty pageant tomfoolery and psychic shenanigans add comic zest to Tesh’s cozy debut.”

Publishers Weekly on A Case of Imagination


“Mac’s fifth adventure is just as quirky as its predecessors with the bonus of a stronger, more complex mystery.”

Kirkus on Evil Turns

Naming Your Characters by Mary Reed

Ah, the writer’s eternal conundrum — what to do about naming your characters? At times it seems as if every name you can think of belongs to someone you know, which can give you pause.

Sometimes a character name just pops into your head. Isis O’Reilly presented herself to my attention in that very way over two decades ago. She still has not been made her bow to the public although one of these days she may leap into view. But consider the name: it suggests someone of Irish heritage whose mother was interested in mythology. And right there you have the beginnings of constructing a character, one of the important considerations in picking names IMHO.

Unfortunately, the writer has to find the right name before foundations can be laid. So proceeding on this notion, let us consider ethnic names. Here there be listings of interest, as well as links to pages of
offering unusual or biblical names:

Speaking of unusual names, the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources database offers a mix of exotic and more familiar names, satisfying both camps engaged in the “what should I name my characters” wars.

Helena Swan’s Girl’s Christian Names, Their History,  Meaning and Association appeared in the early 1900s. Here it might be as well to mention that in the UK a Christian name is equivalent to the US
forename. The index makes it easy to pick a name, given they range from Abigail to Zoe with fascinating notes about them, just as the title states.;view=1up;seq=7

Genealogy sites, ancient phonebooks, census records, and newspaper archives are fruitful sources, and all are easily found online. Another good source is the Social Security Administration website, which hosts a list of popular baby names by decade.

Poll lists are handy too. For example, picking a random block of five names from the 1880 New York City list produced Isaac Shedwick, William Smith Jr., Nicholas Stilwell, Lawrence Seabry, and Tobias Stoutenburg. Not surprisingly, this is a fertile source for male names given it was published quite some time before women were granted suffrage.;view=1up;seq=12

Creating a character hailing from Europe or descended from immigrants therefrom? The index of Robert Ferguson’s Surnames as a Science offers a dizzying amount of information on the topic. His index prints foreign names in italics along with their national origin. Dutch, Danish, French, German, Italian, and Spanish names are covered.

Speaking of foreign names, with a bit of a mix ‘n’ matching Gutenberg’s index of books could well be useful. This page lists authors whose works appear in languages from Afrikaans to Yiddish. Stick a pin in here and there and who knows what character names will result!

If all else fails, there are always those most useful standby, character name generators. This site can provide over 200,000 name possibilities, individual results produced by specifying  gender, language,
nationality, parents’ names, friends, and other factors relevant to your character.

Some of my test drive results: Trinity Kaufman, Fynn Mccray, Azaan Rangel, and in a touch of woo-woo Reed Tilly. Amazing to relate, generated names are linked to their own bios including family details,
work, current relationship if any, hobbies, and a physical description. Can’t beat that with big stick!

A quick search of a second random name producer generated Georgetta Bourdeau, Dori Essex, Hilaria Wollman, and Wan Yoakum. Each is linked to others with the same first name or surname, so it’s particularly useful for naming characters’ relatives.

As for Isis O’Reilly, she’s still waiting for her fifteen minutes of fame. One of these days…

Writing Fiction in an Age of “Alternative Facts” by Jeannette de Beauvoir

One of the reasons people read fiction—and this goes double, it seems to me, for genre fiction—is to escape. It’s to go into another world and forget, if only for a brief period of time, the realities of life we’d prefer avoiding—be it rising political unrest, climate change, a creeping deadline, or even just the dishes in the sink.


I once spent an entire summer in a fictional environment: I was depressed and didn’t want anything to do with my current reality, so I went through—in order—the entire Dick Francis opus. I’d finish one book and immediately pick up the next. Along with time and some therapy, those books, those alternative lives, got me through my problems with my own.


There’s nothing wrong with writing and reading good escapist literature. We need to be entertained, and stories can take us anywhere: they’re the magic carpet of the mind. This is especially true of mystery fiction—it’s not only far from our own lives, but often far from reality as well. Most murders, after all, are not committed in genteel circumstances by Colonel Mustard, in the library, with the knife.


And I wonder, sometimes, if playing the fiction card relieves us—readers and writers alike—from the storyteller’s responsibility, the obligation to observe and reflect a culture, a society, a time. I wonder if it doesn’t allow our characters and storylines to be just as avoidant of reality as we are.


The real question we need to be asking ourselves, the only question that really matters this year and probably for years to come, is what is the fiction writer’s responsibility in an age of “alternative facts?” In many ways, real life has taken over our genre: since the rise of “alternative facts,” what does the label “fiction” even mean? If the White House sells us fiction as a stand-in for reality, then perhaps we should be clear in our stories about the other truths—the ones that actually exist. We need to write fiction, but have it be true in a more essential way.


I’ve always believed the saying that “if you can write the stories for a society, it doesn’t matter who writes the laws.” Régimes come and go; stories endure. That’s at once a tremendous gift and a terrible mandate: the ability—and responsibility—to create something meaningful, something that will enrich and even perhaps change the lives of others.


I write that, and then I turn to the projects currently on my desk, and I feel some shame. While I do have a novel coming out in January that deals with the machinations of a medieval court (which in fact ring presciently true to the present), the next two books on my projects list for 2019 are part of a mystery series that, while arguably entertaining, is probably not going to change the world. I’m not saying the series doesn’t take on important issues (most of my novels could be subtitled Things Jeannette’s Been Obsessing About Lately), but they often feel like too little, too late. I’m responding to a runaway political system and a planet in crisis, both of which have moved on dramatically between the time I write and the time the novel goes to press. So even as I create truths via fiction to counter “alternative facts,” I’m always going to be dealing with a moving target.


Is that an excuse not to try? Of course not. And perhaps it will prod me—prod all of us—into going just a little deeper, questioning just a little more, and engaging just a little more thoughtfully—while, of course, keeping the whole enterprise entertaining enough that people will actually want to read the damn book!


Jeannette de Beauvoir’s most recent novel in the Sydney Riles series is The Deadliest Blessing, taking place during Provincetown’s Portuguese Festival. She lives and works in a small cottage with her cat Beckett and thousands of books. More at

Researching – the Backbone of any Novel by John R. Beyer

When the concept for writing my fourth novel began to form in my cranium, I decided that teaming up my protagonists, Jonas Peters and Frank Sanders in their first appearance in a book together. I knew this would require me to do some serious research to ensure the readers would believe the words put down on paper. There was never a chance I would spend a year or more writing a tale involving these two fine gentlemen without the diligence of powerful exploration and research.

That is the hallmark of any good writing. Without painstaking research, a writer risks ending up with a tale without merit. Fictional writing may be what wordsmith’s make out of their creative genius, but good fiction must resemble non-fiction to the audience.

When I read a novel, I want to be taken away from the present reality and thrust into a new reality. What I did not realize when the genesis for the idea for ‘Iquitos – the Past Will Kill’ sprang to life, was that I would be spending a month in the darkness of the Amazon rainforest.

But if the novel requires a jungle, then the writer must experience the jungle. Only with the truth of experience, can the tale be woven with credibility and the senses engaged.

The forest comes alive at night, and hunkered beneath mosquito netting while swinging in the heavy moist air in a hammock, one senses how much safer it is to be inside than outside. More than once in the cacophony of night sounds, something outside would let loose with a scream and suddenly only silence invaded the air.

During the daylight, all one did was sweat in the ninety percent humidity while wishing for a breeze. This is a hostile environment and not meant for the faint of heart. Every step must be calculated so one doesn’t step onto or in front of something life-threatening lurking in the canopy or the floor.

The rainforest is a dangerous place.

On a previous trip to Peru, my wife, Laureen, and I had made close friends with a naval commander who was able to organize our Amazonian adventure, including a ride-along in the one of the fastest naval boats on the river. This small boat, a necessity when searching for smugglers and others with dark intent, was capable of speeds in excess of sixty knots on the wide and dark river and sported two fifty caliber machine guns. It was a fitting vessel for Jonas, who was the only character to venture into the Amazon, to hitch a ride and explore firsthand the magnitude of one of the largest rivers in the world.

Islands would appear out of nowhere – the shores teaming with life. Howler monkeys kept eyes on us as we swept by the land masses as toucans and macaws flew overhead. The skies were often covered with heavy rain clouds ready at any minute to unleash a deluge. Often without warning the sky would open up, and we would suddenly be drenched but smiling as felt the thrill of research – to be somewhere not expected and enjoying every minute of it.

After nearly a month on the trail with Paul Bakas, our good friend and photographer for our blog, J and L Research and Exploration, we were satisfied with the research.

It takes a special type of person to make it day to day in the jungle. We made it, but only with the support of a guide, food and lukewarm beer, and of course, the repeated warnings of the dangers behind every bush. We were spoiled.

As Laureen observed as we headed back home: “That was the best trip I never want to take again.”

‘Iquitos – the Past Will Kill’ is a novel based on an explosive event which sends Jonas Peters back into the wilds of Peru and the Amazon jungle as the past comes rushing to the future, with deadly results for those involved. It is a journey of discovery and sorrow for both Jonas Peters and Frank Sanders, but the story must be told as all stories must.


John R. Beyer spent nearly ten years in law enforcement in Southern California as a street cop, a training officer and a member of the elite SWAT team. After leaving the force, he continued in public service entering the field of education. During his tenure, he served as classroom teacher, school administrator and district administrator, and was an integral part of the gang and drug force in San Bernardino. While in both worlds he earned a Doctorate in School Administration and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

During all those years, he never gave up the passion for writing – both fiction and nonfiction. He has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers and the like for decades, writing on a variety of topics. His latest short stories in the past year can be found in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine (2016) and GNU Journal (2017). He is also the author of three highly praised internationally known novels – Hunted (2013), Soft Target (2014) and Operation Scorpion (2017).

His newest novel, ‘Iquitos – the Past Will Kill’, will be released in November of 2018 by Black Opal Books bringing two of his protagonists together for their first investigation. Jonas Peters and Frank Sanders will work hand in hand with an international incident which left undetected could cause a catastrophic issue for the United States. They are friends and they are good at what they do. Catching the bad guys.

Pliny the Younger—More than a Beer by Albert Bell

The Russian River Brewery in northern California produces a beer called Pliny the Younger. I have a T-shirt from there, but I don’t know how on earth they came up with the idea. Pliny (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus) was a Roman aristocrat who lived from approximately 62-112 AD. His surviving writings include a lengthy speech and 247 letters to a variety of friends, including the historian Tacitus. Two of those letters describe the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, which he witnessed from a distance. They are the only eye-witness account of a natural disaster that we have from antiquity. Another gives us our first non-Biblical description of Christians.


But he had nothing to do with beer.


Nor did he have anything to do with solving murders, so why have I written a series of novels featuring him as an amateur sleuth? The first, All Roads Lead to Murder, came out in 2002. The seventh, The Gods Help Those, is being published this month by Perseverance Press. When a warehouse that Pliny owns collapses in a flood, several bodies are found in it. One of them is a man wearing a tunic with an equestrian stripe on it, a sign of aristocratic status. Who is he? What is he doing there? And where did the baby come from? I am currently at work on the eighth book, with the working title Hiding from the Past.


I chose to use Pliny as a detective because he has a skeptical, inquiring mind. As a historian I’ve studied him for years. Using a historical person in a work of fiction can be a challenge, though. I am constrained by what is known of his life: his birth and death dates, the offices he held and when he held them, his presence at certain places and certain times (e. g., near Pompeii in August of 79 AD), and his personality as revealed in his letters.


I think I have remained true to Pliny’s character. He was a slave-owning, wealthy, Roman aristocrat. I am none of those things, but as a writer I try to put myself in the mind of such a person. I’ve written books from the first-person POV of a woman and from the POV of an 11-year-old. I must not be too far off the mark, because I’ve gotten fine reviews for all of those books.


Some of the people around Pliny are historical. He and Tacitus were good friends, to judge from Pliny’s letters. He mentions his mother in the letters about Vesuvius. He hated a man named Regulus. When Regulus died, Pliny told a friend, “Regulus did well to die. He would have done better to have died sooner.” How can you not like a guy who can write that?


Other people in the books are, of course, my own creations. Pliny was married several times, as any man of that time might be. I have given him a mistress—one of his slaves named Aurora. The relationship, which has developed as the series has gone along, is entirely consensual. Aurora came into his household when they were both seven. They grew up as friends and have become lovers. Aurora has become a powerful character in her own right. Beginning with the fifth book, The Eyes of Aurora, I began to write some sections from her POV.


Historical mysteries aren’t everyone’s cup of tea; I know that. I think Pliny and his associates are compelling characters and of interest, regardless of when they lived. When the previous installment, Fortune’s Fool, appeared, one reviewer said, “Bell reinforces his place among those who are pushing the mystery beyond genre, toward the literary.” About the same book, another reviewer said, “This novel is packed with it all—compelling, complex plotting, keen historical observation, painful irony and pathos, and broad Roman humor.”


Albert Bell teaches history at Hope College, in Holland, MI. His specialty is ancient Rome. He and his wife, a retired psychologist, have four adult children and two grandsons. Albert has had 16 books published, as well as articles and stories. In addition to his Roman mysteries, he has written three middle-grade mysteries, and several stand-alone adult contemporary mysteries. When he’s not teaching or writing, he enjoys his perennial flower beds and his collection of old baseball cards.,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch