Sydney and Me in Morocco by Kathleen Kaska

IMG_2661            Writing mysteries set in the past can be challenging. My Sydney Lockhart mystery series is set in the 1950s and to get the details right, I’ve amassed quite a collection of research material about that decade—books about fashion, music, entertainment, politics, economics, and more. And since each mystery takes place in an historic hotel, my research also involves getting a feel for the hotel as it was back then, which can be difficult since most of the places have been remodeled. I usually rely on hotel memorabilia, old photos, and old newspaper articles. Once in a while I find a concierge, like the gentleman at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, who’s become an on-site Menger historian, or the owner of the Luther Hotel in Palacios whose wife’s family were the original owners.

Despite the challenges, writing this series is great fun. I get to travel and spend time at these hotels. So far Sydney and I have found dead bodies in hotels from Hot Springs, Arkansas to Austin, Texas. I think, however, it’s about time to send Sydney someplace far, far way.

The other day I woke up thinking about Morocco. A few years ago I had the pleasure of spending two days in Tangier with my great friend and traveling partner Ruth. Of all the travel adventures I’ve experienced, these two days were the most exotic.

I retrieved my travel journal to reminisce and found the name of the hotel in which we had stayed. The El Minzah Hotel is in the Medina area in heart of the city with rooms overlooking the harbor on the Bay of Tangier. The hotel opened its doors in 1930, and although the rooms have been updated since my trip, my photos show a décor that could have easily dated back to the 1950s.

I began to wander further down memory lane. Ruth and I had hired a local guide named Abdullah to give us a tour. We spent the day exploring the Kasbah, the souk (market) historical sites, and some of the oldest, most intriguing shops in Tangier. As we wandered through the city, Ruth and I kept close to Abdullah for fear of becoming lost forever in the maze of streets darkened by shadows of tall edifices. We came upon a turbaned man crouched near several baskets. With a gentle shove from Abdullah, I took a peak. “Cobra!” the man said in English as he handed me a sedate reptile, which turned out to be a common grass snake. We snapped a few pictures, passed over a few coins, and continued on.

Next we stepped into the Boutique Majid. Our arrival was announced by tinkling brass bells draped over the doorknob. The dimly lit room, redolent of sweet, heavy incense, was tastefully cluttered with collectables both new and old. Abduel Majid Rais El Fenni, the owner, dressed in an embroidered robe and fez, proudly showed us around his treasure trove. Exquisite jewelry, engraved silver boxes, and chests inlaid with camel bone and gems were displayed in glass cabinets. Etchings and prints, cracked and yellowed with age, adorned the walls. Carved wooden furniture and silk carpets were stacked in aisles, creating a narrow path among the treasures. I purchased a pair of sixty-year old amethyst earrings and a garnet-studded silver pin before we bid farewell to our host. Abdullah deposited us back at our hotel at dusk.

The follwing day Ruth and I braved the city alone and found the Bazar Tindouf. At first glance the placed looked like a small antique shop. But the front room led to a back room, which led to another back a room, then another, and another. At the end of the labyrinth, we discovered stairs that took us into a basement full of more rooms that seemed to trail into oblivion. The shop owner claimed the underground portion of his shop wound for several blocks under the city.          Fearing we’d never find our way out, Ruth and I backtracked. We spent the next two hours pulling treasures off shelves, unearthing prizes hidden underneath tables, discovering drawers, cabinets, and trunks of junk we couldn’t live without. I left with an eighteen-inch high silver and lead impala sculpture, which now sets next to my desk, several ornate wooden boxes that hold stuff I don’t need, an a antique silver rope-bracelet that is still my favorite piece of jewelry and my most treasured find. Ruth’s most treasured find was a small lamp with a ghost-skin shade. We left the next day before we got into any serious trouble.

Serious trouble? That’s Sydney’s middle name. So now I’m thinking, should I send Sydney to the El Minzah Hotel? Silly question, but to make sure I get the hotel details just right, Sydney and I need to make the journey together.





Kathleen Kaska writes the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series. Her Sherlock Holmes and Alfred Hitchcock trivia books were finalists for the 2013 EPIC Award in nonfiction.

Killing Me Softly by Sharon Woods Hopkins

Sharon and Bill Hopkins

Sharon and Bill Hopkins

I once participated on a panel called “Killing Me Softly” at a writers’ conference. It wasn’t about the 1973 Roberta Flack song, as I first thought. Rather, it was a lively discussion about what that title would mean relative to a mystery novel. Everyone on the panel concluded that that “Killing Me Softly” described cozy mysteries, since the “softly” meant that no hard-core descriptions of the acts of murder, mayhem or sex would appear on the page. We also vigorously agreed that cozies are indeed, mysteries. We all know another key element in a cozy is the amateur sleuth protagonist. Think Miss Marple as opposed to Inspector Poirot.

Why would a______ (fill in the blank with banker, horse trainer, cook, crossword puzzle champion, scrapbook shop owner, cheese shop owner, dressmaker, you name it) be solving a crime in the first place? And, honestly, would they be solving murders? That is a major “willing suspension of disbelief” element critical to all good amateur sleuth mysteries. Outstanding examples of this are the Camel Club mysteries by David Baldacci. Four unlikely partners are positive there is a growing conspiracy in Washington, when, in fact, nothing is going on. Until, something terrible really does happen.

The reader needs a believable reason for the sleuth’s involvement.

One reason could be that the police don’t believe a there is a murder. The sleuth knows otherwise, but the police won’t believe him/her. This was the case in my first Rhetta McCarter mystery, Killerwatt, where Rhetta discovered a terrorist plot, and no one believed her. Another reason could be that the sleuth himself/herself or a best friend is a suspect in the murder. That was how Rhetta got involved in Killerfind.

Yet another reason could be that a chain of events begins happening that only the amateur sleuth knows about, and is therefore the only one who can stop it.

The point is that the involvement of the amateur has to be believable. The normal horse trainer, banker, etc., isn’t a professional and probably gets in the way of the police who are trying to solve the murder. Giving the amateur a reason to be there is vital to holding the story together.

When a waitress’ ex-husband dies of food poisoning while eating in the restaurant where she works, she becomes the suspect. She knows she is innocent, but the police arrest her. The only person who believes her is her best friend. And so on. The best friend becomes the sleuth. Or, if the waitress is out on bail, she may become the sleuth.

Perhaps the amateur has information that no one else believes. He/she is compelled to move forward and act on it if no one else (read: authorities) will.

I’ve read hundreds of amateur sleuth mysteries. Some are terrific, some not too good. I love the good ones so much that I chose to create an amateur sleuth series. My protagonist is mortgage banker. She is always a reluctant participant. She always gets in the way. And so far, she has always solved the cases.

Another element that the amateur sleuth mystery needs is that the protagonist must have a day job. Since they are not professional detectives or cops, sleuths need a visible means of support—unless, of course, they are retired and solving murders in retirement homes. Myrtle Clover, heroine of Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Myrtle Clover Mysteries is an octogenarian. And quite the humorous character, to boot.

Which brings to mind another element: How old should the sleuth be? That has been a debatable issue for a very long time. I’ve had agents tell me that my female protag shouldn’t even be in her forties. That’s too old, many of them said. Hold on. Who are the readers? Only people under forty? Which segment of the population is growing the fastest? Seniors. Which segment of the population has the most disposable income? Baby Boomers.  Most, if not all folks 50+ are very tech savvy and love e-readers, iPhones, iPads, and so on.

So now we have a profile of the cozy mystery and the amateur sleuth of today. He/she can be middle aged, or older, or even retired. But he/she has to have a darn good reason to solve a murder. Or it isn’t quite believable.


Sharon Hopkins is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the Southeast Missouri Writers’ Guild, and the Missouri Writers’ killergroundGuild. Her short story, DEATH BEE HUMBLE, appeared in the SEMO Writer’s Guild Anthology for 2012, and her story, REARVIEW MIRROR appeared in That Mysterious Woman anthology in 2014. Her first three Rhetta McCarter books, KILLERWATT, KILLERFIND and KILLERTRUST were all finalists in the Indie Excellence Awards.

Her fourth book, KILLERGROUND, was released April 15, 2015. All her books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and at bookstores.



This is a question I hope I can answer adequately. I suspect every author of a series believes it is different than others in the same genre.

The following is what I think makes the Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series unique:

  1. The series has a cast of characters who progress through each book.
  2. The focus may change to a different character in subsequent books—though Detective Doug Milligan has had the lead the majority of the time.
  3. Because of #2, the point-of-view changes from character to character through-out the books, but you won’t have any trouble following it.
  4. Though it’s basically a police procedural it is much milder than many—no bad language or explicit sex. Some have called it a cozy police procedural—but it doesn’t have the requisites for a cozy.
  5. Time moves on, but at a slower pace than real time. Usually the next book starts where the last book ended.huenemebeachislands
  6. The setting is a fictional small beach community in Southern California between Ventura and Santa Barbara.
  7. The focus is as much on the characters as it is about solving crimes.
  8. It isn’t necessary to read the series from the beginning. Each book is written to be complete. Of course it makes me happy when someone does want to start at the beginning.

Perhaps one of the blog readers who has read one or more of my Rocky Bluff P.D. series might have a comment to make about this subject. I’d love to hear a RBPD reader’s opinion.

  1. M. Meredith aka Marilyn Meredith

ViolentDeparturesBlurb for Violent Departures:

College student, Veronica Randall, disappears from her car in her own driveway, everyone in the Rocky Bluff P.D. is looking for her. Detective Milligan and family move into a house that may be haunted. Officer Butler is assigned to train a new hire and faces several major challenges



F.M. Meredith, also known as Marilyn Meredith, is the author of over thirty published novels. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Besides having family members in law enforcement, she lived in a town much like Rocky Bluff with many police families as neighbors.




Because it has been popular on my other blog tours, once again I’m offering the chance for the person who comments on the most blog posts during this tour to have a character named for him or her in the next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery.


Or if that doesn’t appeal, the person may choose one of the earlier books in the series—either a print book or Kindle copy.






My blog tour ends tomorrow with a final interview:


My Five Best Website Tips By Karen McCullough

KarenMcCulloughLike many authors, I have a day job to support my writing habit.  I’m fortunate that it’s something I love and can do on my own schedule. I’m a website designer/developer. I’ve run my own website design company for almost ten years now. My specialty, not too surprisingly, is websites for authors and small businesses.


The technology end of the business has changed a lot in the last ten years. When I first started out, I created websites in straight HTML, which meant that I had to do most of the maintenance for those sites as well.  Today nearly all the sites I create are done in WordPress. The back end technology is solid and it lets my clients do their own routine text maintenance. It also makes the development process simpler because so much of the basic set up is already done. I can concentrate on the design and extra functions rather that building out the basic structure.


However, some things haven’t changed at all, like what it takes to make a successful and useful author’s website. Here are five things I’ve learned about author websites over the years.


  1. It’s your face on the web – make sure it reflects your brand. Every bit of the look of your site – colors, layout, background, images, even the fonts—is part of the branding. Be sure it’s working for you. If you write noir thrillers, a site with a pastel background and frilly curlicue graphics isn’t going to impress visitors looking for information about your next book.
  2. Put a little effort into it. That basic WordPress default theme? Everyone recognizes it and knows that you aren’t interested enough in your site to try to personalize it. Very likely they won’t be too interested in hanging around in it either. Too boring. If you don’t have the interest to go hunt up a more appropriate theme, then at least get someone to design a custom header for you. Make it look like you cared enough to try to build something that would really complement and promote your books.
  3. You don’t have to spend a lot of money for a website, but going entirely free has its dangers as well. Don’t rely on Blogger or to be your main site. I’ve heard too many horror stories of people who found their Blogger sites suddenly shut down due to a complaint about their content. Google can and will do that to you, and you have very little recourse. Wix and Weebly are viable options, but there is a learning curve, and you have to pay them to do anything very interesting and individual with the site. They, too, have complete control over your site and can make it disappear entirely should they choose. For those on a budget, I recommend going with one of the many reliable, low-cost hosting sites that support WordPress. Most have one-click intall options for WordPress, and then you can play around with themes to your heart’s content.
  4. If you can’t afford to do anything else, at least buy your own domain name. At $15-$20 per year, it’s more than worth it, and probably the single most important investment you can make in your publishing career. Even if you’re not published yet, and don’t have a site, buy the domain name. If you have a fairly common name and isn’t available, find something similar. is an option, as is com.  There are plenty of other alternate options available. And if you’re not ready to set up a site, you can generally park the name for free with the registrar until you’re ready to set up a site.
  5. Don’t do anything to drive your visitors away – Music or videos that auto-start when someone loads your website, lots of moving, blinking graphics, hard-to-read text or blinding color combinations are all bad idea. Many authors think that those things are good ways to attract attention, and in reasonable doses that’s true. But it’s easy to go overboard with it and end up with a site that makes people click off it as quickly as possible.



As a bonus, I’m throwing in five of my best WordPress tips, gleaned from having set up more than fifty sites on that platform in the last few years.


  1. Never use “admin” for a user name! It’s not common now, but it used to be the default user name you got when installing WordPress. If you have a site that still has a user name of “admin,” change it now. Massive brute force attacks have been launched to hack into sites that have the admin user name, trying out a long list of common passwords to go along with it. (You should also have a strong password, at least 15 characters long, including both upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters.) Changing passwords isn’t hard, so do it now if you have a short, weak one, like your mother’s first name. Changing the user name takes a few more steps but it isn’t hard. You first create a new user account with administrator privileges, using the “Users” option on the WP dashboard, then you can delete the old admin user.  NOTE: Never delete the admin user unless you have a new user with administrator privileges set up.  Your site MUST have at least one administrator.
  2. Keep your WordPress upgraded. Although upgrades add new features to WordPress, they also frequently plug security holes that hackers may have already figured out how to exploit. WordPress has made it much simpler to upgrade. Since the 3.0 version, WordPress provides a one-button-push way to update your site. Do it!
  3. Use a backup utility. If your site gets hacked or your hosting service goes away without warning, you can lose the site entirely. Do you really want to have to recreate the entire thing from scratch? Of course not, which is why you really should have a way to back up the entire site. There are any number of good backup plugins around, some free, some not. WPBackup is a good choice for a free plugin, while Snapshot is a pricier utility that offers deluxe restore ability as well as good backup options. Just be sure that your backup is stored somewhere other than on your site. (If the site goes down, you’ll lose access to the backup as well as the site.) Most backup utilities will save the backup to your Dropbox account, email a copy to you, or at least remind you to log in and download the backup.
  4. Shift + Enter – This is a simple little tip that solves a problem that confounds many people. In WordPress, when you press Enter, you get a blank line between the previous text and the new text. What to do if you don’t want a line in between? Hold down the Shift key while you press Enter and you can type on the very next line.
  5. Plug-ins are your friend – WordPress has plugins to do an enormous variety of things. Want a contact form on your site? Different sidebars on different pages? A fancier image gallery? An easy way to put images in your sidebar widgets? There are plugins to do all of those things, and many, many more.



Karen McCullough’s wide-ranging imagination makes her incapable of sticking to one genre for her storytelling. As a result, she’s the author of AQOFCover_Kindle_220more than a dozen published novels and novellas, which span the mystery, fantasy, paranormal, and romantic suspense genres. A former computer programmer who made a career change into being an editor with an international trade publishing company for many years, she now runs her own web design business to support her writing habit. Awards she’s won include an Eppie Award for fantasy; three other Eppie finals; Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards, and an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.



Blog: http://www.kmccullough/kblog





Blurb for A Question of Fire

When Cathy Bennett agrees to attend an important party as a favor for her boss, she knows she won’t enjoy it. But she doesn’t expect to end up holding a dying man in her arms and becoming the recipient of his last message. Bobby Stark has evidence that will prove his younger brother has been framed for arson and murder. He wants that evidence to get to his brother’s lawyer, and he tries to tell Cathy where he’s hidden it. But he dies before he can give her more than a cryptic piece of the location.

The man who killed Bobby saw him talking to her and assumes she knows where the evidence is hidden. He wants it back and he’ll do whatever it takes to get it, including following her and trying to kidnap her.

Cathy enlists the aid of attorney Peter Lowell and Danny Stark, Bobby’s prickly, difficult younger brother, as well as a handsome private detective to help her find the evidence before the killers do.


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Judging Books by Gayle Trent

GC4In addition to judging books by their covers, we judge them on so many other things—most of which have nothing to do with the stories written.

For years, I refused to pick up a book by Dean Koontz. I thought, “Dean Koontz writes horror. I don’t like horror novels.” So I didn’t check out the back cover blurbs or the reviews of his books because I assumed I already knew enough about the books to make a decision. Then a friend said, “You have to read Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. You’ll love it.”

To humor her, I read the book. She was right. I loved it. I was surprised by this love…so surprised that I told another friend at lunch about the experience.

“Oh, you’ve got to read Watchers,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”

Now convinced that Mr. Koontz could weave a mighty fine story that didn’t have me sitting in bed with the covers pulled up to my chin while I bit my fingernails and waited for some unknown evil lurking in the dark to attack me, I read Watchers. I can now assure you that I’m a full-fledged Dean Koontz fan, eagerly awaiting the next installment in the Odd Thomas series (which I’ll likely have read by the time this is published).

When I wrote In Her Blood, the consensus among my editors was, “This isn’t a cozy!” As both Gayle Trent and Amanda Lee, I’d been corralled into inherbloodthe cozy mystery niche. Don’t get me wrong—I love writing cozy mysteries and have just been contracted to write a new cozy series. But in this case, it was working against me. To those within my current publishing circle, In Her Blood wasn’t right for them because it wasn’t a cozy mystery. To those outside my current publishing circle, the book and, for all intents and purposes, its author, was an unknown entity.  I was fortunate that an editor I’d met was willing to take a chance on the book and on me.

I enjoy reading psychological thrillers, so I wasn’t surprised when this book began seeping into my subconscious in that form. While a book like In Her Blood could possibly lend itself to a sequel, it isn’t likely to spur a series in the way a cozy mystery can. There’s no small town, no cast of endearing characters…just one dysfunctional girl, with a majorly messed up family, dealing with a crazed killer.

As I said, I enjoy thrillers. I enjoy suspense. I love a good cozy mystery. In fact, I like a lot of books that fall within different genres. I simply urge you not to disregard “bodice rippers” or “horror novels” or “sweeping family sagas” just because you “don’t like that sort of thing.” You might be missing something really, really good.


The latest embroidery mystery, WICKED STITCH, is now available for pre-order in paperback and ebook forms! Release Date: 4/7/15


Wicked Stitch

When murder strikes the small town of Tallulah Falls, embroidery shop owner Marcy Singer isn’t afraid of getting into the knitty-gritty to clear her own name…


For most small-business owners in Tallulah Falls, the upcoming Renaissance Faire is a wonderful way to promote their specialty shops. For Marcy’s nemesis, Nellie, and her sister Clara, it’s an opportunity to finally put Marcy and her shop, the Seven-Year Stitch, out of business. Apparently the sisters like to keep their grudges all in the family and have set up a competing booth right next to Marcy’s at the Faire.


When Clara is discovered dead in her own booth—strangled by the scarf she had almost finished knitting—Marcy becomes the prime suspect. Now she has to do whatever it takes to keep her reputation from unraveling and get to the bottom of a most deadly yarn…

Life Support or Not By Maryann Miller

NewcovershotThere is a bit of advice that all writers have probably heard – the first book you write should go into a drawer and stay there forever.


That was certainly true for the first short story I wrote right out of high school. It was science fiction, and my boyfriend said I should send it to Playboy Magazine, as they publish more than pictures of naked women. So, after I made him prove that to me, I wrote the story out in my neatest handwriting – thank goodness for the nuns who taught me that fine art – and sent it off. (This was back when we mailed manuscripts and SASEs. Remember those?)


Weeks later, I received the story back with a note that said they don’t accept hand-written manuscripts. All stories submitted must be typed. Thinking that was the only impediment to making my first sale, I bought an old Royal manual typewriter, painstakingly typed the story, and resubmitted it.


The editor at Playboy had the nerve to send the story back. No personal note was included this time; just the standard, “We’re sorry your story does not meet our editorial needs.”


Needless to say, that story has stayed in a desk drawer for a long time. Sometimes I get it out to read it to reassure myself that I have come a long way in terms of mastering writing craft.


On the flip side of that truism, I have found that some stories are worth bringing back to life. Such is the case with Doubletake, a mystery that I wrote with Margaret Sutton. This was a first full-length novel for both of us, and we were lucky to get it placed with a small publisher. The book never took off in terms of sales, as the publisher did little or no marketing, so the book languished. Some time later, I got the rights back, got the okay from Margaret to do a rewrite, and Doubletake was given new life.


I decided to publish the new version myself and worked with a graphic artist on a new cover. Then I released the book on Amazon in paper and as an e-book. On a whim, I entered in a contest at the TX Association of Authors, and it was named best mystery for 2015. Winners in all categories will celebrate, and be celebrated, on April 12 at a state-wide reading extravaganza, and I will be at Malvern Books in Austin. There will be ten authors doing short readings and autographing books from 1 until 6. This is going to be such a fun weekend, and I am so glad that I took Doubletake out of the drawer and gave it life support.


Do you have an older manuscript that you think you can revive? Please do share in the comments.





Maryann Miller is an author, screenwriter and editorial consultant. In addition to Doubletake, she has several other mysteries, including the Doubletake-ebook_final-2-14critically-acclaimed Seasons Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season and was followed by Stalking Season. She has won the Page Edward’s Short Story award, the New York Library’s Best Book for Teens, the Trails Country Treasure Award, and most recently was named Woman of the Year by the Winnsboro Area Chamber of Commerce.


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Behind the Scenes – Asylum by Jeannette de Beauvoir

JeannetteDeBeauvoir-headshots-038I’m one of the few people I know who reads history for fun. Not historical fiction, not mysteries set in other times—real history. It gives me a sense of perspective on current events, which allows me to not despair of the world; but it also is the source of really, truly great stories.


I’m not sure when I first learned about the “Duplessis orphans,” the children taken from orphanages and housed in asylums during the tenure of Maurice Duplessis as premier of Québec, but what I do remember is reading about Ravenscrag, that amazing Addams-family-mansion-on-a-hill that housed the CIA’s MK-Ultra program between 1957 and 1964… Somehow, somewhere in all that reading, I made the connection between the two.


I think that, at some level, we’re all fascinated by secrets, our own as well as those of others. Exposing someone else’s secrets has long been a staple of mystery fiction, and it seemed wholly logical to me to think that the brew of malfaisance taking place between Ravenscrag and the Cité-de-Saint-Jean-de-Dieu asylum would make for a secret that could seriously threaten someone’s well-being even sixty years later, and so Asylum was conceived.asylum-cover-DeBeauvoir


I’ve always loved Montréal. I grew up in Angers, a city in France’s Loire Valley, but I’ve lived in the United States for long enough now for it to be clear that this is my home. And still, for those of us who grew up biculturally, there’s always a sense of longing for the “other” culture that never seems to go away. When I first visited Montréal, two years after moving to the States, I felt immediately at home: there’s a fusion of North American and French cultures—whether in language, food, entertainment, or literature—that makes Montréal who I’d be, if I were a city.


So obviously the combination of this city I love and a dark secret from its past made for an irresistible backdrop for a mystery novel! Most of the story, of course, takes place in the present, and here too I’ve tried to stay true to Montréal, to give a flavor for the various neighborhoods, the food that people eat, the places they go.


I’ve always thought of writers as opening windows that readers can look through, whether on an historical event, a place, or just the human heart. I hope that Asylum can do just that.


JEANNETTE DE BEAUVOIR is an award-winning author, novelist, and poet whose work has been translated into 12 languages and has appeared in 15 countries. She explores personal and moral questions through historical fiction, mysteries, and mainstream fiction. She grew up in Angers, France, but now divides her time between Cape Cod and Montréal. Read more at

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