Are We There Yet? by Molly MacRae

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


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



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

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


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


5 Ways I Make Time to Write by Julie Lindsey

Thanks to technology, time management is harder than ever. In addition to the distractions of online games, the availability of digital books and an endless barrage of social media exchanges, it’s nearly impossible to find solitude. Making time to write is practically an exercise in insanity, but here are a few ways I maintain control.


  1. Time Management

Time management means different things to different people, but for me it means scheduling. I’m a dedicated scheduler. I make and revise my to-do list on a daily basis to keep me on task and eliminate wasted time. I cut redundancy. I eliminate wasted trips. I streamline my life to accommodate my writing because writing is more important than many, many things. When I’m on deadline, I organize outings to maximize my time and minimize hours away from the computer. I pair errands so I’m not running Willy nilly every day, and I organize the stops in a logical pattern to avoid criss-crossing town a dozen times.


I pack one or two days a week with running, and I fiercely protect the days I’m home. In other words, I make a continuous, conscious effort to manage my time.


  1. Outlining

My love of outlining is pathological. I do workshops on the subject. I could write multiple posts on this topic alone. Pantsers? You don’t want this advice. Feel free to skip to number three. People like me: outlining will save you HOURS of wasted time. Spend a day or two creating a rich well plotted outline and then write. It’s that easy. I write a chapter a day using my outline. When I finish the chapter, I move on with my life. I don’t waste time re-reading yesterday’s words to find out where I need to start. I don’t waste time wondering what I’ll write today. I don’t waste time thinking up transitions or flow. The work is done. All that’s left to do is write. Easy peasy. *dusts palms*


  1. Setting fake appointments

Is it pathetic? Yes. Is it super lame? Absolutely. Does it work? YES. Yes, it does.

I write a number of random appointments on my calendar each month that are meaningless. They serve the purpose of an excuse. Can I meet you for lunch again? Not that day. I’m going bungee jumping. Can I watch your kids while you have dinner with your husband – again? Nope. I’m stuffing turkeys. Those fake appointments are one more way I protect my time from people who would nag me into writing later, or never, whenever it’s more convenient for them. They didn’t listen when I had a deadline, but they never even ask if I say I already have something scheduled that day. *insert angry eyes* But, hey, it works!


It would be funny if it wasn’t true. The hard reality is I lose sleep on deadlines. Those final days before my manuscripts are due feel a lot like college revisited, but I am closer to forty than twenty-one these days. Still, I cram and stay up late drinking coffee. I lose IQ points as a result, and I’m a bit grouchy, but that’s the job. Until I make Stephen King status and can push a deadline back without making a black mark on my career, I will graciously accept a few sleepless nights and count them as blessings. Not everyone has deadlines. It wasn’t long ago that I went to sleep praying for a contract. I remember that on days when I’m sleep deprived and weeping in my Starbucks.


  1. I ask for help

It’s not easy, but I do. I reach out to those people who love me and they cheerfully help. Friends invite my kids over for a movie. Grandparents come by to visit while I catch a little nap. My husband takes the whole crew to a zoo or science museum for a day. It’s a wonderful reminder that I am loved. I may be running on three hours’ sleep, one shower and seven pots of coffee this week, but I’m loved and I’m not alone. Neither are you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. You’ll likely be rewarded with a shocking abundance of support.



GEEK-GIRL_murder_ROUGHS_3A Geek Girl’s Guide to Murder, The Geek Girl Mysteries, book 1

IT manager Mia Connors is up to her tortoiseshell glasses in technical drama when a glitch in the Horseshoe Falls email system disrupts security and sends errant messages to residents of the gated community. The snafu’s timing couldn’t be worse—Renaissance Faire season is in full swing and Mia’s family’s business relies on her presence.

Mia doesn’t have time to hunt down a computer hacker. Her best friend has disappeared, and she finds another of her friends murdered—in her office. When the hunky new head of Horseshoe Falls security identifies Mia as the prime suspect, her anxiety level registers on the Richter scale.

Eager to clear her name, Mia moves into action to locate her missing buddy and find out who killed their friend. But her quick tongue gets her into trouble with more than the new head of security. When Mia begins receiving threats, the killer makes it clear that he’s closer than she’d ever imagined.

Amazon       Barnes&Noble       Carina Press     iTunes    Kobo

About Julie:

Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world.

Learn About Julie at:

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LeaonWiscassettownpier            About two years ago my agent contacted me with a question: Would I like to start a new mystery series? And, oh yes: he knew an editor who’d be interested in a series with a background of needlepoint.

When he called I was writing the seventh in my Shadows Antique Print series, Shadows on a Maine Christmas. I was also editing Uncertain Glory, an historical for young people set in Maine during the first two weeks of the Civil War.

In short, I was busy.

Did I want to start a new series? My husband reminded me that I’d talked about new projects. I reminded him that a new cozy series hadn’t been on that list. And needlepoint? I knew next to nothing about needlepoint.

He reminded me that I loved to do research.

I called my agent back. Could the series be about knitting? I was pretty good at knitting.

Nope. Needlepoint.

I took a deep breath and agreed.

And I started blue skying. I checked: no needlepoint mysteries were set in New England. Many of my fans liked my books set in Maine.

My Shadows series is set in a small town on a tidal river, but I wanted this series to be different. I’d set it in a harbor town. So I created my setting: Haven Harbor. I sketched it out … three islands in the harbor. A lighthouse, a small rocky beach, a yacht club, a town pier, and a working waterfront with a lobsterman’s co-op and restaurant. A town green, of course. And shops, catering to both tourists and locals.

As the idea became a plan, I created my protagonist. Angie Curtis, a local kid who’d had a tough childhood, left Maine to escape it, but now was back, confronting her past. She’d be in her late twenties, and street savvy. She’d also know how to handle a gun. And the series would be written in the first person, from Angie’s point of view. Cozy, OK. But with an edge.

I even added a cat.

But where did the needlepoint come in?

Angie’s mother had disappeared when she was ten. Angie’d been brought up by her grandmother, an expert needlepointer. In the years Angie’d been away (working for a private investigator in Arizona, I decided,) her grandmother had started a small business: Mainely Needlepoint. She’d gathered a few local women (and men) to work for her business.

But why had Angie returned to Maine?

Her mother’s body has just been found. She wants to find her mother’s killer. And, to add to the complications, what if one of her grandmother’s needlepoint colleagues was also murdered …

And I had the beginning of my plot.

Because I love antiques and many of my Shadows series readers do, too, I decided Mainely Needlepoint would also be involved with identifying and conserving antique stitching. And to set the scene I’d put quotations about needlepoint at the beginning of each chapter.

Two weeks later my agent had a proposal and marketing plan. The editor was pleased – and I was writing a new series.

Twisted Threads: A Mainely Needlepoint Mystery, the first in that series, was published this week.

I’ve already finished the second book in the series (Threads of Evidence), which will be released in August, and I‘m working on Thread and TWISTEDTHREADSGone, next January’s book.

No doubt about it: I’m writing a new series.


Maine author Lea Wait writes the Shadows Antique Print Mystery series, the most recent of which, Shadows on a Maine Christmas, Library Journal named one of the best Christmas reads for 2014, as well as the Mainely Needlepoint series. She also writes historicals for ages 8 and up, the most recent of which is Uncertain Glory. For more information about Lea and her books see www.leawaitcom. She also invites readers to friend her on Goodreads or Facebook.





The Bastard Prologue By Earl Staggs


earl 2Not long after I began writing fiction, I learned that a prologue was a no-no.  A prologue was akin to the plague, something so horrible some people would scream and shriek and run away from as fast and as far as they could. Even though not every reader and every editor held them in such disdain, I decided I would never use a prologue.

Not long ago, while working on a sequel to MEMORY OF A MURDER, my first novel, I found myself returning to the opening chapter even though I had already written several later chapters.   Something didn’t feel right.  Something was missing.  The beginning of my novel needed an extra oomph.  It occurred to me that the oomph might be created by using a <gasp> prologue.  Fortunately, before I committed the unthinkable and inserted one, I came to my senses and talked myself out of it.

A week later, I found myself in a Barnes and Noble.  I wasn’t there for the usual purpose of finding a book to read.  No, I was there with my wife because she wanted to find a particular book on the art of crocheting.  While I toil away at writing the Great American Novel, she pursues the creation of the Great American Afghan.

While waiting for her to find what she wanted, I realized I was standing next to a table stacked high with books and with a sign over it saying, “Former Bestsellers.  $5.99 and up.”   I decided to browse through them.

I opened twelve books and was aghast and agape to find that nine of them began with a prologue. These were not books by unknown authors.  These were authors whose names I knew.  You know them, too.

The first two were by Tom Clancy.  One was AGAINST ALL ENEMIES, the second, THREAT VECTOR. The next six were:

Sandra Brown. . .LOW PRESSURE


Linda Howard. . .SHADOW WOMAN

James Rollins. . .THE EYE OF GOD

Clive (and Dirk) Cussler. . .POSIEDON’S ARROW

Brad Thor. . .BLACK LIST

The ninth book was THE BLACK BOX by Michael Connelly.  This one had a section preceding the first chapter, but unlike those listed above, it was not called a prologue. It was not called anything.  It was just there without a heading or a title.  Since it did not have a name, I felt justified in calling it a Bastard Prologue.

What had gotten into those writers? Did they not know what I had known for years:  You do NOT use a prologue?

That’s when I remembered something else I’d learned during the years I’d been writing.  It was that there is really only one true Rule of Writing. That rule is: “Whatever works best.”  It means within reasonable judgment and common sense, authors can do whatever they feel is best for a piece of written work.  That one rule overrides all others which may be floating around out there, no matter who declares it or tries to enforce it.

It also means if I feel a prologue will make my book better, I can use one.  If the authors listed above and their publishers can do it. . . .

So that’s what I’m going to do.  I’ll put a prologue in front of Chapter One of my work in progress.  I’m not going to call it a prologue, however.  I’m not going to call it anything.  It’ll be a Bastard Prologue.

And, here’s what it will say:


* * *


He carried the girl over his left shoulder and the shovel in his right hand. Moonlight barely penetrated the dense forest above him, and he nearly stumbled several times over exposed tree roots and large rocks. He had to duck under low-hanging branches and occasionally had to push the shovel ahead of him to move thick brush out of his way.  He wished he could turn around and go home and not do this, but he always did what he was told.

A noise off to the right made him stop. The sound of wood breaking, like someone or something stepped on a thin brittle branch. He looked and saw nothing. Then a pair of eyes appeared ten feet away from him. A deer. Not moving. Staring. Accusing.

He wanted to shout, “I didn’t want to do this. They made me.”

After a few seconds, the eyes disappeared, and he heard the sound of the deer moving away. Then he heard nothing but crickets in the distance and the swishing of small branches above him when a breeze found its way to them.

He pushed forward again and tried to ignore the burning sensation in his shoulder. The girl was small, but he knew he would be sore tomorrow from carrying her so far. He had to keep going deeper into the woods until he found a clearing large enough to dig the hole.

After trudging another fifty yards, he came to a circular area twenty feet in diameter where nothing grew.  Three rounded boulders roughly formed a triangle in the center of the bare patch, each about four feet long and half as thick and rising knee high out of the bare ground.

He decided he would dig in the space between the boulders.  He leaned his shovel against one of them and laid the girl on the ground. Her long dark hair splayed out beneath her head like a black halo.  Moonlight washed over her face, adding a silver sheen to the tawny skin of her Latino heritage.  She was so young, he thought, and so pretty. Too young and too pretty for this.

But that didn’t matter. He had to dig a hole and put her in it. Then he would get home as fast as he could. Before he went to bed, he would pray that when he woke in the morning, he would not remember what he had done.

If he did, he would remind himself it wasn’t his fault. They made him do it.


* * *




Memory_of_a_Murder[1]Earl Staggs earned a long list of Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION JustifiedAction-CoverMediumand has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year.  He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars.


He invites any comments via email at


He also invites you to visit his blog site at where you can read:




A funny short story titled “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer.”

A true story called “White Hats and Happy Trails” about the day he spent with his boyhood idol, Roy Rogers.


Make Blogging Matter Elaine L. Orr


Elaineforwebpage2March2015You’ve heard the expression, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, does it make a sound?” There is a parallel in book publishing. If we write a terrific novel and no one hears about it, is it still worth reading?


It is a struggle to let readers know about a new book, and perhaps a greater one to help them get familiar with books published several years ago. In the wonderful age of electronic publishing, I sometimes wish I didn’t know so many authors personally. I want to read all of their books, but if I did that I would rarely write mine.


So what to do? Whether we have a traditional publisher or publish ourselves, it is still up to us to get our books in front of readers. I used to hate marketing, but I find it’s the best way to interact with readers and other authors. Not through advertising (which I do, of course) on, but by reaching them in ways besides saying “buy my book.”


When I started blogging, I struggled to come up with topics that were not directly related to my writing. I had written nonfiction for years, some of my own and some as part of a team, so it wasn’t difficult for me to put pen to paper. I finally realized I didn’t have enough confidence that people would be interested what I had to say about fiction.


After a year of few posts, much of that time dealing with the mechanics of self-publishing, I had something to say. Learning how to prepare a correctly formatted electronic book had taken me dozens of hours of reading and practice. When I was done, I realized that only about three percent of what I had studied was needed to do it correctly. The learning process had been good, but how many people have dozens of hours to spend learning material they may not use?


Now I had a purpose for blogging. I did several articles on electronic publishing and used the same material to develop a short lecture on the topic that I give, for free, at libraries. I wrote on audio book production and varied topics related to marketing, and then found I was comfortable writing about writing or producing short essays. In essence, helping others made me more comfortable with my own work.


Then I got crafty. We aren’t talking making things from popsicle sticks. An article on audiobooks could have a couple of links to my own. One on using Kindle Boards to connect with readers had samples of my own work.


Enjoying writing for the blog did not mean people would read it. I posted references to articles on my webpage and mentioned them in my bimonthly email to friends and fans. It wasn’t until I started using Twitter to mention the blog articles that readership took off. Most read are articles on marketing, but tweets to relevant hashtags bring readers for almost any topic. I’ve written about a World’s Fair baseball team, collectible cards of the 1960s, and books I’ve enjoyed.


If readers like what they’ve seen, there is now an index page that can take them to other articles. There is also a section on my Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series and a page that provides links to all of my books.


Writers often ask if posting to blogs, their own or as a guest on another, will lead to sales. There is no data. The maxim is still that writing a good book is still the best way to get sales. However, blogging has helped me reach readers and many have written to say it introduced them to my books. Since I write about marketing books, many who contact me are other authors. As this is my third career, I had a very small network of author friends. Though I have not yet met all of the authors I now keep in touch with, I know many. That may be the best return on the blog writing investment.


I firmly believe that writing interesting posts and letting people know about them through Twitter and other means is a great way to be sure someone hears that tree fall. Over time, an interesting blog attracts interested readers.



Elaine L. Orr is the Amazon bestselling author of eight books in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series. The sixth, “Behind the Walls,” is a finalist for the 2014 Chanticleer Murder and Mayhem Awards, and “Ground to a Halt” is the most recent. Later in 2015, she will publish the first book in the River’s Edge cozy series. Elaine also conducts presentations on electronic publishing and other writing-related topics. A member of Sisters in Crime, Elaine grew up in Maryland and moved to the Midwest in 1994.

Finding the Right Protagonist by Lesley Diehl

3578I was given a lot of advice when I started writing mysteries, and some of it was good.  Here’s a piece of wisdom I’ll bet all writers have heard: write what you know.  So here’s what I knew.  I was a retired professor of psychology and a college administrator.  I couldn’t imagine anyone would find a dean or a vice president in academe at all exciting, so I chose to write about a professor at a college similar to the one I taught at for over 25 years.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t very enticing either.  No one, not an agent or an editor bit on those manuscripts.  Ah, yes.  I wrote two of them.  What was I thinking?


I decided what I knew was not the stuff of mystery novels, but I could learn, couldn’t I?  I wanted a cozy protagonist different from the ones I usually read.  I had tried crocheting once and my next door neighbor told me I looked as if I was in extreme pain when I did it.  The end product was not so great either.  I think anything involving manipulating needles to create something wearable or beautiful or even useful (think toilet paper roll cover) was not my thing. How about a taxidermist?  I envisioned myself up to my arms in chipmunk entrails trying to learn the trade so I could create a realistic protagonist.  Nope.  Instead my first protagonist was a woman who owned a microbrewery and brewed beer.  The research was great fun.  My husband served as the taster, and I drove around to numerous microbreweries to discover the art of making beer.  I already had the art of drinking it down pat.


Next came a series I set in rural Florida featuring a retired preschool teacher turned bartender.  There’s a booze theme going on here, isn’t there?  She was great fun because I made her a tiny woman and with her background in dealing with young children everyone expected her to be ladylike and genteel.  While she began that way in the first book, I developed her into a tougher gal, able to take on the crooks she pursued.


I think the protagonist in my most recent series, also set in rural Florida, is the perfect blend of what I know and what I’ve learned in writing over the years.  What I didn’t remember I knew was what my paternal grandmother had taught me.  Reuse everything until it falls apart.  Hence my love of yard sales and anything secondhand.  Hence the creation of Eve Appel, consignment shop owner.  The shop offers high end merchandise in rural Florida.  She is an in-your-face gal who loves designer fashions.  Originally from Connecticut, she’s convinced that buying used fashions from wealthy West Palm matrons and selling them to the same as well as to the women who live in rural Florida will be a hit.  She’s right.  Too bad the grand opening of her shop begins with the discovery by her business partner of a customer stabbed to death in one of the dressing rooms.  Or is it?  That’s the beginning of Eve the amateur sleuth and her snooping into murder.


Book #3 in the series due out July 15 from Camel Press is A Sporting Murder.  Eve’s partner Madeleine has found true love in a man owning a game reserve for hunting only to have him arrested for killing one of his own clients.  With her grandmother, several Miccosukee Indians, her PI boyfriend and a friendly mob boss, Eve thinks she has enough ammunition to find the real killer.  Will that be before she becomes a target and the bait?


Eve is almost the perfect protagonist for me.  Anytime I need inspiration for my writing, I simply run off to a yard sale or to a consignment shop.  The thrill of the hunt for that perfect bargain is almost like solving a mystery.  It’s a high that keeps me writing about Eve Appel, her love of used merchandise and her passion for solving murders in the swamps of Florida.


Author bio:

Lesley 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, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office, and gators make golf a contact sport.  Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse.  When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats and, of course, Fred the ghost, who gives artistic direction to their work.


She is the author of a number of mystery series and mysteries as well as short stories.  A Sporting Murder follows the first two books in the Eve Appel mystery series, A Secondhand Murder and Dead in the Water


Visit her on her website:



sporting_murderBook summary:

It’s smooth sailing for Eve Appel and her friend Madeleine, owners of Second to None Consignment Shop in rural Florida’s Sabal Bay, land of swamps, cowboys, and lots and lots of ‘gators. Eve and her detective boyfriend Alex have joined Madeleine and her new beau David Wilson for a pleasure cruise on his boat. But cloudy, dangerous waters lie ahead. A near fatal encounter with Blake Reed, David’s supremely nasty neighbor, is soon followed by a shooting death on the dividing line between David and Blake’s land. Both men run sport-hunting reserves, but Blake imports “exotics” from Africa and promotes gator killing, while David stays within the law, pointing clients toward the abundant quail and turkey as well as the wild pigs that ravage the landscape. Nevertheless, when a mutual client is killed, it is David who is arrested and charged with murder.

Blake’s nastiness is only exceeded by that of his wife, Elvira, who forces Eve and Madeleine out of their shop, intending to replace it with a consignment shop of her own. It seems that bad luck looms over them all, even Eve’s brawny and hard-to-resist Miccosukee Indian friend Sammy, whose nephew has disappeared. As the case against David grows stronger and his friends’ misfortunes multiply, Eve and her strange and diverse group of friends, including her ex, a mobster, her grandma, and Sammy’s extended family, band together to take on the bad guys. But the waters are getting muddier and more troubled, and Eve and Madeleine may end up inundated in every sense of the word.

Buy links:




Author links:

Webpage and blog: and


Twitter: @lesleydiehl

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.