Sleuthing Duos by C. T. Collier

ct-collier-authorAs I wrote the fourth and final book of my romance series (pen name Katie O’Boyle), I prepared for my next series, murder mysteries set in Tompkins Falls, NY, the same location as Lakeside Porches, and revolving around troubled Tompkins College. The mysteries would be whodunits and they would fall into the subgenre of academic mysteries. I wanted a pair of sleuths, complementary equals, not a detective and sidekick, to work in tandem to solve the murders. Neither would be a professional crime solver (PI, police detective, for example), and they’d be a married couple.


Having articulated that for myself, I went back to work on the last romance, Waking Up To Love, and found the plot had changed in an important way. It always had a villain, whom I imagined to be a likable character. But now, the more I got to know him, the more devious be became. He turned Kyle and Lyssa’s journey toward true love into a roller coaster ride, a dangerous one. His tricks ultimately inspired Kyle and Lyssa to set aside their squabbles and act as a team, in order to look more closely at what the villain and his buddies were up to. While it wasn’t murder, it was an infraction that negatively impacted the college and destroyed one faculty member’s academic career.


Wait. Two smart people, Kyle and Lyssa, acting as a team, doing what? I’d found my crime-solving duo!


Fresh from Waking Up To Love, Kyle and Lyssa stepped into the role of investigative partners in The Penningtons Investigate. It was clear as I drafted the first book in the series, Planted, that neither Kyle nor Lyssa ever would become a detective. Lyssa thrives on her career as an economics professor at the college, and Kyle embraces his role as CEO of his own computer security business, Pennington Secure Networks. However, circumstances arise that require them to work as a team to solve a murder, because the killing affects them personally and impacts the college in some way.


When I told my loyal beta readers about my concept, they came back with big smiles. “Are they going to be like Nick and Nora? Tommy and Tuppence? Hart to Hart? MacMillan and Wife?” I loved the question! Why not learn from and play off sleuthing duos from series I’d loved and maybe a few I’d never heard of?


I watched old movies, TV series (anyone remember Mr. and Mrs. North?), and updated versions of classics like Partners in Crime. My research took a big step forward when a librarian friend handed me a June 20, 2015, article published in The Guardian: “Perfect partners in crime: Tommy and Tuppence,” which gave me a taste of still more crime-solving duos.


Unlike many couples in crime fiction, Kyle and Lyssa Pennington are equal partners in solving any murder they tackle. Lyssa, the economics professor, is a natural for “following the money story,” which proves to be essential in unraveling each mystery. Similarly, Kyle’s expertise with technology gives them a leg-up with manipulating all available data as they search for patterns and discrepancies. They are different but equal personalities as well. Where Lyssa is sensitive and intuitive, Kyle is logical and capable of intense concentration.  They are united in their goals but divergent in their paths to the answers. Neither can determine “whodunit?” without the other’s input.


How do they see themselves? Here’s an abbreviated exchange from an early chapter of Planted, the first book in The Penningtons Investigate. On their lawyer’s advice, Kyle and Lyssa have undertaken a door-to-door canvass of their new neighborhood, apologizing for a shooting in their backyard. Oh, and sleuthing while they’re at it:


“Ready, Mr. Pennington?”

“Ready, Mrs. Pennington.”

“I like being on your team,” Lyssa said with a wink. Script and clipboard at the ready, they crossed Seneca Street to the first house on their block.

. . . after a difficult encounter with their first crotchety neighbor . . .

She put a plus sign in the final column for 50 Seneca Street.

“Ah, a secret code. What does the plus sign mean? Clearly not ‘warm and fuzzy.’”

“Hah. It stands for successful damage repair.”

“Meaning, he doesn’t hate us as new neighbors?”

“Exactly.” She had penned ‘Mr. Jonas’ in the Name column, and ‘Tuttle 20 years?’ in the Notes column.

“Good work, Watson,” Kyle teased.

“What Watson?” Lyssa elbowed him playfully. “Miss Marple, I’d say. Oh, I should add a comment that we’ve invited him for iced tea.”

“But Jane Marple was solo. We’re more like Nick and Nora, don’t you think?”

“Weren’t they sloshed a lot?” Lyssa said with a laugh. “I’m sober, don’t forget.”

“Right. Tommy and Tuppence perhaps?”

“Not sure. I’ll have to reread those.”


The lively banter between Kyle and Lyssa is a device for processing clues and brainstorming next steps and talking through possible murder scenarios, and it’s also a vital source of humor in a series that deals with murder. Readers have picked up on it as a hallmark of the series, and a few have likened the Penningtons to Nick and Nora, which compelled me to reread Dashiell Hammett’s classic The Thin Man. The experience was different as an author, and truly fascinating. Having savored Hammett’s extraordinary whodunit, I can’t imagine Kyle and Lyssa putting away gin the way Nick and Nora do. And I can only aspire to write a plot as clever and baffling as Hammett’s.


With five semesters left in Lyssa’s contract as a Visiting Professor at Tompkins College, there are more murders to come in the Finger Lakes village of Tompkins Falls. Each of the murders will affect both Kyle and Lyssa enough for them to unite as a team to figure out “whodunit?” Solve it they will, using their diverse talents and their trademark humor.


planted-book-coverBOOK BLURB:


It’s Monday of spring break when Professor Lyssa Pennington’s backyard garden project unearths a loaded revolver. With no record of violence at their address and no related cold case, the Tompkins Falls police have no interest. But the Penningtons and a friend with the State Police believe there’s a body somewhere. Whose? Where? And who pulled the trigger?


Planted is book one in the mystery series, The Penningtons Investigate.





C.T. Collier was born to solve logic puzzles, wear tweed, and drink Earl Grey tea. Her professional experience in cutthroat high tech and backstabbing higher education gave her endless opportunity to study intrigue. Add to that her longtime love of mysteries, and it’s no wonder she writes academic mysteries that draw inspiration from traditional whodunits. Her setting, Tompkins Falls, is a blend of several Finger Lakes towns, including her hometown, Seneca Falls, NY. Entirely fictional, Tompkins College is no college and every college.





Facebook: kate.collier.315

Twitter: @TompkinsFalls


How I Finished My First Novel (After Years of Trying) by Heather K. Duff

heather-k-duffA few years ago I sat down on New Year’s Eve and wrote a letter to myself—to be opened a year later. It was a heartfelt letter filled with my hopes for the coming year. Figuring prominently was the aspiration to finish my first novel. I expressed frustration with my lack of success in this area, but mostly I encouraged myself to finally FINISH.

Reckoning Day loomed before me. Would I disappoint myself again?

Sadly, yes.

And the next year.

And the next.

Seven years after beginning, I finished my novel, The Wrong, and recently published it in July, 2016.

Why this year? What made the difference?

It wasn’t by chance. It wasn’t by intention. (I’d been “intending” to do it all along.) There were several factors that figured into the equation, several people whose encouragement and faith in me spurred me on. I am convinced, however, that one key decision propelled me to the finish line: I found a writing coach.

I wasn’t looking for a coach. I was looking for an answer that had eluded me for years. Why can’t I finish? Along with this novel, I had many other The-Wrong-web-HKDglorious starts. But where were the finishes?

I did some research on writing coaches and something stood out among all the other benefits. A good coach will help you identify obstacles and get a plan for working through (or around) them. I needed someone with another vantage point to look not only at my writing, but my career. I connected with a writer friend who had been “coaching” me since we’d met. I asked if she might consider formalizing that arrangement. We discussed the particulars and moved forward.

We scheduled our first meeting for January and set up weekly word counts. I didn’t need my coach to necessarily read the work and provide feedback. It was enough to know I had 8,000 words to deliver by midnight Saturday every week…until the novel was completed.

Once it was finished, my coach, Jessica Ferguson, gave it a read. She identified trouble spots and provided insightful feedback. By May, I had a finished book, ready for publication. Thank God (and thank you, Coach!).


How Does My Coach Help Me Now?


I took a small break from writing after I finished the novel—partly to focus on book promotion, and partly to refuel the creative engine. My coach has been an invaluable resource in this stage of the process as well. Her knowledge of the publishing industry, her knack for asking the right questions (when I start wandering after rabbits on obscure trails), and her desire to see me succeed, all serve as gentle guidance along the way.

There is another benefit of having a coach that runs deeper than aspiration and achievement. Writing is lonely business. Most writers I know don’t mind the solitude. In fact, when inspiration calls from the depths, we joyfully answer by leaving family and friends behind—if just for a while. Those moments alone are rich and precious. And yet, I found myself alone in ways that left me lonely. I expressed this as: “I need someone to be in it with me.” I wasn’t sure what I was asking for when I had that epiphany. But today I am sure I have found it.

If you need someone in your corner, someone with clarity of vision, someone to identify the obstacles you can’t see and classify the ones you can, consider a writing coach. We all have friends and influences within the writing community, but a formal, professional relationship with a writing coach just might be the strong foundation for your next level of success.



Author Bio

Heather Duff is a freelance web designer passionate about helping others share their work (dreams, ideas, creativity) with the world. She enjoys serving on her church media team, working behind the scenes in the fun—and sometimes frantic—world of church media. She has a great affection for coffee and good friends, especially when combined. She writes mysteries and fantasy fiction. Heather recently published her first mystery novel, The Wrong.


Author Website:


Amazon Author Page:

Coaching & Marketing Website:



RonBioPhotoThe Best Book I Never Wrote


I was born and raised in LeRoy, Kansas (pop. 500), a small farming community in the southeastern part of the state. Located on the Neosho River, I had a great childhood, with almost every day emulating the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I wrote a collection of short stories about my childhood twenty years ago and presented a copy to each of my children so they would know what “ol’ Dad did as a kid.” It was titled, “Why All the Elm Trees Died.”


And the “answer” contained within that title was… that as a mischievous child I got so many whippings with an elm switch, that the all the bark was stripped from the town’s trees and caused them to die. Actually, all the trees did die dues to a disease of some type, but my kids think it was from dad’s spankings.


Writing Controversial Topics – Good Or Bad Idea?


Personally, I think writing on controversial subjects are good for promoting sales. It’s like people discussing politics. People who agree with your ideas will likely recommend the book favorably, just like they do in voting for a certain elected official. And those who don’t agree with your writing will talk about or complain to their friends, which I think that inadvertently promotes your books to those who want to see for themselves. In either case, it gets people talking about your literary intrigue.


What Makes Your Book/Series Unique?


Like most memoirs, many “unknowns” were shared in my book. One aspect of writing this was that it served as a means of closure for the survivor’s guilt I experienced for thirty-six years.


Primarily though, following a training accident of one of their helicopter crashes that killed the trainee, I obtained a copy of the transcripts for the department’s accident investigation findings. With this document, writing my book exposed a city and/or department cover-up, supervisory betrayals, and botched techniques in the LAPD’s Board of Inquiry post-accident investigation. As an example, although the NTSB investigator on scene submitted a formal report of the accident. Yet as the instructor pilot and sole survivor of the accident, here it is forty years later and I am still waiting to be interviewed by the NTSB.


Written and published so long after the fact, it was also a way of explaining to my fellow pilots and observers of what really happened on that fateful day. Knowing that a lot of rumors and speculation as to what caused my helicopter crash circulated among the officers assigned to the air unit, I wanted a little vindication. Being thrown “under the bus” by the chief pilot without being able to defend myself, writing Beyond Recognition was a way to tell “my side of the story.” It also provided some truthful answers to the widow of my trainee who had been misled as to what happened.


Lastly, in my book I shared some details as to how I coped with the recovery of my burns, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Optimistically, I would like to think that it will provide some means of hope to other burn victims or trauma survivors; even though there is a long road to recovery, that life does have something left for them.


Your Favorite Promotion Strategy


With my burn scars plainly visible on my arms and face, this is to my advantage as it typically causes notice from all people that I come into contact with. Although few inquire as to my injuries, it gives me the opportunity to discuss my helicopter accident, which leads into the mentioning of my book. Then I can leave a business card promoting my book, or tell them where they can order it. This works at most of my daily activities; doctors’ and dentists’ offices, auto mechanics, grocery stores, etc.


Being from Las Vegas, I also had some personalized “casino chips” designed that displayed my book cover on one side, and the URL to my Website along with a photo of an LAPD helicopter on the other. I have passed-out these in lieu of business cards. And they seem to be a more favorable option in generating attention.


I have also provided, for people who buy my book, a raffle contest. The award being a chance to win one of my other book anthologies.


Beyond Recognition is a “fact-based account” of the memoirs of Ronald Corbin, a former Army combat helicopter pilot and Vietnam veteran who FinalCoverDesignbecomes a Los Angeles Policeman, and eventually a pilot for LAPD’s Air Support Division.

Compared to other pilots in the unit who had received their flight training from local airport operators, Ron’s’ military training and unique combat flying experience as a “Slick” Huey pilot, and his wide background as an instructor pilot in various helicopters, goes beyond recognition of some of the old timers at Air Support. He immediately becomes the target of jealousy by the unit’s chief pilot, Joe Claridge, whose animosity leads him to do everything he can to undermine Ron’s reputation, and ultimately “railroad” him out of the unit.

However, Ron’s flying ability is eventually recognized by the ASD Captain and Training Sergeant. He is selected to become an instructor pilot in the unit, much to the objection of Joe who feels that Ron hasn’t had enough experience in the unit. After becoming one of the unit’s instructor pilots under Joe’s supervision, Ron soon finds himself going head-to-head with Joe over differences of opinion in training objectives for new police pilots. Ron quickly grasps the fact that Joe is nearing the end of his career and is actually afraid to fly. To hide his fear, Joe bows-out of certain missions that may be a little more “hazardous.” The stress Ron goes through with Joe causes Ron to have flash backs of some of the fear and horror of his Vietnam flying.

After an aircraft accident that claims the life of Ron’s police pilot trainee, Jeffrey Lindenberg, and one which puts Ron in the hospital with 70% burns, the LAPD Chief of Police assembles a Board of Inquiry into the cause of the accident. Joe sees his opportunity to seek jealous revenge on Ron by feeding misleading statements to the Board investigators that suggest blame on Ron and Jeffrey. The investigation eventually evolves into a “kangaroo court” and seeks to place unjustified blame on Ron. But the Board’s exercise in “finger-pointing” quickly backfires as Ron exposes a “cover-up” that has corporate and City attorneys scrambling to make a settlement.

What Makes My Series Unique? by Amy M. Bennett

IMG_6271The mystery genre, perhaps more than any other, is subject to certain formulas or patterns that each storyline must follow. But, with so many series available—whether mystery or another genre—how does an author go about making his or her series stand out from the rest?

There are tried and true formulas for certain genres that shouldn’t be rejected out of hand, mainly because there is a huge market for them. This is especially true of the mystery genre, especially the sub-genre known as “cozy” mysteries. That includes having the main character run a business, usually a struggling one inherited from a family member, in a small town (choose a bakery or quilting shop or a bed and breakfast) and an element of romance, particularly a romantic triangle.

In my Black Horse Campground series, Corrie Black is the owner of a campground she inherited from her father after he succumbed to cancer. I had done extensive research trying to find a unique setting for my series and, after my husband and I became enamored of camping in KOA campgrounds that had cabins, I realized it would be the perfect way to have my main character meet strangers in a small town, without stretching the imagination too far. There is always the danger, when writing a cozy mystery, of what has been referred to as “Cabot Cove syndrome” (my apologies to Angela Lansbury and “Murder, She Wrote”): how do so many murders occur in such a small town without people leaving the town in droves? In a vacation-destination setting, strangers are an accepted part of the landscape and it is more likely for the main character to find herself involved in the drama and danger of meeting new people every day. Being in a campground places the setting in a rural area, which gives access to wide-open spaces as well as having a town and all its conveniences nearby. And living near and working in a vacation resort town, I had the knowledge to make the setting ring true, plus the added bonus of being in a location that gets very little notice in fiction!

I also made sure to include “real life” elements to make my fictional setting ring true. Bonney County and Black Horse Campground only exist in my FCAttheCrossroadimagination and on the pages of my books, but I chose to set them near actual locations in south central New Mexico—namely the Ruidoso area in Lincoln County—in order to give my books local flavor. Therefore, my fictional characters do frequent places that really exist in the Ruidoso area, places with which I am familiar and like to visit as well.

The romantic element—in particular the love triangle—can be a bit trickier. It’s difficult to maintain a romantic triangle for a long time without creating annoyance in readers. They want to know who “wins”! In addition, it runs the risks of making the characters seem wishy-washy and tiresome, which is definitely not how you want readers to perceive main characters. In the Black Horse Campground series, Corrie’s romantic interests are old-flame Sheriff Rick Sutton who, for reasons which are unclear, broke off his relationship with Corrie in high school and married a woman who subsequently left him after the birth—and death—of their daughter. What creates a complication is that Rick, like Corrie and the majority of the residents of Bonney County, is a devout Catholic. While Rick and Corrie both seem willing to accept a life-long platonic friendship, everything changes when J.D. Wilder, formerly with the Houston Police Department, shows up and becomes a serious contender for Corrie’s heart. Of course, J.D. comes into the picture with his own set of baggage—including a wife who died while trying to get him killed—so the triangle is set. The key to not making a love triangle tiresome is for the author to know when to quit. Though I am currently working on the fifth book and the triangle is not resolved yet, I am already outlining the resolution to this particular element of my series… while allowing the series to continue!


Amy Bennett, author of the Black Horse Campground series, has spent eighteen years working full-time as a cake decorator for Walmart Supercenter in Alamogordo, NM, and part-time as a “vino slinger” for Noisy Water Winery in Ruidoso, NM, for the last five years. She lives in a small town halfway between her jobs with her husband and son.



Publisher’s website author page:

Amazon link:


100_0766-BWe’ve all heard for years that rejection by agents and publishers can be a huge problem for writers. Relief came with the development of self-publishing technology. Details on the numbers of self-published books vary widely, but range up to one third of all books available today. However, with so many books available, (2,700,245,640 individual units sold in 2014–and that 2 is two billion), it’s obvious bookstores and libraries must cut stocking lists to a manageable size. So where do they start cutting? Self-published books are the first things cut or ignored completely. Yes, it is possible for a self-published author to achieve stocking in their home area stores, but stocking is iffy otherwise unless something about that book has brought it into general public interest.

One problem? Self-published books are too often full of editing mistakes. We writers can rarely edit our own books successfully. For one thing, we read what we think we said. We read what pleases us, not realizing our readers may not “get it” or will be just plain bored. And, of course, there can be appalling grammar and spelling mistakes. Fortunately, these days, self-pubbed writers are more aware of potential problems, and many are wise enough to hire an independent editor or, at least, to work with a good critique group. But the stigma sticks and, in many cases, is still justified.

What about those of us who sell books to publishers with editors who help catch problems, assuming the quality of the book has passed potential inspection by a publisher and/or agent? Of course we must present the best book possible and here, too, a critique group or independent editor can make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

And, after the book comes out, bringing it to public attention is–for the most part–done by authors, not publishers, whether that publisher be Random House or Granny’s Garage Press. Statistics say a large percentage of published books do not sell more than 250 copies per year. To enhance promotion, some authors hire a savvy independent publicist who will help get the word out well beyond an individual author’s reach.

So, on our own, and with any help we can add, we promote–largely on line. Honest truth?  On an average day in my office I spend up to five hours on promotion, especially when a new book has just come out. I get the question “WHY?” when new authors hear this.

For each book, I write a marketing plan made up of many avenues of promotion, including an active on line presence. I think you can figure out why that’s important. Yesterday’s advertising methods have most often been replaced by reading on a screen, especially a tiny hand-held one. So I write guest blogs and, when I can get to it, my own blog on WordPress. I post to groups like facebook and twitter. I update information on sites like DorothyL, and Goodreads, plus groups I am part of–Oak Tree Press, Sisters in Crime, and Mystery Writers of America. Taking advantage of all the ways there are to get news out about my profession and my current products–novels–obviously takes a big hunk of time out of my day. I am not alone in this. Other authors talk about the fact that promotion, instead of the act of writing itself, takes too much time. (This is especially difficult for parents and those who have a “day job.”)

All this information is not exactly cheering. So, why do so many of us continue writing and submitting?

Some time ago newspaper editor Richard J. Cattani offered this advice to potential writers: “Your writing should begin with motive, not process.” Okay, process is what I have been talking about. But what about motive? Webster says “motive” is “a need or desire that causes a person to act.”  That FC - A Portrait to Die Forsounds like an ordinary human life. Well, what about book characters?

As a mystery writer, I believe that, when evil happens and my characters react to it, there is a truth in the background waiting to be discovered. Of course book people will be the ones to do this–after I discover in my thought-file ways to resolve the challenges I have placed before them. Often I do not know how an issue will be resolved when the problem is presented but, over the years, I have learned the answer is there and always appears when needed. Do other authors work like this?  In my own case, I knew what the art crime would be in A Portrait to Die For long before I became aware of how it would be brought to light and what the result would be. A writer uses imagination, intuition, and inspiration for problem-solving. We have a deep interest in the human condition and the world we live in, and we do our work on a highly intuitive level, noticing, pondering, sharing, and, quite often–at least in my case–hoping we are sharing solutions that may be helpful to our readers while we offer them adventure and entertainment.

For me, that’s a great motive for being a writer.

A World Colored by Shades of Gray By JoAnn Smith Ainsworth

JoAnn_hands_chinWingsEdit-v2_120My WWII paranormal suspense, EXPECT DECEPTION, released on June 21. For this first conversation after its release, I’m sharing some concepts about today’s younger audiences that I gleaned from a 2014 online article by Jeff Gomez about the Disney movie, Frozen. ( I kept these concepts in mind as I wrote this “soft” thriller.


While exploring why this animated movie drew young people to the box office when other similar movies hadn’t had the same success, Gomez reasoned that these ingredients were in play:


  • Children are growing up in a world colored by shades of gray. Gen X’ers and adult Millennials are teaching their Gen-Z progeny that it isn’t about Good vs. Evil, it’s about trying to figure out why they’re yelling at you.


  • Gen-Z kids are starved for a female superhero, a girl wielding power. Equally important is the Frozen heroine’s transformation from an uptight teen to the majestic Snow Queen. As Gomez says, it seems the one thing we can’t resist is a makeover.


EXPECT DECEPTION is a novel of transformation and empowerment for the heroine. In her makeover, Livvy finds “self-awareness” and “self-fulfillment” during World War II as a clairvoyant and as a member of the U.S. WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).


Recruited by the government to search for Nazi spies on the East Coast and under the command of the navy, her team of psychics is charged with counteracting Hitler’s occult circle practice of mind control. Livvy’s confidence grows as she increases her skill and becomes more valuable to her country.


In book one of the Operation Delphi series, EXPECT TROUBLE, Livvy learned how to increase her psychic powers. In EXPECT DECEPTION, she Deception Cover_300learns how to be an effective team leader of psychics who are as easy to corral as cats. She meshes the skills of the other four team members—a crystal ball reader, a medium, a seer of ghosts, and a nurse with healing hands—into the strength and powers needed to take on the Nazi spy, who is also a black arts magician capable of invoking demons.


We authors have to be aware of the changing viewpoints of younger readers who will become our future readers, so I incorporated these article viewpoints into my paranormal stories. While I am an author who writes “good vs. evil” themes, I used the day-by-day baby steps we all need to take to resolve issues and to reach goals to show the slow transformation and empowerment of my characters. These baby steps are the shades of gray needed by the next generation of readers who want to understand why they are getting yelled at.


Do your life experiences match the conclusions Gomez reaches in his article? Do you find that it takes “baby steps” to get to the new levels of your personal development?


Let us know.


When JoAnn Smith Ainsworth carried wood as a pre-teen so her Great Aunt Martha could stoke up the iron stove to prepare dinner, she wasn’t thinking, “I could use this in a novel someday.” Yet, the skills she learned from her horse-and-buggy ancestors translate into backdrops for her historical romance and paranormal suspense novels.


JoAnn’s debut medieval romantic suspense novels received 4 stars from RT Book Reviews. Of her historical western romances:  “If you love westerns, this is the book for you. Great characters, great plot, and a story that will make you smile.” ……. Lauren Calder, Reviewer, Affaire de Coeur Magazine.


Of JoAnn’s paranormal suspense, Expect Trouble, reviewers said:  “If you like the British series The Bletchley Circle, you will enjoy this book!” ……. Patricia Simpson, Author; and “…This talented author strategically and skillfully takes the reader on a trip that will stay with them for a very long time.” …….Lauren Calder, Affaire de Coeur Magazine.


Expect Trouble was a semi-finalist in the East Texas Writers Guild first chapter contest 2015. The sequel, Expect Deception, releases June 2016.


For more, visit:

Twitter @JoAnnAinsworth or @JoAnnParanormal or Facebook’s JoAnn Smith Ainsworth Fan Page (

Goodreads Blog:


Contact her at (Delphi series email).



Amazon –

Barnes & Noble –

Books a Million (BAM) –


and at an independent bookstore near you –



Crafting my characters by DH Smith

PicDSA6Thank you, PJ, for inviting me to do a guest blog. I’ve read some of the past blogs and I can see I am in the best of company. I shall be a well behaved guest.


I am going to tell you about the genesis of the main character in my crime series, Jack of All Trades. He’s unusual, and you might be interested how I got to him.  In 2013 I made the decision to write a crime series. I read crime (don’t write what you don’t read, as they say) and a series would allow me to develop a reputation (I hoped).


But where to start? I didn’t want to write a police procedural. I don’t have a police record, but cops make me feel I’ve done something wrong, which is not to deny the necessity of a police force. But I don’t need to write about them. Scratch that category. Next in popularity are private eyes who date back to Sherlock Holmes. JK Rowling, under the pen name Robert Galbraith, has her sleuth, the curiously named Cormoran Strike who makes me think of a diving seabird. I might go that way, I thought, but not yet. Then there’s the halfway house, those between the regular cops and PIs. John Grisham has his lawyer main characters, Patricia Cornwell her forensic pathologist. But Grisham and Cornwell were professionals in their field. That’s not me at all.


So that left me with someone whose job would take them to a different place in each book of the series. I researched the crime fiction in my local library.  The British writer Rebecca Tope has a florist as her protagonist. She has a shop and does displays at funerals, weddings, hotels etc, giving her a variety of setting for murder. I came across Charlaine Harris who has Lily Bard, a cleaner in the sleepy town of Shakespeare in Arkansas. A good choice, as cleaners go into every room in a house, empty the waste bins and note all the stains. Lots of possibilities for finding clues or bodies. She also wrote a series with Aurora Teagarden, a realtor. Realtors are popular I found: Elaine Orr with her heroine Jolie Gentil, Maggie Sefton with Kate Doyle, and quite a few others have taken this route. Why so many, you might ask. Because it’s easier than pathology or law, and we all live in houses.


You might note, all these examples are from women writers. I suspect they want to concentrate on the story and relationships, without the technical aspects of policing which can so bog a plot down. A male exception I’ve come across is Lawrence Block, whose main character, Bernie, is a burglar in New York. He knows houses too.


You can research until the cows come home. Enjoyable, but it was time to home in on my own main character’s line of work. I came up with a builder. Self employed, so he can go anywhere there’s work, which is just about anywhere there are people. His name is Jack Bell. Four of the series have been published so far. In the first he’s working in a summerhouse for a millionaire couple, and in the others he works respectively in: a tenement block, a school, and a park. He has his van with Jack of All Trades painted on the side – and has heard every joke about his firm’s name. His reply is, at least you’ll remember it.


Of course, a character is not just a job. So I had to fill him out. Jack lives where I live, in Forest Gate, East London. I can walk the streets and imagine what might happen where. Warring couples, money problems, the gamut of human conflict within the walls along the road. Jack is divorced with a 10 year old daughter, trying to shake off an alcohol problem, and always short of cash. His hobby is astronomy and he has a telescope to explore the night skies.


As a builder, he began as a carpenter and learned other skills on the job. At times he’s working on the edge of his skills and hoping he can get away with it. There’s some romance in each tale, complicated by the murder(s), where Jack may be the sleuth, a suspect, involved in the crime or even within a hair’s breadth from being another victim. But I have no intention of killing him off, so long as I have tales to tell.


If you are tempted to give the series a try, the first, Jack of All Trades, is free as an ebook on Amazon and also available in paperback.JackMockup-Books1-4small


Brief Bio

Derek Smith writes his crime fiction as DH Smith. As Derek Smith he has written children’s books ranging from those for five year olds to young adults. He lives in London but likes to get away from the smoke at weekends to walk in the countryside or by the sea. You can find out more about him at


Jack of All Trade Series

There are four in the series at present, published under the name DH Smith:

Jack of All Trades

Jack of Spades

Jack o’Lantern

Jack by the Hedge.

They are all stand-alone novels, featuring the builder Jack Bell.