New novel & no ideas? So wrong! By Lala Corriere

Writer’s block is when even your characters won’t talk to you.

Writers know when they’re nearing the end of their manuscript. This stage is engulfed with rampant emotions. We’re proud of ourselves for achieving such a huge endeavor and yet we’re sad to say goodbye to some if not all of our characters we’ve so thoroughly crafted.

And then it might hit us. We want to write the next bestseller. And, horror of horror, we haven’t developed an inkling of an idea.

Fear not! As they say, rip something from the headlines!

My novel, TRACKS, includes a focus on the ongoing opiates crises. Difficult research that proved devastating and scary.

Recently, I went to the headlines and ideas flooded, literally with the terrifying approach of Hurricane Florence and its aftermath. If you write suspense you might consider a pre-meditated murder. The evidence is washed away and a body might just disappear, as well. If you write romance, do you see young strangers holed up in a safe place for days, surviving, and falling in love? Looting could be pre-meditated with homes earmarked with the goods, or the single property your antagonist needs to trespass to steal just one thing.

The gas explosions north of Boston might not be accidental but rather targeted in your great novel. A grudge against a new developer?

I’m not into writing about politics or religion, but you? I’m guessing there’s plenty of fodder out there to weave a tail around, like the Nevada professor whose attempted suicide to protest Trump failed and he now faces felony charges to include discharging a gun within a prohibited building and carrying a concealed weapon?  The dude left a $100 bill taped to the mirror tagged for the janitor. For the adventurous, you’ll find a story set in Russia or North Korea, as ripped from the headlines and made your own.

More obscure news stories? Today I found several:

  • The discovery and opening of a four-thousand-year old Egyptian tomb. This could make for a fun and wickedly delicious plot.
  • A sex doll brothel opening. A legal means to release violent urges, claims the company.
  • The man charged with sexual child abuse when faking he had Down Syndrome.

Nothing strike your fancy? Keep looking and cooking up your creative spins on current news, or old news with new life.

I’m writing my seventh novel, Lethal Trust. It’s based on a true event that’s happening now, sans the murders. Because of the relationship to a true story with the lives of very public individuals, I have to use extreme care in changing everything including cities and names. I don’t need their lawyers knocking at my door. Still, when I first learned about the basic facts I knew murder had to be involved, my way.




Then and Now: A Series Evolves By Frankie Y. Bailey

            I had no master plan for my Lizzie Stuart series. I wasn’t even sure I could finish the first book. I had an idea – a mystery inspired by an incident I had discovered while doing research for my dissertation. I decided to create a fictional sleuth – Professor Lizabeth Stuart, crime historian – who would investigate a fictionalized version of that incident. In this mystery novel, Lizzie would go to “Gallagher, Virginia” to investigate a lynching that her grandmother, Hester Rose, witnessed as a child.

Writing that book was a slow process. I had written two romantic suspense novels that were tucked away in a bottom drawer. I needed to learn how to write a mystery. Along the way, I joined a writing group that provided me with support and encouragement. But five years later I was still revising and revising and spinning my wheels.

When a friend from graduate school invited me to join her and her six-year old son for a week’s vacation in Cornwall, England, I said “yes.”  To justify my vacation, I decided to take Lizzie with me, to try writing a book set in Cornwall. A modern version of the kind of book Agatha Christie might have written about murder in an English artist colony/seaside resort.

This vacation book was intended to be no more than a writing exercise. It became much more. In London and in Cornwall, Lizzie, my Southern-born, African American sleuth came to life. Suddenly, I could hear her voice in my head. I understood how she saw the world.          Death’s Favorite Child, the book that began as a writing exercise, became the first book in the series. It was the book I sold to a small independent publisher. The book I had been working on for five years became A Dead Man’s Honor, the drastically revised second book in the series. Those revisions were necessary because in Cornwall I had learned much more about Lizzie – and Lizzie had met a Philadelphia homicide detective named John Quinn. Quinn had always been around, but for five years he had been the police chief in Gallagher, Virginia. He was to have appeared only in that book. But in Cornwall, he turned up as a much different character, walked into the series and decided to stay.

Now eighteen years after that first book was published, the series is being reissued by a new publisher. Although I was certainly not clever enough to have planned for this possibility, I am benefitting from the fact that I have been writing in “series time.”  In the context of the events in Lizzie’s life, only four years have passed. In the series, the current year is 2004. But Lizzie is much stronger and much more confident than when she set out on that vacation in Cornwall. That’s just as well because in the sixth book, now in progress, meeting her fiance’s family will not go as planned.

Pliny the Younger—More than a Beer by Albert Bell

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


But he had nothing to do with beer.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

First chapters – Death’s Favorite Child by Frankie Y. Bailey

Do you have your copy yet?



Chapter One


Wednesday, June 17, Drucilla, Kentucky


Rituals for the Dead and Dying.  I’d scrawled those words across the yellow page of a legal pad one robins-chirping, tulips-blooming afternoon in May.  That day, moving my hand across the page had been the only thing that had kept me from toppling over.  The paperback thriller I had brought along in my tote bag had stayed there, too intricate for my brain even if my eyes hadn’t been filled with grit.

Rituals.  During slavery, blacks on plantations often wrapped their dead in “winding sheets” and buried them at night.  Laboring from sunup to sundown, the slaves spent their daylight hours performing their masters’ tasks. Night was the only portion of the day that they could call their own.  So that was when they buried their dead. Singing, carrying torches to light the way, they delivered the body to its grave.

Such processions puzzled, even frightened, the whites who observed them.  Prone to their own superstitions, whites in the antebellum South understood better the “death watch” for the departing loved one and the “laying out” of the corpse.

They, white people, died of diseases and in childbirth. Black slaves died of the same causes and of hard work and abuse. Death was a constant presence in the lives of both groups. Death required rituals.

It still does. My grandmother, a descendant of field slaves, did her dying in a hospital room under medical supervision. But each day I drove back and forth to Lexington to keep my vigil at her bedside.

On the night that she died, I had lost my battle with exhaustion and fallen asleep in an armchair. Her voice jolted me awake. She had pushed herself upright in the bed. “Becca? Don’t you play your games with me. I see you there.”

I twisted around in my chair. For a moment, in that dimly lit room, I expected to see something there in the shadows.

“Becca, you stop your laughing!”

I had never heard Becca laugh. Neither one of us had laid eyes on Becca, my mother, in the thirty-eight years since my birth. But to the best of my knowledge she was still alive. Not a ghost to haunt her mother’s passing.

I staggered to my feet. “Grandma? Shh, it’s all right. Let me help you lie back down.”

She turned her head and looked up at me. “Becca? What you come back here for?’

“Grandma, it’s me. It’s Lizzie. Here, let me–”

She grabbed my hand in an urgent grip. “It would kill you daddy if he knew. We can’t never let him find out. We can’t let nobody find out.”

“What. . .find out what?”

She groaned, rocking herself. “How could you do it, Becca? That man–” Her voice sunk to a whisper. “Oh, lord, baby. Becca, get on your knees and pray . . . pray for you and that child growing inside you.”

“Grandma, what–?”

She slumped against my arm.  I held her for several heartbeats, then eased her back down onto the pillow.

She was dead.  I knew that even before I pressed the button for assistance, even before a nurse rushed into the room to check her vital signs.  Hester Rose Stuart was dead.

As for Becca–Rebecca, headstrong by all accounts, had been a few weeks short of eighteen when I was born.  Five days after my birth, still without revealing the identity of my father, she had boarded a Greyhound bus and left town. Or so my grandmother had always told me.

In the days since my grandmother’s death, I had been adjusting to living alone in the house that was now mine. Adjusting to silences filled with voices from my childhood. At around three that afternoon, I came to rest there in the kitchen doorway.

Silver-edged thunderheads loomed.  I considered getting in my car and driving down to the Sheraton Hotel.  I thought of sitting there in the lobby cafe sipping mint tea while the pianist played and the fountain tinkled, drowning out the storm raging outside.  I thought of leaving home before the storm broke, but I kept on standing there in the doorway with that photograph in my hand.

It had been taken out by the old oak tree.  My grandfather, Walter Lee, grinning that grin that people still mentioned when they spoke of him, faced the camera.  He was ebony-skinned and lanky.  Hester Rose, petite and pecan-colored, peeped around his shoulder.  That afternoon, touched by some fleeting joy, she had dared risk one of her rare full-mouthed smiles.  A hand had snapped the photograph and then it had been forgotten.

I had found the camera when I was searching the attic. After two hours of dust and spider

webs, after finding nothing more significant about my mother than the paperback novels–Moby Dick, Jane Eyre, and The Scarlet Letter—that she must have been assigned in a high school English class, I had been about to give up. Then I’d opened a dented steamer truck. The camera was buried beneath a pile of moldy sheets. When I realized it contained film, I ran downstairs to change.  Half an hour later, I was walking into a camera store in Lexington. There among the prints of house, flower beds, and vegetable garden had been that single photograph of my grandparents, the proud homeowners.

Both dead now. He of a heart attack, years ago when I was at graduate school. She at a little after midnight on June 1, the combined effects of hip surgery, diabetes, and a virulent strain of pneumonia—and perhaps whatever it was that had kept her mouth tight and her eyes wary.

Lightning zigzagged across the sky.  I stepped back into the kitchen and let the screen door bang shut.

When I was a child, I had been sure God was Zeus, with lightning bolts that he flung down at people who had been bad.  I shared this with my grandfather during one of our tramps through the woods, and he laughed until tears streaked his cheeks.

Seeing my chagrin, he hugged me to his side. “Lizzie, if that was the way of it, child, you wouldn’t be able to walk after a storm for all the dead folks you’d be stumbling over.” That might be true, but all these years later I could still have gone for a very long time between colliding weather fronts.

Lightning flashed. Thunder cracked and boomed, shaking the house. I clutched my grandparents’ photograph and scrunched myself tighter into a corner of the flowered sofa. The shutter on one of the upstairs windows was loose and banging. Rain slashed against the picture window in the living room. I huddled there on the sofa, mumbling an apology for being ungrateful for what I had. An apology for being angry because I was without kin.

God did not strike one dead for having wicked thoughts.  If that were the case, I’d already be dead.

I was astraphobic, brontophobic.  Scared of storms.  One of those silly childhood fears I intended to outgrow someday soon. The upstairs shutter banged like a gavel in the hand of an irate judge.

“All right, you’re being ridiculous. One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight. First thing tomorrow, find a repairman to fix the shutter. Ninety-seven, ninety-six. I am calm and relaxed. I am–”

White light exploded in the room. I screamed. I thought I was dead. But it was the tree. The old oak tree in the backyard had been struck by lightning. Blasted to its roots. Hester Rose, my grandmother, would have said it was an omen. A “sign.” But a sign is only useful if you know how to read it. At any rate, it was a moment of transition. Not dying was amazingly therapeutic.


Criminologist Frankie Bailey has five books and two published short stories in a mystery series featuring crime historian Lizzie Stuart. The Red Queen Dies, the first book in a near-future police procedural series featuring Detective Hannah McCabe, came out in September 2013.  The second book in the series, What the Fly Saw came out in March 2015. Frankie is a former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime.

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Twitter:  @FrankieYBailey


Amazon: Death’s Favorite Child


Amazon: What the Fly Saw

Grocery stores? Really? by Radine Trees Nehring

Almost ten years ago the general manager of the grocery store where the Nehrings shopped regularly asked me if I’d like to do a book signing in his store. (This store is part of an independent chain in my area, with over 90 locations.) An author friend of mine once talked about doing grocery store events in Houston, so the idea was already slumbering in the back of my head. After short consideration, I decided to give bookselling among the groceries a try.

Here’s how it worked for me. I made an appointment with the head of the chain’s department over non-food items. At our meeting he looked at my books and asked a number of questions, finally deciding I had a good product to sell. I signed a non-food vendor contract with the chain. Shoppers who wanted a signed book could put it in their cart and it would go through check-out like the potatoes and canned peas. At the end of a signing day I would give the store an invoice for books sold, and they’d be in charge of sending my invoice to the home office. Not long after, a check for books sold, minus a small percentage for the chain, would be mailed to me.

I was given a list of the stores in my area, and I could pick any store I wanted, deciding when I’d like to sign there. After trying out the idea with some trepidation, I now hold fairly regular Friday and Saturday book signing events in the chain’s grocery stores. In preparation I notify my contact in the General Merchandise office, she notifies her contact in that store, and I visit the store early, taking copies of the books (usually 4) I plan to sell on the days of my visit so they can put the UPC codes in their system.

On signing days I am allowed to set up inside the front entrance of the store where I will be for seven or eight hours each day. I take in a small table, two chairs, a colorful cover for my table and set up books on easels and also any free hand-out material I am presenting—book cover postcards, bookmarks, and business cards. I stand most of the time, and I am usually the first person customers see when they enter the store. You might say I act as a greeter, offering a cheerful hello. If people hesitate or come to look at my books, our conversation continues.

Grocery customers are a huge cross-section of humanity in any area, much more varied than those seen in any bookstore or at advertised signings. If you want to learn how people in an area look, sound, and live their lives, sign in a grocery store. I continue to be amazed at the number of men who shop alone and, more than any other group, enjoy finding someone to talk to, though they are not often book purchasers. Older women are excellent potential customers, and also like to talk. I hear many stories, some are incredibly sad. I have even shared hugs and tears with a few of these women. I have spoken with people, usually younger, who say they love to read and obviously want a book but explain they haven’t the money to buy one. An example is the young mother who showed me a $20.00 bill and said that was all she had to cover groceries for herself and her son for the week.

The opportunity to own a real book signed by the author catches many. I also present books as excellent gifts, very easy to wrap and mail, and quite a few of my books are sold for gifts, though the purchaser often plans to read it first. A number of my customers have never been in a bookstore or even know if there is one in the area.

Other differences between these and traditional book signings?  The surprise element among those entering the store when they see my table. The number of people who want a friendly chat. Questions from those who are wanna-be writers or have even finished a book and wonder how to get it published. The number of people, generally middle-age or younger, who are in too big a hurry to acknowledge a greeting.

So, if you are a published author, I recommend grocery store book signings. Grocery stores are a very good place for profitable impulse sales!

(Note, I always write a positive report covering general observations and happenings in any store I visit, and send it to my contact at the office. This, it turns out, is greatly appreciated.)

Radine Trees Nehring, 2011 Inductee, Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame

For more than twenty years, Radine Trees Nehring’s magazine features, essays, newspaper articles, and radio broadcasts have shared colorful stories about the people, places, events, and natural world near her Arkansas home.

In 2002, Radine’s first mystery novel, A VALLEY TO DIE FOR, was published and, in 2003 became a Macavity Award Nominee.  Since that time, she has continued to earn writing awards as she enthralls her original fans and attracts new ones with her signature blend of down-home Arkansas sightseeing and cozy amateur sleuthing by active retirees Henry King and Carrie McCrite King.

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Twitter:   @RTNehring


An idea that wouldn’t let go by Kathleen Heady

Although my first three novels were mysteries, I was struck by an idea that wouldn’t let go, and my most recent book, Jewels in Time, is a young adult historical fantasy. It’s a new world for me, in more ways than one.

I have always been fascinated by English history, and came across the story of King John, better known for signing the Magna Carta under pressure from his nobles, who “lost” the entire treasure of the English Crown Jewels of the time, in the Wash, an arm of the North Sea. No trace of the treasure has ever been found. There are a number of theories of what might have happened, involving everything from the Knights Templar, the English nobles, and even King John himself. But the passage of 800 years, and new technology, have turned up nothing.

In Jewels in Time, I created a parallel magical world in which the magic folk took the jewels to teach the

89300574 – dark coloured lights within lincoln castle grounds, at night.

English people a lesson, that jewels and power are not what should be important, and they will return them when the people of the country have learned the lesson, which may be never. The story centers around the young girl Brianna, who has magical powers, but has been brought up by her mother in a small village near the Wash. When her mother leaves the village, and Brianna, under suspicion of witchcraft, Brianna is left alone. She soon sets out on her own quest to find her place in the world, guided by her magical aunt Andera and a cat named Orangino. Brianna has much to learn in her journey to safety from mortals who would condemn her as a witch, and is guided by her family in the magical realm. She finds teachers along the way, including an aging knight called Sir Michael, and the witch Rowena.

It was a fun challenge to create the magic world, with the rules and structure of any world. The magic folk are able to live among mortals, and are able to travel between places and time periods by means of portals that are conveniently located in trees, seemingly solid walls, and other unlikely openings. They are often mistaken for ghosts as they pass through castle walls or move too close to a soldier at his guard post.

Several readers have commented that the story cries out for a sequel. Brianna reaches the first milestone in her quest to find her place in her worlds, but she has much more to learn if she is to fulfill her potential. Like men and women of any time period, she must fight the discrimination and prejudice that comes of being different. There are always more mysteries to solve and battles to fight, and Brianna will learn to be the powerful magician she is destined to be.


Kathleen Heady is a native of rural Illinois, but has lived and traveled many places, including numerous trips to Great Britain and seven years living in Costa Rica. She currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and two cats, Tang and Sirius Black. Her latest novel, Jewels in Time, is a Young Adult historical fantasy set mostly in thirteenth century England. She is also the author of three mystery novels, Hotel Saint Clare, The Gate House, which was a finalist for an EPIC award in 2011, and Lydia’s Story.

She writes because there are so many stories in this world and beyond, and the best way to learn is through stories. Although she loves writing mysteries, Kathleen has been told that Jewels in Time cries out for a sequel, so that is definitely a future project.

twitter – @katwrite9

I’m Judge Roy Bean and You’re Guilty! by Bill Hopkins

Judge Roy Bean was a guy who owned a bar in Texas. There wasn’t much in the way of a court system around where he lived during the late 19th century, so he was appointed a Justice of the Peace. My research on this man (2.5 minutes on Wikipedia) showed me that he knew what he was doing.

I’ve been asked over the years to judge fiction entries into various contests. There’s not much in the way of the law in the wilderness of contests.

Unfortunately, here are things most people who enter these contests do (or don’t do). Thus, I’m giving you the list. If you violate any of these rules, I cannot guarantee that you’ll be spared a visit from the ghost of Judge Roy Bean (me) who will write you a strongly-worded email.

  1. Formatting: There are dozens of sites that give you standard formatting advice. In fact, if you Google “formatting fiction” you will get literally hundreds of sites. If you don’t know what style of formatting to use, then go to the Writer’s Digest site and use theirs.
  2. Fonts: This is part of formatting, but it deserves a special mention. If I see an entry that has fancy fonts, it will have lousy writing. If your story is not good in Courier 12, then it won’t be any better in Bazoom Cute 11.9.
  3. Spelling: I’m amazed that someone who wants to be a writer doesn’t know the difference between “you’re” and “your.” If you’re a lousy speller, run your spell checker. That means sit down with a dictionary and read your work. Or show it to someone who’s willing to proofread. Or pay someone to proofread.
  4. Backstory is not interesting. Really. I don’t care if your protagonist was jilted at the age of twenty-one by a classmate who later won a billion dollar lottery. If your backstory is compelling, then slip it in bit by bit after about fifty pages or so.
  5. Description is not interesting. Really. I don’t care if your protagonist is a petite blonde with green eyes the color of clover. If description is compelling, then slip it in bit by bit after about fifty pages or so.
  6. Motivation: You’re going to have to convince me why your protagonist is doing whatever he’s doing. I realize that every reader of fiction must make a willing suspension of disbelief. It’s hard for me to believe that some guy happens to plop down in the middle of a big mess that he alone can solve, but I love Jack Reacher. I will continue to read the stories because Jim Grant makes me believe Jack Reacher is supposed to be there doing whatever he’s doing.

“Time will pass and seasons will come and go,” Judge Roy Bean is alleged to have said. This is true and, I might add, “No contestants will ever pay attention to what I have said here.”

Bill Hopkins is retired after beginning his legal career in 1971 and serving as a private attorney, prosecuting attorney, an administrative law judge, and a trial court judge, all in Missouri. His poems, short stories, and non-fiction have appeared in many different publications. He’s had several short plays produced.

Bill is a member of Horror Writers Association, Missouri Writers Guild, Heartland Writers Guild, and Sisters In Crime.

Bill and his wife, Sharon Woods Hopkins (a mystery writer!), live in Marble Hill, Missouri, with their dogs and cats. Visit them on Facebook (link below).

COURTING MURDER was his first novel and his second novel RIVER MOURN won first place in the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-Me Best Book Awards in 2014.

He has published six novels and another one is due out at the end of 2018!

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