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Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Bette and J.J. Tell us about your latest book.

Bone Pit is the third book in our Gina Mazzio RN medical thriller series, following Bone Dry and Sin Bone. After a couple of attempts on Gina’s life in the first two books, we decided she needed a break – not from us, but from San Francisco’s (fictitious) Ridgewood Hospital and all the dark, deadly memories associated with it.

So, what better plan than to take off on a dual travel nurse assignment with fiancé Harry Lucke, who has made a career out of doing Bette_J.J._Lambthat kind of nursing, primarily in Intensive Care Units (ICU)? Their destination: a rehab facility for Alzheimer’s patients in the desolate gold country mountains in and around Virginia City, NV. Simple enough.

But Gina and Harry stumble into an illegal scheme to manipulate test results for an experimental drug that’s on the verge of gaining FDA approval as a cure for Alzheimer’s.

Bone Pit is a story of medicine, mines, madness, and murder.

Sounds like an intriguing series and I really like the cover. What’s next?

Gina, who in the first book worked as an oncology nurse, then became an OB/GYN advice nurse before taking off for Nevada, is back again at Ridgewood Hospital, this time working in the Women’s Health Clinic.

Keeping to her reputation for being unable to stay out of trouble, once again her life is threatened when she investigates suspicious circumstances in the clinic that propel her into the midst of a deadly abortion issue. The tentative title is Bone of Contention.

Gina sounds like an interesting character. Tell us more about your series’ protagonist.

Gina Mazzio, RN, evolved out of a desire to write a medical thriller that did not have a male M.D. as the primary protagonist. Bette, an RN herself, wanted an intelligent, curious, no-nonsense, and tough nurse who would become involved in a fictional medical crime that was about as far away from being a cozy as one could get. That Gina is also a streetwise, ex-Bronx, California transplant is fact as well as fiction.

You’ll note the above talks only about a single medical thriller. Gina Mazzio was never meant to be the protagonist of a series. She came into being after reading a newspaper feature article about the use of autologous bone marrow transplants as a last-hope treatment for certain types of cancer. The immediate question was what if someone stole the treated, stored marrow and held it for ransom?

We were so determined not to create a series that we dove into a stand-alone medical thriller (Sisters in Silence) about an infertility counselor who runs amok. Regardless, we continued to think about Gina; we liked her as a lead character, as did our readers. So, when we read a horrifying article about the on-going trade in human body parts, we saw it as a perfect milieu for our inquisitive, do-the-right-thing RN.

Gina also has this on-going love thing with Harry, but getting them married has run into problems.

I like that you broke away from the male MD stereotype. Does your series require extensive research?

In a word, yes.

Fortunately, Bette’s RN credentials get her interviews and into facilities that an unlicensed medical person probably wouldn’t be able to do.

Our goal is to inform the reader about real, out-of-the-ordinary medical situations and procedures without getting so technical that pages appear to have been lifted straight out of a textbook or scientific journal.

And that’s what makes it so interesting. What is your writing regimen?

Ah, if we only had one.

Each of us tries to write every day, but there are no specific hours.  Bette is better at this than J.J., which is even more admirable since she’s also a sculptor and must spend time in her studio.

We do have a regimen of sorts for creating a book – we agree on a project, then one of us (usually Bette) sits down and writes the first draft, with input from the other with respect to plot and character development and settings. Then the other writes a second draft, again with input as above. For the final draft, we sit down side by side at the computer and go through the whole manuscript, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, and chapter by chapter.

Out of this comes a third voice that is different from each of our individual voices in solo works.

My sister (Caitlyn Hunter) and I are co-writing a series and I’ve found it to be a wonderful experience and what you state regarding the third voice is true for us also. I love that. What part of writing do you like and dislike the most?

There is very little that is as satisfying as holding a printed book in your hands that has your byline on it. At the other end, there’s nothing worse than that first blank page.

bonepit_(1)Yep. What works best for you in regards to promoting?

Being able to talk to readers face to face; exchanging thoughts on an individual basis via social media. Unfortunately, bookstore talks and signings are becoming less available all the time.

They’re becoming a thing of the past it seems. But I’ve found festivals are opening up more to writers now. If you could sit down and chat with anyone in the past or present, who would it be and why?

Bette – Florence Nightingale. Would love to discuss the courage it took for her to be a battlefield nurse, social reformer, and a prodigious and versatile writer during the Victorian era. She’s a great role model for the 21st century woman – proactive and caring.

J.J. – Mark Twain. He had the enviable ability to see and say things as they really were, and how they should or would be.

What inspires you?

Different things at different times, mostly wonderful accomplishments in literature, music, art, dance, and other creative expressions.

What’s the best expression you’ve gotten from a reader?

“I stayed up all night to finish your book. I could hardly work the next day.”

Tell us about your part of the country.

We have lived on the East Coast, in the Midwest, in the Southwest, and here in Northern California. We left this area on two occasions during, primarily out of nostalgia for places that strongly drew us back. We came back here both times, sadder but wiser. We heartily agree when someone describes Northern California as Camelot.

What’s your favorite Southern saying?

Y’all come back. (But then we’ve only lived in one Southern state — Virginia.)

For more information about Bette and J.J.’s work:

Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Karen! Tell us about your latest book, A Gift for Murder.

A Gift for Murder was originally published in hardcover by Five Star/Cengage, then in mass market paperback by Harlequin Worldwide Mysteries, and was recently released as an ebook. It’s a cozy mystery with some romantic elements.

For fifty-one weeks of the year, Heather McNeil loves her job as assistant to the director of the Washington, D.C. Commerce & Market karenmcculloughShow Center. But the Gifts and Home Decorations trade show, the biggest show of the year at the center, is a week-long nightmare. This year’s version is being worse than usual. Misplaced shipments, feuding exhibitors, and malfunctioning popcorn machines are all in a day’s work. Finding the body of a murdered executive dumped in a trash bin during the show isn’t. The discovery tips throws Heather’s life—personal and professional—into havoc.

The police suspect the victim’s wife killed him, but Heather doesn’t believe it. She’s gotten glimmers of an entirely different scenario and possible motive. Questioning exhibitors about the crime doesn’t make her popular with them or with her employers, but if she doesn’t identify the murderer before the show ends, the culprit will remain free to kill again.

Her only help comes from an exhibitor with ulterior motives and the Market Center’s attractive new security officer, Scott Brandon. Despite opposition from some of the exhibitors, her employers, and the police, Heather seeks to expose the killer before the show ends. To solve the mystery, she will haves to risk what’s most important to her and be prepared to fight for answers, her job, and possibly her life.

Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next? 

I have a couple of projects in various states completion and submission.  The story I’m actively working on right now is the sequel to A Gift for Murder, tentatively titled Wired for Murder.

My current working blurb is: Amidst the chaos of the opening of the Business Technology Show at the DC Market Center, Heather McNeil, assistant to the center’s director, has to deal with a few extra bits of trade show madness, including a loud and very public argument between the president of the largest exhibitor and an arrogant engineer working for a competitor. When the engineer is murdered, while on the phone with Heather, she has to find a way to cope with the trauma. And being Heather that means wanting to know why the murder happened and who did it.

What is a typical writing day like for you?

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been trying to get on a regular schedule of writing for two hours from 8:30 to 10:30 before I get to work at the business that pays the bills, doing websites and other graphic design for authors and small businesses. So far it seems to be working. Before that I generally wrote in the afternoons, but I’ve realized that isn’t my best creative time. I usually write for an hour or two in the evenings as well.

Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

Barbara Michaels, Sarah Addison Allen, Ellis Peters, Charlaine Harris, Mary Stewart, Gillian Roberts, Jim Butcher, J.R.R. Tolkien, Andre Norton, Jack Campbell, Lois McMaster Bujold,  Simon Green, Susanna Kearsley. I don’t really know what they have in common that makes them appeal to me except that they’re all very good writers and storytellers. They all do intriguing plots with characters who develop in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways.

How long have you been writing?

karenmccullough.agiftformurderAbout thirty years. Yeah, even I can’t believe it’s been that long. I wrote my first full-length novel in 1984. I still have the manuscript—it’s in the attic, with a sticky note on it that says, “Burn me.”  It’s bad. Really bad. I had a decent idea but no idea how to write a novel. The first novel I sold (to Avalon Books, in 1988, published 1990) was actually the sixth novel I’d written. It took me that long to learn how to do it right. I’ve had an up-and-down career since then, but I’ve had quite a few things published since.

What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

Because I’m a “pantser,” writing without an outline or much knowledge of how the plot works out, I’m always antsy through most of the first draft, wondering how, when, and even if a story will finally come together. So far, it’s always worked, though, and it’s a great feeling when the threads of the plot all start to mesh and I see the whole pattern. And then when I finally finish the first draft, it’s a real high. There’s usually plenty of rewriting that needs to be done, and lots of editing and polishing, but for me the hard part is getting that first draft done.

Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?

My earliest reading memories involve reading all the Nancy Drew books I could get hold of, along with my brothers’ collection of Hardy Boys as well. I graduated into my Dad’s library of mysteries, which included Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Dashiell Hammett and others. A school friend introduced me to science fiction and fantasy, and I dove into Arthur C. Clarke, Heinlein, Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, etc.  As a kid, I worked the fiction section in our local libraries hard.  Somewhere along the way, I found Gothic romances and it was love at first paragraph.   Obviously it’s no accident that when I started writing, I produced mysteries, fantasy and science fiction, with some romantic elements.

How many hours a day do you write, where, any specific circumstances help or hurt your process?

I write four hours a day most days, two hours in the morning and two in the evening.  I have a home office and I try to start right after breakfast as the first cup of coffee is hitting my system. I don’t listen to music or anything else while writing. I start a writing session by reading over what I wrote last, making a few corrections along the way. When I get to the end, I’m usually ready to keep going.

I’m a straight-line sort, starting my first draft at the beginning and writing from start to finish, although I occasionally will go back and fill in missing things when I realize the need them, but for most things, I’ll simply make notes on post-its on my desk for things I know I need to change. Once the first draft is done, I do the major editing pass, where I go through and smooth out the rough spots and make the corrections from the post-its. After that I do another polishing run, then send it to my critique partners and beta readers.

Beside “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?

I’m a website designer/developer, who also does book covers and other graphic design. I’ve been doing it for about ten years now, but karenmccullough.thewizard'sshieldI’m starting to cut back the time I spend on that to make more time for writing.

What is your VERB? (This is a big poster at a local mall)? If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and you behavior or attitude, what would it be?


Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

For several years, I read books on my iPhone, which worked reasonably well, but then I got a Kindle, and I totally love reading on it. My eyesight has never been all that good, and it’s great to be able to enlarge the text to a size that’s comfortable for reading. Plus I can hold it one hand. On the writer’s side, it’s a wonderful opportunity as well. I’ve been requesting my rights back on my backlist books for a while now and have been epublishing them.  I still have a few more yet to go, but it’s been nice to see some of those older books getting a new lease on life. Then there are those books that none of my various publishers wanted—usually because they didn’t fit into any marketing niche. I’ve already published one of them (The Wizard’s Shield) and have a few other manuscripts that have been languishing on my hard drive. That’s the upside. The downside is that too many would-be ‘authors’ are putting out books that really aren’t ready for public consumption. I’ve read a few epublished books that were awkwardly written, full of inconsistencies and grammatical errors. Now, if a book sounds intriguing, but I don’t know the author or haven’t read reviews, I’ll download a sample and judge from that whether to get the whole thing.

How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?

Honestly, I’m not sure where my characters come from. I see them in the film running in my head and at first I don’t know much about them, but as the story continues while I’m writing it down, I gradually get to know and understand them. Most of that comes from seeing their actions and listening to what they say.  I’d have to say that most of them aren’t really based on anyone I know, but they probably have aspects of many people I’ve met, heard of, read about, or seen on television or movies.


Karen McCullough is a web designer by profession, and the author of a dozen published novels and novellas in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres as well. She has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy, and has also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, four grandchildren and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.


Blog: http://www.kmccullough/kblog



Welcome, Robert. Tell us about your latest book, The Dead Don’t Forget.

TheDeadDon'tForgetFRCVThe Dead Don’t Forget, from Oak Tree Press, is the second in a crime fiction series featuring screenwriter-sleuth Billy Winnetka. The books are set in Los Angeles in the 1990s. In this installment, Billy meets a screen legend—a now 80-something woman who was a huge star in the silent film age. Gwendolyn Barlow is living in her deteriorating mansion in Hancock Park, largely forgotten. But someone remembers her, because she has been getting disturbing phone calls, threatening her with death. Or so she says—no one really believes her at first. But things turn uglier when someone actually makes an attempt on her life. Billy is soon mired in an investigation that suggests more than one person may have a reason to want Gwendolyn dead. Meanwhile, Billy is spending his days on the movie set where his screenplay, Perchance to Dream, is being filmed. It is not going well. A hothead novice director is wreaking havoc, and, being Hollywood, innocent heads will roll. Billy’s only solace is a new romance—with Gwendolyn’s attorney, Kate Hennessey. But in Billy’s world, nothing, especially not love, is without complications.

A forgotten screen legend, a screenwriter sleuth, and a touch of romance. Sounds unique and intriguing. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

That is such an interesting question. I don’t think non-writers often realize that characters do take on a life of their own and sometimes take the lead in what happens to them in a novel. And when they intersect with another character who has a mind of his or her own, that’s when things can get really complicated! Of course, as the writer, I have the responsibility of not letting things get out of hand—but, really, sometimes characters just do what they want to do and you are pretty powerless in keeping them from doing it.

I love that answer! I often think of my days teaching with my characters as my students and me doing my best to keep them in control. As with teaching, I’m not always successful. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

I have a professional background as a book publicist, so the promotion side of things comes pretty naturally to me after years of publicizing other people’s books. Having said that, I was raised not to be self-aggrandizing, so it is far harder for me to hawk my own wares than someone else’s. And book promotion, like all of publishing, has changed so much, for better and worse, since I started working thirty-some years ago. Certainly the explosion of social media and web-based book sites (like this blog!) have made it easier to reach an audience all over the world quickly and cheaply, but advances in technology also means that there are far more writers and books out there vying for the attention of a relatively fixed audience. I like to keep promotion on a grass-roots level, connecting with readers as directly as possible, and I hope that those readers will like my work and spread the word. I don’t hate promoting—but it certainly is time-consuming and steals time from writing. That’s a reality writers of an earlier time didn’t have to deal with as much.

Book promotion has changed in so many ways since I started writing and I consider myself something of a rookie having only been writing (seriously) for a handful of years. How long have you been writing?

Well, I started writing in junior high, and published things in high school and college literary magazines. But I was forty before my first book was published—the literary cookbook, A Taste of Murder—and my first novel didn’t appear until six years after that.

Well, you beat me by a few years. I received my first contract on my fiftieth birthday. Tell us a little bit about where you live.Bobcopy_pp

I live in southern California, and that locale has certainly played a significant role in my two mystery novels, which are set in Los Angeles inside the film industry. I’m not a native Californian, but came here of my own volition almost thirty years ago. L.A. gets a bum rap, but there is so much about the city to recommend it—not just the weather—if you really get to know it. That’s the key: I think you really need to live here to understand this sprawling landscape. A tourist visit can’t capture its charms, many of which are hidden. Readers have told me that the books do convey those charms, as well as the quirks, of Los Angeles. I am always pleased to get that feedback, because I think of the books as love letters to the city—imperfect as that love may be.

I always enjoy a book more if the author takes the time to include the location as part of the story as if it’s another character. What are major themes or motifs in your work? Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?

Hm. If I think about it, I guess that all of my work, or at least my best work, is built on the belief that our expectations and plans in life do not always play out as we intend. Not regret, exactly, but the bittersweet realization that life is defined by compromises and decisions that we don’t—indeed, can’t—foresee when we are younger. It is always thrilling when a reader identifies something in a story that you didn’t realize was there. When they do, it underscores how much good writing is built on unconscious intentions and subtle execution rather than calculated or dictatorial narrative. A good writer shouldn’t tell a reader what to think.

What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process?

My greatest weakness, I think, is that I am easily distracted. I am curious about many things and always have more than one project on the back burners. Sometimes it is hard for me to focus and finish one. It seems I am often more interested in working on whatever book or story or play I am not working on at the time. Admittedly, it is a fractured approach. Not one I would recommend to aspiring writers.

Oh, I can relate. Distraction is my biggest weakness also and one I wish I could learn to control. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?

It is sage advice. One can only write well about what one knows. Of course, you can increase the parameters of what you know not only by living life to the fullest, but also by reading and researching. I think a good writer learns how to take what he or she “knows” as raw material and transform it into something larger. My novels, for instance, are set in Hollywood and certainly draw on my own experiences working in the film business, but they are not reportage. That would be too dull. I hope I have been able to use the essential truth of my own experience and knowledge to create something more interesting than what might actually have happened.

What is your VERB? (This is a big poster at a local mall) If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and you behavior or attitude, what would it be?

I don’t have a verb, but I do have a motto, spotted once on a bumper sticker, which is “Don’t Die Wondering.” I don’t want to go to my grave wondering what might have been. I think we should try things that interest us, even if we are afraid we might fail. And we might. But we don’t know until we try.

Another great answer and I love your motto! Any family influences? Memoirs in the making?

My father died very recently after a long illness and for some time I have toyed with the idea of writing about my experiences as a son wrestling with illness and loss. Right now, the emotions are still a little too raw, and, going back to what I said about writing what you know, I’m not sure that I would be able to turn my experience into anything worthwhile that others might want to read. But it is certainly on one of those aforementioned back burners.

After writing two books with my sister about a family member I can tell you it’s an eye-opening experience, to say the least. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

I do use a Kindle, but still prefer the old-fashioned bound book. But, that’s just personal preference. E-books are books. Mainstream publishers took a long time to embrace electronic publishing, but have finally come to the realization that many readers came to first: that it is just another means of conveying or delivering information. As a writer I just want people to read. I don’t care how they choose to do it.

As a writer and a teacher, I agree wholeheartedly with your answer—it doesn’t matter how they read, only that they are reading. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?

Well, I’ve told this story many times. My protagonist, Billy Winnetka, was born while I was driving on the freeway in Los Angeles and passed the exit for Winnetka Blvd. His name flashed through my head and right then and there I decided it was the name of a fictional detective. By the time I had driven the rest of the way home I had created the rough outline for the first book, The Wicked and the Dead. None of my characters is based directly on anyone I’ve known, but some of them certainly have characteristics of people I have known. I would say that many of them are composites, borrowing attributes from many people, but in the end fictional.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Robert! Readers, to learn more about Robert and his books, visit the following links:



Oak Tree Press blog:

Read my monthly book review column, “Well Read,” at

–Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Janet, and Happy New Year! Tell us about your latest book.

DEATH RIDES THE ZEPHYR is a historical mystery set in December 1952. That may not sound historical, but it was over 60 years ago. Most of the book takes place aboard an eastbound run of the train known as the California Zephyr. It was also called the Silver Lady, because of its shiny stainless steel cars. The train, a streamliner, was known for its luxurious amenities and service, and for its Vista-Domes, which gave passengers a 360-degree view of the scenery in the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. The Zephyr also had a female crew member, much like a stewardess, called a Zephyrette. The first time I found out about Zephyrettes, I knew I would write a mystery about one. The Zephyrettes did everything from make announcements and dinner reservations, to minor first aid and minding kids. They were expected to walk the train every few hours and assist passengers. The Zephyrette, by my reasoning, was just the person to observe behavior, collect clues, and solve a janetdawsonmystery! So all aboard the Silver Lady for an adventure with my protagonist, a Zephyrette named Jill McLeod.

–Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

I have written ten mysteries in a series featuring Jeri Howard, who is a private investigator in Oakland, California. The most recent is BIT PLAYER, which was published in 2011. I am now working on another Jeri Howard novel, with a working title of COLD TRAIL, with a pub date of spring 2015. Jeri’s mother and father have played roles in the previous books, and I’ve decided in this book to center the plot on Jeri’s younger brother. More than that, I will not say! As to what comes after that. I have the plot for another California Zephyr mystery featuring Jill tumbling around in my head, as well as half a short story. There are several other historical novels I’d like to do, some mystery and some not, plus a couple of contemporary mysteries.

–What is a typical writing day like for you?

Until the end of October, I was working full time. My day started at 4 AM, so I could put in an hour or so at the computer before going to work. I’d been doing that for over 30 years. I retired in November, so I’m still defining my days. I’ve taken some time off from writing to focus on Christmas preparation. A pattern is emerging, though. I get to my computer around 8:30 or 9 AM and write until mid-afternoon, then I go for a walk. I know when I get caught up in writing, several hours will go by in the blink of an eye.

–When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

I like to think I’m in control, but I never know. When I was writing the second Jeri Howard book, TILL THE OLD MEN DIE, I had figured on one character as the killer of two victims. However, in the course of writing the novel, another character began waving hands at me, saying, “I did it!”

–Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

I have done a lot of promotion during the 20-plus years since my first book came out. The landscape has changed so much. In years past I went to almost every convention, especially Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, and Left Coast Crime, which is held in the Western United States. I also did lots of booksignings, both here locally in the San Francisco Bay Area, and other locations in the country. I no longer do that. I got burned out and I’m not sure its effective any more. I do usually go to Left Coast, and am planning to go to Bouchercon in 2014 because it’s in California. But I’m no longer willing to drive 90 miles on a week night to do a signing, or fly to another city to do a couple of signings. I am also finding, like lots of writers, that doing a booksigning in a store has become less effective. I am involved in two blogs, one of my own and one for Perseverance Press authors. The blog are not so much for promotion as for me an opportunity to write short pieces on things I want to write about. I was on Twitter for a while but no longer. Just don’t get it. I’m also on Facebook but don’t check it very often. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best thing for me to do is write and get a lot of books and stories out there.

–What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?

Write what you know is fine, with one caveat. If you don’t know, then find out. I had always wanted to write a horse racing book, because I do enjoy them. I’d written a short story called “Witchcraft,” with a jockey as a protagonist. I like the character, Deakin Kelley, and I wanted to use him again, so I devised a plot for a Jeri Howard novel, A KILLING AT THE TRACK, with Deakin taking a strong supporting role. As I started the book, it became clear to me how little I knew about the business and sport of horse racing. I needed more information, the kind that couldn’t be gleaned solely from books and articles. Through a friend of a friend, I connected with a woman in the Bay Area who trains race horses. I spent several days following her around the track, getting the information I needed. I was very pleased when the book was favorably reviewed by California Thoroughbred, which said I’d done my homework well. I’ve had similar research experiences with other books. For janetdawson.DeathRidesTheZephyr_c1-highresDEATH RIDES THE ZEPHYR, it was very important to me to accurately portray the operations of the California Zephyr. I interviewed two former Zephyrettes, spent hours in the archives of railroad museum libraries, climbed around on trains, and even drove a locomotive. I was thrilled when a volunteer at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum told me I had both the history and the train stuff right.

–How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.

I’m a fiction writer. I write mysteries and historical fiction, two genres I like to read.

–Besides “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?

In years past, my “day job” has been everything from newspaper reporter, Navy journalist, Navy officer, legal secretary, to administrative assistant. Now that I’m retired, it’s writer. Also gardener, seamstress, birder and cat wrangler.

–Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries.

I don’t outline, much, but then what I do could be construed as an outline. When I’m starting a book, I’ve already been mulling over the ideas and characters, jotting down notes here and there, clipping articles from the newspaper or printing them from the Internet. When I finally sit down at the computer, I write whatever comes into my head, for several weeks. As that one document grows, it will contain plot ideas, character sketches as I get to know the people who populate the book, location information, notes to myself about what I need to research and scenes I need to include. Then I gradually begin shaping the document into a synopsis, a road map of where I’m going and hope to wind up. At this point I’ll have the start of a first chapter and pieces of various chapters, though I may not yet be sure in what order those chapters will go. Eventually, in the middle of writing a book, I’ll do another synopsis, a detailed chapter-by-chapter look at where I am so far. This generally helps me figure out where I need to go and what scenes I need to include to get me to the end.

–Where do you get your ideas?

I like to say they are in the air, like pollen. Frequently they will come from real-life events. The plot of my first Jeri Howard novel, KINDRED CRIMES, came from a murder case in Colorado, where I grew up. The second, TILL THE OLD MEN DIE, came from another Colorado case involving a missing professor. TAKE A NUMBER came from a case in Missouri where the murder victim was so disliked that there was no shortage of suspects. And my Monterey book, DON’T TURN YOUR BACK ON THE OCEAN, involved something I’d read about in the newspaper, pelican mutilations on the California Coast. The newspaper also provided a plot twist for BIT PLAYER, a small article I clipped out and kept, knowing I would use it one day. And sure enough, I did. The idea for DEATH RIDES THE ZEPHYR came from the train itself, the old California Zephyr, and learning about Zephyrettes. The ideas can come from anywhere. What I do is grab hold and follow along for the ride.

–Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

I have a Kindle, which was a gift to me. From the standpoint of a reader who used to travel with five or six paperbacks (didn’t want to run out of anything to read), now I carry the Kindle loaded with all sorts of books. Much (but not all) of my new book purchases are electronic. I’m one of those readers who has run out of places to put books. As a writer, I really like electronic publishing. It has given me the opportunity to get my entire backlist of Jeri Howard novels, plus all 12 of my short stories, out there for readers. I anticipate publishing my California Zephyr short story electronically, once I finish it.

–How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?

Frequently the characters show up in my head and I realize I have to put them in my books. Sometimes a character who was supposed to play a peripheral role becomes more important during the course of a book. I allow myself time to explore the character and their quirks and this helps me write fully realized characters. I don’t usually base characters on people I know. However, I will say that the murder victim in my Jeri Howard novel, TAKE A NUMBER, is based on an old boyfriend, and yes, I really enjoyed killing him off.

My website:

My blog, Got It Write:

The Perseverance Press blog, Get It Write:


Welcome, Nancy. Tell us about your latest book, Mags and the AARP Gang.

Mags200x300I’d written three books in the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series and was working on the fourth, but about half way through The Widow’s Walk League, in my mind this pesky old woman started telling me to take a time out and write about her. She and her octogenarian friends decided to rob the bank that was about to foreclose on their mobile home park to pay off the mortgage and things ― well ― things got out of hand. She was funny and quirky. I made her wait until I finished the mystery, but then I gave her free reign and wrote Mags and the AARP Gang.

How fun. I love it when my characters talk to me. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

Much as I loved Mags, I missed Regan, Tom, and Dave. Regan, a Realtor who swears she’s not going to play amateur sleuth again, has a logical husband, Tom Kiley, who tries to explain why her flights of fancy about murder mustn’t be right. I enjoy writing about the way their minds work together, but I especially enjoy writing scenes with Dave, Regan’s long suffering best friend whose official title is Santa Cruz Police Department Ombudsman, and all that her antics put him through. It was time to get back to them. The book I’m working on now, The Murder House, should be out right about now.

I think I already know the answer to this question, but I’ll ask it anyway; when you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

Oh, what a question. I like to think I am, but then they tell me something I didn’t know. The worst (best) case was the murderer in Backyard Bones. I changed my mind about who the killer was two thirds of the way through the book. No problem, I thought; before continuing, I’ll just go back and put clues about the murderer’s identity in the right places. When I went back, the clues were already there. It felt like the murderer was playing me just like Regan was being played by him.

Like I said, I love it when my characters talk to me but when they start messing with my mind, that’s a little spooky! How long have you been writing?

I began writing in 2008; I never had any aspirations to be a writer before then. Writing began as a time filling game when I took a time-out from selling real estate after the market collapsed; boredom was my motivation for writing.  I wrote The Death Contingency, put it on a shelf, and started on Backyard Bones, never intending for the books to be published.

That changed when a friend, a woman who worked at writing every day for years, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Charlotte had always surrounded herself with critique circles, mentors, and writing instructors and groups who sidetracked her enough that she never finished anything she wrote.  She said her one remaining desire in life was to see her name in print. You could say she was the biggest influence in my writing career. My first book was dedicated to her and got published so she could see her name in print.

Lovely story, Nancy, and a very loving thing to do for your friend. What do you consider theNancy200x300 single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

Without a doubt it’s meeting other writers and discovering we have shared experiences. But I’ve had so many adventures I would never have had in life if I didn’t start writing and “met” people from all over the world because of the books which is wonderful, too. It’s also pretty amazing when someone writes a good review, or stops me and says, “I love your books. I’ve read all of them.”

Being a writer is definitely an adventure—with or without the other writers! Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

I was a Realtor for twenty-five years ― all Realtors say they could write a book, I just do. I’m also the sort of person who can’t have dinner in a restaurant without making up stories about all the other patrons.

I watch people and what they do and then steal from them. When I was trying to figure out how Mags and her gang could gently rob a bank, I sat in my bank to think about it. A woman came in and caused such a commotion that everyone in the bank focused on her. She created a perfect diversion and became the distraction Mags used so customers wouldn’t know the bank was being robbed…at least until everything went wrong.

I’m a people-watcher, too, and I’d say most writers are How many hours a day do you write, where, any specific circumstances help or hurt your process?

I am the world’s laziest most undisciplined writer. I have no routine. I only write when the mood moves me. I do, however, think about the plot and dialogue constantly, especially when I’m driving. I hope I never hurt anyone because my mind is elsewhere.

I’m with you. When I try to set up a schedule and stick to it, that’s usually when I can’t accomplish anything so I avoid that at all times, if possible. How do you classify yourself as a writer?

Book-covers-1Although the book covers may not suggest it, my books are cozy mysteries. The books are set in a small community, there’s a female amateur sleuth, there’s a body in the first chapter, little graphic violence or sex, and the books have nicely resolved and satisfying conclusions. Even Mags follows that pattern although it’s not exactly a mystery.

Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?

Mysteries were. I read all the Nancy Drew books before I discovered The Hardy Boys, which I liked much better. But I was a good reader at an early age and bored by most age-appropriate books. My grandmother was a lover of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers as well as some pretty dreadful true crime novels. She let me read her books even though my mother would never have approved.

Oh, yeah, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, they were a major part of every child’s life back when I was growing up. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

I have a love-hate relationship with my Kindle. It’s not a book. I love the way books feel and smell. I love turning real book pages and being able to find and return to a passage I didn’t know I would want to read again, and therefore, didn’t bookmark. I like that when I fall asleep while reading a real book in bed, I won’t suffer a plastic crash injury. But…there’s nothing like the instant gratification of going to the computer at ten o’clock at night, pushing a couple of keys, and having a new book to read.

As a writer, I know significantly more of my books have been read because they are published electronically as well as in print, so I have to be pleased with it.

I love the feel of a book in my hands and I have some favorite “comfort reads” that I refuse to read as an e-book but as you said, the convenience of an e-reader is a big plus. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?

My characters usually start out as someone I know. I’m a visual writer: I need to see what, and who, I’m writing. Most characters start out with their own names and mannerisms, too, but in the course of writing them, their names and personalities change to suit the characters in my books.

What’s your attitude toward the standard advice: write what you know?

For me, that’s the only way I can write. I so admire J.K. Rowlings for being able to create the world of Harry Potter. I could never do that. I write about what I know well, and then have fun embellishing like crazy.

Thanks so much for joining the Dames today, Nancy, and for sharing a bit of your writing journey with us. Readers, to find out more about Nancy and  her books, visit her website, Good Read Mysteries.

Watch for Nancy’s latest installment in the Regan McHenry Real Estate mystery series, The Murder House. Coming in January!

The Murder House

Every community has a house that people walk by hurriedly, nervously peeking at it out of the corner of their eye. Bonny Doon is no exception. A bloody double homicide occurred in the Murder House almost twenty years ago and the killer has eluded capture ever since. Recently the house was inherited and the new owner wants to sell.

The problem is no one wants to buy a house with a reputation and reports that it’s home to ghosts. The seller thinks Realtor Regan McHenry would make a perfect listing agent ― after all; with her penchant for playing amateur sleuth, she’s no stranger to murder.

This is the perfect book for you to read if you don’t believe in ghosts — and an even better book to read if you do.





When I decided to follow my dream and write mysteries I went with the old adage of write what you know and love. Kids and husband is fine in real life but downright boring in books so instead I went with my job and favorite vacation spot.

Savannah, Georgia, by Duffy Brown

Savannah, Georgia, by Duffy Brown

I adore Savannah, Georgia, and I work in an upscale consignment shop. That’s how the series Consignment Shop mysteries got started.

     Consignment shopping is the fun of wearing designer clothes on the cheap. I could never afford a Coach handbag or an Armani jacket but I do love the expensive look and great quality. Most of all I love bragging to my friends how much I paid! The conversation goes something like, “Oh, isn’t that a great Kate Spade purse.” And my reply is, “I got it at the Snooty Fox for forty bucks!” instead of the usual three-hundred and fifty!

     For years I shopped consignment stores then decided I needed to work at the Snooty Fox since I was there all the time looking for deals. My kids were some of the best-dressed on campus and I did it for K-Mart prices.



Don’t you love the name Snooty Fox! The Snoot is an upscale consignment shop. How many times have you bought something, wore it once, decided it wasn’t your color or didn’t fit the way you liked and you were stuck with it? Well, that’s where the Snooty Fox comes in. You can sell your green plaid jacket that you just had to have but then decided you hated at the Snoot. There is a customer out there who will love that jacket and pay you good money for it.

     How this works is that you open an account and hand over your clothes. The Snoot chooses which clothes they will take…it’s called Snooty for a reason, we only take the good stuff. The clothes must be cleaned, pressed, on a hanger, gently worn, in very good condition, and within a two-year style period. The price is a third to a fourth of retail and you get half of that when the item sells. Not a bad deal for something hanging in the back of your closet that you’re never going to wear again!

     Consignment shopping is a lot like solving a mystery. It’s all about the hunt for the perfect scarf, skirt or shoes. I think that’s why the Consignment Shop mysteries seemed like a perfect fit. The hunt is on!



     I’m always amazed at where someone’s hobby or special interest leads them. I have a friend who loves to paint and is now doing murals on nursery room walls. Another friend loves to dance, took lessons and met her future husband at an Anther Murray studio? My neighbor loves to talk and give advice and is now a deacon at church and listens to everyone’s problems.

     My cousin is neat-freak…a gene I didn’t inherit. Her place is eat-off-the-floor clean and she turned that obsession into a maid service.

So what about you and your hobbies or special interests? Did you meet a best friend doing your hobby? Your mate at a painting class? Visit a new place? Get an award for perfecting your hobby or even teach a class on it?

     Hobbies enriched our lives and often take us to different places in our lives we never expected…like a murder mystery series. Who would have thought!

Mysteries by Duffy Brown

Mysteries by Duffy Brown

I’ll give away two Killer in Crinoline totes from the answers.  Happy Reading.

Berkley Prime Crime  Mystery and Mayhem for Fun and Profit

Welcome to the Dames of Dialogue, Helen. Tell us about your latest book, Invitation to Die.

InvitationtoDieInvitation to Die is the first full-length novel in my new British murder mystery series. It’s an entertaining read featuring an amateur sleuth, twenty-six-year-old Emily Castles. When a murder takes place at a romance author’s conference in Bloomsbury, London, Emily teams up with eccentric philosophy professor Dr. Muriel to investigate.

The paperback and ebook were published in May this year. The audio CD was released yesterday, 15th October, narrated by award-winning actor Alison Larkin.

Sounds intriguing. I’ll be sure to add it to my TBR list. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

The follow-up, Beyond Belief, will be published in January 2014. It’s set in Torquay, England. A famous magician has offered £50,000 to anyone who can prove the existence of the paranormal during the Belief and Beyond conference that takes place in Torquay over the Easter weekend. When a celebrated psychic predicts that the magician will die that weekend, Emily and Dr. Muriel investigate.

I love series book which only makes Invitation to Die (love that title, by the way!) more appealing. What is a typical writing day like for you?

I’m trying to be healthy and take some exercise every day because writing is so sedentary. I have promised myself that a typical writing day will begin with a swim. After that, I’ll spend about five hours writing and an hour or two on emails and admin. The truth is that my days can vary wildly, depending on how the writing’s going. I need to spend less time doing more. But I think we all feel that, no matter what kind of job we do.

Less time doing more, yes, that’s a problem for almost every author I know. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

For me, promotion means meeting people in a sociable, fun environment – whether in real life or online  –  and giving them the opportunity to discover my books, with no pressure to buy. I enjoy doing it.

I give readings and participate in panel discussions at book festivals and other literary events, including crime conventions like CrimeFest and Bouchercon. I have hosted a popular event called The Literary Cabaret at book festivals in London, programming a mix of readings from award-winning authors interspersed with music from our house band. I have also taken part in Literary Death Match: four authors read from their books and are judged on literary merit, performance and intangibles. I have been a judge and a participating author, and was delighted to win my event. It was a lot of fun –I have a medal to prove that I’m a Literary Death Match champion!

Facebook, Twitter and blogs provide an online opportunity to “meet” and interact with people from all over the world, even when they can’t get to London to hear me read. I’m very grateful to book bloggers for hosting me on their sites and giving me the opportunity to connect with their readers by doing interviews and guest posts like this one.

Wow, you’re a busy woman. I admire your energy and drive. How long have you been writing?HelenSmithauthorphoto

I started my first novel when I was about ten years old, with the world-weary feeling that I had already “left it too late” to make my mark on the literary scene – I was right, too, because it never did get published. In my teens, I made a plan to live an interesting life and then settle down to write when I was thirty, which is what I did. I traveled all over the world with my daughter. And then I came back to London and started writing my first book, which was published a few years later.

All I can say is congratulations for your determination. I often say my biggest regret is that I waited so long to get serious about my writing. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

It makes me really happy if someone tells me one of my books made them laugh.

Love that answer! Tell us a little bit about where you live.

I live in London, where most of my books are set. It’s an extraordinarily inclusive, ethnically-diverse city with a rich literary heritage and I’m fortunate to live here.

London is in the top five on my list of places I’d like to visit someday. Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?

I loved reading when I was a child. The books I read had such a profound effect on me that I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. My favorite authors included Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, Mary Norton and Joan Aiken.

All wonderful authors. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

I find inspiration in the things around me. My books usually start as a “what if…”

Ah, the old “what if?” game. I play that all the time and it’s an excellent way to get your writing going. What is your VERB? (This is a big poster at a local mall) If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and your behavior or attitude, what would it be?


Good one! I don’t believe we’ve ever gotten that answer before. Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries.

I make plenty of notes before I start. I always know how the book will progress, including the beginning, the middle and the end, together with most of the major plot points. I use a document on my computer as a notebook and I work up ideas and revise blocks of text in it before transferring them to the manuscript. I only count the words that go into the manuscript in my daily word count, so sometimes the total can be quite low.

A very organized—and probably effective—way to write. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

Yes, I have a Kindle and I love it. Electronic publishing is a fantastic innovation. People are buying and reading more books and the author gets a cut of royalties on every sale. Electronic books are reasonably priced and easy to download. What’s more, they will never go out of print. It’s a revolution and it’s good news for all of us, whether readers or writers.

I agree wholeheartedly, Helen. Thanks so much for joining us today and giving us a brief insight into your life as a writer. The Dames hope you’ll come back and visit us often!

Want to find out more about Helen and her books? Visit the following links:

My books on |
Facebook author page:

Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Morgan. Let’s start with what everyone wants to know, information about your latest book.

Well, actually there are two, released within weeks of each other and both dealing with women in jeopardy. LA BELLA MAFIA is the astonishing true story of Bella Capo, a woman who has survived enough for ten lives and landed on her feet. The abused child of a power broker with mob ties, she became a power herself in the club and after-hours club life along Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, later became a white woman boss in the Crips and now devotes her life to helping abuse victims and those in jeopardy through the online movement La Bella Mafia. An unbelievable read that I co-authored with true crime writer Dennis N. Griffin. Release date October 15.

Then, BETRAYED, a work of fiction inspired by events that really did happen in the late 1950s through the 1960s. The entire first part was inspired by morganstjamesthose events, and the rest is pure fiction. However, the parts inspired by the true events are fictionalized and author’s license is taken, unlike the true story of Bella Capo.

Laurel Murphy, a teenaged ballet protégé is kidnapped, sold into a high class brothel where she is severely beaten and left for dead. But she doesn’t die and has to rebuild her spirit and her life, all the while harboring a desire for revenge and dealing with horrendous nightmares and flashbacks. She thought she had it all together with a new family and successful career in the theater. Then the unthinkable happened and a ghost from her past was seen by accident, forcing Laurel to face her demons. The Kindle is currently available on Amazon and the paperback will be released by the end of October.

I’ve read LA BELLA MAFIA and it’s a powerfully written book. BETRAYED sounds intriguing as well. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

I’m working on another true story with Dennis N. Griffin that is told by the daughter of a Las Vegas character who was a mob member and a favorite of celebrities. Those who knew his public personality thought he was a great lighthearted guy and fun to be with. Behind closed doors, his family knew different and were constantly exposed to his dark side. When one mentions his name to Las Vegas long-timers, a wealth of stories are told—some funny, some absolutely shocking.

Phyllice and I are also writing the fourth Silver Sisters Mystery, DIAMONDS IN THE DUMPSTER, and this time the twin’s 80 year old mother and uncle, feisty former vaudeville magicians who love to dress in disguise and go undercover, have featured parts. So many readers told us how much they love Flossie and Sterling that we listened to them and cast the oldsters in the lead this time.

Well, you’ve got my interest with your next book! And for those who haven’t read your Silver Sisters Mystery series, Flossie and Sterling are a hoot! What is a typical writing day like for you?

I watch the news while drinking my coffee and have a bit of breakfast. Sometimes items in the new will grab me and I mentally file those away for the future or if something really intrigues me I’ll hit the record on the DVR. I usually go up to my office around 9:30 or 10:00 and tell myself that I’ll write for an hour or two. Because I always have so many balls in the air, at least two or three projects in process at any given time, I generally forget to eat lunch and remember somewhere around 3:00. The writing is interspersed with Facebook posts, LinkedIn posts, Tweets and keeping my websites up to date, as that is one of the most time consuming things an author must do to keep their books visible.

Then I take a break and back to the computer. I’ll generally work until anywhere from 5:00 to 7:00. I’m a very prolific writer and accomplish a lot. I’ve been asked for one word to describe me and I think if you look up “workaholic” you’ll find my name.

Prolific certainly fits you! When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

For the most part it is me because I’m an analytical person and like to see the road ahead of me. However, every once in a while a character will catch me unaware and literally lead me down the path they have chosen. For example, I won’t give away what happened in this case, but the father-in-law in BETRAYED really took me by surprise. There I was tapping away at the keys and he revealed all kinds of things I didn’t know about him and actually made the storyline take a turn that I believe truly improved it.

When they want to speak, you have to hear what they have to say.

Oh, I agree with that. How long have you been writing?

My first published magazine article was back in the late 1970s. I wrote magazine and newspaper articles until the mid 90s when my sister, also a published writer, and I decided to create our own mystery series and the Silver Sisters Mysteries and all of the zany characters who populate them, came into being. However, the first Silver Sisters caper wasn’t published until 2006.

I still write many newspaper and magazine articles, and have written over 500 related to the writer’s world about techniques and the people populating it.

 I co-wrote a book with my sister Cyndi (aka Caitlyn Hunter) and it was such a great experience. We’re presently working on the sequel and I love working with her. Since your series continues, I’d say it’s the same with you. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

I love to share my ideas with my readers and make my characters come to life—not like paper doll cutouts but like real people. Many readers have told me they feel like they want to really know my characters and wish they were real.

Since I give workshops and appear on panels, I also love to share what I’ve learned through the years with both aspiring and published writers whether in person or through my articles in or my book Writers’ Tricks of the Trade.

I’m a strong believer in paying it forward and love knowing authors who do the same. Tell us a little bit about where you live.

Until February I had a foot in Marina Del Rey CA and the other in Las Vegas NV. Then after ten years of doing this, and practically considering the 15 Freeway my third home,  Las Vegas became my full-time home. I’ve loved Las Vegas since I began doing business in Sin City in variety of capacities back in the mid 80s and actually did move here once in right at the time of Desert Storm. Unfortunately, business in Las Vegas was pretty devastated by that first Iraq war and I went back to L.A. with my tail between my legs and relatively broke.

Most people picture the Strip as being what Las Vegas is like, and want to know things like how I like living in hotels, etc. I live in a beautiful residential community about 20 minutes from the Strip that is just like any other planned community. The people are friendly and we really do have grocery stores, movie theaters, big box stores like Target and Costco, restaurants—you get the picture. In other words, once you leave the Strip it’s like a big city with a friendly small town mentality.

morganstjames.labellamafiaI’ve never been to Vegas and that’s good to know. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?

It definitely helps. It is difficult sometimes to write about places or circumstances that you have not personally experienced. Why? Because it is easy to get it wrong if you don’t research properly. Don’t just rely on the internet, but speak to people who have either been to places you refer to or done the things you include in your stories.

For example, I spent many years as an interior designer and absolutely cringed when I read a mystery that was set at the Hi Point Furniture Market in Hi Point, No. Carolina. The author got so many things wrong I couldn’t believe it. Someone who didn’t know that business might have assumed that’s how it is, but anyone who was savvy could only chuckle or shake their head while reading some of the bizarre assumptions and scenes.

Any family influences? Memoirs in the making?

Actually, two memoirs are “in the made.” That is to say they are in publication. When my mom was 80 I encouraged her to write her memoir so we wouldn’t lose all the wonderful stories about growing up in the early 1900s as the youngest and tenth child in a zany immigrant family. Laughter carried her through all of her nearly 97 years. She was proud of her manuscript but passed away in 2006 well before CAN WE COME IN AND LAUGH, TOO? was published. She missed her 97th birthday by about 4 months.

As for me, and I loved writing this one: CONFESSIONS OF A COUGAR is the mostly true story of basically coming of age at 42. A friend and I had three glorious weeks in England and during that time had some very fun adventures and met all sorts of young, luscious Englishmen. To find out more, you’ll have to read the book.

So sad your mom passed before the book was published. Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?

My father died when I was 17 and my sister was 12, but my mother was an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction and it rubbed off on both of us. When I was in the 2nd grade, I was reading at 8th grade level, and literally devoured books. I still read one or two books a week and listen to a ton of audio books while driving.

I can’t imagine my life without holding a book or ebook in my hands. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?

Somehow people I know often creep into my characters. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve done that until I’m re-reading sections or proofing and recognize them waving at me from the pages. Other times I create composites based on several people I know.

In BETRAYED the character of Vince was inspired someone I adored for many years who passed away too soon. I memorialized him in the character of Vince with no parts of anyone else and captured as many of his traits and sayings as possible. And, yes, often your characters speak to you in your head. Vince said thanks, how did you know I was perfect for the part? Among the many things he did in his life the person Vince was modeled after was an actor at one time.

Oh, that’s interesting. Any books on writing you have found most helpful? Or classes you’ve taken?

In 2005 I took a class called “Machete Editing” that forever changed the way I looked at editing in a fantastically good way. I used many of the things I learned in some of the chapters of Writers’ Tricks of the Trade.

Books I’ve personally found extremely helpful are “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Renni Brown and Dave King; “The Frugal Book Promoter,” by Carolyn Howard-Johnson; “The Synonym Finder,” by J. I Rodale; and “Don’t Sabotage Your Submission,” by Chris Roerden, just to name a few. I made it a point to put a bibliography in Writers’ Tricks of the Trade of books I’ve personally used and learned from for more in-depth looks at many topics I touch upon in the chapters.

I devour Chris’s books – they’re well-written and informative. I was excited she used me as a sample in “Don’t Sabotage your Submission”.  “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” is a book I refer to quite often. And Carolyn Howard-Johnson is a great resource for writers. She’s written several good books about writing.

Thanks for joining us today, Morgan. Here’s a short bio about Morgan and her works:

MORGAN ST. JAMES – Author/Speaker/Columnist


Award-winning author Morgan St. James has ten published books to her credit and with the latest, La Bella Mafia, a true crime book co-authored with Dennis Griffin and Bella Capo (whose story it is), due for release October 15 she joins the authors at Houdini Publishing.

Also scheduled for release at the end of October is a haunting story inspired by true incidents. Find out more about Betrayed, at

In addition to books she has written on her own, Morgan’s funny crime caper’s include the recent government embezzlement scam Who’s Got the Money?  and the comical Silver Sisters Mysteries series co-authored with her real-life sister More information about these books can be found on

She has written over 500 published articles related to writing and frequently presents workshops, appears on author’s panels and moderates panels Her book Writers Tricks of the Trade launched a bi-monthly eZine for writers of the same name.


Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Terry! Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

What’s coming next is a sequel to “Photo Finish.” The new book, “Kauai Temptations.” begins when Wilson McKenna returns from a visit to LA to terryambrosediscover a batch of returned check notices in his mail. McKenna has never written a bad check in his life. So how did he end up with $4,000 in returned checks on an island he’s never been to? He knows one thing, make that two, the bank wants their money, and he’s going to Kauai to track down the crook who stole his checks. Before you can say “welcome to the island,” he’s almost arrested for impersonating himself, the woman who trashed his credit turns up dead, and McKenna feels like he’s up to his waiûpaka in hot lava. After all, some temptations can get you killed.

That sounds like an intriguing book. What is a typical writing day like for you?

Oh, would I love to have a typical writing day! My typical day starts around 6 am. If I’m lucky and don’t have a huge project from our business to work on, I’ll be able to start some editing at that time. However, if I’ve got a project, which happens a lot, that becomes programming time. By around 8 or so, I’ll knock off for a while and then come back to deal with email, which is what kicks off the chaos that destroys any semblance of “normal.” In any case, by the end of the day, I’ve found time to squeeze in time on social media, grabbed a couple of hours to write, worked my way through my “to-do” list, and hopefully done what it takes to keep my little world in balance.

Social media gets me every time. I constantly vow to get away from that but never seem to be able to. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

I tend to operate best when I’m letting the characters take control. Before I write a scene, I let the POV character give a first-person account of what he or she wants. Once I know what their goal is, I can better channel my writing to deal with that.

Oh, I like that. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

I’m a big fan of T. Jefferson Parker. His writing style is crisp and clean, his choice of words precise. Another writer who amazes me is Sue Grafton. Her ability to make each of the Kinsey Millhone books different from those before it demonstrates a talent and dedication many writers lack. She, too, isn’t afraid to try something new and just shows how good she is with every book she writes.

I’ve always liked Sue Grafton. I think she, along with Linda Barnes and later Janet Evanovich, paved the way for the popularity of books about women sleuths. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

Other than the usual social media stuff, which I find to be remarkably ineffective for the amount of time required, I find the best way for me to promote is to get in front of people. I write three columns for in hopes of getting my name before different markets. I’m also working with a publicist to find ways to expand the ways I connect with new readers.

Smart. How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing for more than 25 years.

Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

terryamborse.photofinishOver the years, critique groups have had a big influence on my writing, but perhaps the biggest single influence was the editor I dealt with on my first two books. The reason I consider him to be the single biggest influence is that I was just learning how to write fiction. I thought I knew, but really, I had everything wrong. He helped me understand what I was doing wrong and put me on the right path.

Editors are valuable to the publishing process. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

Bringing people enjoyment is what satisfies me most. That’s why I love using humor in my novels. The McKenna Mystery series, which is set in Hawaii, is written in a way that, I hope, touches people. I hope they laugh at the predicaments McKenna gets himself into and I hope they feel they’ve escaped by reading about Hawaii.

Tell us a little bit about where you live.

We live in the San Diego area overlooking a golf course. I love the view and since we re-landscaped our back yard last year, that’s become a very relaxing place. If I can’t go outside, I can gaze out the window and regain focus by seeing the tranquility.

Sounds calming. Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?

The earliest authors I remember reading on my own were Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. They had me thinking about the stars and science and sparked an interest in science. I’m fascinated to this day by those same subjects, but have also have become intrigued by how people communicate. That interest plays out in my novels as my characters influence other characters actions and read their reactions.

Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

Inspiration is everywhere. It can come in the choice of words, the inflections, or body language of two people. For me, it usually takes a combination of two or three incidents that occur close to each other and are all somehow related. Sometimes it’s just visiting a place. On our last trip to Kauai, we walked along a path we’d never been on before and came across a huge structure that extends out of a cliff. Below the structure, 50 feet or more feet down, is the ocean, crashing against rocks. It was a former crane used to bring in supplies (as near as I can tell—I’m still tracking it down). That structure is on the cover for “Kauai Temptations” and inspired a critical scene in the book.

What are major themes or motifs in your work? Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?

In “Photo Finish,” the story was all about McKenna finding redemption for things he’d done 5 years earlier. In “License to Lie,” the theme was trust. The tag line was “Never trust a soul…even your own.” The underlying human issue in “Kauai Temptations” is greed. I like writing to an issue because it keeps me on target.

If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?

A dream chat for me would be with Sue Grafton. As I said earlier, she’s one of my favorite authors. But, if I were to choose someone who’s not an terryamborse.licensetolieauthor, I’d love to talk to Bernie Madoff. I’d love to know if he saw himself as a con man or was he thinking he could actually make his scheme work?

Okay, Bernie Madoff – first time we’ve gotten this answer but I think that would be one interesting conversation. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?

I think that’s BS. I think it should be “write what you want to know.” Whether you want to write about macrame or a trip to a distant galaxy or an amateur sleuth in Hawaii, the resources are available to learn. Human beings were born to learn; once we stop, we’re as good as dead.

I love that answer! How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or nonfiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.

I love writing both fiction and nonfiction. Whether I’m investigating a recent scam and writing an article to educate others or working on a scene in a novel that has to be drop-dead funny, I’m in the moment.

Beside “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?

I’m a web designer/programmer. We have a product I programmed from the ground up and license that to Kiwanis clubs. We also have a small number of custom clients for whom I’ve implemented WordPress websites.

Thanks for joining us today for a fun interview, Terry! For more information about Terry:

Terry’s newsletter (love it!):

Stitch_Me_Deadly“Fans of the genre will take kindly to Marcy, her Irish wolfhound, Angus O’Ruff, and Tallulah Falls. This is a fast, pleasant read with prose full of pop culture references and, of course, sharp needlework puns.”  – Publishers Weekly

Chapter One

I stepped out of MacKenzies’ Mochas, the charming brown-brick coffee shop and café owned by my best friend, Sadie MacKenzie, and her husband, Blake. I clutched my jacket to me with one hand and my so far unsipped chamomile tea with the other. My throat had been getting scratchy, so I’d taken the opportunity to sprint over–their shop was just down the street from my embroidery specialty shop–at the first break in the rain.

I shivered. Even though it was only sprinkling now, it was a cold rain. But, then, who would expect tropical rain on the Oregon coast in January?

I spotted an elderly woman, dressed in black and carrying a bright yellow umbrella, making her way slowly to my shop, the Seven-Year Stitch. I quickened my step.

“I’m coming!” I called. I reached the door just before she did. As I held it open, I felt relieved that I’d put Angus, my Irish wolfhound, in the bathroom before stepping out. Had he bounded toward me in his usual fashion, this poor diminutive woman might have had a heart attack.

It’s rare that, at five foot nothing, I’m able to think of anyone other than a child as diminutive. But this woman was stooped and frail; and perhaps it was due to her black attire, but her skin had a deathly pallor.

“Thank you,” she said breathlessly, lowering her umbrella and stepping into the shop. She placed the umbrella in the corner. “May I sit?”

I followed her gaze to the seating area. “Of course.”

I took her elbow, fearing she might fall, and guided her to the Seven-Year Stitch sit-and-stitch area. It had two overstuffed navy sofas that faced each other. An oval maple coffee table sat between the sofas on a navy, red, and white braided rug. Red club chairs with matching ottomans completed the cozy square.

I helped the lady sit on one of the chairs. “Are you feeling all right?”

“I’m a bit light-headed is all.”

“Would you like some chamomile tea? It might help.”

She nodded weakly. “Yes…please.”

I removed the top and handed her the tea.

Her hand shook as she brought the hot liquid to her lips. She took one sip and then another before lowering the cup and speaking. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Is there anyone I can call for you?”

She shook her head. “I’ll be fine momentarily.” She sipped the tea again. “I’m Louisa Ralston, and I’m here to implore you to help me find ivy.”

I didn’t want it to appear as if I were hovering, so I sat on the edge of the navy sofa to Mrs. Ralston’s right. “What sort of ivy?”

She handed me back the tea, and I set it on a coaster on the coffee table. She opened her purse–a quilted black Chanel–and removed something wrapped in layers of white tissue paper. Then with trembling hands, she carefully unwrapped the tissue to reveal an embroidery sampler.

I drew in my breath. It was exquisite…and it was old. I’d say it was circa mid- to late 1800s.

“It’s gorgeous,” I said.

“Thank you, dear. My great-grandmother…made it…passed it down through the family for…” Her breathing became more laborious. “Please…help…find…ivy.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, or why she’d come to my shop, but now didn’t seem like the time to split hairs. The poor thing really seemed to be in ill health. “Of course, I will, Mrs. Ralston. But, please, won’t you let me call someone to come and get you until you’re feeling better?”

She leaned forward as if to retrieve her tea and collapsed onto the floor.

I dropped to my knees beside her. “Mrs. Ralston?” I patted her hand. “Can you stand? Maybe I can help you move to this sofa until paramedics arrive.”

No response. And her hand was limp. I hurried to the counter, called 911, and explained the situation. The dispatcher instructed me not to try to move Mrs. Ralston and promised that emergency technicians would be there shortly.

I could hear Angus barking and whining in the bathroom, but I knew better than to let him out until after the paramedics had already come and gone. I also knew speaking to him to try to reassure him would only make things worse.

I returned to Mrs. Ralston’s side and continued trying to revive her. She was unconscious but breathing, and her pulse revealed a weak, irregular heartbeat.

Please hurry, EMTs.

Although it seemed to take forever, the paramedics arrived within ten minutes. Within fifteen, they’d given Mrs. Ralston oxygen, begun monitoring her vital signs, and loaded her into an ambulance en route to the emergency room. I had to hand it to Tallulah Falls’ emergency medical service professionals. They were excellent at their jobs.

I opened the bathroom door, and Angus jumped up on his hind legs to give me a hug. When he does that, he’s a foot taller than I am. I hugged him and told him what a good boy he was.

He dropped back on all fours, retrieved his chew toy, and trotted into the shop. Before he could discover the open container of chamomile tea and spill it all over my braided rug, I hurried to the sitting area and got the cup and Mrs. Ralston’s sampler. I placed the sampler on the counter and went to the bathroom to pour the remainder of the tea down the sink before tossing the cup into the garbage.

I returned to the counter and sat down on a stool. Standing near the cash register was Jill, who’s a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe.

I sighed. “Rough morning, eh, Jill?”

She simply smiled like she didn’t have a care in the world. That was because she didn’t. She was a mannequin, and she would smile even if the building were burning down around her.

Maybe I should paint a permanent smile on my face.

Batman’s archvillain, the Joker, sprang to mind.

Er, maybe not.

I picked up the phone and called Sadie. After explaining the situation, I asked if she’d mind watching the store and Angus for just a few minutes while I went to the hospital to check on Mrs. Ralston and return her sampler. Sadie said she’d be over as soon as she helped Blake get some tables cleaned up.

As I waited, I studied the sampler. It had the alphabet in Victorian-style letters–both upper- and lowercase–at the top, followed by the numbers one through ten. In the center of the sampler were a primitive house and trees, the kind of artwork you might find on a child’s stencil.

The sides were little squares made to look like quilt blocks, and at the bottom was a verse:

His friends were those of his own blood or those whom he had known the longest; his affections, like ivy, were the growth of time, they implied no aptness in the object.

I realized I’d love to make a pattern for it and stitch a copy to display in the shop.

I looked around at the pieces currently on display, all of which I’d made myself. The candlewick pillows on the sofas, dolls wearing dresses I’d sewn and embroidered, finished cross-stitch and needlework projects for every holiday and every season…. One more sampler couldn’t hurt.

Besides, a copy of this sampler would not only be beautiful, but it would also have historical significance. I could put a plaque with the finished piece giving a brief history of embroidery samplers in general and an account of this particular sampler. Maybe Mrs. Ralston would let me do that in memory of her great-grandmother. I planned on asking her when I visited her at the hospital.

I gently folded the sampler back into the tissue paper, taking care because the thread was faded and the cloth was delicate. I realized this beautiful piece of history should be framed and hanging in a museum somewhere. I made a mental note to suggest that to Mrs. Ralston…after I asked permission to copy the pattern.

Sadie strode through the door with a tall cup in her hand. “Your tea” she said, pushing back her hood to reveal  her dark hair. “Since you gave yours to the sick customer.”

I accepted the steaming cup gratefully. “Thank you so much.”

“Besides, you’ll need it to knock the chill off. The rain is coming down pretty hard again.”

“Thanks,” I said again. “I’ll be back as quickly as I can, Sadie.”

“Take your time. Things are slow at the shop this morning. I’ll have much more fun over here playing with Angus.”

At the sound of his name, Angus dropped his chew toy and loped over to Sadie. She vigorously scratched his head.

“By the way,” Sadie said, as I started out the door, “your tea came from the same pot as your customer’s. So if you start feeling queasy, call me, would you?”

“Yeah…and thanks for that shot of paranoia.” I hadn’t even thought that the tea could have had anything to do with Mrs. Ralston’s collapse.

“Well, hey, I’m just trying to be on the safe side.”

“The ‘safe side’ would’ve poured the tea out if there were any concerns about it,” I said, “not given it to the ‘safe side’s’ best friend.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I tasted yours, and it seems fine. Besides, you did say the old gal was sickly, which was why you gave her your tea in the first place.”

“Good point. I’m sure everything is fine…with the tea and with Mrs. Ralston.”

That statement would come back to haunt me–and to remind me that one was seldom “sure” of anything. Upon my arrival at the Tallulah Falls Medical Center, I learned Mrs. Ralston was dead.

# # #

Please visit Gayle Trent/Amanda Lee at To order a copy of Stitch Me Deadly, please see Amazon, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookseller.

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