About J.A. Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes

J.A. (Julie) Hennrikus writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series under the name Julianne Holmes. JUST KILLING TIME, the first in the series, was published in Oct 2015 and was nominated for a BEST FIRST NOVEL Agatha award. CLOCK AND DAGGER was released in August 2016. CHIME AND PUNISHMENT will be released in August 2017. Julie's Theater Cop series will debut in the fall of 2017. A CHRISTMAS PERIL is the first in this series about an ex-cop who runs a theater company. wears two hats. Her short stories have been published by Level Best Books: “Tag, You’re Dead” in THIN ICE, “Her Wish” in DEAD CALM, and “The Pendulum Swings, Until It Doesn’t” in BLOOD MOON. Julie is an arts administrator and arts advocate. She tweets her writing life as @JHAuthors, and her other life as @JulieHennrikus. She is an avid theater goer and a member of Red Sox nation. Her website is jahennrikus.com, and she blogs with WickedCozyAuthors.com and KillerCharacters.com.

A Christmas Carol by Any Other Name

by Julie, decking the halls in Somerville

In 2010 I spent the month of December discussing versions of A Christmas Carol every day. (You can see the posts here.) As you know, my book A Christmas Peril is about a theater company deep in the weeds of a production of A Christmas Carol. One of my nieces mentioned looking forward to A Christmas Carol binge watching over Christmas break. She then asked me which version was my favorite.

I couldn’t answer her. But I can, sort of, narrow it down a bit. Here is a list of my “will watch in the next ten days” list of Christmas Carols in no particular order:

scroogeScrooge, 1970
I saw this movie on a field trip (maybe with the Girl Scouts), and the hell scene scared the heck out of me. As an adult, it is easily on my top five. It is a musical, Albert Finney is wonderful, and is fairly true to the story. It isn’t Christmas unless my family breaks into a “Thank You Very Much” chorus.

1984 Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol, 1984
George C. Scott was a sublime Scrooge. The scene where he jumps on the bed makes my heart burst. The story is dark, and sad, in many ways, and this version is that.

MuppetThe Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992
This is SUCH a great version. Michael Caine is wonderful. Having Dickens tell the story is great. It stays true to the story, and keeps most of the important parts in the movie. Kermit is a perfect Bob Cratchit,  and Fozzie as Fezziwig? Could there be more perfect casting?

scroogedScrooged, 1988
All right, part of the reason I love this version is that it is such a pop culture time capsule. The TV version of A Christmas Carol they are working on is chock full of 80’s stars that have to be explained to kids, but add another layer of humor to the show. It is also very faithful to the theme of the story, though it does take liberties. Also, Bill Murray chews the scenery, and is so much fun to watch.

PS recordingPatrick Stewart’s VersionsPS filmI love Patrick Stewart, and have been fortunate enough to see him do his one man version of A Christmas Carol twice. It is because of that experience that his filmed version falls a little short for me, though it is very good. The CD of him reading the book is much closer to his stage version, and I can’t recommend it enough.

diva ccA Diva’s Christmas Carol, 2000
Do you remember the “Behind the Music” shows on VH1? In this Christmas Carol, Vanessa Williams plays Ebony Scrooge, a singer who left her girl group in the dust, and is a nightmare to work for. A ton of fun.

magooMister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, 1962
This is not at all accurate (the ghosts are out of order), but it has a lot of charm. The songs are terrific–I’m surprised there hasn’t been a stage version of this using the songs. Or maybe there has been?

simA Christmas Carol, 1951
This Alistair Sim version is a favorite of many, so I include it on the list. I like it, but am also fond of the 1938 Reginald Owen version.

There are dozens of other versions, with Scrooge being played by Cicely Tyson, Henry Winkler, Barbie, Fred Flintsone, Mickey Mouse, and others. I discussed those, and others, on my blog 8 years ago. I’m a little surprised I don’t have a more recent version to critique. The story resonates right now in so many ways.

Friends, what is your favorite version of A Christmas Carol?

Murder on the Orient Express Thoughts

by Julie, thinking about pulling out my winter hat in Boston

Friends and family have felt compelled to email and text me this past week. “Saw the movie today! Have you?”

“No,  Crime Bake weekend,” I’ve replied.

“Call me after you see it!”

Crime bake 8 selfie station

Channeling Poirot and his mustache

I am, you see, a bit of an Agatha Christie aficionado, and have strong feelings about Murder on the Orient Express. I wrote a thesis about Agatha Christie’s use of point of view, and Murder on the Orient Express was one of the novels I focused on. For writer friends, I recommend reading it to see how moves from distant third to close third throughout the novel, and uses POV to confuse the reader. She is a master at deception.

I am also a huge fan of the 1974 movie. Albert Finney was a wonderful Poirot, though over the top. That said, it really holds up and is very faithful to the novel. It also brought a resurgence in interest in Agatha Christie’s work, and since it was towards the end of her life, the timing was great in making sure she’s remembered.

David Suchet was the best Poirot ever, but I didn’t like his version of Murder on the Orient Express.  They changed some character motivations that changed some plot points and took away from the strength of the story. (Julie’s Rule of Thumb: don’t mess with Agatha Christie plots. Just don’t.) I won’t discuss it on the blog (spoilers), but am happy to have the conversation in person.

So, I still haven’t seen the new version of the movie, but I will. Will it be as good as the 1974 version? That’s a tough bar. But it has a wonderful cast, most of whom I would watch in anything. I love that Agatha Christie may be finding a new audience, ensuring that her popularity will continue for another generation. One of my nieces is a recent convert, which thrills me beyond measure.

For me, as a writer thinking about a career, the fact that Agatha Christie’s 1934 (!) novel is being made into a movie forty one years after her death blows my mind. Christie is sometimes dismissed as a writer, but never by me. I aspire to write one Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, or And Then There Were None in my career, never mind all three of those plus sixty-three other novels, a dozen or so plays and dozens of short stories.  It has been said that she created characters with broad strokes, but I think that is part of what makes her relevant. Every generation can add their “take” on the characters, and on the story. (Just don’t touch the plot.)

As a writer, do I aspire to be of my moment, or timeless? Did she think about that?

I do wonder if this movie will bring forth a new phase of Agatha Christie films.  The Man in the Brown Suit gets my vote for consideration. Which books would you like to see adapted?

As part of our month long celebration of our readers, I will pick one winner randomly to get a signed copy of any of my Clock Shop mystery series.

The Food Conundrum

Finished Product (1)

The recipe I came up with for Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen–shrubs!

When you write cozies, there is always the food issue. That is, do you include recipes or not?

Now, for some folks, that answer is an easy one. They’re centered around food, so of course! There’s even a great blog called Mystery Lovers Kitchen that is about mysteries and food. It features a huge array of cozy authors. They let me do a guest post in August. I made shrubs, which are discussed in Chime and Punishment. Part of the challenge is taking pictures of the process that look somewhat appetizing.

I like mysteries with food. In fact, Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swenson series is a go to for cookie recipes for me. There’s even a cookbook, which I own and have given as gifts.  Her Highlander Cookie Bar recipe is one of my go-tos when I need to impress. (Shortbread on the bottom, brownies on top. Oh. My.)

Several of the Wickeds have series that include recipes. In my Clock Shop series, there was a natural fit if I featured recipes from the Sleeping Latte. But, then I learned some of the “rules”. The recipe needs to be original. And, since I know I try them on occasion, they need to taste good. I bake, and cook, but I couldn’t take the pressure.

For my Theater Cop series, a food tie in doesn’t really work as well. Though, I did mention cinnamon and sugar french fries with a cream cheese frosting dip that I thought sounded pretty interesting in book 2, which will be out next September. I totally made them up, so the recipe isn’t in the book.

I am writing a new series (stay tuned), and I’m not sure if I’m going to have recipes. But I do find myself mentioning food a lot, just in case. I plan to have the nieces help me develop a couple to see if I can pull it off. We’ll see how it goes.

Today, my question for you dear readers, do you like cozies with recipes? Do you try them? Trust them? Should I try and pull this off? Let me know in the comments!

A Wicked Welcome to Joyce Tremel

by Julie, thrilled to welcome Joyce Tremel to the blog today.

Joyce and I both had our debut novels come out in 2015, three months apart. We’ve kept up the schedule ever since, and her third novel, A Room With A Brew, was released on October 3. If you haven’t “met” Max O’Hara and visited Pittsburgh in these books, you’re in for a treat.

THE TOP FIVE THINGS I’VE LEARNED WRITING A COZY SERIES

By Joyce Tremel

ARoomWithABrew5. It’s not as easy as it looks. Believe it or not, there are readers out there who think that cozy mysteries are inferior to other mysteries. Obviously, they’ve never tried to write one. I’ve found it takes quite a bit of skill to kill someone and not gross out the reader. The cozy writer has to get the horror of the murder across without showing much in the way of blood, guts, and the like. You have to describe what happened without actually describing what happened. This also applies to any sexy scenes. I’m perfectly content with not having to write those kinds of scenes. Banter, innuendo, and an occasional kiss that leaves the character’s knees weak is enough for me. I like to leave the rest up to imagination.

4. It’s sometimes hard to find adequate substitutes for swear words. I worked as a police secretary for ten years. Believe me, cops swear. Most of their words start with F and end with K. I learned a whole new vocabulary when I worked for the police department. When you have officers talking in a cozy, you can’t very well have them use what must be their favorite word in the whole world because they say it three times in every sentence. And you can’t have them say gosh, darn, or golly either. Only Andy Griffith could get away with that. My protagonist’s dad is a homicide detective and in one scene I have Max say something like, “My dad rarely swore but I could tell he held back a string of words that would have turned the air blue.” I do throw in an occasional damn or hell, and have used the letters S.O.B. Sometimes I’ll interrupt the dialogue just before the swear word would be uttered. So far, it works. At least I hope it does.

3. There’s a fine line between educating the reader on the character’s craft or occupation and boring them to death. No one wants to read page after page of how your character does something. My protagonist Max is a craft brewer and there’s a lot of chemistry involved in brewing beer. If I started rambling on about how to calculate the specific gravity of a certain brew in order to calculate the alcohol by volume, I don’ t think readers would be too happy. In the best case scenario, they’d skip those pages; in the worst case, they’d throw the book against the wall. It’s a mystery novel, not a textbook. Information like that must be sprinkled in lightly.

2. Recipes are hard to come up with. I’m usually thinking more about the plot and what the characters are doing than about what they’re eating or cooking. I’ve had to train myself to actually stop and describe certain foods and then search for a recipe to include. That’s probably why the first book, To Brew or Not to Brew only had two recipes. I did a little better with books two and three. Tangled Up in Brew had four and this year’s A Room With a Brew has five, including the ever popular Pittsburgh Pretzel Salad.

1. Write everything down. When I was about halfway through writing the first book, I realized I was NOT going to remember which character had blue eyes, who had brown eyes, how tall a certain someone was, etc. I started what we call a Character Bible. I jotted down each character, what they looked like, and anything else I thought might be important. I did the same with each shop and location in the series. I even drew a little map so I’d remember which store/shop/restaurant was where. And thank goodness I did. I refer to it constantly. Between that and the style sheet (which has even more detailed info on it) from my copy editor, I’ve saved hours that would have been spent searching through previous manuscripts for one tiny tidbit of information. All because I couldn’t remember something I thought I would.

These are the top five things I’ve learned writing a cozy series. Readers, what have you learned reading one?

As a bonus, here’s the recipe for the Pittsburgh Pretzel Salad I mentioned above. It is delicious!

Pittsburgh Pretzel Salad
Bottom layer:
2 cups crushed pretzels
3/4 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
Mix crushed pretzels, melted butter, and sugar, and press into 9×13″ pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes. Cool.

Filling (middle layer):
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 – 8 ounce container of whipped topping
1 cup sugar
Beat cream cheese and sugar until creamy. Fold in whipped topping. Spread over cooled pretzel mixture. Chill.

Top layer:
2 – 3 ounce boxes strawberry Jello
2 cups boiling water
2 cups sliced strawberries

Combine Jello with 2 cups boiling water. Stir until dissolved, about two minutes. Add strawberries. Chill until partially thickened, then spread over top of cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate overnight or until firm.

Top with additional whipped topping and sprinkle with crushed or broken pretzel pieces.

*****************************

JT headshot 2Joyce Tremel was a police secretary for ten years and more than once envisioned the demise of certain co-workers, but settled on writing as a way to keep herself out of jail. She is the author of the BREWING TROUBLE mystery series set in Pittsburgh, featuring brewmaster and pub owner, Maxine “Max” O’Hara. Her debut novel, TO BREW OR NOT TO BREW, was nominated for a 2015 Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Amateur Sleuth. The second book in the series, TANGLED UP IN BREW, was the winner of the 2016 Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Amateur Sleuth. A ROOM WITH A BREW, the third book in the series was released on October 3, 2017.

A Wicked Welcome to Nikki Woolfolk!

Julie here, sweating in Somerville (where’s fall?)

I have met Nikki Woolfolk a couple of times, but know her best through Facebook. I love reading about her work as a Chocolatier, love of steam punk, and writing career. When I found out that her book, MISE EN DEATH, was coming out on October 15, I invited her to the blog so you would all get to know her as well. Welcome, Nikki!

3 Ways to Create Captivating Characters Without Bogging Down Your Plot

by Nikki Woolfolk

digital-cover-ingram (2)A tale of whodunit is what makes us pick up a novel, but what make us devour a story are the characters.

Creating engaging characters is similar to being given juicy gossip minus the risk to reputation. In mystery novels, our guilty pleasure of peeking into another life and sharing their worries is rewarded. The author invites us into the sleuth’s world through the relationships between secondary characters, setting, and their career. Those relationships act as a mirror for our main character and sometimes the reader themselves.

Secondary characters

The old adage of how a person treats the wait staff at a restaurant tells you all you need to know about them runs true for fictional characters. Whether it has two legs or four paws, readers learn about the main character by how they communicate with those around them. Instead of info dumping an author can use dialogue between the sleuth and secondary characters to show who they are while moving the plot forward.

Setting

Setting goes beyond a weather forecast. Setting is a time or a place that helps to set a mood for your readers as your characters navigate in the world they live, the cultural atmosphere and historical setting.

Growing up in the West coast, with a father born in the South and a mother born up North gave me a unique perspective. A perspective I was not aware of until I recently gave ARCs of my newest mystery, MISE EN DEATH, a historical culinary cozy.

I did mention the Louisiana summer humidity in the fictional coastal town of Honfleur, but to help immerse readers into the world I used Southern nuances. One way was in a name. Mister Jones. Mister Jones is a fellow student at the school, but his peers are called by their given name without a title.

A few of my New England readers pointed it out believing it an error. My Southern readers or those raised by Southern family did not give it a second thought and continued reading. In Mister Jones I am telling the reader the race of Mister Jones, sharing the cultural dynamics and hinting at the alternative historical universe I’ve created.

Speaking of alternative history…

While attending college I wanted to follow in one of my uncles footsteps and become a psychologist. My studies brought me to see motivation, patterns, behaviors and other factors come into play with people. In the end I chose a different career path, but I kept the “what if” aspect of my psyche when developing characters. The largest what if I chose to explore was the Civil War.

What if the Civil War never had happened?

How would this affect our society? Would women have further advances in career and their place in leadership rolls?

The world I’ve created is not filled with endless gadgets or the window dressing per se. This society and its culture, reflect the positive psychological outcomes made due to the women’s movement, Nat Turner’s revolt succeeding, and the promotion of equal education for all in the States.

Where MISE EN DEATH begins is decades later and the people still have the same fears and joys that connect readers. Cozy mysteries can be set anywhere but are always about the people living and working within the town.

Career

Often times readers are either wanting to live vicariously through the sleuth’s career. The reader trusts the author to draw them into the story, not just read it.

Writing my sleuthing heroine as a chocolatier working at a culinary school was my way to share what few are privy to. Enough people watch cooking shows and read recipes, but in MISE EN DEATH the reader gets to walk in sleuthing chef’s shoes, observe her relationship with her students and see students find their place in the world of cuisine.

In MISE EN DEATH solving the murder of the millionaire Madam Brookmeyer is of great importance to our sleuthing chef, but knowing why it matters lies in the heart of the school and its importance to the students and employees.

Characters are what a mystery story is about, but living in their world as they solve the crime is what keeps us turning the pages.

********************************

ABOUT MISE EN DEATH: 
Alex LeBeau, Chocolatier and chef instructor, wants nothing more than to give her almost grown son a quiet life and a place to call home. Settling in Honfleur, Louisiana, Alex can distance herself from her chaotic romantic past and association with the clandestine group Bellicose Solanum (BelSol).

Things might be looking up for her when she takes a job at a promising cooking school. Her contentment is short-lived when a famous millionaire of Honfleur is murdered during the school’s catering event on an airship.

As the body count begins to rise in an eccentric series of mishaps, all evidence points to one of her most beloved culinary students—her son.

If word gets out about the murder, the culinary school’s reputation is ruined, but most importantly Alex cannot let her son be found guilty for a crime he didn’t commit.

With the help of Josephine, the school potager and voice of reason, Alex hesitantly rallies up old friends from her checkered past to help clear her son’s name.

Armed with the fortune that might (or might not) favor the brave, Alex and Josephine race to find the killer before those nearest to Alex become the latest victims.

********************************

BIO: Nikki Woolfolk is a Professional Chocolatier, Author and active member of Sister in Crime, Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America. Nikki enjoys pulling readers into a humor-filled into a spectacular cogged and geared world.

While sought after for her informative Chocolate Tasting sessions at conventions, Nikki also uses her polymath talents to pen articles on the craft of writing, apply her computer science training to her New Adult Blerd Grrl series (Now That Your Joystick’s Broke), and her culinary and aviation knowledge to create a sleuth chef that cooks up Steampunk adventures under a digirible filled sky. (Mise en Death– a Bittersweet Mysteries series, RIVETED: a Collection of Steampunk Tall-Tales).

Get the scoop on upcoming books, chocolate and appearances. Add your email to our BOOKS & CHOCOLATE monthly newsletter NikkiWoolfolk .com.

Get answers. Get chocolate. Get hooked!

Wicked Wednesday: Santa Claus Stories

purringFriends, we are still celebrating Liz Mugavero’s Purring Around The Christmas Tree release. A reminder about what the book is about:

To the townspeople’s delight, the annual lighting of the tree is a spectacular success. Unfortunately, Santa pulled up in his sleigh, DOA. At first Stan is sure it’s Seamus, her boyfriend’s uncle, inside the red suit. But the victim turns out to be an employee from the town’s Christmas tree farm. Rumor has it the deceased was a mean drunk with a soft spot for feral cats. Stan has no idea why he was dressed as St. Nick—or why he’s dead.

Meanwhile, Seamus, a jolly Irishman who comes to America every December to visit his pub-owner nephew, is nowhere to be found. Could he just be off on a Boston bar crawl? Or is something more sinister under the tree? Seamus was supposed to be dressing up and posing for pet pictures with Santa at the shop, but the dogs and cats might have to find another lap to curl up in if Stan doesn’t solve two mysteries soon. Or murder might be the only thing under the mistletoe this holiday . . .

The question this week–Wickeds, do you have a Santa Claus story you want to share?

Jessie: Huzzah, Liz! When I was a small child my mother would read me the story The Jolly Christmas at the Patterprints every year on Christmas Eve. It was the story of a family of mice who end up with Santa dropping into their cauldron of soup hanging over the fire. Quite the kerfuffle ensues. I now read it to my own children every Christmas Eve.

Edith: Congratulations, Liz! I can’t wait to read this new installment. When I was growing up we always read the old standard “Night Before Christmas” on Christmas Eve, and I continued that tradition with my sons. The poem has so many perplexing words and concepts for a child. “Threw up the sash” always made me feel a little queasy, as if Santa had eaten the sash to a dress and then vomited. And for years I thought he put a finger INside his nose – not a foreign concept at all to kids. Here are my sons (at 11 and 14) getting almost too old for the tradition.

2000Christmas

Sherry: Yay, Liz another new book! When my daughter was in second grade we were stationed in Florida and my husband traveled a lot. There was a movie on the Disney Channel that Elizabeth and I had watched about the tooth fairy. One night after I put her to bed, I sat in the family room reading. Elizabeth came out, put her hands on her hips, and said, “Tell me the truth is there a tooth fairy?” I told her no there wasn’t. She lectured me about lying and stomped back off to bed. A few minutes later she repeats the process, but this time asks about the Easter Bunny. Another lecture, more stomping. I sat there dreading what might come next, wondering why Bob was never home for these things. Sure enough Elizabeth comes back out, places her hands on her hips, and glares at me. “I don’t even want to know about Santa Claus,” she announced. Then she twirled around and went back to bed.

Barb: Congratulations, Liz. I LOVE your cover and can’t wait to read this new addition to the Pawsitively Organic Pet Food Mysteries. I love Christmas, and pretty much everything around it. My husband’s father’s family has a party every year on the Sunday closest to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Santa comes and gives each kid a small gift to tide them over to the big day. I loved this tradition when my kids were small, and my granddaughter has participated the last few years. (With, I admit, mixed results.)

Julie: First off, HUGE congratulations Liz!! So happy for you!! When I was growing up, my father always took us shopping and out to lunch one day around Christmas, likely to give my mother some time to catch up with the holiday. One year, when we were really little we went to meet Santa. This Santa was tiny, thin, and had horn rimmed glasses. We would have nothing to do with him, insisted that this was NOT Sand, and my sister started weeping. So my father, who was always quick with a story, told us that we were right. It wasn’t Santa. It was too close to Christmas, so he sent two elves down to stand in for him. There were actually two elves in the suit. WHEW. Childhood memories were saved.

Liz: I love these stories! Thanks so much for sharing them, guys! And for celebrating my release with me! xo

How about you, dear readers? Any Santa stories you want to share?Save

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Ditching the Comfort Zone by Laura DiSilverio

We’d like to extend a Wicked Welcome to Laura DiSilverio. We’re very excited about her new release, THAT LAST WEEKEND, and invited her on the blog to tell us about it.

Every now and then, I take a baby step outside my comfort zone.

It’s called a “comfort” zone for a reason. Being outside that zone is uncomfortable, emotionally or physically. It’s challenging. It’s a struggle.LD COVER It feels like the world is all sharp edges, rejections, and anxiety. I don’t like it out here.

But–

But, if I never stepped outside the comfort zone I wouldn’t become a better writer. If I didn’t try new things, scare myself, make myself vulnerable, put myself at risk, my writing would atrophy. The same holds true for the writing itself. If I don’t push myself to try new things, I don’t feel like I’m growing.

My latest book, THAT LAST WEEKEND, represents a largish step outside my CZ, from a writing perspective. Where my cozy mysteries (15 of them!) and my Young Adult trilogy are written from a single first person POV, THAT LAST WEEKEND has four viewpoint characters, roughly equal in importance. Where my other books had one timeline, THAT LAST WEEKEND takes place in the present and the past. The POV and the timeline necessitated a change to my writing process; to keep storylines and timelines straight, I actually had to do some outlining, which isn’t my usual process.

comfort zone (1)If that weren’t enough, I wanted the relationships between the main characters to be as important to the book, as important to readers, as solving the mystery. Don’t worry mystery fans–there’s more than one mystery at play here, lots of plots twists and surprises . . . I didn’t stray so far from my comfort zone that I eschewed dead bodies! (Wait for the book after this one . . .) I want readers to think of this book as being about friendship and how friendships change under pressure and over time. (The friendships in this book are admittedly under great strain since there’s a murderer running around.) I hope you’ll read the book and let me know whether or not I succeeded.

Let me leave you with this thought about comfort zones by Dan Stevens (whom you may know better as Matthew Crawley of Downton Abbey fame):

“The comfort zone is the great enemy to creativity; moving beyond it necessitates intuition, which in turn configures new perspectives and conquers fears.”

One commenter chosen at random will get a copy of THAT LAST WEEKEND so please chime into the discussion!

When was the last time you stepped outside your comfort zone. Was it a deliberate choice, or were you shoved? For instance, I became an empty nester last month, an instance of being shoved out of my comfort zone.

Laura DBio
Laura DiSilverio is the national bestselling and award-winning author of 21 mystery, suspense and young adult sci-fi novels. Library Journal named Close Call one of the Top Five mysteries of 2016, and The Reckoning Stones (2015) won the Colorado Book Award for Mystery in 2016. She offers writing tips and strategies at CareerAuthors.com, a new resource for novelists at all levels. She is a recent empty nester struggling to come to terms with a life that is seemingly devoid of all meaning. (Okay, a bit of an exaggeration.)