Guest: Leslie Karst

Edith here, delighted my buddy Leslie Karst has a new mystery coming out next month!Death al Fresco cover

Death Al Fresco is the next in Leslie’s Sally Solari Mysteries. I loved the first two and can’t wait to read this one, too. Her publisher, Crooked Lane, will give away a hardcover copy to one commenter here today.

It’s early autumn in Santa Cruz and restaurateur Sally Solari, inspired by the eye-popping canvases of Paul Gauguin, the artist for whom her restaurant is named, enrolls in a plein air painting class. But the beauty of the Monterey Bay coastline is shattered during one of their outings when Sally’s dog sniffs out a corpse entangled in a pile of kelp.

The body is identified as Gino, a local fisherman and a regular at Sally’s father’s restaurant, Solari’s, until he disappeared after dining there a few nights before. But after witnesses claim he left reeling drunk, fingers begin to point at Sally’s dad for negligently allowing the old man to walk home alone at night. From a long menu of suspects, including a cast of colorful characters who frequent the historic Santa Cruz fisherman’s wharf, Sally must serve up a tall order in order to clear her father’s name.

Here’s Leslie talking about how she channeled a recent brush with fear into creativity.

Channeling Your Fear

Every murder mystery requires at least one high-tension scene—a situation where the protagonist feels at risk, and where the reader experiences the fear along with that person. It could be a danger or threat to either the main character herself or to someone she cares for, but there has to be a point in the story where the hero’s heart starts to pound and her hands sweat (though hopefully not in those exact words), and where she feels utterly helpless and alone.

I’ve now written a fair share of these suspenseful scenes, and every time I do so I find myself growing anxious and tense along with my protagonist, Sally Solari. My pulse will quicken and sometimes my hands will even begin to shake as I type the words onto my laptop.

photo 1

Perhaps the fact that I write the series in the first person makes the telling more, well, personal than it would be if done in the third person. But I suspect most writers have a similar experience when crafting these scenes. And it seems to me that unless you can indeed put yourself in the mental state of your character, the tension you attempt to create will likely fall flat.

As I considered what to discuss in this blog post, I thought back to the times I’ve been frightened in my own life. Because it’s from such experiences that we writers can mine our past feelings and emotions and insert them into our characters.

There weren’t, however, many moments I could come up with. Being scared by lightening storms or tornado warnings during my early years in Columbus, Ohio. And that summer as a college student in Barcelona when I’d found myself running from the Guardia Civil, ducking into a small shop to avoid the rubber bullets being fired at the protest I’d unwittingly walked into. But nothing truly terrifying had ever happened to me.

Nothing, that is, until that “incoming ballistic missile” alert last month.

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I was on my Saturday morning bike ride in Hilo, Hawai‘i, sweating and pumping up a steep hill, when a car suddenly pulled over right in front of me and the two young people jumped out. “Stop!” they shouted.

I stopped as directed. What the heck were they in such a tizzy about?

“A missile alert was just sent out for the entire state!”

In response my dumbfounded stare, they stepped forward to show me their phones: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.


In a Mister Toad’s Wild Ride kind of drive across town, they transported me and my bicycle back home so I could get my dog, and I gathered a few things as fast as I could and took her down to the grocery store a few blocks away—the nearest place that’s a concrete structure. I tried calling my wife, who was in Honolulu, but the call wouldn’t go through.

photo 3

Thirty-nine minutes after the original alert, we finally got another text saying there was in fact no bomb threat—that the message had been sent out in error. But during that time I was as frightened as I’ve ever been in my life.

Later, I tried to identify the emotions that had swept over me and remember exactly how I’d acted during those few minutes during which I’d believed, “This might be the end.” Heart pounding and body shaking, yes. But I was also surprisingly calm—at least on the outside. My mind had immediately gone into “Okay, what do I need to do” mode, and I proceeded accordingly.

Interesting, I thought as I jotted down notes about the event. Unsettled and jittery though I was still feeling, I recognized that what I’d gone through had provided me with invaluable information. So, although I would never wish such an experience on anyone, there was a silver lining to having lived through this horrific scare: I can use it in my writing!

Readers: What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you? If you’re a writer, how have you channeled the emotions from fear into your work? Remember, you can win a copy of the new book!

The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family karst headshotdinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. She now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California. An ex-lawyer like her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. The next in the series, Death al Fresco, releases March 13th.

You can visit Leslie on Facebook , and you can go to her author website to sign up for her newsletter—full of recipes and fun Italian facts!—and to purchase all her books.

What’s Wrong with Genre Fiction?

Edith writing north of Boston, not quite sure what season it is.

(Warning: /Rant ON/.) My answer to this post’s title question is, NOTHING!

So I was one of three authors on a cross-genre panel at a local library two weeks ago. I know and love both of the other women on the panel, and I love their writing, too. Someone in the audience asked about pros and cons of having a publisher vs. self-publishing.

We authors get this question a lot. I feel a little bit qualified to answer it, because I have books out with big publishing houses as well as a small press, and I’ve also self-published reprints of some of my short stories that originally appeared in juried anthologies.



(In order, the preceding covers represent big press, self-pubbed, and small press, with two different pen names.)

The other authors and I talked about what a big house does for us in terms of editing, cover art, and distribution – and sometimes publicity. The author has to all of this herself – or hire it out – with self-publishing, but she also keeps all the money a publisher and an agent claim in the traditional model. I chimed in on how Kensington Publishing gets my books in every Barnes & Noble in the country by the release date, and does things like place ads in national puzzle magazines.

One of my fellow authors mentioned a writer friend of hers who has been very successful self-publishing her series of mystery novels. She added that the friend had to hire people to do editing and covers, and “of course, the writing is formulaic,” but that she had made a lot of money from the books.

I about blew my stack at her offhand comment but I kept my reaction in check for the evening. because I respect my friend and I very much enjoy her books (which are not mysteries). Our event was not the venue to get into a discussion of  genre fiction being “of course … formulaic.” Unlike most times we’re together, none of us was free to go out for wine afterwards and talk books, publishing, kids, and whatever else comes up. So I didn’t get a chance to challenge her on her view, and now she’s off on a vacation in some far-flung place.

I don’t understand how someone thinks that any of us “genre” writers – all the Wicked Cozys included – have a formula for our novels. Does she really believe that I follow a recipe for a mystery? That I don’t work and imagine and despair over and craft my writing like she does just because she imagines she is writing women’s literary fiction and I’m not?

literary: 1. Of or relating to books. 2.  Of or relating to authors

Literary? Don’t I qualify? Of course we mystery authors have a plot. We have a puzzle to solve. We have the very sticky problem of tricking the reader until the end while still playing fair. If anybody can come up with a recipe for that, I’d like to see it. And sure, those of us who write cozies play within certain parameters of language and setting. Our stories share certain surface similarities. But it ain’t a formula, folks. (And definitely not a formula for strychnine – shown here.)


In late 2016 all the Wickeds were on a Books and Bagels panel hosted by our good friend Ray Daniel at his temple west of Boston. Someone asked a question about literary as opposed to genre fiction. I remember saying I was proud of my work. “I write the best book I can with the most elegant language I can use that still serves the story. And if people don’t want to read it because it’s genre fiction, then I don’t need them as readers” – or something to that effect.

/Rant OFF./ Whew! I’m glad I got that off my chest. I also plan to talk to my friend about her “formulaic” comment and do a little consciousness raising after she gets back from her trip.

Readers and fellow authors – what’s your take? Do you read both “literary” fiction and enthralling mysteries? What do you like about one vs. the other? Writers – do you write by a formula? (Yeah, didn’t think so…)

Guest: Krista Davis

Edith here, honored to host Krista Davis as our guest today. She may not be wicked, Color Me Murder hi resbut she definitely writes cozy! She has a fabulous new series coming out – featuring adult coloring books – and is joining us at Kensington Publishing. She’ll give away a copy of Color Me Murder to one commenter here today.

Here’s a blurb:

Includes A Front and Back Cover for You to Color!
By day, Florrie Fox manages Color Me Read bookstore in Georgetown, Washington D.C. By night, she creates her own intricately detailed coloring books for adults, filling the pages with objects that catch her eye. There’s plenty of inspiration in her new apartment—a beautiful carriage house belonging to Professor John Maxwell, Florrie’s boss. He offers the property to Florrie rent-free with one condition—she must move in immediately to prevent his covetous sister and nephew from trying to claim it.
When the professor’s nephew, Delbert, arrives, he proves just as sketchy as Florrie feared. But the following morning, Delbert has vanished. It’s not until she visits the third floor of the store that Florrie makes a tragic discovery—there’s a trap door in the landing, and a dead Delbert inside. The esteemed Professor Maxwell is an obvious suspect, but Florrie is certain this case isn’t so black and white. Doodling clues, she begins to consider other colorful characters on the scene, all with a motive for murder. With a killer drawing closer, Florrie will need to think outside the lines . . . before death makes his mark again.

Krista: I confess that I am not an artist. I realized this in grade school. While other kids were thrilled with art class, I knew it wasn’t for me. Even at that age, some of them had amazing abilities while I was still drawing crooked houses.

Oddly enough, I do like crafts. I crocheted what is very likely the biggest bedspread in the world. Alas, it is so big and heavy that no one wants it. Not even me! My mother was an extraordinary knitter. You know the gorgeous fluffy angora sweaters that are sold by high end shops? Yup. That’s the sort of thing my mother knitted.

Why am I telling you this? Because I blame my lack of artistic ability on my genes. There’s not a single member of my immediate family who can draw. Some of you probably think I’m joking. I am completely serious when I say that we can barely draw stick figures for Pictionary. It’s not my fault! I am genetically incapable of drawing anything that doesn’t look like a second grader drew it.

And yet, I took on a mystery series about a coloring book artist. A woman who can doodle recognizable things! A woman who draws intricate images!

You can imagine my angst about this. I was a little wary when I started the Domestic Diva Mysteries. After all, I’m no Martha. But I’m okay with cooking and baking. And some of my friends seem to think I have abilities they don’t possess. I’m also a crystal and china piggy. Pretty dishes go a long way in making people think you’ve cooked something great.

The Paws & Claws Mysteries came naturally to me. I’m surrounded by dogs and cats. I dote on them and observe their antics. I read recently that dogs and cats should be perfect in books. Hah! They aren’t perfect in real life. Not any more than we are. At the moment, I’m dealing with the remnants of Baron’s up close and personal encounter with a skunk. That will surely make it into a book.

Colored pencilsBut art? Could I pull it off? Was it too far outside of my comfort zone? I did some research on the mind of the artist. After all, they must see things differently than I do, right? Unfortunately, that was a bomb.

I do love color. The brighter the better. I’m always impressed when designers on Project Runway mix patterns (I wouldn’t dare!) and they go together so beautifully. Even I know there are different shades of black. And who among us hasn’t  bought a navy blue skirt only to find that it didn’t match anything else in our closets that was navy blue? Even I can appreciate those nuances.

So in the end, I took a deep breath and jumped into Florrie’s character. So I didn’t have her artistic skill. I could imagine how wonderful it would be to doodle and sketch images. If I had that talent, I would draw all the time.

Adult coloring books have come a long way. They are gorgeous and intricate. It takes a real artist to be able to sketch those images. Even if I can’t draw worth a hoot, I can appreciate the unbelievable talent of those who can. I’m living vicariously through Florrie, and loving every minute of it.

Readers: How about you? Have you written about something that is way out of your comfort zone? Remember, I’m giving away a copy of the new book to one lucky commenter!

Krista Davis writes three mystery series. Color Me Murder will be the first book in the Krista_Buttercup1 smallPen & Ink mystery series. Krista’s longest running series is the Domestic Diva Mysteries. After a one year hiatus, the eleventh book, The Diva Cooks Up a Storm, will be out in May. If dogs and cats are your thing, you might enjoy Krista’s Paws & Claws Mysteries featuring Trixie the Jack Russell with a nose for trouble (or more precisely—dead people) and Twinkletoes, the long-haired calico cat.

Guest Amanda Flower

Edith here, writing away north of Boston. I’m delighted to welcome prolific and talented author palLethal Licorice Amanda Flower to the blog today, with a new mystery out in her Amish Candy Shop series – Lethal Licorice! Take it away, Amanda.

A Tale of Two Feline Editors

Cats and cozy mysteries have been walking paw and page since the genre appeared, and that’s no different for any of my books. All of my cozies have had a cat supporting character to bring some humor and comfort to my fictional characters’ lives. I am also lucky enough to have two felines in my real life to help me write my books. I call them the editors, and my readers who follow me on social media know them well. They are Editors Cheeps and Tummy Flower. Now, Cheeps and Tummy are their nicknames. They are both named after Chronicles of Narnia characters, Reepicheep and Mr. Tumnus, respectively.

cheeps and tummyThese two are my constant companions while I write. In fact, they are sitting with me right now as I write this post. What my readers might not know is, just like the cats in my books, Cheeps and Tummy have two very distinctive personalities. Cheeps is my Velcro cat. He wants to be on my lap or arm or leg constantly. While, Tummy much rather sit near me, but he wants his own space. Cheeps is my gray and white tuxedo cat and the older of the two and is much more timid that Tummy. He doesn’t like strangers and takes some time to warm up to people. However when he decides you are his friend, he’s loyal forever.

Tummy, my black and white tuxedo cat, on the other paw, loves everyone from the moment he sees them. He has been known to make up with plumbers, electricians, and other handymen, who might be only in my house for an hour or two to fix something. Finally, Cheeps loves to go outside and walk in my garden. He loves to roll in the grass and smell the flowers. Oddly, Tummy, the more outgoing of the two, is afraid to go outdoors.

Even though they are both tuxedo cats living in the same home, they are very different from each other. Seeing my own cats’ behaviors and personalities is why I love reading and writing about cats in mysteries so much. Just like all the best amateur detectives each cat is unique. I have a cat in every book I write, including Lethal Licorice, the second novel in the Amish Candy Shop Mysteries, releasing at the end of this month.

Follow Editors Cheeps and Tummy on Instagram here: Amanda Flower-50 (2)

Amanda Flower, a national bestselling and Agatha Award winning mystery author. She also writes mysteries as USA Today bestselling author Isabella Alan. In addition to being an author, Amanda is librarian in Northeast Ohio. Follow Amanda on Social Media at: Facebook Twitter Instagram

Readers: Which animal buddies help you in your work? Tell us about animal personalities you know and love.


Biscuits and Slashed Browns Book Birthday

Edith here, writing as Maddie Day from north of Boston.

But first – a special news break: Jessica Ellicott’s Murder in an English Village: A Beryl and Edwina Mystery (Jessica being our own Jessie Crockett) and my Called to Justice: A Quaker Midwife Mystery are BOTH nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel! The nods are cause for much celebration, and you, dear readers, will be hearing more about the nominations in the forthcoming weeks. In the meantime, Jessie and I are happy to accept accolades, toasts, and whatever else seems appropriate.

Now, back to today’s topic – also a cause for celebration…

Yes, it’s my book birthday! I’m so excited for the fourth Country Store Mystery to slide into the hands of eager readers.

Biscuits and Slashed Browns

For country-store owner Robbie Jordan, the Maple Syrup Festival is a sweet escape from late-winter in South Lick, Indiana—until murder saps the life out of the celebration. Robbie drops her maple-curry biscuits to crack the case before another victim is caught in a sticky and murderous trap.

Some pretty awesome reviews are already in:

  • “…wonderful culinary cozy mystery series … great characters, terrific local dialect, a charming setting … engaging mystery”
  • “…well-plotted and exciting story”
  • “…vivid characters and locales”
  • “…fast paced plot… just the right touch of romance … a delightful addition”
  • ” …suspenseful, dangerous climax wraps the story up for an exciting ending”
  • “…delicious recipes…”

I was amazed when I learned that Brown County, Indiana, has hosted a National Maple Festival, and I knew I had to use it in a book. The county is hilly and wooded and looks a lot like Vermont despite being quite a bit farther to the south, so it’s no surprise one of its products is high-quality maple syrup.

I hope you enjoy the story! Now I’m off to find a cake and a bottle of bubbly to celebrate.

Readers: Do you make the recipes in the back of foodie cozies like mine?  If so, which ones have you liked best? If not, why not?

Getting My Ducks in a Row

Julie Hansen is the winner of the an ebook of the Escape Claws. Please contact Linda Reilly at

Edith here, shivering north of Boston. Getting your ducks in a row, you say. Am I planning a fowl supper? Practicing target shooting? Identifying local water birds?

file9231275368332Nah. And those aren’t even in a row, anyway. The next ones are, almost, but that’s not what I mean, either.


Hugh and I have been filling out estate planning forms. It’s a huge undertaking, one which we started a couple of years ago but never finished.  With my sister’s recent and completely unexpected brush with death (she’s going to be fine, thanks to modern medicine and the power of prayer), I realized it’s really, really time. Because we never know when the Grim Reaper will pay us an irreversible visit.

So what’s involved for a sixty-something author to get her duckies all lined up and accounted for? Let me count the ways:

  • Listing assets.
  • Collecting account numbers, social security numbers, and birthdates in one place.
  • Specifying end-of-life wishes: deciding about extreme interventions when brain dead or terminally ill,  cadaver donation, cremation/burial/ashes disposition, and so on. We’re both already organ donors, so that part is done.
  • Settling on agreeable executors and health care proxies. Much of this is only in the case that the other one of us is unable, but that could come to pass, too.
  • Checking on whether we made a homestead declaration on the house we co-own.
  • Making sure my sons know where I keep my passwords and what goes with what.
  • Deciding on bequeathments to other than immediate family.
  • Thinking about what happens if we die at the same time, or if one is mentally incapacitated and still alive, or mentally fine but physically unable, and so on and on. The permutations are not quite endless but seem that way.
  • And more. I’m sure there are things I haven’t even thought of.

Then there’s the question of literary property. I wouldn’t ever pretend to be Sue Grafton (may her lovely soul rest in peace) or Stephen King, with a library of my extensive writings to donate somewhere. I do have novels in progress, though, series contracts, royalties that come along several times a year, and books in print, e-print, and audio. Some have suggested appointing a literary executor who could handle such matters. But I don’t know if I need one or not.

It’s enough to make a woman’s head spin. That said, I don’t want to leave any of it up in the air and make either Hugh or my sons have to make decisions that I should have dealt with while I was able. So off we both go, one line on the form at a time, one difficult decision after another. Because I know the relief will be immeasurable when our wills and estates, powers and proxies are legally documented and notarized.

Then I can start throwing out stuff from the basement. Or not. I have books to write, after all! The estate-planning process is a bit like writing a book, anyway. Doing research. Thinking about “suppose” and “what if.” Planning. Writing one line at a time.

Readers: What was involved for you to have your end-of-life stuff all squared away? Or do you? What have I forgotten that I need to do? Writers: Anybody out there have a literary executor? Does a modestly successful mid-list author need one?

Figuring Out the Ending

Edith north of Boston and nearly ready for Christmas! And I have a giveaway as a holiday gift to one commenter here today.

I’ve been working on Country Store Mystery number six, Strangled Eggs and Ham. Next year holds so many book deadlines for me that I’m really trying to write ahead. I’m happy to report that yesterday I finished the first draft of the book that isn’t due until April 1. Which is good, because it means I can actually relax over Christmas with family and friends and cats.


But…last week progress had slowed to a crawl. I was getting close to the finish line but couldn’t seem to keep the story moving forward. How was I going to end it? Could I come up with new and fresh suspense to keep readers on the edge of their seats? Was I going to be able to convince my readers they really wanted to read just one more chapter rather than going to bed?

I’m not a plotter by nature, but I had set up four suspects with plausible reasons for wanting the victim dead (yes, by strangulation…to fit the title, which I adore). I’d decided early on which of the four did the deed.

With the excruciatingly slow progress, I began to suspect myself – that I had picked the wrong villain. Could it be possible? It had happened to me before, so yeah, I knew it was a thing. I took a couple of long walks and another look at what I had written so far. And magic happened – another suspect was revealed as the actual murderer, although the person I’d thought was the villain stayed as a serious aider and abetter.

And bingo – out flowed the words! My relief was so palpable it Biscuits and Slashed Brownsalmost needed its own driver’s license.

To celebrate, I’d love to send one of you one of my last three ARCs of Biscuits and Slashed Browns, which is book #4 in the series. Because, as Barb says, we should never be left at release date with an advance review copy in our possession. And release date is January 30!

So, Dear Reader: Tell me about when you second-guessed yourself, or changed a plan at the last possible minute. Did it work out the way you hoped, or not? (Or maybe I don’t want to hear about the “or not” cases, LOL…) And make sure you check back tomorrow (and check your email) to see if you won!