Guest V.M. Burns on Write What You Know

Edith here, writing from Cape Cod, and delighted to welcome Agatha nominee V.M. Burns back to the blog! She’ll give away a copy of her newest mystery, The Read Herring Hunt, to one lucky commenter here today, too. Here’s the book blurb:Read Herring Hunt

To the town of North Harbor, Michigan, MISU quarterback Dawson Alexander is a local hero. To Samantha Washington, owner of the Market Street Mysteries Bookstore, Dawson is more than a tenant—he’s like an adopted son. But to the police, he is their prime suspect after his ex-girlfriend is found murdered. It’s more than enough real-life drama for Sam to tackle, but her role as a mystery writer also calls. While Sam’s lawyer sister Jenna rushes in to build Dawson’s defense, Sam and her lively grandmother, Nana Jo, huddle up to solve the mystery and blow the whistle on the real killer. With the tenacious members of the Sleuthing Senior Book Club eager to come off the sidelines, Sam and her team just might stop a killer from completing another deadly play . 

Writing What You Know

Most writers have heard the old adage, “write what you know.” It’s a good principle. If you’re writing about something you know the story will sound authentic and hopefully the passion and sincerity will ring through to the reader. That probably explains why many mystery writers are former police officers or lawyers. Thankfully, few are actual murderers. So, is it possible to write about murder without actually committing one or joining the police force?

When I was working on my MFA at Seton Hill University, the Director of the Writing Popular Fiction program asked the question, what does it mean to Write What You Know? I pondered that question a lot. I wanted to write cozy mysteries, but the only thing I knew about murder I learned from reading books by Agatha Christie, Victoria Thompson, Rex Stout and Sue Grafton and watching Murder, She Wrote and Colombo on television.

downtownDuring that residency, I took stock of myself. What did I know? My first job was working for an organization where I met a lot of vibrant, active, and entertaining seniors. I lived with my two toy poodles, Coco and Cash in a small town on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The town had a quaint downtown area with cobblestone streets and brownstone buildings turned into shops. I often walked those streets and dreamed of owning one which I would turn into a mystery bookshop, a place where I could feed my cozy mystery addiction. I wanted a bookstore that would not just have one or two bookshelves dedicated to the latest mystery, but a place that would specialize in nothing but mysteries where I could find older series along with newer ones. That’s what I knew, but how to connect that to writing murder mysteries?

Every murder mystery has a victim, a sleuth and a villain, but what makes the mystery interesting are the details the author weaves around the characters which brings the story to life. Whenever I read Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express or Murder in Mesopotamia, the details ring true because Agatha Christie visited the Middle East and described the country in wonderful detail. She was married to an archeologist (Max Mallowan) whom she met on the Orient Express.

Even without direct knowledge about a topic, the Internet makes it possible to becomeboats knowledgeable about practically any subject. I have always been interested in England and World War II. Thanks to The History Channel, Google, and tons of books, I was able to incorporate a great deal of the knowledge I’ve obtained into my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. Just like me, my protagonist, Samantha Washington, owns two chocolate toy poodles. She dreamed of owning a mystery bookstore and write British historic cozies set at the start of World War II. Her sidekick and sleuthing partners are her grandmother, Nana Jo and a group of fun-loving seniors.

Writing what you know has created a broad range of cozy mysteries which include everything from culinary cozies, knitting cozies, to winemaking cozies. The use of an amateur sleuth allows the writer to get around needing extensive knowledge of police procedures. An amateur sleuth is bound by no rules and can pretty much do whatever he or she wants (within the realm of believability). It also enables writers to combine their love of murder mysteries with their other passions without having to become a policeman or commit murder. All in all, I’d say it’s a good marriage.

Readers: What’s your favorite themed cozy (eg dogs, knitting, recipes)? What theme/concept would you love to see included in a cozy series? Remember, VM is giving away a copy of the new book to one of you! 

Author PhotoV.M. Burns was born in Northwestern Indiana and spent many years in Southwestern Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline. She is a lover of dogs, British historic cozies, and scones with clotted cream. After many years in the Midwest she went in search of milder winters and currently lives in Eastern Tennessee with her poodles. Her debut novel, The Plot is Murder was nominated for a 2017 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Valerie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. Readers can learn more by visiting her website at

Guest: Judy Penz Sheluk

Edith here, writing from my last morning on Cape Cod. The talented Judy Penz Sheluk has a new mystery out and I’m delighted to host her on the blog again.

Golf and Writing: Not So Different As You Might Think

AHoleinOneWhen I was in my late twenties, my mother bought me a set of inexpensive golf clubs for my birthday, hoping that I’d take up the game and play with her. Or maybe she hoped I’d meet a nice guy at the golf club, since I was still single (much to her chagrin).

Whatever the reason, I tried golf a handful of times, but with no natural ability, no money for lessons, and no eligible bachelors on the horizon, the clubs soon found their way into the back of my closet.

Fast-forward about ten years, I’m married (mother greatly relieved), living in a small town an hour+ north of Toronto with a lengthy commute to my job as Credit Manager, and seriously in need of a hobby and some local friends. As luck would have it, Silver Lakes Golf and Country Club was located a couple of miles from my house, and they had a Monday evening Ladies League geared to “women of all ages and abilities.” I dusted off my pink golf bag, wiped down my irons and woods, and signed up.Opening Day

Fortunately, the head pro put me with a threesome in need of a fourth player. In addition to being respectable golfers they were extremely patient— I was truly terrible that first year. But I took lessons, went to the practice range a couple of times a week, watched golf on TV, and gradually improved from dismal to not-quite-as-dismal. The following year, I won “Most Improved Golfer” — don’t get too impressed. When you’re routinely scoring “double par” (72 for nine holes; 72 is typically par for 18 holes), and find your way down to the low 60s, it’s easy to gain the title of Most Improved. But I’ve been encouraged by less.

Looking back at my golf and writing journey, I have to tell you that they have a lot in common. I started writing in high school (longer ago than I care to admit), fell away from it, and went back to it in 2002 when I signed up for a Creative Writing workshop. A couple of short stories published in 2003 encouraged me to take additional courses, including a Certificate program in Fiction Writing. But writing, like golf, is a lot more than lessons. It’s putting in the hours, trying different techniques and sometimes failing, but sometimes, succeeding, too. When I signed the contract for my first book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, with Barking Rain Press in July 2014, I felt as if I’d just been awarded Most Improved Writer.

My mother always told me to “never forget where I came from.” And so, I leave you with the opening paragraph of the Acknowledgements page in A Hole in One, my latest release, and the sequel to The Hanged Man’s Noose:

Hole 3The idea for A Hole In One first came to me while I was golfing. As a longtime ladies league member of the Silver Lakes Golf & Conference Centre in Holland Landing, Ontario (the inspiration for Lount’s Landing), it seemed only fitting to design the third hole of the Miakoda Falls Golf & Country Club based on the third hole at Silver Lakes (although I promise you, there are no dead bodies in their woods, nor does a trail run directly behind it).

So yeah. Golf and writing. Not so different as you might think.

Readers: Any golfers out there? Where is your favorite place to play? If not golf, what do you like to do for your dose of fresh air?

An Amazon international bestselling author, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE and A HOLE IN ONE) and The Marketville Mysteries (SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC). Her short crime fiction appears is included in several collejudy-penz-shelukers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario. Find Judy on her website/blog at, where she interviews and showcases the works of other authors and blogs about the writing life. Find Judy’s books at all the usual suspects, including Amazon and Barking Rain Press.

Guest Connie Hambley

BarbaraKay1 is Connie’s winner! Check your email, Barbara.

Edith here, happy to welcome author Connie Hambley to the blog today. She’s my vice president at Sisters in Crime New England, and a talented and hard-working author. She has a trilogy of books out that all involve horses, and she’s going to talk to us about affinity marketing.trilogy equine promo without wording

In the trilogy, world-class equestrian Jessica Wyeth becomes a target of an international crime syndicate after uncovering how family secrets link her to the power behind a Boston-based terrorist cell. In this gripping, multi-generational tale, the bonds of blood and love are tested through times of war and peace.

She’s giving away an ebook of The Wake, book three in the set, to one commenter here today, too! (For our regular readers, fair warning that these books aren’t cozy – but they have lots and lots of fans!) Take it away, Connie.

Engagement is the Key to Promotion

Selling head-to-head against better-known titles and authors is challenging for an emerging voice. Buy ads? Hire a publicist? Those are valid ideas and worth pursuing, but here’s the rub: It’s easy to spend money, but it’s very hard to make it.

THE WAKE - FRONT COVERRegardless of where you are in the publishing hierarchy – from independently published to small house to large publisher – the heft of promotion will fall on the author’s shoulders. So, what’s a writer to do?

First, let’s shatter the idea that we are out there to sell books. When the bulk of sales happen in the first weeks of publication, what does that say about our efforts for the following weeks or months?

The precursor to selling books is to engage your reader.

Two practices for successful engagements are something the Wickeds do very well. With an investment of time, the returns compound themselves. What are these magic practices? Affinity Marketing and Community Connection.

Affinity Marketing is a familiar and intuitive strategy used when authors want readers to feel an immediate connection to their work. We want our readers to identify some part of themselves with our stories, characters, or settings. Doing so elevates our book out of the din. We see this practice at work with books and blogs on adorable furry critters by Liz Mugavero’s Pawsitively Organic series, yard sales in Sherry Harris’ work and a love for Ireland in Sheila Connolly’s County Cork Mysteries.

Authors also forge relationships with readers based on aspects of their own lives that Hambley w Horseinfluence what they put down on paper. Sparking an interest in the person behind the stories makes readers interested in the whole journey of the author, not just in one title. Julie Hennrikus mines her experience in the theater for her new Theater Cop mysteries. I’ve woven a family experience with arson and a love of horses into the main character of my Jessica Trilogy books. Curious to know more? Exactly!

For affinity marketing to work, keep these things in mind:

Find your niche. Marketing head-to-head against best-sellers will exhaust and drown you. Find another love of your target audience and market through the “back door.” Genres can be used, too. History buffs will love immersing themselves in Edith Maxwell’s Quaker Midwife series and learning about life in a Massachusetts mill town in the 1880’s.

Books can be sold anywhere. I’m the first one to say that supporting your local bookstore should be one of your missions in life, but after you’ve secured a spot on their shelves, then what? Think of where people might be ripe for an impulse buy. Find a pet store that will place your book in the isle beside dog treats or get the email list for the local dog park to let the members know about your book (with proceeds donated!) or to hold an event there. During the summer, you’ll find me ringside at Grand Prix events.

All of this snoodling in shared interests brings us to the heart of engagement, and that is forging a sense of connection and community with our readers.

Social media platforms of Facebook, blog, website, Twitter, and more are essential tools. Barbara Ross’ post on promotion provides some best practices for our digital widgets. Use what feels right for you. The key is not to be passive. Responding to comments? Great, but outreach is the better connector.

The social behind the media are people. Remember them? Our flesh and blood counterparts are more than the bodies we slay on the page. Supporting professional organizations leverages visibility by adding a spoke to our promotional wheel.

Windrush Volunteering Kathy

Active participation through volunteering broadens your community. I’m a big believer in forging connections through paying it forward. I learned about hippotherapy (horse-centric physical and behavioral therapy) when volunteering at a therapeutic riding stable and knew I had to weave it into my most recent book, The Wake. I reached out to the CEO of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International to tell her of my inspiration and my book. She wrote a wonderful endorsement and featured my book in their global magazine.

The Wickeds and I belong to Sisters in Crime, a national organization of mystery and thriller writers. Members enjoy networking and access to reader-centric events like library conventions and writer conferences. Being a dues-paying member is great, but passive membership has limits. By becoming a trusted member of a community, authors promote a sense of connection, familiarity, and comfort.

And with that connection comes engaged fans, and engaged fans buy books.

Readers: What leads you to buy a book? Writers: how do you engage potential readers? Have you used affinity marketing? Remember, Connie is giving away an ebook of The Wake, book three in the set, to one commenter. Hambley Business Headshot

Connie Johnson Hambley grew up on a New York dairy farm and all would have been idyllic if an arsonist hadn’t torched her family’s barn. Bucolic bubble burst, she began to steadfastly plot her revenge against all bad guys, real and imagined. After receiving her law degree, she moved to Boston and wrote for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Nature and other wonky outlets as she honed her skills of reaching readers at a deep emotional level with great research, laser-sharp focus on detail, and persuasive writing. Her high-concept thrillers feature remarkable women entangled in modern-day crimes and walk the reader on the razor’s edge between good and evil. Connie delights in creating worlds where the good guys win–eventually. Connie is a two-time winner of Best English Fiction literary award at the EQUUS International Film Festival in New York City. She is Vice President and Featured Speaker of the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime.


Guest: Beth Kanell

Edith here, en route back from Malice Domestic and so very happy to welcome fellow New England Sister in Crime Beth Kanell as a guest on the blog. Beth has a new crossover Young Adult historical mystery out – and by crossover, I mean everyone should read it!

LongShadowFront-lowresI was luck enough to read an early copy and enthusiastically offered an endorsement: “Beth Kanell’s The Long Shadow is a beautifully written novel addressing themes of family, friendship, and the fight to end slavery in 1850s Vermont. Readers are transported back to that time of ceaseless women’s work in the kitchen and men making the decisions. Protagonist and narrator Alice keenly feels the injustice of her own life and that of slaves being pursued as they travel north toward freedom, and does whatever is in her power to change the status quo. Adults and teens alike will savor this well-researched tale of a teenage girl, her best friend, and their  black friend Sarah, who still isn’t safe from bounty hunters even in the snow-covered villages of Vermont.” Take it away, Beth!

Risk and Loss

Writing at the young adult (YA) edge of mystery keeps me asking myself questions about secrets, about risk, and about violence. Our contemporary young adults are exposed daily to terrifying amounts of could-be-us news, from school shootings to drug issues to “ordinary” death by drinking alcohol. Sometimes it feels unfair to burden these, as well as adult readers, with even one more death.

But the gift of a novel is that the meaning of a death can shine, in ways that are harder to see in daily life. In giving this to readers, I hope — and I think many other mystery authors do, too — that there will be an overlap in the heart, to ease some of the pain each of us encounters. More than ever, that’s the case for my fourth “history-hinged” Vermont mystery, The Long Shadow.

North Danville Vermont

Danville, Vermont, the location Beth borrowed for fictional North Upton

For Alice Sanborn of North Upton, Vermont, life in 1850 has been pretty easy so far. Sure, her mother relies on Alice for full participation in the challenges of pre-Civil War homemaking, and Alice also helps with some farm chores. But her school is nearby and friendly, plus she has her best friend Jerushah across the road and another close friend they both care about, Sarah, whose family is still enslaved in the far-away South. The worst Alice deals with is the town drunk trying to paw her outside the tavern.

Until danger comes to her own village in the form of a bounty hunter whose presence seems to threaten Sarah — spinning Alice and Jerushah, with the handsome and mysterious Solomon McBride, into a risky adventure of their own.

There are three deaths in The Long Shadow. The first is a family tragedy, but not an uncommon one for 1850, and Alice’s “growing-up task” is to face the sorrow involved and do what she can to ease the burdens of her brother and his wife. But the second has terrifying ramifications for Alice’s family, and the third will shape the rest of her life as she steps forward into the responsibilities of anti-slavery Vermont.


Elizabeth, from Small Adventures of a Little Quaker Girl, 1857-1872, by Rebecca Nicholson Taylor (a cousin of Beth Kanell’s)

To spin this story and handle the moral disaster of enslavement, and the late response of many Americans to the nation’s abiding “sin,” demands adherence to history’s truths. So I spend a lot of time in research, looking for the conditions of African Americans in Vermont at the time, and the complications of country life: How fast can a horse pull a laden sleigh in a blizzard? How far? Which official handles murder charges? With how much authority?

Also, because in Vermont – as in many other places – the leadership of early anti-slavery thinking often came from Quakers (hello, Edith Maxwell!), the role of the farm and Quakers at Rokeby in North Ferrisburgh, Vermont, comes into the background of The Long Shadow. It will come to the foreground in later books in this “Wind of Freedom” series!

_Going to Meeting_

Photo also from Small Adventures of a Little Quaker Girl.

But first, let’s watch Alice begin to pry open the mysteries that surround her, as she buries her brother’s secret and asks her friend Jerushah, while Sarah listens:

“Did you know there is a doorway in your cellar?”

She frowned in puzzlement. “Do you mean the doorway to where Papa keeps the extra barrels of cider? Back behind the stairs?”

“No, another one. I noticed it last week, and there is one in our cellar, too. I think they may connect underground. Can we test them?”

Jerushah flashed a look over my shoulder. “Mama is coming back inside. I can hear her in the passageway. Hush. We’ll find a way later, after your sugaring-off. It’s all too busy now.”

Sarah agreed excitedly while placing a hand to her mouth.

The tunnel that the girls will explore, and later use in desperation, also appeared in my 2011 adventure The Secret Room, also set in North Upton but more than 160 years later – “today.” To make it easy for you to read The Secret Room, I’m giving away 10 copies (softcover) to the first 10 readers who request it, with their U.S. mailing address, at BethPoet at gmail dot com. I’m hoping to hear from you soon!

Readers: What do you know about the Underground Railroad? As an adult, do you read YA mysteries? If so, why? If not, why not?Beth Kanell

Beth Kanell lives in northeastern Vermont, with a mountain at her back and a river at her feet. She writes mysteries, poems, and book reviews, and digs into Vermont history to frame her “history-hinged” adventure mysteries: The Long Shadow, The Darkness Under the Water, The Secret Room, and Cold Midnight. She shares her research and writing process at Her mystery reviews are at She’s a member of both Sisters in Crime and the National Book Critics Circle, and can’t resist reading more mysteries.



Guest: Cindy Callaghan

NEWS FLASH: Andrea Lerum is the winner of Cindy’s book. Check your email, Andrea!

Edith here, happy to host Cindy Callaghan  today. Her tween mystery Sydney Sydney Mackenzie coverMacKenzie Knocks ‘Em Dead is an Agatha Award nominee for Best Children’s/Young Adult Novel this year. And she’s giving away a copy of the book to one lucky commenter here today!

Here’s the blurb:

Can inheriting a haunted cemetery be anything less than disastrous for California tween and actress wannabe Sydney MacKenzie?  Highly unlikely.  But, stranger things have happened in the cozy town of Buttermilk River Falls… Not only does she finally land a great groups of friends, she also solves an old town secret that’s been buried for decades and achieves her movie star aspirations.

Tales from the secret society of idea stealers

stealI recently made a list of the most frequent questions I get, and there’s one that you might not expect:  Are you afraid someone will steal your ideas?

Here’s the true story:  In the early ‘90s, I widely submitted a book to publishers that never sold.  A short time later, a similar concept became a book, TV, and movie series with merchandising.  I’m talking plush toys, stickers, lunch boxes, you name it.

Had my idea been stolen?  I’ll never know for sure.  Here’s the part that was hard for me to accept:  If it had been stolen from me, there’s nothing I could do about it, because an idea can’t be copyrighted.

Let’s take a minute to look in the casebook of the Idea Stealer

  • A woman I met at a writing meeting told me that she’d submitted ideas to a current popular TV show. She received a reply that the show doesn’t accept ideas from the general public.  However, she swears that one of the ideas she submitted was used in future episodes. How do you explain that?  I give this reputable TV network the benefit of the doubt and believe the idea wasn’t deliberately hijacked.

Side note:  It’s probably smart to submit to shows or publishers via agent representation who can best protect your interests.

  • I’ve personally received emails from writers noting the strange coincidence that one of my books is similar to theirs. These suggestions of impropriety miss that my book was published before theirs, and I don’t know these people and would have no way to have been exposed to their work.

How does this happen? Darwin

An idea whose time has come: If Darwin hadn’t written On the Origin of Species, would someone else have?

I’ve heard this referred to as “Railroad Time.”  This isn’t the time of day that the trains run, rather the concept that when the world needed a specific transportation infrastructure its invention inevitable.

Or, perhaps, the same idea coming to multiple people is a function of similar inputs, as one of my writing partners explained it.  In general, we’re exposed to the same news, books, movies, trends, world events, social evolutions making it natural that, with over seven billion other humans on the planet, someone will process this input in a similar way and birth the same ideas.  This is also called “Multiple Discovery.”

Both names are a little blah, and as creators, we can come up with something better. Callaghan puts on her red and white Seuss hat and exclaims, “Sameideaology!” I think sameideaology is a pretty good explanation of alleged “idea theft.”

Catching the trend: Writers often chase the market, meaning they see a trend and rush to join.  Usually this fails, because the writing-sale-publication cycle is too long for this strategy to work.  BUT, consider this: There were enough people writing about a topic/genre at the same time to make it a trend in the first place!  So, maybe some writers are better at “trend catching”, or “trend predicting,” than others.

The Re-fresh: Some will say there are no new ideas, just old ones reinvented.  I’m not sure where I sit on that argument, but I think this is a third alternative to idea stealing.  That is to say, it’s fair game to mix up an old idea.  Consider my Just Add Magic – potions aren’t new, a trio of gal pals isn’t new, a secret club isn’t new, but a Secret Cooking Club is  And consider Sydney MacKenzie Knocks ‘Em Dead – cemeteries aren’t new, hauntings aren’t new, family secrets aren’t new, but a California girl wanting nothing more than to be a movie star ending up haunted in southern Delaware in bitter January is new.  And, let’s face it, funny.

city countryMaybe I’m a “Refresher,” because my Lost In books are twists on the City Mouse/Country Mouse story.  But, with unique plot lines and twists told through fun, interesting, and unique characters, presto, the idea is new and fresh, not stolen.

 So, back to the question, Does the thought of someone stealing one of your wonderfully fabulous and amazing ideas fill you with dread and fear?

Yes, for sure.  But I think it’s pretty unlikely that someone would snatch something from the bowels of the secret Callaghan writing laboratory, write it to completion in the same way I would, pitch it, and sell it.

Bottom line:  The notion of an idea-stealer lurking in the shadows of the Callaghan Writing Cave doesn’t keep me up at night….. Hmmm, an “idea-stealer,” that’s an interesting idea for a novel.  (See how that works?)

So, readers, tell me: Are you a refresher? Can you think of examples of “sameideaology”? And what do you think might be the next big trend?

I’ll give away a copy of the book to one commenter here today!Callaghan-55retouched

Cindy Callaghan is a business professional and ‘tween writer. Her books: Just Add Magic (2010), Lost in London (2013), Lucky Me (2014)/Lost In Ireland (2016), Lost in Paris (2015), Lost in Rome (2015), Lost in Hollywood (2016), and Sydney MacKenzie Knocks ‘Em Dead (2017), Just Add Magic: Potion Problems (2018) and Saltwater Summers (2019) magically capture the tween voice and experience.

Cindy’s first book, the much-loved Just Add Magic, is now a breakout Amazon Original live-action series. Cindy lives in Wilmington, Delaware.

Welcome, Devon Delaney and a Giveaway

by Barb, loving being back in Maine

Devon Delaney’s cozy, culinary mystery Expiration Date releases on April 24, (my anniversary!). I recently met Devon at the Kensington Cozy-con here in Portland and learned about her amazing success at a fascinating hobby–cooking contesting.

Devon is giving away a copy of Expiration Date to one lucky commenter below.

Take it away, Devon!

If someone had told me my life’s journey would lead me from teaching computer education and Lego Robotics to cooking contesting, then on to writing cozy murder mysteries I would have had a much easier time convincing my father the money he invested in my liberal arts college degree was money well spent. Admittedly, cooking contesting isn’t a degree offered in any schools I’m aware of, but the highly successful twenty years I’ve been involved in the hobby is an education in of itself.

Making the leap from competing in cook-off contests to authoring a cozy murder mystery series may not make sense to most, but to me it’s a perfect evolution of my beloved hobby. In the dictionary the definition of contest is battle, contend and compete. The cooking contests I compete in have taken me from coast to coast. At each venue I meet the most wonderful home cooks. But I never mistake my fellow competitor’s outward warmth as a weakness. Each wants to crush me and every other contestant to get that grand prize. Even though I have yet to encounter a murder at one of my cook-offs, my powers of observation have tuned in to a few salty scenarios when battles got heated. The notion of how far events could escalate occurred to me one day when a friend casually remarked, “I’d kill to be able to cook like you.” A series was born.

That being said, the main character in my series, Sherry, is a compilation of myself and other cooks I know. She is flawed. She finds herself in situations she doesn’t necessarily wish to be in. She makes the most out of the unusual talents she isn’t fully aware she possesses. I might have a more comedic, and probably inappropriate, approach to life’s serious moments than Sherry, but I have hopes she’ll loosen up as she realizes she can’t control every aspect of her life despite her efforts to do just that. Like me, she has her fingers in many pies. From canning her own produce to working at her family’s hooked rug store her day is a busy one, but her favorite pursuit remains battling in cook-offs showcasing her best recipe.

In the meantime, Sherry continues to cook and compete, flourishing with each victory. Her new and unintentional hobby as amateur sleuth lands her in some very precarious situations that only her experience in the contest kitchen could have prepared her for.

Devon’s Bio

I am a wife, mother of three, accomplished cooking contester and a recent empty nester. I taught computer education and Lego Robotics for over ten years prior to pursuing writing. Along the way I have been handsomely rewarded for my recipe innovation over the last twenty-plus years. Among the many prizes I have won are a full kitchen of major appliances, six-figure top cash prizes and four trips to Disney World. I have also won the grand prize in a national writing contest for my ‘foodie’ poem “Ode to Pork Passion.” Combining my beloved cooking contesting with my enthusiasm for writing was inevitable. My author website can be found at:

Expiration Date, A Cook-Off Mystery

Sherry Frazzelle lives a busy life in her quaint coastal Connecticut town. Her passion is competitive cooking and she has the trophies to prove how serious she is when she cooks for a prize. When her prepared pork tenderloin dish is the last food a contest judge tastes before he expires, she must put aside her spatula long enough to clear her good name and find the killer before he strikes again. The deeper her involvement in the investigation, the higher the heat soars in the contest kitchen. Will the competition become so unsavory, she isn’t able to get herself off the chopping block?

Readers: Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Expiration Date. Did you know competitive cooking was a thing? (I mean aside from Top Chef and the Food Network.) Would you like to try it? Doesn’t the world of cooking contesting sound like ripe ground for a cozy mystery series? Or just say “hi” for a chance to win.

Welcome Agatha Award Best First Novel Nominees — Superstitions

Agatha Award Nominees for Best First Novel talk about Superstition

Welcome to the Agatha Award Nominees for Best First Novel. Julie, Liz, and I were all nominated in that category and know what an exciting and nerve racking time this is. The Agatha Awards are voted on by the attendees of the fabulous Malice Domestic conference for fans of traditional mysteries. I love that since it is Friday the 13th you decided to talk about superstitions!

Micki Browning, author of Adrift: A Mer Cavallo Mystery

Superstition and I parted ways the day I discovered that stepping on a crack would not, in fact, break my mother’s back. Yet, I find superstitions fascinating. Mer, my protagonist in Adrift, is a woman of science. To her, superstition is nonsense, yet her grandmother had given her a pendant when she was a child, and before every rescue she touches it. To an observer, it appears she does it for luck. She would argue she touches it for comfort. But isn’t that what superstitious responses are designed to do? They impart a sense of comfort when events are otherwise out of our control. Maybe we should all knock on wood that it works.

V.M. Burns, author of The Plot is Murder: Mystery Bookshop Mystery Series     

I don’t consider myself superstitious. I don’t avoid black cats and I don’t walk under ladders because…well, dangerous. However, superstitions also involve rituals, like wearing lucky socks to sporting event. In that regard, I have a writing ritual. Similar to my protagonist in THE PLOT IS MURDER, Samantha Washington, for many years, I wrote in secret. Only a handful of trusted friends and family knew my heart’s desire was to be a published writer. Even after two manuscripts, I didn’t announce to the world that I was a writer. A stack of rejections and a huge pile of self-doubt convinced me I wasn’t a ‘real’ writer. However, after learning one of my favorite writers was an adjunct professor at Seton Hill University. I enrolled and got my MFA. That helped to boost my confidence enough to declare to the world (and the IRS) that I am a writer. To maintain the feeling whenever I sit down to write, I almost always wear my Seton Hill T-shirt, Sweatshirt or baseball cap to remind myself that I am, indeed a writer.

Kellye Garrett, author of Hollywood Homicide, a Detective by Day Mystery

For me, superstition is a Stevie Wonder song. I don’t have them! I am not afraid of black cats. (I am allergic though.) I don’t freak out on Friday the 13th. (Mainly because I usually forget what day it is.) If I see a penny, I’m not picking it up. (Now if it was a twenty dollar bill…) Like I said, I don’t have superstitions. I do, however, have preferences. For instance, I prefer to not open an umbrella inside. Not because I’m superstitious but because it usually doesn’t rain indoors. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) I also prefer to knock on wood. I don’t encounter a lot of ladders but if I did, I definitely won’t be walking under them. Mainly because I can’t fit.

Laura Oles, author of Daughters of Bad Men

Superstitious? Me? I might be a little skittish, but I come by it honestly.

My father, who passed away a few years ago, was a huge baseball fan. Like– reschedule chemotherapy because it conflicts with spring training– huge. As is the case with many passionate fans, he had his own rituals, and if he went to the kitchen to get something and his team scored, guess who was going to the kitchen every inning for the remainder of the game?

I like to err on the side of luck and don’t see any reason to stack the deck, so I won’t walk under a ladder without a REALLY GOOD REASON. Black cats don’t scare me, although a broken mirror might give me pause. Maybe I’m selective with my superstitions, and I realize that it’s all in my head, but why take the chance?

The Indians are down by two, so I’m going to the kitchen. Need anything while I’m there?

Kathleen Valenti, author of Protocol: A Maggie O’Malley Mystery

I’ve never been one for superstitions. Spill some salt? Clean it up. Open an umbrella inside? Why not? Walk under a ladder? Don’t mind if I do. Ritual, on the other hand, is another story.

In the early days of writing Protocol, I created a rite for writing: wearing headphones. Not headphones to listen to music or tune into podcasts. Just…headphones. Donning those glorified earmuffs helped me shut out the outside world and concentrate on the universe of my characters. It also helped me listen to my own voice, something I tend to lose since I write in my clients’ voices on the daily as an advertising copywriter.

Strange? Uh huh. Alarming? Definitely for anyone who witnessed me wearing headphones with the cord plugged into nothing. But it seemed to work when I needed it.

Now I find myself leaning less on ritual and instead trusting that I’ll find my voice and remember that the path to The End is paved with hard work, relentless reading, copious amounts of caffeine and the friendship of other authors, like my fellow Agatha nominees. But I’m keeping the headphones handy, just in case.


A retired police captain, Micki Browning writes the Mer Cavallo Mystery series set in the Florida Keys. In addition to the Agatha nomination for Best First Novel, Adrift, has won both the Daphne du Maurier and the Royal Palm Literary Awards. Beached, her second novel, launched January 2018. Micki’s work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. She lives in South Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba equipment she uses for “research.” Learn more about Micki at

V.M. (Valerie) Burns was born in Northwestern Indiana and spent many years in Southwestern Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline. She is a lover of dogs, British historic cozies, and scones with clotted cream. After many years in the Midwest she went in search of milder winters and currently lives in Eastern Tennessee with her poodles. Receiving the Agatha nomination for Best First Novel has been a dream come true. Valerie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. Readers can learn more by visiting her website at

Kellye Garrett writes the Detective by Day mysteries about a semi-famous, mega-broke black actress who takes on the deadliest role of her life; Homicide Detective. The first, Hollywood Homicide, was recently nominated for Agatha, Lefty and Barry awards. The second, Hollywood Ending, will be released on August 8, 2018 from Midnight Ink. Prior to writing novels, Kellye spent eight years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for the TV drama Cold Case. The New Jersey native now works for a leading media company in New York City and serves on the national Board of Directors for Sisters in Crime. You can learn more about her at and

Laura Oles is a photo industry journalist who spent twenty years covering tech and trends before turning to crime fiction. She served as a columnist for numerous photography magazines and publications. Laura’s short stories have appeared in several anthologies, including MURDER ON WHEELS, which won the Silver Falchion Award in 2016. Her debut mystery, DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN, is a Claymore Award Finalist and an Agatha nominee for Best First Novel. She is also a Writers’ League of Texas Award Finalist. Laura is a member of Austin Mystery Writers, Sisters in Crime and Writers’ League of Texas. Laura lives on the edge of the Texas Hill Country with her husband, daughter and twin sons. Visit her online at

Kathleen Valenti is the author of the Maggie O’Malley mystery series. The series’ first book, Agatha- and Lefty-nominated Protocol, introduces us to Maggie, a pharmaceutical researcher with a new job, a used phone and a deadly problem. The series’ second book, 39 Winks, releases May 22. When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning advertising copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running. Learn more at

Readers: Are you superstitious? Do you have a superstition that you can’t get over?