When A Character Puts Her Foot Down

Hi. Barb here. Please welcome my friend Leslie Wheeler to the blog. Leslie and I were in a writers group together for more than twenty years and were co-editors at Level Best Books for six years. I was lucky enough to see her latest book Rattlesnake Hill take shape and it’s terrific.

Here’s the blurb:

It’s November in the Berkshires, a dreary time of dwindling light when the tourists have fled along with the last gasp of fall foliage. So when a stranger shows up in the sleepy hilltown of New Nottingham and starts asking questions, the locals don’t exactly roll out the welcome wagon.

Bostonian Kathryn Stinson is on a deeply personal quest to solve a family mystery: the identity of a nameless beauty in an old photograph an ancestor brought with him to California over a century ago. But, as Kathryn quickly discovers, the hills possess a host of dark secrets – both ancient and new – that can only be revealed at the price of danger and even death.

Take it away, Leslie!

I remember the moment vividly. I’m standing in my mother’s sunny, Southern California kitchen, while a scene in the novel I’m writing plays out in my mind. Coincidentally, the scene takes place in another kitchen, where Miranda Lewis, the main character in my first mystery novel, Murder at Plimoth Plantation, reveals her feelings for a male character in the second series book. She goes to him and starts kissing him as he stands at the sink. Or rather, that’s what she’s supposed to do. Instead, she puts her foot down and refuses! I mean, the nerve!

“I’m the boss lady,” I say, “so you’ll do what I tell you.”

“No way,” she fires back, “You gave me a perfectly fine love interest with Nate Barnes, and I’m sticking with him.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Earl Barker’s a great guy—handsome, sexy, and a marvelous storyteller.”

“Yeah, what more do you want?” Earl chimes in from the sink, where he’s still waiting to be kissed.

“I want Nate,” Miranda says stubbornly.

“You mean all those times we were together, and you seemed to be falling for me, it was just an act?” Earl demands, his face turning red under his tan.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to lead you on. She made me do it.” Miranda points an accusing finger at me.

Now they’re both glaring at me. “Hey, guys, calm down,” I say. “There must be a way we can work things out.”

“And what about Nate?” Miranda flares. “Did you even bother to ask him how he feels about the situation?”

Uh-oh. Miranda has no sooner spoken his name than Nate strides into the kitchen, and I’ve got another angry character on my hands. “She most certainly did not,” Nate declares. “After giving me a few paltry scenes in the beginning, I get kicked to the curb for this, this . . . hillbilly.” He scowls at Earl.

“Hey, you’re not supposed to call him that,” I say. “That line belongs to another character.”

“Another character,” Miranda repeats slowly. Her expression turns thoughtful, then she has a lightbulb moment. “That’s it!” She beams.

“What?” the rest of us ask.

“It’s another character’s story. C’mon, Nate,” Miranda says, linking arms with him. “We’re outta here.”

Earl watches them go, dumbfounded. “If they’re bailing, where does that leave me?”

“Oh, you’re still in the book,” I assure him, “But like Miranda said, it will be another character’s story.”


“Well, I’m not sure yet . . .Who would you like it to be?”

He considers this a moment. “Young, hot, and drop-dead gorgeous.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I say, though that’s not quite the character who’s beginning to take shape in my mind.

“When you’ve got her, let me know and I’ll be back for the re-writes.” Earl turns to go, but almost immediately stops. “One more thing. If this book was going to be the second book in your Living History Mystery Series, and now it’s not, what happens to that series?”

“Oh, there’ll be other books. I promised Miranda and Nate there would be be at least two more.”

“And the book I’m in?”

I hesitate. “Well, I was kind of thinking it would be a standalone.”

His furious look makes me sorry I made him such a hot-tempered dude. “No! You either give me the three-book series you’re giving them, or the deal’s off.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I repeat.

“You damn well better!” He storms from the kitchen.

After a few moments of blessed silence, my mother, who’s been sitting patiently at her sunny, Southern California kitchen table all along, says, “If you’ve finished arguing with those people, can we have lunch?”

And that is how Murder at New Nottingham, which was supposed to be the second book in my Living History Mystery Series, featuring Miranda Lewis, became Rattlesnake Hill, the first book in a new series of Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries, featuring Kathryn Stinson.

Readers: Has anyone else had a similar experience with their characters? If so, I would love to know how you handled it.

An award-winning author of American history books and biographies, Leslie Wheeler has written three living history mysteries: Murder at Plimoth Plantation, Murder at Gettysburg, and Murder at Spouters Point. Her short stories have appeared in such anthologies as Day of the Dark, Stories of Eclipse, and Level Best Books’ New England Crime Stories series, where she was formerly an editor. A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, she is Speakers Bureau Coordinator for the New England Chapter. Leslie divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Berkshires, where she writes in a house overlooking a pond

Happy Book Birthday, Level Best Books

It’s that time of year, again. Time for the annual release of Best New England Crime Stories published by Level Best Books. I have to say, as a now former editor, the announcement this year is bittersweet for me.

Here’s the blurb.

Red Sky at Morning
Readers Take Warning!

ReddawncoverfrontRed Dawn brings new meaning to the old sailors’ adage with thirty-three brand new stories from some of New England’s most acclaimed mystery writers, along with several exciting new voices.

Some spine-tingling, some rib-tickling, from cons and capers to conundrums and classic whodunnits and everything in between, Level Best Books thirteenth anthology presents a boatload of the best original regional crime writing.

With stories from Mark Ammons, Gary Braver, John Bubar, Lucy Burdette, Dorothy Cannell, Shelly Dickson Carr, Louisa Clerici, Bruce Robert Coffin, Deborah Dolby, Stef Donati, Gerald Elias, Sanford Emerson, Christine Eskilson, Katherine Fast, Kate Flora, Rae Padilla Francoeur, Angela Gerst, Judith Green, Vy Kava, Chris Knopf, Gin Mackey, Cheryl Marceau, Ruth M. McCarty, Peggy McFarland, Alan D. McWhirter, Susan Oleksiw, Dale T. Phillips, A.J. Pompano, Margaret Press, Barbara Ross, Alan Vogel, Annelisa Johnson Wagner, and Leslie Wheeler.

Cozies, what say you about Level Best’s latest?


Readers getting their copies of Red Dawn signed by the authors. In the pink sweater is Ruth McCarty, one of the earlier editors of the anthology.

Sherry: I can’t wait to read it! Another great line up of authors and stories! Editors Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Leslie Wheeler, and Barbara Ross are going out with a spectacular bang!

Julie: Level Best was my first publisher. I’ve had three stories in their anthologies over the years. These four editors–Mark, Barb, Kat, Leslie–have done such an amazing job, and they are going out on a high. I bought my copy (and a couple of others for gifts) at Crime Bake, and can’t wait to dive in. Congratulations to everyone included in this wonderful book!!


Barb next to Kate Flora, one of the original editors.

Edith: My review will be in local papers on Friday, but I can say it was a great read. Every story a winner! And such a treat to see the line of authors signing Saturday at Crime Bake, as they do every year. I’m sure it’s bittersweet for the outgoing editors. They can retire from the job with pride in many years of a job well done, though.

Jessie: Level Best has such a community feel to it. Not only is it providing a showcase for quality short stories, it is sharing the joy of being published in such a tangible way. I love that the editors arrange for group signings and that the anthology is such an important part of launching careers. Congratulations!

Liz: This anthology is so important for so many reasons – it’s the beginning step on the road to publication for many crime fiction authors. Barb, Leslie, Kat and Mark have done an amazing job and I’m so excited for the new group to take over and continue the tradition. Congratulations, guys, on a job so well done!

Readers: Have you read every volume since the beginning? Do you like short fiction, or prefer longer form?

Wicked Wednesday: Who’s in Your Lifeboat


W is for Wicked


C is for Cozy


A is for Authors

This group, these wicked awesome authors, we six – we’ve talked offline about how we’re each other’s lifeboat. We communicate by email, by phone, by ESP, it sometimes seems. We share advice, support, and cautions about pitfalls. Stern words about not getting discouraged, and hugs, in person or virtual, when needed. We laugh together and cry together.

So Wickeds, who else is your lifeboat besides us?

Sherry: I’m very lucky to have a group of sorority sisters that are my other lifeboat team. We try to get together at least every other year. When we aren’t together it’s a lot like with the Wickeds, phone calls, texts, and group emails. Both of these groups enrich my lives in so many ways.

Edith: I’ve been a member of Amesbury Friends Meeting for twenty-five years.It’s my spiritual home, my second family, my support network — a true lifeboat. We share joys and concerns, and the silence is as important as the talking. I’m also blessed with my first family – my sisters, my sons, my beau, and my parents while they were alive: all huge readers, all excited for me, all there for me when things aren’t going well, too. My sister in Ottawa even sent me a screenshot of my books in the Canadian capital’s library system!

Barb: My other lifeboat group is also writing related–my writers group of almost 20 years. Mark Ammons, Leslie Wheeler and I met in an advanced class in mystery writing at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education taught by the wonderful B. A. Shapiro. The three of us formed the core of the group along with the late Marge Leibenstein and were joined soon after by Kat Fast. Cheryl Marceau joined later, as did others who came and went, but who all left their mark. For the last five years, Mark, Kat, Leslie and I have been co-editor/co-publishers at Level Best Books. There is no question that my desire to spend time with and be respected by these people kept me writing even at times when jobs and other obligations made it difficult. I am eternally grateful.

Liz: I’m so lucky to have lots of different groups over the years as other lifeboats. Friends from my original writers group, The Wingate Writers, have been so supportive and are always there to share in news, both good and bad. I also have wonderful friends from the animal rescue community who have truly gone above and beyond for me over the years, especially when I needed friends the most. And of course, my family!

Julie: I have different pockets of friends who are lifeboats for different areas of my life. I have a group that started out as a book club, but we haven’t read a book in years. Another group who I traveled to Egypt with a few years back (none of us knew each other, and we were all travelling alone) and they’ve become good friends. My theater world also has a lifeboat of theater and coffee dates. My other blog, Live to Write/Write to Live, has definite lifeboat attributes. And I am really blessed to have a network of family and friends. But I’ve got to say, the Wickeds have a special place.

Jessie: I feel so lucky to have my family in my lifeboat. My husband, mother, sisters and children are a constant source of encouragement and cheering. There are friends in there too and community members that always ask about life and projects. I am also so blessed to count members of my knitting group as fellow lifeboat passengers. I never though,t when I sought them out at a local library years ago, how much they would become a source of fun and support.

Readers: Who is your lifeboat? Who would you take with you for mutual support if the ship starts sinking?


by Barbara Ross
on the seacoast, in Maine

Recently, Jessie wrote a one-word titled post, “Kindness.” That got me thinking about maybe doing a series of posts with one-word titles. The one I have to pick right now is “Gratitude.”

Clammed UpIf you had told me, three years ago, or even two, that a book by me would be sitting right there on the shelf at Barnes & Noble between Kathy Reichs and Hank Phillippi Ryan, I would have told you, you were crazy.

But it happened. And it continues to happen. Clammed Up has been well-reviewed and on the B&N in-store Mass Market paperback bestseller list for three weeks now. The audio and large print rights have been sold.

Which is even more unbelievable.

So I want to take a moment to be grateful. Because I know it takes a special combination of luck and timing for all this to have happened for me.

Luck, timing and support.

Writing is a solitary pursuit, but it really takes a village to publish a book.

So thank you, thank you, thank you.

To my fabulous writer’s group of seventeen years–Mark Ammons, Kathy Fast, Cheryl Marceau and Leslie Wheeler. They kept me writing during all the years of kids and jobs, when it would have been so easy to give up. And they have taught me more than anybody.

To Sisters in Crime New England and the New England Crime Bake. Especially to 2011 SinCNE President Sheila Connolly who fielded an inquiry from agent John Talbot, vetted it and sent it to the group.

To the Maine Crime Writers, who took a chance on me when I had only one book published and was only a summer resident of Maine. They gave me the desire not only to write a book about Maine, but to get it right.

To my agent, John Talbot who had a vision and sold the series, my editor John Scognamiglio and the entire team at Kensington. Consummate professionals.

To the Grub Street Launch Lab pilot class. What an amazing, inspiring, crazy smart, crazy talented group. If you are a writer in Boston and you haven’t used the resource that is Grub Street, do it now. If you’re not in Boston, Grub is now offering online classes, and the Launch Lab is scheduled so out-of-towners can attend.

The Wicked Cozys

The Wicked Cozies

To the teachers at Seascape, Roberta Isleib (Lucy Burdette), Hallie Ephron and S.W. Hubbard and everyone in the class of ’09.

To the Wicked Cozies. My sisters in arms. I can’t tell you what its meant to have gone through this together.

barbandviolaAnd finally to my family. My kids, my new grandchild. Especially my brother Rip Ross without whom I never would have finished the second book in the series this summer.

And most especially my husband, Bill Carito.

The dedication to Clammed Up reads:

This book is dedicated to Bill Carito, my best friend, the love of my life, who has supported me in everything I’ve ever done. Honey, I’m sorry I got mad at you for breathing while I was trying to write.

I think that says it all.