Guest Blogger ~ Barbara Pronin


            I confess I have an odd history of collecting miscellaneous bits and pieces – a compelling smile, a story in the news, a flowering meadow under sunlit skies that almost defies description. For the most part, I have no clue how or if these snapshots will come together in a novel. But I am not surprised when that compelling smile one day lights the face of a character, or when that flowering meadow becomes the very place where the lovers in chapter three come together.

            Let me see if I can help you understand how the magic and mystery happen.

            In 2019, we checked in for a weekend at a seaside hotel in California – a boutique hotel, the brochure called it, which I interpreted as small, over-priced, a little bit quirky, and not necessarily solvent. The pretty young desk clerk who checked us in seemed to be a bit frazzled – all the more so when a colleague tapped her on the shoulder.

 “I’ll take over,” she whispered. “Your daughter’s on the phone. She says it’s urgent.”

The desk clerk heaved a sigh, managed a wan smile, and ran for the nearest phone.

            Months later, we went to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore. The colossal sculpture, breathtaking in the shadow of the brooding Black Hills, is truly a sight to behold. We toured the national park to watch the buffalo roam, stopped for a night in Rapid City, and moved on to the storied town of Deadwood.

            Deadwood, as popularized by the TV series, was the dusty little gaming mecca where Wild Bill Hickok met his Maker. It still supports itself as a gaming mecca, but its neighbor, Lead, is home to the Homestake Mine – at one time the nation’s largest, deepest, and most productive gold mine in the nation. The mine closed in 2002, but it’s still open for tours – so in we went.

            I felt a chill as I took a step into the dark, dank interior of the mine, its concrete walls damp with decades of moisture and crosshatched with the remnants of rutted trails embedded by trams and miners bringing up the precious ore.

            I leaned forward, peering over the rails into the darkened mineshaft. All around me I heard the quiet buzz of tourists. But in my writer’s mind, I heard the anguished cry of someone falling into the depths.

Who was it? Had they fallen or been pushed? And if they had been pushed, why?

Out of nowhere, the frazzled desk clerk walked into my head and began to tell me a story. By the time I got home, I could hardly wait to get it down on paper.

If you’re curious to know how a California desk clerk wound up in a mine shaft in South Dakota, please read “The Miner’s Canary.”

As for me, I’m busy connecting bits and pieces for my World War II historical, “Winter’s End,” due out this coming October.

Thanks for caring –



They say you can’t go home again… For single mom Julie Goldman, who long ago left the ghosts of her troubled youth behind her, inheriting her aunt’s old Victorian in the Black Hills mining town of Deadwood, South Dakota, is as much a test as a blessing. Her aunt was not the person she thought she knew, and a diary left by her long-dead cousin Kate sets Julie on a path to find her killer. But with two new murders in town, and a series of vague threats, Julie must overcome her personal demons to protect her daughter and stop the killer who has them clearly in his sights. : the miner’s canary barbara pronin

The Miner’s Canary: a novel by Barbara Pronin, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® ( 

Barbara Pronin saw her first byline in a community newsletter at age eight and was forever hooked on writing. She has worked over the years as an actress, a probation officer, a news editor, and a substitute teacher, the last of which inspired her first book, a non-fiction guide to effective subbing still in print more than 30 years later.

Her earlier mysteries, including three as Barbara Nickolae, earned kudos from such best-selling writers as Mary Higgins Clark and Tony Hillerman, and have recently been republished. Her latest mystery, “The Miner’s Canary,” was published last October. Her newest work, a World War II historical titled, “Winter’s End” is set for publication in October 2023.

A lover of dark chocolate, Greek sunsets, and Dodgers baseball, Barbara lives and works in Orange County, Calif., where she writes on real estate for RISMedia and is eagerly waiting for the next cast of characters to take up residence in her head and demand that she tell their story.



Writers and Their . . . Warnings?

Several articles over the last few weeks have circled around the issue of “trigger warnings.” I’m used to seeing them before certain television shows, but I haven’t seen them on books yet.

Jamie Beck’s essay in Writer Unboxed explored the perplexing and even confounding question of trigger warnings for novelists. Her publisher “engaged a sensitivity reader to evaluate the portrayal of a neurodiverse character in my summer 2023 release (The Beauty of Rain). I eagerly anticipated the reader’s feedback, whose notes on that aspect of the manuscript were ultimately helpful and unsurprising. Conversely, her recommendation that I add trigger warnings about suicidal ideation and prescription drug abuse did momentarily throw me.” In the end, after extensive discussion, she decided to add a warning in the author’s note, as an expression of her commitment to building “a trusting relationship” with her readers.

The essay is reviewed in Victoria Weisfeld’s blog, where she considers other books, including one that seemed hardly to need a trigger warning of any sort. On Fabian Nicieza’s highly comic mystery, Suburban Dicks, she comments, “A reader would have to be extremely thin-skinned indeed to take his jibes seriously, but then we do seem to be in such an era.”

The idea of trigger warnings may have grown out of academia. In 1991, when I attended Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a young MFA student admitted in a workshop that her fellow students were paralyzed in their classes for fear of writing something that would lead the teacher to accuse them of . . . of what wasn’t clear. But in general, they feared writing something considered politically incorrect, and as a result couldn’t write anything. 

At MIT students are sometimes afraid to speak for fear of consequences, which suggests we haven’t made much progress since 1991. According to an article in the Boston Globe, “A recent FIRE survey of 45,000 students at over 200 US colleges found that 60 percent were uncomfortable publicly disagreeing with a professor about a controversial topic; at MIT, it’s 68 percent. In the national survey, 63 percent of students worried about damaging their reputations because someone misinterpreted their words or actions. At MIT, 68 percent worried about this.” It should be understandable that my brain jumped to the news of Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, shutting down the AP course on African American History. 

For me the issue isn’t whether or not what I write will offend someone, a reader I’ve never met and probably never will. I write a traditional mystery, and avoid violence in any form. But the question upends my longstanding view of the reader, as someone who comes to my work with an open mind and an optimistic attitude. 

Whenever I’m looking for something to read in the library, I pull several titles off the shelves until I find one that appeals to me. I check the genre (thriller, sci-fi, traditional, cozy, etc.), read the blurbs and jacket copy, and consider the author. Once I make my choice I go home wanting to like the book, and I give it my full attention as a reader, a form of respect for another writer’s best effort to date. Do I look for trigger warnings? No. Have I ever missed one and wished it had been included? No. Have I read into books that I wished I hadn’t? Yes. 

I don’t think I could read a novel and notice every instance that might cause distress in a reader. Would a deadly car crash qualify? Or back story about a child taken from the home because of physical abuse? How about the story of a bully who made high school miserable for a group of students? This is the kind of information I’d expect to find in the jacket copy—a clear indication of the parameters of the story. But I also wouldn’t want the jacket copy to give away important features. 

There’s no easy answer to the question of using or not using trigger warnings, but the discussions have caught my attention and made me think. I don’t want a reader to be distressed by one of my books (very unlikely, considering what I write), but I also don’t want to find myself unable to write freely out of fear or concern about a reader’s reaction. The decision will be different for each writer, and may vary with the book. I look forward to more discussion, and learning more about how this plays out for writers.

Down to One Last Charge

Eight days! Stuck behind a mountain of snow. Our prize oak tree split and embedded in our car, stranding us. We were down to one charge on one power pack for one phone (our only lifeline) when power was restored.

Imagine no power for eight days. In the mountains that means no heat, water, lights, or flushing toilets. Oh, we had enough food. I went shopping two days before the storm as did everyone else in the area. I was standing, resting my elbow on my shopping cart’s handle, when a woman in another endless checkout line yelled, “It better snow!” 

It did. Feet of it. It was enjoyable, big fluffy flakes softly piling up on our deck, until a tree demolished our car, and the power went out. After that, we had no way out, nor did our neighbors. We have an excellent wood-burning iron stove and dry wood. We could light our gas stove with matches, but not the oven. We had headlamps, and lanterns of all sorts. Batteries for the ages. Puzzles. And a massive goose-down comforter in the unheated bedroom. We believe the ambient temperature of sheetrock to be forty-four degrees.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you know my most recent book Unbecoming a Lady takes place in 1876. That’s where we lived for those eight days. It’s tough. But what I learned is this, it can be done. It takes some reorientation, for sure. On the first day, you figure out what is essential, and how to operate all while praying that the power comes back on. You overuse your phone because it is your only point of contact with the outside world. And, in our case, the only way to file the insurance claim on our destroyed car. Oh, for a horse and sleigh like those used in Cora’s little prairie town of Wanee.

Then you get the endless emails from PG&E telling you they are on site and the power will be up Monday … no Wednesday … no Friday.

As time went on, we ate the food from the freezer in the order it thawed. We ate pretty darn good. One night we dined on coconut shrimp and dim sum. Way better than Cora’s winter mainstays of storage vegetables and salted meat.

We lived Cora Countryman’s life for over a week minus the three-story house to clean and the boarders to feed that define her days. Hard, all-consuming work. All your attention turns to staying warm, clean, and fed. You get up in the morning and light the fire, boil water to make pour-over coffee, scramble eggs, and fry bacon. Forget the toast. Then you gather fresh snow for your coolers and dump water in the toilet tanks until they flush. You melt snow and boil it to wash yourself and the dishes. Put fresh batteries in where needed. Shovel a path through the snow to the wood pile. Then shovel it again. Pull out the old laundry drying rack and set it by the fireplace, so everything is dry for the next day’s shoveling. You get the idea. And when it gets dark huddle around the fire with your puzzle. Then repeat.

My husband and I finished the puzzle, headlamps on our heads. It is striking how well we adapted to life without television, streaming, phones, lights, toilets, running water, and a microwave. Perhaps because games were played outside when we were kids, the telephone was tethered to the wall, and the television was a small square box with three channels. This isn’t to say that we didn’t delight when the microwave went diddle-diddle-dee, happily letting us know the power was back on.

Now, like Cora, I wonder how her mother found time to play Whist three days a week. And I have a deeper understanding of her day-to-day life. Now to write a wintertime mystery!

The Characters Keep Expanding by Karen Shughart

It’s fascinating to me how, with each successive book in my Edmund DeCleryk mystery series, the number of characters keeps expanding. With the first book there were a handful as I introduced the investigators and their families and friends, but the number grew as I included  the murder victim, witnesses and those involved as suspects or  who helped with the investigation.  While each book can be read as a standalone, because this is a series there are not only recurring characters- the support cast, so to speak- but new ones added as part of each new plot.  

For the first three books I was able to keep track of those characters without having to write their names on a chart, although occasionally I browsed through previous manuscripts when I couldn’t remember a minor character’s name. Now I’m in the process of writing book four, Murder at Chimney Bluffs, and keeping track of all the names has become much more challenging. So, to make things easier, I’ve created a list that includes old and new that I keep by the side of my computer to refer to when necessary. The list is so long that I now have two columns, divided into main and supportive characters, their friends and family, those involved in the historical backstory, or who are suspects or otherwise related to the crime or the killer.

Photo by Helena Lopes on

I’m asked if I construct an outline for my books and stick to a plot I create at the outset, but I don’t.  Instead I typically go where the story takes me. Like a train picking up cargo along the way, I add characters, or discard those who appeared in previous books if they’re not relevant to the current one. If appropriate, I’ll bring them back as the series continues.

 A former board member of the historical society and museum who retired and moved to Canada; his son; Annie’s predecessor who moved to England with her husband; a CIA agent who worked with Ed when both were Navy SEALS;  Ed’s close group of male friends from childhood ; Annie’s chums who comprise her support group; most have had at least cameo roles in all the books.

A new and influential member of Annie’s board of directors will appear for the first time in book four, and I expect he will also be a recurring character. Astonishing how the number has grown from book one to book four. At last count, I’m close to 50, some major and many minor.  As I think about it, what’s happened is that I’ve been building a community, and in the end, that’s what cozies do.

Karen Shughart is the author of the Edmund DeCleryk cozy mystery series, published by Cozy Cat Press. Her books are available in multiple formats at retail outlets and online. Read a recent interview about her writing with AllAuthor:

Guest Blogger ~ Marcia Rosen


Mysteries Have Their Place!

After landing on the moon…that could have been a fun location for a murder.

The Egyptian Pyramids, Eiffel Tower, or White House? They would be great locations for a good murder. In fact, they have been.

Major cities, small towns, and many made up villages have become the location for a murder mystery and, especially, several very successful mystery series.

There were plenty of murders in cities along Rt. 66. John Steinbeck named it the Mother Road. I think of it as the Murder Road.

Location was once considered everything in business…before technology. Location is still essential in a good mystery. Location is place, and place is as much a character in mysteries as the people.

Murder on the Orient Express—what a great location for a murder, moving and stopped.  As was the apartment in Rear Window, and another apartment in the haunting film, Laura. In and around London there were many murders with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and a fascinating one on an English Country Estate in Godsford Park.

We lovers of mysteries know that murders and other crimes have occurred on all sorts of moving vehicles, in different rooms in small homes and large estates, and possibly even in our own back yards?  Well, hopefully not! 

The lover of mystery books enjoys envisioning the place where a story takes them, and in movies and on television the place often becomes central to the appeal and importance of the story. It helps the viewer to become caught up in it, perhaps even feel a part of it.  Some plots are dark and frightening and provide an extra sense of anticipation for lovers of thrillers like the type written by Stephen King, and his locations add to the suspense.

The art of a murder mystery and investigation includes a private detective or the police or, in a cozy mystery, an amateur sleuth. The dialogue needs to create suspense with some foreshadowing and fake clues are followed and soon ignored. Finally, the arc of the murder mystery starts having the story lead to the chase of the real villains, who are caught—dead or alive—of course.

But, what about a location, where murder and mayhem terrorize the residents. Doors are locked and there are whispers and secrets behind those closed doors. Questions remain.  Who killed their neighbor’s wife in the alley next to the post office? Who stabbed the old man as he walked across the bridge late at night? Who pushed the young man off his apartment balcony? Why did the murderer run his or her car over the victim on a country road, the moon hidden behind the trees? Were there witnesses to any of these murders? Ah, where are they possibly located?

As a mystery writer, I believe location plays a huge part in the plot and ultimately when and where the murder is solved.  To escape murderers hide in a location fitting the plot, one designed to build up a sense of suspense and anticipation.

We as readers and viewers also enjoy explosive endings. There are gunfights and car chases up and down city streets. There are threats and demands until the final moments of capture. The movie Witness ended in an Amish barn. In the book The Name of the Rose, written by one of my favorite authors, Umberto Eco, the murders and the ending take place in an Abbey in the 1300s. In Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, the finale is on Mt. Rushmore. Another favorite of mine is Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Series taking place somewhere along the California coast. And, in historical fiction, the landscape fits the century and the plot.

Location, location, location. The book ends. The film is finished. Surely calm prevails, the dark sky is lighter, and all is right again. Or is it?

Send me your favorite mystery location. Author, We’ll add it to my site or possibly one of my social media posts. 
Thank you.


An Agatha, Raymond, Sherlock, and Me Mystery: “Murder at the Zoo”

A body is tossed into the lion’s habitat at the zoo where Miranda Scott is the senior vet. She and Detective Bryan Anderson join forces to unravel that mystery and several more murders. A fan since childhood of Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and Sherlock Holmes they seem to live in her head, frequently telling her what to do…and not do. Murders, family, deceit, revenge, and a gangster father and godfather often get in the way of a fine romance between Miranda and the Detective.

Marcia Rosen (aka M. Glenda Rosen), award winning author of eleven books including The Senior Sleuths and Dying To Be Beautiful Mystery Series and The Gourmet Gangster: Mysteries and Menus (With son Jory Rosen). She is also author of The Woman’s Business Therapist and award winning My Memoir Workbook.       

Marcia is a member of numerous writing organizations and frequent guest speaker.