Guest Blogger~ Sally Carpenter

Scots, kilts and crime

By Sally Carpenter

Thanks to Paty for this opportunity to guest on Ladies of Mystery.

When I created the main character for my Sandy Fairfax cozy series, I gave him a Scottish heritage so I could put him in a kilt. I love men in kilts. Sandy’s real name is Farmington, which has its own family tartan.

At long last the opportunity arrived. My new book, No. 6 in the series, is The Highland Havoc Caper. The story begins at the Seaside Highland Games in Ventura, California, based on the real Seaside Games in the city. I didn’t have the chance to attend the games when I was writing the book, but I pulled a lot of useful information off the event website. The games are held at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, which I’ve visited on other occasions, so I added some realistic features, such as the grounds are on the coast, providing a terrific ocean setting.

I found videos of other Highland Games on YouTube, so I was able to piece together an authentic depiction of the festivities. The event is a celebration of Scottish culture, music, dancing and “heavy athletics,” what the Scots call their sports of caber tossing, sheaf throwing, shot put using large stones and more. The sports are not for the weak of body nor faint of heart.

Sandy’s in a kilt for most of the book. I researched kilts via internet. The garment itself is a long piece of fabric that is wrapped around the body with the pleats hanging on one side. An ornamental pin keeps the kilt from flying open. A belt holds the kilt in place. Each family has its own tartan design.

The man also wears hose (knee-high stocking) held up with flashes (garters) that have small fabric tags visible under the top of the hose. Sometimes the shoes worn have long laces that are wrapped around the calf and tied below the knee.

Since kilts don’t have pockets, the man also wears a sporran, the large object hanging down the front of the kilt. The sporran is basically a purse, although I think nowadays it’s more decorative than practical. For formal occasions, a dress sporran is worn. This might have large tassels or artwork.

Women don’t wear kilts; they have tartan skits without the sporran.

In the book, Sandy tops his kilt in three different ways, depending on the occasion. When he sings during the games’ Saturday opening ceremonies, he wears a white shirt, a tartan tie and a solid-color jacket. He returns to the games the next day with a more casual look in a leather ghillie shirt that has a pointed collar, long sleeves cuffed at the wrist and leather laces at the neck instead of buttons.

For a formal dinner, Sandy dons a white Victorian shirt with a black bow tie and a tartan waistcoat. His jacket is left open to expose the waistcoat.

During the week Sandy is shooting a guest spot in a TV show in which he plays a Scottish ghost. Once more he’s in a kilt, although this one is a black tartan with the addition of a fly tartan, a sash that’s worn across the chest from the hip to the shoulder.

When Sandy’s at home or going places around town, he’s in regular clothes:  jeans, corduroys and sweatshirts.

On YouTube I also found some Scottish music that I used in the story. The phrase “You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road” is the chorus from the song “On the Banks of Lock Lomond.”

YouTube also shows Highland Fling and other Scottish dances. Sandy’s daughter takes dance lessons, so she’s in a Highland Fling contest during the games.

And we can’t talk about the Scots without haggis, that quintessential Scottish dish. Sandy’s served this at a dinner party. I asked my writers’ group if anyone had eaten haggis. Some liked it, others didn’t, and one said it’s a Scottish mainstay and I shouldn’t make fun of it. I didn’t, but I described what’s in it.

Other Scottish dishes making an appearance are mince and tatties (ground beef and mashed potatoes), neeps (turnips) and Red Kola (a Scottish soft drink).

I put in a few Scottish slang terms (nothing naughty), but didn’t write in dialect so that the reader could understand the dialogue.

I had fun with the research; crossing my fingers that I got it correct. I’m hoping my readers will enjoy this interesting look into Scottish culture and the twists in the mystery.

Former pop star Sandy Fairfax engages in a dangerous hobby—amateur sleuthing. At the Seaside Highland Games in California, he and his teenage son, Chip, discover more than their heritage. In a castle transported from Scotland, they find a body bludgeoned with a curling stone. But when they go for help, the corpse vanishes. Without a body or even a name, how will Sandy find the killer? As he and Cinnamon plan their wedding, more bodies pile up. A piper plummets from the castle tower and into the ocean. Another body is found behind a Scottish pub in L.A. And when Sandy takes a guest role on the Spook Spotters TV show, the worried dad must keep Chip safe from an amorous young actress. Whether you take the high road or the low road, can you solve the case before Sandy does?

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Sally Carpenter is a native Hoosier now living in Southern California. She writes retro-cozies: the Sandy Fairfax Teen idol series (six books) and the Psychedelic Spy series (two books). She was a finalist for the 2012 Eureka! Award for Best First Mystery Novel. She has a master’s degree in theater, a Master of Divinity and a black belt in tae kwon do. You can download free stories from her website


I’ve been busy the past month taking care of all the paperwork that is associated with someone’s death. My husband died on April 1, wasn’t unexpected as he was 92 and his health had been declining. He had a short hospital stay and was transferred to a rehabilitation facility. Neither place did much to help him.

Someone from the family went where he was for every meal; if they hadn’t most of the time he wouldn’t have eaten. He could no longer see and didn’t want to eat.

It was a blessing when he left this world to move onto heaven. I truly miss him. I am not alone, as my granddaughter, her husband and three girls live with me, and it helps.

The many years I spent with Tempe Crabtree and her adventures ended with the 20th mystery, A Final Farewell. Besides a body found in a drained pond, the ongoing character Miqui Sherwood has two beaus competing for her love. 

Many of the things I once did to promote a book are no longer possible, either physically or financially including nearly all the wonderful mystery conventions and conferences. I am planning to attend the Public Safety Writers Association’s annual conference in July.

I have great memories of all the places my husband and I did go to attend Left Coast Crime, Bouchercon and others, and all the wonderful people we met, writers and fans.

This will be my last post for Ladies of Mystery, and I’ve had a great time being a part of this group. I’ll continue to read all of the posts.

One thing I’m not ending is my writing. I’m planning a young adult mystery set during World War II.

I bid farewell and to all my writer friends, keep writing, and enjoy all the perks that come along with it.


Guest Blogger ~ Susie Black

Like the protagonist in my Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series, I am a ladies’ swimwear sales exec in the greater Los Angeles area. From the beginning of my career, I have kept a daily journal chronicling the interesting, quirky, and sometimes quite challenging people I have encountered as well as the crazy situations I’ve gotten myself into and out of. My daily journal entries are the foundation of everything I write.

As a female who has succeeded in a historically male-dominated industry, it was important to me to write about the apparel business from a woman’s point of view. Sarcastic, irreverent Holly Schlivnik, the continuing main character of The Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series, is based on me with some poetic license taken, of course. Holly is the me I always wanted to be. All of my characters are based on real people, and the central characters are all strong, successful women who have beaten the odds and broken the glass ceiling. My stories all take place in the fast-paced, at times cutthroat Los Angeles ladies’ apparel industry and give readers an insider’s view of how the latest designs really end up on the rack in their favorite stores.

The premise of Death by Pins and Needles is Lissa Charney, a thoroughly despicable showroom manager on the swimwear aisle in the California Apparel Mart, has stepped on countless people as she climbed the precarious steps of corporate ladder and cheated her way to the top. The Charney character is based on a real person with a dreadful, but well-earned reputation. There is no shortage of competitors who would have loved nothing more than to help Lissa fall off the ladder and plunge to her death. The potential murder suspects are also based on real people who would have given their right arm to eliminate the real life Ms. Charney.

Susie is offering a free download of a swimsuit fitting guide for everyone reading this post. You can get it here:

Swimsuit Guide

Since Lissa Charney didn’t think any of the rules applied to her, she had no problem breaking them all. From job stealing to dumping a boyfriend when he needed her the most, selfish and self-centered Lissa’s list of enemies rivaled those of Al Capone. So, when Lissa is murdered, no one on the swimwear aisle in the California Apparel Mart was particularly surprised…the only surprise was what had taken so long. Who wanted Lissa Charney dead? The list was as long as your arm….but which one actually killed her? The last thing Mermaid Swimwear sales exec Holly Schlivnik expected to find when she opened the closet door was nasty competitor Lissa Charney’s battered corpse nailed to the wall. When Holly’s colleague is wrongly arrested for Lissa’s murder, the wise-cracking, irreverent amateur sleuth sticks her nose everywhere it doesn’t belong to sniff out the real killer. Nothing turns out the way she thinks it will as Holly matches wits with a heartless killer hellbent for revenge

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Named Best US Author of the Year by N. N. Lights Book Heaven, award-winning cozy mystery author Susie Black was born in the Big Apple but now calls sunny Southern California home. Like the protagonist in her Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series, Susie is a successful apparel sales executive. Susie began telling stories as soon as she learned to talk. Now she’s telling all the stories from her garment industry experiences in humorous mysteries.

She reads, writes, and speaks Spanish, albeit with an accent that sounds like Mildred from Michigan went on a Mexican vacation and is trying to fit in with the locals. Since life without pizza and ice cream as her core food groups wouldn’t be worth living, she’s a dedicated walker to keep her girlish figure. A voracious reader, she’s also an avid stamp collector. Susie lives with a highly intelligent man and has one incredibly brainy but smart-aleck adult son who inexplicably blames his sarcasm on an inherited genetic defect.

Looking for more? Contact Susie at:



Thoughts on a Book Tour

I am back home after spending last week driving around western Oregon and stopping at 5 bookstores.

Backstory: Last summer I attended a talk by author Dwight Holing at my local library. He was there talking about his series that is set in Harney County- where I live. When he was asked about how he advertised his books, and he mentioned Bookbub didn’t work well for him, I said, “Yeah, it doesn’t work well for me either.” He looked at me and said, “What genre are you?” My reply, “Same as yours.”

He asked my name and then said, “Your books stalk mine on Amazon!”

My rebuttal was “No, yours stalk mine.” We had a chuckle and he said to come talk to him after his presentation.

I did and we decided since we both write crime fiction set in Oregon with game wardens, his a federal agent and mine a state police officer, that we should team up and do something.

Dwight Holing and myself at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, OR

Fast forward a few months and we came up with a book tour when we both had a new book out. We spent months setting up bookstores and planning to do it all in one week.

We just finished that week of visiting bookstores. After a phone conversation we’d decided to do a back and forth, “This is why I… What do you do?” format. And we had lots of encouraging comments about how well we played off one another. Then we would read from our books and take questions. It was interesting that most of the questions were from new or emerging writers. Though we did each have some fans or family at each of the stops we had.

Me talking at Grass Roots Bookstore in Corvallis, OR.

I was lucky enough to meet Sharon Dean who has been a guest of this blog. She came to our Ashland event. It was fun to meet someone in person who I have only exchanged emails with.

And in Bend I was able to meet up with some writer friends that before I moved to Princeton, we met once a month and had lunch and talked about writing.

The one thing that both Dwight and I concluded from this trip is that in-person events are no longer something that brings readers in. We had small groups at everyone of the events even though we both talked it up in our newsletters and social media and put out news releases in each town we visited. He said he’s going to start doing Zoom Book Clubs and will invite me to participate when he gets it all figured out.

While I enjoyed my week of driving around Oregon and meeting new people, I do agree that I won’t be doing another event like this any time soon. I think being set up where people are already gathered like flea markets, oktoberfest, and such is the way to go instead of bookstores.

Guest Blogger ~ John DeDakis


On the night of December 20, 1959, I was sitting in the left front seat of the Vista-Dome car of the Burlington Zephyr passenger train as it hurtled through northern Illinois on its way from Chicago toward my hometown of La Crosse, Wisconsin. 

The engineer would later tell a coroner’s jury that he was going 90 miles an hour (legal at the time) as we rounded a gentle curve at the tiny town of Chadwick.

From my vantage point in the darkened dome car near the front of the train, I could see the locomotive’s searchlight slice through the darkness, sweeping the tracks that stretched ahead of us.  Suddenly, off to my left, I saw a car speeding toward a crossing we were approaching.  The car looked like a 1949 Chevy, distinctive because of its sloped rear end.  A split second later, I lost sight of the car as it went in front of the train.

I heard a bang, the train shuddered, and debris rained onto the Plexiglas dome, cracking the window I’d been peering through. I ducked, then scrambled down the narrow stairway to the dome car’s lower level where I told my dad and the conductor what I’d just witnessed. 

I was nine years old.

The crash killed three people including a boy about my age.

Fast forward to 1994. I was doing a writing exercise recounting a personal experience—the one you’ve just read.  As I wrote, I remembered a radio news report about a car-train collision in which an infant survived.  I began wondering, “What if an infant survived the crash I witnessed and grew up wondering about her past?” 

That idea turned into my first mystery-suspense novel Fast Track.

The novel isn’t about the accident.  If anything, it’s an example of how a personal experience can be the seed of an idea that can blossom into something else—something redeeming. 

Fast Track begins with my 25-year-old heroine vexed because she doesn’t know what to do with her life. She discovers the body of the aunt who raised her from infancy—a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning. (This is an echo of my sister’s suicide in 1980, but that’s another story for another time.) That trauma begins a quest to unlock secrets kept hidden for a quarter century when my protagonist’s parents died in a mysterious car-train collision.

The Fast Track manuscript went through 14 major revisions over 10 years before I found my current agent, Barbara Casey, (the 39th agent I queried).  During that process, I drew on other personal experiences to add texture to a story that includes politics, journalism, and mentoring relationships.

Fast Track is the first novel in a series that’s now five books and counting. But it all started more than 63 years ago in Chadwick, Illinois.  So, I suppose it’s fitting that I named my heroine Lark Chadwick.

Orphaned as an infant, sexually assaulted as a naïve college student, strong-willed, impulsive Lark Chadwick is vexed and trying to figure out what to do with her mixed-up life. When she discovers the body of the aunt who raised her, Lark goes on a search for answers.

She is stunned to learn from a 25-year-old newspaper clipping that she’s the “miracle baby” who survived a suspicious car accident that killed her parents at a rural railroad crossing in southern Wisconsin. Lark convinces Lionel Stone, the crusty Pulitzer-Prize winning editor, to let her do a follow-up investigation of the crash. Two of her sources are the sheriff and the town’s mayor, they’re running against each other for Congress, the election is a week away, and both men have a secret that will unravel the mystery.

Award-winning novelist, writing coach, and manuscript editor John DeDakis is a former editor on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” DeDakis is the author of five mystery-suspense-thriller novels. In his most recent novel, FAKE, protagonist Lark Chadwick is a White House correspondent dealing with “fake news” in the era of #MeToo. DeDakis, a former White House correspondent, regularly leads writing workshops at literary centers and writers’ conferences. He is also the host of the video podcast “One-to-One with John DeDakis” on YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Originally from La Crosse, Wisconsin, DeDakis now lives with his wife Cindy in Baltimore, Maryland.