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

So Many Blogs…. by Karen Shughart

This is my 45th blog for Ladies of Mystery. I started writing at this site in September, 2019, and I’m proud to say I haven’t duplicated a topic, not once. That’s a lot of blogs, and when I realized how many I’d written, I was surprised and took some time to reflect on this. Is it really possible to blog every month and avoid duplication? Why yes, it is.

Think about it. There’s a huge world out there, with infinite possibilities for observation and discourse. You can write about the seasons, or the place in which you live. You can write about writing, the writing process, your latest releases, the struggles, and challenges, of creating a book or a chapter or the characters in your books. About marketing and promoting. You can write about family and friends and animals. Music. A special outing. It’s an endless list if you just look around and observe.

You can write about gardening, beaches, swimming or snowshoeing. Trips taken, meals eaten, beverages sampled, and cultural events you’ve attended. Wine tastings. Memorials to loved ones and pets who have passed. You can write about rain and snow and sun and wind. You can write about suffering, loss, and experiencing joy. During Covid, one of my blogs was about kindness and the many ways it manifested itself in our community; another about what it’s like to live across the street from a large lake in the middle of apple growing country.

Sometimes I whiz through whatever blog I’m writing for the month. My rough draft gets tweaked a little, and then voila, it’s ready to publish. Other times it takes a bit longer, sometimes more than a bit longer, as I search for the right word or tone or to put a semblance of order into my thoughts. It depends on the topic, and my mood, but eventually it gets done.

When I first started writing blogs here, I carefully constructed a list of the topics I wanted to write about for each month during that particular year, and I stuck to it. It helped me focus and because I was new at it, it also helped alleviate some anxiety when faced with a deadline. Then, occasionally, I would scratch the blog I planned to write for something that seemed more appropriate at that time. As I’ve become more comfortable, I typically pick my topic on a monthly basis, depending on my mood and life experiences at the time.

The books in my Edmund DeCleryk cozy mystery series typically run (give-or-take) about 70,000 words. I try to limit blogs to no more than 500, they’re easy to compose; really, no more than a page in a book. Plus, readers don’t want to spend a whole day reading a blog. And that’s why I’m stopping here. There’s more to write about, but I just checked and I’m coming up on those 500 words.

Karen Shughart is the author of the maritime-themed Edmund DeCleryk cozy mystery series that includes historical backstories with a twist, and recipes provided by the sleuth’s wife, Annie, the head of the local historical society. Book three, Murder at Freedom Hill, is an International Firebird Book Award winner in the mystery and fiction categories.

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:



Is April the Cruelest Month? by Karen Shughart

In the poem, The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot writes, “April is the cruelest month….”

The month of April is a time of birth and renewal, and a time of hope. April may bring showers, but we have a reasonable expectation that it will also bring spring flowers. For Eliot, at least when he wrote the poem, nothing was crueler than hope because for him it often led to disappointment. It was safer to hold on tightly to cynicism and pessimism, because then he wouldn’t get hurt.

For most of us, though, April is not cruel at all.  If you live where I do, in the north, April is a time of anticipation, a time when we believe that, as Alexander Pope wrote in An Essay on Man, “hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Hopefulness, despite our challenges and disappointments, continues to renew itself.  Even the holidays observed by various cultures and religions this time of year celebrate the themes of birth, renewal, and hope.

We rejoice when tiny buds start to swell on the trees, when we wake up to birdsong, and daylight lasts longer. We delight in the first sight of bright yellow daffodils and brilliant-colored tulips  as they stretch towards the sun.  And the sun, weak and pale in the winter, shines brightly now, warming our bodies and souls and expanding our hearts to ever so many possibilities.

Photo by Jacek Mleczek on

We know that when the daffodils and tulips finally end their run for the year, we have a reasonable expectation that they’ll be back next year, and other flowers will follow. When we plant our gardens, at some point we will harvest what we sow. Soon, we’ll be seeing baby birds peeping out of nests; ducklings, cygnets and goslings swimming with determination behind their attentive parents; and tiny, newborn animals scurrying about. April, the spring, symbolizes youth, but even those of us who are in the autumn and winter of our lives can feel happy, young, and energized.

In northern climates the weather in April is fickle. It rains, sometimes it snows, and at times it seems as though winter won’t quite lose its icy grip; then there are those intermittent grey, cloudy days. Regardless of what Mother Nature throws our way, I am compelled to put away the heaviest of winter clothes, clean out the closets, and plan menus around seasonal foods with lighter ingredients.  I start to make a list of things I want to do to get ready for summer. I always know the rain will stop, the snow will melt, and the grey, cloudy days will be followed by brilliant sun. If April isn’t quite what I expected, there’s always next year.

Cruel? I think not. After April comes May with more abundance,  even warmer days, and the anticipation of summer.

Karen Shughart is the author of the Edmund DeCleryk cozy mystery series, published by Cozy Cat Press

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: