Guest Blogger ~ Darlene Dziomba

I have always had a love of animals. My parents would good-naturedly complain that wherever we went, I had to pet every dog I saw. Half a century later, things have not altered. My volunteer work at the Animal Welfare Association has me close to numerous dogs and cats. As I scrub one kennel, I chat with the animals in neighboring kennels.

The idea for Clues From The Canines came from the experiences I had and the staff I met during my volunteer shifts. I thought that by creating characters whose days centered around working to find homes for animals in shelters, I could raise awareness of the efforts made on animals’ behalf.

When I crafted the protagonist, Lily Dreyfus, the piece of me embedded in her personality is an introvert who loves animals. There are numerous scenes in the book where one finds Lily talking to either the animals at work or her two dogs at home. Her friends criticize her for spending more time with animals than she spends with humans.

The time Lily spends with animals leads her to a new love interest. She even considers that she has found her soul mate. Lily met Pete when he came to the Forever Friends Animal Shelter to adopt a dog to aid him in coping with the PTSD he suffered from post-military deployment and the despondency he feels after losing both parents in a tragic auto accident.

Pete uses outings with his dog to get to know Lily. They have an accidental meeting in a park, and Pete asks Lily to join him on a walk with his dog. He suggests a stop for ice cream after the walk. Eventually, he summons the courage to ask her to dinner.

Their different family experiences draw them even closer together. Pete is an only child with a small extended family; and Lily is the oldest of four children. Her parents were active volunteers in the children’s school, and they made friends with other parents. She relays stories of multi-family trips to parks and beaches. Pete realizes that a lasting relationship with Lily will provide the sibling experience he did not have as a child.

The hope and promise of the relationship are brought to a screeching halt. Pete is found dead. Lily’s world is shattered. Her friends and her dogs help her pick up the pieces and sniff out a killer.

Clues From The Canines

Set in a small town in New Jersey, Clues From the Canines combines witty dialogue with tension and intrigue.  Lily, the Adoption Coordinator at the Forever Friends Animal Shelter, is stunned by the news that her physically fit, former Marine boyfriend is dead. When the police rule the death a homicide, Lily, spurred on by grief, resolves to sniff out the killer. She gathers her pack, both human and canine, to point police to the perpetrator.

The canine pack competes for the alpha position, their owner’s attention, and extra treats, while the human pack doggedly seeks out justice.

Darlene Dziomba debuted the Lily Dreyfus Mystery Series with the release of Clues From the Canines in March 2022. The book is currently being read on four continents.  Darlene volunteers at the Animal Welfare Association, a New Jersey animal shelter, where she chats with the dogs while completing her assignments. She has a 30-year career in Finance at the University of Pennsylvania and is an avid reader, gardener, and traveler.  Darlene is a member of Sisters in Crime and lives in New Jersey with her four-legged best friend, Billie.

www.ReadDarlene.com

@ReadDarlene1

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ReadDarlene@hotmail.com

Creating a Protagonist by Heather Haven

When I was creating the protagonist for my Alvarez Family Murder Mystery Series, Lee Alvarez, I made some pretty radical decisions. Mainly, I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to have someone who was snarky, who didn’t get along with anybody, especially her family, and only had one black skirt tucked away in the back of her closet. I wanted her to be a more outgoing, positive person. Also, I wanted a definite ethnicity. Lee’s mother, a Palo Alto blueblood, fell in love with and married a Mexican immigrant. Thus their children, Lee, and her brother, Richard, are Mexican-American. I am Italian-American. Many of us are a blend. It’s the great American way and I love it.

I particularly wanted to have a central character that was identifiable but different, off-kilter, and likable. Lee Alvarez isn’t your typical protagonist. Yes, she’s in her mid-thirties and once divorced. But she’s now remarried to a handsome, retired Navy SEAL, because I am from the school of thought that believes a woman CAN have it all. At least, in my books. Lee’s smart, talented, and loves dancing, handbags, and a good joke. She knows her own worth but has her moments of self-doubts. They seem to hit her when least expected, often like they hit the rest of us. Every day, as she chases down a suspect, she strives to be a B&BP (bigger and better person), knowing full-well nobody’s perfect. Except maybe her mother, Lila Hamilton-Alvarez, who’s never had a bad hair day in her life. And try living in that designer-clad woman’s shadow.

Lee reads Dashiell Hammett detective stories and watches old black and white movies on TV while searching the web. She loves peanuts and a good, classic martini i.e., gin, vermouth, orange bitters and 3 olives served icy cold, straight up, please. I’ve created a real, today kind of PI, California-honed, who’s educated but has her moments of stupidity. I can absolutely relate to her.

Much to her mother’s horror, Lee likes to shop at consignment stores and wear sweat clothes around the house. She also has a bit of a crush on the late Humphrey Bogart because you may be dead, but you can still be great in Lee’s book. Her character traits are unique, her relationships with her family quirky, but real and, I hope, well-crafted. After all, a murder mystery should be a well-written novel that just happens to have a dead body or two in it done in by an unknown assailant.

Developing the plot is different for me. I have no idea where that will come from. For instance, the second book of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, A Wedding to Die For, came about after reading a story – so bazaar I could hardly believe it was true – in National Geographic. Sixty-plus members of an Egyptian Family were arrested for pilfering from a lesser known Egyptian king’s tomb and had been doing so for generations!

This extended family would take one article, sell it on the black market, and spread the wealth among themselves, leading to better education and opportunities. After several decades, many of them came into positions of importance, in museums and customs, thereby ensuring even greater success. They were caught after years of staying below the radar, when one of them got greedy and substituted a fake for a real antiquity in a museum at which he was the assistant curator. It blew the whole thing wide open. I was mesmerized by this story! I transferred this renegade family to Mexico, threw in a wedding gone awry, a falsely accused groom from the States, and was off and away! It was a lot of fun.

But at the heart of all the stories is my protagonist and her familial relationships. They are all in all. And thankfully, most of my readers like to see what’s going on between Lee and her kith and kin. They like the fact that nobody is deliberately mean, that they try to do right by one other, and they genuinely enjoy being in their own company. I like that, too. Let’s face it. Life’s too short for all this harboring of ill will. Even in fiction.

Guest Blogger ~ Susie Black

No matter what stage an author’s writing career is at, one thing that is constantly drilled into their head is to only write what you know. If you don’t know it, either do the research and learn it or don’t you dare write it. If you don’t have the creds for what you write, you are toast because readers can spot a phony by the second paragraph and never finish reading your book. This concept is one I never lose sight of and is the reason I write about the subjects I do. 

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.

I came to write in the cozy mystery genre because I love solving puzzles. My parents would certainly confirm I have always asked a lot of questions, and I am naturally curious (some narrow-minded people say I am nosy…go figure…LOL). So, writing mysteries was the natural next step for me to take. it is also the genre I read, am comfortable in, and enjoy the most. The bonus is that it was an excellent way to knock off some people on paper who I would have loved to eliminate in real life and still not end up in prison. Extremely therapeutic. I highly recommend it.

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. 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. Holly Schlivnik, the main character, is based on me with some poetic license taken, of course. The plots and premises of my stories all take place in the fast-paced ladies’ apparel industry. The premise behind the story in Death by Sample Size is what if a buying office big shot in the apparel industry so universally disliked that when she was murdered, there were so many potential suspects that it wasn’t a question of who wanted her dead, it was a question of who didn’t.

DEATH BY SAMPLE SIZE

Everyone wanted her dead…but who actually killed her?

The last thing swimwear sales exec Holly Schlivnik expected was to discover ruthless buying office big wig Bunny Frank’s corpse trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey with a bikini stuffed down her throat. When Holly’s colleague is arrested for Bunny’s murder, the wise-cracking, irreverent amateur sleuth jumps into action to find the real killer.  Nothing turns out the way Holly thinks it will as she matches wits with a wily killer hellbent on revenge. Get ready to laugh out loud as Susie Black’s Death by Sample Size takes you on a rollicking adventure ride through the Los Angeles apparel industry.

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/gp/productttt/BO93F24T3F

BARNES & NOBLE: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/death-by-sample-size-susie-black/1139356591

Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/Susie-black

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57877534-death-by-sample-size

Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?pcampaignid=books_read_action&id=k8swEAAAQBAJ

I Tunes: https://books.apple.com/us/book/death-by-sample-size/id1564686461

kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/search?query=Death+by+Sample+Size

TARGET.COM: https://www.target.com/s?searchTerm=Death+by+Sample+Size

Just behind my college graduation, wedding day, and the birth of my son, June 9th was truly one of the most amazing days of my entire life. My debut cozy mystery Death by Sample Size was released for publication. I am humbled, honored, and proud to be able to say that now I am officially a published author! A life-long dream has come true, a hard-fought-for goal has been accomplished.

Born in the Big Apple, Susie Black 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? Reach her at mysteries_@authorsusieblack.com

Social Media Links:

Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/Susie-black

Facebook: https://facebook.com/TheHollySwimsuitMysterySeries

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57877534-death-by-sample-size

Instagram: Susie Black (@hollyswimsuit) • Instagram photos and videos

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/authorsusieblack-61941011

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/hollysusie1_saved/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/@hollyswimsuit

Guest Blogger- Tara Lush

As a journalist in Florida, I’ve written about the shady side of my sunny state for years.

Political corruption, horrific crime, drunken antics at tiki bars, alligators, naked people with machetes, cockroaches ending up in unmentionable places…nothing shocks me anymore. I’ve witnessed thirteen executions and covered numerous mass shootings.

I’ve long wanted to write crime fiction, and entertained the thought of doing true crime. But that seemed a little too close to my day job, and frankly, covering those horrific stories as a journalist sapped my desire to retell them in a novel.

My first forays into fiction were contemporary romances, and almost all were set in Florida. But crime fiction lurked in the corners of my brain, and in 2019, I sat down and finally plotted a murder mystery.

I adored the work of Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey and Edna Buchanan — how could I not, they’re all journalists, like me — but when I started to write my debut mystery, I just couldn’t muster the cynicism or the edginess of the hardboiled noir. Perhaps the tumultuousness of recent years played a part in that.

As I scribbled my first mystery, I imagined a slightly less-dysfunctional tropical paradise, one that was loosely based on the things I’ve seen in my twenty-plus years as a reporter in Florida.

I knew I wanted to retain the quirkiness of Florida, though, so I created a fictional island in the Gulf of Mexico, chock full of eccentric characters. Devil’s Beach is where gossipy old hippies mingle with reformed mafiosos. Where the local newspaper writes stories about chicken nuggets shaped like manatees. Where a handsome Instagram-famous barista is found dead and no one bats an eye when a laid off journalist tries to figure out how the barista spent his final hours.

I also wanted a gentle anchor in the book, and that’s why I set it in the coffee shop of my dreams. It’s called Perkatory, a place decorated in hues of weathered wood with sky blue accents.

And then, my reporter’s brain kicked in. I drew inspiration from decades of covering crime in crafting my fictional murder. From the stilted language of cop-speak to wrangling over deadlines with editors, I used details from newspaper stories to seed clues into my fictional story. And the suspects, those were easy — they are all based on people I’ve covered in the past, folks who stood out as true characters.

There are also some fun Florida easter eggs in the details — for instance, the wild monkeys that inhabit a park on my fictional island can really be found in a place called Silver Springs.

I believe that for Florida residents, they’ll recognize many of the places, stories and details in the book. And for you non-Florida folks, I’m hopeful you’ll read my book and feel like you’re on a beach vacation, one where you get to know those quirky characters at the end of the tiki bar.

ABOUT GROUNDS FOR MURDER: Barista Lana Lewis’s sleuthing may land her in a latte trouble as Tara Lush launches her new Coffee Shop mysteries.

When Lana Lewis’ best — and most difficult — employee abruptly quits and goes to work for the competition just days before the Sunshine State Barista Championship, her café’s chances of winning the contest are creamed. In front of a gossipy crowd in the small Florida town of Devil’s Beach, Lana’s normally calm demeanor heats to a boil when she runs into the arrogant java slinger. Of course, Fabrizio “Fab” Bellucci has a slick explanation for jumping ship. But when he’s found dead the next morning under a palm tree in the alley behind Lana’s café, she becomes the prime suspect.

Even the island’s handsome police chief isn’t quite certain of her innocence. But Lana isn’t the only one in town who was angry with Fabrizio. Jilted lovers, a shrimp boat captain, and a surfer with ties to the mob are all suspects as trouble brews on the beach.

With her stoned, hippie dad, a Shih Tzu named Stanley, and a new, curious barista sporting a punk rock aesthetic at her side, Lana’s prepared to turn up the heat to catch the real killer. After all, she is a former award-winning reporter. As scandal hangs over her beachside café, can Lana clear her name and win the championship — or will she come to a bitter end?

LINK: books2read.com/u/4A7KLA 

Tara Lush is a Rita Award finalist, an Amtrak writing fellow, and a George C. Polk Award winning journalist. For the past decade, she’s been a reporter with the Associated Press, covering crime, alligators, natural disasters, and politics.

She also writes contemporary romance set in tropical locations under her real name, Tamara Lush. A fan of vintage pulp-fiction book covers, Sinatra-era jazz, and 1980s fashion, she lives with her husband and two dogs on the Gulf coast.

Guest Blogger – Sally Carpenter

New Books For Strange Times

I’d like to thank Paty Jager and the ladies of mystery for allowing me a guest post. It’s been a while since I was a regular contributor on this blog, and much has happened in the meantime.

 The pandemic has not affect me as much as others. Fortunately I work an essential job (newspaper), so I’m still commuting to my day job. Many of my fellow employees are working from home, so those of us who are still in the office have plenty of space to move around safely.

As a writer, I’m at home much of the time anyway, and I’ve put the time to good use. I reorganized files and did some rearranging to make my home more comfortable. Little changes, but effective.

And I’ve gone gun ho on the writing.

I hadn’t written a Sandy Fairfax mystery in several years, so I reread the older books to get up to speed on the character. I found grammatical and continuity errors as well as more cuss words than necessary. Ouch! How embarrassing. With permission of my publisher, I took the opportunity to edit the older books. I’m fixing the mistakes, cleaning up the language, and reworking awkward passages for a better read. With Print On Demand technology, all new print and ebooks purchased going forward will have the changes. So far “The Sinister Sitcom Caper” is finalized. “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper” and “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper” should both be ready in a month or two.

Once all the old books are corrected, I can focus on the next Sandy book. The working title is “The Cryptic Christmas Caper.” Sandy is the emcee of the Miss North Pole Pageant, where the contestants are dropping like snowflakes.

I launched a new book in June, the second in my Psychedelic Spy retro-cozy series set in 1967. “Hippie Haven Homicide” follows the further adventures of actress Noelle McNabb as she works with a super secret spy organization, SIAMESE (Special Intelligence Apparatus for Midwest Enemy Surveillance and Espionage). This time her cat, Ceebee, is part of the action.

In the 1960s, the CIA had a project called Acoustic Kitty. The plan was to implant a cat with a microphone, using its tail to hold a wire for transmission. The cat would wander around parks and embassies where spies met to talk. Nobody would notice a stray cat. The real-life project went nowhere, but the idea was too good to pass up.

So I made Ceebee the acoustic cat. The microphone is inside a metal collar around the cat’s neck. Noelle and agent Destiny King are inside a nearby van, listening in. As you might imagine, felines are a bit unpredictable, even spy cats.

While SIAMESE is chasing an enemy agent, a busload of counterculture hippies invade Noelle’s staid town of Yuletide, Indiana. This plot point was inspired by the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, better known as the Hare Krishnas, the orange-robed devotees who were hung out around airports and large cities to chant and pass out brochures on their beliefs. The 1960s saw an explosion of new spiritual ideas: Vatican II, the Jesus People, contemporary Christian music, Transcendental Meditation, communes and ISCKON.

My sect is SPARK: Spiritually Pure And Radiant Kin. Their guru is the Wise One, an elderly leader who rarely appears in public. First Sage handles the day-to-day operations of the sect. He also rigorously guards the members from “contamination of the material world.” The cult members clash with the police chief and residents of Yuletide. The situation worsens when one of the SPARK members is found dead. The police chief calls it a drug overdose. Noelle has her suspicions and investigates on her own with the help of a newspaper reporter, Trevor Spellman.

Noelle uses her acting skills to go undercover to both find a spy and solve a murder. Meanwhile, she babysits her siblings, works with an anxious bride-to-be who’s buying clothes for the bridal party, and digs out secrets in the McNabb family tree. All in a day’s work for a cozy sleuth.

So happy reads to all. If you want to stay abreast of my writing projects, follow me at facebook.com.Sally.Carpenter.54, or my website at sandyfairfax.com, or email scwriter@earthlink.net.

Sally Carpenter is native Hoosier living in southern California. She has a master’s degree in theater and a creative writing award from Indiana State University.

She also has a Master of Divinity and a black belt in tae kwon do.

She’s written six books for Cozy Cat Press: four in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series (including 2012 Eureka! Award nominee The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper) and two books in the Psychedelic Spy retro-series.

She’s contributed short stories to three anthologies and penned chapter three of the CCP group mystery Chasing the Codex.

To atone for killing characters on paper, she writes the Roots of Faith column for the Acorn Newspapers (theacornonline.com).