Guest Blogger – Nina Mansfield

Why YA?

By Nina Mansfield

Often, when people hear I’ve written a young adult novel, they say something like: “Ooo, YA is really hot right now.” This statement often carries the implication I chose to write YA because the genre happens to be popular at the moment.

Other times, I’ll get a very different reaction that goes something like this: “Well, I know YA is ‘in’, but…” In the silence I can hear the words, “I don’t read kids books.”

To that I can only say that you’re missing out. YA isn’t just for kids.

SwimmingAlonefrnt (2)But I did have kids—young teens specifically— on the brain when I started writing my debut YA mystery novel, SWIMMING ALONE.

I guess it all goes back to the adage, “write what you know.” And as high school English and Drama teacher, I really got to know teens. And I learned they come in all shapes and sizes. They can be impulsive, reserved, judgmental, accepting, free-spirited, aloof, fun-loving, cautious, passionate, restrained, anxious, unconcerned. And because their brains are still developing and they’re filled with hormones, their personalities are magnified ten-fold.  They aren’t quite adults yet, but they really think they are. And while this energy can drive some people crazy, I think it’s kind of magnificent.

As a teacher, I often felt myself stepping back into my teenage shoes—remembering what it was like to fail that quiz, or have that crush, or feel misunderstood. I had to do it to understand my students better. This constant self-reflection came in handy when developing my teen protagonist. No surprise she turned out a lot like a fifteen-year old version of myself: a bit insecure, a bit judgmental, and bit impulsive. She wants to do the right thing, but as far as she’s concerned, adult interference isn’t necessary.

There’s another reason I chose to write YA. I know plenty of adults read YA, and I am one of them. But the truth is, I wrote for young people because it breaks my heart when I hear a one say they don’t like reading. I can’t imagine a life without books. I don’t know if reading saved my life, but it certainly saved my sanity. Pippi Longstocking, Ramona Quimby, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley Twins… I spent my pre-teen years with these characters. In junior high, thanks to a fantastic teacher, I became hooked on the books of Lois Duncan and Joan Lowery Nixon. Soon after, I started reading Agatha Christie’s mysteries. I remember that feeling of anticipation when I thought I’d figured out the twist in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, followed by a feeling of triumph when I discovered I was right!

Throughout those tumultuous high school years—when I was in a state of constant heart break—I escaped into Brave New World and 1984. Another extraordinary teacher introduced me to Thomas Hardy. I stayed up late with Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and had my heart ripped open by Jude the Obscure. Oh, these folks had it so much harder than I did—and it helped me put my life in perspective.

I want every child to able to escape into a book when real life isn’t going as planned. During my first year teaching, I discovered even the most reluctant reader will keep turning the pages if there’s enough action and suspense. These were the readers I had in mind when I wrote SWIMMING ALONE.


The Sea Side Strangler is on the loose in Beach Point, where fifteen-year-old Cathy Banks is spending what she thinks will be a wretched summer. Just when she begins to make friends, and even finds a crush to drool over, her new friend Lauren vanishes.  When a body surfaces in Beach Point Bay, Cathy is forced to face the question:  has the Sea Side Strangler struck again?



Nina Mansfield is a Greenwich, Connecticut based writer. Her debut novel, SWIMMING ALONE a YA mystery, was published by Fire & Ice YA in 2015. Her plays have been published and produced throughout United States and internationally. Her graphic novel FAKE ID: BEYOND RECOGNITION, illustrated by Leyla Akdogan, will be out with Plume Snake in 2016. Nina’s short mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mysterical-E. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Dramatists Guild.


Guest Blogger -JL Greger

Mystery Writers Are Like Scientists

No way you say.

Wait! I think I can convince you that writing a mystery novel is similar to conducting a science experiment.

  1. Writers and scientists both do a lot of sleuthing. Granted, scientists try to quantitate their observations more than writers. And writers’ descriptions of their observations are hopefully more colorful than journal articles.
  1. They both organize their observations into a whole, which writers call plots and scientists call hypotheses.
  1. They both test and refine their “whole.” Writers edit their prose; scientists run additional experiments.
  1. Both require a lot of hard work to gain occasional flashes of insights. To paraphrase Thomas Edison, they’re “one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Why did I drag you through this discussion? I’m trying to explain why so many scientists and physicians became writers of mysteries and thrillers. Consider Michael Crichton (a physician by training), Kathy Reichs (a forensic anthropologist), Robin Cook (a physician). I’m also explaining how as a retired biology professor I came to write mystery/suspense novels with tidbits of science. My latest thriller is I Saw You in Beirut.

Through this discussion, I hope you learn how bits of science add realism to a mystery.

Did you know? In the early 1960s, scientists identified zinc deficiency in peasants in Iran. At that time, two to three percent of the villagers in some regions of Iran didn’t pass the physical for the army because of stunted growth. Dr. James Halstead, Sr. who was married to President’s Roosevelt’s daughter, Anna, headed the research team at Shiraz. Surprised?

I created Doc Steinhaus, a fictional character in I Saw You in Beirut, who worked on the project in Shiraz as a grad student. He was a logical way to “show not tell” readers about Iran and advance the plot. Let’s face it most foreign agents don’t look or act like James Bond, but they can be a lot more nuanced.

What’s thrilling in I Saw You in Beirut? A mysterious source of leaks on the Iranian nuclear industry, known only as F, sends an email from Tabriz: Help. Contact Almquist. Intelligence sources determine the message refers to Sara Almquist, a globetrotting epidemiologist, and seek her help to extract F from Iran. As Sara tries to identify F by dredging up memories about her student days with Doc Steinhaus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her work in Lebanon and the Emirates, groups ostensibly wanting to prevent F’s escape, attack her repeatedly. She begins to suspect her current friendship with Sanders, a secretive State Department official, is the real reason she’s being attacked.

Maybe, John Addegio’s comments will convince you that smart scientists make this mystery a real thriller. “Greger writes about international agencies and scientific exigencies with authority, and I SAW YOU IN BEIRUT is a thrilling spy tale with compelling female actors asserting their intelligence in both exotic and domestic, male-dominated, high-stakes political environments.”

Where can I get I Saw You in Beirut?CF I Saw You in Beruit 300 copy

The paperback at Amazon: and the eBook from Nook:

Bio: JL Greger’s thrillers/mysteries include: Malignancy (winner of 2015 Public Safety Writers’ annual contest), Ignore the Pain, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, Coming Flu, and I Saw you in Beirut. The Albuquerque area is the home base for her stories, but Sara (like the author) travels to Cuba and Bolivia in Malignancy and Ignore the Pain, respectively. Her website is:


Guest Blogger – Keenan Powell

Writing mysteries is hard. Like other writers, we try to create engaging and sympathetic characters caught up in a story that moves along, yet has depth (and loads of tension) set in an evocative location. Unlike the task of those other writers, we need to frame the story within a puzzle.

I love the puzzle. I love reading a good story that keeps me guessing. I love it when I find out who did it at the end of the book and I had actually considered that person but eliminated him from my list of suspects. If the culprit is someone I didn’t suspect, I’ll go back through the book to look for clues just to make sure the writer was playing fair. It’s rare when I correctly guess the murder early and when I do, I’m disappointed. But when I reach the end of good mystery and I’m surprised by whodunit, I get a little splash of pleasure – like when I was a kid and found an Easter egg.

So when I write a story for my fellow mystery fans, I try to build a puzzle the solution of which gives them that same little splash of pleasure.

The puzzle I build looks like a maze inside my head with lots of wrong turns, dead-ends, and circuitous routes. What I try to do is create that same maze inside the reader’s head. But the reader doesn’t have the omniscient view I have, she can only see as far as the next turn.

In guiding the reader through the maze, I try to use her human tendencies toward suspicion, sympathy, confirmation bias (looking for evidence to support an opinion), and anchoring (the tendency to rely on the first piece of information one acquires) as well as the sophisticated mystery reader’s familiarity with certain devices like the red herring and the double-blind solution. These tendencies can be exploited to guide, or misdirect, the readers as she wanders through the maze.

It’s not a contest of who is smarter: writer versus reader. Writing mystery is like hostessing an Easter egg hunt on a fine spring day. We’re all wearing lovely white Victorian gowns and frolicking through the rose hedges on a lush green lawn as we sleuth out the solution. I, as your hostess, have devised the entertainment. I hope you enjoy.


Keenan Powell.2 (169x300)Keenan Powell is a practicing attorney in Anchorage, Alaska, and the author of the Maeve Malloy legal mysteries set in contemporary urban Alaska. Visit her at:



Guest Blogger – Kathleen Kaska

The Grand Dame of Mystery Writing

Agatha Christie_mockup02 copyAgatha Christie is regarded as the most popular mystery writer of all times. Since the publication of her first book in 1920, more than one billion copies of her books have been sold worldwide. She wrote her first detective story while working in a dispensary during the First World War. Her sister, Madge, bet Christie that she could not write a mystery in which she gave her readers all the clues to the crime and stump them at the same time. Christie proved Madge wrong, and The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published. Her second book sold twice as many copies as her first, and she found that writing flowed easily for her. In 1926, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, gained her world acclaim. It is one of the most talked about detective stories ever written. Using a technique that had not been used before, many of her colleagues and readers accused her of breaking the mystery-writing rules. In her defense, she stated that rules are made to be broken and if done well, prove effective. Almost ninety years later, the controversy still remains. She’s gone on record to say that this Hercule Poirot mystery was her masterpiece.

But my two favorite Christie mysteries are two of her lesser-known novels. In these two action-packed stories, The Man in the Brown Suit and They Came to Baghdad, Christie ventured away from Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot and drove into light-hearted adventure. She sent her young heroines, Anne Beddingfeld and Victoria Jones, to mysterious locales, exposes them to harrowing danger, and allowed them to live life on the edge.

“I had a firm conviction that, if I went about looking for adventure, adventure would meet me halfway,” Anne Beddingfeld proclaimed. He archaeologist father has decently died. On her own for the first time in her life, Anne is ready for adventure. But her eighty-seven pound legacy would not last long. After a discouraging job interview, Anne was waiting to catch the train home, which put her in the right place at the right time. A man, startled by something, stumbled and fell off the train platform onto the third rail. Another man claiming to be a doctor, examined the body, declared the man dead, and hurried away, dropping a piece of paper with the words, “17.122 Kilmorden Castle,” written on it. Anne retrieved the paper and tried to catch up with the doctor, but he disappeared into the crowd.

Anne was determined to find the man in the brown suit. He obviously was not a doctor, since he examined the victim’s heart by palpating the right side of his body. After a clever bit of detecting, Anne was aboard a ship to South Africa. In Anne’s life there are no coincidences.

A few days later, she was in her cabin, recovering from seasickness when there came a knock on her door. Or to be more exact, an explosion. Her door flew open and a man tumbled inside.

“Save me,” he says. “They’re after me.” Anne shoved him under her bunk and got rid of the nosy stewardess, who was tracking the apparently drunk passenger. However, alcohol was not the reason for his clumsiness. A knife wound and the loss of blood gave cause for the young man’s unsteadiness. As Anne dressed his wound, they exchanged insults and cold stares, along with a bit of shoving. As he felt, she realized that it was him—the man in the brown suit! But he was gone again, and she was left standing with clenched fists and a racing heart. There was no doubt about it. Anne was in love, and she would find him no matter what.

“To Victoria an agreeable world would be one where tigers lurked in the Strand and dangerous bandits infested Tooting.” Victoria Jones, unemployed secretary, flighty female, habitual liar, is the star of They Came to Baghdad. Fired from her job for poking fun at her employer’s wife, Victoria found herself on her favorite park bench, eating a tomato and lettuce sandwich, and contemplating her future with no income. Before her pondering became too serious, however, she noticed a handsome blue-eyed man sitting next to her, and her plans for finding a new job were forgotten. A quick exchange of life stories, a few laughs, and Edward declared he must leave. “I don’t suppose you’ll ever think of me again,” said Edward. “Oh, Hell—I must fly.” Duty called and Edward was off to Baghdad. Victoria decided to follow the young man. Undaunted by the 3,000-mile distance and the mere three pounds to the name, she conned her way to the Middle East and quickly found herself penniless and alone in a strange hotel.

All of a sudden, there is a knock at Victoria’s door. Could it be Edward? Had word reached him that she was in Baghdad? Without hesitation, she opened the door and found a handsome stranger seeking refuge.

“For God’s sake hid me somewhere—quickly,” he pleaded. Victoria, never one to shrug off adventure, shoved him under the bed cover, propped up the pillows and leisurely leaned back while the hotel manager searched the room. Satisfied that the fugitive was not present, the manager left. Victoria pulled back the covers just in time to hear the dying man’s cryptic message. Now she must found Edward, but where should she begin? After all, she didn’t even know his last name.

Following the adventures of these two young women is almost as exciting as following Indiana Jones into the Temple of Doom. The Man in the Brown Suit and They Came to Baghdad are truly two of Agatha Christie’s most delightful mysteries.


Kathleen Kaska writes the award-winning Sydney Lockhart mysteries set in the 1950s. She also writes the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes ThIMG11_2661e Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book, The Alfred Hitchcock Triviography and Quiz Book, and The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book. The Alfred Hitchcock and the Sherlock Holmes trivia books are finalists for the 2013 EPIC award in nonfiction. Her nonfiction book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story, (University Press of Florida) was released in 2012. Kathleen has a new mystery series, which will debut later in 2016.


Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas? By Ann McAllister Clark

It’s magical really. Well, at first it may seem that way. Creative thoughts, words and phrases running through a writer’s mind as she is writing. Sometimes it feels the words are like ribbons spilling out of our fingers, pens, pencils or keypads as if someone or something else is actually gathering them up and pushing them out on the page. When that happens I always send up a sincere ‘Thank You’ to the goddess of verbiage and thoughts. Yes, it is magic and when it happens I take a big breath and stay with it as long as I can.

And then I remember all the studying I have done – many college classes and dozens of writing books over the years. I read classics – Russian, English, and mostly American.

Writers get this question all the time – “Where do your ideas come from?” Ideas come right from a compilation of life and the writer’s experiences – encounters and events or things she has witnessed or researched. Writers have a way of filling up their internal and invisible sponge with all that moves before their eyes and ears and all the minutia of life. A writer is voraciously curious and thirsty for interest. A bit of this person, a little of that person, saved notes of conversation and pieces of experience all go into the vault of ideas. So ideas come from just about anywhere and go into the big soup pot of a rich mix. And then at the end of this wash of creativity comes the real work. Revision, revision and then more revision. The work never seems completely right and some writers may revise a dozen times or more.

bone in teethI watched much of the George Zimmerman trial in Sanford, Florida. I suspect many writers watch court cases on TV or better yet in their own county courtrooms with thoughts of incorporating what they see into their stories. We have files of interesting newspaper clips and magazine articles to be used at a later date for inspiration or research. I took notes on the attributes of the detectives, lawyers and court proceedings during the trial in Sanford. I used those notes to describe the detectives in A Bone In Her Teeth: A St. Augustine Mystery.

Traveling through the streets of Gettysburg, Washington, DC, and Antitam and walking many battlefields helped me immensely with description in my historical novel, The Chrysalis: An American Family Endures The Civil War.

I just finished reading Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World.

MorganWhen she was a young girl of about eight years old, she faithfully watched the weekly television program, Perry Mason and decided she wanted to be a lawyer! And then she diligently pursued that direction in every single aspect of her educational life all the way to her seat on the United States Supreme Court. I used her early years for inspiration in Morgan’s Redemption

Where do we get our ideas for writing? Everywhere and anywhere.

Ann’s Books

A Bone In Her Teeth, paperback and kindle

Morgan’s Redemption, kindle edition and paperback

About  Ann McAllister Clark

A graduate with a BA in Education from charming Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ann McAllister Clark, author of the award-winning novel, A Bone in Her Teeth: A St. Augustine Mystery, and Morgan’s Redemption: 1st in the Morgan’s Bridge series and soon to be released, The Chrysalis: An American Family Endures The Civil War,  is a teacher, journalist, and former used bookstore owner. She now lives and writes in a small cottage in the Nation’s Oldest City, St. Augustine, Florida.

Ann McAllister Clark’s website
Ann McAllister Clark’s blog “Ann’s Cottage Blog
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