Writer's Notes

Exploring Your Character’s Closet?

By DiAnn Mills

September 10, 2021

Do you grab your readers by the hand and lead them into your character’s closet? What will you and the reader find? Is the character messy? Is the closet organized according to the type of clothing and color? Does it smell? What kind of boots or shoes does the character buy? Are they worn? Purse, backpack, or wallet? What’s their favorite color? Are the shelves layered high with memorabilia or collectibles? Does the character not have a closet?

A writer’s goal is for readers to experience our story vicariously through the characters and form a sympathetic bond. That means all of the assigned traits ensure the character comes alive. One way is to study the items their personal items. Stepping into the character’s closet allows the writer to explore—physically, mentally, and emotionally.


Glimpsing the choices made in clothing enlightens the reader to income, values, priorities, personality, and individualism as well as careers and hobbies. Those items are seen, touched, smelled, heard, and sometimes tasted. (A stash of chocolate hidden in a closet sounds good to me.)


Venturing into our character’s mental world after viewing a closet’s contents can reveal motivation, how the character processes life, more about their personality, and the inner secret-world not often visible to others. A character, unless suffering from a mental disorder, will not lie to themselves. The mental workings are a treasure chest of information.


Showing realistic emotions adds credibility to the story. A closet often shows how the character internalizes events and happenings through the seven universal emotions: surprise, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, happiness, and contempt. Study how items are arranged, even hidden.

Symbolism can represent the emotional realm when the character uses a tangible item to represent the intangible. Why has the character kept trophies from high school sports? A great-great grandfather’s rifle? His/her first dollar earned at a full-time career?

Look at an example below of how to incorporate the physical, mental, and emotional world of a character and write a deeper, developed story.

A female character’s closet is divided into two parts: business attire for an office job and camouflage from head to toe on the other. She believes in her job, but she is also an ex-marine. Discipline, training, and structure guide her thoughts and mindset. She prefers camouflage and misses her role as a marine. What’s holding her back from re-enlisting? What emotions have her in chains and why?

Every seen and unseen item in a character’s closet reveals more of the inner character.

Flip on the light in your character’s closet and see what’s inside. Every seen and unseen item in a character’s closet can reveal more about the inner character and insight into writing a deeper more developed story.

Besides a visit to the closet, how else can we writers enhance our writing by getting inside our character’s world?


Facebook: DiAnn Mills

Twitter: DiAnn Mills

BookBub: DiAnn Mills

Buy Link Amazon: Trace of Doubt


DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She is a storyteller and creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests.

Author DiAnn Mills

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is the director of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, Mountainside Retreats: Marketing, Speakers, Nonfiction and Novelist with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion for helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

Connect with DiAnn here:

Writer's Notes

Guest Post: The Road to Rejection

The Spirit Woman of Lockleer Mountain by Elaine Faber

By Elaine Faber

Some years ago, I typed and mailed multiple query letters for my novels to traditional publishers. Some were returned with rejection letters, some actually with three to six handwritten words, e.g. Sorry! – Not interested! – You’ve got to be kidding! Many didn’t reply at all. Perhaps they just steamed the stamp off my self-addressed, return envelope to save and use again.

As time progressed, publishing houses preferred query by e-mail. No more opening envelopes, steaming off stamps or licking envelopes to return snide rejection slips for them. Now, my auto-rejection notices came by return e-mail.

Eventually, I found a couple of editors at small presses who requested the entire manuscript. One editor told me it contained too much romance, another, not enough romance. One editor loved the story, and suggested if I removed all the exclamation points and fragmented sentences, she’d reconsider. Another suggested I have it professionally edited. After I made all the suggested changes, paid to have it professionally edited and resubmitted the manuscript, none of the editors offered a publishing contract.

As I traveled this Road to Rejection, all those rebuffs forced me to re-examine my goals, re-evaluate my skills, and devote time, investment, and energy to improve my craft. Three different teachers taught me more about writing craft than I ever thought was possible to know. Surprise! You ‘don’t know what you don’t know.’ Which is to say, the early version of my novel probably wasn’t worthy of publishing in the first place. I revised, edited, re-edited, cut the story line in half, and fleshed out the characters and plot.

Looking back, I’ve come to believe that the Road to Rejection is not necessarily a pothole-riddled, mud-filled, weed-infested sticker-path meant to trip up and discourage new writers, (though it certainly does). Rather, it is a road of lesson-learning, character building and knowledge-testing meant to wean out the weak, ill-equipped writers, (of which there are many).

The Road to Rejection forces the committed writer to polish her skills and master what you ‘don’t know what you don’t know.’ This can be done by accepting critiques from knowledgeable writers, studying with individual teachers, and reading scores of books on the subject.

Your first novel is published? Congratulations. You’ve vanquished the Road to Rejection.  You now begin to market your baby. Fame and fortune must be right around the corner.

Wait! There’s another signpost up ahead? It’s called the Road to Frustration.

Synopsis of The Spirit Woman of Lockleer Mountain by Elaine Faber

I intended The Spirit Woman of Lockeer Mountain, a story about a woman who drives a sewer truck, to be a humorous cozy mystery with funny circumstances. Overflowing toilets─ septic tank mishaps ─ a haunted bathroom fixture warehouse. Perhaps she’d unwittingly locate a rural marijuana farm.

Then an owl smacked into Lou’s window and the characters took over the story and completely changed its direction. Nate’s sister disappeared three months prior, following a minor MVA, but mysterious sightings of a woman and a mountain lion are reported. Nate’s constant obsession that his sister is amnesic, living wild in the woods with a mountain lion, is taking a toll on his budding relationship with Lou. Is the woman Nate’s sister, or is she the Native American Spirit Woman come to life, to help solve the town’s troubles?

There are troubles aplenty. Without input from the town, the government announced plans to build a mysterious medical facility nearby, along with a 100-unit housing tract, and a Wallynet big box store. Lockleer Mountain merchants are in an uproar, sure that such actions will alter the quaintness of town and destroy their small businesses. They intend to stop the government at any cost.

Then, a tragedy reveals that someone is selling illegal drugs to the local teenagers. Nate and Sheriff Peabody are challenged with a life and death decision when the reservation’s chief, White Cloud, threatens to take matters into his own hands. Can Nate and the sheriff resolve the troubling issues, or must the Spirit Woman and her feline companion help bring peace to the troubled town?

Author Elaine Faber

About Elaine:

Elaine Faber lives in Elk Grove with her husband and four feline companions. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Cat Writers Association, and Northern California Publishers and Authors. Her short stories have appeared in national magazines, have won multiple awards in various contests, and are in at least 16 anthologies. She leads a local writer’s critique group.

Elaine’s ‘Mrs. Odboddy mystery series’ has won annual awards with Northern California Publishers and Authors. Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary, and All Things Cat, an anthology of cat stories, won Cat Writers’ Association 2018 and 2019 Certificates of Excellence.

Elaine enjoys sharing highlights of her novels and her writing experience at author venues. She is currently working on two fiction novels to be published in 2021 and 2022.

More About Elaine’s books and where to find them:

Black Cat Mysteries: With the aid of his ancestors’ memories, Black Cat helps solve mysteries and crimes. Partially narrated by Black Cat, much of the story comes from a cat’s often humorous and poignant point of view.

Mrs. Odboddy Mystery/Adventures: Elderly, eccentric Mrs. Odboddy fights WWII from the home front. She believes war-time conspiracies and spies abound in her home town. Follow her antics in these hysterical, historical novels as a self-appointed hometown warrior exposes malcontents, dissidents and Nazi spies…even when she’s wrong.

The Spirit Woman Mystery/Paranormal/Adventures

The Native Americans believe the legendary Spirit Woman ‘protects the community.’ When Govt. demands create social unrest in a small mountain town, and drugs threaten the lives of their youth, the Spirit Woman and her mountain lion companion come to their aid.

Black Cat’s Legacy

Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer         

Black Cat and the Accidental Angel

Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary

NCPA Cover and Interior Design Silver award 2019

All Things Cat (anthology of short stories)

Mrs. Odboddy-Hometown Patriot      NCPA 1st Fiction 2017

Mrs. Odboddy – Undercover Courier NCPA 3rd Cover and Design 2018  http://tinyurl/com/jn5bzwb

Mrs. Odboddy – And Then There Was a Tiger      NCPA 2nd Fiction 2019

The Spirit Woman of Lockleer Mountain

Writer's Notes

Good News!

By Thonie Hevron

News about the new book: for those of you who have been waiting for the Kindle version, it’s here! Now on Kindle! Felony Murder Rule $8.99 is where to come for news, book info and ordering, as well as a blog for mystery readers called (of course) Mystery Readers Only. Explore new authors and old favorites, usually less well-known but talented writers.

For authors, Writer’s Notes features tips on craft and culture. Learn what goes into the writing business.

For law enforcement memories, check out Street Stories. A great place for authors to find inspiration and for readers to get a glimpse into the day-to-day world of police officers, corrections and other specialty law enforcement positions. Great for story ideas and characterization.

On Facebook, look to ThonieHevronAuthorPage for announcements and appearances.

A review:

By Jonas Weisel

5.0 out of 5 stars 

Worthy addition to a solid mystery series

Reviewed in the United States on February 28, 2021

A great read. This novel is part of the Nick and Meredith Mystery series, but you don’t have to have read the earlier books to enjoy this one. The mystery has all the authentic police procedural details we’ve come to expect from the author. This story, though, is more personal for Meredith. She and Nick are married now and have a small child. When her father dies, the death brings back the pain of Meredith’s troubled relationship with him but also soon uncovers long-held secrets that threaten the lives of her and her family. The story is fast-paced, with a nice mix of action and character development. The villains are dangerous and ruthless and deftly drawn to make you feel the peril they pose. Hanging over the story, too, are the entanglements left behind by the father’s misdeeds and the way the past comes back to haunt the next generation. A worthy addition to a solid mystery series.


Read another short review from Jeane Slone, Local Author Distributor, on Facebook. Scroll to January 26th.



I’m honored that Felony Murder Rule is in the Book of the Moment Club! Thank you, Caleb and Linda Pirtle!


Blogs in which I’m the guest poster:

G. Cramer on March 8th, 2021

Lois Winston April 19th, 2021

Marilyn Meredith January 25th, 2021

Donnell Bell February 26th, 2021

C. Hope Clark article in upcoming April edition of Funds For Writers


I’ve also got a new host server and wasn’t able to export all those readers who have been following this site since 2014. If you like what you see, please sign up to receive the weekly (or so) posts from authors, readers, story tellers and me.

Writer's Notes

A Chat with Author George Cramer

By George Cramer

The Mona Lisa Sisters is a tender journey into the making of a family. The novel is full of careful historical detail and the pleasure of European trains and cities and plenty of mystery to keep the pages turning, but the greatest delight is Lura Grisham herself.

– Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty

An enrolled descendant of the Karuk Tribe of California, George Cramer, brings forty years’ investigative experience to crime and historical fiction. He holds an MFA-Creative Writing Program from the Institute of American Indian Arts.

George conducted and managed thousands of successful investigations throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia. He kept his investigative skills honed by volunteering as a Missing Person’s investigator at the San Leandro, California Police Department.

In addition to the Public Safety Writers Association, George is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the California Writers Club. He is a contributing author to several anthologies and the Veteran’s Writing Project. Other than writing, his love is long-distance motorcycle riding his 2001 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic.

George’s debut novel, The Mona Lisa Sisters, was published in 2020.

When and how did you begin your writing journey? Before my sixty-eighth birthday, I was laid off from a fantastic job when H-P bought out Palm, Inc., beginning a journey through the world of age discrimination. One day, I saw a note about a writing class at the Dublin Senior Center—whose doors I swore never to cross. I took the class and fell in love with writing. Overcoming forty-five years of report writing was difficult. One day, the instructor randomly passed out photos to the class. “Take fifteen minutes and describe the scene.” I did not do as instructed. The second I saw the image of two young girls staring up at the Mona Lisa, I knew I was going to write a novel. In fifteen minutes, I had a rough sketch of what began an eight-year ride to The Mona Lisa Sisters.

I knew I needed help and formal training. For help, I joined the Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writers Club, followed by the Public Safety Writers Association. I went to the local community college for formal training, Las Positas, and pursued an English degree. I followed by the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for an MFA.

Writing at sea

IAIA introduced me to a group of superlative authors and mentors. My cohort mentors were Ramona Ausubel, Ismet (Izzy) Prcic, and Marie-Helene Bertino. These fantastic people guided my writing throughout the program and remain in my life.

Thonie asked about projects and what book I’m reading. That’s tough. For pure enjoyment, I just reread Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley. Two book clubs selected The Mona Lisa Sisters, so I’m reading eleven of the other books selected for the year. I’m reading a half-dozen other novels for a project I’m excited about.

When I began work on Mona Lisa, I set aside a thriller/police procedural spread over forty years, 1930 to mid-1970. I hope to have it published by the end of 2021. I’m also working my way through a crime trilogy. I never knew retirement would be so hectic.

The Mona Lisa Sisters is available through Amazon and the IAIA Book Store. You can reach me at and visit my blog at If you stop by, please leave a comment and follow.

Writer's Notes

6 Must-Know Online Resources for Writers

Desiree Vallena’s Online Writing Tools

By Desiree Vallena

Desiree is new to Writers Notes but is a welcome addition. I’ve been writing for many years but all of these tools are new and very exciting! I’m sure no matter how long you’ve been at the keyboard, you’ll find something interesting. ~~ Thonie

Whether you’re looking for educational content or a community, there’s never been a better time to be a writer — all thanks to the good ol’ World Wide Web. From the most granular details of craft (we’re talking word choice and comma placement) to the big picture of how to become a professional writer, there’s help out there for every step of the writing process.

With that in mind, today I want to introduce you to some tried-and-tested online resources that have helped me over the course of my writing career — from technical tools, to creative stimuli, to my productivity essentials.

1. OneLook’s reverse dictionary

If you’re anything like me, you sometimes find yourself completely unable to conjure a particular word you’re thinking of. The perfect word can be right on the tip of your tongue — or should I say fingers, since it usually happens while writing — but will somehow still evade you.

If this affliction troubles you too, I recommend trying out OneLook’s reverse dictionary. Just type in what you can recall (whether that’s a definition, a related word, or the vague idea) and OneLook will provide you with a group of suggested words, organized by relevance. A great quick fix for when you’re struggling to come up with the perfect… oh, what’s that word again?

2. Story Planner

There’s a lot of debate among writers over the best practice for how to plan a novel. From “pantsers” to “Snowflake Method” devotees, you’ve probably had enough of other writers trying to sell you on their way of doing things.

Luckily, Story Planner helps you wade through the sea of planning methods by letting you try them all on for size. Their different planning routes (which all come with a handy indication of how much time they’ll take) provide you with a framework to guide your process. It’s a straightforward, no-nonsense approach that will help you figure out what works best for you.

3. Grammar Girl

You’ve almost certainly heard of Mignon Fogarty’s powerhouse of a blog, Grammar Girl — and for good reason. If you’ve ever stumbled over a piece of grammar, or wondered what the rules actually are for using a question mark with parentheses (seriously, inside or outside?), Grammar Girl will lead you through it in an easily digestible format. Be sure to check out her podcast while you’re there!

4. Plot Generator

For the more fortunate among us, story inspiration can strike spontaneously, and in the most unexpected places. But what if an idea doesn’t just magically fall into your lap? Even the most creative writers can go through dry spells inspiration-wise, and that’s where the Reedsy Plot Generator comes in.

This page will automatically generate tons of unique story ideas for you. A word of warning: the ideas can be pretty random, so while you may not always find an oven-ready plot among its suggestions, this plot generator is a super-entertaining tool to get your creative juices flowing. You never know what might spark off your next big idea!

5. Critique Circle

One of the best parts of being online as a writer is the opportunity to access huge communities of like-minded folks. Critique Circle is one of the corners of the internet that provides just that. This online critiquing platform connects writers with fellow writers (and readers) who give constructive feedback, free of charge.

You have to provide three reviews to be eligible to post your own work for criticism, meaning the community consistently pulls its weight — and while the level of detail you receive from your critique does vary somewhat, Critique Circle is still a great place to get eyes on your work if you don’t have writing pals in real life. If you’d like to join this type of platform, be sure to check out Mary Feliz’s tips on how to be an asset to your critiquing circle here.

6. SelfControl

As Susan McCormick points out in her excellent guest post, there are ample sources of  distraction for the work-from-home writer: “the view outside the window, the dog angling for a tummy rub, the children clamoring for a snack or a game” and so on. And since we’re all stuck at home for the foreseeable future, how can we overcome these little daily disturbances? While it’s difficult to control external distractions, one thing we can do to maintain focus is limiting our online distractions. And there’s a tool for that: SelfControl.

No, I’m not just being passive-aggressive. SelfControl is the actual name of a browser extension and app, which lets you block certain sites for the set periods of time you choose. If you’re a chronic procrastinator like me, you can block out your main time-suck sites, whether that’s Facebook, YouTube, or cute puppy Pinterest boards. Fewer distractions equals more focus, so eliminating online noise should help you write faster and get more done!

I sincerely hope you’ve found these recommendations helpful, and that they’ve inspired you to explore new ways of using the internet to help you on your writing journey. Good luck!

Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. She tries her best to take her own advice when it comes to writing, but couldn’t get by without her secret seventh tool: a strong cup of coffee.

Writer's Notes

Guest Post: How NOT to Pitch Your Book to Bloggers and Reviewers

Click here for a 30% off deal from the publisher:
G.P. Gottlieb’s Smothered
A Whipped and Sipped Mystery

Today’s guest is a prolific author/blogger, G. P. Gottlieb, who shares her tips for pitching. Great pointers here!Thonie

By G. P. Gottlieb 

“I would be delighted to be interviewed for the New Books Network. Thanks. Here’s my email.”

I just deleted that message. I am host for New Books in Literature, a podcast channel on the New Books Network. Although I interview authors of both commercially and independently published fiction, I focus on independent presses, which I believe deserve more attention. My purview is contemporary literary fiction and I have recently also started interviewing one literary mystery writer each month. To find authors, I review pitches from publishers and publicists, read journals, get recommendations from other authors, and scroll through my social media groups.

I am also an author (my first culinary mystery was released in 2019) and know how hard it is to find readers, so I’m surprised that so many authors and publicists don’t take the time to prepare before contacting me. They don’t look me up on the NBN website or listen to any of my podcasts, all available on the site for free. If they checked, they’d see that there is a place to pitch their books, they’d notice that there are many different NBN channels, and they’d learn that I’m the host for New Books in Literature.

For my own marketing purposes regarding my soon-to-be-published second culinary mystery, I’ve spent hours researching potential mystery book reviewers, podcasters, bloggers, and other sites. Before sending a request, I check the host’s review policy, I triple-check the spelling of the host’s name, and I confirm that the host is interested in culinary mysteries. I bet that most people who accept pitches would rather get books that interest them, presented thoughtfully, than three pages of blurbs about a book they won’t read or shot-in-the-dark messages which, like me, they’ll just delete.

I like to think of it as creating a relationship instead of asking a favor of someone I’ve never met.   Thonie Hevron, a mystery author who posts guest essays and book reviews on her website and in all the usual places, talks about professional courtesy. “Don’t waste another’s precious time. This business is about relationships, not what you can get from another,” she says, adding, “Some of the most satisfying professional and personal relationship I have are with authors I’ve met online.”

She’s way friendlier than me, but I finally figured out how important it is to become Facebook friends with authors I’ve interviewed and with bloggers and reviewers who have helped me publicize my culinary mystery. Even if I just follow them and they don’t follow me back, I get more of a feeling that we’re all in this together.

There is no guarantee that these suggestions will assure you a successful book launch or wonderful sales, but maybe they’ll help you establish a better relationship with bloggers, bookstore owners, and podcast hosts who just might dedicate some time to helping you publicize your book.

Be clear and upfront in the subject line. Type: “Book Review Request,” or “Guest Blog Post.” Remember that your e-mail could be one of hundreds in their inbox. One of my colleagues always responds, even if the subject line says, “You Must Read My Amazing, Award-Winning Novel.” That colleague is a sweetie-pie. I’d delete it in a heartbeat.

Acknowledge a human being in your greeting. Don’t start blabbing about your book without some kind of greeting. “Dear G.P.” is fine, or “Hi, Best Blog in the World.” Being friendly goes a long way.

Acknowledge the site before launching into a pitch, maybe say something about it. “Brilliant questions in your penetrating interview with W. Shakespeare. My novel is also set in England!”

Don’t give a host work to do. If it’s a mysterious title, explain it. If you message my Facebook page, say you’re requesting an interview and give me your FB link and email address. I’m not going to take the time to google you. And one message will be sufficient – I hate how FB Messenger interrupts whatever I’m doing.

If you don’t hear back, don’t send a follow-up request. Just put that host/blogger/reviewer in your ‘Not this time’ file. You can try again with your next book. Or the one after that. For this book, I sent out nearly 100 requests for reviews and received about 25 responses. It’s a numbers game. Just send out a lot of requests.

Don’t argue with a potential host/blogger/reviewer: If I tell you I’m not interested in ‘Mystery of the Lost Shoe,’ don’t tell me that it’s completely different from anything I’ve ever read. As my NBN colleague, C.P. Lesley, the friendly host for New Books in Historical Fiction writes, “If the host tells you she has no time in her schedule, don’t write back demanding to know when space might be available.”

Make sure to ask what format the host prefers: Don’t add attachments until they are requested. And if the host prefers reading a physical book, don’t go into a lengthy explanation about why it’s only available as an eBook. Yup, that happened once. You are asking someone to invest time in helping you market your book, so offer to send the format they prefer, even if it costs more.

Follow the host/blogger/reviewer on social media: Denise Fleischer, who reviews books and offers book promotions at Gotta Write Network says, “This is the single best way of thanking someone who helps publicize your book.” Denise also suggests that you consider the nominal fee sometimes charged for coordinating a blog tour and thank the host/reviewer/blogger on your social media.

I’m sure, or relatively sure, that I don’t need to mention this (I can ‘hear’ you rolling your eyes) but it would be nice if you conclude your request with a “thank you.”  

Good luck, fellow authors!

About G.P. Gottlieb: (
G.P. has worked as a musician, a teacher, and an administrator, but she’s happiest when writing recipe-laced murder mysteries. Battered: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery and Smothered: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery take place in the spring and summer of 2019 and a third book in the series will center on a murder that occurs during the city of Chicago’s lockdown in May 2020. G.P. Gottlieb has always experimented in the kitchen and created her delicious vegan cookies and cakes in direct opposition to what she learned in courses at Chicago’s French Pastry School. She is host for New Books in Literature, a podcast channel on the New Books Network, the mother of three grown children, and lives with her husband in a Chicago high-rise that is strikingly similar to the building portrayed in the Whipped and Sipped Mystery series.

Smothered A Whipped and Sipped Mystery

Click here for a 30% off presale price from the publisher!

Writer's Notes

Getting Ready

Felony Murder Rule is due out any time now. I just received promotional postcards and bookmarks created by unique talent and friend, Michel Wing. Here’s where I’ll announce when and where Felony Murder Rule will be available for purchase in eBook (Kindle) and print copy.


Mystery Readers Only Writer's Notes

Guest Post: Maris Soule’s Take on Coming Up With Ideas

A Killer Past by Maris Soule

By Maris Soule

I’m often asked, “How do you come up with your ideas?” Well, Mary Harrington took form during a walk with my husband. We’d just watched the TV show Nikita (A rogue assassin returns to take down a secret organization) and I said, “I wonder what she would be like in her seventies?”

Hmm. I had a character. A woman in her seventies who regularly works out at the gym and has kept a low profile since moving to Rivershore, a small, rural town in southwest Michigan. She’s a widow whose grown son thinks, for her safety, she should move out of the two-story house she’s called home for almost forty-four years. A woman with secrets.

Mary Harrington became real to me, but now I needed an event to change the course of her life. I came up with two. First, she’s featured in a magazine article about the mental and physical advantages of older people staying active. Her picture is included, showing Mary working out at the gym, and the article goes out on the Internet, where it can be (and is) seen by people from her past. And then, the night before Halloween, Mary’s car breaks down two blocks from her house, and two gang members see her as easy prey. When one of the punks grabs her, Mary discovers old habits are hard to forget, and the gang members are the ones who end up in the hospital.

Of course, I needed a foil, someone intent on discovering why Mary isn’t willing to admit she bested the boys. Enter Sergeant Jack Rossini, Rivershore’s lone investigator. He’s a widower and younger than Mary by over a decade, who finds her fascinating, especially when he discovers there’s no record of her life prior to her arrival in Rivershore and is told by the F.B.I. to drop his investigation.

I loved writing this book. It was fun verbally pitting Mary against Jack, creating a son who thinks his mother can’t take care of herself, and a snobbish daughter-in-law who wants to trace Mary’s family tree. To the mix, I added a drug pushing gang and a man from her past who want her dead.

As an older woman myself, I hate being classified as “elderly.” The word conjures up images of feeble and weak. Yes, I can’t do everything I used to do when I was younger, but I still remember some of the Judo I learned in my teens. Don’t try grabbing my arm and pulling me somewhere I don’t want to go. And I may not see the target as well as I did in my younger years, but I can still put some bullet holes near the center. I never learned how to use some of the weapons Mary had hiding in her basement, but it was fun doing the research.

So, what would a woman who was an assassin in her twenties be like in her seventies? Meet Mary Harrington who has A KILLER PAST.

Maris Soule

About Maris:

Maris Soule has had thirty books published, ranging from romance and romantic suspense to mystery and thriller. Over the years, her books have won and placed in more than a dozen contests. Born and raised in California, she was working on a master’s degree in art history when she met and married her husband. She taught high school art and math for eight years before turning to writing full time. The Soules, who have two grown children and two granddaughters, now live in Michigan in the summer and Florida in the winter.

Visit her at:

Writer's Notes

Guest Post: Where I Get My Ideas From

By Debra Sennefelder

As a published author, I get many questions about the writing process, and one of the most common questions is where I get my ideas from. The answer is that ideas are everywhere. That’s the easy part. The challenging part is being able to identify whether an idea can sustain an entire book. There are times when an idea hits, and an author instantly knows that it can carry a book, and I have to say it’s a great feeling when that happens. Luckily, that happened for my new release, THE CORPSE WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.

For the fourth book in the Food Blogger Mystery series, I was inspired by my curiosity about cold cases and my interest in podcasts. As I listened to these shows, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to listen to a podcast about a crime that I was familiar with. Perhaps one that happened in my town or to someone I knew. That started the wheels spinning for me, and ideas began to flow.

Some of the best true crime podcasts I listened to had a foreboding vibe, atmospheric music, and a well-written script that drew me into the case. I wanted to bring that ambiance into the book by inserting snippets from the podcast, Search for The Missing.

When I sat down to write up a summary of this book, I knew I wanted it to revolve around a true-crime podcast focused on a twenty-year-old missing woman’s case. Hope Early, the amateur sleuth in my Food Blogger Mystery series, was a teenager when Joyce Markham went missing. Joyce was the mother of Hope’s friends. A hum of anxiety rippled through the town at the disappearance because no one knew what to expect next. Would another wife and mother disappear? Was it an isolated case? Or, had Joyce had simply walked away from her life?

There are other times when a real-life incident serves as inspiration. For the second book in the series, THE HIDDEN CORPSE, the unexpected visit of a neighbor’s elderly mother to my house started that ball rolling. By the end of the day, I had the book’s opening and an essential thread for the story all planned out.

Then there are news stories that can spark an idea. Most recently, there was an intriguing, almost unbelievable story on the news, and my ears perked up immediately. By the time I found the report on the news channel’s website, I had the story’s base already formed, and I can’t wait to write it.

Earlier I noted that it’s a part of our job as an author to determine whether an idea can carry a novel. Another aspect of our job is the manage our active imaginations. It’s very easy to be lured away from a work-in-progress to something new, shiny, and full of potential. The struggle is real, and I’ve found keeping a trusty notebook always within reach a valuable tool.

I hope this insight into where this author gets her ideas helps you better understand the writer’s brain. Sometimes it can be a scary place, but it’s always entertaining.

Novel Synopsis:

Food blogger Hope Early takes on a cold case that’s heating up fast . . .
Building on her recipe for success with her food blog, Hope at Home, Hope is teaching her first blogging class at the local library in Jefferson, Connecticut. She’s also learning about podcasts, including a true-crime one called Search for the Missing, hosted by Hope’s childhood friend, Devon Markham. Twenty years ago on Valentine’s Day, right here in Jefferson, Devon’s mom disappeared and was never found. Finally Devon has returned to solve the mystery of what happened to her mother—and she asks Hope to help.

The next day Hope discovers Devon’s apartment has been ransacked. Her laptop with the research on her mother’s cold case is missing, and Devon is nowhere to be found. When her friend’s body is later discovered in a car wreck, Hope is convinced it’s no accident. Clearly, Devon was too close to the truth, and the cold-blooded killer is still at large in Jefferson. Now it’s up to Hope to find the guilty party—before the food blogger herself becomes the next subject of another true-crime podcast . . .

Includes Recipes from Hope’s Kitchen!

About the Author:

Debra Sennefelder is an avid reader who reads across a range of genres, but mystery fiction is her obsession. Her interest in people and relationships is channeled into her novels against a backdrop of crime and mystery.

Her first novel, THE UNINVITED CORPSE (A Food Blogger mystery) was published in 2018.When she’s not reading, she enjoys cooking and baking and as a former food blogger, she is constantly taking photographs of her food. Yeah, she’s that person.

Born and raised in New York City, where she majored in her hobby of fashion buying, she now lives and writes in Connecticut with her family. She’s worked in retail and publishing before becoming a full-time author. Her writing companion is her adorable and slightly spoiled Shih Tzu, Connie.

Buy Link:

Directs to Kensington’s website for retailers.

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Writer's Notes

Getting it Right-Technical Advice for Novelists by Danny R. Smith

Police and detective stories have withstood the test of time, and they are not going away anytime soon. If you’re writing crime novels but have no law enforcement experience, how do you get it right?

Most crime writers have no personal experience with the crimes about which they write, nor with the resulting investigative processes and procedures. If you don’t know the subject matter of which you write, you somehow need to learn it.

It is not enough to rely on what you have read or watched for entertainment as your main source of expertise. If you do, you will inevitably get it wrong. Maybe you’ll be close, but for me, personally, close doesn’t cut it.

Authors Who Get it Right

One of my favorite authors has always been Elmore Leonard. Unlike most, the “King of Dialogue” had the remarkable ability to write as a twenty-year veteran cop, and as a twenty-year convict, though he was never either one. Clearly, he spent a tremendous amount of time studying both, and he probably had great technical advisors along the way.

Joseph Wambaugh is a cop-turned-author, the trailblazer of authentic police procedure novels. Now, as decades have passed since he worked a beat himself, Wambaugh consults today’s cops so that his writing is authentic and true to the time.

Michael Connelly has a host of LAPD technical advisors, and he gets the details right most of the time. (He could use an advisor from the sheriff’s department because he has made glaring mistakes when speaking of my former department.) As a former cop-beat reporter, Connelly knows the importance of being technically correct in characters and scenes, and I give him credit for that.

How to Find Experts

One great resource for crime writers who have no police experience is Writer’s Detective, a website and blog hosted by a California police officer named Adam. (He uses the pen name B.A. Richardson, as he is still an active duty law enforcement officer.) He also has a Facebook group where he and other experts will answer questions. If you join the group, you will learn who has true expertise and learn to rely upon them and ignore some of the others who love to answer every question, though they have no experience themselves.

Many writers use Adam’s services, and I can personally tell you that his advising is always spot on. He also now hosts a podcast, and it is my understanding he will be releasing a book that will offer even more technical advice for writers.

Another great resource is a recently-retired Milwaukee PD sergeant named Patrick O’Donnell. He published a book on the topic as well: Cops and Writers. Though I haven’t read the book, it has good reviews, and I contributed to some of the material he used to write it.

Along the lines of Facebook groups, there are other great resources for writers. Legal Fiction, which is hosted by an attorney, and Trauma Fiction, a group hosted and attended by medical experts, are both worth joining for writers who need direction in those areas.

Lee Lofland’s book Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers is another great resource for writers. Lofland is the founder of Writers’ Police Academy-MurderCon, “a special training event for writers of all genres, with a specific focus on solving the crime of murder,” and is a highly regarded consultant for writers.

My Experience

I have personally served as a consultant on several books. I’ve been mentioned in a couple, including one by a best-selling romance author. She had found me through a friend and asked if I would be willing to answer questions and provide some guidance while she wrote her book. I made myself available to her for several months as she worked on her novel.

Some consultants charge for their work, which is completely appropriate. However, many authors don’t make enough (or any) money on their books and do not have a budget that would allow them to pay for technical advisors. My technical advising thus far has been without compensation, but I wouldn’t do it again unless the person asking for help was a friend or associate, and the commitment was minimal.

Are All Cops Experts?

If you do find a cop or someone retired from law enforcement who is willing to help, make sure he/she has expertise in the area you seek. Not all cops are investigators. (In fact, most are not.) Not all cops are experts in traffic enforcement, or gang enforcement, or arson investigation. If you want an expert, find someone who could qualify in a court of law as an expert in the field of whatever it is you are seeking information.

A word of caution: There are those who have “supervised” and claim expertise in the field to which they were assigned. In some cases, this may be true. But most often, at least in the field of homicide investigation, supervisors do not conduct investigations themselves; rather, they oversee the work of their staff. That does not necessarily make one an expert. Many of the supervisors who were selected to go to the homicide bureau at LASD had no investigative experience because it was not necessary that they did. Their roles as supervisors had nothing to do with being investigators.

What Does it Cost?

The aforementioned Facebook groups are examples of where to find free advice. Just make sure the person offering the advice has some level of expertise and didn’t Google the answer to your question. (You could have done that yourself.) Books can be inexpensive, and of course, podcasts and blogs are free.

If you do find someone with expertise who is willing to help you without compensation, you should be very appreciative of his/her help. The knowledge they share with you was hard-earned, and likely has a greater value than even they know. The romance author I mentioned thanked me in her book. I didn’t expect anything more than that, but you might consider sending a gift certificate for a coffeehouse or maybe a steakhouse as a way of showing your appreciation. Most importantly, don’t use them and move on. I reached out to that author I had helped when I published my first book, and she never responded to me.

Writing Advice for the Cops

Conversely, if you are a cop who is determined to tell your story, you, too, should get it right — the writing part of it. Learn to write so that your prose is enjoyable to read. Writing to entertain is far different than writing police reports and affidavits. I learned that valuable lesson the hard way, having submitted some of my early work to an editor and an agent at a writer’s conference only to have it returned peppered with red ink. The harsh reality was that I had a lot to learn (and still do) about writing. Since I didn’t take college courses on creative writing, there was much I didn’t know, such as identifying and slaying as much passive voice as possible and paying attention to proper sentence structure.

Hire an Editor

Lastly, I have an editor. She is invaluable to me. Every published author has at least one. If you are self-publishing, you need to find a qualified editor (or two) and submit everything you write to her for review. Doing so has freed me to write more and worry less about commas and trying to figure out that whole lay, lie, lain, and laid thing (my greatest grammatical nemeses).

Best of luck to all of my fellow writers, authors, novelists, dramatists, bloggers, scribblers, and other assorted and glorious wordsmiths.

About Danny R. Smith:

Danny R. Smith spent 21 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the last seven as a homicide detective. He now lives in Idaho where he works as a private investigator and consultant. He is blessed with a beautiful wife and two wonderful daughters, and he is passionate about his dogs and horses, all of whom he counts among his friends.

He is the author of the bestselling and award-winning Dickie Floyd Detective Novel series, and he has written articles for trade publications. He publishes a weekly blog called The Murder Memo, which can be found at

He is a member of the Idaho Writers Guild and the Public Safety Writers Association.

Blog: The Murder Memo

Books: Dickie Floyd books

Thonie: I thought I’d add my comment to Danny’s post.

As a LE veteran, it galls me to find gross inaccuracies in the novel I’m reading. Some errors I can put down to the author using a municipal agency procedure applied to a state agency. They can be vastly different. Here in NorCal, I never heard “vic” or “perp” except on TV. A cop character’s language can speak volumes to their make-up. Danny’s list goes a long way to helping the author with resources. Another is Citizen Academies. My local police and sheriff’s office do academies (including one in Spanish) which help introduce the cop culture to the public.
Also an agency Public Information Officer may be able to help. If nothing else he/she could point you to a department or individual who may be able to answer your questions. Authors can make contacts via these two above avenues.
One last thought: cops are suspicious by nature. Cold-calling seldom bears fruit. If you need assistance, do your research first. Find out what you can from the internet, etc. about the organization. Cops also hate wasting their time. If you are professional (make an appointment, business cards, etc.) they are more likely to help. The trick is simple: build a relationship. As Danny said earlier, the romance author he helped didn’t return the “favor” when he reached out. He probably won’t help her again.

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