Mary Keliikoa is the author of award-winning Hidden Pieces and Deadly Tides in the Misty Pines mystery series, the award nominated PI Kelly Pruett mystery series, and the upcoming Don’t Ask, Don’t Follow out June 2024. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World and in the Peace, Love and Crime anthology.
A Pacific NW native, she admits to being that person who gets excited when called for jury duty. When not in Washington, you can find Mary with her toes in the sand on a Hawaiian beach. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun, she’s plotting her next murder—a novel that is. www.marykeliikoa.com
There’s an adage that would-be writers often hear when working on their first pieces: write what you know. In fact, in the beginning, and even now, it was advice that I heard quite often. And I don’t disagree. There is wisdom to that. Among other things, when one is so busy making things up, as we fiction writers do, it’s nice to lean into some solid information that we have personal knowledge about. It saves on research, for sure. But let’s face it—one’s knowledge base can only go so far. And I believe that in addition to what you know, writing what you want to learn about, understand, or what fascinates you can add richness to a story.
When I wrote the first book in the Misty Pines mystery series, HIDDEN PIECES, I decided to set the series in a place I was familiar with. That’s why I chose the Oregon coast, where my parents moved our family when I was a toddler.
While I don’t remember much about those early years, by the time I reached the age of five, many things about the coast stuck: the mist and the cool weather that never seemed to end, and that saturated our clothes was near the top. But also the moss laden trees in the towering forests. The hum of the ocean waves reverberating in the air. The sheer rock cliffs and violent eddies at their base. The call of the seagulls overhead, the bark of sea lions on the rocks, and the brackish smell of seaweed.
I also knew the people that chose that area as home. The family-like atmosphere where everyone knows your business. That the worry lines on the face of a fisherman’s wife don’t soften until he’s safely back across the bar. That fish and chips, and beer are necessary fare when gathering to tell tall fish tales at the local gathering hole.
I know the intriguing items that wash up along the ocean beaches, which was an absolute treat for the treasure hunter in me. From glass fishing floats and sand dollars to various creatures in the tidal pools, I could spend hours running along the ocean shores.
Setting I knew. But I also wanted to explore what I wanted to understand. In the Misty Pines series, that is grief—and the desperate need for redemption. In Hidden Pieces, I focused on a true crime that happened in my hometown where two girls went out walking and a car stopped. One girl never made it home. Using that as a backdrop, I explored how an individual might cope with a tragedy like that in their life…or perhaps not cope so well.
In DEADLY TIDES, the second book in the series out now, I went in another direction. I was interested in a phenomenon that has occurred with some regularity in the Pacific Northwest: severed feet washing ashore. Crazy enough, that has been happening for over the past decade. As to who the feet belong to, sadly, many have been victims of accidents, and some due to suicide. However, I write mystery with a dose of suspense, so of course, I chose a more nefarious cause.
Which brings me back to why those feet washed ashore—and understanding what might drive someone to such a gruesome act. And that led me back to that element of grief and how it might change a person.
Sometimes, it takes them to the edge, questioning their own existence. Sometimes, it has them acting out in a way they would not otherwise. Sometimes, grief morphs into bitterness and erodes an individual’s very core.
I explore this in the Misty Pines series through my main characters because it is a subject that I am familiar with…but want to understand. And here’s what I’ve learned.
Grief is a pesky neighbor that shows up at one’s window unannounced and knocks insidiously until it’s let in. There’s always the option to hide—close the window shade and pretend not to be home. But at some point, you have to come out. And grief, like that neighbor, will be waiting. Sometimes, it’s best to just let them in because they aren’t going anywhere—and one might as well learn to live peaceably next door to it because the alternative could be dire…at least that’s the direction I take in my novels. Like those feet, which thankfully I never ran across, severed or otherwise, when out beachcombing as a kid.
Now that I have a better understanding of grief… I’m on the lookout for the next thing to understand that fascinates me and that I can weave into my next story. I have a feeling it won’t be a problem!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: www.marykeliikoa.com
An adventuress at heart, Nannette Potter lives vicariously through her fearless and impetuous characters, inventing lives balanced on a knife’s edge. PIERCE THE DARKNESS, her debut international thriller, inspired by her Christian faith, was a 2022 Claymore Award finalist. Beyond writing, she loves spending time with family and traveling the globe, where she dreams up future novels while sipping mango margaritas. An active member of Sisters in Crime, she lives with her soulmate and husband, Mark, in California’s Central Valley.
Pierce the Darkness Elevator Pitch – In a high-stakes thriller, Genevieve “Blade” Broussard, a disgraced impalement artist, plunges into a treacherous web of deceit. As Blade uncovers a sinister plot to assassinate world leaders at the United Nations, she must risk everything to stop the scheme before the delicate scales of world stability shatters.
What brought you to writing? My mother’s love of reading undeniably shaped my passion for literature. While it might sound somewhat clichéd, I’ve always wanted to write. I vividly recall the moment when I sat at my brother’s typewriter and penned my first story at the age of ten. From that moment, I was hooked. I wrote for the high school newspaper, took journalism and creative writing courses in college, and wrote confessionals (which wasn’t profitable) to build my publishing portfolio.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? My hubby and I have been empty nesters for a while, so I converted an extra bedroom into my writing space. But I write anywhere and everywhere! I’ve been known to write in my favorite coffee bistro, a hotel room, in a car (as a passenger), and even at a zoo. And distractions? Distractions are my weakness, especially when I’m researching. It’s so easy to go down rabbit holes online.
What are you currently working on? I’m thrilled to be working on Book 2 of my trilogy. One of my favorite aspects of writing is inventing new characters and exploring new locations. And did I happen to mention I am a total research aficionado?
Who’s your favorite author? My “favorite” books have changed over the decades, almost like a comfortable, evolving friendship with reading. Little Women was my first “chapter” book companion, inspiring me to dream of writing like Jo and igniting my love for storytelling. Then, in my romantic phase, I was enthralled by The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, written by Elizabeth George, marked a decade of discovering a whole new mystery genre. And once I read the Sigma Force series by James Rollins, I was hooked on thrillers.
How do you come up with character names? This is my favorite part of storytelling. Before I began writing PIERCE THE DARKNESS, I knew the first name of my main character—Blade. As I delved into crafting her backstory, I thought about her heritage, and I couldn’t decide between French or Cajun. Eventually, I settled on Genevieve “Blade” Broussard. But normally, before I name a character, I already have an idea of their ethnicity, gender, and a fragment of their backstory. I comb through the internet, searching for names by nationality until the name rings true for my character. This can take weeks to finalize.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? To kick off my creative process, I use a storyboard divided into three acts, a colorful jungle of post-it notes. For the initial draft, I go old-school and write in longhand. It’s messy and crude, but this is where the magic happens for me. Once I transcribe it into my computer, I switch to editing mode.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I always use real locations in my writing; a big part of PIERCE THE DARKNESS takes place in Italy. Since my husband and I love to travel, it was an easy sell to travel there. As I stepped into Blade’s shoes and explored Florence and Rome in person, I realized some of the assumptions based on my research didn’t quite match up with reality. I loved strolling down the same streets as my character, visiting the Duomo di Firenze, and even choosing a safe house in Rome. I was living my dream!
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m naturally excited to celebrate the launch of my thriller! Now, it’s time to get back to work promoting this book and writing the next one. But that’s what I love about storytelling; there is always something new to learn. Whether it’s honing my writing skills, navigating the world of publishing, or mastering social media, it can all feel a bit overwhelming at times. But I’m committed to lifelong learning, and there’s no better way to do that than through writing. Traveling to an unknown city or country and discovering what makes that place unique is always on my calendar. And I plan to attend two conferences in 2024. There are many great options to choose from, but I’m leaning towards attending Thrillerfest in New York and Bouchercon in Nashville. Exciting times ahead!
Do you have any advice for new writers? Never, ever, ever wait for the perfect time to write. Just write. Take whatever snippets of time you can find and make the most of it.
How do our readers contact you?
Facebook: Nannette Potter
Instagram: Nannette Potter
Where can readers purchase your book?
Barnes & Noble
Groups I belong to:
Sisters in Crime – National
Sisters in Crime – Guppy Chapter
Sisters in Crime – Northern California
Sisters in Crime – Orange County
The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)
Kelly Oliver is the award-winning and bestselling author of three mystery series: the seven-book contemporary suspense series, The Jessica James Mysteries; the three-book middle grade kid’s series, Pet Detective Mysteries; and the soon to be seven-book historical cozy series, The Fiona Figg Mysteries.
Kelly is currently President of National Sisters in Crime.
When she’s not writing novels, Kelly is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emerita at Vanderbilt University. To learn more about Kelly and her books, go to www.kellyoliverbooks.com.
Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie in this charming historical cozy. “A delightful English countryside mystery with two handsome suitors and twists and turns worthy of Agatha Christie herself!” – Amanda Flower, USA Today Bestselling Author.
London, 1918 –
Fiona Figg finds herself back in Old Blighty, saddled with shuffling papers for the war office. Then, a mysterious card arrives, inviting her to a fancy house party at Mentmore Castle. This year’s Ascot-themed do will play host to a stable of animal defense advocates, and Fiona is tasked with infiltrating the activists and uncovering possible anti-war activity.
Disguised as the Lady Tabitha Kenworthy, Fiona is more than ready for the “mane” event, but the odds are against her when both her arch nemesis, dark-horse Fredrick Fredricks, and would-be fiancé Lieutenant Archie Somersby arrive unexpectedly and “stirrup” her plans. And when a horse doctor thuds to the floor in the next guest room, Fiona finds herself investigating a mysterious poisoning with some very hairy clues.
Can Fiona overcome the hurdles and solve both cases or will she be put out to pasture by the killer?
Today and every day, I’m grateful for writing. Writing enables me to live. It’s a necessity and not an option. Because of that, I’m especially thankful for readers. At this point, having readers respond to my writing is the most gratifying part of my life.
I began my writing career as a philosophy graduate student and then as a philosophy professor. I wrote nonfiction and scholarly works for decades. I wrote my first fiction, a mystery novel, almost ten years ago. Last December, I retired from Vanderbilt University to write novels full-time. I loved my philosophy career. But I was ready for a new challenge.
One of the greatest joys and challenges of my current writing projects is writing historical characters. I have three mystery series, and only one of them is historical. While I enjoy all of them, writing characters based on real-life people is especially fun.
For example, many of the characters in the latest Fiona Figg & Kitty Lane Mystery, Arsenic as Ascot—out next Tuesday and available for pre-order now—were inspired by real people.
Emilie Augusta Louise Lind af Hageby, known as Lizzy Lind, was a Swedish-born animal activist who founded the Purple Cross for horses and started the first veterinary field hospitals for military animals. She did enter medical school at the University of London to expose their vivisectionist cruelties. And she co-founded—with Lady Nina Douglas, Duchess of Hamilton—the Animal Defense Society with an office on Piccadilly. Nina used her estate at Ferne as a sanctuary for animals abandoned during the war, especially World War II, when food was in such short supply that many pet owners could no longer afford to feed themselves and their pets.
The character of Dr. Sergei Vorknoy is inspired by Dr. Serge Voronoff, known as the “monkey gland expert” and the “monkey gland doctor.” The real Dr. Voronoff, a Russian immigrant, grafted tissue from chimpanzee testicles onto wealthy men and their horses. He claimed the operation would restore youth and vitality and boost intelligence. He performed his operations mainly in France but also in England. This “side hustle” made him rich. Seems lots of wealthy men were ready to give it a go.
The novel Lady Sybil is loosely based on Lady Sybil Grant, daughter of Lord Archibald Primrose, Earl of Rosebery, who served as the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1894–1895. He did close the gates to one of his estates, The Durdans when his son left to fight and never again reopened them. And after his wife, Hannah de Rothschild, died, he wore mourning for the rest of his life. He was also an avid horse lover and owned several stables and racehorses. He did not, however, hide horses from the War Office, and neither did his groom. Lady Sybil was known for her unconventional ways, including climbing trees, issuing orders with a bullhorn, and traveling with the caravan of Romani she allowed to camp on the estate. Don’t you just love this?
My recurring baddie, Fredrick Fredricks, is inspired by real-life spy Fredrick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne, the South African huntsman who escaped from prison several times in outrageous ways, adopted several personae and generally charmed his way through high society posing as a New York journalist, a British army officer, and a Russian duke. One of his aliases was indeed Fredrick Fredricks. He was also the leader of an infamous Duquesne spy ring in World War II until his capture in one of the largest espionage convictions in United States history. Fredrick Fredricks is a fan favorite and one of mine, too!
Some of the joys of writing historical characters is learning about fascinating people like these. For a writer, their stories provide built-in plots, which is nice. The challenge is finding an appropriate voice and fleshing them out. Research only gets you so far. Sure. You can learn facts about someone’s life. But that doesn’t tell you who they were. Taking a journey into the head of a historical figure is both exhilarating and an enormous responsibility.
My goal is to tell a good story inspired by real-life characters and true events. Creative license is key to both starting and finishing any project. Without it, I would be paralyzed. Thankfully, at the end of the day, mine are fiction, not history books.
I love historical mysteries because I can learn about history while enjoying a rip-roaring good story.
What do you love about historical mysteries?
Arsenic at Ascot LINKS
Apple Books https://books.apple.com/us/book/arsenic-at-ascot/id6463619182
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/arsenic-at-ascot-kelly-oliver/1143980413
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CD3N2XSH/
Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Arsenic-Ascot-Fiona-Kitty-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0CD3N2XSH/
Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/Arsenic-Ascot-Fiona-Kitty-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0CD3N2XSH/
Kobo CA: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/arsenic-at-ascot
Barbara Howard is an author of mystery stories featuring a female amateur sleuth, diverse characters, and a dash of romance. Books include the Finding Home Mystery Series, Final Harvest, Charlotte’s Revenge, and Milo’s Journey. She is a first-generation tech geek turned master gardener. Ms. Howard returned to her Midwestern hometown after an extensive career as a Department of Defense Project Manager at the Pentagon and KPMG Finance and Accounting, Eastern Region. She spends most of her time treasure hunting, spoiling her fur babies, growing veggies, and plotting whodunits.
Please share your elevator pitch with us: The Taste of Rain – College student and part-time health aide Amira Connors wants nothing more than to graduate and successfully launch a non-profit with her latest crush, Attorney Darius Browne. But when a nursing home patient (Claire Stewart) shares shocking details surrounding her husband’s death, Amira pieces together the fractured memories and helps law enforcement identify the actual killer. But is he? Or have Claire’s ramblings entangled Amira into becoming the next target?
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? I belong to several associations, and each relationship is beneficial. I consider Sisters in Crime a shining star above them all. The networking, publishing, and educational resources are top-notch. I’ve built many friendships through my affiliation with SinC.
How do you come up with character names? If you’ve ever contacted me through a direct message (DM) with the classic line “Hello beautiful” or to interest me in cryptocurrency, chances are your name has been added to my list of character profiles. Most often, the murder victim.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Making sure that they don’t sound like my ex-husband. Just kidding, sort of. I spent the majority of my career in the Pentagon, tech, and financial firms, all predominantly male environments. I have plenty of voices in my head (I’ve dubbed them the Ghosts of Briefings-Past) that feed my stories.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Each character is my personal Frankenstein—a patchwork of several people I’ve known. I determine the character’s backstory, internal struggle, goals, and passions. Then, I go shopping for traits and behaviors that match the people I’ve met throughout my life. I’m a quilter, and piecing the fabric is my favorite part of that process. I suppose that has translated into my writing process and makes it fun for me.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I am a flexible plotter. I map out everything and try to stick to it. I need a clear path and goal for each scene. However, I allow room for the characters to breathe and grow. If that causes the plot to take unexpected twists and turns, I go with the flow. PS: That always happens, and it’s another part of the fun.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Each setting has components from different places where I’ve lived, worked, or visited. Once I decide what the setting should look and feel like, I pull from my experiences in similar places to create it. That way, every time I walk through a scene with a character, it feels very real to me. And I hope that authenticity conveys over to the reader as well.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Try not to compare yourself to other authors. Find your own voice. Continue perfecting your craft. Learn something new every day. And trust the process.
Recent projects: Contributing author to the wedding-themed cozy mystery anthology Malice, Matrimony, and Murder.
Sisters in Crime,
Great Lakes Fiction Writers,
Crime Writers of Color,
Mystery Writers of America,
Gamma Xi Phi
Building Relationships Around Books,
Cozy Crime Collective,
World of Black Writers,
Gamma Xi Phi,
Women Reading Great Books,
Tattered Page Book Club
Contact – http://www.authorbarbarahoward.com
Buy – https://linktr.ee/BarbaraHoward
Nancy Lynn Jarvis wore many hats before she started writing cozy mysteries. After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, she worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News, as a librarian, as the business manager for Shakespeare/Santa Cruz, and as a realtor.
Nancy’s work history reflects her philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years, which she applies to her writing and life. She has just started growing hops commercially.
Elevator pitch for Santa Cruz Ghost Stories – If you want to be entertained or, in some cases, made to shiverꟷ by the creative minds of writers telling you their Santa Cruz ghost stories, this is the book for you. There’s even an AI-generated ghost story so you can see what future ghosts may look like.
I belong to Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Santa Cruz Women of Mystery. I’m on too many writer-related Facebook groups to list.
Do you write in more than one genre? Does editing count if I contributed a story to the book? Mostly, I write cozy-style mysteries, where I began and am currently working, but I keep getting sidetracked. After the fourth book in my Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series, I swerved into a stand-alone novel titled Mags and the AARP Gang.
A little later, I thought my book covers needed refreshing, and while searching online for ideas, I found a graphic that I thought would make a perfect cookbook cover… not that I ever intended to do a cookbook. I bought it and showed it to some writers I knew, instructing them to talk me down from an increasingly growing and intruding idea that I should ask other cozy mystery writers to contribute recipes from their books and create a cookbook. They failed miserably. Over one hundred of them submitted recipes and delightful autobiographies, and the result was Cozy Food: 128 Cozy Mystery Writers Share Their Favorite Recipes.
I was asked to write a short story for a proposed anthology titled Santa Cruz Noir. I thought that was the wrong vibe for my community and convinced seventeen other writers to contribute stories about our weird hometown. The result was Santa Cruz Weird.
After that, I finished the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series and began another one, PIP Inc. Mysteries, about a downsized law librarian who turns to private investigation to support herself. Things were going well. I was four books and six thousand words into book five in the series when I sold a ghost story for an anthology.
I was not bragging—okay, maybe I was a bit—to friends who suggested I do another anthology, this time one full of ghost stories. Santa Cruz Ghost Stories is in the final throes before publication and hopefully will be ready for preorder on December 1st.
What brought you to writing? I started writing as a game because I was bored. I was a realtor in 2008 when the real estate market collapsed. My husband and I had our own small real estate company, and we decided to take a time-out until things settled down. Within three weeks, I was going crazy with too much time on my hands.
I had just finished reading everything Tony Hillerman had written and thought it might be entertaining to see if I could take what I thought was a great beginning and terrific book ending and somehow connect the two of them. Instead of Navajo police officers on the Big Reservation, I decided to set my story in the world of real estate in Santa Cruz. I wrote about what I knew and what I saw. The result was The Death Contingency. I’ve never stopped because it only took one book to get hooked on writing.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run wild? I start each book by writing a short psychological profile (behavioral science was my college major) about each character. Still, they typically start out with me using the name and persona of someone I know. They quickly get renamed because the first time I want them to do something they wouldn’t do, they have to be changed into a character who will do what I want them to do.
It usually works well, but in the PIP Inc. Mysteries series I’m doing now, the protagonist continues to be based on a person I know. Like my character, she was a law librarian turned private investigator. My Pat character is half her age and has green eyes because the real Pat said she always wanted green eyes, but other than that, she is pretty much herself. (And yes, she is a markswoman with a magnum 357 in her briefcase.)
I have had some problems with the primary characters in this series, though. Pat was supposed to be interested in two men: Tim, the deputy sheriff she met on her first case, and Mark, an attorney she’s had a crush on for some time, for several books. But the chemistry between Pat and one of the men was so strong that it only took one book for her to choose her love.
Supposedly, having characters wed is the kiss of death in cozy mysteries, but Pat and her guy made me break the rules. In Dearly Beloved Departed, there’s a wedding scene.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? I’ve only killed one character I loved, and readers probably did, too. It broke my heart to do it, so much so that I spent time curled up on a sofa in my office sobbing and shaking after writing the murder scene. It had to happen, though, for the story to work properly.
What kind of research do you do? You’d think there wouldn’t need to be much research done to write contemporary mysteries, but you’d be mistaken…wildly so. I’ve delved into everything from bone spurs on primitive human heels, redwood trees, the evolution of cat litter, and the history of sin eaters, to name a few topics I’ve researched. I now have more useless facts crammed into my brain than most people. For me, it’s imperative to get small details right to make the stories believable so I may spend considerable time researching something only a few paragraphs long in the books.
How do our readers contact you?
They can contact me from my website http://www.nancylynnjarvis.com. They can also find me on Facebook, where I am Nancy Lynn Jarvis, or on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2918242.Nancy_Lynn_Jarvis
Buy books at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=nancy+lynn+jarvis&i=stripbooks&sprefix=Nancy+Lynn+Jarvis%2Caps%2C450&ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_17