LISA TOWLES – Supports Writers While Writing Thrilling Novels

Lisa Towles is a crime novelist, a passionate speaker, and an avid supporter of other writers. Her 12th crime novel, Codex, will be released on June 20th by Indies United Publishing and was called “Fast-paced and ingenious” by The Prairies Book Review.



Lisa lives in northern California and works in the tech industry.

Tell me about your forthcoming book and what kind of readers you’re targeting. Codex, my new (standalone) psychological thriller, aligns with my other books’ pace, vibe, and style – fast-paced, high-concept action thrillers with impact, meaning, and relevance. They’re written for readers who like puzzles and complex plots involving games, conspiracies, politics, corruption, and espionage. I think Codex delivers all of that with a punch.

What are the themes of Codex, and how will they help readers identify with Angus? Mental health and substance abuse are two predominant themes with which Angus struggles throughout all of the challenges put before him. And then, the themes of loss and grief are an important part of how Angus’ mind and heart transform as the story evolves. I think it’s an emotional book to read, and it certainly was to write as well, but not without its rewards.

What is a challenge your character faces in this story, and how does he respond to it? Angus is confronted by two strangers at different points in the story – one gives him a lavish gift, and another tells him that the life he thought he’d lived wasn’t real – that the accident that killed his wife was no accident, and that she was about to expose an unthinkable technology and a massive coverup. Realizing the danger and burden that his wife had faced alone wakes up his mind and inspires his broken heart to find the truth about her killer and expose her story to the world.

What types of research did Codex require? I did a lot of CIA organizational research for this book (online and through a personal contact), historical research on CIA programs, regional research of Half Moon Bay and the peninsula, Texas, and New Mexico, as well as mental health and substance abuse, military, legal, and corporate research. It’s all fun because I learn so much from research and from my characters as we’re on this journey together.

Do you start with a character, a crime, a setting, or something else? They’re all different in the way that they announce themselves to me, and there’s always some catalyst that lets me know that it’s time to put my fingers to the keyboard. For Codex, Angus Mariner showed up as broken and rock bottom. Having been there, I could identify with how he felt and seeing the world from that jaded, dark, vulnerable place.

What are some activities on your writing journey that don’t involve writing? Research for story, plotting, and setting; social media and marketing; graphic design; community engagement to set up events; book clubs to engage with readers; making book trailers; and I’m now hosting a YouTube author interview series called Story Impact that’s so much fun.

What’s next after Codex? Specimen is a young adult thriller that Indies United Publishing will release on December 3, 2024. I’m excited about this story because it confronts some very contemporary themes of gaming, diversity, inclusion, and controversial science and technology. It takes place all over San Francisco and in the Marshall Islands. To learn more about Specimen (and see another awesome cover design from, click here.

Learn more at or follow her at

Pre-order Codex here:



  1. George Cramer

    FYI Folks, Lisa makes fabulous trailers.

  2. Michael A Black

    It sounds like you did a great job researching and writing this one, Lisa. Best of luck to you.

    • Lisa Towles

      Thank you Michael! 📚✍️

  3. Donnell Ann Bell

    Lisa, love learning about new authors. Thank you to George for the introduction. You book also sounds fascinating and right up my interest alley! Warning: My TBR stack may soon fall through the floor! Great interview and best wishes!

    • Lisa Towles

      Thank you so much and nice to meet you!


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DONNELL ANN BELL – The Story Behind the Story

About the Author:  Donnell Ann Bell is an award-winning author who began her nonfiction career in newspapers. After she turned to fiction, her romantic suspense novels became Amazon bestsellers, including The Past Came Hunting, Deadly Recall, Betrayed, and Buried Agendas.

In 2019, Donnell released her first mainstream suspense, Black Pearl, A Cold Case Suspense, which was a 2020 Colorado Book Award finalist. In 2022, book two of the series was released. Until Dead, A Cold Case Suspense won Best Thriller in 2023 at the Imaginarium Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.  Currently, she’s working on book three of the series. Readers can follow Donnell on her blog or sign up for her newsletter at

Have you ever heard authors talk about a germ of an idea that led to their writing a novel? It’s crazy how one idea can take hold, and a 90,000-word book can result. That’s what happened behind many of my books. Still, when it comes to my romantic suspense novel Buried Agendas, a lone germ wasn’t what got me started. The ideas that flooded this book were more like an epidemic.

I’m married to a chemical engineer, so I lived daily with his adventures and misadventures in this necessary but often environmentally explosive industry. Chemicals make our lives easier, right? But if you put the wrong compounds or solutions together, you may blow up a lab. Discover too late that the ingredients used were toxic and leached into the soil or groundwater, you only wished you’d blown up a lab.

That was germ number one that made me want to write this book; what’s more, I thought I had the perfect expert at my disposal. Know what his response was when I started with my list of 20 questions? “Honey, I deal with this stuff all day. The last thing I want to do when I get home is talk about chemicals with my wife.”

On one hand, I sympathized with him. On the other hand, he hadn’t answered my questions, and my list was growing.

How did I handle that? Went around him, of course. We’d lived in Colorado for many years, and I’d met many of his contacts. To write Buried Agendas, I consulted with my husband’s colleagues, who, it turns out, were happy to talk with me about chemicals and what they do in their jobs. I spoke with plant managers, chemists, control room operators, an underground tank specialist, and shift supervisors. I was like the proverbial kid in the candy store as my plot gained traction, and I began to understand (in a simplistic, nontechnical way) what they were doing and why.

I still needed a cause and effect for my book, however. In a murder mystery, the cause of death is often explained by poison, drowning, a gunshot wound, etcetera. In Buried Agendas, I need to point to a newly created chemical that should have never been created.

This time, I needed specifics. So, I called up the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8. From there, I was put in touch with a very knowledgeable woman, who again was happy to talk to me about my scenario. You can imagine my elation (and considerable fright) when she confirmed my plot wasn’t far-fetched at all. Not only did we have a phone call, she also mailed me hundreds of pages of information to corroborate my thinking.

In a way, I’m glad my husband didn’t want to spend long hours discussing chemicals. After all, I received a synopsis of his job each evening, which created the germ in the first place. My hunting for specifics with others led to dozens of possibilities and, in my opinion, a more intriguing story.

Buried Agendas goes on sale June 16-30th on several digital outlets for the discounted price of $.99 Hope you enjoyed my trip down Memory Lane.










  1. Michael A, Black

    I missed this one the first time out, Glad to hear you’ve been busy writing. Keep it going.

    • Donn

      Thank you, Mike, I’m slowly getting back in the saddle.

  2. Ann Zeigler

    Donnell, it’s great to hear someone talk about how much fun it is to be a “plot detective,” always asking more people more questions until your characters finally have a real world to live (and make mischief) in. Congrats.

    • Donnell Ann Bell

      Ann, that’s the way I love to research. Plot detective. I love that term. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  3. Lois Winston

    As someone who has read and loved Buried Agendas, I can unequivocally state that Donnell wrote a realistic, suspenseful story that will keep you turning pages.

  4. Marie Sutro

    Love that you were able to get everything you needed from so many different sources. Way to stick with it!

    • Donnell Ann Bell

      Thank you, Marie! Hearing from different sources opens so many possible storylines; would you agree?

  5. Peg Brantley

    PERSISTENCE! I just love you, Donnell! xoxo

  6. Marilyn Levinson

    I always love to hear where my fellow writers get their ideas for the next novel. Wishing you many, many sales with this one!

    • Donnell Ann Bell

      Thank you, Marilyn. Your ideas and backstory are inspiring as well!

  7. Barbara Monaejm

    Wow, Donnell, sounds like a chilling story — and the research for it was fascinating.

  8. Pamela Meyer

    My favorite discussion topic is story inspiration. This one was a doozy. Donnell, you had been thoroughly bitten by this idea, and you weren’t letting go. I love ‘the go around.’ Not only did it get you what you needed to build your story but it preserved your marriage, too. Inspiration and grit. Well Done.

    • Donnell Ann Bell

      Ha! Pamela, I’m a little bit like Tom Skeritt’s character who starred in Steel Magnoias. Tom Skeritt has a great line in the movie–something like, “You, sir, are making me deal with my wife; I make it a point never to deal with my wife.” When you’re married to an engineer, at least in my one and only experience, you work around the black and white 😉 Thanks for your feedback on inspiration and for dropping by today.

  9. Donnell Ann Bell

    Thank you, Margaret. I’m finally coming back to the writing world. Thank you, George, for hosting me and my fellow authors!

  10. Mary Price Birk

    I love hearing about your writing and creative process! I’m looking forward to continuing to read your series! You create such a compelling story!

    • Donnell Ann Bell

      Mary, thank you! I appreciate your feedback so much!

  11. Margaret Mizushima

    Oh, Donnell…this looks like another good story! So glad you shared your germ of an idea and how it grew with us. Congratulations and best wishes with your work on book three in the Cold Case series. Looking forward to that one too!


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MARIKO TATSUMOTO – Romance – Thriller – Historical

Piano-playing, multi-award-winning author Mariko Tatsumoto immigrated to the U.S. from Japan with her family when she was eight. She was detoured from her passion of books by becoming the first Asian woman lawyer in Colorado. But like a pebble in a shoe, she couldn’t let go of her childhood dream and began writing novels. She lives in a small town in the Rocky Mountains, where she’s often found outdoors.

She is a member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Colorado Authors League, Historical Novel Society, and Romance Writers of America.

What is your latest book? BLOSSOMS ON A POISONED SEA is a thrilling coming-of-age romance based on the actual events of one of history’s most shocking industrial mercury poisoning disasters and corporate coverups that inspired Johnny Depp’s film Minamata. Two young people must fight a powerful corporation and the government to save their townspeople from a horrific neurological disease.

What made you write it? I recalled my mother showing me photojournalist W. Eugene Smith’s pictures of Minamata Disease victims in Life Magazine when I was young and wondered whatever happened to those people. I was horrified to learn there was no cure, and they kept suffering. I had to tell the world about the tragedy, which led to years of research. Ultimately, I decided to tell the story through two fictional characters.

What is it about? Yuki is the daughter of a poor fisherman. Kiyo is the son of a senior executive at Chisso. In 1956, they become friends, then gradually fell in love. But then all living things in the once beautiful Minamata Bay suddenly die. The impoverished people living around it begin suffering from a terrifying disease that causes agonizing pain, paralysis, and death … including Yuki’s family. As the sole wage earner, Yuki is reduced to low-paying, backbreaking work as a laborer and then as a housekeeper.

The city dwellers turn their backs on the dying fisherfolk. The corporation stonewalls, denying culpability. As the suffering spreads, Kiyo helps researchers find answers to the devastating neurological disease. But they’re blocked by the government and the corporate-influenced media.

Together, Yuki and Kiyo must fight the Japanese government and a powerful and ruthless corporation to save her family and the Bay.

Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I published several middle-grade and Young Adult novels before turning to adult fiction. Without planning to do so, my books turned out to be primarily historical set in Japan or with Japanese protagonists, and often based on actual events:

AYUMI’S VIOLIN – set in 1959, drawing from my immigration experience
ACCIDENTAL SAMURAI SPY – set in 1868, inspired by the bloody political warfare to unify Japan under one rule
SWEPT AWAY – set in 2011, recounting the devastating tsunami in Japan
KIDNAPPED AT THE ICEFALL – contemporary novella set in Colorado
BLOSSOMS ON A POISONED SEA – set in the late 1950s in Minamata, Japan

I’ve also written two nonfictions: The Colorado Bed and Breakfast Guide and How To Write A Middle-Grade Book Kids Will Love

What kind of research do you do? Because my books are often based on actual events, I spend months or years studying the incidents, history, culture, politics, styles, and fashion around that time. This involves reading books and Internet sites and watching videos and movies made around that time. I sometimes need to learn a new sport. In Swept Away, I had to study sumo wrestling in order to write the lifestyle the protagonist must endure at a sumo training center. In Accidental Samurai Spy, I needed to learn the principles, techniques, and styles of sword fighting. A climber friend showed me the ropes of rock and ice climbing for Kidnapped at the Icefall. These sports were fascinating to learn.

What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? Despite painstaking hours of research, gaps in historical records pose challenges. In those instances, it may mean revising a part of the plot or a scene. I exercise creative license but try to maintain authenticity the best I can.

Going back in time half a century or more means that information at the time was all in print. If the place or incident is not well known, not many articles or books may have been written about it.

Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? I often kill a likable character in a book. Sometimes several. These events force the protagonist to rethink life, learn, and make changes they would never have made. Readers remember and tell friends of these memorable moments. Shocking scenes stay with them, which is what writers want.

What are you currently working on? It’s another history fiction set in a World War II internment camp where Japanese Americans were incarcerated. Mine is different from other books written about the imprisonment because the subject matters I delve into were too shameful for the internees to have disclosed. That’s the part I like.
Instagram: @marikotatsumotoauthor
FB: MarikoTatsumotoAuthor
Twitter (X): @MarikoTatsumoto


  1. Ella

    Very interesting interview. It’s been a few weeks since I finished reading Blossoms on a Poisoned Sea and I’m still in awe of the author’s ability to create in words, an entire Japanese community with its multi-layered social strata and passionate controversies. The story and writing were so moving I’ve thought about the main characters as though they’re people I once knew. I’d highly recommend the book – it could support some lively book club and classroom discussion. As it’s based on a true story of dark choices for financial gain that resulted in an environmental disaster, reflection on the situation and outcome are highly pertinent to issues we face right now.

    • Mariko Tatsumoto

      Thank you, Ella! Such wonderful words to keep me writing!

  2. Mariko Tatsumoto

    Thank you, Michael. I hope you have a chance to read it and find it fascinating!

  3. Susan

    George Cramer–thank you for interviewing Mariko–have heard her play the piano and loved it–will now buy her book too!
    And Thank you George for your enjoyable newsletter–love your life story, appreciate your tenacity (I grew up on a dozen different Indian reservations–parents worked Indian Public Health Service). Thanks again!

    • Mariko Tatsumoto

      Thank you, Susan for supporting my writing! I wonder where you heard me play the piano.

    • George Cramer

      Susan, Thanks for your comments about Mariko and the blog.

  4. Michael A .Black

    Congratulations on your book, Mariko. It sounds fascinating. Your book about the interment camps sounds equally fascinating. A few years back I had a Japanese woman in my Writing a Memoir class who had been a small child in one of those camps. Her recollections were gut-wrenching. I wish you much success. Good luck.


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George’s Conference Recommendation for 2024 – And Beyond

I’ve attended the Public Safety Writers Association conference held at the Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for a decade. It is intimate, with around fifty attendees. The conference is reasonably priced.

PSWA has a first-day master’s class followed by two and half days of lectures and panels. For the most part, the attendees write crime, mystery, and thrillers. The catered meals are fantastic.

I highly recommend PSWA, especially if you want to meet and get to know authors in your field.

Here’s the link for the 2024 conference if you want details:

2024 PSWA Conference (



  1. Michael A Black

    Tagging up with my good buddy, George at the PSWA Conference is always a delight. He’s absolutely right, the conference is always a good time and informative too. I’m looking forward to this one. Hope to see you there. It’s still not too late to register.

    • Barbara Hodges

      I love this conference. It’s the only one I will not miss. It’s like getting together with a bunch of friends. On top of that I always learn something and discover more great books.


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ALICE FITZPATRICK — Meredith Island: Fact or Fiction?

Alice Fitzpatrick has contributed short stories to literary magazines and anthologies and recently retired from teaching in order to devote herself to writing full-time. She is a fearless champion of singing, cats, all things Welsh, and the Oxford comma. Her summers spent with her Welsh family in Pembrokeshire inspired the creation of the Meredith Island Mysteries series. Secrets in the Water is the first book in the series. Alice lives in Toronto but dreams of a cottage on the Welsh coast.

People who read the early drafts of Secrets in the Water often searched the internet for my Welsh island setting, expressing surprise when they couldn’t find it. Even though I insisted it came from my imagination, they weren’t entirely convinced. So, is Meredith Island fact or fiction? The truth is it’s a bit of both.

When I decided to write a traditional British mystery series, I wanted an isolated location. An island was perfect since I’ve always lived near large bodies of water and love the sea. While I feared using an actual location would involve endless hours researching minutia to avoid irate e-mails from readers saying I got it wrong, with a fictional setting, I could control everything—the geography, the weather, the flora and fauna.

I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. When I was a child, my British family moved to Wales, and each summer would welcome me to Tenby, a popular seaside resort on the south Pembrokeshire coast. It was during this time that I fell in love with the country and its people.

Like most places in the UK, Tenby has a long history. With evidence of settlement dating back to the Iron Age, the town was founded in 1093. To defend against opposing Welsh forces, the Norman Earl of Pembrokeshire ordered a fortifying wall to be built in 1245, much of which is still standing. The following seven hundred and fifty years saw Tenby’s rise and fall, including its success as a busy port, the site of an English Civil War battle and a plague epidemic, as well as the temporary hiding place of the fourteen-year-old future King Henry VII during the War of the Roses. The Victorians flocked to Tenby’s beaches and bath houses for the benefits they believed sea bathing provided, making it the popular holiday spot it is to this day.

On the other hand, Meredith Island has been uninhabited for most of its history. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that American industrialist Artemis Faraday, obsessed with all things British and the capital to indulge that obsession, bought the island, renaming it in honor of his young English bride, and built his vision of a Gothic manor house. When his wife died in childbirth, he abandoned the island to his workers. Except for a few incomers, all islanders can trace their family history to the Faraday estate.

While Meredith Island doesn’t have the elegant Georgian and Victorian row houses that overlook Tenby’s beaches, cozy stone cottages line the island’s cliffside road, which runs down to the harbor. There, you’ll find The Fish and Filly pub, The Sea Breeze restaurant, Craggy’s grocery store, a wharf for the ferry that connects the island to the mainland, and a shelter for fishing boats.

Because I visited Tenby during my teenage years, many of my memories are tinged with wonder and innocence. It was where I had my first crush and heartbreak when a young man took my address, promising to keep in touch but never did. It was also the location of my aunt and uncle’s hotel, where we often sat in the large kitchen and drank tea—sherry for my aunt—ate buttered scones and shared jokes. So my island became a place of young love and friendship, warm kitchens full of sweet smells, and a pub where people gather for a natter and gossip. But it’s also a place where people are murdered. It’s this jarring juxtaposition that sets the tone of the book as protagonist Kate Galway digs deep into the islanders’ memories of their youth to unearth clues about the identity of her aunt’s killer.

The first photo shows the remains of the medieval fortifying wall around Tenby, and the second is the church beside my cousin’s house, which inspired the church on my island.

Tenby is an ancient town with curious streets like Merlins Court, Upper and Lower Frog Street, Tudor Way, Crackwell Street, and Paragon. My fascination with these names led me to bestow upon my islanders similarly unconventional names, such as Basil and Peregrine Tully, Old Alred, Drucilla Cragwell, and Feebles, Gooley, and Smee.

But it wasn’t just the town that inspired me. All along the Pembrokeshire coast, jagged cliffs rise high above the water, creating a menacing seascape where I imagine Kate’s aunt drowned over fifty years ago. The church next door to my cousin Jim’s house is the inspiration for the island church presided over by the Reverend Imogen Larkin, and its graveyard is the islanders’ final resting place. At St. Govan’s Head, a long flight of stone steps leads down the steep cliff face to a 14th-century chapel built over the cave where St. Govan lived and preached seven centuries before. I took the liberty of reducing a similar building to ruins so that in A Dark Death, the second book in the series, a team of archaeology students can excavate it, only to discover something a lot more interesting than foundation stones.

Tenby has long been a vacation spot and inspiration for writers, including Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Beatrix Potter, and Dylan Thomas. Likewise, for this humble crime writer, Tenby was the inspiration for an idyllic island community where everyone is family and life is celebrated with whiskey, tea, and home baking.

To learn about upcoming tales of the eccentric inhabitants of Meredith Island and to sign up for my newsletter, please visit

I belong to:
Crime Writers of Canada,
Sisters in Crime (including the Guppy and Toronto chapters),
Crime Cymru – a group of Welsh crime writers

Here are the buy links to my book:


  1. Michael A. Black

    Great blog post, Alice. You sound like you have some great writing plans and should be the next Agatha Christie. Best of luck to you.

  2. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Wow, George and Alice, this thought-provoking post really shows how much of ourselves and our lives we pour into who we become and what we write.

    • Alice Fitzpatrick

      It’s hard to escape even when we think we’re not doing it, at least for me. So much go what we write comes out of our unconscious. You’ve just got to trust that creative side of the brain that it will come out right.

  3. Peg Roche

    Loved the background for your mystery and just signed up for your newsletter!

    • Alice Fitzpatrick

      Thank you, Peg. I hope you enjoyed the story I send to all my newsletter subscribers. There is a lot more Welsh in the coming books.


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