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
Bob Martin served the NYPD for 32 years in a wide variety of commands. These include the fabled Tactical Patrol Force (TPF), the Street Crime Unit, the Mounted Unit, the 72nd, 69th, and 6th Precincts, Queens and Bronx Detectives, and finally, the Commanding Officer of the Special Investigations Division. Martin was a charter member and played with the NYPD’s Finest Football Team for a dozen years. He served for twelve years on the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) “Committee on Terrorism” and traveled extensively, in this country and abroad, speaking on the subject. He retired as a Deputy Inspector in 2000 and began writing. In 2004, he led a law enforcement mission to Israel. His stories have been published in numerous magazines and newspapers. Bronx Justice, based on an actual case, his first novel, came out in 2016. His second book, the non-fiction 9/11 Remembered-Twenty Years Later, was published in June 2021.
In doing publicity for the 9/11 book, I was often asked about my motivation for writing both books. My answer was very simple-Bronx Justice was a book I wanted to write. 9/11 Remembered was a book I had to write. I retired in 2000 and was not involved in the response on that horrific day, but many of my NYPD friends were. Hearing the incredible stories of those that survived and the tales of those who made the ultimate sacrifice that day were awe-inspiring. Their bravery and willingness to sacrifice their own lives to try and save others filled me with tremendous sorrow and pride to have been a member of that department for 32 years. To see how these heroes were treated twenty years later, the violence and abuse heaped on these men and women on the streets of New York was sickening. I knew I had to get the stories of so many incredible first responders, true heroes, out for the public to learn.
Then Lieutenant, now Chief Terri Tobin, standing at the foot of the South Tower as it comes down. She was blown out of her shoes and hurled sixty feet across West Street, trapped in the debris. Her bullet-resistant Kevlar helmet was penetrated by a four-inch piece of concrete now embedded in her skull. She digs herself out and assists in getting a firefighter out from under an ambulance. When the North Tower falls, again she is hurled across West Street, this time with a two-foot piece of plate glass stuck between her shoulder blades. She continues to assist others until she’s finally transported to a New Jersey hospital, where she is treated for a severe concussion and broken ankle. Eighty stitches close her head and back wounds. And she wants to return to the Trade Center. That this incredible woman, if working the Summer of 2000 street unrest, could be ridiculed, cursed, and have objects thrown at her in the name of Justice, is unbelievable. There are many more stories similar to Chief Tobin’s.
The most challenging part of my writing process is (bonus points if you guessed)-Writing. My first book Bronx Justice took almost sixteen years to complete. For months on end, the manuscript sat in a drawer, unseen by human eyes, until I was blessed to meet a six-time NY Times best-selling author named Vincent Lardo. Vince got me into a writing group he was in, and for the first time, I had “Deadlines.” “Bob, you will read to the group next Thursday, send twelve new pages to the group by Monday. Under that pressure, the book was finished in two years.
9/11 Remembered came with its own deadline. I decided to write it in January 2021. It had to be completed well before the 20th anniversary of the attacks that September. The fact that I had decided that all proceeds from the book would be going to a 9/11 charity (The 3256 Foundation set up to honor NYPD Emergency Service Unit Sergeant and USMC Desert Storm veteran Mike Curtin who was killed on 9/11)
About – 3256 Foundation
https://www.3256-foundation.org › about
made getting it out as early as possible a must. It came out in June 2021.
So, in my case, deadlines make me sit down and write. That’s the reason I like writing for newspapers. I can see something in the paper that I feel needs commenting on, knock out a piece in about one hour, submit it, and generally get a yea or nay within twenty-four hours.
One tip I learned is-do not procrastinate in writing the piece and sending it in. I had seen a story that I wished to comment on, usually in the form of an Op-Ed, and debated about doing it for a day. When I submitted it, I got a reply from the editor along the lines of, “If I had seen this yesterday, it would have been in today’s edition. Unfortunately for you, we covered that story today.” So now, as soon as I get the idea, I write and submit the piece. I’ve been lucky enough to place stories in New York Newsday, the New York Post, and the Daily News.
My favorite authors are the usual suspects in the mystery/crime genre- Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and in my humble opinion, the all-time master of dialogue, the late, great Elmore Leonard. His advice to aspiring writers to “leave out the parts people don’t read” is priceless.
I also love two authors who take their crime stories out West. Craig Johnson’s Longmire and C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series have a special appeal to me. Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire and Box’s Game Warden Joe Pickett are both set in Wyoming. As a member of the NYPD, I always knew that if the “shit hit the fan” and I needed help on the streets of New York, the cavalry would be riding to my rescue minutes after I put a call over the air. For Longmire and Pickett, it’s more likely hours in the wilds of Wyoming.
My advice to aspiring writers-get writing and get into a good writing group.
Links to my books
Michael A. Black is the award winning author of 50 books. A retired police officer, he has done everything from patrol to investigating homicides to conducting numerous SWAT operations. He wrote eleven novels as Don Pendleton in the Executioner series and many Westerns in the Gunslinger series under the name A.W. Hart. His recent novel is in the Trackdown series, Devil’s Lair.
Devil’s Lair – With witnesses falling and a federal case against the cartel in ruins, ex-army ranger Steve Wolf and Special Agent Lucien Pike head to Mexico, chasing both a traitor and an irresistible reward. But betrayal thrives in the heart of darkness, dragging them into a merciless battle where survival is a blood-soaked quest with no mercy given or expected.
When death comes knocking, there’s no quarter given or expected.
Do you write in more than one genre? Most of my stuff is in the mystery and thriller genres. I’ve also been published in other genres, including westerns, sci-fi, horror, pulp fiction, young adult, and sports. Mysteries and thrillers will always be my first love, but I also believe in genre blending. My Western novel, Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost, is a Western but also a monster story.
What brought you to writing? I’ve been writing all my life. I wrote my first short story in the sixth grade. I was always begging the teacher to let me write a short story. One Friday, she relented and told me I’d have to read it in front of the class on Monday. I struggled all weekend. After I read it aloud, the teacher gave me a “D—Poor Work” grade and told me never to do it again. I look back on this experience as invaluable. It foreshadowed my entire writing career: I got my first assignment, my first deadline, my first writer’s block, and my first rejection, all in three days.
What are you currently working on? My latest book in the Trackdown series is Devil’s Lair. It follows the continuing adventures of ex-army ranger Steve Wolf, who served time for a war crime he didn’t commit and has been trying to clear his name while working as a bounty hunter. He also has some very powerful enemies who set him up and are trying to kill him. In this entry in the series, he gets to strike back a little.
Who’s your favorite author? If I had to pick a single writer who influenced me more than most, I’d have to say, John D. MacDonald. He was a real pro.
How long to get your first book published? My first one never got published. Looking back, It was that bad—a lot of rookie mistakes. I’d gotten some short stories published, so I knew a bit about writing. I wrote a second manuscript and felt it had legs. I sent it off with high hopes and optimism and started a third novel. I’d written the opening line one morning: It had been a year of ups and downs… Then the mailman came, and I found my second manuscript had come back with a rejection letter. I sat down and stared at the computer screen for a long while, trying to decide if I wanted to continue. After a time, the second line came floating to me: More downs than ups. I liked the sound of it and made a solemn vow right then and there that I was going to finish writing the manuscript and I was going to make it the best I could, even if I was the only person who would ever read it. This one eventually became my first published novel.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? A few authors have done this, and I always thought it was a dumb move. I suppose you could make a case for your hero to die heroically, but it would pretty much end any chance of a continuing series. Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes and eventually had to bring him back.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist? It’s a simple formula: introduce conflict and make things worse as the plot progresses. Then, when it reaches critical mass… BOOM! You have your climax.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? The biggest problem is avoiding anachronisms. I just read a book set in 1913, and the author still had Maximillian as the emperor of Mexico. He was executed in 1867. Naturally, this ruined it for me, and I didn’t finish it. This unfortunate practice of rewriting history started a few years ago and needs to stop. It’s not only irritating, it breeds stupidity.
What is the best book you have ever read? I’d be hard pressed to pick just one, but I’d have to say James Dickey’s Deliverance is in my top ten. Dickey was a nationally recognized poet who spent ten years crafting the novel. The imagery is stunning, and the writing is lyrical. After I read it, I reread the opening and realized he’d foreshadowed the entire story in that first line.
Do you have any advice for new writers? You can’t be a good writer unless you’re first a good reader, so read all you can and learn from it. Take the time to perfect your craft, get feedback on your work, and try to write every day, even if it’s only one line.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? If you’re looking for a good thriller, I’d appreciate it if you’d check out my new one, Devil’s Lair. It’s got a little something for everyone—action, thrills, and romance. And many thanks to you, Big George, for this opportunity to be on your blog once again.
How do our readers contact you?
Give me a shout at DocAtlas108@aol.com
I’m a member of the VFW, the FOP, the WWA (Western Writers of America), and the PSWA (Public Safety Writers Association).
The Audible release of The Mona Lisa Sisters on October 9, 2023, marked my first foray into putting my work on audiobooks.
After listening to author Alec Peche talk about the number of books she has released as audiobooks, I reached out to Lois Winston for help understanding audiobooks. Lois took the mystery and fear out of ACX in about a half hour. I was able to begin the process.
After completing all of ACX’s questions—extremely easy— I uploaded my manuscript. When these tasks were complete, I began the search for a narrator. There was a simple choice among a mere 200,000 or so. What!
I found the project tool and narrowed the search to over one hundred.
Listening to maybe twenty narrators, I narrowed the search to six or seven. The three at the top of my wish list were all royalty-sharing listed artists. I listened again to all three and dropped one. I sent an offer to my top choice. Her response was, “I belong to SAGA/AFTA. I can’t work for less than $250.00 an hour.” I didn’t care for her response when I pointed out she was listed as available for royalty sharing. I hope she corrects that before another new author wastes time listening to her.
On to my second choice, Connie Elsberry, she accepted my offer. Connie was a dream to work with, responsive and always timely—a consummate professional. Her voice was perfect for my female protagonist. Connie captured the protagonist and the story as if it were her own. I especially appreciated how she was able to communicate and deliver the emotions where I envisioned them. Listening to her recordings, I had to wipe my eyes once or twice.
Will I do it again? You bet.
I created a new project for Robbers and Cops and have asked several narrators to audition.
The Mona Lisa Sisters at Audible is waiting for you.
Jamie fell in love with books at an early age. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott opened her imagination and sparked a dream to be a writer. She wrote her first book as a school project in 6th grade. Living in the Ozarks with her husband, twin daughters, and a herd of cats, she spends most of her free time writing, reading, or learning more about the craft dear to her heart.
Homicide at High Noon – Money is missing from the gold mine, and Lily is a suspect! The company auditor is determined to prove her guilty, but turns up dead, making Lily a murder suspect. Will Lily find the missing money and the killer before they set their sights on her?
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes, I do, but not at the same time. This past year, I’ve been working on cozy mysteries, which are fun to write. I’ve self-published several historical romances. I grew up watching old westerns with my dad and have a passion for that era. There are several genres I enjoy reading, and I can’t help but want to try them as a writer. I’ve been working on a time travel story for several years, off and on. It has been so much fun to work on.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? A year ago, I would have said plotting was the more challenging part of my writing process. But after having some help from my amazing publisher, I’ve learned to look forward to plotting before I write. My stories used to be very character-driven, but plotting has given the book more balance. Today, the most challenging part of the process is finding time to write.
What are you currently working on? I’m midway through the Ghost Town Mysteries series. It is a new genre for me, and I wrote all my other books in the third person. After reading several cozy mysteries, I discovered it’s almost a 50/50 split between telling the story in first person and third person. I’d always thought writing in the first person would be too difficult. But wanting to challenge myself, I tried it and found the story developed so much easier when written in first person.
What are you currently working on? As I write this, I’m working on book four of the series. Still untitled, the story continues with my main character, Lily, and her sisters living in a small town with a popular ghost town attraction. In Grady, California, everyone knows everyone. The tight community has a few skeletons in the closet, and one not so secret is a family feud, giving the book a Hatfield’s and the Mcoy’s kind of feel with a twist. The death of one participant reveals more family secrets, one of which puts a target on Lily’s back.
What kind of research do you do? Research is one of the best parts of writing a book. I love to read and learn new things, so while it’s necessary to do research, it can easily distract me from the primary goal. Digging deep to make the story authentic was entertaining for my historical romances. Cozy mystery writing has led me in different directions that have had me looking over my shoulder. I used the internet to gather most of the information I needed. For book number three of my current series, I had to research how to hire a hitman. One of these days, men in black wearing dark glasses may show up at my door.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? So far, they have all been fictional. Sometimes, I use a familiar area like the woods around our house and our long gravel road when describing details, but the setting itself has always been fictional. I sketch a rough-looking map to keep buildings and locations in order.
I love to hear from my readers. You can learn more about me and my books at:
Book two of The Ghost Town Mysteries, Homicide at High Noon, is now available in digital and print: https://www.gemmahallidaypublishing.com/jamie-adams
Halito (hello), fellow authors! I appreciate George having me on his blog today. I’m Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, a Choctaw author and digital course creator. My signature course, Fiction Writing: American Indians, equips authors to write authentic stories that honor Native American history and culture. I also teach a live Dictation Bootcamp for Authors that takes you through the process of mastering dictation through easy exercises that lead you to become the master of your fictional worlds.
As a tribal member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, I’ve written and published 16 historical fiction books. I’m highlighting pieces of my writing life in the hope you find them helpful on your journey.
Do you write in more than one genre? Historical fiction is my primary (and favorite) genre to read and to write. Something about digging into the past gives me a deeper connection to the present. That is especially true of my American Indian heritage. My books range from the Choctaw Trail of Tears in the 1830s to the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I. I love a good old-fashioned western, which I get to share through my Doc Beck Westerns series set in the 1890s, featuring an Omaha Indian woman doctor. I write clean stories with close family relationships, fistfights and gunfights, and accurate cultural heritage.
What brought you to writing? When I was five years old, I had a story I wanted to share about being kind. But I was horribly shy and knew the only way to share my message was through writing it. My mama has saved that story to this day, and she continues to be my greatest fan and encourager. In my early twenties, I released a lot of the chaos in my life, wiped the slate clean, and handed the chalk over to God. He brought writing back into my life and let me know I was born to tell stories.
What are you currently working on? I released Fire and Ink, book 5 in the Choctaw Tribune series, in August and am outlining the final book in that series. There are 3 more books to go in the Doc Beck Westerns that are also underway. I have my first traditionally published nonfiction book coming out this fall, a biography on a WWI hero who was Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee — Otis W. Leader: The Ideal American Doughboy (Chickasaw Press).
How do you come up with character names? Authenticity is a significant component of my work. One of my methods for naming my American Indian characters is diving into historical records. Census, tribal rolls, and recorded stories are great sources for me to find authentic names for the people and times I’m writing about. Do you base any of your characters on real people? Absolutely. My novella, Tushpa’s Story, was based on a young boy who had a dramatic experience crossing the Trail of Tears in 1834.
Though the main character is fictional, the characters in Anumpa Warrior: Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I are the real men who were the code talkers and their commanding officers. I had the honor of interviewing descendants who knew these men and shared personal aspects that lent so much to the story. There are many historical figures sprinkled throughout my stories.
What kind of research do you do? I didn’t start off as a good researcher. I was scattered, but I knew research was vital because of the roles my work plays in the world. These books let readers experience authentic First American history and culture in an entertaining story. Through that, my stories are ambassadors. They are also a way to preserve this heritage for generations to come. My research has taken me down the backroads of Oklahoma and our homelands in Mississippi; deep into the secure vaults of the National Archives in Washington, DC; reading through stacks of nonfiction books and online archives; the WWI battlefields and cemeteries of France; sitting quietly and listening to elders.
Today, I love research and the treasures I discover of my ancestors that I get to share with readers.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m terribly excited to get started on an action-adventure series set in the 1970s that stars a Choctaw artist who has to fight the bad guys and retrieve priceless historical American Indian art pieces. In between my own books, I’m actively teaching authors how to create authentic stories that honor Native American history and culture. I’m also gearing up for my live Dictation Bootcamp for Authors in October. Nearly 100 authors joined me in April of this year to master the skill of dictating their stories. It was a rousing success, and I can’t wait for the one this fall.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? The faith of my ancestors continues to inspire my writing life. They walked the trail for me, and I’m so grateful to share their extraordinary lives through my real and fictional characters so that you, the reader, can go on the journey with us.
Find out more about my books (and my mama’s art) over at ChoctawSpirit.com
Interested in the Fiction Writing American Indians digital course? Find it here: https://www.fictioncourses.com/americanindians
Want to join the live Dictation Bootcamp for Authors in October? That’s here: https://www.fictioncourses.com/dictationbootcamp