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)
Amy Rivers is an award-winning novelist and the Director of the Writing Heights Writers Association. She was named 2021 Indie Author of the Year by the Indie Author Project. Her psychological suspense novels incorporate important social issues with a focus on the complexities of human behavior. Amy was raised in New Mexico and now lives in Colorado with her husband and children.
ELEVATOR PITCH Ripple Effect – Forensic psychologist Kate Medina continues to pursue the leaders of a trafficking ring that has plagued her hometown. Still, time is running out, and her sister’s life is on the line. Will Kate uncover the truth in time to save Tilly?
Ripple Effect, the final installment of my psychological suspense series, A Legacy of Silence, was published on October 24, 2023. I’m both elated and relieved. I figure most authors experience this feeling. You pour your blood, sweat, and tears into your creative work like a parent preparing their children for adulthood. You do the best you can to prepare it for the world, but then you have to let go, knowing that you won’t be able to protect it from harsh critics, but also hopeful that it will find someone who will love it for exactly who it is.
Readers who will love our book as much as we do.
Like any relationship, we want to find the perfect match. A reader who will feel all the things we intended them to feel when we wrote the book. Someone who will introduce our book to their friends, taking our work from relative obscurity all the way to the bestseller lists.
Have I taken the metaphor too far? Seriously, my husband says that no matter what I’m writing, it’s a relationship book, and I guess that extends to all aspects of my life. I’ve always been fascinated with human motivation, prompting me to study psychology, victimology, and criminal behavior. I want to know what makes people tick, and the easiest way for me to understand this is through relationships.
This was certainly true in my work as the director of a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program serving two rural counties in my home state of New Mexico. Working closely with the first responders who provided services to victims of sexual assault and abuse, it was often my job to talk through secondary trauma and attend to the emotional needs of the nurses in my program. Empathy and a genuine desire to understand people supported those efforts and has inspired me to write about issues of interpersonal violence in what I hope is an authentic and accurate way.
A Legacy of Silence deals with human trafficking and also sisterhood. The books touch on family bonds and romantic relationships while also looking at PTSD, anxiety, sexual predation, and murder. And there’s a reason. Real life is complicated. As humans, we’re constantly juggling–family, career, ambition, passion–and when life throws us some turmoil, those other things don’t just disappear. We work through them with varying degrees of success, and our behavior and actions affect our relationships.
I’m excited that the story is now complete. Ripple Effect marks the end of the saga and hopefully the beginning of some peace for Kate and Tilly and all the people they love. I’ve been immersed in A Legacy of Silence for four years, and I’m looking forward to starting something new. That said, I have a feeling that Kate and Tilly aren’t done with me. I hope everyone enjoys the complete series!
https://hype.co/@amyrivers (contains all my social media links)
Galveston Author Saralyn Richard
Saralyn Richard is the author of award-winning mysteries that pull back the curtain on people in settings as diverse as elite country manor houses and disadvantaged urban high schools. An active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, Saralyn teaches creative writing and literature.
Her favorite thing about being an author is connecting with readers like you.
Detective fiction, also known as police procedurals or crime fiction, began in the English-language literature in the mid-nineteenth century with Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, a brilliant thinker who used “rationcination” to solve crimes. (The word detective hadn’t been invented yet, but Dupin’s name has its roots in “duping” or “deception.”) The enormously popular Dupin was followed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.
All three of these fictional detectives became larger-than-life and inspired generations of mystery authors. Thus, a subgenre of mystery fiction was born and has grown into one of the most preferred types of novels today. I’ve enjoyed detective fiction since I was a young girl (Nancy Drew), so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to analyze what makes it so engaging.
1. First, we have the age-old concept of good vs. evil. The detective is the force for good, seeking truth, determined to restore order by bringing evildoers to justice. How can the reader help rooting for that kind of hero?
2. A well-written detective novel invites the reader to follow the clues to join in solving the intellectual and emotional puzzle of the mystery. This participatory involvement brings readers close to writers who have laid out the puzzle for them. Whether I’m able to figure out the puzzle before the big reveal at the end or not, I’m thoroughly in sync with the author as I read along.
3. Detective novels reaffirm certain principles of culture and life. They underscore that bad things happen; that sometimes people fall prey to sin, corruption, and inhumanity; but also that when injustices occur, there are those who will work hard to right the wrongs. Crime doesn’t pay.
Detective Oliver Parrott, the righter of wrongs in my Detective Parrott Mystery Series, (whose last name is a nod to Poirot), carries all the charm of a good guy up against extremely difficult odds. Young, African American, and raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood, Parrott is an outsider in the opulent Brandywine Valley, where many of America’s wealthiest and most powerful live. Parrott’s intelligence, ambition, and strong moral compass give him the power to see beyond the glitz and secrecy and dare to challenge it.
Unlike Poirot and the traditional detectives, Parrott shares much of his life’s experience as he goes after criminals. His fiancée is doing a tour of duty in Afghanistan with the Navy. His cousin has recently been killed as an innocent bystander by police fire. Parrott’s struggles are woven into the mystery in a way that makes him authentic and relatable. In each of the three books in the series (and a fourth coming before year’s end), the reader comes to know Parrott in a deeper way—he becomes as close as a neighbor, a relative, a friend. Like many other readers, I can’t wait to go along on Parrott’s next adventure. How about you?
Follow Saralyn and subscribe to her monthly newsletter at http://saralynrichard.com.
Ella Ahrens writes from the Piedmont Region of the Southern Appalachians. She grew up on stories of hard times and harder decisions, including her grandparents “running shine” through the coal mines of Southeast Kansas. She is a trained court reporter turned professional copywriter, teaches GED Prep, and writes crime thrillers about ordinary people and deadly decisions. Her most recent publications include short stories for Writer’s Digest Online and Shotgun Honey.
What brought you to writing? Storytelling is a big part of my family heritage, but it never occurred to me to write fiction until much later in life. I was lucky enough to travel with my husband’s career for about ten years and became an expert at reinventing my own. But the one constant was that I was always writing something. An article, an online blog for a parenting magazine, you name it. So, I totally understand people with crazy and unconventional schedules. I finally realized I could write from anywhere. Along the way, I picked up writing classes and started writing sales copy for everyone, from Washington insiders making their own career moves to an inventor who revolutionized the solar panel industry. Add a couple of tattoo artists, an assisted living community, a non-profit or two, and several personal coaches—you get the picture.
One evening, my husband tossed me a copy of Writer’s Digest magazine and dared me to enter their fiction contest. I love working with my clients but was craving something more creative, so I took his dare. I wrote my first fiction piece and won. I still have a copy of the check framed over my desk to remind myself it’s okay to be a bit cheeky and aim for the big publications, even when you’re the new kid on the block.
Writing fiction became my guilty pleasure when I wasn’t writing sales copy. If I have any regrets at all, it’s that it took too long to write what I love. And here we are, with a new career twist when most people my age are checking their retirement funds.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? You bet! I’ve lived in eight states (a couple of them twice), and as the saying goes, I’ve seen a thing or two. People-watching is a writer’s superpower. We watch. We listen. And then we weave everything we absorb into a very sophisticated experience. It’s how writers, especially fiction writers, hit that pure note of realism readers crave. Sure, there’s an occasional neighbor who tempts me to immortalize them in some shady deal gone wrong, but so far, they’re all safe. So far. I live in an HOA, so there’s still time…
My secret to finding the perfect character is going out to breakfast with my husband. Stick with me here. I find a small local diner and order coffee. I promise, that if you can’t find a character before you hit the bottom of your cup, you need sleep.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I used to hate that question because someone always feels you don’t understand them. It’s a very either/or situation. When I write, I’m solidly in the gray, and nothing is what it seems. The same is true of my writing process. The Virgo in me wants a neat and tidy, formal, multi-tiered outline, complete with Roman numerals, and fully color coded. Notebooks of location scouting should also be included. It’s the control I need to assure myself I might be talented enough to pull this off. But the honest answer is that the best thing I’ve ever written was when I was up against a deadline and had a 102 fever. I just let it play in my head and took notes on the screen. See, nothing is as it seems.
I’m a recovering outliner. But I am in total awe of those who can pull it off.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? When you’ve been writing for more than twenty years, it’s daunting to realize changing from commercial writing to fiction is essentially starting over. I was looking for a been-there-done-that story, and my search took me to Sisters in Crime. I joined, took a few classes, and realized I found my tribe. They led me to our local Sisters in Crime of Upstate South Carolina, and I have to say, the support from both is what keeps me at my desk. As I write this, no fewer than three have checked in to see how my writing day is going. They keep me challenged, encouraged, and most of all, loving the process. I’m also a member of the South Carolina Writers Association, and, after a long search, found the perfect critique group. They do exist!
Do you have any advice for new writers? It’s such a cliché to say the best advice is to write, but there it is. Let’s get a little vulnerable here. When you write, the inspiration you’re afraid you might not have on any given day shows up with a synchronistic flair; the energy flows and the skills improve. When you write, you chase away any doubt and silence the voice in your head that reminds you that real estate is still an option. And if you’re a writer choosing this as a second, third (or tenth) career—and I want to shout this part—don’t hesitate! You have experience to draw from. Give yourself permission to screw it up and do better the next day. Fall in love with the process because it’s intoxicating.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Crime. Loads and loads of crime. I knew my genre was crime writing and thrillers from day one. My dad was an attorney and a judge; I am a trained court reporter. Most kids my age grew up watching Leave It to Beaver, but I grew up with private investigators reenacting potential crime scenes in my living room and watching The Rockford Files. I enjoy writing short fiction and have half a dozen pieces submitted because they challenge me. So, there’s a lot more of that in my future. If you can write a tight short story and take a reader on the same emotional ride, with the same attachment to the characters—and still feel the heat, you’ve done your job as a writer. What I didn’t realize was they provide a perfect place to audition characters and locations. So, my love of short fiction has me deep into writing my first novel, Good for the Game, coming in 2024. Which, by the way, began as a short story.
You can connect with Ella at her website, EllaAhrens.com, and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Groups I belong to:
Sisters in Crime-National
Sisters in Crime of Upstate South Carolina-Treasurer/Website Committee
Sisters in Crime Grand Canyon Writers
Triangle Sisters in Crime
South Carolina Writers Association
Instagram: @EllaAhrensAuthor https://www.instagram.com/ellaahrensauthor
Twitter/X: @EllaKAhrens https://wwwtwitter.com/ellakahrens
Facebook: EllaKAhrens https://www.facebook.com/ellakahrens
Upstate SC Sisters in Crime https://www.facebook.com/groups/upstatescsistersincrime
Spirit of Ink https://www.facebook.com/groups/spiritofink
Short Mystery Fiction Society https://www.facebook.com/groups/608752359277585
Award-winning author Kathleen Donnelly has been a handler for Sherlock Hounds Detection Canines—a Colorado-based narcotics K-9 company—since 2005. Her debut novel, Chasing Justice, won a Best Book Award from the American Book Fest and was a 2023 Silver Falchion finalist in the Suspense category and Readers’ Choice Award. She lives near the Colorado foothills with her husband and four-legged coworkers. Sign up for Kathleen’s newsletter to receive her free short story eBook collection, Working Tails.
Hello friends, and thank you, George, for having me as a guest today on your fabulous blog. This is my second visit here, and I’m excited about the release of Hunting The Truth, Book #2 in the National Forest K-9 series. Here’s a little more about my writing background and process.
Hunting The Truth Quick Summary: “Hide, Maya. Don’t let the bad people find you.” Those are the last words Forest Service law enforcement officer and K-9 handler Maya Thompson ever heard her mother say. Returning to the Colorado mountains, ex-soldier Maya is no longer a scared little girl. She’s here to investigate her mother’s cold case. After new DNA evidence surfaces, Maya and her K-9 partner, Juniper, track a suspect deep into the forest and directly into grave danger…
What brought you to writing? I have always loved reading and writing stories. My parents believed in reading to both my brother and me when we were kids. Listening to the stories was my favorite part of the day, and it wasn’t long before I was reading as many books as I could. I would often complain to my mom that I didn’t like how a book ended or I didn’t like something that happened in the story. She would tell me to write my own story and come up with a different ending or create a new character. I was also one of those kids who would wake up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep. I would wake up my parents and tell them I was bored.
Looking back, my poor parents! I’m sure they never thought they’d get any sleep. My mom once again told me to lie in bed and make up stories. So, I did. Over time, I started to write them down. The dream of being a mystery writer came when I first read Mary Higgins Clark in high school. Here was a female author who wrote stories I couldn’t put down. I wanted to do the same thing.
I didn’t start writing fiction until I was an adult. I wrote my first full novel when I was about 30. I was hooked, and I haven’t stopped writing since. I now have three books written in the National Forest K-9 series. The first two are published, and the third book, Killer Secrets, will be out on March 26, 2024. I have many more ideas for more books in the National Forest K-9 series and a new series as well.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I would tell new writers to stay true to themselves. What I mean by that is write what you love. Write what is you. Don’t worry about trends or if someone tells you something isn’t going to work. Learn your craft, but stay true to yourself.
Go to conferences to network, take classes from other authors, and study the business if you want to publish. I would encourage new writers to learn about different paths to publication. There’s no right or wrong way.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My books are set in a fictional national forest, and most mountain towns are fictional. I did include the real town of Fort Collins, CO, in Hunting The Truth. My decisions were based on two of my favorite authors—Craig Johnson and William Kent Krueger. Before I started writing the National Forest K-9 series, I was lucky enough to ask both about their decision regarding fictional versus real locations. They both had similar answers.
When you have a fictional town and forest, you don’t have to worry about landmarks, rivers, lakes, etc. being in an exact location. You have more fictional liberty. But adding a real town can give the reader a sense of location if they look up the city on a map.
From there, I created the fictional Pino Grande National Forest and envisioned it in the area of the Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests. In Hunting The Truth, I have Maya drive from the fictional town of Pinecone Junction to the real town of Fort Collins. I grew up in the Fort Collins area, so it was fun to include that location in my book.
What kind of research do you do? I love doing research and learning more about the jobs and settings I portray in the National Forest K-9 series. My research has included taking the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office citizens academy, talking to other K-9 handlers and trainers, and riding with a mountain deputy. I was also lucky enough to connect with a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer and K-9 handler. His knowledge has been invaluable, and I really appreciate how willing he is to answer questions.
About ten years ago, a new neighbor moved in next door to us, and I found out he was a retired Chief of Police. I asked him if I could ask some questions, and he was open to answering anything I wanted to know. His knowledge has been helpful.
A recent law enforcement expert I’ve connected with is Patrick O’Donnell, who has the Cops and Writers podcast. His Facebook group and Patrick himself have been fantastic with sharing law enforcement knowledge.
For my mountain setting, I’ve learned a ton about the mountains, which was my goal as I wanted the setting to be a character in my novels. My dad worked for the Forest Service as a researcher and is deeply knowledgeable about the forests in our area. I feel fortunate to have so many great resources so that I can make my book as realistic as possible.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I’ve taken classes from best-selling author Grant Blackwood. He was the one who really helped me figure this out. Grant called, raising the stakes, “dialing up.” Basically, this is asking ourselves, how can we make things worse for our characters? This includes both the protagonist and antagonist, and if you can play those character motivations off each other and make it personal, even better.
For example, in Hunting The Truth, Maya solves the murders of a friend, her mother, and her grandmother. In real life, that’s (hopefully) never going to happen. This was my way of “dialing up” the story and making it personal for Maya, giving her even more motivation.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m excited to have Hunting The Truth out now and a third book in the National Forest K-9 series, Killer Secrets, coming out in March 2024. I also have some new series ideas that will include K-9s and my other passion—horses.
Newsletter Sign-up: https://kathleendonnelly.com/#newsletter
Where to Purchase Hunting The Truth