Joan Long is the author of the locked-room-style mystery THE FINALIST, which was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. She is a third-generation Floridian who earned a degree in English/Creative Writing from Florida State University and a graduate degree in Journalism and Communications from The University of Florida. She has written for universities, public television, healthcare corporations, a magazine, and more.
Joan was a finalist in a Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Best First Mystery Novel Competition and was a short-listed finalist for a William Faulkner-William Wisdom Award for Best Novel-in-Progress. Her short story “The Extra Ingredient” is published in the Anthony Award-winning anthology Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Absolutely! Joining writing associations is probably the best thing I’ve done for my writing career. I’m a member of Sisters in Crime and its Guppy chapter, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Authors Guild. Through these organizations, I continually learn the craft and business of writing. They also help me make connections with other authors. I’ve met some of my best friends through these groups.
How do you come up with character names? I use multiple sources—baby registries, online name generators, old phone books, and church directories. I try to begin each name with a different letter and vary the syllable lengths. As a reader, I find it confusing when character names are too similar. And because I want to be nice to audiobook narrators, my main characters’ names don’t end in s or th.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Outlining works best for me. I begin with a logline, followed by a brief synopsis and the outline. However, my outlines constantly change. They evolve as the story grows.
What kind of research do you do? Setting is an important element in my debut novel, The Finalist. Because the story takes place on a tropical island, I researched plants, flowers, local foods, charter boats, satellite radios, and—ahem!—how long it takes a person to dig a grave in sand.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I prefer fictional settings that are loosely based on real locations. Key Island—the fictional location of The Finalist—takes place on a private island in the Caribbean. My work-in-progress is set in Florida in a fictional community near the Gulf of Mexico. Obviously, I like to write about warm-weather places!
Do you have any advice for new writers? I recommend learning the craft and becoming active in a writing community. I also suggest keeping a “Happiness Journal” or something similar. Remembering the great things that happen can help on days when writing is a challenge. Did you receive a wonderful blurb or a five-star review? Did you find your book in a library? Has your word count increased? Whatever it is that made your day, write it down. One of my favorite moments happened when I was going up an escalator. A woman riding the down escalator recognized me and shouted, “I’m reading your book!” I smile every time I think about it.
Many thanks to George Cramer for inviting me to post on his blog.
My website is https://joanlongbooks.com.
Here is my buy info:
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-finalist-joan-long/1141005243
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-finalist/id1610738358
Kathleen Kaska is the author of the award-winning mystery series the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series and the Kate Caraway Animal-Rights Mystery Series. She also writes mystery trivia, including The Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book. Her short story, “The Adventure at Old Basingstoke,” appears in the Sherlock Holmes of Baking Street anthology. She founded The Dogs in the Nighttime, the Sherlock Holmes Society of Anacortes, Washington, a scion of The Baker Street Irregulars.
My latest book: Murder at the Pontchartrain.
Elevator Pitch: Sharp, sexy PI Sydney Lockhart takes you into the heart of 1953 New Orleans’ French Quarter to find a killer and save her fiancé Dixon from the gallows in Murder at the Pontchartrain.
Do you write in more than one genre? I write two different types of mystery series. The Sydney Lockhart series, set in the 1950s, is lighthearted and humorous. This series came about from my love of traveling. My husband and I search for historic hotels in which to stay. On one trip to the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, our room was not ready, and we had to wait about two hours. My imagination kicked in, and I envisioned a dead body in the bathroom of our room. Then Sydney showed up and told me the story. That was when I discovered I could write humor. So far, there are six books in the series.
Writing a mystery with a social cause resulted in me creating my Kate Caraway Animal-Rights series, which is suspense. The idea for this series came to me when I volunteered for Wildlife Rescue in Austin, Texas.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The hardest part of writing for me happens about two-thirds into the story. I’m a pantser, so when it comes time to tie things together, I must ensure everything works. This involved reading and rereading what I’ve written many times and taking many notes, which is not my favorite thing to do. I equate it to playing three-dimensional chess, but it’s great brain exercise.
What are you currently working on? I just finished a quirky British mystery set on the Cornish Coast. This is my first attempt at writing from multiple points of view. I learned that I can write much faster if I use this technique. It usually takes me eight months to a year to finish a book, but this method allows me to finish the first draft in three months.
Who’s your favorite author? Scott Fitzgerald is my favorite author, and The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel. It’s a story of love, loss, hope, and betrayal. Narrator Nick Carraway’s voice draws in me. It’s as if I was sitting in a room chatting over coffee with him.
How do you come up with character names? I don’t. The characters simply tell me their names. That’s an advantage to being a pantser. And their names always fit their personalities. For example, in Murder at the Arlington, a heavy is named Stanley Muldoon, and a woman who owns a barbeque joint/brothel is known as Hot Momma.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? The subplot in the Sydney Lockhart series involves her relationship with her partner in crime, Ralph Dixon. They are romantically involved but never seem to make it to the altar. In the Kate Caraway series, Kate is dealing with a traumatic experience that occurred in the past, resulting in her having PTSD. This backstory enfolds throughout the series as she attempts to come to terms with her actions that led to the incident.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I never make it easy on my protagonists. I love tossing obstacles in their paths one minute and saving their butts the next. Some of my antagonists aren’t bad people. They just end up in desperate situations and make terrible decisions. In trying to dig themselves out of a deep hole, they make more mistakes and often become their own worst enemy.
What kind of research do you do? I spend a lot of time at each hotel featured in my Sydney Lockhart series. I also dig into the history of each hotel so I can get an idea of what was happening there in the 1950s. I look for old menus and photos from that decade and peruse old newspapers to see what took place in each town or city where the story is set. I rely on the internet when necessary, especially for maps when I need specific details concerning locales.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? All my settings are real locations. I want my readers to be intrigued by each of the settings and hotels in the Sydney series so that they might visit one day. All the historic hotels featured in the series still exist. I love it when someone tells me they’ve stayed in one of the hotels after reading my book. One nice man read the entirety of Murder at the Arlington while sitting in the Arlington’s lobby. The same is true with the Kate Caraway series. I choose places from my travels with breathtaking scenery, which present vivid images for me to use in the stories. Run Dog Run takes place in the Hill Country west of Austin. A Two Horse Town is set in southwest Montana in the Pryor Mountains, and Eagle Crossing on Lopez Island in the Pacific Northwest.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? My publisher is offering my first Sydney Lockhart mystery, Murder at the Arlington, free on my Medium page. https://medium.com/@kathleenkaska
It is serialized, with one chapter a week coming out. I also write nonfiction. I have a mystery trivia series and a biography about the ornithologist who saved the endangered whooping cranes from extinction.
Purchase my books at
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)
Kaye George is an award-winning novelist and short-story writer who writes cozy and traditional mysteries and a prehistory series, both traditionally and self-published. Her two cozy series are Fat Cat and Vintage Sweets. The two traditional series feature Cressa Carraway and Imogene Duckworthy. The People of the Wind prehistory mysteries take place within a Neanderthal tribe. About 50 or more short stories have also been published, mostly in anthologies and magazines, though a few are for sale separately. She used to review for Suspense Magazine and now writes a column for Mysterical-E from her home in Knoxville, TN.
PITCH FOR SONG OF DEATH: Aspiring conductor Cressa Carraway arrives at her grandmother’s cabin at a rural Illinois lake resort, hoping to find the ideal place to finish composing the symphony she needs to earn her master’s degree. Instead, she finds her grandmother’s corpse in the lake. The authorities dismiss the death as an accidental drowning, but when Gram’s best friend drowns in the exact same spot, Cressa knows something is off-key in this idyllic setting.
The Journey Can Be Long – And it can be round-about. I had a new novel come out in August, but it wasn’t really a new novel. It’s actually the first one I ever completed that I thought had a chance of being published. It wasn’t the first one published, however.
Before I started keeping good records, I was querying that novel, now called SONG OF DEATH, so I don’t know exactly how many rejections I got on it. But, eventually, after CHOKE was published in 2011 after 65 queries, SONG did find a home at Barking Rain Press in 2013.
SONG will always be very dear to me because I set it at my mother’s lake cabin. I know she would love that, but she wasn’t here when I started to get published. She’s a BIG part of why I write, though. She used to want to write a novel and would even tell me some of her plots. The only one I remember is the parrot plot. She wanted someone to think they were hearing a murder inside a house, but eventually, it was disclosed that the parrot was very loud and screechy. And yelled, “Murder!” Okay, I know some of her plots were better than that, but I can’t remember them.
Here’s an amusing query story. One New York agent turned down SONG OF DEATH because it’s set at a lake resort in central Illinois, and this New York agent knew there weren’t any lake resorts in Illinois. Right. It’s set at a REAL Illinois lake resort. And it’s far from the only one. So there.
Anyway, I’m so pleased to be able to carry through on this, this getting published thing, even if my mom couldn’t. Snags and detours and side roads I’ve encountered.
Because that’s not the end of the SONG OF DEATH story, Barking Rain went under after publishing that one and the sequel. Barking Rain changed the title to EINE KLEINE MURDER. I know. I thought it was not the most accessible. The main character is a musician, so it’s a play on a piece by Mozart, EINE KLEINE NACHTMUSIK. She, Cressa Carraway, is a musician because I’m a musician. “Write what you know.” Right? She’s a keyboard player, though, not a violinist like me, because they are much more useful.
The piece she composes during this novel is called SONG OF LIFE, but a murder mystery is better suited to SONG OF DEATH, right?
I had high hopes for this series. It was going to be my one magnum opus and go on for many, many sequels. Cressa composes and eventually conducts, and my dream was she would be a guest conductor worldwide. I would have to visit the places she went and write off the trips on my taxes. Great plan.
Things don’t always go the way you plan them.
I kept writing more things, different series, and lots of short stories, and I had great success at Untreed Reads with my Neanderthal mysteries. So, maybe about a year ago, I asked Jay Hartman, the editor there, if they wanted to reissue my Cressa Carraway books with my original titles and new covers. He said yes!
Then things changed again. Untreed Reads had a shuffle, and Jay is no longer there. But the Cressa e-books were still published in August, two on the same day. SONG OF DEATH and the second one, REQUIEM FOR RED. There should be paperbacks by the time this blog runs. I hope!
Oh, and that first published novel, CHOKE, in 2011? Things didn’t work out with that publisher at all. I took it back in a year and self-published it in 2012, then went on to do three more in that series.
I would always much rather have a publisher, though. I’d rather write than do all the pubby things, for sure!
When the third Cressa Carraway novel comes out, it will be my sixteenth novel! I sometimes have to pinch myself. I love being a mystery writer! And I know my mom would love reading my books.
I owe George Cramer my thanks for letting me post here today. Thanks a million!
Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Death-Cressa-Caraway-Musical-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B0CGF6KNVS/
Contact Links and Groups:
Local SinC chapter https://www.easttn-sinc.com/
Marisa Fife is a registered nurse, medical editor, and public health writer. She holds a BS in Pre-Veterinary & Animal Science from the University of Massachusetts and a BSN in Nursing from Johns Hopkins University.
Her work experiences have led her from monitoring songbirds for biological surveys, to rehabilitating wildlife, to caring for oncology patients on bone marrow transplant floors. Her first fiction novella, The Woman in Brown, was published in 2022. Her first children’s novel, Will and the Clan of Shadows, is now available.
She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Mystery Writers of America (MWA), and Sisters in Crime (SINC) professional writing organizations.”
Crisp, tart, red apples. Cool nights. Slinking black cats. Orange, red, and gold leaves. Melted caramel, sweet spices, and chocolate perfume the air. Warty, squat, saffron-hued pumpkins with shriveled, twisting green stems lurk on mossy brick steps. Hulking, angular Victorian houses filled with creepy shadows, their front yards decorated with enormous plastic skeletons. (My favorite display was a life-sized plastic skeleton horse pulling a cart filled with cheerily waving faux human skeletons).
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. There’s just something playful, mischievous, and youthful about the season that I love. The costumes crack me up. So do the purple frosted cupcakes with candy monster eyes, bat-shaped sprinkles, and raspberry filling designed to look like blood. As a child, I loved movies like The Addams Family (1991) and books like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. Vincent Price enthralled me as much as Alfred Hitchcock, and I still adore the film Dracula (1931), even if Castle Dracula is infested with armadillos. There are no armadillos native to Transylvania, alas. Perhaps Dracula had an affection for delightfully odd, armored, nocturnal pets with the ability to spread leprosy and dig deep holes in his garden.
Growing up in New England, with Salem and its witchcraft history close by, Halloween was an all-out event. Trick or Treaters, young and old, would gallop, skip, and walk the leaf-littered sidewalks dressed as werewolves, witches, and Wednesday Addams. Colorful candies would fill our pillowcases as we went house to house in the dark. The stars would sometimes burn bright, and the air buzzed with anticipation and magic. If we were lucky, a full moon would grace us with a ghostly silvered world, and the wind would play tricks by making the shadows move––or was there some thing actually lurking there?
I always hoped it was a thing.
I became enamored with Halloween when I was small, helping my mother prepare our carved pumpkin. She cut a spooky face with a knife, and I scooped out the pumpkin’s slimy innards. We toasted the seeds and ate them by the window while watching the trick or treaters go by before we went out in the night ourselves in whatever costume we had begged our parents for that year.
These experiences were the inspiration for my newest novel, The Curse of the Devil’s Purse Inn, a paranormal mystery for ages nine and up. The Sanglier family plans a relaxing vacation in Witchville, Massachusetts, but encounters eerie incidents at the ominous Devil’s Purse Inn. I wanted to write a book that captured things I love about Halloween: magic, mystery, mischief, and fun. And, of course, it also includes lots and lots and lots of candy.
I must leave you now to set up my life-sized skeletons in the front yard. This year’s theme is Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Wishing you all a fantastic Halloween season.
Best site for book purchasing/links to me: https://www.marisafife.com/
Millicent Eidson creates mystery/romantic suspense/women’s fiction mashups where the criminals are invisible disease organisms. Her previous blog is MILLICENT EIDSON – Veterinarian – Epidemiologist – Author – Author George Cramer (gdcramer.com). After a career as a public health veterinarian with CDC and two state health departments, she uses fiction to communicate One Health | CDC. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime (https://www.sistersincrime.org/) and Vermont-based Burlington Writers Workshop (https://bwwvt.org/). Her indie publishing company Maya Maguire Media released novels “Anthracis” (2021) and “Borrelia” (2022), plus “Microbial Mysteries: A Story Collection” (2023).
Her latest novel, Corona (Aug. 2023). Veterinarian Maya Maguire nears the end of her training as one of CDC’s epidemic shock troops. Assigned to the pandemic, her origin story comes full circle like an ouroboros—a dragon eating its tail.
As an author of medical thrillers, I’m often asked, “Why are you independent?” My short answer: Time, money, and control.
Retired from full-time public health work, I relish the independent author process—writing, publishing, and communicating with readers through promotion and marketing. Typically, I perfect a book for two years before release. I dedicate lots of time to writers workshops and editing to polish what I hope is a gem.
Like many authors, I initially explored traditional publishing by reaching out to small presses and literary agents who work with large publishers. But the more I learned about the process from my personal experience and the travails of other authors, I realized I’d have to make too many compromises.
Some fear that indie authors will publish inferior work without traditional publishers acting as gatekeepers. However, the amount of time and expertise these agencies bring to each author’s work can be variable. The book will be released on the publisher’s schedule, may take several years on the publishing timetable even if all goes well, and will earn the author a fraction of its sales revenues. Too many authors start out excited when they get an agent, then have to start over with changes in the agent, editor, or publisher. Depending on the contract, an author may not fully own their book.
Assistance and quality control can be obtained in multiple ways. Workshops, academic classes, support groups, social media, blogs, and podcasts offer ways to improve a writer’s craft. Some elements can be contracted out, one at a time or as a bundle, including editing, cover design, and printing/distribution. Hybrid publishing combines elements of traditional and self-publishing. I highly recommend the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/, including its list of approved services. Some individuals or companies charge too much and deliver too little—be careful.
Learning the steps required for indie authors is daunting but fun. If approaching creative writing through the lens of lifelong learning, every aspect can be a joy. I’m a photographer and love spending hours editing my photos with Adobe Photoshop when designing my book covers. I’m a control freak who hates hyphens breaking up words at the ends of lines. I can turn those off and format my print books using Adobe InDesign, so each page looks exactly as I want, almost like the old typesetting process where every letter was placed in a tray. But I have even more control—through kerning (proportional spacing), I decide how close I want the letters next to each other, in a line, page, or the entire novel. I chose a 12.5 font to make the print easier for older readers.
Another major decision point is where and how to distribute one’s books. I’m a ‘wide’ author, which means I abhor exclusivity. I want to give readers every chance to find my books, no matter how they want to do that. I publish ebooks through Draft2Digital (D2D), which creates an EPUB file from Microsoft Word and distributes ebooks everywhere. At the same time, I upload directly to Amazon Kindle (not Kindle Unlimited, which prohibits publishing anywhere else). For print books (paperbacks, hardcovers, and large print), I publish through Amazon KDP and IngramSpark, which distributes to bookstores and libraries. That means I have two companies to work with in submitting each format for publication and receiving sales income, so four processes overall.
Indie authors who want even greater control, especially for the broadest access to promotions, prefer working with more publishers directly. So they’ll submit books to Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, etc., then stay with D2D and IngramSpark to reach the remaining outlets. An indie author has total control over their bandwidth for working with many book distributors.
Every day, it’s my choice to start creating chapters for the latest novel in my alphabetical series. Later in the day, I can work on editing and formatting my most recent novel, that’s finished the workshop process and is ready for publication. Finally, I can choose how much time I spend reaching out to readers through my newsletter, social media, book clubs, or other options. I can prioritize free promotional activities that require much time (like blogging) versus costly advertisements. Depending on other aspects of my life, I have complete flexibility in these decisions—work-life balance.
Each author can determine which part of the writing business they wish to commit to. But every time parts of publishing are delegated to someone else, the author spends money and loses control of the process. I enjoy tweaking my books and republishing them in the middle of the night if I get an idea of how to improve them. This week, it was adding a direct link at the end of each ebook to the subsequent one rather than just a link to my website. Have fun figuring out your own game plan!
website: HOME | DrMayaMaguire: “Pariah,” an experimental mystery/magical realism short story, is free with signups to my Reader list
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