Mystery author Lisa Preston: new series, dinner with Twain & tech advice

Mystery author Lisa Preston: new series, dinner with Twain & tech advice

Fellow mystery author and former cop Lisa Preston stopped by to talk about her new series and share a great protip.

1. Carmen Amato: Lisa, thanks so much for stopping by. We met at the Killer Nashville mystery writer’s conference and discovered that we have a few things in common, like our love of smart dogs!

You are a retired police officer, as well as an equine expert. Why did you add mystery author to the resume?

author Lisa Preston

Lisa Preston: The mystery form is so engaging, a great combination of both character-driven and plot-driven story; I’ve enjoyed reading it and I wanted to write it. When I did my book clubby, psychological thriller and suspense novels, readers wrote emailed asking what was next for those characters, and my agent said it was time for a series. I had this interesting idea of having a horseshoer as an amateur sleuth, and he sold it on a multi-book deal.

Related: 9 Mystery Authors Tell All

2. CA: Your upcoming release (November) is DEAD BLOW. Your main character is a female with a very unique occupation. What can you tell us about her and the book?

Dead Blow by Lisa Preston

LP: Seeds for the mystery in DEAD BLOW were planted in the series debut, THE CLINCHER, which came out a year ago. The main character is Rainy Dale, a young woman with a lot of room for growth. She traces her childhood horse to the fictional small town of Cowdry, Oregon, then stays to try earning a living as a newly minted horseshoer.

She made a breakthrough in THE CLINCHER. In DEAD BLOW, she needs to keep learning to love herself and others, while she solves one of the town’s old mysteries.

3. CA: How do you use setting to create and build suspense? Tell us about a favorite location that you used in a book.

LP: I live at the edge of a million-plus acre backcountry wilderness that offers endless trails, unreliable cell service, plus encounters with bears, cougars, and the occasional deranged person. The majority of the country lives in much higher population density, but is interested in visiting these vast western locales, and enjoys imagining the unique difficulties the setting presents.

Rainy Dale is similarly situated down in Oregon. Both THE CLINCHER and DEAD BLOW offer a setting as distinct and challenging as my own stomping grounds of steep scrawny trails and magnificent panoramas.

4. CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

LP: This week, I’ll say let’s spend the evening with Samuel Clemens. I’ve just gotten Twain’s unabridged works and was surprised to see he’d done a takedown of Fennimore Cooper. Then reading the details, I had to agree that a firearms scene is which the writer has the hero shooting a nail head located one hundred yards away is cringe-inducing. As a retired cop, poor law enforcement action or emergency medical procedure (I was a paramedic before I was a cop) makes me stop reading. Join us, Carmen, and we’ll eat a meaty stew and drink beer, while talking about everything.

Related: Best of the Book Savor Dinners

5. CA: What is your best protip? Tell us about a writing habit, technique, or philosophy that keeps your writing sharp.

LP: I think many new writers do not revise enough. They think they have a finished, but it’s what you or I would call a draft.

When I teach revision, two things I have students do are deconstruct the written manuscript to make sure each scene is doing its job. I also tell folks to have their computers read the entire manuscript out loud. It’s amazing what you hear in the computer’s flat reading that you do not see.

Thank you, Lisa. That is great advice! Technology is (occasionally) our friend.

More about Lisa:

Lisa Preston started her fiction career with the bestselling psychological thriller ORCHIDS AND STONE, followed by the acclaimed psychological suspense THE MEASURE OF THE MOON. She now writes the Rainy Dale horseshoer series. Find all her books on Amazon.

Connect with her at


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

9 Mystery and Thriller Authors Tell All

9 Mystery and Thriller Authors Tell All

These 9 friends are all at the top of their game when it comes to fast-paced mystery and thrillers that veer toward the dark side.

Check out their original interview link, and what they’ve been up to since appearing on this blog and/or in the Mystery Ahead newsletter. Listed in alphabetical order

DV Berkom

Startling revelations from first #friends interview

2019 has been a whirlwind of activity for this author who juggles two thriller series. In January her octogenarian parents moved into the apartment in her backyard, lending an interesting (and happy) dynamic to the life she shares with partner Mark.

She also released Absolution, the 8th book in the Leine Basso thriller series. Readers had been waiting patiently (and some not so patiently) since the novel Dark Return to find out what happened between Leine and her arch-enemy, the French-born terrorist, Salome. Absolution is the page-turning wrap-up to the trilogy-within-the-series that started with The Last Deception. (The Leine Basso series is now exclusive to Amazon, allowing for members of Kindle Unlimited to access the books for free.) The 9th book in the series, titled Dakota Burn, will be shortly.

As for the Kate Jones series, due to reader demand she’s considering writing another installment in the series over the next year or so and is really looking forward to revisiting Kate and the other characters again!

DV Berkom books on Amazon

David Bruns

#friends interview & writing about terrorism

Since being featured here in May 2016, David’s writing life has been bursting with activity. In 2017, he was selected for the prestigious Clarion West Writers Workshop, a six-week “summer camp” for professional short fiction writers. He’s also half of The Two Navy Guys thriller writing team of David + retired naval intelligence officer J.R. Olson.

Following the success of Weapons of Mass Deception and Jihadi Apprentice, their third national security thriller, Rules of Engagement, was published by St. Martin’s Press in June 2019. This novel of North Korean cyberwarfare was called an “utterly authentic portrayal of modern day combat that compares with the best of the timeless classics by Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, and Stephen Coonts,” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Marc Greaney.

David Bruns books on Amazon

Lynda L. Lock

Mexico and mayhem from her #friends interview

Lynda lives on Mexico’s idyllic Isla Mujeres, where her mystery series is set. Between her books and her hugely popular blog, she is probably the best “author brand” around. It’s been a very productive year for Lynda with the publication of two new Isla Mujeres Mystery novels: Temptation Isla, Book #4, and Terror Isla, Book #5.

Her real-life beach mutt, Sparky, is one of the main characters in the novels. He typically manages to drag his imaginary human pal Jessica Sanderson through a jumble of murder, romance, revenge, and drug cartel drama. When Sparky isn’t busy tracking down the bad guys, he is usually pestering Lynda for a ride in her island golf cart.

Lynda Lock books on Amazon

Margaret Mizushima

Margaret’s interview was exclusive to the Mystery Ahead newsletter. Subscribe here.

Margaret’s 4th Timber Creek K-9 Mystery, Burning Ridge, won a Colorado Author’s League award for e-book fiction, Gold medal in the Next Generation Indies for action adventure, Silver in the Benjamin Franklins for mystery, and Bronze in the Foreword Indies for mystery. WOW! It was also listed as a Best Book of 2018 by King’s River Life and was named a finalist in the Colorado Book Awards, the Silver Falchion Awards, and the Women Writing the West 2019 Willa Awards for contemporary fiction.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Margaret was surprised and overwhelmed with gratitude when the membership of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers elected her 2019 Writer of the Year. Despite all this hoopla, the 5th Timber Creek K-9 mystery, Tracking Game, releases November 12, 2019, with a 6th book slated for next year.

Margaret Mizushima books on Amazon

Jim Nesbitt

Startling revelations from first #friends interview

I recently caught up with Jim at the Killer Nashville conference, where he was fresh off the success of his 3rd Ed Earl Burch novel, The Best Lousy Choice. My own review said “Raw, lusty, rough-edged — and yet, tremendously literary. Descriptions paint vibrant word pictures.” Burch, a cashiered Dallas vice and homicide detective, is an emotional wreck in this story, hosing down nightmares from his last case with self-prescribed doses of Percodan and bourbon.

Eking out a living as a PI, he’s broke and forced to take on the type of job he loathes — divorce work, tracking down the wayward husband of a rich West Texas woman who sheds spouses like a rattlesnake sheds skin. When a prominent rancher dies in a suspicious barn fire, the man’s outlaw cousin asks Burch to investigate.

Jim had a lot of fun writing this one and is already plotting Book #4 in the Ed Earl Burch series. He says readers seem to like the boy — he’s a classic American anti-hero. Ornery, tough, lusty, profane and reckless. Agreed.

Jim Nesbitt books on Amazon

Sandra Nikolai

A favorite #friends interview

It’s been a hectic year! Sandra published Cold Revenge, Book 6 in the Megan Scott/Michael Elliott Mystery series. As a psychological thriller, it marked her sleuths’ most thrilling challenge yet—and her own! To add to the daily ritual of keeping in touch on social media, she opened a new Instagram account. As part of a local authors group, Sandra visited libraries for Q & A sessions, held book-signing events in the Ottawa area last fall, including a 3-day tour.

Next on the agenda? Plotting more devious dilemmas for ghostwriter Megan Scott and crime reporter Michael Elliott in Book 7. Sandra’s blog posts offer lots of tidbits about those daring sleuths and their exploits. New subscribers can sign up for Inside My Writing World newsletter on Sandra’s website to receive her latest book news—PLUS free chapters and a short story!

Sandra Nikolai books on Amazon

Nicolas Obregon

My take on Blue Light Yokohama

Set in modern Japan, Blue Light Yokohama, the first in the Inspector Iwata series, came out in 2017 and was published in 8 countries. The Book Nook (NPR Radio) said “Once in a great while, I’ll stumble upon a debut novel that is so freaking brilliant I just want to scream. Blue Light Yokohama is stunning.” The sequel, Sins As Scarlet, was released in 2018. Jeffery Deaver called it “a masterpiece” while AJ Finn said, “I’m awestruck” and the Associated Press labelled it “stunning.”

Nic can’t release too many details at this stage, but Sins As Scarlet has been optioned by a major Hollywood producer for TV adaptation. (!!) Meanwhile, the third (and final) Iwata book is slated for release on 28 Nov 2019. Nic’s next book will be a standalone novel published by Penguin Random House.

Nicolas Obregon books on Amazon

Dan Petrosini

  Hard working advice from his #friends interview

Dan is one of the hardest working authors I know. In the last year he’s released five books in the Luca Mystery Series including A Cold Hard Case, Cop or Killer?, Silencing Salter, and A Killer Missteps. Four of the new books reached Amazon best seller status in their categories. In addition to a Luca Mystery Series boxed set, he’s wrapping up book 9, out in October.

As if all that activity wasn’t enough, Dan had new covers designed for two unrelated novels and an audio version of another produced.

He claims that while this much activity may seem “machine-like,” it’s the hours put in and learning from mistakes which make it possible.

Dan Petrosini books on Amazon

Khaled Talib

Khaled’s “Book Savor” interview

For nearly 2 years, the Singapore based thriller author of Smokescreen, Incognito, and Gun Kiss was the most popular #friend interview on this blog. The secret is in his answer to the interview question “You can invite any author living or dead to dinner. Who is your guest and what will you be serving?” Read the answer and your dinner party will never be the same.

Also the author of short stories and collections of wise sayings, Khaled recently completed a new crime novel set in South Australia. The story is different from previous thrillers as he wanted to invoke the Australian state’s social and cultural milieu. Khaled handled South Australia’s external public relations account for a decade, so is very familiar with the region. At the same time, he is writing the sequel to Gun Kiss and enjoying the flow of the story.

Khaled Talib books on Amazon


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Meet WHEELS UP thriller author Jeanine Kitchel

Meet WHEELS UP thriller author Jeanine Kitchel

 Do opposites attract? Meet Jeanine Kitchel, author of WHEELS UP

1) Carmen Amato: Jeanine, we first met as collaborators putting together THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO THE BEST OF MEXICO and now find ourselves writing two halves of the same story set in Mexico. I write a mystery series from the point of a view of a female cop, while your (highly rated!!) novel WHEELS UP–A Novel of Drugs Cartels and Survival is the start to a new crime fiction series told from the point of view of a female crime boss.

I wonder what would happen if these two fiesty women ever met! Tell us about your background and the inspiration for WHEELS UP.

Jeanine: Hi Carmen, and thanks for the interview. It is amazing that our Latina protagonists are polar opposites. Emilia Cruz is fighting for justice in the Acapulco Police Department while Layla Navarro occupies the top spot in Mexico’s most powerful cartel because of her DNA.

I decided to write fiction, specifically about the cartels, after living in Mexico for 15 years. I fell in love with the Mexican Caribbean coast in the early 80s, long before Cancun became a household word. In 1989 right after  class 5 hurricane, my husband and I bought land and built a house in a fishing village, Puerto Morelos. We rented it out like an Airbnb until 1997 when we escaped our San Francisco jobs, moved south, and founded a bookstore. Wheels Up—A Novel of Drugs, Cartels andSurvival, was inspired as I read about the creeping dominance of the Mexican cartels in local newspapers. Some events in the novel are based on fact.

2) Carmen: Your main character, Layla, inherits the leadership of a drug cartel. How did you make this character relatable? What motivates her and how does she make decisions?

Jeanine: Layla is not only a flawed protagonist, but a woman—basically persona non grata—in macho Mexico, thrown into a position of unbelievable power. She’s smart and resilient, but lacks on the job experience. Her motivation is to prove, both to herself and the cartel world, that a woman can survive in the driver’s seat, though it may be a bumpy ride. Since her uncle never planned on Layla as heir apparent, she must learn on the fly. Her early decisions are emotional, but she’s a quick study and gains her footing as she goes.

3) Carmen: How did your writing style develop and what books or authors inspire you?

Jeanine: With a degree in journalism, I wrote for newspapers and adapted to a crisp style of writing. That changed when I was approached by a publisher in my bookstore who asked me to write first person account travel articles. After publishing a memoir and a book on the Maya calendar, I decided to write fiction. Now that was a learning curve!

Books I’ve been inspired by: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez, Siddhartha by Hesse, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Thompson. Joyce Carol Oates, Jack London and Margaret Atwood among others have been an inspiration.

4) Carmen: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

Jeanine: I’d invite Jack London. I’d serve raw oysters on the half shell as a nod to his days as an oyster pirate in San Francisco Bay along with San Francisco sourdough and clam chowder. Alcohol would flow freely. We’d talk about his South Sea adventures on his boat The Snark, his Yukon Trail gold field adventures, riding the rails in his teens that led him to socialism and his stand against social injustice. We’d discuss his love of the land, his Northern California Beauty Ranch, his horses. And how it felt to be the most celebrated author in America after the Saturday Evening Post serialized The Call of the Wild in 1903.

5) Carmen: What is your best protip. Tell us about a writing habit, technique, or philosophy that keeps your writing sharp.

Jeanine: I get up early, write a few morning pages, and then pick up from where I left off the day before. It’s not a long writing session. That comes later. I think it’s important for a writer to discover what their best writing time is. Mine is between 2 and 6 pm, but only recently discovered I have fresh thoughts first thing, so try to maximize on that. Also, a favorite quote is: “The muse only shows up if you do.”

More about Jeanine: Jeanine Kitchel’s love of Mexico led her to a fishing village on the Mexican Caribbean coast where she built a house, opened a bookstore, and began writing about Mexico, the Maya and the Yucatan. Her debut novel, Wheels Up—A Novel of Drugs, Cartels and Survival, follows a travel memoir, Where the Sky is Born: Living in the Land of the Maya. Visit her website

Author Bernard Schaffer debuts new cop series

Author Bernard Schaffer debuts new cop series

Bernard Schaffer’s new book THE THIEF OF ALL LIGHT is the debut of a tension-filled new police procedural series. This interview first appeared in the Mystery Ahead newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.

1  Carmen Amato: Bernard, thanks so much for stopping by and congratulations. Your debut mystery, THE THIEF OF ALL LIGHT, just came out. A rookie and a jaded detective feature in this start to a tantalizing new police procedural series. Tell us how you came to create this “odd couple.”

Bernard Schaffer: I published multiple books in multiple genres as an indie author from 2011 to 2016, and wanted to take a crack at the mainstream. My writing had reached a level where I felt ready to try something new, so I took all of my experiences as both author and criminal investigator, and put them into a book.

2  CA: Your main character, Carrie Santero, has a fascination for serial killers? What research did you do to make this convincing?

Schaffer: I’m a career police detective for a department in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I’ve been studying criminals, up close and personal, my entire adult life.

3  CA: Fill in the blank for us, please, and tell us why: If readers like books by ________, they will also like the Santero and Rein series.

Schaffer: If readers like books by Thomas Harris, Lee Child, Lisa Scottoline, and anyone else who writes gripping thrillers, they will also like the Santero and Rein series.

4  CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

Schaffer: My stock answer would be Hemingway, because I have an imaginary Hemingway who sits off to the side whenever I’m writing and gives me hell, kind of like a boxing coach. But at this point, I probably don’t need to sit down with the real one. I’d say either Alan Moore or Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Both fascinate me and I feel that I could learn from either of them.

5  CA: What is your best protip? Tell us about a writing habit, technique, or philosophy that keeps your writing sharp.

Schaffer: A few things. Real authors finish. They don’t work on ten pages of a manuscript for years on end, carting them all over to every writing conference they can find, in hopes of someone finally giving them permission to write the whole thing. If you want to do this, you have to finish your book. That means multiple drafts and rewrites, too. There’s no sitting around in the publishing world. I graduated from the indie game, where you live and die by your ability to produce quality at a rapid pace. That’s served me well at this new level. There’s no time to be lazy or unmotivated when people are relying on you to get your work done, and get it done right.

The Thief of all LightThank you so much for having me, Carmen. THE THIEF OF ALL LIGHT cameout in hardcover and audio on 7/31/18 from Kensington Publishing, and I cannot wait to share it with everyone.

More about Bernard: Bernard Schaffer’s law enforcement philosophy book titled WAY OF THE WARRIOR is now taught in multiple police academies, Field Training Programs, and universities across the United States. His fiction collaboration with J.A. Konrath combined concepts and characters from Konrath’s Jack Daniels series with Schaffer’s novel SUPERBIA. Schaffer is the father of two children, still working as a police detective, and still writing. Read more at


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Dan Petrosini and the Detective Frank Luca series

Dan Petrosini and the Detective Frank Luca series

Dan Petrosini, mystery author and wine afficionado, was featured last month in the Mystery Ahead newsletter. His latest is THE SERENITY MURDER–just the name gives me the shivers. If you like police procedurals as much as I do, here’s a replay of our chat.

1  Carmen Amato: Dan, thanks so much for stopping by. Your police procedural series features Detective Frank Luca, (AM I THE KILLER, VANISHED, THE SERENITY MURDER) with action that travels between Florida and New Jersey. You describe them as “noir-heavy” detective stories. Tell us about the type of crime featured in the series.

Dan Petrosini: It’s great to be here. Luca, a homicide detective, pursues killers. Usually, he investigates one puzzling murder per story. However, Book 4, which is to be released in a couple of weeks, revolves around a serial killing.

2  CA: Luca has had a troubled life. How does that impact the plotlines of your books?

Dan Petrosini: Like all of us, Luca has personal issues; sickness, divorce, self-doubt, etc. At times they impact how he approaches a case and other times it’s a sub-plot. I’m a fan of realistic fiction. There are no super heroes or special powers in the real world and Luca lives in the real world.

Dan Petrosini3  CA: How did your writing style develop and what books and/or authors inspire you?

Dan Petrosini: When I began writing novels my writing at times was too dense.  I have worked hard at creating quick paced stories with realistic dialogue and the feedback is positive. I’ve accomplished that.

4  CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

Dan Petrosini: Whoa, just one? This is tough. Can’t we have a dinner party? My pick would surprise most people – Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  His portrayals and recounting of harsh Soviet means to silence dissent resonated with me.  Not one for goulash, we’d chat over fish and pasta washed it down with a river of wine.

5  CA: What is your best protip? Tell us about a writing habit, technique, or philosophy that keeps your writing sharp.

Dan Petrosini: I believe the most important component to writing successfully, is to do it regularly.  I write each and every day. My word count has grown and it has become easier. Not easy, but easier.

I realize many cannot find the time each day, which is fine. Find a time, one hour a week, one day a week, etc and stick to it. You will be surprised at how being disciplined will improve your craft and the words will pile up.

(Additionally, read like a mad man!)

More about Dan: Born in NYC, Dan Petrosini lives in SW Florida. Married with two adult daughters and a needy Maltese, Dan has written eight novels. Passionate about motivating others to pursue their dreams and creative sides, he plays saxophone in several bands and drinks too much wine.


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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Straight Shooting with Mystery Author Mike Faricy

Straight Shooting with Mystery Author Mike Faricy

I just finished THE OFFICE, the 17th entry in Mike Faricy’s addictive Dev Haskell series and immediately scooped up his Dev Haskell boxed set. The books are like Pringle’s chips–you can’t read just one. In this chat, which originally appeared in my Mystery Ahead newsletter, Mike shares the secret of his writing success.

1  Carmen Amato: Mike, thanks so much for stopping by. Your wonderful Dev Haskell series is a briskly-paced PI series with a main character whose inner voice channels Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Tell us how Dev came to be and the type of cases he handles.

Mike Faricy: Thank you for having me, Carmen. It’s great to be here. Over the years I wrote maybe fifty or a hundred, no doubt award winning, first chapters. Then one day I had a unique thought, maybe finish one of these or stop wasting your time, so I wrote Russian Roulette, the first book in the Dev Haskell series.

I’m a voracious reader and when I land on an author I like, I inhale just about all of their work, Robert B. Parker, Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, Stuart MacBride, Ian Rankin along with a number of others. I had a ton of ideas bouncing around in my thick skull, and once I finished Russian Roulette I thought I can write another book with this character. Suddenly, I’ve had a series going and it just keeps coming.

One of the things that surprised me was I initially wrote Dev Haskell with a guy like me in mind as my reader. Almost immediately I started getting emails and messages from women telling me how much they enjoyed the books. One woman said she would love a wild, getaway weekend with Dev, but you wouldn’t tell your girlfriends about it for at least ten years, and then, when you did, one of them would say, “I did that, too.”

Dev ends up with all sorts of women who think; you know with a little work I could maybe fix this guy. Of course, by the end of the book they’re telling him to never, ever contact them again. I think there’s a couple of restraining orders out there on him. The most recent work in the Dev Haskell series is The Office.

The Office by Mike Faricy2  CA: Dev’s world is populated with a great cast of multi-dimensional secondary characters who both help and hinder Dev. Where do you look for inspiration when creating characters?

MF: I look no further than real life. In all actuality some of the crazier characters are based on people I know, things that they’ve done, good and bad. What’s the line? Truth is stranger than fiction. I’ve found that to be pretty accurate. In a lot of my reading, things get so unbelievable. Some special forces guy jumps out of a plane using his raincoat as a parachute and lands on the roof of the White House to save the president.

Dev is involved more or less in day to day sorts of situations. He’s not saving the world from terrorists or stopping an international banking scandal. All my books are based on the sorts of people we all know. Maybe that slightly different kid you knew in grade school, you haven’t see in thirty years and you wonder what ever happened to them. You also don’t want to get too close, but you’re still curious. Often there is a history of bad decisions, or they were just plain lucky, but believe they’re suddenly smarter than the rest of us.

Plus, no matter what’s going on in your world, you read Dev and well, you figure, you don’t look so bad after all.

3  CA: Dev seems to date a different woman in every book! If you were his wingman, how would you introduce him in a bar?

MF: Carefully. He would be the perfect gentleman, or try to be, but in the end things always go the wrong way. He’s basically a nice guy. He’d help with a project, maybe paint a room, be kind to a child, bring you flowers or chocolate, maybe take you out to dinner where some crazy thing would no doubt happen, but in the end, he’s Dev Haskell. It’s just not going to work.

He has a ‘friend with benefits’ relationship with Heidi Bauer, but she regularly can’t see him because she’s with another guy or she’s still mad at him for whatever stupid thing he recently did. After a while women seem to wisely decide that, you know, this just isn’t working for me and they move on.

I had a scene where Dev’s cooking breakfast for a woman who spent the night after a romantic dinner and the toaster suddenly starts smoking. Turns out a mouse had been in the toaster and at that point, she’s getting dressed and hurrying out to her car never to set foot in his place again. That pretty much sums it up. That also really happened to a pal of mine, the mouse in the toaster, but that’s another story.

4  CA: How do you use setting to create and build suspense?

MF: Setting is really important, but I’ve always taken the advice of Elmore Leonard which basically said, keep it short. A line or two, not paragraphs, and don’t dwell on the weather. If you describe a smell and a weeks worth of advertising circulars and past due bills on the coffee table that sets the scene. Or, if it’s a tense situation and the individual can hear their heart pounding, it’s late at night and the stair creaks, that conveys quite a bit. I use the KISS adage, Keep It Simple Stupid.

5  CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

Mike FaricyMF: Elmore Leonard is the guest and I’d probably be serving a crock pot meal with ciabatta bread and plenty of wine. Something like white chicken chili or a stew, only because I wouldn’t want to be distracted in the kitchen. We’d have hors d’oeuvres, beverages and a wine with dinner. And a dessert, I love desserts along with a small plate of nice chocolates.

We’d talk about plot, characters, general information and also our failures. A highly successful author once told me that we all have a work that we keep under the bed. Something we slaved over and at the end, it just didn’t work. It’s always inspiring to learn how much everyone stumbles, and falls. Then, the successful people get up, dust themselves off and keep moving forward.

6  CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

MF: Here’s a quote that fits me perfectly. “Well, you give me too much credit for foresight and planning. I haven’t got a clue what the hell I’m doing.”  Robert B. Parker

Thank you so much for the opportunity, wishing you and everyone out there, all the very best.

Thank you!

More about Mike: Mike Faricy lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and Dublin, Ireland. He writes crime fiction, the Dev Haskell series and the Hotshots series are written under his name, the Corridor Man series under the pen name Nick James, and the Jack Dillon series under the pen name Patrick Emmett. His latest work of genius is the first in the Hotshots series, Reduced Ransom!.

Email:  Website:


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Mystery author Sandra Nikolai: Poisons, pressure, and everyday heroes

Mystery author Sandra Nikolai: Poisons, pressure, and everyday heroes

Canadian mystery author Sandra Nikolai writes the excellent Megan Scott/Michael Elliott series featuring a ghostwriter and an investigative journalist. Sandra and I have watched each other’s series grow book-by-book, while indulging in a shared love of chocolate almonds.

1. Carmen Amato: Sandra, thanks so much for stopping by. Your series set in Canada drew me in from the start because it was different than the norm with two main characters—a ghostwriter and a reporter. Why did you go in this direction instead of a police procedural or private detective series?

Sandra NikolaiSandra Nikolai: Happy to be here, Carmen. There’s something intriguing about a hero that everyone admires, whether it’s a feisty female cop (winks) or a shrewd private detective. Because I liked the notion of everyday people helping to solve crime, I created my heroes based on the premise of ordinary characters facing terrifying situations. No one represents the everyday hero better than ghostwriter Megan Scott, a young woman with high ethical standards whose sheltered world is turned upside down when she is accused of murdering her husband and sets out to clear her name. Add investigative reporter Michael Elliott, a daring young risk-taker who pursues justice despite dangerous and unpredictable circumstances, and you have the creation of an interesting duo.

The difference between Megan and Michael is their approach to investigating a crime. Where Michael is cool and trusts his instincts, Megan is cautious and analytical. Her interest in his sleuthing activities and her aptitude to decipher the tiniest details convince him to take her along on some of his ventures. For Megan, a covert outing provides an exciting break from her “boring” job as ghostwriter of non-fiction material, but it fulfills another purpose. It enables her to pull Michael back from the brink of death when necessary. Megan’s curiosity occasionally lands her in trouble too, so it works both ways.

2. CA: How do you create multi-dimensional fictional characters, including your lead characters Megan Scott and Michael Elliott? Where do you look for inspiration when creating characters?

SN: For each of my lead characters, I create a chart that includes their family and work history, physical appearance, personality traits, and behaviors. To produce well-rounded characters, I also describe their fears and aspirations, likes and dislikes, and preferences for food, clothes, and music. I go through a similar routine—though not as elaborate—for secondary characters. I might add information to the charts as the main characters develop from book to book in the series.

Inspiration for my characters comes many sources—the news, movies, crime case studies. I do a lot of research to find tidbits of information that I can develop and weave into my stories to make the characters and their actions credible.

3. CA: Poison figures in more than one of your novels, in crafty ways. How much research do you do and how do you keep it organized?

SN: I can thank Shakespeare for inspiring the poison scenes! (laughs) Okay, on a more serious note, once I research the poison or drug I want to use in the story, I keep the relative website links, notes, and photos in a computer folder so I can easily refer to them. For my novel Broken Trust, a mystery that highlights the current fentanyl overdose crisis, I researched how the medical community and law enforcement dealt with people affected by the drug. I read personal stories about youths who unwittingly took fentanyl-laced street drugs and died, and about other users who lived but suffered devastating physical and mental consequences. The research process dug up a lot of disturbing information, but I wanted to accurately depict the growing dilemma that first responders face today as one of the elements in the story.

4. CA: Your characters are rooted in Montreal, but your novels travel beyond to other parts of Canada. Why is Canada a good setting for a mystery? How do you use setting to create and build suspense?

SN: Canada is a vast country with settings ranging from small towns to large cosmopolitan cities—much like the United States. The weather can vary immensely from coast to coast and temperatures can fluctuate widely, even within a twenty-four hour period. Having lived in Montreal for decades, I used that city as the setting for my first book, False Impressions. When I decided to continue the series, I varied the settings for subsequent stories. I also ensured each new story occurred in a consecutive season and used the weather to heighten suspense when possible. For example, False Impressions takes place in Montreal during a sizzling summer; Fatal Whispers in Portland, Maine in the cool fall; Icy Silence in a suburban college school during a winter ice storm, and so on. I don’t have a title for book #6 yet, but a rainy autumn is the season of choice.

5. CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

SN: I’d invite Louise Penny, Canadian author of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series set in the fictitious village of Three Pines, Quebec. Still Life, her first book in the series, won multiple awards including best first crime novel in Canada and the United States.

We’d enjoy French onion soup topped with cheese toasts, steak frites with a glass of red wine, and a slice of sugar pie for dessert—menu selections mentioned in her detective series. We’d chat about her insightful Inspector Gamache and the artsy, quirky, and sociable inhabitants of Three Pines. On a personal level, we’d compare notes on our experience living in La Belle Province of Quebec and discuss how it influenced our choice of characters, plots, and settings. It would be magnifique!

6. CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

SN: “Writing is its own reward.” – Henry Miller

Thank you for inviting me, Carmen!

Sandra weaves ordinary characters into extraordinary, life-threatening situations, using the premise that evil often lurks in familiar places. Her popular, fast-paced mystery series featuring ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott has earned rave reviews internationally from fans who love the challenge of solving heart-pounding whodunits. Visit to find out more.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

On Edisto Island with mystery author C. Hope Clark

On Edisto Island with mystery author C. Hope Clark

C. Hope Clark authors the Edisto Island mystery series as well as, an award-winning resource for career writers. She lives on a lake where she spins mysteries with her ex-federal agent husband. Edisto Stranger is her latest tale, the fourth in the Edisto Island Mysteries, about an ex-Boston detective fighting loss and gin in paradise while solving the death of a retired FBI agent on a cold case hunt. See more at

1 Carmen Amato: Hope, thanks so much for stopping by. Many of my fellow authors probably know you from your essential Funds for Writers newsletter, but you’re also a mystery author! I especially want to talk about your series set on South Carolina’s Edisto Island, southwest of Charleston. Tell us how you came to write the absorbing Edisto series.

Hope Clark: Thanks for having me! Yes, Funds for Writers usually opens the door of writing conferences and such, but I am extremely proud and in love with my mysteries. Weird enough, the Edisto series was actually force-fed to me. After publishing three books in my original Carolina Slade mystery series, my publisher asked me to diversify.

I’d planned on being the Sue Grafton of South Carolina mysteries, spending my career in one series. But my publisher pushed on and gave me three parameters: a woman in law enforcement, good old Southern family angst, and a South Carolina setting that could last through a series. The family angst was easy enough. I would walk and talk that one! LOL A woman in law enforcement was manageable since I was married to a federal agent.

But the setting took me a while. One single place that could prove romantic, striking, and luring. Then it hit me . . . Edisto Beach. It’s my favorite SC beach and where I escape to clear my head. From there the story came together, and I’m so thankful my publisher pushed so hard. I grew up in this state, have worked it from border to border in my previous federal job, and I understood its soul. Edisto was a different flavor from the Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head areas most outsiders know. And I wanted to capitalize on its mystique. God, I love that place.

2 CA: Your lead character Callie Jean Morgan is a widowed single mom in law enforcement, with a love-hate relationship with gin. She often has a personal connection to the mystery. Tell us about creating Callie and how she has evolved over the course of the series.

CHC:  Faced with a new series and the creation of a fresh character, I had to come up someone totally unlike my other protagonist in the other series, Carolina Slade. Callie Jean Morgan is more serious, more professional, but also more damaged and flawed. I wanted to write a character who made me angry, and made me cry. I’ve done it all though her while writing in the wee hours of the morning. I gave her pneumonia when I had bronchitis, so I could feel the suffocation. I’ve even written her after I’ve had a few drinks, to sense her frustration with gin.

When my publisher asked for family angst and issues, I gave it to them in spades via Callie. Her demons are many from the loss of a husband to the loss of her career, with her constantly fighting to maintain self-respect and the respect of those around her. She rides that line when it comes to alcoholism.

C Hope Clark

I didn’t want this series to be a cozy, and I wanted the reader to feel her pain. She slowly evolved in the series from being completely broken to gradually finding her footing, not that I don’t knock her feet out from under her every few chapters. She is growing; you can feel it. Inch by inch she is rebuilding who she is, and it isn’t what she was when she was at the height of her detective career with the perfect US Marshal husband back in Boston.

She’s constantly humbled, but while she doesn’t admit it, she’s garnered a support system on Edisto Beach and a developed a different internal compass. We see her coming back into law enforcement, back into the real world, back into a little romance, as she decides she can’t stay down forever. But she’ll never be like she was, and that unsteadiness knocks her off her game a lot.

3 CA: Why Edisto Island? How do you use setting to create and build suspense?

CHC: No other beach in South Carolina is like Edisto Beach, on Edisto Island. The township fights like hell to keep it family-oriented and non-commercial. No franchises, no neon, no motels. Lights out at dusk between May and October in order to protect the loggerhead turtles. You rent houses, and on this small, thin beach, every house is a very short walk to the surf.

The saying is that you leave your troubles and “other” life on the other side of the big McKinley Washington bridge that you cross to reach the island, and it’s so true. So many year-round natives there (around 600) have assumed lives completely different from the ones they had before relocating to Edisto.

I used that feel to the place to create and build Callie. She indeed is leaving a lot on the other side of the bridge, and yet once she decides to reenter law enforcement, she realizes it’s her responsibility to allow these people to help maintain that feeling for everyone. But with that responsibility comes the realization that she weathers those troubles for them, and it takes a toll.

But I cherish books that utilize setting as character, and these books infuse the island atmosphere throughout. I use real businesses, restaurants, streets, and landmarks. Edisto loves it. The mayor is a big fan, and the chief of police lets me poke fun at his department. The residents rush to the lone bookstore on the island each time a book is released, and the fact that it’s a tourist retreat means that each week new faces appear in the bookstore wanting anything Edisto.

But Edisto is special to me. I retreat there to renourish myself. I own a lot there, bought on a whim and a wish to build a second home and absorb more the area that Callie lives in. Haven’t pulled the trigger yet on that one, but just the fact I own a piece of dirt on Edisto fuels me.

But as far as building suspense, weather changes involving humidity, heat, brine, surf, the ecology and dangers of the sea all play into mystery so well. When I need an obstacle, there’s always the setting, from someone drowning in a marsh to a protagonist drawing the heroine out into some dank, dark, moss-laden jungle. The setting is just too rich not to use when deepening plot or antagonizing the protagonist.

4 CA: What is your best protip? Tell us about a writing habit, technique, or philosophy that keeps your writing sharp.

CHC:  I fight to write daily, even if only 500 words. And I don’t believe you can over-edit. I read my genre religiously, and I am not a fan of reading all genres across the board. I want to concentrate on my mystery talents, not dilute them, so I focus on reading quality mysteries. My favorite, of course, is Raymond Chandler.

5 CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

CHC: Harper Lee. She’s so Southern, and her writing so vibrant and wise. I hadn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird in decades, forgotten how good she was until Go Set a Watchman came out. I ignored all the brouhaha and bought the book for its Southern characters. I was blown away by the story and how she unwound such a controversial subject. Just loved it!

As a Southern girl myself, I would want to pick her brain, listen to her tell how she fleshed out characters, how she feels about storytelling in general, and of course, what suggestions she’d have for my South Carolina stories.

What would we eat? Since I’d be picking her brain about my characters, in my setting, I’d probably choose shrimp and grits with maybe she-crab soup . . . with a simple vanilla pound cake since the entrée is so rich. Sweet tea, of course, but right after we’d darn sure have to pull out the bourbon, and like her, I occasionally like half a cigar on the porch with my drink, while overlooking the lake where I live. Yeah, that visit would be lovely.

6 CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

CHC: “In writing a novel, when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns.” ― Raymond Chandler

While we can’t all write about guys with guns, the point sticks in my head. Remember action and always keep the story moving forward. Which also goes along with this one:

“The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.” ― Raymond Chandler

Forget craft . . . write the darn story.

Thank you, Hope! Find her Edisto Island series on Amazon.

Note: uses Amazon affiliate links.


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Hard-core hard-boiled with mystery author Jim Nesbitt

Hard-core hard-boiled with mystery author Jim Nesbitt

A warm welcome to Jim Nesbitt, author of the hard-core hard-boiled Ed Earl Burch private investigator series. Ed Earl Burch is a not-quite washed up Texas cop turned PI with a notch collection on his bedpost and bad knees. Ed’s world is crude and rude and he punches through it with a pack of Lucky Strikes and a glass of Kentucky bourbon. A brisk pace, sliding points of view, shades of gray crooks, and dialogue spit out of the corners of everybody’s mouth make this series a real gem for hardboiled genre fiction fans.

mystery author jim NesbittJim books are collecting awards. THE SECOND LAST CHANCE was a finalist for the IPPY, Forewords INDIE and Killer Nashville Silver Falchion awards last year. It was also a Top Pick and finalist for Novel of The Year for Underground Book Reviews (UBR) and won a best hard-boiled mystery award from the Independent Crime Master Authors group. THE RIGHT WRONG NUMBER is a UBR Top Pick this year and is in the running for Novel of the Year for 2018.

1.Carmen Amato: Jim thanks so much for stopping by. Your Ed Earl Burch mysteries caught my eye because of the great tagline: “Nobody’s hero. Nobody’s fool.” Tell us about Ed Earl’s backstory and what makes him tick.

Jim Nesbitt: I think Ed Earl is a bit of an Everyman with whom folks can readily identify. He’s been smacked around by life and carries the guilt of a dead partner he couldn’t keep from getting killed, a couple of ex-wives and the loss of his gold shield, largely because of his own actions. Getting booted from the force in Dallas denies him the source of pride and recognition for the one thing he does best in life, tracking down bad guys and making them pay.

Burch is deeply flawed. Besides being angst-ridden, he drinks too much, he’s fatally attracted to women who leave him an emotional train wreck, and he’s a terminal smartass who never knows when to shut up. He’s also a guy with a code he sometimes forgets until the chips are down. He’s not super-smart like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe and he sure isn’t super-cool like Steve McQueen in Bullitt. He’s got bad knees, a beard and balding pate, a belly and an empty bank account. He also comes across like he might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. He’s Columbo without the caricature and people have a bad habit of underestimating him. He makes them pay for that — either with handcuffs or a bullet. Doesn’t matter to him — however they want to deal the play.

At his core, he’s smart, tough, profane and reckless and has been described as a classic American anti-hero. I’ll buy that.

2. CA: Where do you find inspiration for your often damaged and dangerous characters?

JN: My hillbilly cousins and all the journalists I helled around with for four decades. We’re a rude and intemperate lot. I also ran across a lot of colorful characters chasing politicians, crooks, cops, cowboys, loggers, miners and just plain folks while roving the country as a national correspondent out of Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

I’ve always had a good ear for dialogue and an eye for detail that lets me create a keen sense of place. The people I met along the way as a journalist gave me a helluva head start on creating the rogue’s gallery of characters you meet in my novels. So did those hillbilly cousins.

3. CA: How do you use setting to create and build suspense? Tell us about a favorite location that you used in a book.

JN:  I think it’s essential for a writer to create a keen sense of place and too many fail to do what you do so well in your Emilia Cruz series. I come from a long line of hillbilly storytellers who instilled in me the strong tie between family and the land we come from — both were steeped in the stories they told about my ancestors, my uncles and aunts, my cousins and my mom and dad when they were young and growing up in the North Carolina mountains. I tried to capture that as a journalist and it was natural that this would carry over to my novels.

I knew I was going to write very stark and violent tales of revenge and redemption. And none of the characters in my novels are nice people, not even Burch — they’re all fairly nasty and violent folk. I wasn’t born in Texas, but I lived there for a while and I spent a lot of time wandering the border between Texas and Mexico and flat fell in love with the harsh beauty of the desert mountains of the Big Bend Country that rise out of Mexico. The mountains there clash and collide in a way that makes it seems like the very bones of the earth are there for you to touch.

What better setting for the tales I was trying to tell? But I was gunning for more than just a backdrop — I think the interplay between people and the land where they live is endlessly fascinating. And I wanted to capture how a place shapes a people and how the land becomes a character unto itself in their story, inseparable from who they are. Texas — particularly the harsh and brooding beauty of West Texas — is more than a backdrop or framework for my novels. It’s a character that adds its own relentless element of foreboding and impending violence and is a big influence on the people in my novels and what they do.

4. CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

JN: The late, great and vastly underappreciated James Crumley whose novels Dancing Bear and The Last Good Kiss taught me it was okay to let it rip with frank descriptions of sex and violence instead of euphemisms that I think insult the reader. And it was okay to drop f-bombs and other profane and earthy phrases. Both of his main characters, Milo Milodragovitch and C.W. ‘Sonny’ Sughrue, are deeply flawed PIs who drink and drug too much and chase the bad girls. Neither one toes the line or gives much of a damn about the law, but both have a code they might stray from but always return to in the end. His books also have raucously funny passages where the joke is often on the main character.

All that impressed me because those guys are vastly different from Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, two guys who might bend the rules, but kept to their code and used brains rather than brawn and a gun. And the joke was never on Sam or Phil. Crumley gave me license to NOT lace Ed Earl up in the strait jacket of the hard-boiled detective template.

So, what’s for dinner? Deep whiskeys before and after the main course, which will probably be thick ribeyes served with mashed potatoes swimming in butter. Or maybe something more primal — backstrap venison or elk steaks. Since we’re both good ole’ boys, I imagine we’ll sit at the kitchen table with the bottle between us, smoking cigarettes and talking about family, the places that stole our hearts and the women who left us flattened like three-day-old roadkill.

I’d ask him about that interplay between people and the land, the sense of family and place we carry even in a rootless and highly mobile society like the one we live in. Did he deliberately set out to make the sense of place so strong in his novels that it became a character unto itself or did that naturally spill out because he was raised on the same type of stories I heard from my family? My bet is, he’ll say something like: “Hell, bud, I just rared back and let it rip.”

5. CA: What is your best protip? Tell us about a writing habit, technique, or philosophy that keeps your writing sharp.

JN: Well, you and I both know there’s no silver bullet to writing — you just keep your butt in the chair, open a vein and bleed into your computer. Yeah, I poached a Hemingway line there and tarted it up — so, sue me, Papa. What I can tell you is something I learned a long time ago as a cub reporter — facts are your friends and the more facts you have, the firmer the foundation you can build for your writing and the surer and more authoritative and authentic your story will be.

It seems counter-intuitive since we’re writing fiction, but the firm foundation of facts frees up your writing and really allows it to fly. The horrible cliché told to young writers is to write what you know. What you know is only the starting point — and a poor one at that.

Do some research — if your books are set in the late 1980s and early 1990s like mine are, you better gather up all the facts you can about that time. Were laptops and cellphone in use back then? Who was president or governor? What were the political scandals of the day? Was that building you put in Chapter 12 even there back then? You’re not writing sepia-toned history, but you want to get these facts right to give your story authenticity. If your characters carry guns, you better get that right. You’re not going to use all these facts in your story, but they’ll be there underneath your writing.

If you get those details wrong, you run the risk of undermining your story because believe me, somebody will catch it or Google it and call you out. Or just drop your book, walk away and never think of you again. Best of all, if you have the time and the money, go walk the ground of where your story takes place. Most of the scenes in my two novels are set in places I went to as a journalist and that proved invaluable to creating a strong sense of place.

Thank you!

More about Jim Nesbitt:

Jim Nesbitt writes hard-boiled crime thrillers set in Texas and northern Mexico that featured a defrocked Dallas vice and homicide detective named Ed Earl Burch. Nesbitt is a former roving correspondent whose assignments included stories on both sides of the border and his novels — The Last Second Chance and The Right Wrong Number — are laced with the sights, sounds and people he encountered while wandering that rugged country. To learn more about Jim’s work, visit his website at


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Steal away with mystery author Lynda Lock

Steal away with mystery author Lynda Lock

Canadian mystery author and blogger Lynda L. Lock transports us to the fabled island of Isla Mujeres on Mexico’s Atlantic coast not far from Cancun. First known for her popular blog from Isla Mujeres, Lynda’s new mystery series is a charming slice-of-island-life with a mystery twist featuring authentic island life and an ensemble cast that hangs out at a restaurant called the Loco Lobo.

Lynda and I met through the dynamic Mexico Writers group on Facebook and I can’t wait for her next book!

Carmen Amato: Lynda, thanks so much for stopping by. We’re both members of the incomparable Mexico Writers group on Facebook and you were one of the contributors to The Insider’s Guide to the Best of Mexico. I love your blog about life on Mexico’s Isla Mujeres, but you also write mysteries! Tell us how your writing career has evolved.

Lynda Lock: Hi Carmen, and thank you for the invite and for including me in The Insider’s Guide to the Best of Mexico. My writing career started with a Christmas story I wrote in grade five. It ended in a complete disaster as I nervously shredded the paper while trying to read what I thought was a hilariously funny story to my stone-faced classmates.

Over the years I wrote hundreds of stories for my own entertainment.  Eventually I was offered a position as a contributing writer for an American magazine, while at the same time I managed our bed and breakfast and worked in our micro-brewery. When my husband and I retired to Mexico I rediscovered the desire to write books. I started with a bilingual book for children and then progressed to novels. The Adventures of Thomas the Cat / Las Aventuras de Tomás el Gato won a silver award at the International Latino Book Awards in LA for Best Picture Book Bilingual in 2016.

CA: Your mysteries, TREASURE ISLA and TROUBLE ISLA, capture life on Isla Mujeres down to the smallest detail, including the impact of its relative remoteness. How does setting influence your mystery plots?

LL: I enjoy the Mexican culture, but living on an island is entertaining, no matter where the island is located. The people who inhabit islands are typically self-sufficient, resilient individuals, with quirky personalities that make great characters for novels. We lived on a similarly sized island in British Columbia Canada for 17 years. One day I intend to write a series of novels based on that experience.

CA: One thing I love about the Isla books is the wonderful cast of continuing characters and the touch of romance. The population of Isla Mujeres is quite a mix–Mexicans, expatriates, vacationers, etc. How did this inspire you?

LL:  I am fascinated by pirates; their history, their stories, and their personalities. A few years ago our well-respected local historian, Fidel Villanueva Madrid, wrote an interesting account about the pirates that had visited and at times inhabited the Isla Mujeres.

Another islander, Ronda Winn Roberts, enjoys translating articles from Spanish to English and posting the translations on her blog to give English speaking newcomers have a sense of the island’s history. That’s how I first discovered the story of the blonde-haired Dutch pirate, Captain Laurens Cornelis Boudewijn de Graaf.

The possibility of the handsome, charming and apparently well-educated de Graaf, nicknamed the Scourge of the West, visiting Isla over 300 years ago was the spark for TREASURE ISLA. He reportedly sailed to Isla Mujerea in 1683 after the siege of Veracruz and buried his plunder here on the island. According to all accounts de Graaf never returned to the island but was killed in another battle. Alright then, let’s go find that treasure.

Another pirate, who is better known to islanders, Captain Fermin Mundaca lived on Isla in the mid-1800s. His empty tomb really is located in the cemetery in Centro, and his hacienda covers a large part of the center of the island.

The second book, TROUBLE ISLA begins with a kidnapping of one of the main characters from Treasure Isla. It seems that the pirate’s horde is just bad luck for everyone. The story is more about the present day characters; their interactions, friendships and love affairs and less about the historical characters of Mundaca and de Graaf.

The third book continue to explore relationships between the characters while they deal with murder, mayhem and a hurricane.

I enjoy researching and writing stories that have a historical basis. Digging out the bits and pieces and trying to reconstruct an era is fascinating. Fortunately for me there are a number of webpages and blogs with interesting tidbits of information about pirates and the items have been found over the years.

The interactions and reactions are a never ending source of material for the novels, too. Everyone has an opinion on how the island should be managed and many discussions start with, “my little Isla …” There is an amusing rivalry between the born-on-the-island locals and foreign residents, between the home owners who live here six months of the year and the visitors who have been vacationing every year for 30 years, but everyone picks on the dreaded day-trippers arriving in hoards from the Cancun hotels.

CA: I wouldn’t call your books cozy mysteries, but neither are they hard-boiled crime fiction. How do you categorize them?

LL: I think they are humorous-adventure-mysteries. Is there a category for that?

CA: What is next for you as a blogger and a mystery writer?

LL: Book #3 TORMENTA ISLA is scheduled to be released in February 2018. The cast of characters still have a few more stories to tell. Meanwhile, the blog is a weekly labor of love and both my husband and I contribute articles. It’s a good vehicle to congratulate volunteers, to introduce old-time islanders to the newbies, to express our quirky humor, and to just generally get to know other people who love Isla Mujeres.

CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

LL:  Oh my, so many choices. I read a novel a day and have many favorite authors, but I will have to say Ken Follett would be my first choice. I am a huge fan of his Kingsbridge Series; Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, and the newest one just released A Column of Fire. His attention to historical detail, his characters, and his descriptions are breathtaking.

I have read the first two books three times each and still discover things I missed in the previous readings. As for dinner, we are very basic cooks. We live on the edge of the ocean with sand drifting through our patio doors and the turquoise sea to enjoy. Our meals are basic and easy, giving us more time to soak up the beauty of our view.

Assuming Mr. Follett isn’t a vegetarian, we would probably grill steaks and an assortment of vegetables like peppers, onions, baby carrots and broccoli, then make a crispy salad, and set everything on the table with a couple of bottles of good wine. If we were lucky the grocery store might have a freshly made baguette – not quite but almost as good as the baguettes in France. The fresh bread would go nicely with our stash of imported New Zealand butter. (Good butter is a rare find on the island! When a supply comes in we buy lots and stash it in the freezer.)

CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

LL: “No regrets. No bad memories.” It’s a favorite saying we picked up from two friends who are slightly older than us and also on second marriages. What it means to me is enjoy life, learn a new skill, be open to new adventures and don’t worry about the past. Life is short, savor your time.

Thank you!

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BLOG: Notes from Paradise, Isla Mujeres


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

On the Rocks with Thriller Author Tim Tigner

On the Rocks with Thriller Author Tim Tigner

This week I went behind the writing scenes with with thriller author Tim Tigner, who shared details about his Kyle Achilles series and some great protips for creating sensational thrillers. Driven by great reviews, his books are zooming up the thriller and adventure categories on Amazon.

Tim Tigner

Thriller author Tim Tigner

1 Carmen Amato: Tim thanks so much for stopping by. I ran across your books a few months ago and recognized a fellow author-adventurer! Tell us how your previous careers in intelligence and international business led you to become a thriller writer.

Tim Tigner: I rose quickly within the medical technology industry (International Managing Director at a blue chip at age 26) only to find that I didn’t enjoy the executive suite (loved the job, hated the politics.) So I asked myself what I’d do if I could do anything. I chose writing thrillers because reading them is my bliss.

I didn’t make the leap for another eight years though, not until a doctor in Brussels actually wrote “change your job” on his prescription pad for me. By then I was very familiar with the palace intrigue rampant in governments and corporations. I also knew the military from my time in the Army Special Forces. Convinced that I had the knowledge to plot page-turning thrillers, I took the plunge and lived off savings for the years required to learn how to write.

2  CA: How do you create multi-dimensional fictional characters, including your lead character Kyle Achilles? He is often in complex and dangerous circumstances. What criteria does he use to make decisions?

TT: Multidimensional characters bring their backgrounds, hopes, ambitions, skills and fears into situations. Of course I design the plots to expose those details while forcing the characters confront them and change, grow or adapt accordingly. To keep the pace up, I avoid including character detail that isn’t relevant to the plot, while inserting pertinent detail piecemeal rather than as a block of exposition.

As for Achilles, he has what I consider to be a typical Special Forces attitude. He’ll do what it takes to get the job done. Period. He’s Olympian tough and has trained himself to balance risk and manage fear by climbing cliffs without a rope. These qualities open up tactics not available to the average Joe, and he leverages them to his advantage. Like many in law enforcement, justice is Achilles’ main motivator. He hates seeing the strong cheat the weak, and he enjoys having the ability to stop it.

Related: Author to author with David Bruns

3  CA: Your espionage thrillers range around the world. How do you use setting to create and build suspense? Tell us about a favorite location that you used in a book.

TT:  People read fiction to escape, so I try to give them the trifecta of escaping to intriguing situations, with interesting people, in cool places. This tends to include both a city and a building in my novels. Usually the building is the wealthy protagonist’s home or office. For setting, I’ve used Monaco/Monte Carlo in a couple of my books because it’s such an exotic city, with so much wealth and beauty plus gambling, yachting, and racing. Who wouldn’t want to spend time there?

Years ago, a friend and I drove the Monaco Grand Prix route two days after the race was held in the city. We careened around streets literally wrapped in mattresses, under the famous pink castle and past the casino!

CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

TT: I like to think big, so I’d invite the author of the Bible (I know, I know. But I can’t think of a more fascinating conversation.) Second choice would be Plato because there would just be so much to talk about (I was a philosophy major.) If we stick to the living I’d go with Ken Follett because he’s the fiction writer I admire most and I’d just love to discuss his work with him.

With any of the above, what we’d eat wouldn’t be as important as where. Kinda gets back to your question about setting. I’d find someplace memorable. I turn 50 later this month, and I don’t know what I’ll be having for breakfast, but I know I’ll be having at the Vatican. (Shhh, my family doesn’t know we’re going yet.)

CA: What is your best protip? Tell us about a writing habit, technique, or philosophy that keeps your writing sharp.

TT: My best protip is to use lots of beta/proof readers. An army of eyes catches more than a couple of pros. Not just typos and inconsistencies, but “professional” errors. Docs catch medical stuff, lawyers legal, etc. Ask for volunteers from your fans (mailing list), so that you know they like your style and their tastes match your target audience.

More about Tim:

Tim Tigner writes fast-paced spy novels, international conspiracy thrillers. He draws heavily from his experiences in Soviet Counterintelligence with the US Army Special Forces, as an international business executive in the medical industry, and as a Silicon Valley startup CEO. Download one of his bestsellers for free at



Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

Sailing the Mystery Sea with Author Penn Wallace

Sailing the Mystery Sea with Author Penn Wallace

Pendleton C. Wallace writes two gripping mystery series, lives on a boat, and has had careers as diverse as restauranteur and cyber security expert. He took time out from his busy schedule to chat about the origins of his stories and what’s next for both series. Check out his website at where he talks about life as an author and adventurer.

1  Carmen Amato: You write two great mystery series, each around a strong central character: hacker Ted Higuera and cop Catrina Flaherty. Ted and Cat weave in and out of each others’ series, which I find fairly unique, and both have compelling backstories. Tell us about how you developed these two multi-dimensional fictional characters.

Penn Wallace: My mother is a first-generation American. Her parents were refugees from the Mexican Revolution. My father is of Scottish heritage. I grew up with a foot in both worlds. In the Ted Higuera series, I modeled Ted after my Mexican half. I was a software engineer and cyber security analyst, like Ted. Ted’s best friend, Chris Hardwick, is modeled after my American side.

Catrina is a whole other story. I did some consulting work for her firm in the 1990’s. Of course, I changed her name for the series, but she was essentially the character I portray in the Catrina Flaherty Mysteries. She was the scariest woman I ever met, but she really did the things I write about and built her practice around saving abused women.

2  CA: Will you continue both series indefinitely? Do you find writing one more rewarding than the other?

PW: I’m in love with whichever character I’m writing about at the time. I plan to keep on writing both series, however, Cat and Ted and going their separate ways. SPOILER ALERT: At the end of The Chinatown Murders, Cat throws in the towel, quits the PI business and goes to visit a friend in Panama.

In the new Ted Higuera book, Ted takes control of Flaherty & Associates and continues on without Cat. The next Cat book will pick up her story in Panama and Ted won’t be in it.

I have another character I’d like to write a series about, but I just can’t get caught up with the Ted and Cat stories that are bubbling over in my mind.

3  CA: Penn, we are both members of the Mexico Writers Facebook group as well as fellow mystery authors. Tell us about your connection to Mexico and how you’ve used that in your writing.

PW: As I mentioned, my mother’s family came from Mexico. We made several trips to Mexico when I was a kid. I grew up in the back end of a Mexican restaurant.

After I grew up, I owned two Mexican restaurants and made frequent trips to Mexico. Mexico is in my blood. It was a natural that my hero would be of Mexican heritage and The Old Country would be a subject of my writing.

4  CA: I’ve read many of your blog posts about life on the water. You are a true adventurer! How has sailing helped hone your mystery writing skills?

PW: Wow! I don’t even know how to begin answering this question. Let’s try this:

Sailing has taken me to a lot of exotic locations that are the venues for my books. The Inside Passage takes place mostly on a sailboat on Canada’s Inside Passage. I spent many a summer cruising those idyllic islands.

After I quit my day job and sailed to and lived in Mexico, it became natural that some of the places I visited became locations for my books.

Then there’s always the excitement of sailing. Things never seem to go as planned and life on a cruising sailboat is anything but routine. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet lots of people who made their way into my book. Maria and her family are modeled on friends that live in La Paz. (No, they are not really drug lords.)

As an author, I’ve learned that if you keep your eyes open, you’ll see fodder for your stories all around you.

5 CA: How do you go about researching your books? How do you know when you have done enough to begin a project?

PW: I was always told, “write what you know.” This doesn’t work for me. I’ve never been a drug lord or a female PI. I’ve never run a chain of bikini barista stands or stolen airplanes and gone on a nationwide crime spree.

I spend a lot of time researching. Fortunately for me, I can do most of my research on the Internet, no matter where in the world I am.

I usually spend from a couple of weeks to a couple of months researching before I begin outlining my story. Then, as I write, I’m constantly finding items that need further research to make the story believable.

I needed a gun that Hope could realistically carry. I found all sorts of information on the ‘net. Then there was the question of how she would conceal it. Research led me to a neat little bra holster. This kind of stuff comes up all the time as I write.

6 CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

PW:  May I invite two? First, I would invite Edgar Rice Burroughs. I grew up on his work. I love Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. I can imagine an evening, lying at anchor in some tropical cove lined with white sand beaches and palm trees, pumping him for information about life on Barsoom.

At the same time, I’d love to have Larry McMurtry sitting in the cockpit sipping a cool one with us. I adore the Lonesome Dove series. I want to know how Larry researches his series. In Dead Man’s Walk, he uses my great-great-great uncle, Big Foot Wallace, as a character. He has Big Foot killed in the book. This is not the way family lore tells the story. I’d love to know how he researched this.

7 CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

PW: Don Quixote de la Mancha. I read the book when I was a teenager and have spent the rest of my life tilting at windmills, trying to save the fair Dulcinea, and defeat the evil wizards and sorcerers, and establish the right in our world.

Thank you!

I loved THE INSIDE PASSAGE, the first Ted Higuera thriller. My review will appear first in the Mystery Ahead newsletter, which you can get here.  THE INSIDE PASSAGE is a 5 star thriller with all the ingredients I love: “everyman” hero, a  politically-charged villain, an unexpected setting, and a swift pace that tumbles us headlong from one dramatic moment to another. Find it on Amazon.

Pacific ReaperP.S. The first chapter of MURDER STRIKES TWICE, a Catrina Flaherty mystery, is included as a bonus in the Kindle edition of PACIFIC REAPER, the 5th Detective Emilia Cruz mystey. One good female sleuth deserves another!


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict. 

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