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karst headshotThe daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned at a young age, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. Putting this early education to good use, she now now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California.

Originally from Southern California, Leslie moved north to attend UC Santa Cruz (home of the Fighting Banana Slugs) and after graduation, parlayed her degree in English literature into employment waiting tables and singing in a new wave rock and roll band. Exciting though this life was, she eventually decided she was ready for a “real” job, and ended up at Stanford Law School.

For the next twenty years Leslie worked as the research and appellate attorney for Santa Cruz’s largest civil law firm. During this time, she rediscovered a passion for food and cooking, and so once more returned to school to earn a degree in culinary arts.

Now retired from the law, she spends her time cooking, gardening, cycling, singing alto in her local community chorus, reading, and of course writing. Leslie and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, A Measure of Murder. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?

A: In A Measure of Murder, the second book in my Sally Solari series, Sally is busy juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping plan the autumn menu for the restaurant she’s just inherited, Gauguin. Complicating this already hectic schedule, she joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, which is performing a newly discovered version of her favorite composition: the Mozart Requiem. But then, at the first rehearsal, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard—and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident.

Measure CoverAlthough the prime focus of my Sally Solari mysteries is on food, cooking, and restaurants, there’s also  a secondary theme to each of the books in the series: one of the human senses. The first, Dying for a Taste, concerns (obviously) the sense of taste, and A Measure of Murder delves into the sense of hearing—more specifically, music.

Music has long been one of my passions. I studied clarinet as a youngster, later fronted and wrote the songs for two different bands, and for the past seventeen years have sung alto in my local community chorus. So when it came time to plot the story about the sense of hearing, there was no question but that it should focus on music.

As with Sally, one of my favorite compositions is the sublime Mozart Requiem. But in addition, the piece is perfect for a mystery novel, as the Requiem itself is surrounded by secrets and mystery: who commissioned it, who completed it after Mozart died, which parts were composed by whom. So, truly, how could I resist?

Q: What do you think makes a good culinary mystery? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: Having been trained as a lawyer, I have no problem narrowing issues down to whatever elements are required by the situation. Here are my three:

  1. Any good mystery requires that perfect balance between being possible to solve (i.e., the proper placement of clues) yet being sneaky enough to make the solution tricky, all without being unfair. To my mind, this is by far the most difficult aspect of writing the book.
  2. But to make the story truly engaging, I believe it needs more than simply a clever whodunit. My favorite crime novels also incorporate themes and subplots that are woven into the mystery and which give the reader a glimpse into some new culture or way of life. Dorothy L. Sayers was a master at this, with her peeks into the worlds of London advertising (Murder Must Advertise), bell ringing (The Nine Tailors), and academia (Gaudy Night).
  3. Lastly, a good culinary mystery must, of course, abound with food and cooking, the more delectably described the better. In the best of the genre, the food is at the heart of the mystery, but as long as the reader is left salivating and hungry, I’d say the author has done her job well.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: I think of myself as an absolute plotter (as opposed to a pantser—someone who flies by the seat of their pants). I usually first come up with a basic idea, next a group of three to five suspects (one of whom will be my eventual murderer), and then a series of plot points and events that will occur during the book. Organizing these plot points into an effective story arc is crucial but rarely easy. With A Measure of Murder, I had compiled a multiple-page list of events and occurrences that I knew I wanted in the book, but which were in a completely random order. I printed out the list and cut the events apart with scissors, then spread them out on the dining room table. Over a period of several days I arranged and rearranged the order of events until I had a rough outline I was happy with. I then glued them back together onto new sheets of paper. A literal cut-and-paste job.

Things don’t always work out exactly the way you expect them to, however, when plotting a mystery novel. For example, I knew for a certainty before I started writing A Measure of Murder who would be the killer. But then about a quarter of the way through the first draft, that character forcefully informed me, “I am not your murderer.” Realizing they were absolutely right, I changed the plot accordingly. (But I also completed a brand new, detailed outline through the end of the story before continuing on with my writing, so I’m still most definitely in the “plotter” camp of writing.)

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: Sally Solari is an ex-lawyer who, after losing her mother to cancer, reluctantly returns to the family fold to help her dad run his old-school Italian restaurant, Solari’s. She’s not yet forty and already experiencing erratic hormones and hot flashes. As a result, she can tend towards over-the-top emotions and sarcasm (though cycling and bourbon help). But she’s also smart, stubborn, and resolute, and rarely takes no for an answer. So when Sally sets her mind on tracking down a murderer, you do not want to be the one who gets in her way.

Perhaps I should have done some character sketches before I started the first Sally Solari mystery (Dying for a Taste), as this would no doubt have allowed me to avoid a fair amount of reworking of the manuscript. But instead I jumped right in. The idea for Sally came to me nearly fully-formed—she’s a conglomeration of many different people I’ve known over the years (including parts of myself). But having just turned in the m.s. for book number three, I can say that her character is still growing and evolving in my head, and in the stories, as well.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: I can’t really answer this question without giving away important spoilers. But I will say that several of the suspects—as well as the deceased—in A Measure of Murder are members of the community chorus Sally has joined. And having sung in my own local chorus for many years, I have a pretty good understanding of the dynamics that can arise within a tightly-knit group of artistic, passionate, and ambitious people. The egos, competitiveness, and romantic tensions that occur in the book, though sometimes perhaps slightly exaggerated, are all based on reality.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: Raymond Chandler once dismissively said of his time writing detective stories for pulp magazines, “When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” Taken as a metaphor, this actually isn’t bad advice for the crime writer, since it’s good practice to periodically throw in a surprise to keep your reader on edge. But the way I see it, an engaging story is one that is constantly moving forward. Every scene should advance the plot in some way, and the end of every chapter should leave the reader eager to learn what happens next.

In addition, as I noted above, subplots and underlying themes serve to flesh out your mystery novel and make it more exciting. A Measure of Murder is, at its most basic level, simply the story of Sally trying to figure out whether the tenor was murdered and, if so, who did it. But other parallel plot lines keep the story moving forward as well: How will Sally juggle managing Gauguin, the restaurant she just inherited, as well as working at Solari’s, with all her chorus rehearsals? Will she be able to extricate herself from having to help her dad run Solari’s, and how will this effect her relationship with her father?

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: The setting for my Sally Solari mystery series is based primarily my own experiences. I moved to Santa Cruz after high school to attend UCSC, and never left. At the time I arrived here in 1974, it was still a sleepy beach town, home to Italian fishermen, ranchers, retirees, and summer vacationers drawn by its famous redwood trees and Boardwalk. But over the years, largely because of the advent of the university, Santa Cruz has experienced profound changes, and these days the town is teeming with hipsters and hippies and urban professionals. And along with these newcomers, the food movement has descended full-force upon the surprised old-timers.


As I witnessed (and participated in) the advent of this “foodie” revolution and its effects on our once-sleepy town, it hit me that the juxtaposition of these two cultures would make for a terrific backdrop to a mystery story: What would happen, I wondered, if a local Santa Cruz gal suddenly found herself caught between the world of her family’s traditional, old-fashioned Italian restaurant, and that of the newly-arrived, politically-correct food activists?

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: I was aware of the themes before I started writing the book. As noted above, the sense of hearing plays an important part in A Measure of Murder, with Sally not only joining the chorus to sing the Mozart Requiem, but also along the way learning the importance of truly listening in general—listening to your inner feelings, and paying attention to what’s going on around you.

In addition, themes that recur in all the Sally Solari mysteries concern family and the food movement, in particular, how the two create a conflict between Sally and her father. The Solaris are descended from one of the original Italian fishermen who arrived in Santa Cruz in the 1890s, and Sally’s dad is fiercely proud of the family’s traditional, old-school Italian seafood restaurant out on the Santa Cruz Wharf. But Sally is also very much aligned with the food-conscious folks who have arrived in town over the past two decades—even more so now, after inheriting her aunt’s trendy restaurant, Gauguin.

This dynamic between Sally and her father—who is hurt that his daughter no longer wants to work at Solari’s, and who thinks she now looks down on her family heritage—is very much at the forefront of both Dying for a Taste and A Measure of Murder.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: The two are inseparable, as far as I’m concerned. Most great art involves a certain amount of craft, in addition to “inspiration” or “muse” or whatever you want to call it. Even art that may appear spontaneous and free—such as a crazy drawing dashed off by Picasso on a scrap of paper—is generally the result of years of training and craftsmanship.

A first draft is to an author like the initial sketches or undercoats to a watercolorist. Once you have the basics down, the next step is to go back in and fine tune your work, adding highlights, details, embellishments. But there’s no reason editing can’t be as enjoyable as composing the first draft. In many ways, I actually prefer the revision process to the the initial getting-it-down-on-paper stage of writing. To me, that’s where much of the magic happens. Like the buffing of a shoe after its blacking has been applied, the editing process is when the book finally emerges from its rough finish to become a gleaming work of art.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: Imagination, hard work, and perseverance.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: Ha! That reminds me of what I’ve always said about my past career as a research and appellate attorney—that it was like writing a term paper every single day of your life.

The life of an author is indeed similar to having homework all of the time, in that the work never ends. At any given time, you’re simultaneously promoting your last book, editing and revising the current one, and plotting and outlining the next one. But I never much minded homework during school and college, and I must say that the homework that comes with writing mystery novels is ever so much more fun than what I had to do as an attorney.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: I have to give a shout-out here to the wonderful organization, Sisters in Crime http://www.sistersincrime.org/, and its chapter, the Guppies (for the Great UnPublished http://www.sinc-guppies.org/). I truly believe I would not be a published author today but for the advice, feedback, generosity, and all around support I received from the SinC and Guppy members as I was learning the craft of mystery writing and wandering dazed through the labyrinth that is the literary publishing world. If you write crime fiction, I encourage you to check them out (and they eagerly accept misters as well as sisters!)

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: My advice to all aspiring authors is this: Never give up and never stop believing in yourself as a writer. As the fabulous developmental editor, Kristen Weber, said to me when I became discouraged after receiving more than eighty passes on the manuscript that ultimately landed me my publishing contract, “You can get hundreds of rejections, and many writers do. But remember: It only takes one yes.”

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Publication Date: March 27, 2017

Publisher: XLibrisNZ

Formats: Ebook

Pages: 229

Genre: Science

Tour Dates: August 14-25

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This is a very Popperian approach to evolutionary study. Karl Popper was a philosopher of science, who took science very seriously, and had a profound influence on the chemists and zoologists where I did my undergraduate degree. The book starts from about 1600, when people accepted that life continued to arise “naturally,” and then moves to the pre-evolutionary concept of the fixity of species. Darwin started as a geologist in the Hutton-Lyell tradition and quickly became convinced that current causes were sufficient to explain geology, and he then moved to biology. I gave an account of his theory in some detail. However, there is also an update on what we have learned since Darwin. This is followed by a chapter on human evolution, especially human speech and the Out of Africa theory. This is followed by two chapters on beliefs that maybe incorrect (one of which is the extinction of dinosaurs from the extraterrestrial impact at the K-Pg boundary—maybe incorrect). The other is the direction of change between eukaryotes (which have a true nucleus) and akaryotes (without a true nucleus). The book finishes with a section on what is left for the future. In good Popperian style, there is a lot left for us to discover!


David Penny is a ‘Distinguished Professor’ at a New Zealand University, and has a PhD from Yale University. He is a New Zealander by birth.
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jh_image001_thumbA self-described “broken Christian,” John Herrick battled depression since childhood. In that context, however, he developed intuition for themes of spiritual journey and the human heart.

Herrick graduated from the University of Missouri—Columbia. Rejected for every writing position he sought, he turned to information technology and fund development, where he cultivated analytical and project management skills that helped shape his writing process. He seized unpaid opportunities writing radio commercial copy and ghostwriting for two nationally syndicated radio preachers.

The Akron Beacon Journal hailed Herrick’s From the Dead as “a solid debut novel.” Published in 2010, it became an Amazon bestseller. The Landing, a semifinalist in the inaugural Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, followed. Publishers Weekly predicted “Herrick will make waves” with his next novel, Between These Walls.

Herrick’s nonfiction book 8 Reasons Your Life Matters introduced him to new readers worldwide. The free e-book surpassed 150,000 downloads and hit #1 on Amazon’s Motivational Self-Help and Christian Inspiration bestseller lists. Reader response prompted a trade paperback.

His latest novel, Beautiful Mess, folds the legend of Marilyn Monroe into an ensemble romantic-comedy.

Herrick admits his journey felt disconnected. “It was a challenge but also a growth process,” he acknowledges. “But in retrospect, I can see God’s fingerprints all over it.”

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Beautiful Mess. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?

Beautiful-Mess-Low-Resolution-Color-Book-CoverA: Thanks very much! Here’s the gist: Del Corwyn hasn’t had a hit film since his Academy Award nomination 40 years ago. He’s desperate to return to the spotlight but teeters on bankruptcy. Del is a forgotten legend—until, while combing through personal memorabilia, he discovers an original screenplay written by his once-close friend, Marilyn Monroe, who named Del as its legal guardian. The news goes viral. Suddenly, Del skyrockets to the A-list and has a chance to revive his career—if he’s willing to sacrifice his friend’s memory and reputation along the way. 

As for what compelled the idea, years ago, I read a biography on Marilyn Monroe and learned the actress was forced into a mental institution against her will. That ordeal frightened her because she was trapped, all alone, and couldn’t do anything to stop it. 

I thought to myself, “Even though they released her, the experience must have left scars. Nobody could escape that predicament unchanged.” I sensed a story and couldn’t shake the idea. I sought a way to delve into that experience while respecting her memory and presenting her as a human being who had vulnerabilities like you and I.

Q: What do you think makes good contemporary fiction? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: The key elements, for me, seem to be point of view, balance and heart. POV is important not only because it’s part of the craft, but readers recognize when it goes astray. Writing from your heart breathes life into the story and gives your readers a way to identify with the characters. And balance makes sure all the bases get covered, but recognizes one size doesn’t fit all.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: Beautiful Mess features an ensemble cast. So I started by developing a story arc for each character, then overlaid them to see where their stories bled into each other. In a way, I treated each character’s story like a subplot for development purposes. My IT background had me assigning alphanumeric codes to each event, then drafting the story by piecing those blocks together much like a flow chart or storyboard. (A total geekfest on paper!) I didn’t intend to plan the book that way—my personal motto is “Whatever works!”, and that method got me moving forward.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: Del is 78 years old, but he feels like a perpetual 29-year-old. So in terms of his perspective and behavior, I started with that younger mentality, then aged him. I added his biographical sketch, which gave him decades of life experience. Finally, regardless of how Del sees himself, he can’t deny reality—in fact, reality of his age annoys him most—so I sprinkled in physical characteristics of someone his age. For example, I gave him recurring lower-back pain to bring him down to earth.

Yes, I create biographical sketches for all my main characters. Usually, I also conduct character interviews to get a feel for their voices. But Del and the other characters were so clearly defined in my mind, this book didn’t require as much prep work. Once I got past the initial mental barriers, the project unfolded fast. 

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: In Beautiful Mess, my antagonist isn’t a person; it’s the realization that Del is aging. But he can’t admit that to himself, so he creates his own antagonists, and those people/facts aren’t out to get him like he believes. In his own mind, it’s Del against the film industry, Del against the world, Del against his competitors. Not to be crude, but he’s always on the lookout for the latest excuse to tell someone, “Go f*** yourself!” He thrives on that—on being the lead actor in his life’s movie. But the truth is, by living that way, Del has become his own worst enemy. That becomes part of his self-discovery process. On the surface, Beautiful Mess looks like a man-vs.-man story, but when you get to know Del, you discover it’s a man-vs.-self story.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: Subplots are so valuable. They add depth to your novel; offer opportunities to highlight aspects of your plot or protagonist through parallels or symbols; and buoy up your novel during lulls in your plot, which helps maintain a sense of motion for your reader. That’s one reason richly drawn characters are so critical: they help you develop those subplots. Their stories and backgrounds provide so many places to dig for ideas. And in Beautiful Mess, Tristan’s subplot provided comic relief—it allowed me to dabble in caricature without sacrificing the gravity of Nora’s plight.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: Instead of simply decorating the scene, I try to allow my characters to experience the setting and incorporate all five of their senses. I also try to use setting to give clues about a character’s emotion or inner predicament. 

The world is much smaller than we tend to think. Beautiful Mess examines how, in a pool of humanity, individual lives can cross paths and produce startling consequences. It describes every person’s need to rise above that pool and be known and appreciated for their distinct natures. Los Angeles provided the perfect setting—America’s second-largest city, a mecca where millions flock to pursue the same dream, where it can be easy to feel lost. The cityscape on the cover conveys that sense. The city and its foremost industry are not just the setting for the story, but also symbols for what the story is about.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: Del, my protagonist, came to me early, along with his insecurities. So his internal predicament drove the story’s theme and structure. To date, my books have focused on the human heart, those hidden corners we all possess but try to hide. As a result, my books are character-driven. Each book has an external plot, but the true plot—the more important action—occurs internally. I create an external parallel to amplify and shed light on the protagonist’s inner struggle.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: I’m a fan of balance. Because of how my planning process works, I conduct a lot of “pre-editing” before I write a word, which has prevented me from having to rewrite any chapters from scratch. And I’ve gotten to the point where I tend to edit a bit as I write, but if it starts to interfere with my creative flow, I force myself to postpone edits to the revision phase. But when it comes to craft vs. art, if you want people to read your books, it’s important to remember that the book isn’t about you—it’s about your audience. What will serve your readers best? Has your manuscript answered the questions your readers will have? Will your readers relate to a character or care about a storyline, or at least be able to get on board it? As a writer, it’s your responsibility to locate win-win scenarios. You need to sacrifice some things you want in order to give the reader what they want. You can also look at art vs. craft as hobby vs. profession—you can keep a 100% focus on art if your goal is 100% hobby.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: 1.) Cherish your audience—respect them, appreciate them, serve them, be aware of their expectations by reading what they read. 2) Understand people. 3) Pursue excellence in your work—do whatever it takes to achieve it.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: Another famous writer, Mark Twain, said that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s a more accurate description for me. Yes, it’s hard work, but that work should bring you joy.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: Read, read, read. Anything and everything, especially your counterparts in the marketplace. You’ll stay aware of current standards, and you’ll learn what to do (or NOT to do) as your technique evolves. Oftentimes, when I read another author’s work, it gives me technique ideas. 

Learn, learn, learn. Pay attention to the news. Read or scan nonfiction books, magazine articles, books on business or computer programming or wines. Anything. When you meet people, ask them about their careers. Ask your Starbucks baristas which products customers like best (and why), or how a promotion is working. The more you learn, the more background you have on the world around you. It will trigger novel ideas, give you direction for how to plan a novel (“I remember reading about X, where it said…”), and will expand the network of people you can talk to for research purposes. Reading nonfiction helps you ask better questions when your path crosses with someone in that field. Also, watch people; listen to what they say and how they say it, which will help you sharpen your dialogue skills.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: Never give up! Books are a subjective field, so rejection doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t succeed or your work is poor; often, it just means your work isn’t the right fit for the needs of that particular moment—but needs change. Feel free to say hi at http://www.johnherrick.net, Facebook, Twitter or Goodreads!





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George photoGeorge A. Bernstein is the retired President of a Chicago appliance manufacturing company, now living in south Florida. Able to retire early and looking for something to do besides play golf, he leaned on a life-time flair for storytelling and turned to writing novels. He spent years attending writing seminars and conferences, learning to polish his work and developing a strong “voice.” Bernstein is acclaimed by his peers as a superb wordsmith.

His first novel, Trapped, was a winner in a small Indie publisher’s “Next Great American Novel” contest, and received high praise, gaining many mostly 5-star reviews at Amazon (reaching their “Top 100”) and Goodreads. His 2nd novel, A 3rd Time to Die (A paranormal Romantic Suspense) has also garnered mostly 5-Star & 4-Star reviews, with one reader likening him to the best, less “spooky” works of Dean Koontz & Stephen King.

The Prom Dress Killer is the third of his Detective Al Warner Suspense series, with the first, DEATH’S ANGEL, and the second, BORN TO DIE, already garnering rave reviews. Bernstein has the next Warner novel already in the works, to be published in 2017. Readers have likened Bernstein’s Detective Al Warner to Patterson’s Alex Cross.

Bernstein works with professional editors to ensure his novels meets his own rigorous standards, and all of his books are currently published by small indie press, GnD Publishing LLC, in which he has an interest.

Bernstein is also a “World-class” fly-fisherman, setting a baker’s dozen IGFA World Records, mostly on fly-rods, and has published Toothy Critters Love Flies, the complete book on fly-fishing for pike & musky.

Connect with Berstein on the web:





Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Prom Dress Killer. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?   

A: The Prom Dress Killer begins with a psychotic serial-killer abducting young auburn-haired woman, and eventually killing them, leaving their bodies in peaceful repose, donned in fancy prom dresses.

Miami’s crack homicide detective, Al Warner, is on the case, but has no inkling as to why these girls were taken and then executed? What was their connection besides their red hair, and why the prom dresses?

Warner’s hunt for this clever psycho is stymied by a lack of clues, as bodies begin to pile up. As he desperately searches for the latest victim, the murderer finally makes one tiny error, possibly exposing his location.

As Warner and the FBI doggedly zero in on their fleeing prey and his newest captive, the action escalates. Unlikely players are drawn into a tense, deadly game. As the stunning climax plays out, Warner is trapped in a classic Catch-22. In order to snare this lethal psycho, he must make a decision that may haunt him forever.

I wrote this novel as a natural progression for my Detective Al Warner series. This is the 3rd, and I’m well into the 4th, with at least 2 others outlined.

Q: What do you think makes a good suspense novel? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: Suspense, thriller and mystery often get lumped together. For me, it’s first about who the characters are; secondly, a deadly terror threatens them, putting them in fear for their lives; and third, an action-packed climax, with a surprise the readers doesn’t expect. A mystery is more about solving a crime, while a suspense is about extreme jeopardy.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: When I begin a novel, after conceiving the overall plot, I imaging my main characters, and use 4 x 6 cards to detail their physical and psychological make-up. I list their cars, their homes, their pets – anything I may need later. It’s important to keep all their data straight.

Next I outline the novel, chapter by chapter, with only a few sentences for each as a guideline. This is very flexible, as once I begin writing, the characters inevitably take over the action, often leading me to places I never expected. And they evolve into more complicated, more deadly (in the case of the antagonist), more loveable people.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: I wanted Detective Al Warner to be human, not a super hero, despite being labeled “The Hero of Miami” because of his killing a previous serial-killer, while almost dying himself from a gunshot wound. He’s a tough, street-wise homicide cop with great instincts, but has a softer side. He takes the death of ever victim very personally, and has an unshakeable morality. He’s the kind of guy who rescues a wounded golden retriever and brings the newspaper to the door of his elderly neighbor to save her the steps. He never expects to find love, but when he does, with surprising partners, he’s a tender and expert lover. On the other hand, he has no qualms over killing a vicious psycho. He would rather see him dead than in custody, but he fights that urge, trying to apprehend rather than kill. Readers tell me the love his character.

I’ve done some character interviews for Warner, but they’ve all been after the novels have been published.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: He just comes to me. His physical characters just “pop out” of my mind. As I mentioned earlier, he really creates who he is, psychologically, as the story develops. A lot of that comes to me at night, while awaiting sleep. Suddenly, I see him doing things I hadn’t imagined earlier … always worse things, at that. My critique group love how “creepy” (their words) he’s become.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: At a writers’ seminar, they asked, “What’s the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist?” When we came up with an answer, they asked, “What can be worse than that?” And then later, “Even worse than that?” In a suspense or thriller, you have to make bad things happen to your characters … even sometimes, the villain … and things have to go downhill from there. A scene of trauma or danger can’t be over in a half page. It should be even chapters long, and while your readers know everything will end up well, you’ll have them on the edge of their seat … and sometimes you’ll make them wrong. That’s what readers say about my novels: they never know what’s going to go wrong next.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: I find that many writers err on both sides of what’s right here. Some are so into the story they forget to tell the reader what the characters look line, where they are, and don’t describe the setting. Others bury the reader in mountains of description that takes them right out of the story.

I like to feed descriptive information in a bit at a time rather than do it all in a “dump.” A quick mention of a silk Armani suit. That he smoothes his sparse moustache; she ran her fingers through her wavy auburn locks. The shriek of circling sea gulls; Smells of oregano and garlic; The sense of feel – the moist, salt-laden breeze wafting with a gentle caress. Small, quick things that set a scene without overburdening the reader. Smell is one of the senses many author forget to use, and it can be an important memory trigger in the novel.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: I had an idea I liked: Scheherazade. I know that sounds strange, but I love the stories and concept of A Thousand and One Nights. I thought of writing a current day novel where a desperate woman uses her story-telling ability to delay and entertain a killer until she can be rescued. Rochelle Weitz becomes that woman in Prom Dress Killer.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: I’m not sure. I was always an “artful storyteller,” But after attending a plethora of writing classes at conferences, I blended that with skillful craft. Some of the simpler things were to keep it short: sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. How to build tension is craft. How WELL you build that tension is art. How beautifully you write scenes may be art, but how you blend it together for a seamless story is craft.

Where many new authors fail is that they may have the art, but lack the craft to make it compelling. Those are things I learned at the many conferences and seminars I attended.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: First, the love of writing. We do it because we’re impelled to tell a story. Secondly, the imagination to conceive of people, places, and things to make a great story. And last, but far from least, the willingness to accept expert constructive criticism from editors and agents, and be willing to make changes to improve your work.

After Trapped was selected as “The Next Great American Novel,” my editor there made many great suggestions on how to improve it, including turning the whole novel into First Person POV of the protagonist, Jackee. That required a lot of rewriting, but made for a much more powerful narrative.

On the other hand, she also asked me to change the ending, but I refused – and argued my case successfully with the editor. One of the most common comments I get on that novel is, “I loved the ending.” So you have to be open to change, but also be willing to stand up for what you feel is right.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: Nope. Homework was a drag. I rarely needed it to excel, even for the toughest math classes. But writing is a joy, so I find them nothing alike.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: The library, of course, but mainly Google. Surgeons asked if I were a doctor because I got the medical details of Locked-in Syndrome so perfectly for Trapped, but it was all there on Google. And I was able to download a 30 page symposium from the BAU division of the FBI, regarding serial killers, and I’ve used that in two of my Warner novels.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: For many new novelists, writing is an avocation, hoping to become a vocation, but for all but a very slim few, there’s not a lot of money in it. Do it because you love it and because there’s a story there fighting to get out. Don’t chase trends, because by the time you finish your work, that fad will have burned out. In other words, write what you feel you MUST, not what you SHOULD. Your outcome will be better for it.





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Author: Diane Moat

Publisher: Createspace

Pages: 155

Genre: Middle Grade / Fantasy

Pepper Neely is no stranger to dangerous situations. In The Supernatural Pet Sitter: The Magic Thief, the young gnome defeated an evil witch who was stealing magic from the Familiars that Pepper took care of. She wouldn’t have survived without the intervention of a pack of werewolves, who endured painful, fiery spells to save Pepper’s life.

Now Pepper is determined to repay the werewolves for their sacrifice, no matter what it takes. She decides to break the centuries-old curse that keeps them in wolf form. At first she keeps her plans a secret, but it’s not long before Pepper realizes she will need all the help she can get to end this curse. Magic is everywhere as enemy witches cast dangerous spells to stop Pepper.

Pepper and her family must trust the local witches and work together with them to fend off the deadly spells, find the curse, and break it—before the hostile witches get the best of them.




Scattered around the room were seven women, including Momma Fran and Maggie. An older version of Maggie nodded to them. “Welcome, Neelys. As you know, I am Naomi, of the Samson coven. We have gathered in response to your request to meet. So without further delay, I invite you to speak.”

Here I go. Pepper wished she hadn’t eaten that sandwich a few minutes ago, as there was a fifty-percent chance she was about to throw it up, right here. She felt as if she had argued her case a thousand times. Hopefully this would be the last. She tried to think of the wolves as she took a deep breath around the lump in her throat.

Pepper stepped forward and began, “Thank you, Naomi of the Samson coven. I am Pepper Neely of the Neely gnomes. As you know, several months ago, a witch named Kale was caught stealing magic from Familiars. She was caught, in part, thanks to me and my brother, Jax. When she escaped, she came after me, Jax, and my friend, Luna, who is also a witch.” Keep reminding them Luna was saved also.

“Luna was nearly killed by Kale. But instead, three wolves attacked Kale, saving all three of us. The wolves took great risks in doing this, and they were set on fire several times, giving us time to get away. I know without a doubt that the wolves saved Luna, myself, and my brother. I have taken on a blood-debt to pay them back. As part—” Pepper didn’t get to finish before the witches started talking.

“What does that have to do with us?”

“The werewolves are our enemies; nothing will change that.”

“Do you even know what that means? How can your parents—”

“EXCUSE ME!” A male voice from behind Pepper cut through the chaos. It took Pepper a moment to realize it wasn’t her dad or brother. Everyone quieted instantly, looking behind the Neelys. The male voice continued, as a man stepped out into view. “I believe Ms. Neely wasn’t finished.”

Mr. O’Brien! The warlock had vanished after Kale had stolen the magic from from his Familiar, King Arthur. Pepper had thought he needed time to heal from his broken heart. He looked better than the last time she had seen him. He was still thin, but his face didn’t seem as drawn or haunted.

Mr. O’Brien continued. “I apologize for being late, but I believe my invitation was lost in the mail.”

Other Books in Series:


Author: Diane Moat

Publisher: The Supernatural Pet Sitter

Pages: 140

Genre: Middle Grade / Fantasy

Every animal can talk to you. You just have to know how to listen. Pepper Neely is better at this than most, especially because she is in charge of pet sitting all the familiars in her neighborhood. A familiar is a pet magically linked to a witch or warlock. As a gnome, Pepper is no stranger to spells and sorcery. She also knows that, despite their special name, familiars aren’t all that different from regular animals. They get anxious when separated from their people, so Pepper uses her special gnome powers to calm them down. She watches Cranky the high-strung ferret, Frank the laid-back parrot, King Arthur the elderly tortoise, and many others. Then, something terrible begins happening to the familiars. Someone is stealing their magic! It not only prevents Pepper from communicating with them but breaks their magical connection with their people. When King Arthur’s magic is stolen, his owner’s powers stop working too. Pepper can sense that the tortoise is very scared. In order to protect the animal’s magic, Pepper decides to track down the culprit. With the help of her best friend, Luna, and her brother, Jax, Pepper fights to protect all of the special pets.



About the Author:

Diane is a Tennessee transplant, animal rescuer, and nurse. The Supernatural Pet Sitter is her debut children’s novel. Diane is assisted by her many rescue dogs.



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Trips to Canada’s wilderness for joint military training are something Easton always enjoys. But meeting the photographer contracted to take pictures of the base and trainees for new marketing materials adds a whole new twist to the trip. 

A twist Easton quickly realizes has a dark undertone.

Summer knows she gets lost in her art to the point she’s been called ditzy, forgetful and many other less pleasant names. But her passionate nature has an outlet, and she loves traveling for her work. It also means she doesn’t always take care of herself as she should.

When she’s stalked, then attacked, Easton soon realizes Summer has stepped into something dangerous and needs his help to stay alive.

Especially when the violence escalates…and he comes close to losing the one woman he can’t seem to stay away from.


Dale Mayer is a USA Today bestselling author best known for her Psychic Visions and Family Blood Ties series. Her contemporary romances are raw and full of passion and emotion (Second Chances, SKIN), her thrillers will keep you guessing (By Death series), and her romantic comedies will keep you giggling (It’s a Dog’s Life and Charmin Marvin Romantic Comedy series). 

 She honors the stories that come to her – and some of them are crazy and break all the rules and cross multiple genres! 

To go with her fiction, she also writes nonfiction in many different fields with books available on resume writing, companion gardening and the US mortgage system. She has recently published her Career Essentials Series. All her books are available in print and ebook format. 

To find out more about Dale and her books, visit her at http://www.dalemayer.com. Or connect with her online with Twitter at www.twitter.com/dalemayer and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dalemayer.author. If you like Dale Mayer’s books and are interested in joining her street team, sign up here – https://www.facebook.com/groups/402384989872660/  

Monday, July 24

Book featured at Lisa’s Home for Books

Book featured at A Title WaveTuesday, July 25

Book featured at A Book Lover

Wednesday, July 26

Book featured at Diana’s Book Reviews

Thursday, July 27

Book featured at The Bookworm Chronicles

Book reviewed at Patrizia’s Book Blog

Friday, July 28

Book featured at CGB Blog Tours

Monday, July 31

Book featured at The Dark Phantom

Book featured at Chill and Read

Tuesday, August 1

Book featured at I’m Shelf-ish

Wednesday, August 2

Book featured at Naughty Book Eden

Book featured at Jen’s Reading Obsession

Book featured at Reviews by Crystal

Thursday, August 3

Book reviewed at Lynn’s Romance Enthusiasm

Book featured at The Bookworm Lodge

Book reviewed at Elsie’s Audiobook Digest

Book featured at T’s Stuff

Friday, August 4

Book featured at Yah Gotta Read This

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Publication Date: May 22, 2017

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Formats: Ebook,

Pages: 164

Genre: Poetry

Tour Dates: July 24th-August 4th

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Hope is about a woman who lives in a drowned world and is going through a silent ruin, and finds comfort in believing that her own self exists as another being, and confides her inner most secrets to her. It all started with a dream, advancing to a nightmare that then became a reality. Hope plays a lonely game in silence until her dreams turn to dust. She lives her life through an illusion that ends with capturing her own light, making that moment an unforgettable day. This novel reveals in detail how a woman suffers from depression, and how it rules and guides her life through her journey in finding solace.

Rima Jbara was born on 20th August 1979, in Damas, and spent most of her childhood writing short stories and eventually novels. At the age of 14, she published her first novel and by the time she turned 15, she gave readers her first bestseller. Rima’s zest for writing continued as she released Road To Hell, The Mystique of Asmahan and Shams. It took Rima three years to write Hope, which was called “a masterpiece” by many critics and readers. Through her writing, Rima has fought tradition and reality, and has always chosen daring topics to shock conventional people.

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