My Publishing Journey: What’s in a Name? (Part 1)

1839c3c5ce3d43791d1c6986a2c403f4Do you ever wonder how authors come up with their character names? I suspect the answer is different for every author. For this author, the answer is “it depends.” So without further ado, here are a few of my characters’ names from my debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, and the inspiration behind them:

Emily Garland (protagonist)

When I was about eight-years-old, a family friend bought me a hardcover copy of Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery (best known for her Anne of Green Gables series). The story goes that Montgomery, tired of writing the Anne series, created a new heroine, copying her journal from her early years, and heavily influencing the Emily trilogy.

I loved everything about Emily’s quest to become a writer. From the moment I read that story, I knew that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. It took a few decades (some of us grow up at a slower pace than others), but it seemed only fitting that my protagonist would be named Emily. As for the Garland, I was named after Judy Garland. Mystery solved!

closetoyouArabella Carpenter (sidekick)

This one honestly came out of nowhere. I was taking a creative writing course and the assignment was to write a mystery with the words “blue” and “dolphin.” I started writing a story about an antiques shop called the Blue Dolphin, and for no reason I can remember, the name Arabella popped into my head. I don’t think I’d ever heard the name before (although I have since…it’s sort of like when you drive a white Honda Civic..all of a sudden, all the cars you see are white Honda Civics). The Carpenter? I was listening to the radio and Close to You,  an old song by The Carpenters, came on.  Arabella Carpenter, I thought. That has a nice ring to it. [Sidebar: I changed the name of the shop to the Glass Dolphin after I found out there was a real life Blue Dolphin antiques shop in Maine.]

elton_john_-_madman_across_the_waterLevon Larroquette (Arabella’s ex-husband)

Another name inspired by a song, in this case the Elton John classic, Levon. Originally on the album, Madman Across the Water, it’s one of my favorite songs by Elton John (and favorite albums). Notice the cover looks like denim. Whenever I’m describing Levon, he’s wearing head-to-toe denim, to match his indigo eyes. As for the Larroquette, I was watching an old episode of Boston Legal and thought…Levon Larroquette. That would work.

featured1Garrett Stonehaven (antagonist/greedy real estate developer)

Stonehaven is actually the name of a upscale subdivision in Newmarket, Ontario,  the town that neighbors Holland Landing, where I lived while writing The Hanged Man’s Noose. I thought it would make a great last name for a real estate developer. As for the Garrett, there was this guy in high school…

AnnvSale-HangedMansNooseAll ebook versions of Hanged Man’s Noose are currently on sale for 50% off ($2.99US) at all the usual suspects (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, GooglePlay, iBooks). The trade paperback version is on for 50% off directly from the publisher, Barking Rain Press ($7.99). Sales ends September 30, 2016.  Click on the image for the link!


New Release Mondays: When Krishna Calls by Susan Oleksiw

KrishnaCallsFrontAuthor Name: Susan Oleksiw

Book Title: When Krishna Calls: An Anita Ray Mystery

Book Genre: Amateur sleuth

Release Date: August 17, 2016

Synopsis: In a tropical night, a woman abandons her daughter in the Hotel Delite compound. She is the main suspect in the death of her husband. Indian-American photographer Anita Ray is drawn into the investigation when she finds a strange memory card inside her camera. When Krishna Calls explores the murky and dangerous world of moneylenders. Before mother and child are reunited, Anita learns how far she also will go to protect her loved ones.

Excerpt:  Over the next half hour Nisha worked her way through the brush. She could hear the sounds of the animals at the zoo, some asleep, others restless in their cages. Nisha heard a squeal, a low grumble as one rhino heaved into another, a loud yawn from a lion prowling in a cage, a crack as one creature climbed out onto a weak tree limb. Nisha peered over the stone wall bordering the museum walkway beneath the champaka trees.

Atop the hill, on the steps in front of the Napier Museum, sat a man, his head propped in his hand, elbow resting on his knee. He rose slowly. Another one with nothing to do, she thought, as she kept herself hidden. The northeast monsoon was late. The heat was intensifying. Anyone who could find a place to enjoy the cooler night air was sure to take advantage of it, and the park would be one of the coolest spots in the city. Its many trees and higher elevation and open landscape promised a respite from the heat. Despite the locked gates, the man must have found a way in.

He descended the steps slowly, stopped at a landing, and pulled a cigarette from his shirt pocket. Down he came, one step at a time, rolling the cigarette in his fingers while sauntering in the night air. At the bottom of the steps he placed the cigarette between his lips. He held up a wooden match, snapped it with his fingernail, and watched the stick burst into flame. After admiring it, he drew it toward the cigarette and soon his head was wreathed in smoke.

Nisha lowered herself silently in the dark, careful to keep her sari out of the moonlight lest it find the flecks of fake gold in the border pattern and make them shimmer. She waited for the sound of his footsteps, then reached out for the pallu—her sari end was especially nice beneath the dirt and grime, with embroidered gold flowers. She wanted to hold it close to her, to keep it out of the moonlight. But someone else reached it first.

Oleksiw_400dpiAbout the author: Susan Oleksiw writes the Anita Ray series featuring an Indian-American photographer living in South India at her aunt’s tourist hotel. When Krishna Calls (2016) is the fourth entry in the series. Susan also writes the Mellingham series featuring Chief Joe Silva. In Last Call for Justice (2012), Joe confronts a long unsolved crime involving a member of his family. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. A member of MWA and the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime, Susan lives and writes outside Boston, Mass. Find out more about Susan on her website.

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Before They Were Authors: Laurel S. Peterson

shadow-notes-cover-compressedIt’s my pleasure to introduce Laurel S. Peterson to Before They Were Authors. A fellow Barking Rain Press author, Laurel’s debut mystery novel, Shadow Notes, was released in May 2016. In addition to being a mystery author, Laurel is also an English professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. Her poetry has been published in many literary journals and she has two poetry chapbooks. She is currently serving as the town of Norwalk, Connecticut’s poet laureate. Let’s find out a bit more about her, shall we?

Judy: What was the best job (besides being a writer) that you ever had, and how has it influenced your writing?

Laurel: The best job I’ve had is being a college professor. I love seeing students master a concept or skill. I like seeing them complete a course they didn’t think they’d make it through. I love classroom debate and laughter, and watching minds probe, toy with, wrestle with ideas. I like reading student papers when the student has invested him/herself in the process or has something fresh or unusual to say.

As far as influencing my writing, the job’s biggest gift is time. I have summers off, a month at Christmas, and a week in the spring. I can also get a fair amount of writing done at the beginning of the semesters as I don’t have a lot of grading yet. It also puts me in an environment with others who love language and ideas. However, there was one draft of a novel way back when that killed off a college president, although not the president at the college where I teach now (and no, it’s true, not just politic!). There are a few people I wouldn’t mind killing off. I imagine I’m on some of their kill lists, too, which is only fair.

Judy: Have you quit your day job?

Laurel: I wish. (Surprising after all that praise above, but I grade an average of 600 papers/1400 pages each semester.) And given that I’m supposed to be promoting a book and acting as my town’s poet laureate and writing a new book in addition to teaching, giving up any one of them would be a step in the right direction. It’s just that they are a) fun to do or b) paying for my groceries.

Judy: What made you decide to become a writer?

Laurel: I wouldn’t say there was much deciding involved. When I was in junior high school, I started keeping a journal. I was being bullied by the kids, while the teachers treated me as an advanced student. The journal allowed me to process that dichotomy. It was just mine, safe from judgment. One day, the bus trip home was particularly harrowing. I wrote a story that afternoon in which something violently awful happened to the bully. I don’t remember what, but it was very satisfying to write! By mistake, I left the journal on the breakfast room table, where my parents read it. Instead of asking about the bullying, they told me they were dismayed I was thinking this way, and that I should never write anything like that again. I don’t respond well to ultimatums.

Judy: Do you have any writing advice for aspiring authors?

Laurel: Don’t let anyone tell you what you should do. Write what you’re curious about. Find someone who knows what they are doing, and get that person to help you write even better than you do now. Pay attention to every word. Allow the reader to revel in your sensory dream.

Judy: Thank you, Laurel, for sharing your story.

Find Laurel on her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

cr7c3tdw8aizgdo-jpg-largeFind Shadow Notes at all the usual suspects. Even better, for the month of September, Barking Rain Press is having a 50% off anniversary sale! Click on the postcard to find out more.


New Release Mondays: Body on the Bayou by Ellen Byron

Body on the Bayou (smaller) (2) (427x640)Body on the Bayou (Cozy Mystery)

Release Date: September 13, 2016

Synopsis: There’s a très big story in Pelican, Louisiana: the upcoming nuptials between Maggie Crozat’s nemesis, Rufus Durand, and her co-worker, Vanessa Fleer. Maggie agrees to be frenemy Vanessa’s Maid of Honor. But when a murder takes place and Vanessa tops the list of suspects, meeting this Bridezilla’s wedding demands takes a backseat to keeping her out of jail.

Excerpt: “Oh, come on, Vanessa.” Maggie held up the list. “‘Confirm contract with venue and caterers, order flowers, renegotiate rental prices…’ A Maid of Honor doesn’t take care of these things, a wedding planner does. You need to give this list to yours.”

Vanessa grimaced and put her hand on her baby bump. She reached behind her, groping for a seat, then lowered herself onto the picnic table bench between Ione and Gaynell, shoving each of them to the side. “Dang, another pain. I can feel my blood pressure going up. I may need to call my doctor. She’s real worried about me going into pre-term labor.”

“We know,” Ione said. “You tell us every time we don’t do what you want.”

“Well, it’s true.”

Vanessa cast a pitiful glance at Maggie, who sighed. Vanessa might be bluffing, but Maggie didn’t want to take the chance that she wasn’t. Woe be it to anyone who caused the future Mrs. Rufus Durand to deliver early. “Okay, fine, I’ll help you out. Just spare me another ‘pre-term labor’ performance.”

“Thank you.” Vanessa popped up, and then pulled out her cell phone. “Oooh, I got a text from my mama.” As she read the message, Vanessa pulled off her old-fashioned, banana-curled wig and rubbed her scalp. She’d stopped coloring her hair after reading that it wasn’t good for a gestating infant, so muddy brown roots dead-ended about two inches from her old yellow-blonde dye job.

Vanessa finished reading, put her phone away, and slowly sat down again, her face so pale that Maggie worried she might actually follow through with the threat to deliver early. “Van, are you all right? You don’t look good.”

“It’s my cousin, Ginger,” Vanessa said. The women waited for her to continue, but she stared straight ahead, her face stricken.

“Is it… bad news?” Ione asked gently.

“Yes.” Vanessa nodded. “She’s coming to my wedding.”

And Vanessa burst into hysterical sobs.

Ellen Byron (fnl)About the Author: Ellen Byron’s debut novel, Plantation Shudders, was nominated for an Agatha Best First Novel as well as a Best Humorous Mystery Lefty Award. It was also chosen by the Library Journal as a Debut Mystery of the Month. Body on the Bayou is the second in Ellen’s Cajun Country Mystery series. Her TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me and Still Standing, as well as pilots for most of the major networks; she’s written over 200 magazine articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland and Asleep on the Wind. Ellen is a recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for mystery writers. Find Ellen at

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My Publishing Journey: Small Town Life

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.24.21 AMFor those of you who don’t “know” me, I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Toronto has grown in leaps and bounds since I left at the age of 23, but even back then, it was a big city with subways and traffic gridlock (the Don Valley Parkway, which runs north-south, has justifiably earned the nickname the Don Valley Parking Lot).

Unlike a lot of 23-year-olds, I didn’t move to a bigger city. Instead, I moved to the relatively small town of Peterborough, Ontario, roughly 90 minutes northeast of where I grew up. I left for a good job (Personal Credit Manager – Canadian Division, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company) and stayed for about four years, earning a promotion to Canadian Division Credit Manager. At the time, I was the youngest Division Manager in the company’s history.

My first month in Peterborough was tough. It seemed as though everyone knew everyone and I was decidedly an outsider. Not only that, I was a “boss,” and  on top of that, I was from Toronto (city folk were treated with a modicum of suspicion). I can still remember the day  when a young woman by the name of Earlene invited me to her home for Sunday dinner. “My mom thinks you must be lonely,” she said, clearly nervous about inviting a manager (although not her manager) to dinner. I jumped at the chance.

It was clear that Earlene’s family lived a modest existence. There was homemade mac and cheese and coleslaw for Sunday dinner, and coffee with CoffeeMate (I’d never had CoffeeMate before that) for dessert. I think there might have been some sort of apple crisp or cookies, as well, although for the life of me I can’t recall. But that coleslaw was the best I’ve ever tasted to this day.

Earlene’s invitation and friendship led to many other friendships. By the time I left Peterborough four years later to move to the much bigger city of Mississauga (for another job opportunity, and with somewhat of a broken heart), I’d been a bridesmaid in two weddings.

It’s been a few years, and more than a few moves, since those Peterborough days, and sadly I lost touch with Earlene long ago, but I was reminded of the warmth and hospitality of small town life when I opened the September issue of The Briar Crier. The Crier is a community news magazine for the residents of Green Briar and Briar Hill, a golf course community  in the smallish town of Alliston, Ontario. It’s published locally by a wonderfully supportive woman, Marie Fischer. The September issue includes a two-page feature about my writing journey. Two pages. Now that wouldn’t happen in Toronto!

The article was written by BL Storrie, a talented and hard working freelance writer who took the time to interview me on my back deck on a warm summer afternoon. I’m so appreciative of (and somewhat embarrassed by) her kind words (honestly, I’m not that nice — though I do LOVE to golf). If you’d like to read it, here’s a link to the  PDF: P.22 23. And here’s a link to the full magazine: BRIAR_CRIER_2016_09_INTERACTIVE.

Do you have a small town story? I’d love to hear about it. Be sure to leave a comment! 



New Release Mondays: Blood Red Homicide by Gail M. Baugniet

Blood_Red_Homicide_Cover_for_Kindle 6.24.2016

Author Name: Gail M Baugniet

Book Title:
Blood Red Homicide

Book Genre:
Soft-Boiled Mystery

Release Date:
June 24, 2016

Synopsis: Insurance Investigator Pepper Bibeau would rather be in Vegas gambling. Instead, her boss sends her to New England to investigate a hefty life insurance claim on a Boston Red Sox player. While on the injured-list and recuperating with the club’s farm team, the popular left fielder died under suspicious circumstances.

Pepper’s main contacts in Boston are a big insurance company representative whose job may be in jeopardy and the homicide team assigned to the case. She may not understand all the rules of major league baseball, but she knows how to score answers when a questionable claim is on the table.

With local mobsters gunning for her, Pepper’s survival instincts escalate to high-pitch alert. She aims for a grand slam of clearing a questionable claim, helping to solve the homicide case, facing illusions of family security . . . and staying alive.

Excerpt: [From Chapter 2] The sound of shuffling papers filled the silence for a couple of minutes. Then Al continued. “The report first came across Carmella’s desk. You want to tell the story?” He shifted toward his assistant, signaling for her to take over.

“Part of my job at the front desk is handling any mail that comes in from the different medical departments.” Carmella’s voice expressed confidence as she spoke, though her right eyelid twitched often in an apparent nervous tick. “That includes all coroners’ reports.”

“Was it your job to read those reports?” Casey asked.

Carmella hesitated. I thought Al might take the question, but he only sat back and waited.

“I’ve been a Sox fan all my life,” she finally said. “Joe Miller was one of my favorite players. When I saw the name on the report, I decided to read it. My job doesn’t entail knowing the full content of what comes across my desk, but it isn’t against policy for me to read anything. We’re all held to strict standards, what happens here stays here kind of thing, and no talking to the press without authorization.”

“What caught your attention in the report?” I’d glanced over the few short paragraphs and didn’t see any glaring remarks that shouted “murder” or any other foul play.

Carmella took her cue from Al to continue.

“In the second paragraph, it says the blow wasn’t consistent with someone hitting their head on a flat surface.”

I thought of Jolynn’s remark at the Howard Johnson’s about Joe being found in a pool of blood but decided to keep that to myself for now.

“And that made you suspicious?” Casey’s tone sounded more challenging than I thought appropriate. “How?”

“It wasn’t the wording,” Carmella said, not reacting to Casey’s challenge. “The coroner didn’t follow-up or give an explanation for the anomaly. If the injury wasn’t caused by Joe hitting his head on the shower floor, then how was he injured? It wasn’t what the coroner said that raised questions in my mind, it’s what he left out.”

headshot 2.1.2016 1100About the author: Gail M Baugniet is the author of the Pepper Bibeau Mystery series. She worked as an underwriter and claims adjuster for insurance companies in Wisconsin, and in law enforcement as a police officer and first responder in Minnesota. After living through many snowy winters in northern states, she moved to Hawaii where she worked as a security dispatcher for twelve years. She now writes fulltime at her home in Honolulu, often sharing space on her lanai with chirping birds and good luck geckos.

Gail is a member of Sisters in Crime, Inc. and current president of the Sisters in Crime/Hawaii chapter in Honolulu. You can visit Gail on her blog site.

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Interview with an Author: B.K. Stevens Talks about Writing Short Vs. Long

Fighting Chance CoverI first met award-winning author B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens at Bouchercon Raleigh, when a large contingent of authors from the Short Mystery Fiction Society met for lunch. It was a huge thrill for me, because I have enjoyed many of her stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. For those of you just getting to know Bonnie, here’s her official bio:

B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens wrote Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books), a traditional whodunit offering insights into deaf culture, and Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen), a young adult martial arts mystery. She’s also published over 50 short stories, most in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Eleven of those stories are included in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime (Wildside Press). B.K. has won a Derringer and has been nominated for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards.

Judy: You’re visiting today to talk about writing short vs. long. Tell us a bit about your process, and how it differs (if it differs) based on the length of the story.

41EFpUvzGOL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Bonnie: Once I get started on a project, I follow the same basic writing process, whether I’m working on stories or novels. I take many pages of not-quite-freewriting notes as I develop characters, work through plot problems, explore themes, and so on. Then I write the first draft quickly, revise and edit endlessly, proofread carefully.

So the stages in the process don’t vary much, but the amount of time I devote to stages might. If I’m working on a mini-mystery for Woman’s World, for example, I don’t take detailed notes about characters. Since a 700-word limit doesn’t allow much time for character development, I rely on types—kindly old aunt, greedy nephew, savvy police detective. For novels or longer stories, I write biographical sketches of major characters, packed with background information that may never make it into print but helps me understand the characters.

Before the writing process starts, there’s a crucial decision: Is this idea right for a mini-mystery, a longer story, or a novel? If the plot hinges on a single twist, a mini-mystery might be the best choice. A highly eccentric protagonist might amuse readers in a longer story but start getting on their nerves in a novel. A theme that requires characters to undergo gradual changes might work better in a novel than a story.

 Judy: You’ve had over 50 short stories published. Do you have a favorite, and if so, why?

perf6.000x9.000.inddBonnie: If I may, I’ll mention two favorites. Both first appeared in Hitchcock’s and are included in Her Infinite Variety. “Thea’s First Husband,” a dark suspense story, focuses on a troubled marriage that comes to a crisis when a scheming private detective exploits the husband’s suspicions and the wife’s resentment. “Death in Rehab” is a humorous whodunit set at a center for people with unusual addictions—a Jeopardy! fanatic who always speaks in the form of a question, a compulsive proofreader who can’t stop correcting other people’s grammar, and so on. The two stories differ in tone, in theme, in almost everything. But I hope both have endings that leave readers saying, “I should have seen that coming—but I didn’t.” That’s something I always try to achieve in mysteries, to be absolutely fair with readers but still give them twists they didn’t expect.

Judy: What or who inspired you to become a writer?

Bonnie: My father was an English professor and a fiction writer. It’s probably no coincidence I became an English professor and a fiction writer. I have warm memories of sitting on the floor of his study, doing my homework while he wrote novels on his manual typewriter. He never achieved much success, but he loved writing, he worked hard at it, and I loved everything he wrote.

Judy: Do you have a favorite book of all time?

Bonnie: Naming my favorite book of all time is difficult—the books I admire most aren’t necessarily the ones I return to most often. Naming my favorite mystery is easy: Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers. It was the first mystery I read as an adult—first since my Nancy Drew days—and it surprised me. I’d never imagined a mystery could have such an engaging plot, so much humor, or such complex, delightful characters; I’d never guessed it could portray relationships with such subtlety or explore themes with such insight. And at the end, when plot and theme came together beautifully, when clues fell into place in a way that had never occurred to me but instantly made perfect sense, it took my breath away.

Thank you, Bonnie (and by the way, Thea’s First Husband is one of my all-time favorite short stories by any author).

Picture BKS



Find B.K. Stevens on her website/blog, on Amazon, and on Facebook.


New Release Mondays: What She Fears by Jane Gorman

What-She-Fears-Web-MediumAuthor Name: Jane Gorman

Book Title: What She Fears

Book Genre: Traditional Mystery

Release Date: August 16, 2016

Synopsis: To solve the murder of a Galway professor investigating ancient Irish history, a Philadelphia police detective in Ireland must confront his own truths.

Visiting Galway in an effort to strengthen his struggling romance and explore his family legacy, Detective Adam Kaminski stumbles onto a murder scene. Quite literally. Now he must solve the grisly death of a university professor before he becomes a convenient scapegoat – or convenient target.

Adam and Detective Superintendent Isabel Sayers delve into local power struggles and ancient legends in their search for a murderer. But the only way to find the truth is to face their own fears.

Excerpt:  The hot pink in the scarf finally caught his attention. He should have noticed it sooner. He would have noticed it sooner if he hadn’t been preoccupied with his own concerns. Concerns that paled in comparison to those of the woman half covered by the low bushes that separated the footpath from the River Corrib.

Detective Adam Kaminski stepped off the path toward the body. She lay face up, her right arm flung over her head as if, had she been standing, she were hailing a taxi or waving a flag. Perhaps she had been trying to attract attention, flailing for any possible help during her last, horrible moments.

She looked surprised, her eyebrows frozen in an expression of amazement, her eyes wide open though forever unseeing. Adam bent closer, examining the corpse without touching anything. He knew better than that.

Her pale face lay buried beneath a wave of dark curls, but he could see that she wore makeup, her eyes lined with some kind of charcoal, her lips still ruby red, even in death. She was dressed for a night out, one high-heeled pump still on her left foot, the other not visible from where Adam crouched. A long earring lay on the ground near her head, like a colorful cut-stone flower tossed aside. Her clothes were bright. Flamboyant. He really should have noticed her sooner.

Her body lay off the main pedestrian path that crossed Nun’s Island from the cathedral, along the banks of the River Corrib toward the bridge that led to National University of Ireland, Galway. A back entrance used mostly by students. He’d only come this way because of the time he’d spent reading about the area. It seemed a pleasant walk.

GormanAuthorCroppedAbout the author: Jane Gorman is the author of the Adam Kaminski mystery series. Gorman’s books are informed by her international experiences, both as an anthropologist and through her work with the U.S. State Department. She has previously published in the field of political anthropology, negotiated international instruments on behalf of the U.S. government, and appeared on national television through her efforts to support our nation’s cultural heritage. Her books are each set in a different city or town around the world, building on her eye for detailed settings, appreciation of complex characters, and love of place-based mystery. Find more about Jane on her website.

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