Wednesday, October 18, 2017

CHECK IT OUT: Character Interview by Joyce T. Strand, Author

Joyce T Strand, Author
Dangerous Changes
Coming November 8, 2017
Following is an interview with my newest character sleuth, Emily Lazzaro, who is here to introduce the cover of her first mystery, Dangerous Changes, and let us know that the book will be released on Wednesday, November 8, 2017.

Fans of my other books might recall that Emily is the daughter of the winemaker at Brynn Bancroft’s Hilltop Sunset winery. When we last encountered her in OVERCAST SUNSET, she had just broken up with her fiancé and is heading back home to Ramona, Calif.

Q:  Hey, Emily Lazzaro. What do you think about being the newest Joyce T. Strand sleuth in your first mystery, Dangerous Changes?

Emily Lazzaro: I’m not so sure about it.

Q: Why? What’s happening?

Emily Lazzaro: First, I broke up with my fiancé. Then I had a frightening experience on the way home one night from a meeting where a pickup truck deliberately tried to run me off a curvy mountain road. It was quite scary. Then the brother of the man who tried to run me off the road…but I can’t go into that. Anyway I just can’t seem to make the changes that will get me to where I want to go. Whenever I try, something dangerous happens to me—there’s even been a murder. Can you believe it?

Q: What changes do you want to make?

Emily Lazzaro: At the moment, to make a living,  I’m preparing taxes for people to make a living but I’d sure like to make some changes to do something else. And my ex-finance keeps after me—like he wants us to get back together. We’re still friends, and I help him with his new business, but I’d like to look for a different relationship, and I’m not at all interested in his new business. However, his vineyard that he purchased just doesn’t provide him with enough money to make ends meet.

Q: So what made you decide to stay in the same town where your ex-fiancé lives?

Emily Lazzaro: I really like the rural community of Ramona. That’s another change I’d like to make. I want to live here permanently. I love the unique rocky terrain and proximity to the ocean and San Diego, along with the mixture of fine wineries, artists, and equestrian focus. I want to live here and make my life here. But I need to find a different career than that of tax preparer.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview. I can hardly wait for your first book which will be released Wednesday, November 8, 2017.


A series of events rattle Emily Lazzaro: a near-death encounter with a pickup on a narrow mountain road, the murder of a would-be client, and an ex-fiancé who won’t let go. Can she survive a police investigation, pressure from her ex’s company, and the suspicions of a possible new love-interest—so that she can make the changes to create a meaningful new life in a special town in southern California?

About Joyce T. Strand, Author

Joyce T. Strand is the author of who-done-it contemporary and historical mysteries set in California. Actual events and/or real people inspired all of her published novels, although they are definitely fictionalized. Dangerous Changes is her ninth book.

Strand headed corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in California's Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike her protagonist Jillian Hillcrest, however, she did not encounter murder in her career. She currently lives with her collection of cow statuary in Ramona, California, and enjoys exploring and writing about the growing wine region in the Ramona Valley near San Diego.

Twitter: @joycetstrand 

Friday, October 13, 2017


Cate Beauman, Author
The Bodyguards of L.A. County series
Cate Beauman just released her twelfth novel, SECRETS HIDDEN IN THE GLASS. The author of the best-selling Bodyguards of L.A. County series is introducing her first non-Bodyguard  romantic mystery set in Sanderson, Massachusetts, the fictitious, tiny town on the equally made-up Carter Island.

Her multi award-winning Bodyguards of L.A. County series has over 500,000 copies sold and a 4.4 rating with 8000+ reviews. Although she does eventually plan to tell more Carter Island stories, she is currently working on a different project as her next publication. Cate lives in North Carolina with her husband, two sons, and their St. Bernard.

In the following brief article, she explains the inspiration behind her newest novel.

Don't miss the excerpt and the opportunity to enter the chance to win one of five $10 Amazon gift cards at the end of the interview.

By Cate Beauman

I always find the process of writing fascinating—imagining words and thoughts into subsistence that had once only existed in my head. Oftentimes, the undertaking is daunting. Months of research, careful plotting, planning, character development, and revising go into every page. There are many moments of doubt and worry. On occasion, there’s even a triumph or two. But finally, you type The End and you realize you’ve created a miracle of sorts—a story to share with your eager readers who are always waiting for what’s next.

I had such fun telling Nate and Callie’s adventure. There was something extra enjoyable about bringing Sanderson, Massachusetts to life—the fictitious, tiny town on the equally made-up Carter Island. Imagine dreaming up a beachy setting that gets to be exactly what you want it to be. Add a group of intriguing (and on occasion quirky) characters. Throw plenty of steamy romance and several sprinkles of mystery and suspense into the mix and you’ve got yourself one heck of a good time.

About Cate Beauman

International bestselling author Cate Beauman is known for her full-length, action-packed romantic suspense series, The Bodyguards of L.A. County. Her novels have been nominated for the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award, National Indie Excellence Award, Golden Quill Award, Writers Touch Award, Aspen Gold Award, Heart of Excellence Award, and have been named Readers Favorite Five Star books.

In 2017 FINDING LYLA was chosen as the Booksellers Best Award Winner, the Maggie Award For Excellence, and received the Holt Medallion Award. REAGAN'S REDEMPTION and ANSWERS FOR JULIE were selected as rare co-winners of the Aspen Gold Award in 2016. JUSTICE FOR ABBY received the 2015 Readers' Favorite International Book Award Gold Medal, while SAVING SOPHIE took the Silver Medal. SAVING SOPHIE was also selected as the 2015 Readers Crown Award winner for Romantic Suspense and FALLING FOR SARAH received the silver medal for the 2014 Readers' Favorite Awards.

Cate makes her home in North Carolina with her husband, two boys, and their St. Bernards, Bear and Jack.

Stained glass artist Callie Davis is in desperate need of a vacation. Burnt out and on the edge of a nervous breakdown, she’s fleeing the pressures of her career and is taking refuge on Massachusetts’ tiny Carter Island. Callie yearns for long, lazy days and pretty walks on the beach—blessed solitude and an escape from the complications of her life. Then she bumps into gorgeous Nate Carter and everything changes.

Sheriff Nathan Carter couldn’t be happier now that the height of the summer season has finally come and gone. After four endless months, tourists have packed their bags and headed for the mainland. The quiet days of autumn are about to befall the town—the way Nate and his fellow Sandersonians like it best.

But nothing ends up quite the way Nate expects when he meets the beautiful blonde with the big blue eyes. Callie’s pretty smiles hide secrets—deep, dark mysteries that could cost them both their lives if they continue digging into the past and cross a killer’s path.

Callie held her head up to the brisk winds blowing off the Atlantic as the ferry brought her closer to the island. She breathed in the salty air, letting the gusty slaps of cold sting her cheeks while the boat cut through the waters the clouds had cast a dismal gray. At two thirty this morning she’d dreamt of sunshine and whale sightings on her travels north toward the Hyannis Port docks, but choppy seas and intermittent raindrops were better than spending one more minute in New York.

She shuddered as she thought of the city and glanced over her shoulder, constantly on guard against the sense of unease she hadn’t been able to shake for months—the need to run. Three weeks away in Europe promoting her latest work was supposed to have helped. When that didn’t go as planned, she’d been certain the four-week gallery tour she’d been contracted to attend would have fixed everything, but nothing seemed to shake the restless, edgy energy that kept her up most nights.

Facing forward again, she stared down at her white-knuckled grip on the bold blue railing and commanded herself to relax, even as her heartbeat began thrumming a frantic rhythm. She clutched the cool metal tighter and closed her eyes, bracing for anxiety’s cruel surges of adrenaline that often left her a pathetic, trembling mess. “Everything’s all right,” she reassured herself, then let her head hang as she heard the lack of conviction in her own voice, certain she was teetering on the perilous edge of a nervous breakdown. For surely that’s what this had to be. She was officially cracking—caving to the never-ending demands of her career and her sudden inability to create.

“Folks, take a moment and look straight ahead,” the boat’s captain boomed through the speakers, startling Callie out of her thoughts. “You’ll see Point West Lighthouse coming into view.”

Callie opened her eyes and blinked, staring at the bright beam of light far in the gloomy distance.

“Point West Lighthouse has been a beacon of hope, welcoming sailors home to Carter Island for nearly four hundred years,” the captain continued in his strong Massachusetts accent.

Callie wiped her cheeks, finding comfort in the idea as she studied the black-and-white stripes of the mighty island tower. What must it have been like to battle raging storms and contend with months of endless seas, then finally see the light? To have weathered the worst of it all and found hope waiting on the other side? She longed to have an answer—and perhaps someday she would. According to Captain Bob, the boat was due to dock in fifteen minutes and her vacation would officially begin. She needed quiet—a few weeks to pull herself together. Then maybe she could start to figure out when it was that her life had started falling apart.

Author Links

Click here to enter chance to win one of five $10 Amazon gift card.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Saiswaroopa Iyer, Author

Saiswaroopa Iyer, Author
Saiswaroopa Iyer’s novel, AVISHI has been described by reviewers as “Great fiction set in early days of Indian civilization” and “an out and out thriller” that is “gripping.” She writes her novels to remind us of our past and claims that “My characters drive me to write.” Although a novel set in the past, she researched the setting to assure accuracy from a “civilizational aspect.” She also believes the themes and story are universal even though set in India.

Formerly an analyst at a venture capital firm, Iyer today lives in London where she enjoys writing her novels. She enjoys traveling, especially to locations that are of historical interest. She is currently writing a sequel to her first novel, ABHAYA.

Q: What inspired you to write about and re-imagine Vishpala of the Rig Ved in your book AVISHI?

Saiswaroopa Iyer: I stumbled upon Vishpala, mentioned in the Rig Veda when I was searching for ancient women warriors of India. According to Rig Veda, Vishpala loses her leg in a nocturnal battle and is granted a metal leg by Ashvinas, the divine physicians. The hymn mentioning her is also the very first reference to prosthesis in world literature. A bit more of reading about the Rig Vedic society revealed a very egalitarian ancient civilization which I felt should stay fresh in the modern mind trying to find solutions for the various problems we face today. Avishi is a humble attempt in reimagining that world with an inspiringly strong woman at the helm.

Q: How do you make your characters credible? Why will your readers care about what happens to them?

Saiswaroopa Iyer: My characters drive me to write. They are driven by their goals which compels me to write about them, draw inspiration from them, seek answers from them and take up the challenges they pose me. I think this is the combination that makes them stay alive through the writing process and write their own story. I strongly believe that lively characters have their own way of making the readers root for them, hate them, love them and form that kinship with them as they progress through the book.

Q: How important was historical accuracy and setting to tell your story?

Saiswaroopa Iyer: Setting of the story requires a lot of accuracy from civilizational aspect. The tools, lifestyle, social constructs, etc matter a lot in the process of world creation. That does not mean that we don’t have creative liberty. But honest research into facts will also help in channelizing and deploying creative liberty effectively. For eg, I was able to imagine an ancient society where marital constructs were not yet defined only after an examination of evolution of wedlock as an institution.

Q:  Although your book is set in India, do you believe that the message and story are universal?

Saiswaroopa Iyer: Every message of Rig Veda (and the rest of Vedas too) is universal. I love India. But the very charm of India starting right from the dawn of civilization has been that the Indic thought keeps universal wellness ahead. While the civilizational aspects might seem intriguing to a western reader, I believe there is something for everyone to connect.

Q: Does the concept of hero versus villain apply to AVISHI? What are the characteristics of an effective villain?
Saiswaroopa Iyer: An interesting question. I believe any story that seeks to grip the reader attention needs these two poles.  What makes a hero and what makes a villain (and what makes the rest)? I believe it is the series of choices one makes through the course of their journey and how they face conflicts, deal with the intrigues of fate, make tough choices.

Q: Did you write AVISHI strictly to entertain or did you embed some key messages or themes to deliver to your readers?

Saiswaroopa Iyer: I wrote Avishi to mainly invoke the civilizational past, which I hope will help us in remembering the civilizational past and connecting to our strong willed ancestors. As for delivering messages, I leave it to my characters and my readers to gather their own meanings J

Q: One reviewer calls your book “gripping.” How do you create suspense to cause your readers to want to turn the pages?

Saiswaroopa Iyer: Thank you for going through the reviews! Pace and tautness is something that we writers learn in our own journey of writing. It comes from practice and self-critiquing asking ourselves every now and then, “does this sentence/paragraph/page prod the reader to go to the next?” or “Does this leave the reader with sufficient intrigue to get back?” I admit it is not easy. But doable and exciting!

Q: What caused you to switch careers from investment analyst to writing?

Saiswaroopa Iyer: Writing (Storytelling to be specific) was something I always had in mind. For many years my day job did not leave me enough bandwidth to pursue it full time. But my move to London a couple of years back made it amenable to me to pursue writing and also learn about publishing industry.

Q: What’s next?

Saiswaroopa Iyer: I am writing the sequel to my first novel ABHAYA, temporarily titled as Daughter of Mura. It is the story of a young girl who briefly appears in Abhaya but will have adventures of her own in the upcoming book. It would be a standalone novella but set in the ‘Abhaya universe’.

Q: Tell us about Saiswaroopa Iyer. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Saiswaroopa Iyer: Read and listen to lecture series on topics of my interest. I love travelling and visiting places of historical importance. I love to spend quality time with my family.

About Saiswaroopa Iyer

Formerly an analyst with a Venture capital firm, Saiswaroopa's interests include Startups, Economics, Carnatic Music, Philosophy, Politics, History and Literature of India. She won a state level gold medal from TTD in rendering Annamacharya Kritis. She holds an MBA from Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur.

Long before the times of Draupadi and Sita
Immortalised in the hymns of Rig Veda
But forgotten to the memory of India
The Warrior Queen with an iron leg, Vishpala

Brought up in the pristine forest school of Naimisha, Avishi reaches the republic of Ashtagani in 
search of her destiny. When Khela, the oppressive King of the neighbouring Vrishabhavati begins to overwhelm and invade Ashtagani, Avishi rises to protect her settlement, but at a high cost.

Separated from her love, her settlement broken, with a brutal injury needing amputation of her leg, can Avishi overcome Khela?

If stories about ancient India, especially those with strong women characters interest you, then Avishi is a story you must read!


Twitter address  - @Sai_swaroopa

Thursday, September 21, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: James P. Wilcox, Author

James P. Wilcox, Author
James P. Wilcox just released his thriller A FALL FROM GRACE about a terrorist attack against the American Catholic Church. In the belief that plausibility is a key attribute of suspense, he creates characters that are realistic and "well-rounded humans," whether they are heroes or villains. He typically first visualizes a scene before writing it and credits this process to his background as a photographer and reporter.

Today Wilcox is a high school social studies teacher—an activity he says helps him to envision his story in a way to tell it to his readers  similar to how he tells his students about events in history. He has written two other novels— SEX, LIES, AND THE CLASSROOM and THE M-16 AGENDA in addition to the International Bestseller MIRACLE CHILD. He is currently working on his fourth novel, and lives in Kansas City with his wife and three children.

Q: What led you to think of A FALL FROM GRACE?

James P. Wilcox: I have been toying around with the idea for A FALL FROM GRACE for several years now. Honestly, I got the original idea on a Sunday morning, day-dreaming at church. I was thinking about what would happen if there was a terrorist attack on my church, during mass. I then started thinking about what kind of person would stand up to the terrorists. David, the main character of A FALL FROM GRACE, was born in my mind that day.

Q: Your books cross genres and include poetry, thrillers, and non-fiction. Do you have a favorite? Do you believe that different writing approaches can help “tell your story” more readily? That is, can you express some stories better in poetry and others with fiction and/or non-fiction?

James P. Wilcox: I know I should probably care about genres and what genre my work falls in, but I really don’t care about genres very much. I just enjoy trying to tell a good story and I enjoy writing. Although I published a poetry collection, I wrote most of the poems during high school and college, as that was the writing format that worked the best for me at the time. I did include some recent poems, but poetry simply is not my primary writing format anymore. Anyone who has read any of my novels knows that they are hard to put in any particular genre. They are all hybrids, which is one of the reasons I like them so much.

Q: Reviewers of a previous fiction book highlight your “strong characters.” How do you engage readers to care about your characters? What makes them strong?

James P. Wilcox: I try to make my characters as realistic as possible and I try to make them well-rounded “humans.” I try to show both the good and the not so good qualities of each character, regardless of whether they are considered the hero or the villain. I also try to show the motivation of each character. I don’t write a character as good or as evil simply for the sake of making them good or evil. I try to show what makes the good or evil and the motivation behind the actions. I spend a lot of time thinking about and getting to know my characters, which is one of the reasons it takes me a long time to write each one of my books.

Q: How supportive is setting to tell your story A FALL FROM GRACE? Could it be told in any time period or in any city?

James P. Wilcox: The setting certainly frames the story of A FALL FROM GRACE and it is clearly set in our present day world. Ultimately though, A FALL FROM GRACE is a timeless story of good versus evil and the lengths people will go to in order to reach their goals. The story could hold up, with some adjustment, if it was set in the past or in the future.

Q: Are you able to use your background as a reporter, news photographer, or teacher to tell your stories? Does your background influence your writing?

James P. Wilcox: I learned how to write as a newspaper reporter and I learned how to think visually as a photographer. Both of these skills are critical to the writing process, at least for me. I usually “see” the scene as a picture in my mind before I actually start writing. Once I have the picture in my head, it is then simply a matter of describing, in as much detail as possible, what I already see. As a History teacher, I am telling stories each and every day, but with time restrictions. Teaching helps me pick out the important information, and I get to practice telling the story of American history in language that everyone can understand. I definitely think my background in teaching and journalism have made me a better writer.

Q: What do you believe are the key attributes of a thriller? How do you develop suspense in A FALL FROM GRACE to keep readers turning the page?

James P. Wilcox: I think the key attribute of a thriller is that it needs to be plausible. The readers have to believe that the story could actually happen in the “real” world and the characters have to behave like “real” people. If I put my characters in completely unbelievable situations, or that react in unbelievable ways to the situations they find themselves in, then I lose the readers. What I strive to do is create characters the reader can relate to, and hopefully care about, then put them in realistic situations, and then let the suspense build around them.

Q:  Does the concept of “hero versus villain” apply to A FALL FROM GRACE? What are the characteristics of an effective villain?

James P. Wilcox: There are certainly characters in A FALL FROM GRACE who can be considered heroes and some who can be considered villains but I try to spend as much time developing my villains as I do my heroes. I actually want readers to make a connection to my villain, as well as my heroes. An effective villain is simply a well-written hero who made some “bad” decisions, although they may think what they are doing is right. I try to make my heroes and villains a difference in perspective because real life is rarely black and white. The world is full of shades of grey and writing about the gray makes both the heroes and villains believable.

Q: Do you write to deliver a message? Or do you write only to entertain your readers?

James P. Wilcox: That really depends on what I am writing. Obviously when I was writing Miracle Child, which tells the story of what happened when my son Nathaniel was born sixteen weeks early, I was hoping to convey hope to every parent, to every family who is faced with a situation similar to ours. I was also hoping to show the power of faith, of hope, of love, and of family.

When I write fiction, my number one goal is to entertain the readers. Having grown up as an avid reader, I just love reading a good story and I hope I can provide readers with good stories that reflect the world we live in today. I am not shy about what I write about though. Whether it be race relations, terrorism, or politics, I do hope that my stories will make my readers ask questions about uncomfortable topics and become more informed. Ultimately, whether I write poetry, fiction, or non-fiction, I hope the readers enjoy reading my work as much as I enjoy writing them.

Q: I know you’ve just finished A FALL FROM GRACE, but what’s next?

I am already working on a follow-up to my debut novel Sex, Lies, and the Classroom tentatively titled Sacrificing Tyresha. I have also started a family drama titled Wrestling Louise Braille. On top of that, I have an idea for a dystopian novel tentatively titled Saving Christ. Of course, I really don’t think I am finished with David, Alanna, and O’Malley and hope to continue their story in a follow up to A FALL FROM GRACE. I don’t have a working title yet, but hope to have one soon.

Q: Tell us about James P. Wilcox. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Not much to tell really. I am a busy husband and dad, who teaches high school Social Studies during the day and tries to get some writing done at night between all of the soccer, volleyball, basketball, cross country, and softball practices, games and meets, Scout meetings, and errand running that are required each day. In what little free time I have, I enjoy watching (or listening) to Kansas City Royals baseball, taking pictures, and reading books.

About James P. Wilcox

James Wilcox, a former newspaper photographer and writer, is currently a high school social studies teacher in Kansas City, where he lives with his wife and three children. James is also the author of novels SEX, LIES, AND THE CLASSROOM and THE M-16 AGENDA, A FALL FROM GRACE, as well as a work of poetry title Musings of a Particular Bear: A Poetry Collection.  He is also the author of the #1 International Bestseller MIRACLE CHILD. James is currently working on his fourth novel.

David never intended to become a soldier. He planned on following his faith and become a Catholic priest. The Church, however, had other ideas for his future.
After Father Reed is found dead in Philadelphia, David is sent by the Vatican to assist Detective Peter O'Malley in the murder investigation. What they find is a terrorist plot to unleash a jihad against the Catholic Church in America.
Racing against time, David and O’Malley try to prevent a holy war. When his mother and his former girlfriend become targets, David discovers just how far he will go to protect his loved ones and his Church.

A dry and blistered hand, with skin browned by near continual exposure to the sun, reaches out and grasps the scorching metal barrel of the AK-47 Russian-made machine gun. Giving the barrel a quick tug, the strap settles more comfortably across his back. Rolling his shoulders beneath the familiar weight of the weapon, Saladin pulls on the reins and then reaches into the saddlebag riding along the rich chocolate brown of his Arabian’s right flank, and pulls out a pair of Bushnell Legend Ultra HD binoculars. Lifting them to his eyes, he scans the barren valley that stretches out in front of him, concentrating on the cluster of five mud huts built along the face of the mountain cliffs, which run along the eastern length of the valley.

Seen from an elevation of eight hundred feet, the village, if it can be called a village, appears deserted, but Saladin knows what to look for. After slowly scanning the valley from north to south, Saladin makes a slight adjustment to the focus and then settles in for a long look at the largest hut. After ten minutes, his patience is rewarded by a brief glimpse of the midnight black hair of a horse’s tail swishing past the northeastern corner of the hut. Pulling the binoculars from his eyes, Saladin tucks them back into his pack before standing in the stirrups and swinging his left leg over the beast’s rump, deliberately climbing off his horse’s back. A smile creeps across his face as he begins leading the animal down the barely discernible track among the rocks to the valley floor.
Quickly dropping down below the reach of the sun, Saladin shivers against the chill contained within the valley’s shadow. Dressed in the salwar kameez—traditional Afghan clothing consisting of baggy white cotton trousers, which stop just above the ankles, and a loose-fitting forest-green tunic, which ends just above the knee—and his pakol, the wide wool hat encircled by a thick rolled brim made famous by the Mujahedeen during their war with the Soviets, he considers wrapping himself in his patoos, warm wool blanket, before moving deeper into the valley.
Allahu Akbar,” he whispers to himself, ignoring the chill, while quickening his pace toward his destination.

Moving among the rocks, Saladin runs his upcoming meeting, the meeting in which he will change the course of Western history, through his mind. As the undisputed leader of the Ghazwa, a secretive group of terrorists and assassins whose name specifically refers to the battles led by the Prophet Muhammad, Saladin has the power to compel select imam, mullahs and militia chieftains from across the Middle East to gather in this remote location in Nangarhar’s rugged Khogyani district. As the planner and financier of most terrorist activity in the Middle East, he has the right to announce the next phase of jihad, holy war, against Islam’s Western enemies.


Twitter: @m16agenda

Sunday, September 17, 2017

SPECIAL FEATURE: The Mystery of a Setting

Joyce T. Strand, Author
I started to write mystery novels in 2009. Those of you who follow me know that I selected the genre based on my love of reading all types of mysteries or suspense thrillers—noir, spy, cozy, hard-boiled, contemporary, historical. 

In a previous post, I divulged that for me the first step in writing a mystery is to develop the character/sleuth who would drive the plot.

The second most important element is selecting a setting—a place and time in which to place my sleuth. All eight of my published mysteries have been set in California—San Francisco in 1912, Ventura in 1939 and contemporary Silicon Valley and Sonoma wine country.

My ninth mystery, coming in November 2017, is set in a small rural town in Southern California near San Diego—an area that offers a wide spectrum of events and interesting locales.

The following article explains how and why I selected this location—aside from the fact that I live there!

The Mystery of a Setting

Setting can drive a mystery, its sleuth, or its villains—and even become a character itself.

The elements of a mystery plot—sleuth/protagonist, setting, villain/antagonist, red herrings, crime—blend together to create the puzzle for readers to put together piece by piece, chapter by chapter. They all contribute.

I always begin my mysteries with my sleuth. However, I have also discovered that the time period and location can help drive the plot and develop my characters.

When I turned to some of my favorite mysteries, I quickly learned that many successful authors have done the same—they use setting to develop their characters and the mystery.

An outstanding example is Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. The famous detective Hercule Poirot has to solve a murder and learn about the characters—from a moving train. Another example is Dick Francis who set his thrillers around horse racing in the UK. His amateur sleuths—often jockeys—must solve horse-related crimes.

Even procedurals are often heavily influenced by their surroundings – Los Angeles is prevalent in Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch mysteries. And we usually envisage Mickey Spillane in L.A. Or think about Sherlock Holmes in foggy London. And it’s likely Quebec comes to mind when we envision Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache solving murders. And how does Nero Wolfe manage to solve all those crimes never leaving his office?

Therefore when it came time to start a new trilogy with a new amateur sleuth I considered the setting carefully.

My new sleuth, Emily Lazzaro, is the daughter of the Sonoma winemaker in my earlier Brynn Bancroft mysteries. She grew up in the wine region of Sonoma learning about winemaking. It turns out that she wants to work in the hospitality industry, in which she has earned a degree. So when her fiancé invites her to move to an up-and-coming wine region near San Diego, she readily agreed believing that she could be in charge of managing a winery.

By placing her in Ramona, Calif., she comes to appreciate the potential of a rural equestrian community with a wine industry, a hefty artist community, growing restaurants, picturesque rocky views, fresh produce—all located within forty minutes of downtown San Diego. Given the blending of these features, she decides she wants to live there. However, when she breaks up with her fiancé she realizes she needs to make some changes to create a living enabling her to stay.

This heightens her hospitality instincts as she searches for a better paying job, and also enables the introduction of red herrings and plot complications specific to the region that draw her deeper into the mystery.

She becomes involved in a murder, a love interest who doesn’t trust her, a new enterprise, and other Dangerous Changes in her life so that she can live in what has become to her a special town.

As the plot evolves so does Emily—driven by her own background and characteristics—but also by the setting.  Events and happenings in her chosen community mold the changes she needs to make.

Bottom line: by using an intriguing locale and time period readers become engaged more with the characters and are drawn deeper into solving the mystery.

Friday, September 1, 2017

CHECK IT OUT: New Release OUTSIDE by Natasha S. Brown


On the western highlands of Scotland, a springtime storm pummels the coast while Kristie's brother is out fishing. When he fails to return home, Kristie turns away from her list of chores to search the loch in an effort to ease her pregnant sister-in-law's fears. Instead of finding Domnall, she discovers a naked and battered man washed up on shore and worries he could be a thieving reiver or worse--an Englishman.

When the handsome outsider wakes, he is unable to remember who he is or how he came to be there. Although the feisty and melancholy Kristie isn't keen on him remaining, her young neighbor, Jock, takes to the playful stranger and names Creag after the rocky crags where the loch meets the sea. Not long after the lad speaks of selkies, magical seals who shed their skins to live as humans, Creag dreams he is swimming deep beneath the waves.

Kristie is desperate to keep the farm running for her missing brother while Creag's sleep is filled with strange visions--glimpses that may reveal secrets to his past, but he may soon wish they were only a dream.

**CONTENT WARNING: Due to mature content, recommended for readers aged 18+**

Shapeshifter Sagas {Western European Myths from the Middle Ages}

Widow {13thc. | Black Shuck | England}
Scars {10thc. | Fenrir | Iceland}
Tides {10thc. | Kraken | Great Britain/Ireland}
Outsider {14thc. | Selkie | Scotland}

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Widow (Time of Myths: Shapeshifter Sagas Book 1)
Lady Rayne has few options as a young widow. Either her father will marry her off to a wealthy nobleman--no matter how old and disagreeable he may be, or she will become a nun like her aunt at Grimsford Abbey. The choice is easy: her interest in writing is not supported in the dark halls of her father's home. Rayne eagerly anticipates becoming a scribe and learning the art of illumination and book making. But first she must travel along the treacherous roads of East Anglia.

Far from the confines of Norwich, Rayne hears fables of an enormous ghostly hound called the Black Shuck. She tries to ignore them until she finds herself staring into its expressive brown eyes. With every heartbeat, her chances of reaching Grimsford Abbey disappear. If only she could live to tell the tale.

**CONTENT WARNING: Due to mature content, recommended for readers aged 18+**

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Scars (Time of Myths: Shapeshifter Sagas Book 2)

Along the breathtaking and unforgiving coast of Snæland, Ásta’s ancestral farm is plagued with bad luck. The kinless maiden’s turf walls continue to be found damaged, and there aren’t enough farmhands to maintain the property. Claw marks in the dirt revive old memories of the wolf attack that left her scarred, and she begins to fear the whispers are true—that Fenrir, son of Loki and king of the wolves, has come to claim her and her land.

Torin often leaves his uncle’s farm in the southern hills to track and ensnare valuable gyrfalcons. His secret ability to turn into the birds he trains means his falconry skills are unparalleled, earning him precious silver and gold. If the ghosts of his past didn’t haunt him daily, pushing him to numb his senses with drink, Torin might have married by now—as his uncle often reminds him. He knows the time has finally come to find a wife and settle down.

During the Althing, the gathering of the year, Ásta’s ability to maintain her property comes into question while Torin wonders if a woman in jeopardy of losing her farm is really worth the trouble.

**CONTENT WARNING: Due to mature content, recommended for readers aged 18+**

Available to buy from....

Tides (Time of Myths: Shapeshifter Sagas Book 3)
It’s Leif’s eighth summer going viking with his father on their ship the Kraken—and he’s had enough. For as long as Leif can remember, his father has claimed to be a descendant of Ægir, god of the sea, and has exploited their shape changing ability—all this to amass enough gold to gain entrance into the ocean god’s halls. Leif hopes that time’s drawing near so he can free himself from Ragna’s domineering shadow.

On the green hills of Éire, Eilish is content learning traditional folk cures from her father until a Finn-Gall raid disturbs the peace. Desperate to protect Eilish from harm, her father cuts her hair and disguises her in his old clothing before she’s ripped from the only home she’s ever known. Sold as a thrall in Duiblinn, she must hide out as a young man on a ship full of barbarians.

Now Eilish, who fears she’ll become Ægir’s next sacrifice, and Leif, who isn’t prepared to stand up against his father’s powerful wrath, must face the tides of change—no matter how ominous they may seem.

**CONTENT WARNING: Due to mature content, recommended for readers aged 18+**

Available to buy from....

About the author
Natasha was born in Nevada City, California. Being an only child, she resorted to using her imagination while exploring the forest surrounding her home (a nasty habit she hasn’t been able to break). Her natural interest in fantasy ignited when her parents read The Hobbit to her as a youth, and from then on anything seemed possible. Once awarded with a Hershey’s bar ‘the size of a Buick’ in her high school English class for creative writing, her passion and interest in literature has never dimmed.

She now lives in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, two children, and two dogs.

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I received this book to review through Beck Valley Books Book Tours, I have volunteered to share my review and all the opinions are 100% my own.


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