Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Biscuit Bowl Food Truck Mysteries

Death on Eat Street by Joyce Lavene

I can honestly say that good food inspired my new book, Death on Eat Street. My husband and I ate lunch at a food truck in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. I had roast corn, and deep-fried pickles. But it was the deep fried mushrooms that were to die for!
The hard part was coming up with the specialty item my food truck was going to be famous for. Surprisingly – since my husband has never baked a biscuit in his life – he came up with our deep-fried biscuit bowl.

Our protagonist is Zoe Chase, a young woman who works at a bank in Mobile, Alabama, but dreams of owning her own restaurant. When she is passed over for promotion again right before her thirtieth birthday, she decides to take matters into her hands. She gets rid of everything, except her cat – Crème Brulee – and buys a run-down diner she dreams of restoring.

To make enough money to accomplish that, she gets an Air Stream trailer from her uncle, and creates a food truck. Her family is less than proud of her accomplishment, and doesn’t understand why she has a need to feed large groups of people. Her fiancé, a stockbroker, feels the same way.

But Zoe knows her fried biscuit bowl, filled with one of her delicious homemade fillings, is going to be a hit. She’s on her own and loving it, even if she’s feeling the pinch of life as a new business owner.


Zoe Chase always wanted to own her own restaurant—but first, she’ll have to serve up a heaping helping of meals on wheels, with a side of mystery. When she’s once again passed over for a promotion at work, Zoe decides to take the big leap and go for her dream. She quits, gives up her fancy digs, and buys a fixer-upper diner in a shady part of town. To keep above water during the renovation, she buys a used food truck to serve the downtown and waterfront of Mobile, Alabama. Zoe starts to dish out classic Southern food—but her specialty is her deep-fried biscuit bowls that blow traditional bread bowls away. After a promising start, things start to go downhill faster than a food truck without brakes. First, someone tries to rob the cash register. Next, Zoe is threatened by the owner of a competing food truck for taking their spot. And when the owner ends up dead inside Zoe’s rolling restaurant, Zoe and her sole employee, Ollie, find themselves hopping out of the frying pan into the fryer. They need to find the real killer, before both of them get burned.

J. J. Cook writes award-winning, bestselling mystery fiction as themselves, Joyce and Jim Lavene, and Ellie Grant. They have written and published more than 70 novels for Harlequin, Berkley, Amazon, and Gallery Books along with hundreds of non-fiction articles for national and regional publications. They live in rural North Carolina with their family.

You can learn more about the author(s) at the following sites:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

When Murder’s On Your Mind

by Patricia Smith Wood                                                                                                                                  

Solving murder does not normally occupy the thoughts of teen-age girls. But when I became enthralled with Margaret Sutton's Judy Bolton mystery series at age 14, I decided that's what I wanted to do. I didn't know if I wanted to do it as a real-life detective, or as a mystery writers.

About that same time I first heard about the unsolved murder of Cricket Coogler in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1949. She was an eighteen-year old waitress, in that small town where illegal gambling was rampant. Politicians at the state level as well as local players were involved, and soon, so was Cricket. It would be many years before it occurred to me to use this unfortunate girl’s death to write my own mystery novel.

When you are introduced to a concept at least three times, it usually means you should take notice. That’s what happened with the case of Cricket Coogler. My father, an FBI agent assigned to the Albuquerque office, was the first person to share the story with me. He was interested in the mystery of her murder, and told me the bare facts of the case. Over the years, it came up often in conversations.

The second person to ply me with tales of the case, and supply information about the players involved, was a friend I met in the 70s. He was a newspaper reporter for the local Las Cruces paper shortly after the murder. As a writer and an actor, he believed the case was worthy of developing into a book or a play.

The third person was a dear friend who grew up in Las Cruces, and knew Cricket Coogler. She supplied a sense of who the girl was and how she ended up dying at such a tender age. By now, it was beginning to penetrate my brain that I should use this true event to create a fictional version and solve the mystery.

Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to interview each of these people and record them.  Later I transferred the tapes to CDs and they remain in my research files. All three people have since passed away, but their words live on.

The final piece of the puzzle came when I discovered The Silence of Cricket Coogler, a documentary about the murder. It contained an interview with mystery writer and former New Mexico newspaper reporter Tony Hillerman. I drove to Santa Fe to see the film and bought a copy of it afterward.  The Hillerman interview revealed more details and confirmation of the individuals that many people suspected had been involved in the murder.

At last I had enough to begin writing, and I spent the next few years creating the characters and the framework to tell the story. I thought I was finished in 2008, but it wasn’t long before I realized that editing would be my next challenge. It took 21 edits before it was really ready to shop around. Then in September 2012, the magic happened. I had submitted The Easter Egg Murder to publisher Aakenbaaken & Kent, and they emailed to say if the manuscript was still available, they wanted to offer me a contract.

If it was still available? Of COURSE it was still available. I almost broke a finger in my haste typing back: “YES!”

Another edit came from the publisher, but the story was at last in print on February 14, 2013. The book was named a Finalist in the 2013 NM/AZ Book Awards in two categories. I think my three dear sources would be very proud.

The Easter Egg Murder features Harrie McKinsey and her best friend and business partner Ginger Vaughn. They discover that some secrets are best left buried when retired Senator Philip Lawrence hires their editing firm to assist him with a book about the famous unsolved 1950 murder of a cocktail waitress that led to the end of illegal gambling clubs in New Mexico half a century earlier. When the Albuquerque newspaper announces that Senator Lawrence is writing the book, one person with a connection to the case is murdered and another narrowly escapes death. Despite the best efforts of Ginger’s husband and an FBI agent Harrie finds infuriatingly attractive, the energetic pair cannot resist trying to discover who is so anxious to destroy the book, the Senator, and his big secret. But will their proficiency and ill-conceived bravado be up to the challenge when they land in a dark house, with a cold, calculating killer who has nothing else to lose?

I’m offering a free copy of the book to someone who comments on this post. My web site is at:, and my blog is at: .


My father, first as a police officer, and later as a career FBI agent, sparked my own interest in law, solving crime, and mystery.
After retiring from a varied and successful business career (including eighteen months working at the FBI, being a security officer at a savings & loan, and owning my own computer business) I attended writing seminars, conferences, and in 2009 graduated from the FBI Citizens’ Academy. Aakenbaaken &; Kent published my first mystery, The Easter Egg Murder, on February 14, 2013. Murder for Breakfast, the second in the series, is underway. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Impersonator by Mary Miley

After thirty-five years writing nonfiction books and magazine articles, most on history, travel, and business topics, I decided to step across the aisle into the world of fiction. It had to be historical fiction, because as a historian, I find the past pulls me far more than the present or the future. And the mystery genre has long been my favorite to read. So I wrote a mystery, got an agent, and . . . it didn't sell. So I wrote another, learned that agents can fire authors (she didn't care for my second attempt), got another agent, submitted the manuscript to the national Mystery Writers of America contest for Best First Crime Novel, and won. Winning meant St. Martin's Minotaur would publish THE IMPERSONATOR--a thrill for me because, in my opinion, St. Martin's is the nation's premiere mystery publishing house. They liked my series proposal and contracted for the second book, SILENT MURDERS, which comes out in September. I'm putting the finishing touches on the third and am nearly finished with the fourth--there's a long pipeline in publishing, and I hate crowding up against deadlines.

Having spent most of my teaching and writing career in the colonial period, I was delighted to break into the Roaring Twenties, easily the most fascinating decade in American history. I love digging into the details, doing the research that will make the reader feel as if he or she truly has stepped back into those times. No other decade offers a mystery writer such an array of violence, mayhem, and truly weird characters--remember, this is the start of organized crime and the height of the Ku Klux Klan. Prohibition defined the era, turning most Americans into lawbreakers. Women's lives changed more during the Twenties than any other time. Young women, known as flappers, shocked the male establishment when they cast off their corsets, flattened their chests, raised their hems, bobbed their hair, put on makeup, and went unchaperoned to illegal speakeasies where they could slurp bathtub gin, smoke cigarettes, and dance the Charleston to that shocking new music called jazz. It was also the height of vaudeville--the setting for THE IMPERSONATOR--and the height of silent movies--the setting for SILENT MURDERS. 

One feature that pulled me into the Twenties was the vaudeville culture. This was a virulently racist and sexist time, when discrimination against Jews, Catholics, gays, African-Americans, Irish, Asians, women, and all immigrants was taken for granted. Because vaudeville was disproportionately made up of those groups, it was perhaps the only place in America where people were generally judged on their abilities. Giving Jessie, my main character, a vaudeville background was a way to make her realistically unprejudiced and independent.

THE IMPERSONATOR is the story of a young vaudeville performer who occasionally finds herself on the wrong side of the law. One night after the show, a stranger makes her a proposition, and not the sort she was expecting. But desperation drives her to accept his offer: a major role in his inheritance scam, impersonating a long- lost heiress for a cut of the fortune. The charade convinces everyone容xcept the one person who knows what really happened to the heiress and now must kill the impostor. With help from a handsome bootlegger, a mysterious Chinese herbalist, and a Small Time comedian, Jessie deduces the identity of the murderer. But it's a stand-off exposure of either destroys them both. 

I'm an Army brat who has lived in Virginia most of my adult life. I received my BA and MA in history from the College of William and Mary, worked at Colonial Williamsburg, and taught American history and museum studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. I am the author of 200 magazine articles and of ten nonfiction books. When I'm not writing or researching my next book, I'm reading, traveling, or playing the pipe organ with all the stops out. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Intricacies of Publishing by Marianna Heusler

I’ve been writing for twenty years and during that time publishing has changed dramatically.

The old way to get published was to somehow entice an agent to love your manuscript and then hope that the agent would entice a publisher to like your manuscript and then pray that the publisher could entice a reader to buy your manuscript.

And, while all of this was happening, the writer held her breath and waited.

Thankfully, independent presses began to crop up, which gave writers another vehicle. They were easier to deal with, some of them eliminated the extra step of finding an agent, and they were able to release your book and even help you a bit with promotion.

But alas, my first independent publishing company went bankrupt at the same time my book was nominated for an Edgar. And even now, the independent publishing houses who are left are struggling to make ends meet as self-publishing is knocking down the doors.

And here is the thing – there are self-published writers who swear that they are making more money now then they could ever make writing for a traditional publisher. Writers brag that they clear several thousand dollars a month as readers happily download their books and the author, who sets the price, can keep up to seventy-five percent of the profits.

Publishing on Amazon is not hard to do, not really. And if you’re smart you’ll hire an editor to catch all those typos, then someone to draw an eye-catching cover, and lastly someone to do the formatting for you, which can be tricky. So be prepared to spend money, although there are authors who feel they will make up the difference soon enough.

The problem is that there is so much product out there, it’s hard to tell a great book from a mediocre one from a really, really bad one.  I once asked my third grade class what they thought the hardest part of being a writer was. I got the usual answers, thinking of a story, making it interesting, getting it published, when one bright girl merely said, “No one knows that your book exists.”

This was so apparent when J.K. Rowling wrote her mystery, The Cuckoo’s Calling and published it under an alias. While the reviews were excellent, the sales were dismal. Until the news broke, and identified the real author, and then, of course, it sold.

But the question is – what is the best way to reach your target audience? Social media helps, of course, Facebook, Pinterest, - personal blogs, etc. I can’t help but think, though, of something Mark Cuban (the billionaire on Shark Tank) once said, “If 10,000 people are doing the same thing, why would you want to be 10,001? There is just no good reason.”

He also discussed the importance of going where your audience is, instead of trying to think of ways for your audience to find you.

This worked well when I was writing young adult novels. I would line up school visits and then do a mini-mystery writing workshops, donating a copy of my book to the school library. I remember one day when I walked into an auditorium and the entire seventh grade (about fifty kids) had a copy of my book.  (The teacher made the classes read it.) I was ecstatic. Where else can you sell fifty books in an hour?

Of course, kids are always in one place at one time, and that is school, so that makes them easy to find. Not so true of adults.

I’ve read many articles on what doesn’t sell books, but no one is quite sure what does.

What I know for sure is: 

If you want to do well as a writer (whatever that means for you) you need to figure out what you do best and stick to it. If you’re great at writing mysteries, don’t switch to romances because you think they will sell better. You won’t be able to compete with those authors who have been reading romances for years. If you write adult horror, don’t decide to write for the YA market, when you know nothing about it, and have no experience with that age group.

Your book not only has to be well written, it has to be better than what is already out there and in some ways different. (So you really have to spend time scouting out your competition. You won’t have any way to know if what you do is good, if you don’t know what is best.)

Then use what is different and unique about your book. We’re creative people, that’s what we do. So use that creativity to go where interested readers may lurk.

There is saying I am quite fond of:  “For every locked door there is a key that will open it.”

I challenge you to find that key.


Marianna Heusler has published eight novels and a hundred short stories. Her novels have been nominated for an Edgar and a Claymore Award. She lives in New York City where she teaches at a private girls' school.

You can learn more about the author at the following sites: