Sunday, August 20, 2023



by Multi-Award-Winning Author Lynda Rees, The Murder Guru

Book Trailer Link:  From The Author’s Lips:

Charli Owens’ murder house renovation is supposed to save her from financial ruin if it doesn’t kill her first. More than corpses pile up, forcing Charli and neighboring contractor Eli Lange together as they unravel a history of death, corruption, and deceit.

Available at


by Multi-Award-Winning Author Lynda Rees, The Murder Guru

Book Trailer Link:

With a fresh MBA and fabulous job, Bree leaves her cheating husband and backwoods home for the big city. Snarky Police Chief Rex takes his tragic morning out on her when Bree blocks traffic in her first-ever rush hour traffic jam. A theft brings the two together. Their budding romance is interrupted when Bree is suspected in a brutal slaying. The killer wants something only Bree can give.

Available at

These are a few simple, inexpensive things I learned during my more than thirty-six years as a Realtor about improving the appearance of your home. I hope you find them helpful.

(okay, twelve things)

It’s surprising how a few simple, inexpensive steps can improve the appearance of your home. In most cases, the house you live in is your greatest asset. Whether you want it to look better for yourself, or your intention is to make it more appealing to potential buyers, try these twelve easy ways to make the best first impression possible.

1.      Prune hedges and shrubs in the front yard, especially those close to the house. Be sure no vegetation blocks windows. This makes the house appear immediately more modern, welcoming, and neater. It helps increase airflow when you open windows to bring in fresh air and makes it less appealing to intruders.

2.      Keep the lawn cut and trimmed. Rake weeds, dried leaves, and remove any fallen branches.

3.      Apply a thick coating of fresh mulch around hedges, bushes, trees, and plants. Not only does this help shrubbery hold needed moisture. It makes it easier to mow around them and assures passersby or potential buyers the home is well cared for.

4.      Wash the windows. This instantly gives the home a fresh, clean appearance. It helps enhance the inside atmosphere of the house.

5.      Clean the garage doors and shutters. If any paint is peeling or discolored, apply a fresh coat.

6.      Wash the front door and if needed, apply a new coat of paint in an inviting, modern color that accentuates the style of the house.

7.      Add a splash of color. If you’re up to it, plant a flowerbed of fresh blossoms. If not, colorful pot with brilliant blooms will do to give the house an inviting appearance.

8.      New, modern light fixtures for the front of the house (door, garage entrance) give the property an up-to-date impression.

9.      If you don’t upgrade lighting, at least wash the fixtures so they are clean and bug-free inside and out.

10.  Swap out old light bulbs for new, brighter ones.

11.  Remove clutter, toys, or tools from the front. Store them away in a basement, shed, or garage; or put them neatly inside a storage container in the back yard.

12.   Purchase a new, shoe-scrubbing welcome mat.

Multi-genre author, Lynda Rees, the Murder Guru, brings you the best in mystery, suspense, romance, non-fiction, and more. This free-spirited adventurer and world traveler has a diverse background that brings rare perspective to her writing. Appalachian-born, daughter of a coal miner, Lynda is part Cherokee Indian. Her thriving, goal-oriented work ethic results in workaholic tendencies. A love affair with books, mystery, and American history stems from being immersed in the Mob’s reign in Northern Kentucky when the area prospered as a mecca for gambling and sin.

Be sure to get your copies of Lynda Rees’s latest mystery novels, Flip or Flop, Murder House and Fresh Starts, Dirty Money, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, KOBO/WALMART, or wherever you buy books. If they’re not in stock at your local library or bookseller, ask. They’ll most likely stock them. Ask for them today!

If you want a signed copy, reach out to the author at, SUBJECT: SIGNED COPY.

Lynda would love to hear from you and share the latest, greatest news with you. Contact Lynda at her website, by email or other links below, and become a VIP to get 2 FREE eBooks.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Guest Post: Erica Miner, Redone, Re-Published, and Rebooted

What is it like to have a series redone, re-published, and rebooted? This was a whole new experience for mystery writer Erica Miner, and the journey was an unexpected one.


I have often thought that having a book released is akin to giving birth. As writers, we first conceive of the idea. Then comes the gestation period, where the concept grows, changes, becomes an ever-better version of itself. Rewrites follow rewrites, edits upon edits. After a very long, difficult labor, your baby novel is born. Whew, what a process!


For those of us who were unfortunate enough to go through that experience in the middle of the pandemic, the journey became even more challenging. For me, it took an unexpected turn.


My original concept was to write a murder mystery that took place at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where I had been a violinist for 21 years. I found a traditional publisher and drew upon my experiences at the Met, adding large doses of my wicked imagination, and Murder in the Pit was born. Readers requested a sequel, and I delivered one that took place at Santa Fe Opera. My “Opera Mystery” series was created. San Francisco Opera asked me to write another that took place at that venerable institution, and another sequel was published.


Then, the pandemic happened.


The San Francisco novel languished in e-book only, with no print version. I was at a loss. My Puget Sound Sisters in Crime colleagues sent me to the wonderful local organization, Washington Lawyers for the Arts, who advised me to get back my rights and find another publisher.


I lucked out. Level Best Books offered me a contract to re-publish all three books, with different titles and covers. I then went to work adding changes: new plot points, updates and more. Et voilà: the first book in the series is now about to be reborn as Aria for Murder, releasing Oct. 28. New sequels will be published in 2023 and 2024. That’s what I call great family planning!

Violinist turned author ERICA MINER now has a multi-faceted career as an award-winning author, screenwriter, journalist and lecturer.

Erica’s lectures, seminars and workshops have received kudos throughout California and the Pacific Northwest, and she has won top ratings as a special lecturer for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. An active contributor to and, she also contributed a monthly Power of Journaling article series for the National Association of Baby Boomer Women newsletter. Other writings have appeared in Vision Magazine, WORD San Diego, Istanbul Our City, and numerous E-zines. Erica’s lecture topics include “The Art of Self- Re-invention,” “Journaling: The Write Way to Write Fiction,” “Solving the Mystery of Mystery Writing,” and “Opera Meets Hollywood.” Details about Erica’s novels, screenplays and lectures can be found on her website.

Sign up for Erica's newsletter at 







Chi eÌ morto, voi, o il vecchio?

Che domanda da bestia! Il vecchio.

Who’s dead, you or the old man?

What an idiotic question! The old man.

—Mozart, Don Giovanni, Act I



Collateral damage. Sometimes it just can’t be avoided.


That was what his partner had told him. When you’re trying to kill someone, other people can get in the way. It’s not planned. It just happens. Though the Metropolitan Opera’s orchestra pit was the largest in the world, when the orchestration of an opera was vast, as in Wagner or Strauss, things could get quite crowded for the one hundred or so musicians squeezed together there. Tonight’s Verdi was no exception. Grand opera at its loftiest, with plenty of brass, extra strings, and the like. He would do his best to hit his target precisely. But it wasn’t an exact science. And if, under pressure, he was slightly off, well...


Tanto peggio, as they say in French.


He chortled to himself. Everyone in the Met knew “tanto peggio” was Italian, not French.


He salivated with anticipation as he lovingly cleaned his VAL Russian sniper rifle with its special bronze-bristled brush, and oiled and lubricated the ammunition chamber with the fine-spray One Shot gun cleaner and a cotton swab. He picked up the last tiny fragments of powder residue with an alcohol patch threaded through a needle attached to the brush. Then he polished the entire instrument with one of his special-order McAlister microfiber gun cleaning cloths.


If you look after your firearm, when the time comes, it will look after you.


And what better time for an assassination than opening night at the Met?


Copyright © 2022, Erica Miner

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: ‎Level Best Books (October 28, 2022)

Language: ‎ English

Paperback: ‎ 254 pages

ISBN-10: ‎ 1685121985

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1685121983

Item Weight: ‎ 13.4 ounces

Dimensions: ‎ 6 x 0.58 x 9 inches

Pre-orders at: 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Interview: E.M. Munsch, Author of A Haunting at Marianwood

E.M. Munsch is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, but has spent her adult life in Louisville, Kentucky.  She graduated from Nazareth College of Kentucky located outside of Bardstown and attended The Ohio State University for her graduate work. She has been a bookseller for fifty years working in both large and small, chain and independent bookstores. She opened the first Barnes & Noble in Kentucky where she set up a mystery reading group which is still active today. She also taught classes in the mystery genre for the Veritas Society and joined the local chapter of Sisters in Crime. 

With Susan Bell, she co-edited MYSTERY WITH A SPLASH OF BOURBON, an anthology of bourbon-related stories.

As E.M. Munsch, she writes the Dash Hammond series set on the shores of Lake Erie. The latest title, A HAUNTING AT MARIANWOOD, is now available on Amazon.

1.      When did you know you wanted to be an author?

I have always been a reader and am most comfortable in a library or bookstore. In 1972 I found my true calling as a bookseller in a small independent in Louisville. I was in heaven. Not only did I get to see all the new and old books but talk with the customers about them. And as my career progressed and I worked for B&N, I also got to meet many authors as they toured. I have the utmost admiration for them. To be able to stick to a project from start to end amazed me. I love stories, reading them and creating them in my head. I would scribble first lines, first paragraphs, even several pages but never finished anything. I would start something and then look over to see a book I wanted to read. Let someone else do the heavy lifting. It wasn’t until  I was 69 and a member of Sisters in Crime did I think I could be an author. And by Jove, I did it.


2.      How did you choose the fiction genre you write in?

As I said, I love good stories with interesting  characters. When I started bookselling, I picked up a Chip Harrison book by Lawrence Block, more about him later. This series is a take-off of the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin series by Rex Stout. It prompted me to begin reading Stout and I fell in love with Archie and the gang. Customers and I would discuss the fine points of living in the Brownstone. At that point I decided that mystery would be my field. I also read a lot of Regency romances since I was intrigued by that era and did start one or two romances (still unfinished). But time spent with a good mystery series won out.


3.      What is your current project and can share a little?

I’m currently working on the seventh Dash Hammond book tentatively titled A RELIABLE MAN. Maud Grealis, a cranky little old lady who claims to be a cousin of Dash’s mother, calls his father, a former sheriff, telling him something feels off. So father and son drive to Cleveland only to find Maud’s body. Dash discovers he is heir to all her worldly goods and several secrets.  Although Dash feels like he barely knew Maud, she chose him since, as she told her attorney, “Dash is a good man, a reliable man. He will do the right thing. He is a seeker of truth and a finder of lost things”.

You’ll have to read the book to see if Maud is right.


4.      What inspired you to create Dash Hammond?

I live in a  condo which has a small area for a garden. I had a knock-out rose that had turned into a monster. One day while pruning it,  I lost my balance, falling into and onto the bush. After I stopped swearing and as I slowly untangled myself from the thorns, I wondered how a writer would write this scene. Inside I went and sat at the computer, dabbing away at my multiple thorn pricks. I pictured a younger woman entangled in a large rose bush. Now, wouldn’t it be more interesting if, instead of climbing out of it unassisted, she had a neighbor who would help her. And Dash was born. He’s six-four (Thomas Magnum), has brilliant blue eyes (like my dear departed husband) and a wise-mouth (Rockford, Archie Goodwin and Bernie Rhodenbarr). This is his first encounter with his new neighbor as he had been traveling when she moved in.

I ‘dashed’ off several pages and took it to the critique group of my local Sisters in Crime. They loved it and asked the fateful question: What happens next? My answer was a simple: I have no idea, for all I know Annie’s still stuck in the rose bush.

These kind ladies pushed and prodded me along. All of a sudden I discovered I loved writing this story. And I still do love writing about  the Hammond family, the town of Clover Pointe, Ohio, and all the good and bad guys who pass through.

I guess I should add that he got his name ‘Dashiell’ because his mother (and me) are big fans of Dashiell Hammett.


5.      So you’re an author. Which authors do you enjoy reading?

My two favorite authors, ones whose books I re-read constantly, are Rex Stout and Lawrence Block. Stout, of the Golden Age of Mysteries, created two very interesting characters. If Archie Goodwin were a real person, I’d be camped outside his brownstone, begging for a chance to go dancing with him.

Which brings me to Bernie Rhodenbarr, the burglar turned bookseller who still dabbles in the light-fingered trade. The cast of characters who surround Bernie are quirky but believable and Bernie’s comments on the books he reads and sells are both funny and educational. When we were in lock-down, the Burglar series was first off my shelf to help me get through those challenging times.

Block has such a body of work, from several series to captivating short stories. His non-fiction books, on writing, living and life, read like he is sitting across from you sharing a pizza and a beer. Like his characters, Larry, if I may, is a very remarkable man. I guess I should stop gushing but if you haven’t read Block do so at your earliest convenience. And if it’s not convenient, drop what you’re doing anyway and read his books.


I belong to a mystery reading group, and over the almost thirty years of meeting, we have tried a bit of this and that. For me the most satisfying are the series books. If I discover a new one, I’m thrilled. It means a whole new group of friends to visit on a Sunday afternoon. Teatime with Ann Cleeves.  

Thanks for visiting with us!

More on A Haunting at Marianwood:

Life is good for Dash Hammond. He's recently remarried his childhood sweetheart, Dr. Maevis Summers, and together they're raising his four-year-old son, T.J. A retired Army colonel, Dash keeps himself busy fixing everything from a leaky faucet to an unsolved murder.

His cousin Billy calls Dash to Kentucky when his sister, a nun, is in trouble. Sister Miriam Patrice has been hearing things, seeing things, and misplacing things.

Marianwood, the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Mother of God, is located on an old plantation thought to be haunted by its original inhabitant, who is rumored to prowl the grounds in search of her murdered beau.

In a battle of wits, will the victor be supernatural, or a very corporeal retired Army colonel?

Friday, October 14, 2022

Cover Reveal: A Haunting at Marianwood


A Haunting at Marianwood is the latest installment in the Dash Hammond series by E.M. Munsch
The Kindle version is now available for preorder on Amazon. E.M. Munsch is a member of the Derby Rotten Scoundrels chapter of Sisters in Crime, the first chapter of SinC I belonged to. Mystery and Horror, LLC, our press, is publishing this novel.

Description of the book, and excerpt below!

Life is good for Dash Hammond. He's recently remarried his childhood sweetheart, Dr. Maevis Summers, and together they're raising his four-year-old son, T.J. A retired Army colonel, Dash keeps himself busy fixing everything from a leaky faucet to an unsolved murder.

His cousin Billy calls Dash to Kentucky when his sister, a nun, is in trouble. Sister Miriam
Patrice has been hearing things, seeing things, and misplacing things.

Marianwood, the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Mother of God, is located on an old
plantation thought to be haunted by its original inhabitant, who is rumored to prowl the grounds
in search of her murdered beau.

In a battle of wits, will the victor be supernatural, or a very corporeal retired Army colonel?

An excerpt: 

Sister Miriam Patrice slid back from the kneeler. The quiet of the church soothed her as it wrapped its velvet cloak of serenity around her. She sat, hands folded, once in prayer but now to stop the trembling. Glancing at the sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows casting a rainbow on the empty pews, she drew in deep slow breaths. She looked at the watch pinned to her tunic. Time to get back to work. She rose to leave the church, her place of refuge, a place free from the distractions of the running the community and the new retirement home the sisters established to help make ends meet. 

The members of the Sisters of the Blessed Mother of God found their numbers dwindling. New recruits, as Sister Miriam Patrice called them mimicking her cousin Dash Hammond’s military jargon, were very rare. The teaching congregation once had more than a hundred sisters. Vocations, callings to either the religious or the educational side of the community, had fallen to less than a handful each year. 

 As she walked down the aisle to the back of the church, she heard it again. Tap, tap, tap. She stopped to listen, making sure she wasn’t mistaken. That sound sent shivers down her spine. Squaring her shoulders, she walked to the doors next to the church exit. One led up to the choir loft, the other down to the cellar. In days past she had gone up the stairs; today she would go down. 

Pulling the doorknob, Miriam Patrice met the resistance of a locked door. She pulled out her keys and unlocked it. She struggled with the door, suggesting to her that no one had gone to the cellar in a while. 
The stone steps were worn but sturdy. She moved cautiously into the darkness, one hand on the wall to steady her nervous knees, the other searching for the handrail. Her hope was that the security guard forgot to close the door one day and some critter, not two legged, was trapped down here and making the tap, tap, tap sound. Logically she knew this was wrong, but the alternative could be worse.

Decades ago, they discovered one of the newer buildings constructed during a period of rapid expansion had been built on an underground spring. It wasn’t long before the building tilted, as did their finances. What a waste of time and money. Fearful that what she would find was a tell-tale pooling or bubbling of water, she moved forward slowly. She said a silent prayer that she would not stumble into a puddle, a precursor of the inevitable unwelcome news.

Her trek seemed unnecessarily slow though reason told Miriam Patrice she should alert one of her sisters where she was just in case she lost her footing. But her reasoning had not been the sharpest of late. She blamed her sleepless nights, not because of an uneasy conscience but an overabundance of concern for her congregation and its uncertain future, both financially and individually. 

After spending a half an hour poking into the corners, searching for the origin of the sound, Miriam Patrice gave up. She needed a flashlight if she wanted to do a proper search. Next time she would be prepared. Next time she told herself she would be less skittish, more confident that she could deal with whatever sprung up from the tap, tap, tap. After deciding this, she nodded to herself. At least she didn’t hear a drip, drip, drip.

The sound had stopped so she decided to return to the church. As she locked the door behind her, the tap, tap, tap began again, louder this time. If she permitted herself, she would have said damn.

Monday, October 03, 2022

Interview: Carol Preflatish, Author of Witch Hunt

Welcome to a thrilling blog tour perfect for the Fall season and those who love mysteries!  Enjoy all of the stops on the Nathan Perry Mysteries Blog Tour featuring Witch Hunt, by Carol Preflatish! This blog tour will be taking place from Monday, October 3rd, to Sunday, October 9th!

The Witch Hunt Blog Tour includes reviews, guest posts, and interviews, so don’t miss any of the activities taking place on the participating blog sites!

When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Even in elementary school, I loved writing stories. In both high school and college, I took every writing class I could. After I got married, got a full-time job, and then started a family, I sort of forgot about writing for a while.  In 1999, my goal for the Millennium was to see if I could write a book. I succeeded and was hooked again, but it took me two more books, and not until 2010 before I became published.

Which part of the research did you enjoy the most?

I love everything about research, probably a little too much. Most of my research is done online and once I start, if I’m not careful, I find I’ve spent too much time on it. I write a police procedural mystery series, so my other source for researching technical things is YouTube. Again, if I’m not careful, I find I’ve gone down that rabbit hole. I also have a pretty good library of books about writing mysteries, police procedures, different weapons, and forensics. I also rely on a couple online writing groups that have both mystery writers and police officers as members that will answer questions.

What inspired you to create Nathan Perry?

When I was in college, I actually was interested in becoming a police officer. Subsequently, I got hooked on the late Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone books. I loved the city cop coming to the small town to be the police chief. The location in Massachusetts was beautiful choice, and the characters were so likeable. It actually caused me to stop writing romantic suspense to start writing my mystery series. My main character, Nathan Perry has left the Army and comes back to his hometown to become the first police detective in the department. I am using the fictional town of Mystic, Massachusetts, which is modeled after Salem, Massachusetts.

What would you define as literary success?

I think different authors would define it differently. Some would say it’s getting an agent and then being published by one of the Big Five publishers in New York City. I’m happy being signed with a small press. Counting my romantic suspense and non-fiction, I’ve written and published twelve books. I count that as a success.

So, you're an author. Which authors do you enjoy reading?

As I mentioned, I love the Robert B. Parker books. I also really like both of the Private and Instinct series by James Patterson, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a Lisa Gardner thriller that I didn’t love. 

Thank you for stopping by!

About the author: Carol Preflatish, from southern Indiana, is the author of the Nathan Perry Mystery Series, as well as several romantic suspense novels, and two non-fiction books. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, watch Indianapolis Colts football, and do just about anything outdoors.

An avid photographer, Carol has had many photos published in her local newspaper, as well as in “Golf Journal,” the official publication of the United States Golf Association. A few little-known facts about Carol are that she’s a licensed amateur radio operator, and is a collector of celebrity autographs, stamps, and coins.

You can learn more about Carol by visiting her web page at

Book Synopsis for Witch Hunt: Is it 1692 all over again?

When a millionaire’s daughter is found hanging from a tree in the Mystic, Massachusetts cemetery, witchcraft is suspected. Police detective Nathan Perry is assigned the case and works closely with an attractive female private investigator hired by the father to find who murdered his daughter.

Mystic is known for its history of witchcraft in the area. It’s what brings tourists to town, and when another murder occurs, there is rising pressure on Nathan to solve the case quickly.

Nathan’s investigation pulls him into an unfamiliar world rife with covens, magic, and lore to find the killer.  A small town gripped in fear is depending on him to prevail.  

Witch Hunt is a stand-alone novel that is part of the Nathan Perry Mystery Series.

Author Links:




Tour Schedule and Activities

10/3    The Scribblings of Sarah E. Glenn Author Interview

10/4    The Seventh Star Blog  Post

10/5    Jazzy Book Reviews Author Interview

10/6    BookBekAdventures Review

10/7    Sapphyria's Books Review

10/8    The Book Lover's Boudoir Review

Purchase links for Witch Hunt:

eBook Links

Kindle Version:

Nook Link:

Print Links:


Barnes and Noble Link:

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Guest Post: Aaron Drown


As a writer whose actual living is made as a freelance graphic designer, the role of book design in independent publishing is a topic near and dear. I’ve given workshops on the key importance design considerations have for small presses and self-publishers, arguing that to be taken seriously in the marketplace it’s vital not only to have a story worth reading, but to put out a product that looks like it belongs on the same shelf as the Kings, Grishams, Robertses, and Graftons.

I believe the presentation of a work is an extension of the work itself, much like an album jacket augments the music contained inside. In that regard I’ve been very fortunate to have such an indulgent (and patient) partner in Seventh Star Press, as they graciously allow me the freedom to design my own book covers. Though it may be just as fair to say what holds true for a lawyer who represents themselves also goes for a writer who designs their cover art, it’s that extension of the writing—the visual lure that will hopefully grab attention and compel a closer inspection and a thumbing-through—that I like to believe as both author and cover artist I’m especially positioned to make. Of course, it may be even fairer to say that in the same way doctors make the worst patients, designing for a graphic designer can easily become an exercise in exasperation so it’s a lot less headache for my publisher just to let me do the thing myself.

My most recent book, a short story collection called The Gods Must Clearly Smile, features cover art that I also created and I think, if I may be forgiven the conceit, makes for a good example of that close relationship between packaging and content. The title of the collection comes from a quote by Aristotle, “If some animals are good at hunting and others are suitable for hunting, them the gods must clearly smile on hunting.” And it’s that theme of hunter and hunted that caught my attention and pricked my sense for the wry and my sideways way of seeing the world.

The front cover depicts a quaint little cottage floating on an island of tranquility surrounded by cheerful blue sky and happy little clouds worthy of Bob Ross. The typography, too, lends to the congeniality. In the upper and lower left corners, though, hints of darkness intrude—tiny indications that all might not be so carefree and untroubled. As one turns over to the back, the reality of the scene is revealed in the form of a jagged-toothed monster opening wide its maw in preparation to devour our friends in the cottage—a star-filled beast comprised of the universe itself.

The stories in The Gods Must Clearly Smile run the spectrum from the Old West to futuristic science fiction, and the thread that wends its way through each and stitches them together into a whole is the central theme that sometimes we are the hunter, sometimes we are the hunted, and no matter how serene a given moment may seem, the next moment has every bit the potential to reveal the monster that’s been stalking you the entire time. It’s a tongue-in-cheek metaphor—promise—meant to be amusing and ironic rather than pessimistic, but it’s a concept that I felt I could bring to fruition visually and convey a sense of what awaits the reader inside.

I’d welcome hearing whether I was successful.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Interview: C.L. Tolbert, Author of Sanctuary


by C.L. Tolbert

September 12 - October 8, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

When did you know you wanted to be an author?

When I was nine years old, I won a writing contest. Writing the essay was fun, but since my teacher entered me in the contest, I wasn’t fully aware that I was involved in a competition. As a result, I’d never considered the possibility of winning a prize. I was thrilled to discover that winning meant that I was allowed to pick out a gallon of my favorite ice cream. I’ll never forget the taste. It was Spumoni, with pistachios.

Writing was a pleasure to me then, and it still is. Even after spending thirty minutes searching for the one perfect action word for a given scene, I enjoy it. (Notice I didn’t say that I enjoy editing.) Throughout my school years, I wrote other essays and reports which received praise, or in one instance, tears. But I never considered writing a novel, until I retired from the practice of law.

Even though lawyers essentially read and write for a living, a legal background does not prepare you for a fictional writing career. Legal writing is formulaic. It is something to unlearn.  But one day, when I was convalescing from a surgery, I decided to write a story. A fictional story. Several years later, I submitted the story to the Georgia State Bar Journal Fiction Contest, and won.  That win gave me the courage to turn the rather long short story into my first novel, Out From Silence. 

I haven’t stopped writing since.  

Which part of the research did you enjoy the most?

I write legal procedurals, so its important that I accurately describe all legal details and procedures in my novels. I spend hours ensuring that every legal procedure I’ve detailed is correct. Both case law and statutory law changes, and can be modified or overturned frequently. It is imperative to get those details right. Since my books are currently set in the 1990’s, I have to know what the law was on a given subject during that time frame. And that isn’t always easy. It’s much simpler to verify what the law is in 2022. I would describe that research as necessary, even mandatory, but not particularly enjoyable.  

But my last two books, The Redemption and Sanctuary, were set in New Orleans. The fourth book, The Legacy, is set there as well. New Orleans is a visually opulent, culturally rich city, with diverse citizens, food, and music. Known as much for its graft and corruption as the touristic venue of Bourbon Street, it’s a great place for a murder mystery. I’ve enjoyed researching the city historically, architecturally, and geographically.

I lived in New Orleans for twelve years. They aren’t kidding when they describe New Orleans as a ‘walkable city.’ You can walk to most places within forty-five minutes to an hour. But there are a few places in the city I’ve never been.

In Book Two, The Redemption, I had a scene set at the industrial docks between Felicity and Louisiana Streets. I had never had a reason to visit those docks, and in fact, it would be unusual for anyone other than a member of a boat crew to be there. I wrote The Redemption during the pandemic and couldn’t visit the city, but I needed to know whether the docks were constructed of poured concrete or wood. (I was planning on having the protagonist run down the dock and stub her unshod toe.) I decided to use Google Street View to answer that question.

Using Google Street View, I traveled down Felicity Street, curved around the bend of Tchoupitoulas Street, and then crossed over to the industrial docks, which are along the Mississippi River. I could tell, once I was ‘there,’ that the docks were poured concrete. It was an enjoyable and satisfying experience, and one I would recommend for any author who is writing about an actual town, isn’t quite sure of the terrain or street placement, and can’t travel to the location.   

In Book Three, Sanctuary, Emma Thornton, the protagonist, represents a young girl accused of killing the charismatic leader of a New Orleans cult. I’ve always been interested in what would cause a person to join a cult, and researching and writing about that issue was enlightening. I was surprised to discover that cult joiners are often going through a transition themselves, such as a divorce, or may be close to college graduation. The majority of cult members only want to do good and help others. They rarely realize or acknowledge that what they’ve joined and what they’re contributing to, financially, is a cult. Research like this, which allows me to take a closer look at societal problems, has broadened my world view, and my ability to understand and empathize with others.   

What inspired you to create your “hero?”

Emma Thornton, the protagonist of the Thornton Mystery Series, is a single mother, an attorney, and a law professor. Some people assume that the character of Emma is based on me and my experiences. While my experiences have inspired the Thornton Mystery Series, I created the character ‘Emma’ based on all of the women I know who have raised children by themselves, or with a spouse who doesn’t deign to help, who have educated themselves, sometimes even in the face of adversity, and who have held down complicated and difficult jobs. More than seventy percent of women in the United States fall into that category. These women are heroes, and their intelligence, work ethic, and strength are very often ignored.

Emma is a nod to all working mothers: the mothers who serve in the armed forces, the mothers who are police officers, nurses, teachers, hairdressers or grocery clerks, lawyers or doctors. Those mothers who manage to work and still get their children to their doctors’ appointments, and put something on the table for dinner. They are the glue that holds their families together, the heart and soul of their community, and the strength and backbone of the country.

What would you define as literary success?

Success is typically defined monetarily, but I would have given up writing after my first book was published if that was my criteria. Ideally, success would come through colleague and reader recognition, an award or two, and a multitude of stunning reviews. While I have been lucky enough to have good reviews, there hasn’t been as many as I would like. And that means not as many people as I would like are actually reading my books. But still, they’re being read, and I have a wonderful group of supporters and readers. That means the world to me.

It is a luxury to write. It is a reward in and of itself, and I’m learning much through the process. I am a plot driven writer, and am discovering that emotional scenes are more difficult for me to write. Emotions have always been difficult for me to express in my private life, as well. So, there’s an interesting parallel between my writing issues, and my actual life. I’m learning more and more about myself as I write.  

I’ve always been a workaholic, and often worked more than eighty hours a week as an attorney. Even after I retired and worked as a volunteer attorney for a legal aid group, I’d still log in eighty hours a week, and I wasn’t even being paid!  Unable to stop that habit, I spent my first few years writing on a schedule which ultimately left me feeling burned out. I didn’t take breaks, exercise, or even drink an adequate amount of water during writing sessions.

I’m now determined to enjoy the process, write stories which are thoughtful and say something that’s important to me, exercise, drink enough water, and at least try to relax every once in a while. I’m in it for the long haul. I want to endure. I’d like to write until I can’t any longer. That would be literary success to me.

So you’re an author. Which authors do you enjoy reading?

My favorite author is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and my favorite book, “Love in the Time of Cholera.” But there are so many writers I love. Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is my second favorite book, and Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” is a close third.  

I started reading all of the titles from the books of my favorite writers when I was in junior high, starting with Peal S. Buck, and Agatha Christie. I read everything they wrote. I progressed to Leo Tolstoy when I was in high school, then Fyodor Dostoevsky, and finally Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. (I went through a Russian phase.)

My next phase was reading books which won awards. Fellow Mississippian Donna Tartt’s books are brilliant. Her plot lines always stunning, although I found “Gold Finch” excessively long. Still, it was a great book. I recently discovered Anthony Doerr and his transcendent “All the Light We Cannot See,” which was breathtaking, a work of art. And, of course, I have read all of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s books.

Mysteries have always held a special place in my heart. I love the world building of Agatha Christie, and more recently, Louise Penny.  I’ve read the majority of Penny’s books, all of which have heart. She knows loss and feels deeply about the injustices of the world. Louise Penny is a woman whose soul and mind are beautifully connected, and it’s reflected in all of her books. Jodi Picoult is another talented writer who captures your interest with her subtle, insightful, but clever stories.

I read Karin Slaughter to learn. She dives unflinchingly into the brutality of murder, laying out the horror, the tragedy, the loss, and the gut-punching sadness, all at once. Her words make you want to close your eyes, but you open them, and read, unable to stop the avalanche of terror.       

My favorite writers are artists who carve emotion into an identifiable shape. They can manipulate fear, but they also shine a light on the better nature of humanity. I strive to be more like them. 

Thanks for stopping by!


A Thornton Mystery

In SANCTUARY, the third book in the Thornton Mystery Series, Emma is back again. This time she’s agreed to represent a former client accused of killing the leader of a suspicious cult in New Orleans.

James Crosby, the charismatic leader of the Japaprajnas, is found dead one late afternoon, his body draped over an iron fence in the courtyard of the nineteenth-century house where he and several cult members work and live. Although police initially presumed his fall was an accident, they quickly discover that James received a lethal dose of a drug before he was pushed from his office balcony.

The next day the police discover a syringe and a substantial amount of the drug which killed James in Stacey Robert’s bedroom. The nineteen-year-old cult member is brought in for questioning, which leads to her arrest. Emma, who had represented Stacey when she was a sixteen-year-old runaway, agrees to take the case.

Convinced she is innocent Emma begins an investigation into the cult and its members. Emma’s questions uncover dangerous secrets, illicit activities, and the exploitation of innocent victims. Emma’s suspicions lead her to the killer’s trail and the case’s final resolution.

Praise for Sanctuary:

“Brace yourself. Deadly personalities, hidden agendas, and long-buried secrets threaten law professor Emma Thornton, after she agrees to defend a terrified young woman accused of murdering the charismatic leader of an oppressive cult. The dark heart of New Orleans has never felt so dangerous.”

Roger Johns, Author of the Wallace Hartman Mysteries

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: July 2022
Number of Pages: 280
ISBN: 9781685121464
Series: The Thornton Mystery Series, Book 3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter Twelve

The French Quarter was home to Stacey. She could relax there. She loved the winding streets, the ancient buildings, the ironwork on the balconies, and the festival-like spirit of Jackson Square. Plus, it was easy to blend in. With at least as many tourists as native New Orleanians, no one stood out more than anyone else. The exceptions ˗ the homeless, the street performers, and artists ˗ were part of the scenery. They blended into the background in a multicolor splash.

She needed money and had been watching the tarot card readers in the square. They made thirty-five dollars a read, plus tips. She could do that. She’d been taught the Celtic spread years ago and still had her deck tucked away with the rest of her stuff. It had taken her a few days to get squared away. Yesterday, she’d found a discarded chair on the street in one of the residential areas of the Quarter. She knew someone who worked at a pizza place right off of Pirate’s Alley, a small street next to St. Louis Cathedral. She’d asked if she could stash the chair behind their dumpster, and he’d agreed to it. That was helpful since she could store her things close to the place where she’d be reading. Now she just needed a small table or a box and a second chair, and she’d be ready.

Even though the city required a license and permit for the artists who painted in Jackson Square, there were no such requirements for card readers. But, every once in a while, the Jackson Square artists proposed an ordinance to the City Council to remove the fortune-tellers. So far, they’d been unsuccessful, and recently the readers had come back in full force. They added an ambiance to the area, especially when they burned their incense. She liked the way it smelled.

Stacey glanced at her reflection as she walked by a shop with a large plate glass window. She still wasn’t accustomed to her new look. She’d used some of the money she’d saved to purchase hair color and had dyed her honey blonde hair a dark brown. She’d also cut it much shorter with a pair of cheap scissors in hopes of disguising her appearance. She’d done it herself, and not very well. She didn’t like the jagged ends. But overall, it worked. She had to admit she looked like a different person and thought it was possible to sit in full view in the middle of Jackson Square, conduct tarot card readings, and not be recognized. At least not by the likes of police officers or others who might be looking for her.

She crammed her hand in her pocket, making sure that the wad of dollar bills she’d neatly folded and covered with several rubber bands was still there. One of the problems of not having a place with a door to lock was that you had to carry your valuables with you. She still had some of the money she’d saved from working at the Temple. She was frugal, eating only one meal a day, and that was a cheap one. But she’d been on her own for four days, and her money would run out soon. She hoped her plan to make more money in Jackson Square was a good one.

Stacey avoided shelters. Emma knew everyone in the city who ran them and would look for her at women’s shelters before she’d look anywhere else. But Stacey had found the perfect place to stay about three miles away from the Quarter—a small chapel in the middle of a cemetery in the Bywater District. It was called St. Roch’s and was named after the patron saint of dogs, invalids, and the falsely accused. The cemetery, the street, and the surrounding community were all named after the saint. Locals mispronounced the chapel’s name, calling it St. Roach’s. Even though the structure was crumbling, it still provided the shelter Stacey needed.

St. Roch’s had been built in 1867 by a priest who had prayed to St. Roch during the yellow fever pandemic in New Orleans, asking the saint to spare his community. Ten years later, when no one from his parish had succumbed to yellow fever, he made good on his promise, built the shrine, and dedicated it to the saint. It was a small chapel comprised of only two tiny rooms. One room contained a statue of St. Roch and his loyal dog, and the other room was filled with human prostheses, braces, glass eyeballs, glasses, false teeth, and praying hands, rosaries, and religious figurines, all offered to St. Roch as thanks for healing. Bricks on the ground in that room were inscribed with the word thanks and littered with coins. Over the years, a dusty haze had settled over the various prostheses at the shrine. The walls were crumbling, and a statue of Mary had started to disintegrate. Most people considered the chapel creepy, so creepy, that they avoided it at night, although tourists occasionally visited during the day. Rumor had it that voodoo ceremonies were carried out in the cemetery after dark, although Stacey never saw anything like that. She slept in the tiny room with St. Roch and his dog.

It took between forty-five minutes and an hour to walk to the French Quarter from the chapel, depending on whether Stacey stopped for anything. She woke up early in the morning and left the chapel well before any tourists might arrive. She usually walked to Decatur Street, then down to the Riverwalk Mall, avoiding Esplanade Avenue entirely. She liked the restrooms at the mall. They were clean and usually unoccupied early in the morning. She washed up and brushed her teeth. Once, she’d even shampooed her hair. She carried her bag of dirty laundry with her and would occasionally rinse out her things in the sink. What little makeup and toiletries she needed were easily picked up from department store samples. She walked back to the chapel before dark. At night, the same laundry bag served as her pillow.

By Friday, Stacey had found the second chair, a wooden box tall enough to use as a table, and an interesting scarf someone had stuffed in a Goodwill box along the side of the road. She’d decided to throw it over the makeshift table to give her fortune-telling booth some panache. She was ready for business.

On Saturday morning, Stacey walked to the Quarter, freshened up, grabbed her table and chairs from behind the dumpster at the pizza place, and set up her tarot stand, all before ten o’clock. She was pleased with the location. Only five feet from the steps of the St. Louis Cathedral, it was a prime spot. Tourists swarmed to the cathedral at all hours of the day and were already beginning to mill about. Within fifteen minutes, a middle-aged woman wearing a baseball hat, a neon green bandana, and pink tennis shoes, approached Stacey.

“How much do you charge?”

Stacey stood, her hands behind her back, and smiled. “Thirty-five dollars.”

“How long’s the reading?”

“It’s for fifteen minutes.”

“Okay.” She looked around the square. “Looks like that’s the going rate. But you need a sign. Let’s go.”

She sat down across from Stacey, perched on the tiny seat, and waited for Stacey to shuffle the deck.

Stacey mixed the cards a couple of times, then set the stack in front of the woman.

“Cut the cards into three smaller decks.” She’d noticed a man staring at them from a distance. He was too far away to see clearly. Perhaps he was staring at someone else.

The woman cut the cards.

“Now pick one of the three decks.”

The woman chose one.

Stacey fanned the cards from the chosen deck out in front of the woman and removed the other cards. She thought the man looked familiar. He started to walk toward them. As he approached, she could tell who he was. Raphael. He stopped on the stairs of the cathedral to watch.

“Choose fourteen cards.” Stacey glanced up at Raphael. He hadn’t budged.

The woman carefully chose fourteen cards and handed them to Stacey, who began laying them out in the traditional Celtic cross. The woman had chosen the King of Pentacles as card one, crossed by the Tower. The King of Pentacles, which represented business acumen, was in the position of present influence. And the Tower, which was a card of catastrophic or shocking change, and chaos, crossed the King, indicating the nature of his obstacles. The third card, placed under the cross, was the Death card. Death also represented change, and even occasionally, but rarely, death. Stacey froze. Had the cards picked up on what had happened to James instead of the woman’s situation?

Stacey sensed movement and glanced up. She flinched when she saw Raphael walking toward their table. Raphael stopped about a foot away from where she was reading, stopped, then crossed his arms.

“This is a private reading.” Stacey stopped laying out cards. Her heart was pounding.

“Interesting that you got the death card, don’t you think?”

“Sir, please leave. This isn’t any of your concern.” She didn’t want him drawing attention to her. She just wanted him to go away.

“I’ll leave. Sorry I interrupted.” He nodded toward Stacey’s client. “Thousand pardons, ma’am.”

“If you haven’t cut into my fifteen minutes, I’m fine.”

“Of course not.” Stacey smiled at the woman. “You’ll get your full reading.” She stood and turned toward Raphael. “We have nothing further to discuss.”

Raphael shrugged. “I’ve been worried about you, and so are a couple of other people. And just in case you thought that new hair color was a disguise, let me just tell you it isn’t. If I know who you are, so will others. They’d be very interested in knowing where you are now and what you’re doing.” He nodded toward the cards in her hand. “Good luck with that.”

“You need to leave immediately.”

Raphael started backing away. “I’ll be back.” He put his hand to his forehead in a farewell salute. “You can count on that.”

Stacey didn’t know if Raphael was threatening or warning her. But she knew she didn’t want him to come back to the Quarter to see her anytime soon.

Stacey glanced back at her client. “I’m so sorry for the interruption. Where were we?” She sat back down. “Oh yes.” She examined the cards. “Has a man in your life undergone a significant change, the end of a relationship, or even a death?”

“No, not that I know of.”

“Alright, well, let’s proceed.” Stacey watched as Raphael retreated across the square and took a right at Pirate’s Alley.

She continued to lay out cards for the woman.

The fourth card, the card of past events, was the seven of swords, the card of deception. As far as she was concerned, that card certainly applied to James. He’d deceived her from the very beginning. She’d fallen for his tricks. She couldn’t see through his deception at first, but she caught on, finally. The fifth card, the card of the present, was the Chariot, the card of courage and movement. She smiled. She was hoping to do something about the mess she’d gotten herself in. At least she wasn’t sitting in jail like a scared rabbit. For the final card in the cross, the card of the near future, the woman had drawn Justice. She held the final card in her hand for a couple of seconds before laying it down in front of the woman. Even though she hadn’t drawn the cards, Stacey still believed they were telling her story, not the woman’s. Justice, the card of fair decisions, gave her comfort.

“The final outcome, Justice, relates to karmic justice. It refers to legal matters as well, but generally, it’s telling you that all actions have consequences. Have your own actions contributed in any way to any of the circumstances you find yourself in today?”

The woman nodded. “I can see that they have. I’m not sure that a man in my life has met any sort of catastrophic end, though. Maybe something’s coming up. I hope not.” She shook her head, reached into her pocket, and handed Stacey three tens and a five. “That was fun. I love getting tarot readings.”

Stacey watched the woman walk off and thought about the consequences of her recent actions. She’d been trying to avoid that for months. It was so easy to blame others. It was also easy to turn a blind eye to what was going on in front of you. She was young, but she wasn’t stupid.

That day she had four other readings, making a total of $175.00. She was stunned. She’d made money at the temple, but they held on to it for her rent and food. So, she’d never had much cash, even though the temple made seventy-five dollars per massage. She packed up for the night, brought her table and chairs back to the pizza restaurant, stashed them behind the dumpster again, and tipped the manager. She was glad she knew the guy. That was the thing about New Orleans. If you knew how to get around, you could make things work for you, even though it could be a dangerous place.

She was starved and decided to treat herself to a shrimp po’ boy from Felix’s on Bourbon. She hadn’t had one in forever, and she felt like celebrating. And now that she had enough cash to last a few days, she could afford it. Plus, she wanted to walk by ETC to talk to the girl who was working in the back of the shop. She didn’t know who it was, and she didn’t care. But she hoped she could work out a deal with her. Pay her a little cash and get her to leave the back door open so she could start sleeping there at night instead of St. Roch’s. The chapel floor wasn’t comfortable, and the cemetery wasn’t safe at night. An option would be nice. It was worth a try.


Excerpt from Sanctuary by C.L. Tolbert. Copyright 2022 by C.L. Tolbert. Reproduced with permission from C.L. Tolbert. All rights reserved.



Author Bio:

After winning the Georgia State Bar Journal's fiction contest in 2010, C.L. Tolbert developed the winning story into a full-scale novel. OUT FROM SILENCE was published in December of 2019, and is the first novel in the Thornton Mysteries series. Her second book, THE REDEMPTION, was published in February of 2021, and SANCTUARY, the third book in the series, was published in July of 2022.

Licensed in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia, C.L. practiced law for thirty-five years before retiring to pursue writing. During her legal career she spent several years teaching at Loyola Law School in New Orleans, where she was the Director of the Homeless Clinic. She also has a Masters of Special Education, and taught in a public school prior to enrolling in law school.

C.L. has two children and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and schnauzer.

Catch Up With C.L. Tolbert:
Instagram - @cltolbertwrites
Twitter - @cltolbertwrites
Facebook - @cltolbertwriter



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