Let’s Talk with Nancy J Cohen

True Life Experiences in Fiction

by Nancy J. Cohen

“How much of your books are true stories from your own life?” Writers are often asked this question. In response, I’d say that many of our personal experiences inspire our stories. For my current work in progress, our problems with bathroom renovators inspired the tale. The job took forever, and we wasted many days waiting for workmen to show up who didn’t arrive until several days … or even weeks … later. The foreman wasn’t good at communicating with customers and this caused us a great deal of aggravation. Then again, I asked a lot of dumb questions. The finished job was worth the annoyance, however, and we got past it. Not so in my 17th Bad Hair Day mystery, where Marla’s mother finds a dead guy in her partially renovated shower. The foreman has met one irate customer or colleague too many.

Other stories find inspiration from past events. Hanging by a Hair came about after we had an altercation with a neighbor. Marla’s poodle, Spooks, has a tick problem in another book that we’d encountered with our pet. A car accident that I was in made it into another story, although this one was a deliberate attempt to wipe Marla off the road. In Died Blonde, she visits a medium in Cassadaga and gets a spiritual reading, similar to the one I got when we stayed overnight in this Central Florida town.

Our travels have also taken us to many places in these stories. It’s fun to write about sites we’ve seen and adventures we’ve had. This was especially true in Killer Knots, my Caribbean cruise story, and in Peril by Ponytail, my award-winning Arizona tale. I’ve been to every port described in the first book and to every tourist attraction mentioned in the second one. And yes, I had mysterious orbs show up in my digital photos from down in the copper mine similar to what Marla finds on her camera.

We can’t help infusing our stories with our personal life experiences. Of course, we twist them to serve their purpose in a fictional tale. But the basis in reality helps you live through this adventure with us.

Do you like authors to talk about their research and what experiences in a story were real? What’s the best one you remember?

While you’re here, click over to enter our book giveaway on our contest page. One lucky winner with take home the book of their choice! Enter here.

Let’s Talk with Debra H Goldstein

Chili and Chips or Clam Chowder?
by Debra H. Goldstein

I need you to explain something to me. Today is both National Chili Day and National Clam Chowder Day. Yesterday was National Tortilla Chip Day. Like the protagonist in my Sarah Blair mysteries, I am kitchen challenged, but even I know chili and tortilla chips go together better than chili and clam chowder. So, why did they separate the chili and the tortilla chips?

It isn’t logical.

Then again, in the English language, there are a lot of things that are not logical. Why do we do i before e, except after c? Why do we have so many words like there and their or here and hear? Why does spellcheck let us accidentally use the wrong word so  we end up with “I look their when I should be looking hear?

It isn’t logical.

When I read a book, especially a mystery, I expect a twist at the end, but it needs to be logical. Even if I miss the clues, they should be sitting out in the open enough that I hit my head and question how I ignored them. The movie, “The Sixth Sense,” is an excellent illustration of this. From the “I hear dead people” line to many of the scenes with the main character’s wife, the clues were obvious, but they didn’t register with most viewers. A well-crafted book is the same.

For a chance to win a copy of Three Treats Too Many, name a book or movie that you think logically gave you the clues even though the ending may have had a major twist … and if you can, explain to me why they didn’t put the chili with the tortilla chips…

Let’s Talk with Terry Ambrose

A socially distanced Valentine’s Day
By Terry Ambrose

Valentine’s Day, aka The Day of Love, is in our rearview mirror. And in the good old days, like maybe two years ago, many couples would have celebrated in the traditional fashion—fancy dinners, candlelight romance, candy and flowers. But, coming on the heels of 2020, and with a pandemic still raging around us, I started to wonder how those Hallmark-movie moments might have changed.

The Card
I never had much difficulty finding a Valentine’s Day card, and until 2020 I was very good about this most-likely-Hallmark-induced tradition. But these days, what happens? Do you mail the card?

Hmmm…too many ifs with the USPS these days. So let’s go with hand delivery.

I can see it now. Guy hands girl a card. Gingerly, she takes it and places it to the side. She says, “What a lovely card envelope. I’ll open it in a week after it’s been decontaminated.”

Rats. The 2021 version just doesn’t have the same effect. It might be time to go digital. A text…with a few heart emojis thrown in. Or, for those who want to go all out, an e-card.

Once upon a time it was standard practice to woo your beloved (or, maybe just intended beloved) with flowers. Maybe you remember those days? A trip to the neighborhood florist shop, ooh and ah over the bouquets, find one that A) does the job, and B) fits the budget. Big spenders could have that beautiful bouquet delivered—or, if you were like me, aka a cheapskate on a low budget—the delivery would be handled ‘on arrival’ for the dinner date.

Flash-forward to 2021 and the flower purchase is made online or maybe, for those who are budget-challenged, at the grocery store. Be that as it may, once the flowers get delivered, they no longer get a good sniff and a few oohs and ahhs, but go straight to quarantine, where they might be admired from a distance for a suitable quarantine period as determined by the CDC.

So, flowers, check. They still work, but with a few challenges.

During our more than forty years of marriage and dating, I can remember celebrating dinner at restaurants both fancy and plain. My wife and I could stroll into a restaurant hand-in-hand, be seated, and delight in the pleasure of each other’s company and our food.

We didn’t go out for dinner this year. In fact, we haven’t been out for dinner in more than a year. Our Valentine’s Day dinner wasn’t fancy, but it was safe. In fact, I have difficulty imagining what a pair of young lovers might go through for a romantic dinner. I mean, do they get to see each other’s faces? Well, not in public or unless they’re eating. And what about social distancing? If they’re not in each other’s bubble, are they even sitting together? Or maybe they’re six feet apart at a long table? Who passes the salt? How do they talk to each other? Do they have to text?

Okay, dinner would be a challenge, but let’s get to the important part.

The Kiss
Ah yes, the moment the couple yearns for, the goodnight kiss. Wait…is that even safe these days? I guess if both parties are double masked and avoid skin contact. Stroking of the brow or cheek is strictly taboo. And what about clothing? Does that need to be decontaminated? Washed? Burned?

Glad I’m not twenty.

Fortunately, we didn’t have a socially distanced Valentine’s Day. After more than forty years of marriage and a year of isolation together, there were no masks or long tables, but there was a goodnight kiss. So what about you? How did you celebrate your Valentine’s Day? Did you have to worry about social distancing? If so, how did you cope?

On the Take in Waikiki
In his latest adventure, the disappearance of a Honolulu businessman pulls McKenna and his PI-wannabe friend Chance Logan into a world filled with greed, lies, and betrayal. Leave a comment to let me know how you coped with Valentine’s Day and enter this week’s mini-contest for a Kindle copy of On the Take in Waikiki. On the Take in Waikiki book page

ALSO, while you’re here, enter our Super-Duper Seven Book Giveaway for our anniversary! Yes, we’re celebrating eight years of Booklover’s Bench with a seven book giveaway. One commentor (US only for print books) wins seven new books to read! The contest runs from February 1-18. Don’t delay—enter today! CLICK HERE TO ENTER.  [winner announced Feb. 19]

Let’s Talk With Cheryl Hollon

Happy Valentine’s Day!
By Cheryl Hollon

I’ve been receiving amazing Valentine’s Day gifts almost my whole life. Partly because my husband and I met on a blind date when I was only sixteen. Even then, he knew the secret to my heart and remembered the lesson every year.

I love chocolate – a lot! Last year he brought me this fabulous stiletto made of pure dark chocolate from the shop down the street. It wasn’t bitter. It was surprisingly rich but lovely and smooth.

This hand-crafted box of chocolates was made out of chocolate. Tucked inside was a mixture of creams, nuts, caramels, and even chocolate covered pretzels. Like the movie, I didn’t know what I was going to get, but I was positively sure it would be delicious.

The best offering so far was a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries along with a bottle of champagne upon boarding a cruise ship for a week. Heaven!

I can’t wait to see what he’ll get me this year. What is your favorite Valentine?

If you’re looking for a cozy tropical read, my Webb’s Glass Shop Mysteries are all set along Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. Independent bookstores need your help during this challenging time. Buy Local.

ALSO, while you’re here, enter our Super-Duper Seven Book Giveaway for our anniversary! Yes, we’re celebrating eight years of Booklover’s Bench with a seven book giveaway. One commentor (US only for print books) wins seven new books to read! The contest runs from February 1-18. Don’t delay—enter today! CLICK HERE TO ENTER. 

Let’s Talk With Maggie Toussaint

Cover Reveal Shrimply Dead
By Maggie Toussaint

A good book cover draws your eye and then encourages you to savor it. Ever since I signed my first book contract, I’ve been asked to make suggestions for the publisher’s cover artist. In nearly every instance, they used my ideas to create the cover.

So when it came time to create the cover for SHRIMPLY DEAD, I put my thinking cap on. I had several points to consider. First, it is book 3 in my Seafood Caper Mysteries, so it should have the series icon prominently displayed. This was easy to check off as the logo is already done, and it’s a matter of pasting it into the new cover image. Second, the cover for Book 3 should match Books 1&2 in the style, color, and font to cement that “branded” feel of the series. Lastly, it should reflect an aspect of the story.

The book cover for SEAS THE DAY was created by a publisher, and broad strokes of color illustrated sea and beach sand, along with a white foam margin between the two. To add to the coastal feel a palmetto tree was added to one side. Book two, SPAWNING SUSPICION, used complementary tones of teal for the water aspect, the same fonts and series logo as the first book, and added a school of small fish.

This new book cover has shades of teal in a beach scene, a palm tree, the same fonts, and series logo. It also incorporates shrimp pink into the color scheme. In addition, a small boiled shrimp is added to the image.

And without further ado, here’s the cover for SHRIMPLY DEAD.

This book releases April 12, 2021, and it’s available for preorder now at the vendors listed below. (The print format of the book will become available for purchase on or before April 12.) Order your digital copy now!

Kindle    Nook    Kobo    iBooks

Here’s the back of the book copy:
When veterinarian and amateur naturalist Jasmine Garr is shot in her yard, residents of Shell Island press caterer River Holloway into investigating the homicide. River dons her amateur sleuth cap and sets out to discover who killed her former catering customer.

Between Jasmine’s estranged cousin, a rival veterinarian, a wild animal trapper, the chicken lady, and a real estate broker, River has plenty of suspects to consider. As she peels back the layers of Jasmine’s life, dangerous secrets come to light.

Jasmine’s orphaned kitty, Iris, along with River’s cat Major, and her husband Pete help River sift through the evidence. At the same time, River recently expanded her catering business. She must service her regular catering clients, plus provide fresh baked goods for Pete’s ice cream shop.

The killer follows River’s every move relishing the thought of another victim. Time is running out. Will River solve the murder before she becomes a cold dish?

To win a print (US only) or ebook copy of SPAWNING SUSPICION, share in a comment below what you like about series mysteries. The winner will be announced on February 11, 2021.

ALSO, while you’re here, enter our Super-Duper Seven Book Giveaway for our anniversary! Yes, we’re celebrating eight years of Booklover’s Bench with a seven book giveaway. One commentor (US only for print books) wins seven new books to read! The contest runs from February 1-18. Don’t delay—enter today! CLICK HERE TO ENTER.

Let’s Talk with Diane A.S Stuckart

by Diane A.S. Stuckart

Today (January 28) is my birthday! No, I’m not going to tell you how old I am, although I’ll admit to being perilously close to a “milestone” celebration. While I’m not one who ignores birthdays—heck, I never pass up a chance to eat cake!—as each year passes I’m less likely to check the numbers. In fact, sometimes I must do an actual count on my fingers to figure out how old I am. And it’s a shock each time to realize I am that age, rather than the far younger and cooler image of myself that I carry about in my head.

Of course, there are advantages to getting older. For one thing, you get to use phrases like “back in my day” and “you whippersnapper, you” while you yell at younger folks to get off your lawn. And then there’s the gratification of seeing the surprised looks from said whippersnappers when you do something unexpected for your age bracket. (This accompanied by your retorting, “Not bad for a *mumble-mumble*-year-old lady, huh?”). People even start seeking your opinion on issues simply because you are older and, presumably, wiser.

But there are drawbacks. The wrinkles and gray hair creep in, the body starts to hurt, and you can’t easily lift a bale of hay or bag of feed anymore (okay, it’s been thirty years since I hauled either, but you get what I mean). Worse, the promise that is the future no longer looms quite as brightly ahead of you. Time has pulled a fast one and gone rather dim. Where you once had sixty or forty or thirty years remaining in which to accomplish your goals, you’re down to maybe ten or twenty years if you’re lucky…and less if you are not. Only a few more birthdays left for you to cram in all those things still to be done.

But there is a bright side. The cartoonist Charles Schulz famously said, “Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.” The implication being that faster is better…or, at least, the best way to get more done while on that downhill slide. For me, the quote always calls to mind the roller rink birthday parties I used to attend in grade school.

Our old-fashioned roller skate wheels clashed against the concrete surface as we circled the rink, the Sixties hits playing full blast over the loudspeakers. And as we skated, we didn’t worry about tripping or falling or that the music would end too soon. Instead, we went faster and faster and faster, grinning and shouting and picking up speed.

And that’s just what the older me intends to do, for this birthday and all the ones still to come. I’m going to pick up speed.

In honor of my birthday, YOU are getting the present. Comment on this post by 1/31 for a chance to win a trade-sized paperback of FOOL’S MOON (US folks only).  So, do you dread birthdays or welcome them? And do you have a favorite birthday memory?

ALSO, while you’re here, enter our Super-Duper Seven Book Giveaway for our anniversary! Yes, we’re celebrating eight years of Booklover’s Bench with a seven book giveaway. One commentor (US only for print books) wins seven new books to read! The contest runs from February 1-18. Don’t delay—enter today! CLICK HERE TO ENTER.

Let’s Talk with Lois Winston

When Life Imitates Art
By Lois Winston

I was in Nashville last month when very early Christmas morning the city was rocked by a bomb set off by a suicidal domestic terrorist. If such a thing can be said, I suppose he was a considerate terrorist. He parked his bomb-laden RV at a location and time that would be virtually devoid of people, and he broadcast a warning to evacuate the area for fifteen minutes prior to the explosion. There was massive property damage, but only the bomber died. There were few other injuries, mostly minor, and none were life-threatening.

Most of the plots and subplots in my books are inspired by actual events. I’ll read about an incident or situation and play the “What if?” game, molding it into the plot for a book. Not this time, though. The bombing in Nashville was eerily similar to the plot of my newest novella, currently available for pre-order.

However, I don’t write thrillers, and I no longer write dark romantic suspense. I prefer to write escapist fiction that gives my readers a reason to laugh. My books have happy endings. The good guys always win. Justice prevails and the bad guys always pay for their dastardly deeds.

Even though this is the case with Moms in Black, a Mom Squad Caper, the premise is based on thwarting a domestic terrorism attack. The novella is one-part romantic suspense, one-part humorous caper, with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Right about now I’m guessing you think this sounds a bit at odds. I’m hoping that if you read the novella, you’ll agree that I’ve pulled it off.

So how did such a story come about, you might ask?

In 2015 I was invited to take part in a new venture from Amazon. Kindle Worlds was a foray into fan fiction where anyone could write novellas that tied into handpicked existing series. To get the project up and running, Amazon invited additional authors, many recommended by the series authors, to create the first novellas.

There were few rules we had to follow in creating these companion novellas. Authors could use as little or as much of the existing series world as they wanted. We could even change the tone of the original books in the series.

I was asked to write a novella based on author CJ Lyons’ Shadow Ops Series. CJ writes what she calls “Thrillers with Heart.” I write humorous amateur sleuth/cozy mysteries. No problem. Mom Squad, the story I wrote, reimagined CJ’s domestic thriller series as a humorous caper.

The Kindle Worlds program disbanded a few years later. The novella authors were allowed to republish their work as long as they received permission from the series author and all references to the original series were removed or changed.

Because my writing life has been consumed with writing about Anastasia Pollack, my reluctant amateur sleuth, it took a while for me to get around to updating my Kindle Worlds novella. I was finally able to carve out some time, thanks to the pandemic, which has reduced my life basically to that of a hermit. I expanded and rebranded Mom Squad as Moms in Black, a Mom Squad Caper. It’s currently available for pre-order, and if readers enjoy it, my goal is to write two more Mom Squad Caper novellas.

If you’re a reader, do you ever venture out to try something different from your favorite authors, or do you only stick with what you know and like? If you’re a writer, do you ever foray into other genres? Post a comment for a chance to win an e-copy of Moms in Black, a Mom Squad Caper.

Moms in Black
A Mom Squad Caper

 When Cassandra Davenport applies for a job at www.savingtheworld.us, she expects to find a ‘green’ charity. Instead, she becomes the newest member of a covert organization run by ex-government officials. Dubbed the Mom Squad, the organization is the brainchild of three former college roommates—attorney general Anthony Granville, ex-FBI agent Gavin Demarco, and tech billionaire Liam Hatch—all of whom have lost loved ones at the hands of terrorists. Financed by Hatch, they work in the shadows and without the constraints of congressional oversight, reporting directly to Granville.

Demarco heads up one of the six groups that comprise the new operation. He hires Cassandra as the newest member of his New Jersey based team. In the course of monitoring possible terrorist threats, the Mom Squad discovers a link to Cassandra’s ex-husband. Before she’s fully trained, Cassandra is thrust into a world where her ex may be involved with radicalized terrorists bent on killing as many Americans as possible.

Buy Links (pre-order now; available 2/8/21)
Kindle https://amzn.to/2VZHTOc
Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/moms-in-black
Nook https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/moms-in-black-lois-winston/1138442866?ean=2940162938507
Apple Books https://books.apple.com/us/book/moms-in-black/id1544138743
Paperback (coming soon)

Let’s Talk with Nancy J Cohen

New Beginnings
by Nancy J. Cohen

January is the start of a new year and also the beginning of decisions to come. Should you join a health club, plan the vacation you’ve always wanted or submit your manuscript to a publisher? We start out with great resolutions that often fizzle along the way. It’s best if you set concrete goals that are achievable and list the steps you need to take to get there.

For my writing, I set creative and business goals. Then I go down the list throughout the year. In my personal life, it’s often the same refrain—follow a better diet, take longer walks, spend more time with family and friends, allow time off to reflect on life and enjoy our blessings. This year, we’re in a new house and I have to start my next book. I’m not particularly fond of starting over in either respect but it must be done. It’s easy to get complacent without change.

I can’t go on without mentioning the pandemic. Hopefully, this is the year of the vaccine and the reopening of our world. We’re all ready for change in that regard. We’ll see a political upheaval in Washington D.C. that will address climate change and foreign relations and other issues that have been neglected, among them preparation for any future pandemics. Many lessons could be gained from these past few years. Everyone’s lives have been disrupted and we are all hoping for the beginning of the end to these problems.

What’s on your personal list for 2021? Are you going to try something totally new or continue on to reach a current goal? Name at least one thing you’d like to accomplish this year. Good luck and best wishes for a healthy and productive future ahead!

While you’re here, click over and enter our January contest. One entrant will win their choice of book from the 6 books up for grabs. (Print book winners must have US mailing addies.) The contest runs from January 1-18, with the winner announced on January 19. ClICK HERE for the contest page.

Let’s Talk with Debra H Goldstein

Following the Rules and Missing All the Fun
by Debra H. Goldstein

My Sarah Blair mystery series is considered by its publisher to be “cozy.” That may work for where it is placed on the shelf in a bookstore or for many of my readers, but as one reviewer remarked, “it is an edgy cozy.” I didn’t know what that meant so I looked it up and discovered that many cozy series by writers like Ellery Adams have had that label attached to some of their newer series.

What does it mean?

For the most part it means we don’t follow the traditional rules of the cozy perfectly, although we adhere to them closely. Generally cozy rules included small towns or confined spaces; an amateur sleuth; a cat; a protagonist who owns, inherits, or creates something to do with books, crafts, or food; no on the page sex, blood, gore, or curse words; and recipes or directions how to make something.

It seems that edgier cozies may change one or two of the traditional rules. Some do it by throwing in a few of the no-no words. Some by adding more description or sex (in other words characters get into bed together without closing the door so the reader can’t see them).

In the Sarah Blair mysteries, I do it by having a protagonist who finds being in the kitchen more frightening than murder. Consequently, the recipes, although they work, in One Taste Too Many, tend to be more comical or easy like Jell-O in a Can. For the second book Two Bites Too Many, I went outside the boundaries and added a dog. Fluffy and RahRah, the Siamese cat, even share the cover of that book (don’t worry – by book three, Three Treats Too Many, RahRah regained sole possession of the cover).

Are our books really edgier? Are we flouting the rules? Or, as I believe, are we simply promoting the philosophy “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun!”

That’s my premise and I’m sticking to it.

For a chance to win a print or e-copy of Two Bites Too Many (Kensington is running a $1.99 e-book sale of One Taste Too Many in January), tell me what you think of rules and name some cozy mysteries that you think are “edgy.”

While you’re here, click over and enter our January contest. One entrant will win their choice of book from the 6 books up for grabs. (Print book winners must have US mailing addies.) The contest runs from January 1-18, with the winner announced on January 19. ClICK HERE for the contest page.

Let’s Talk about Resolutions

We hereby resolve to…
by Debra H Goldstein, Nancy J Cohen, Lois Winston, Cheryl Hollon, Diane A.S Stuckart, and Maggie Toussaint

I’ve given up resolving to do things like exercise, lose weight, or be a kinder person; so, my resolutions for 2021 (beyond hugging family and friends again) are 1) embrace my tendency to procrastinate and 2) admit I am a curmudgeon so I can overtly enjoy every moment of it.   Debra H. Goldstein

My resolution is to get back to work and write another mystery. Nancy J. Cohen

My resolution is to try to stress less about everything, whether big or small, especially those things out of my control. Lois Winston

My resolutions for 2021: Live lighter in resources and lighter in pounds. Cheryl Hollon

Writing resolutions: To move forward with self-publishing my trio of Cat Fantasy short stories which have not been written yet but which already have fabulous covers. Personal resolutions: To hiss less and purr more! Diane A.S. Stuckart

My 2021 resolutions carry over the themes from 2020: survive and lead a balanced life. In addition, I resolve to keep writing, to spend time with family and friends, and to focus on wellness for mind, body, and soul. Maggie Toussaint

We’d love for you to share your resolutions in the comments section!

And, while you’re here, our monthly contest is open from January 1-18. Entry in the contest opens on Jan. 1. CONTEST LINK