Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Cartoon of the Day: Pick Up Order



From Radio Times:

Kenny Doughty announced he is leaving ITV drama Vera after eight years.

The actor, who plays DS Aiden Healy in the show, announced Monday (3/20) that he is leaving the show.  

He wrote: 

After 8 years & 35 Vera films I’ve made the difficult decision of handing over DS Healy’s badge. I can confirm I am leaving Vera.

He continued: 

I want to thank everyone who’s made this amazing time so joyous, ITV, Silverprint, all the brilliant cast and crew BUT of course my buddy & inspiration Brenda Blethyn. The perfect leading star who I owe so much to. 
I feel lucky to have you as a friend, you make me howl with laughter & have been a rock for me over the years. I can’t thank you enough. Precious times.

He'll be missed. Hope this still bodes well for another season of Vera.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

MYSTERIES SET IN AFRICA: Mystery Readers Journal (39:1)

Mystery Readers Journal: Mysteries Set in Africa
(Volume 39:1// Winter 2023) is now available as PDF and Hardcopy
. In addition, an earlier issue of African Mysteries  (26:1, Spring 2010) is available as a PDF. Order all three. 

Mysteries Set in AfricaIf you're a PDF subscriber, you will receive download instructions shortly. Hard copy subscription copies should arrive by early next week. International subscribers will receive their issues within two weeks. PDF Contributor copies will go out in the next few days. Thanks to everyone who contributed to both of these great issues.

Mysteries Set in Africa
Volume 39, No. 1, Spring 2023
Buy this back issue! Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable PDF.


  • Eugene P.A. Schleh: The Mysteries of Africa by Aubrey Nye Hamilton
  • Agatha in Africa by Kate Derie
  • Cape Town Crime Fiction by Eric Beetner
  • John V. C. Wyllie and Dr. Samuel Quarshie by Aubrey Nye Hamilton


  • Taking My Imagination on Safari by Annamaria Alfieri
  • From Scandi Crime to Sandy Crime by Parker Bilal
  • I Was Already a Spy, I Might as Well Write About It by Bryan Christy
  • Rift — A Novel About a Journey That Is Still on My Mind by Liza Cody
  • Green Snake in Green Grass by Kathy Curnow
  • Nkisi by Russell Hill
  • A Brutal Love Letter by Akbar Hussain
  • Memories of my Father’s Bookshelf by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
  • Corruption in Kenya—The Mystery Is in the Details by Gerald Everett Jones
  • Writing on the Continent of Light by Deon Meyer
  • A Trip to Egypt by Erica Ruth Neubauer
  • My Mystery Writing Life by Stella Oni
  • Le Petit Senegal by Paul R. Paradise
  • Adventure and Romance in North Africa by Neil S. Plakcy
  • From Your Armchair to the Gulf of Guinea: The Case for the African Mystery by Kwei Quartey
  • Murder in Africa by Bryony Rheam
  • Death by Natural Causes: Creating an African Cozy Short Story by Merrilee Robson
  • Vacation, Vacation, Vacation by Wendall Thomas
  • Serious Research in Africa by Michael Stanley (Stanley Trollip)
  • Africa: The Most Interesting Place I’ve Never Been by N. S. Wikarski


  • Mystery in Retrospect: Reviews by Eric Beetner, Aubrey Nye Hamilton, Sandie Herron, Kathy Boone Reel, L.J. Roberts, Craig Sisterson, and Lucinda Surber
  • Children’s Hour: African Mysteries by Gay Toltl Kinman
  • In Short: Africa by Marv Lachman
  • From the Editor’s Desk by Janet A. Rudolph

The Popular Culture Association: George N. Dove Award

Congratulations, Martin Edwards, for receiving the Popular Culture Association (U.S.) George N. Dove Award. The stated mission of the PCA is 'to promote the study of popular culture throughout the world through the establishment and promotion of conferences, publications, and discussion. The PCA actively tries to identify and recruit new areas of scholarly exploration and to be open to new and innovative ideas. PCA is both inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary. Finally, the PCA believes all scholars should be treated with dignity and respect.'

The George N. Dove Award is bestowed for 'outstanding contributions to the serious study of mystery, detective, and crime fiction.' The award is named for George N. Dovepast president of the Popular Culture Association, and author of outstanding books on detective fiction.

Previous winners include Professor Doug Greene, P.D. James, H.R.F. Keating, Julian Symons, and me. I know!  I received the George N. Dove Award in 2016. Such an honor!

Sunday, March 19, 2023



Lefty Award Winners: Left Coast Crime 2023

The Lefty Awards were announced last night at the Left Coast Crime Convention in Tucson, Arizona. Congratulations to all!

Lefty Nominees for Best Humorous Mystery Novel
  • Ellen Byron, Bayou Book Thief (Berkley Prime Crime)

Lefty Nominees for Best Historical Mystery Novel

(The Bill Gottfried Memorial) for books set before 1970
  • Wanda M. Morris, Anywhere You Run (William Morrow)

    Lefty Nominees for Best Debut Mystery Novel
    • Ramona Emerson, Shutter (Soho Crime)

    Lefty Nominees for Best Mystery Novel

    (not in other categories)
    • Kellye Garrett, Like a Sister (Mulholland Books)

    Saturday, March 18, 2023

    Thriller Award Nominees 2023: International Thriller Writers

    International Thriller Writers
    announced t
    he nominees for the 2023 Thriller Awards.

    Best Hardcover Novel:
     The Violence, by Delilah S. Dawson (Del Rey)
     Things We Do in the Dark, by Jennifer Hillier (Minotaur)
     The Fervor, by Alma Katsu (Putnam)
     The Children on the Hill, by Jennifer McMahon (Simon & Schuster)
     Two Nights in Lisbon, by Chris Pavone (MCD)
     Sundial, by Catriona Ward (Macmillan)

    Best Audiobook:
     Young Rich Widows, by Kimberly Belle, Fargo Layne, Cate Holahan, and Vanessa Lillie; narrated by Dina Pearlman, Karissa Vacker, Helen Laser, and Ariel Blake (Audible)

     The Lies I Tell, by Julie Clark; narrated by Anna Caputo and Amanda Dolan (Audible)
     The Photo Thief, by J.L. Delozier; narrated by Rachel L. Jacobs and Jeffrey Kafer (CamCat)
     Things We Do in the Dark, by Jennifer Hillier; narrated by Carla Vega (Macmillan Audio)
     The Silent Woman, by Minka Kent; narrated by Christine Lakin and Kate Rudd (Blackstone)

    Best First Novel:
     The Resemblance, by Lauren Nossett (Flatiron)
     Blood Sugar, by Sascha Rothchild (Putnam)
     Dirt Creek (aka Dirt Town), by Hayley Scrivenor (Flatiron)
     A Flicker in the Dark, by Stacy Willingham (Minotaur)
     The Fields, by Erin Young (Flatiron)

    Best Paperback Original Novel:
     The Lies I Told, by Mary Burton (Montlake)
     No Place to Run, by Mark Edwards (Thomas & Mercer)
     Unmissing, by Minka Kent (Thomas & Mercer)
     The Housemaid, by Freida McFadden (Grand Central)
     Anywhere You Run, by Wanda Morris (Morrow)
     The Couple Upstairs, by Holly Wainwright (Pan Macmillan)
     The Patient’s Secret, by Loreth Anne White (Montlake)

    Best Short Story:
     “Russian for Beginners,” by Dominique Bibeau (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], March/April 2022)
     “The Gift,” by Barb Goffman (from Land of 10,000 Thrills, edited by Greg Herren; Down & Out)
     “Publish or Perish,” by Smita Harish Jain (EQMM, September/October 2022)
     “33 Clues Into the Disappearance of My Sister,” by Joyce Carol Oates (EQMM, March/April 2022)
     “Schrödinger, Cat,” by Anna Scotti (EQMM, March/April 2022)
     “Stockholm,” by Catherine Steadman (Amazon Original Stories)

    Best Young Adult Novel:
     Our Crooked Hearts, by Melissa Albert (Flatiron)
     Sugaring Off, by Gillian French (Algonquin Young Readers)
     Daughter, by Kate McLaughlin (Wednesday)
     What’s Coming to Me, by Francesca Padilla (Soho Teen)
     I’m the Girl, by Courtney Summers (Wednesday)

    Best E-Book Original Novel:
     Evasive Species, by Bill Byrnes (Self-published)
     The Couple at Causeway Cottage, by Diane Jeffrey (HarperCollins)
     The Seven Truths of Hannah Baxter, by Grant McKenzie 
     The Hollow Place, by Rick Mofina (Self-published)
     Fatal Rounds, by Carrie Rubin (Self-published)

    Charlaine Harris and Walter Mosley will receive 2023 ThrillerMaster Lifetime Achievement Awards. Minotaur Books was named the winner of the 2023 Thriller Legend Award.

    Winners will be announced on Saturday, June 3, during ThrillerFest XVIII, in New York City.

    Wednesday, March 15, 2023

    CrimeFest Award Nominees 2023

    announced its 2023 Awards nominees. The 2023 CrimeFest Awards will be presented at the CrimeFest Awards Dinner on May 13. Congratulations to all!

     Specsavers Crime Fiction Debut Award nominees:

    – Amen Alonge for A Good Day to Die (Quercus)
    – Graham Bartlett for Bad for Good (Allison & Busby)
    – Nita Prose for The Maid (HarperCollins)
    – Oriana Rammuno (translator: Katherine Gregor) for Ashes in the Snow (HarperCollins)
    – Joachim B. Schmidt (translator: Jamie Lee Searle) for Kalmann (Bitter Lemon)
    – Hayley Scrivenor for Dirt Town (Macmillan)
    – John Sutherland for The Siege (Orion Fiction)
    – Stacy Willingham for A Flicker in the Dark (HarperCollins)

    Dunnit Award nominees:
    – Chris Brookmyre for The Cliff House (Abacus)
    – Michael Connelly for Desert Star (Orion Fiction)
    – M.W. Craven for The Botanist (Constable)
    – Sara Gran for The Book of the Most Precious Substance (Faber & Faber)
    – Ian Rankin for A Heart Full of Headstones (Orion Fiction)
    – Peter Swanson for Nine Lives (Faber & Faber)

    H.R.F. Keating Award nominees:
    – J.C. Bernthal & Mary Anna Evans for The Bloomsbury Handbook to Agatha Christie (Bloomsbury Academic)
    – John le Carré (edited by Tim Cornwell) for A Private Spy: The Letters of John le Carré 1945-2020 (Viking)
    – Martin Edwards for The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and their Creators (Collins Crime Club)
    – Barry Forshaw for Simenon: The Man, The Books, The Films (Oldcastle Books)
    – Sian MacArthur for Gender Roles and Political Contexts in Cold War Spy Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan)
    – Lucy Worsley for Agatha Christie: A Very Elusive Woman (Hodder & Stoughton)

    Last Laugh Award nominees:
    – Christopher Fowler for Bryant & May’s Peculiar London (Doubleday)
    – Elly Griffiths for The Locked Room (Quercus)
    – Mick Herron for Bad Actors (Baskerville)
    – Cara Hunter for Hope to Die (Viking)
    – Mike Ripley for Mr Campion’s Mosaic (Severn House)
    – Antti Tuomainen for The Moose Paradox (Orenda Books)

    Nominees for the CRIMEFEST Award for Best Crime Novel for Children (ages 8-12):
    – Elly Griffiths for A Girl Called Justice: The Spy at the Window (Quercus Children’s Books)
    – Anthony Horowitz for Where Seagulls Dare: A Diamond Brothers Case (Walker Books)
    – Sharna Jackson for The Good Turn (Puffin)
    – M.G. Leonard for Spark (Walker Books)
    – Robin Stevens for The Ministry of Unladylike Activity (Puffin)
    – Sarah Todd Taylor for Alice Éclair, Spy Extraordinaire! A Recipe for Trouble (Nosy Crow)

    Nominees for the CRIMEFEST Award for Best Crime Novel for Young Adults (ages 12-16):
    – Holly Jackson for Five Survive (Electric Monkey)
    – Patrice Lawrence for Needle (Barrington Stoke)
    – Finn Longman for The Butterfly Assassin (Simon & Schuster Children’s)
    – Sophie McKenzie for Truth or Dare (Simon & Schuster Children’s)
    – Ruta Sepetys for I Must Betray You (Hodder Children’s Books)
    – Jonathan Stroud for The Notorious Scarlett and Browne (Walker Books)

    Monday, March 13, 2023

    The Unique Pleasures of Writing Both Non-Fiction and Fiction: Guest Post by John McNellis

    John McNellis:
     The Unique Pleasures of Writing Both Non-Fiction and Fiction
    Switching to fiction after a lifetime of writing non-fiction is akin to a Parisian deciding to learn Spanish. It can be done, but not without effort. While many nouns are common to French and Spanish, even the occasional verb, they are different languages. Even within the world of non-fiction, there are different dialects, mostly having to do with timing. A reporter writing an ephemeral piece against a daily deadline has no time for polishing or rewriting, her style is subsumed within the facts, her voice is discouraged, she knows her words will be forgotten, all that matters is setting out the facts in a coherent, logical fashion. Who, how, what, where and why in the lead paragraph.  
    Writing a monthly essay allows one to use his voice, more time to choose words and phrasing with care, words that will hopefully resonate, perhaps even recalled by readers days and weeks later. Yet newspaper essays, too, must be timely, rooted in the moment, tied to a current event. 
    Writing a non-fiction book—in my case, a real estate primer—permits one all the time in the world to write, rewrite and rewrite some more. As opposed to articles and essays, the book must be timeless, its lessons hopefully evergreen. One’s voice can be relatively full-throated, but in business writing at least, everything must be explicit, the dots connected, nothing left to the imagination. The non-fiction is grounded in facts and informed opinion—flights of fancy would be as out of place as a rose in a wheat field. 
    Writing fiction is both liberating and terrifying. Freed from the gravitational pull of the real world, one can float in the clouds, writing whatever comes to mind, however implausible. This freedom is, however, more curse than blessing. Without a strong foundation in fact—if not in setting, then in realistic characters—fiction all often becomes unsatisfying fairy tale. 

    O’Brien’s Law is so heavily fact-based that some readers have supposed it my autobiography, while friends realize it’s a fiction, a painting stretched over a detailed and accurate canvas of time and place: the swinging 70’s of San Francisco. I’d say my novel is a bit like concrete, which is roughly half sand and half cement. With too much sand, concrete is loose and collapses; with too much cement, concrete is brittle and susceptible to stress fractures. That 50-50 formula works for writing; O’Brien’s Law is about half fact and half fiction. The fun part is guessing which is which. 

    Frankly, my novel is heavily fact-based because, not unlike my protagonist Michael O’Brien, I’m lazy and I truly dislike doing research. I lived in San Francisco for six years in the 1970’s, kept personal journals and could thus ground the tale with a verisimilitude impossible with any other city. Setting the story in San Francisco enabled me to write about what I know and, happily, to avoid any location research. While the story is dependent upon neither San Francisco nor the 1970’s—it could unfold anywhere at any time—the City in the 70’s was so alive, crackling with everything from great culture to mediocre professional sports to counter-culture events like the Fillmore to fabulous food, all in the most beautiful physical setting of any city in America. To a 25-year-old like O’Brien, the City promised—or at least gave the illusion of—endless possibilities. That this fabulous care-free setting would have a dark underbelly of suspense and murder is what—hopefully—makes the novel enchanting. 

    As for my writing process, I knew the basic story arc from the first, did an outline before any writing it and yes—spoiler alert—I always knew it would have a happy ending. But the rewriting upon rewriting upon rewriting would make even a persnickety line editor proud. 
    A journalism undergraduate at Berkeley, John McNellis went to Hastings Law College, practiced law in San Francisco for half a dozen years before until he switched to real estate. Despite his successful business career, John was always writing: comedy shows for a theatrical club, a monthly column for the Registry Magazine and the San Francisco Business Timesand, ultimately, a critically acclaimed real estate primer, Making it in Real Estate: Starting Out as A Developer, now an industry standard and taught in universities nationwide. 

    Sunday, March 12, 2023



    The International Association of Crime Writers, North America announced the 2022 Hammett Prize Shortlist. The Hammett Prize is given for literary Excellence in Crime Writing. Books must be published in the English language in the U.S. or Canada. Congratulations to All. Winner will be announced Summer 2023.

    Copperhead Road, by Brad Smith (At Bay Press)
    Gangland, by Chuck Hogan (Grand Central)
    Don’t Know Tough, by Eli Cranor (Soho Crime)
    Pay Dirt Road, by Samantha Jayne Allen (Minotaur)
    What Happened to the Bennetts, by Lisa Scottoline (Putnam)

    HT: The Rap Sheet

    St. Patrick's Day Mysteries // St. Patrick's Day Crime Fiction

    St. Patrick's Day figures in a lot of mysteries, so here's my updated St. Patrick's Day Crime Fiction list. And, since Irish aka Emerald Noir is very popular right now, you can always add more titles to your TBR pile from the many Irish crime writers available, although they may not take place specifically during St. Patrick's Day. Declan Burke had a great post on his blog several years ago CrimeAlwaysPays Overview: The St. Patrick's Day Rewind

    Mystery Readers Journal has had two issues dedicated to Irish Mysteries. Irish Mysteries: 36:4 (2020) and  Irish Mysteries 24:2 (2008)  Both are still available as hardcopy or PDF download.

    As always, I welcome comments and additions to this list. 


    Susan Wittig Albert: Love Lies Bleeding
    Amy Alessio: Struck by Shillelagh
    Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, & Marcia Talley (editors): Homicidal Holidays: Fourteen Tales of Murder and Merriment
    Mary Kay Andrews (aka Kathy Hogan Trocheck): Irish Eyes
    S. Furlong-Bollinger: Paddy Whacked
    Harry Brandt (Richard Price): The Whites
    Lynn Cahoon: Corned Beef and Casualties
    Isis Crawford: A Catered St. Patrick's Day
    P. Creeden: Murder on Saint Patrick's Day
    Kathi Daley: Shamrock Shenanigans
    Nelson DeMille: Cathedral
    Tom Dots Doherty: ShamrockSnake
    Janet Evanovich: Plum Lucky
    Sharon Fiffer: Lucky Stuff 
    Bernadette Franklin: Shammed

    S. Furlong-Bollinger: Paddy Whacked
    Andrew Gonzalez: St. Patrick's Day
    Andrew Greeley: Irish Gold
    Jane Haddam: A Great Day for the Deadly
    Lyn Hamilton: The Celtic Riddle
    Jonathan Harrington: A Great Day for Dying
    Lee Harris: The St. Patrick's Day Murder
    Jennifer L. Hart: Sleuthing for the Weekend
    Dorothy Howell: Duffel Bags and Drownings 
    Carolyn Q. Hunter: Shamrock Pie Murder
    Melanie Jackson: The Sham
    Madison Johns: Lucky Strike
    Diane Kelly: Love, Luck, and the Little Green Men 
    Linda Kozar: St. Patrick's Secret
    Amanda Lee: The Long Stitch Good Night; Four-Leaf Clover
    Wendi Lee: The Good Daughter
    Dan Mahoney: Once in, Never Out
    Marion Markham: The St. Patrick's Day Shamrock Mystery (children's)
    Ralph M. McInerny: Lack of the Irish
     Leslie Meier: St. Patrick's Day Murder

    Carlene O'Connor: Murder in an Irish Bookshop
    Sister Carol Anne O’Marie: Death Takes Up A Collection
    Mark Parker: Lucky You
    Christopher Ryan: Go Brath
    Janet Elaine Smith: In St. Patrick's Custody
    JJ Toner: St. Patrick's Day Special
    Kathy Hogan Trochek (aka Mary Kay Andrews): Irish Eyes

    Debbie Viguié: Lie Down in Green Pastures

    Noreen Wald: Death Never Takes a Holiday; The Luck of the Ghostwriter

    Check out Dublin Noir, a collection of short stories edited by Ken Bruen, published by Akashic Books in the US and Brandon in Ireland and the UK.

    Read Val McDermid's take on the Popularity of Irish Crime Fiction.

    Read Lisa Alber's guest post on Travels to Ireland, or, Bah, I Scoff at "Write What You Know"

    Some Irish crime writers you might want to read: 

    Tana French, Erin Hart, Benjamin Black, Conor Brady, Declan Hughes, Jane Casey, Brian McGilloway, Alan Glynn, John Brady, Stuart Neville, Adrian McKinty, John Banville (Benjamin Black), Ken Bruen, Jesse Louisa Rickard, Peter Tremayne, Gene Kerrigan, Stuart Neville, Liz Nugent, Eoin Colfer, John Connolly, Sinead Crowley, Olivia Kiernan, Brian McGilloway, Jo Spain, Jane Casey, Catherine Ryan Howard, Jess Kidd, Claire McGowan, Arlene Hunt, Michelle Duane.

    Who are your favorite Irish authors?


    Crime Films set around St. Patrick's Day:

    Between the Canals (2010), Irish crime film written and directed by Mark O'Connor
    The Boondock Saints (1999) American crime film written and directed by Troy Duffy
    State of Grace (1990) Neo-Noir Crime Film directed by Phil Joanou
    The Fugitive (1993) American Crime Film directed by Andrew Davis

    May the road rise up to meet you, and the wind be always at your back!

    And, if you want something CHOCOLATE to go along with your Guinness and Bailey's, have a look at my DyingforChocolate blog for some Killer St. Patrick's Day Recipes including:

    Chocolate Guinness Cake
    Bailey's Irish Cream S'mores
    Guinness Chocolate Stout Brownies
    Chocolate Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Ice Cream
    Bailey's Chocolate Trifle
    You Make Me Want to Stout Cupcakes (Scharffen Berger)
    Bailey's Irish Cream Fudge

    Guinness Chocolate Cherry Bread & Guinness Brown Breads

    Saturday, March 11, 2023

    Murder at the Academy Awards // Murder at the Oscars

    Just in time for the Academy Awards, here's my Murder at the Oscars list! These mysteries take place during the Academy Awards or the time period surrounding the Oscars! 

    As always, please let me know if I'm missing any titles.

    Murder is not the only crime surrounding the Oscars. Read this article in Vanity Fair about 6 Amazing Oscar Heists!


    Tight Shot by Kevin Allman
    Best Murder on the Year by Jon P. Bloch
    Screenscam by Michael Bowen
    Murder at the Academy Awards by Joe Hyams
    Best Actress by John Kane
    Oscar Season by Mary McNamara
    Murder at the Academy Awards by Joan Rivers and Jerrilyn Farmer
    Jack Hightower by Will Vinton & Andrew Wiese

    Want some popcorn while you watch the Academy Awards? Add Chocolate:  Red Velvet Red Carpet Popcorn!

    Cartoon of the Day: Cats

    Happy Caturday! 



    Good news:
    There will be a second series of Karen Pirie, starring Lauren Lyle and adapted by Emer Kenny! Series Two will be based on A Darker Domain, the second in the internationally bestselling Karen Pirie novels, written by Val McDermid.  Lauren Lyle will again star as the young and fearless Scottish investigator with a quick mouth and tenacious desire for the truth. The bad news is that the series won't start filming until early 2024. Who knows when the show will reach the U.S.

    Lauren Lyle:  
    “I'm thrilled that we will continue the life of our fearless young detective Karen Pirie, and of course, her bumbag. I've known for a while how well the show has gone down behind the scenes so it's been a joy to see audiences want more. It's a creative honour to work alongside Emer Kenny with the backbone of Val McDermid's story, season one was incredibly exciting building an original character we hadn't seen before. I look forward to getting the gang back together and finally being able to answer the question: ‘Please say there will be a season two?’ with an ‘Oh yes.’ 

    Val McDermid: 
    “I know the millions of viewers all over the world who loved the first Karen Pirie series will be as thrilled at this news as I am. I can't wait to see how the team bring the next book, A Darker Domain, to life!”
    Filming will commence in Scotland during early 2024 and details of further casting and key production personnel will be advised in the coming months.


    Friday, March 10, 2023

    Cartoon of the Day: Writer's Life


    Speaking my Mind—Teenager Edition: Guest Post by Donna Huston Murray

    Donna Huston Murray: Speaking my Mind

    Last year I was tasked with addressing several hundred high school students, ostensibly about me. Previous speakers were a former graduate who invented a pediatric heart replacement, and a lawyer who represented the United States in front of the Supreme Court. I write mysteries. Keeping the kids’ interest for half an hour was going to be a stretch. I figured the only route was to talk about them—and me. How what I do as a fiction author might be of use to them personally. I would sound like a grandmother, but I’m afraid that shoe fits. 

    My first recommendation was to choose an occupation that uses as many their talents as they can find. “You’ll be happier, and, most likely, more successful, too.” For the benefit of those few aspiring to go into the arts, I described—broadly—what that involves, trusting the others would catch on to how difficult it is and cut us creative types some slack. “Clap for the two musicians trying to entertain you during a noisy dinner.” “Write that ever-helpful review for the author you just read.” That sort of thing. My mother was a musician. Respect matters. Sometimes it’s all you’re gonna get.

    How do you know what your talents are? “If it’s easy for you, that means you’re good at it.” Example? My tall, lanky son undervalued his skill as a cross-country runner. When he stopped taking his good luck for granted, it reversed his whole outlook on the sport.

    When we meet someone, fiction authors always know what to ask. We also listen to the answer. It’s not just good manners, we’re hoarding material. I advised the kids to avoid the lame, “Where are you from? Where’d you go to school?” openings and inquire about their new acquaintance’s interests. It shortcuts to the person’s #1 passion, and makes conversation easier, and much more fun. 

    I pointed out that reunions are part of being a graduate, and as the wife of a head-of-school, I’ve gone to many. I warned that the classmates are always ON, while their partners are usually miserable. When I broached my question to a gentleman in the latter category, he told me he packaged items for shipping for a Philadelphia department store. That gave me pause—until I imagined what he actually did. “Every day must be different for you,” I guessed. “Oh, you don’t know the half of it!” he replied with a gleam in his eyes, and off he went. At a college football recruiting breakfast, I approached a younger man who was also nodding off. He happened to love fencing, which he demonstrated by lunging across the room.

    My favorite, and perhaps best, authorly advice was to “listen to your own thoughts,” something fiction writers do constantly, but ordinary people often neglect. Stopped for a traffic light, I noticed a man in army fatigues walking up from a train station. He had an interesting swagger, and I imagined him with a motorcycle, a sloppy apartment, and a girlfriend he was about to dump. Doesn’t matter if I was right. What matters is I paid attention to a fleeting impression, and I challenged the students to practice doing that, too. I assured them they didn’t have to confess their private thoughts to anyone else, but it was important to be completely honest with themselves. Suppose they were considering marriage and thought the person they had in mind would make a good husband or wife. What if, in their heads, the rest of the sentence was, “for somebody else,” but they weren’t in the habit of paying attention?

    Since most people—teenagers especially—prefer to learn by making their own mistakes, I would be surprised if my remarks made much of an impression. Still, it was satisfying to share. It’s so seldom that anyone asks. 


    In 2022, Donna Huston Murray was the 10th inductee into North Penn High School’s Lifetime Achievement Hall of Fame. Her 8th Ginger Barnes Cozy Mystery was a Finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards, and her first two Lauren Beck Crime Novels each received Hon. Mention in genre fiction from Writer’s Digest. The third in that series, STRANGER DANGER, is out in paperback: ebook on pre-order worldwide. [Pub date 4/18/23.]