Using People for Fun and Profit

Marian Allen writes science fiction, fantasy, mystery, humor, horror, mainstream, and anything else she can wrestle into fixed form.

Allen has had stories in on-line and print publications, including multiple appearances in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies. Her latest books are the Sage fantasy trilogy, her science fiction comedy of bad manners Sideshow in the Center Ring, her YA/NA paranormal suspense A Dead Guy at the Summerhouse, her collection of science fiction stories Other Earth, Other Stars, and Shifty, her collection of fantasy stories set in the world of Sage, all from Per Bastet Publications.

Allen is a member of the Southern Indiana Writers Group. She blogs daily at Marian Allen, Author Lady

I’m sometimes asked if I actually know people like the people I write about. This is usually asked in a tone that begs me to deny it.

The answer, though, is, “Of course I do!”

I don’t know any one person who is exactly like any one character, but I do take bits and pieces from people I know or see and use those bits and pieces in my writing.

Aunt Libby, a character in a currently out-of-print novel, is based a great deal on my twin aunts. They were both small in stature but large in attitude. They were each on a first-name basis with Jesus and practiced what they preached. Neither one of them was afraid of anything or anybody, and would speak truth to power while shaking a finger in its face. When I decided to use those aspects of them in Aunt Libby, the plot, which had been rather flat, inflated with life.

I used an incident from the youth of one of those aunts in my short story, “The Dragon of North 24th Street,” which was published in Dragonthology, an aptly named anthology of … well  … stories about dragons. When she was a new bride, my aunt heard that a neighborhood prostitute was making a play for my uncle, so my aunt took a knife and blocked the woman from leaving her apartment until she promised to keep away from him. Since the woman needed access to the street in order to ply her trade, not to mention that the necessary facilities were in an outhouse, the promise wasn’t long in coming. It was the perfect story to set up the character of Pearl and foreshadow the manner of the climax’s resolution. It also tickled her descendants, my cousins.

To go farther afield, sometimes I cast some of my characters. I’m a character-actor junkie, and always have been. I especially like people who specialize in playing villains, if they can make those villains juicy and/or well-rounded. Sometimes I cast them as good guys. I get a kick out of writing big leading parts for people who are usually second- or third- (or further down the cast list) level players, and giving them the much harder job of making the good guy juicy and well-rounded.

Anthony Zerbe plays Dr. Andrew Walton in A Dead Guy at the Summerhouse. Jack Weston was the model for Jackie Eastman (Oh! How clever I am!!) in Sideshow in the Center Ring.

Sideshow in the Center Ring was inspired by a photograph I saw of Salvador Dali’s household in the 1970s. Each member was highly, not to say insistently, individual to the point of looking like they were competing for attention. So I imagined what it would be like to live in a social group in which it was your job to show off and to draw attention to your patron, and in which failure to grab enough of the spotlight meant ostracism. The challenge, then, was to create a character who was believable in that role, sympathetic to the reader, and capable of transcending the limitations that had recommended or necessitated such a demeaning life choice. I think Connie Phelan, my abrasive main character, fills that bill.

And, no, I don’t know anybody like her. Relax.

Sideshow in the Center Ring is available at Amazon in print and for Kindle , at Untreed Reads in multiple electronic formats , in electronic formats through your library (if your library lends eBooks), at many other fine electronic booksellers, or from your friendly neighborhood independent book store . Seek and ye shall find.

Architecture and Murder

Susan Cory lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her architect husband and bossy rescue dog. Like her sleuth, she is a residential architect practicing out of a turreted office. Also, like Iris Reid, she has a brown belt in karate.

Susan grew up in New Jersey devouring mysteries. She loved seeing order restored by ingenious sleuths. But the visual arts were her medium of expression. As an Art major at Dartmouth, she imagined that designing buildings was just a larger-scaled version of creating sculpture. Susan soon discovered the many differences. At graduate school at Harvard’s G.S.D., she found a setting—insecurities and egos riding a runaway train of Design Obsession—just ripe for murder.

Conundrum and Facade are odes to Susan’s profession and all the deviously clever practitioners within it. She’s hard at work on Book 3 in the series in which Iris Reid will continue to uncover pools of evil in her world.

The mystery world is filled with sleuths who are cops, P.I.s, lawyers, bookstore owners, caterers, ministers—practitioners of every profession but Susan’s own, architecture. Aren’t we problem solvers? Don’t we find ourselves deeply enmeshed in other people’s lives? Don’t we passionately defend our beliefs? Clearly the architecture world has been ignored as a mystery setting, and architects have been neglected as sleuths and, yes, murderers. In my graduate program alone at Harvard’s G.S.D., I found a setting ripe for murder. Egos were flying, and critics would reduce sleep-deprived students to tears and screaming matches at final juries. Later, out in the real world, a tiny handful of architects would claim all the plum commissions, as a single architect each year would be awarded the Pritzker Prize, ratcheting them to Starchitect status.

Several years ago, I decided to remedy this oversight by writing the Iris Reid series. Iris designs houses in Cambridge, Ma., while her loyal Basset hound, Sheba, sleeps nearby inside the fireplace hearth. Iris spends her days hunched over a drafting table in her turreted home office, or butting heads with sexist contractors at construction sites. She spends her nights with the sexy neighborhood chef. Her loyal friend, Ellie, has her back.

I started writing the first book, Conundrum, in my head while attending my own 20th GSD reunion, reconnecting with back-stabbing, competitive classmates. (In fairness, there were plenty of nice, normal fellow students, but they aren’t as much fun to write about as the prima donnas.) In this book, Iris also returns to her 20th Architecture School reunion, only to discover the body of her former GSD boyfriend at a neo-Modernist house she’s designed. That part did not happen to me.

In the second book, Facade, Iris agrees to teach a design studio at GSD. A charismatic Dutch starchitect, also teaching that semester, lures Iris into his world. When a local schoolgirl goes missing after visiting the man’s office, Iris is his only alibi. But can she actually vouch for his innocence?

You can order the ebooks and paperbacks at: and at
Please visit Susan at her website: and tell her what you think of the books at:

The Line Between Research and Literary License—and a Giveaway!

Lauren and Gnarly

Lauren Carr is the best-selling author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Killer in the Band is the third installment in the Lovers in Crime Mystery series.

In addition to her series set in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, Lauren Carr has also written the Mac Faraday Mysteries, set on Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, and the Thorny Rose Mysteries, set in Washington DC. The second installment in the Thorny Rose Mysteries, which features Joshua Thornton’s son Murphy and Jessica Faraday, Mac’s daughter, A Fine Year for Murder, was released in January 2017.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.

She lives with her husband, son, and four dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV. Visit Lauren Carr’s website at to learn more about Lauren and her upcoming mysteries.

Fiction is a work of the imagination. You won’t get an argument from me on that.  Even so, that doesn’t mean fiction writers should let their imaginations run so wild that they begin stretching the facts.  Every time they do, they’re betting on the reader to stretch his or her imagination just to accommodate them – it’s a risk that rarely ever pans out.

What’s the best way to establish the reader’s trust in the story’s narrator?  Keeping the facts straight.  State flat out falsehoods or portray your characters as lacking knowledge of the very basics in their professions and the writer is viewed as either ignorant or lazy. Either way, the writer loses their readers’ trust with something that could be so easily fixed.

Yet, on the other hand, fiction writers can’t allow themselves to get so bogged down with having every fact so perfectly straight that their imagination ends up hog-tied—rendering them unable to write.

Do I get hung up on research? It depends on the area of detail in question. There are some areas of research that are in actuality “moving targets.” It is a waste of time for writers to sweat over intricate details that could possibly be obsolete before their book’s release. State gun laws is an excellent example. Federal and state gun laws are always changing.

The Mac Faraday mystery series is set in Maryland, which has one of the strictest gun laws in the country. However, readers will notice that Mac Faraday and other characters freely carry concealed weapons, which is illegal in that state. If I was to have each of these characters follow the letter of the law, they would need to stop before crossing state lines to lock up their guns and go through other procedures, weighing down the plot with minute details that have nothing to do with moving the story forward—all in the name of keeping the facts straight.

But then, what if Maryland’s gun laws were to change a few years later? My characters’ actions would then appear silly and unnecessary. For that reason, as a writer, I have chosen to completely ignore the whole issue.

I knew I had my work cut out for me when I started working on Kill and Run. Lieutenant Murphy Thornton, USN, and Jessica Faraday, daughter of multi-millionaire detective Mac Faraday, the protagonist from my mystery series set in Deep Creek Lake, are of a younger generation. Not only that, but they live in Washington, DC, which is nothing like the resort town of Deep Creek Lake, where my family vacations, or the small town of Chester, West Virginia, the setting for my Lovers in Crime Mysteries. I grew up in Chester and still have family living there.

Yet, I was not completely lost. As a former editor for the federal government, I had lived and worked in the Washington, DC area for over ten years. No weekend was complete without hitting the downtown clubs on Saturday night. It wasn’t hard for me to rekindle the fast-paced excitement of big city life—with which I was very familiar.

While I hadn’t been inside the Pentagon since I was a federal bureaucrat, luckily I still had several sources within the military. When I met my husband, he was a naval officer stationed at the Pentagon. As a former federal employee, I had worked in several places around Washington. I knew the basic security procedures for entering and leaving federal buildings. For example, at one point, Murphy needs to escort a witness to his office. In order to take her into the building, he needs to get her a visitor’s badge. Later, when he must go into a meeting, he has to hand her off to an escort who has security clearances.

The most difficult research I encountered in Kill and Run was the military officers’ spouses’ clubs. Jessica Faraday is active in the navy officers’ wives’ club, and one of the murder victims is active in the army counterpart. Therefore, I needed to know how such clubs work. When my husband had been in the navy, I never joined. I requested information from a club that I found on the Internet, but received no reply. So, I had to rely on information from a friend who had been active in a branch while she and her husband were stationed overseas. Since the club in Kill and Run was made up of mostly women, I modeled the social hierarchy and tone of other women’s social clubs that I was familiar with.

Yet, I have come to learn that no matter how much I research the people, places, and things for a book, there are going to be readers who, if they want to find fault, will find it. You’d be surprised about what some readers with too much time on their hands will go to the trouble of contacting authors.

In one scene in It’s Murder, My Son, Mac Faraday goes to the Spencer Inn, the five-star inn he had inherited from his birth mother. During this scene, he is served a five-hundred dollar bottle of champagne, which I had researched online—copying and pasting the name and describing the bottle in detail from a picture on the website where it could be purchased. I described how the wine steward had served the bottle—modeling this on how I have been served by wine stewards in fine restaurants.

Within a month of It’s Murder, My Son’s release, I received a phone call from a reader telling me that scene was wrong! The reader went to the trouble of hunting down my phone number to call me. I’m still not sure what was wrong, but, after getting over the shock, I explained that I modeled the scene from when I myself had been served wine in fine restaurants, to which the reader replied, “Those weren’t five-star restaurants!”

But wait, there’s more! Remember the five hundred dollar bottle of champagne which I hunted down online—complete with a picture of the bottle and a “buy now” button to purchase? Two and a half years after book’s release, I get an email from a reader claiming that champagne did not exist. The winery doesn’t make champagne. Well, with a scoff I went online to try to find it so I could send him a link. But couldn’t find the site.

Oh, well. That was where I learned a lesson about fiction writing and research. There’s a reason authors have literary license. It is silly for writers to allow themselves to get so bogged down researching every minute little fact in order to make everything precisely accurate to appease readers who get their jollies out of finding mistakes. Unless that detail has a direct effect on the plotline, it doesn’t really matter. So what if the wine steward was not perfect? He had no role in committing or solving the mystery. So what if that winery did not make champagne? It still tasted good in Mac’s world.

I don’t have time for that.

Do I fudge on the facts? Yep! I admit it. Every writer has to sometimes. In doing so, I draw upon what information I was able to gather and fill in the blanks while trying to keep it believable. For example, in Kill and Run, readers will meet the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for whom Murphy directly works. The chair of the Joint Chiefs is General Maxine Raleigh, USAF. Yep, she’s a woman! Not only is she on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but she is the chair. To date, a woman has never been appointed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When I was researching this, one of my sources said that was not believable, to which I replied, “This is my world and, in my world, women can be appointed chair to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

Also, in my world, wine stewards are less than perfect while serving five hundred dollar bottles of champagne that don’t really exist.

Check out Lauren Carr’s
Audiobook-a-palooza Blog Tour! 


One lucky reader here will win three
downloadable audiobooks of the
Thorny Rose Mysteries—Three
Days to Forever, Kill and Run,
and A Fine Year for Murder. Just
leave a comment below pointing
out a factual error that you
have found in a book—but not any
found in a Lauren Carr mystery!
The winning name will be drawn
Monday evening, May 22nd.

Sometimes I Wonder Why I Didn’t Quit Long Ago

Billie Johnson and Marilyn Meredith

F. M. Meredith lived for many years in a small beach community much like Rocky Bluff. She has many relatives and friends who are in law enforcement and share their experiences and expertise with her. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at and her blog at



From the beginning the Rocky Bluff P.D. series faced one problem after another.

The first publisher to accept Final Respects, #1 in the series, was an e-publisher. I found the publishing information in Writers Digest Marketplace, and there was no mention of it only publishing electronically, only that police procedurals were wanted. At that time not many people knew anything about e-books and there was no such thing as an e-reader. The idea was to download the book to read on one’s computer. The big problem was trying to figure out how to download it. Needless to say, that publishing attempt was soon over.

Later on, I found a publisher who published in paper and as e-books. The books looked great, and ultimately the first two in the series were published. The problem here was I never got a single royalty. I knew books were being sold, reviews appeared in various places. When I finally complained (yes, I know, I waited for much too long a time), I received a check for a really small amount of money. I asked for my rights back.

Butch Sound Asleep

Next publisher was recommended by an author friend. Two titles were published and the books looked great. Again no royalties, but before I could complain, the publisher went out of business.

I met the Oak Tree Publisher at several conferences, traveled back to her headquarters to  present a class at a conference she organized, and she offered me a contract for #5 in the series—plus promised to republish the earlier books which happened. We not only had a great business relationship but became friends. She continued to publish the next books in the series, and yes, I received royalties.

Tragedy struck. The OTP publisher suffered a debilitating illness and there was no one ready to take her place. She is recovering, but it may take a long time. At this point, I figured the end had finally come for the RBPD series.

Michael Orenduff offered to have his publishing house go ahead with any books that were in line to be published by OTP with the stipulation, that authors could return if and when OTP is back in business. I hadn’t even finished writing the next book in the series when he made his offer. But I finished the book, had it edited, then asked Mr. Orenduff if he’d be interested in publishing it.

He said “yes” and now it’s a reality–#13 in the series, Unresolved is now available in all the usual places.

F. M. aka Marilyn Meredith


#13 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Unresolved

Rocky Bluff P.D. is underpaid and understaffed and when two dead bodies turn up, the department is stretched to the limit. The mayor is the first body discovered, the second an older woman whose death is caused in a bizarre manner. Because no one liked the mayor, including his estranged wife and the members of the city council, the suspects are many, but each one has an alibi.

On Finding My Tribe

In 2008, Joanne Guidoccio took advantage of early retirement and decided to launch a second career that would tap into her creative side and utilize her well-honed organizational skills. Slowly, a writing practice emerged. Her articles and book reviews were published in newspapers, magazines, and online. When she tried her hand at fiction, she made reinvention a recurring theme in her novels and short stories. A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne writes cozy mysteries, paranormal romance, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.

Social media links:

Website // Twitter // Facebook
LinkedIn // Pinterest // Goodreads

After 31 years of teaching, I was ready for a change. So, I put pen to paper and revisited a writing dream I had concocted during my high school years. When I shared my new career direction and goals with family and friends, I was taken aback by their comments.

“Why don’t you write a math textbook instead?”

“Are you sure you want to put yourself through all that stress?”

“But you have a math degree!”

As the months turned into years, I continued to share my experiences but started to notice glazed expressions in the middle of conversations. While my friends were supportive, they simply didn’t understand the struggles and slow progress of a writing career. First drafts don’t automatically evolve into polished manuscripts that are picked up by enthusiastic agents. And most published novels don’t land on best-seller lists.

I imagine many of them wondered why I even bothered to write.

Undaunted, I decided to look elsewhere for support and encouragement.

I started with local writing groups: Guelph Writers Ink and Guelph Write Now. Over a four-year period, we met for dinner on a monthly basis to discuss our writing journeys. Our motto at Guelph Writers Ink: We will inspire and encourage each other to write on a regular basis. Animated conversation and advice floated around the table as we discussed e-publishing vs. traditional publishing, literary vs. commercial fiction, writing tips, editing, agents, and social media.

On a whim, I signed up for a series of workshops at the Guelph Public Library. Impressed by the work ethic of science fiction writer—Sarah Totton—she entered the “Writers of the Future Contest” seventeen times before winning—I came up with a storyline for my first novel, Between Land and Sea. The following year, I joined seven other participants in a three-month Memoir workshop facilitated by librarians Karen Cafarella and Deb Quaile. A collection of our touchstone events was compiled in Memoirs 2013.

While awaiting publication of my cozy mysteries, I joined Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, and several Yahoo groups, among them Soul Mate Authors, The Wild Rose Press authors, and Sisterhood of Suspense. I took advantage of the online courses offered and further developed my writing skills.

I’m also active on social media—Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Facebook.

In seven years time, I have succeeded in creating a network of friends, fans, followers, and fellow creatives—IRL and online—who provide advice and support when I’m struggling and help spread the word when I have a new release. In turn, I support their efforts, promote their work on social media, and feature many of them on my blog.

I have found my tribe.


When Gilda Greco invites her closest friends to a VIP dinner, she plans to share David Korba’s signature dishes and launch their joint venture— Xenia, an innovative Greek restaurant near Sudbury, Ontario. Unknown to Gilda, David has also invited Michael Taylor, a lecherous photographer who has throughout the past three decades managed to annoy all the women in the room. One woman follows Michael to a deserted field for his midnight run and stabs him in the jugular.

Gilda’s life is awash with complications as she wrestles with a certain detective’s commitment issues and growing doubts about her risky investment in Xenia. Frustrated, Gilda launches her own investigation and uncovers decades-old secrets and resentments that have festered until they explode into untimely death. Can Gilda outwit a killer bent on killing again?

Book Trailer

Buy links:

Amazon (US) // Amazon (Canada) // Indigo

The Wild Rose Press // Barnes & Noble // Kobo

Writing is a Great Way to Travel

The Boston Globe says Molly MacRae writes “murder with a dose of drollery.” She’s the award-winning author of the Highland Bookshop Mysteries and the Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries. Molly’s short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine since 1990. After twenty years in northeast Tennessee, Molly lives in Champaign, Illinois.

Why did I choose a bookshop in the Scottish Highlands as the setting for my new mystery series? For some of the same reasons my main characters buy the shop and uproot their lives to move there and run it. It’s Scotland! The Highlands! A bookshop!


A long time ago—back in the mid-70s—I was lucky enough to spend a year in Scotland studying British Prehistory at Edinburgh University. I loved my studies and I loved Edinburgh (The castle! Arthur’s Seat! The closes, wynds, bridges, cemeteries, and cobbles! Haggis! Cheese! The smell of ale brewing!). If you’ve never been to Edinburgh, I encourage you to go.

My Friend the Highland Cow

While I was there, I was also lucky enough to travel around the country—from Inverness to Jedburgh, from Aberdeen to Kyle of Lochalsh. By train, bus, bicycle, ferry, and foot to Oban, Iona, Loch Lomond, and Loch Ness. I skied in the winter and in the spring wandered down green lanes to watch new lambs leaping straight up in the air for the joy of it. I’ve been back to Scotland since, but not nearly often enough.

Then, one day, I saw a real estate listing for a bookshop in the Highlands, and I started wondering what if? What if I threw caution to the winds, bought that shop, and just moved over there? I’d managed an independent bookstore, so I had some idea of what I’d be getting into. It was such a nice dream. Reality is kind of a wet blanket, though, don’t you think?

View from my Window in Edinburgh

But did I let reality get me down? No. Writing is my antidote for reality.

I couldn’t pick up and move to the Highlands to run a bookshop, so I dreamed up characters who could. I researched UK laws on Americans buying businesses and moving over there, and gave my characters the knowledge and wherewithal to do it. That’s how Janet Marsh and her three business partners bought Yon Bonnie Books in Inversgail, a thriving tourist town, on the west coast. They see the move as a great retirement/change of career scheme. Sounds good to me.

So now Janet and her friends are enjoying their new lives, despite the age-old problem of characters in mystery novels—stumbling over dead bodies—and I’m enjoying spending time in a place I love. You won’t find Inversgail on a real map, but you’ll find it in the Highland Bookshop Mysteries, and you’ll find it in my head and in my heart. Writing is a great way to travel.

Eilean Castle

Where Poppies Blow

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to remind us of a time that should never be forgotten, the men who gave their lives on the World War I front lines and the good an author and her community can do for each other.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.   //

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row. . .

I’m sure you’ve heard at least the first part of the famous poem from WWI. It was written in 1914 by John McCrae, a Canadian doctor on the front lines. He decided it was trash and that’s where he threw it. One of his men retrieved the poem and it became the most celebrated poem to come out of WWI.

April 22, 1915: The Battle of Ypres opened with the release of mustard gas by the Germans. On a field between France and Belgian, known as The Western Front, the battle lasted just a little over a month. 85,000 soldiers died. The average American doesn’t know much about the battle because it was the Canadians and the British doing the fighting.

The terrain was badly torn up, a field of dirt clods. The trees were skeletons against a gun-powder sky. But now it was May and, despite all forces set against them, the poppies bloomed. It was incongruous to see the vibrant red petals slowly take over the area, not blood this time but nature honoring the men who gave up their lives.

The poppies have been renamed the Memorial Poppy. To the Canadians and the British, the battle in Flanders Field is much like our feelings for Pearl Harbor. They celebrate by gathering  large amounts of flowers to commemorate those soldiers who died. Donations for the modern crepe paper version we see in America are used to support Veterans and their families in need.

Saturday, I was Guest of Honor at the American Legion’s Poppy Brunch put on by the Auxiliary. I’m also part of Post 3, Hanford. They billed me as the Local Author and, up to Saturday, I had no idea how proud they were of me. We have authors in Fresno, our “metropolis,” but only a handful in the smaller towns in the area. I know many authors don’t have the level of support I’m given. What I try to give back is a sense of the Central Valley, the people and cultures that surround me, the rich fields of produce that feeds a nation, the overwhelming heat and critical fog. I want readers to know who we are because I’m proud to be from here. I’ll give them both the good image and the bad (come on, I write about murder). You know plenty about LA, San Francisco and New York. But, have you heard about Lemoore?