Clichés and How To Use Them

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about why cliches are not always a bad thing, a lazy way of writing.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest.

I was watching the News Hour some time ago when they had a special correspondent on from NPR. I am always interested in putting a face on the people I hear so often on the radio and was especially interested in what she had to say, so paid close attention. However, I quickly started to pay attention to something else. Clichés. Her piece was filled with them.

I probably wouldn’t have been so struck be that if I hadn’t attended all those writing classes. Don’t use clichés, we were told. Go through your manuscript and take them all out. They are the lazy person’s way to express themselves and an editor will immediately reject you if you use them. Besides, they mark you as uneducated, uninformed, not willing to go the extra mile to properly express yourself.

For a long time, I have had a horror of those innocent little expressions.

However, the more I thought about them the more I wondered. Are they really so awful? Didn’t they come into being because they were a good shortcut to express a very real sentiment? I’ve known as many people with college degrees whose speech is littered with clichés as those who still are struggling to get their GED. Maybe more. I’ve found they can come in handy when writing dialog. They can help you define the personality of a character. That character doesn’t have to come across as lazy, ignorant, or anything other than that’s the way they talk.

It’s the way we all talk. If we didn’t use them so often, they wouldn’t be clichés. Of course, if you are going to use them, it’s a good idea to use them appropriately. My grandmother used to pepper her speech with them. One of her favorites was “until the last dog was hung.” I don’t think she realized that little cliché sprung from testing the gallows in jolly old England back in the days when they hung people for just about anything, and they had a surplus of stray dogs. They really did hang dogs until they had the timing and the tension on the rope just right. Ugg. Needless to say, I haven’t told my dogs that story.

I knew someone who kept referring to a relative as “my shirttail relative.” That usually means someone who hangs onto your shirttail while you drag them along behind. It’s a faintly disparaging term. Only, in this case, the relative was pretty rich and handed out possessions and money to the rest of the family.

So, maybe it’s not the cliché that’s at fault, but the way we use them. Maybe all those writing teachers really meant we’re only lazy writers if we don’t use them properly, knowing what they mean. Maybe what they were against was using them as short cuts, just throwing them in without thought, because we’ve always said that phrase, or heard it used, without wondering where it came from or what it really means.  I can live with that. So, from here on, I am going to feel free to use whatever cliché appeals to me but will research it first to find out what I just said. And that’s no cliché.


Book Review: Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper by Ana Brazil


Title: Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper
Series: A New Orleans Gilded Age Mystery #1
Author: Ana Brazil
Publisher: Sand Hill Review Press
Publication Date: November 1, 2017
Genre: Historical Mystery


Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Amazon // Indiebound


Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper
A New Orleans Gilded Age Mystery #1
Ana Brazil
Sand Hill Review Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-937818-63-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Gilded Age New Orleans is overrun with prostitutes, pornographers, and a malicious Jack the Ripper copycat. As threatening letters to newspaper editors proclaim, no woman is safe from his blade.

Desperate to know who murdered her favorite student, ambitious typewriting teacher Fanny Newcomb launches into a hunt for the self-proclaimed Irish Channel Ripper.

Fanny quickly enlists her well-connected employers—Principal Sylvia Giddings and her sister Dr. Olive—to help, and the women forge through saloons, cemeteries, slums, and houses of prostitution in their pursuit.

Fanny’s good intentions quickly infuriate her longtime beau Lawrence Decatur, while her reckless persistence confounds the talented police detective Daniel Crenshaw. Reluctantly, Lawrence and Daniel also lend their investigative talents to Fanny’s investigation.

As the murderer sets a date for his next heinous crime, can Fanny Newcomb and her crew stop the Irish Channel Ripper before he kills again?

In yet another foray into the world of young women in historical times who flaunt the “rules” of the day and pursue lives of their own creation, Fanny Newcomb enters the scene. Fanny is a bright, appealing teacher of immigrant women, attempting to help them attain better lives in a city that has its own brand of shadiness.

Fanny doesn’t believe it when Karl, a German carpenter of her acquaintance is accused of murdering Nora, an Irish prostitute (maybe) and one of Fanny’s favorite students. Neither her beau or the local police detective want to really listen to what she has to say so Fanny enlists the aid of her employers, the Giddings sisters, to make their way through the seediest and most dangerous parts of New Orleans in search of the truth, eventually gaining a little help from the reluctant Lawrence Decatur and Detective Daniel Crenshaw.

Fanny and the sisters, Olive and Sylvia, are a smart and endearing trio and I thoroughly enjoyed their intrepid adventures in pursuit of justice. They’re especially appealing in their determination to live life by their own rules rather than being hemmed in by the ruthless requirements of the Victorian period and I also appreciated the author’s skillful evocation of New Orleans in its wild and wooly days. I really hope that more adventures are to come.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

About the Author

A native of California, Ana Brazil lived in the south for many years. She earned her MA in American history from Florida State University and traveled her way through Mississippi as an architectural historian. Ana loves fried mullet, Greek Revival colonnades, and Miss Welty’s garden. She has a weakness for almost all things New Orleans. (Although she’s not sure just how it happened…but she favors bluegrass over jazz.)

The Fanny Newcomb stories celebrate the tenacity, intelligence, and wisdom of the dozens of courageous and outrageous southern women that Ana is proud to call friends.

Although Ana, her husband, and their dog Traveller live in the beautiful Oakland foothills, she is forever drawn to the lush mystique of New Orleans, where Fanny Newcomb and her friends are ever prepared to seek a certain justice.

For more information, please visit Ana Brazil’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Pinterest and Goodreads.


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A paperback copy of Fanny Newcomb
and the Irish Channel Ripper

Enter here.


Book Review: Condition Book One by Alec Birri


Title: Condition Book One
Series: The Condition Trilogy
Author: Alec Birri
Narrator: Jonathan Keeble
Publication Date: January 17, 2018
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian


Purchase Links:

Audible // iTunes // Amazon


Condition Book One
A Medical Miracle?
The Condition Trilogy
Alec Birri
Narrated by Jonathan Keeble
Essential Music Limited, January 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

What if all brain disorders were treatable? Few would lament the passing of dementia or autism, but what if the twisted mind of a sex offender or murderer could be cured too? Or how about a terrorist or maybe a political extremist? What if we could all be “corrected”?

It’s 1966, and RAF pilot Dan Stewart awakes from a coma following an aircraft accident into a world where nothing seems to make sense anymore. Not being able to recall the crash might be expected, but what about the rest of his life? And what’s stopping him from taking his medication? Is it brain damage that’s causing paranoia about the red pill, or is Dan right to think something sinister is going on?

His horrific injuries don’t make any sense either – a post-crash fire caused him to suffer almost 100% burns. How is it even possible to survive that? Are the hallucinations and strange dreams trying to tell him something? They are, and he’ll soon find out what, but not before his doctor’s sure the shock won’t kill him.

Have you ever met a character that seemed to somehow exactly fit what you expected? Dan is more than a little loudmouthed, brash, even obnoxious, and his thoughts swirl madly and almost aimlessly. He’s badtempered and suspicious and apparently has kind feelings only about his young daughter. All of this meshed nicely with how I might feel and behave if I woke up in a hospital after a terrible accident that should have killed me and found that, not only was my body in a rather strange condition, but I also just knew that something wasn’t right.

Dan, of course, is correct in thinking something’s off and, if there has ever been an unreliable narrator, it’s him. Small wonder since he is seemingly surrounded by people who don’t want to be honest with him. Is the doctor really treating him? Why are all the patients he meets suffering severe burns just like his? Does he have good reason to be suspicious about his wife? Why is his memory so faulty? And why is he so leery of taking the red pill?

Unfortunately, in the early stages of this story, I couldn’t like a single character for one reason or another, with special dislikes for Dan and his nurse, Tracy. If that happens to you, I urge you to keep reading anyway because, when all is said and done, this is a unique tale, one that kept my interest to the end and I’m anticipating enjoying the next book just as much. Reading about the evil that can be done in the name of science is always tough but a gripping story nonetheless.

As for the narration, Mr. Keeble added a lot to my appreciation of the story. His tone is smooth and very pleasing and he interprets different players really well, male and female. I haven’t listened to anything else he might have done but I certainly won’t mind listening to him again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.



About the Author

Alec Birri served thirty years with the UK Armed Forces. He commanded an operational unit that experimented in new military capabilities classified at the highest level (Top Secret Strap 3) and it is this that forms the basis of his novels. Although semi-autobiographical, for national security and personal liberty reasons, the events and individuals portrayed have to be fiction but are still nonetheless in keeping with his experiences.



About the Narrator

If you regularly enjoy listening to audiobooks then this Shakespearean actor will need no introduction. Winner of a 2016 SOVAS award, Jonathan’s voice is rightly recognized as being one of the best, and his narration of The Condition Trilogy is no exception.



Play an excerpt here.


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Book Review: The Ballad of Black Bart by Loren D. Estleman

The Ballad of Black Bart
Loren D. Estleman
Forge, November 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7653-8353-2

From the publisher:  Between July 1875 and November 1883, a single outlaw robbed the stagecoaches of Wells Fargo in California’s Mother Lode country a record twenty-eight times.  Armed with an unloaded shotgun, walking to and from the scenes of the robberies for hundreds of miles, and leaving poems behind, the infamous Black Bart was fiercely hunted by James B. Hume, Wells Fargo’s legendary chief of detectives.  Between robberies, Black Bart was known as Charles E. Bolton, a distinguished, middle-aged man who enjoyed San Francisco’s entertainments in the company of socialites drawn to his quiet, temperate good nature and upper-class tastes.

One of the most entertaining of the many entertaining aspects of this novel is that, true to Black Bart’s talents and propensities [he signs himself “Po8,” after all], the author begins each chapter [26 in all], as well as the Afterword, with a four-line verse, wonderful creations all, as is the book itself.  I will quote only the first and last two of these.  Beginning the book, on the first page of Chapter One:  “This is the story of bandit Black Bart; who used the gold country to practice his art.  His brush was a shotgun, his canvas the road, as he painted his way ‘cross the Old Mother Lode.”  And he ends the book with another:  “So here I’ve stood while wind and rain have set the trees asobbin’; and risked my life for that damn stage that wasn’t worth the robbin.”  And before the Afterword:  “My tale it is finished, and my race it is run; but there’s one more confession I owe everyone.  I speak not of inventions, though admit to this crime; I own to the evils I’ve committed in rhyme.”  Everything in between is equally wonderful.

As the book begins, Charles Bolton is described thusly:  “Everything about this man was reserved … A man who drank rarely, smoked not at all, and spent his words as if they assayed out at sixteen dollars to the ounce, was regarded as some kind of sage.”   The man loved gambling, on horse races or prizefights.  That first chapter ends with a rhyme as well:  “Come listen to my story, I’ll not detain you long. A singing and a humming this simple silly song.  ‘Tis of the old ex-convicts, the men who served their time for robbing mountain stages of the old Wells, Fargo line.”

Charles E. Bolton was a mining magnate who knew him only in that capacity.  But one who clung to a shotgun, “a comforting weight in his hands,” when he sets out to rob the stagecoaches of that firm, referred to as “the Company,” of whom we are told “the frugality of Henry Wells and William Fargo was nearly as infamous as their business practices.” His object was only the ironbound strongbox held at the driver’s feet, never harming any passengers in the process.

Sheriff Benjamin Thorn, who’d held that position for 15 years, and Chief of Detectives James Hume are charged with hunting down the robber, and they prove to be worthy opponents of Black Bart.

Another excellent book from this author, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.


Mystery Writing Is Murder—and a Giveaway!

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:

Gnarly’s Facebook Page:
Lovers in Crime Facebook Page:
Acorn Book Services Facebook Page:
Twitter: @TheMysteryLadie

American Journalist and Biographer Gene Fowler once said, “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Yeah, right. Try writing murder mysteries. Not only will drops of blood be forming on your forehead, but it will be dripping out of your eyeballs as well.

I’m sure any author of any genre will claim that theirs is the most difficult to write.

Take romance, for example. Girl meets boy. Boy meets girl. They fight. They realize their hatred for each other is really sexual tension. They give into “the urge.” They fight again. They discover they can’t live without each other. They get married. The End.

For a twist, let’s do romantic-suspense. Girl meets Boy. Boy meets Girl. One of them is a secret agent or hit man working for the government or undercover cop—whatever—one of them is in a dangerous line of work that puts the other in the line of fire. They are running for their lives and both look really hot while bullets are whizzing over their heads. They find a moment of peace to do the deed. Bad guys get the jump on the couple. One of them is taken hostage. The other saves him/her. The bad guys are killed and the couple lives happily ever after. The End.

Admittedly, it is tough for writers of these genres because putting the twist to the general plotline to keep things fresh for their readers is a real challenge. How many ways can you kiss? How many ways can you describe a kiss?

As a murder mystery writer, I claim that murder mystery writing is the tougher game, especially for writers, like me, who prefer to keep their books character driven and to have their protagonist solve the case with his brilliant intellect.

Some readers, and writers, have found that the reality of technology and the justice system has thrown a monkey wrench into the general murder mystery premise:

Someone gets killed. Detective surveys the scene. Questions all of the witnesses. Tracks down suspects. Cunning Killer lies. Detective is stumped. Cunning Killer slips up. Brilliant Hero detects the Killer’s mistake. Traps Killer. Killer confesses and goes off to prison.

Justice prevails.

Any fourth grader knows that such is not the case in real life.

Between technology: “Oh, you say you were never in that room? Well, we found your DNA from where you sneezed on the victim’s baloney sandwich right before you slit his throat with the butter knife.”

And justice system: “Is that all you got? A car filled with nuns saw your suspect running out of the house with a bloody knife in his hand at the time of the murder? His defense attorney is going to claim that they are conspiring to railroad him into jail because he’s Jewish. Come back with something more and I’ll get you a search warrant for the bloody knife.”

Some mystery writers see this as a killjoy. What fun is there in having a dull computer database spit out the name of the killer, especially when it’s someone who wasn’t even on the protagonist’s radar? Then, many readers, myself included, get frustrated when the mystery turns from a whodunit, but how-are-we-gonna-catch-‘em?

This is where the rubber hits the road. In reality, these hurdles add to the fun for the author. It doesn’t take away from the protagonist. Real detectives, true-life protagonists, deal with these real issues every day.

Sure, the computer database, devoid of personality, may spit out the pieces of the puzzle, just like the collection of witnesses may lay out their pieces of the puzzle. A clever defense lawyer may throw up legal hurdles to protect the killer—but hasn’t that always been the case?

Today’s real detectives come up against different types of hurdles than the investigators of fifty years ago, which were different from the hurdles fifty years before that.

While the murder investigation game may be different than it was in the days of Hercule Poirot and Perry Mason, it hasn’t become any less thrilling.

One thing that has not changed: Murder has been around since the days of Cain and Abel. As long as there are motives for murder, it will never go away. Also, protagonists will always have to be on their toes to anticipate and find their way over hurdles thrown up by their antagonists.

The game of writing murder mysteries is always changing—and never dull.


To enter the drawing for an ebook copy
of Ice by Lauren Carr, just leave a comment
below giving what you think is the biggest
crime-solving technique—**other than
DNA**—to come along in the past 200
(or more) years. The winning name will be
drawn on Monday evening, March 12th.


Book Review: The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Traitor’s Game
The Traitor’s Game, Book One
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-04537-6

Abruptly abandoning her beloved Lava Fields, based solely on a demand from her paternal parental unit, is aggravating. The fact that it’s been three years and no reason was given for the reunion, is infuriating. When Kestra’s security carriage is attacked on the journey home, she flips from frustrated to fiercely furious, forgetting all about fear.

Certainly, the people of Antora have a healthy respect for that anger. After all, her father is second in command to Lord Endrick. Those who actually know the scrappy, skilled teen are more realistically wary of her wrath. The band of rebels, however, has too much at stake and too pat a plan to be thwarted.

Kestra is kidnapped. Her guard and governess held as collateral.

One captor poses as her lady-in-waiting, the other her driver and Kestra is taken into Highwyn and tasked with finding the Olden Blade to overthrow evil Lord Endrick. No one actually knows that the magic dagger exists. If it does, and she is able to locate it; then she will have to determine how much, if any, of the legend is true. This seemingly insurmountable problem pales when Kestra realizes the reason for her return.

She is to be wed. Groom selected, arrangements made, the ceremony…stupidly soon. She has no say in the matter.

With several sticky situations to solve, and only a small window of time, the story flies faster than Lord Endrick’s condors. Along the way, secrets are revealed. Kestra begins to believe that she fell in love with the idea of her country, without ever knowing the realities of her world. Burdened by new knowledge, the difference between enemies and innocents becomes blurry, but she must choose someone to trust.

Kestra may be one of my favorite characters of all time. She is courageous, bold beyond belief and also positively petulant, with a tendency for tantrums. The perfect protagonist for this adventurous, action-packed fantasy. Mixed with a bit of magic, a completely captivating saga is created; a stellar start to a tempting trilogy (I’m guessing, here).

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2018.


Spotlight on The Fourth Gunman by John Lansing


Title: The Fourth Gunman
Series: Jack Bertolino #4
Author: John Lansing
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller



Retired inspector Jack Bertolino straddles two perilous worlds. Known for his impeccable police work, Jack has also done a priceless favor for an infamous Mafia Don: he saved the gangster’s kidnapped daughter from being sold into the sex trade, and brought her safely home.

In Jack’s line of work, he can’t help but have friends—and enemies—on both sides of the law.

So when FBI agent Luke Hunter goes missing after a deep undercover assignment with that same mob boss, the FBI calls Jack in, looking for a favor. With his connections and skills, Jack’s the only man for the job: find Luke Hunter, dead or alive.

The Mobster operates an illegal gambling yacht in international waters off of Southern California, and when Luke went missing, so did half a million dollars of the mob’s money. As Jack dives into the case, he’ll learn the true mystery isn’t the agent’s disappearance, but something far more ominous…


Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon


An Excerpt from The Fourth Gunman

Twenty-four hours had passed since the death of Luke Hunter, and the weather had turned nasty. The sea was whitecapped, the crescent moon blanketed by a thick marine layer. A perfect night for what Roxy and Trent had to accomplish.

A perfect night to dump a body.

Trent was piloting the catamaran, heading south toward the San Pedro Channel and powered by the auxiliary engine. He knew the depth of the basin was good for at least 2,250 feet. He’d studied the charts, set the GPS, and they were just a few minutes from their destination.

Trent looked right at home, almost regal, standing behind the wheel of the craft that bucked, rolled, and cut through the waves, never veering off course. He was a Saudi national and a U.S. citizen, raised in the States from the age of eight, so he had no discernible accent. He was twenty-eight years old, with a boyish open face, a buffed physique, a swarthy complexion, buzz-cut brown hair, and gray eyes that could set Roxy’s heart thrumming. A finely inked tiger ran the length of one muscled forearm, the tattooed claws drawing red blood.

Roxy stepped out of the cabin and carefully made her way behind him, wrapped her arms around his six-pack, and leaned her cheek against his back, trying to still the beating of her heart.

Trent gave her hand a firm squeeze before grabbing the wheel with both hands. “You’re a brave woman, Roxy,” he shouted over his shoulder, fighting the howling wind. “A warrior.”

The moment he announced they were approaching their destination, the GPS system gave off a shrill cry. The night was black; there were no other boats in the area, no container ships navigating the channel. It was time to get to work. He shut off the engine, locked the wheel, and lowered himself into the cabin, followed by Roxy.

Luke, head still covered with the plastic garbage bag, was dressed in nothing but his briefs. He’d been rolled onto the cabin floor; his body lay on top of the duvet cover.

Trent grabbed two fifty-pound diving belts from their scuba gear and carried them up to the main deck. Roxy handed a twenty-five-pounder through the hatch. Trent ran back down, wrapped Luke’s body tightly in the blanket, and, with Roxy’s help, dragged his deadweight up the stairs and onto the aft deck behind the wheelhouse.

Trent pulled back the duvet and fastened one belt, cinched it tight around Luke’s waist, and then made short work of the second. He grabbed the twenty-five-pound belt, wrapped it twice around Luke’s neck, and secured it. Postmortem lividity had turned Luke’s back, buttocks, and legs a blackish-purple where the blood had settled.

Trent pulled the duvet taut, rolling Luke’s body over, and ripped a cut from top to bottom on the garbage bag so it would disengage after splashdown and be dragged out to sea. He worried it might fill with air as the corpse decomposed, and drag the body to the surface.

Roxy steeled herself as she looked down at Luke. His face was bone-white, his eyes devoid of color, just a thick opaque film. If there was one life lesson she had learned from her father, it was to meet trouble head-on. Never roll over, never look back, and never run. She swallowed her rising bile and choked, “Do it.”

Trent grabbed both ends of the blanket and muscled Luke’s body with 125 pounds of lead weights off the stern of the catamaran, tossing the duvet into the chop behind him.

Roxy and Trent stood shoulder to shoulder as they watched Luke float for a second and then slip below the water’s surface; they were confident he was permanently buried at sea and they could move forward with their plan.


Excerpt from The Fourth Gunman by John Lansing. Copyright © 2017 by John Lansing. Reproduced with permission from John Lansing. All rights reserved.


About the Author

Best-selling author John Lansing started his career as an actor in New York City. He spent a year at the Royale Theatre performing the lead in the Broadway production of “Grease” before putting together a rock ‘n’ roll band and playing the iconic club CBGB.

Lansing closed up his Tribeca loft and headed for the West Coast where he landed a co-starring role in George Lucas’ “More American Graffiti,” and guest-starred on numerous television shows.

During his fifteen-year writing career, Lansing wrote and produced “Walker Texas Ranger,” co-wrote two CBS Movies of the Week, and co-executive produced the ABC series “Scoundrels.”

John’s first book was Good Cop Bad Money, a true crime tome he co-wrote with former NYPD Inspector Glen Morisano.

The Devil’s Necktie, his first Jack Bertolino novel, became a best seller on Barnes & Noble and hit #1 in Amazon’s Kindle store in the Crime Fiction genre.

Jack Bertolino returns in John’s fourth novel, The Fourth Gunman.

A native of Long Island, John now resides in Los Angeles.

Catch Up With John on, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!


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