Monday, November 25, 2013

Make the Yuletide Gay

I'm participating in the "Make the Yuletide Gay" event over at Keira Andrews' website, giving away copies of my two holiday-themed stories.


Stop by for lots of great stuff, including "Third Night" on November 27 and "Noche Buena" on December 10.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Entertainment Director

Current position: Entertainment Director for two-year-old golden retriever puppy
Duties include:

  • long walks with frequent breaks for sniffing and/or territory marking
  • belly rubs
  • tug-a-rope
  • fetch
  • ear scratching
  • regular reminders that he is "a good boy"
Salary: $0

Benefits: Unconditional love

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Realtor's Best Friend

Nancy Jarvis talks about her favorite supporting character, Dave Everett.

1.) What made you create this character? 

I write cozy style mysteries with a Realtor protagonist named Regan McHenry. She comes across the occasional body selling houses---she and her husband even bought a house with a partially mummified body in it---and she has friends and clients who sometimes find themselves in a mess. She’s a bit of a meddler, but it’s not reasonable to think she could stroll into the police station, sit down with a cop, and ask to be filled in on what’s happening in a murder investigation she finds interesting. Enter her best friend, Dave Everett.
His official title is Santa Cruz Police and Community Relations Ombudsman. He used to be a cop until he lost an eye in a shootout with a criminal. He was going to be forced into an early retirement, but  convinced the police department that, since Santa Cruz police and the community at large don’t always see eye to eye, they needed him to handle the media, public relations, and help out with paperwork and anything else that could be done from a desk.
He’s a meddler, too, or rather a slightly bored ex-cop who seems to have his fingers in many law enforcement pies and insinuates himself, at least verbally, into many investigations, and through him, Regan can get information she needs.

2.) What makes this character special to you?

When I started writing, all my characters began as people I knew; I began outlining them using their real names. They quickly got renamed as they were developed and took on their own personalities …all except for Dave, my real one eyed former cop friend. He got a new last name and a new job, got blended with my twin cousins who were cops and the local police officer who does media interviews, but Dave is still the one I visualize as I write his character.
Although my real Dave says he doesn’t sound at all like Dave Everett, he does. He and I don’t tease one another the way Dave and Regan do, and I make up what I call his “Daveisms,” but Dave really could say them . Here’s an example: “I think you’re right about him being a bully, and bullies don’t usually make waves once they run into bigger, badder dogs…I wouldn’t lose sleep over tinfoil momma’s baby boy.” (You so could say something like that, Dave.)
I love writing him and coming up with phrases he would use. Dave has evolved; he’s not my friend any longer, but he really has become Regan’s best friend which makes him special to me.
3.) Do you have more planned for this character?
Dave will always have a prominent place in Reagan McHenry real estate mysteries. In the  book I’m just finishing writing, The Widow’s Walk League, I intended for him to have a smaller role, but he wouldn’t stand for it. Sometimes he talks to me as I write and demands more lines. He’s constantly frustrated by Regan’s foibles---it’s worth it to let him have his way because it’s fun for me to watch him get agitated.

Find out more about Nancy at her website.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

GRL in Hot-Lanta

I flew in under the radar to GRL -- the GayRomLit Retreat in Atlanta. Despite not being registered as an author, I had a great time, and met lots of fans and other authors.

The Melia Hotel

 It all started with an opening reception sponsored by MLR Press, the fabulous publishers of the Mahu Investigations as well as several of my standalone M/M romances.

The ice sculpture was amazing, and the food was great, too.

 The party that night was really inspiring. Great scenery from the 25th floor party rooms. Oh, and the skyline of Atlanta wasn't bad either.
Thanks to Jade Buchanan for these pictures

The next day I headed out to Starbucks to write. I took these photos along the way.
A cool bell tower

I loved the way this archway works with the rest of the church.

Can't resist a construction shot!

The art deco style of this church worked beautifully.

The dome of the Fox Theatre

Street view of the Fox Theatre

I hope they restore this old building -- it has beautiful lines.

My amazing editor, Kris Jacen, all slinkified for the dress-up party.

Kris and Kendall in their costumes with me as a wizard.
I don't really know what these Brazilian dancers were doing there.

One more shot of the dancers...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Carole Shmurak's Supporting Character: Elaine Dodgson

Every amateur sleuth needs a BFF. Though my detective, Susan Lombardi, is happily married, and her husband Swash is her frequent advisor and moral support, she nonetheless has issues that are best discussed with a female confidante.   For Susan, that is her best friend, Elaine Dodgson.

 Elaine appeared in the first Lombardi mystery, Deadmistress, and she has been there for Susan in every book since. A former actress, now a drama teacher at an elite boarding school for girls, she meets Susan for dinner regularly.  While Elaine is in many ways a sounding board for Susan, she is also instrumental in several of the investigations. Sometimes it is Elaine herself who gets Susan into the case, as she does in Death at Hilliard High:

It all started with a phone call, a simple, innocent phone call. But I should have learned by then that when my friend Elaine Dodgson called, nothing was ever simple. And seldom innocent.
             “Susan, I need a small favor,” she began in her cheerful, melodious voice — a voice that had won her several major roles in off-Broadway shows two decades ago.
            “Sure,” I replied with more certainty than I felt. I stared out of my office window, thinking of some of the favors Elaine had asked for in the past. Helping her return a book she’d stolen from her former headmistress and hiring a private detective to tail her current boyfriend were the ones that came to mind.

            So what is Elaine like?  Glamorous, of course: tall, auburn-haired, with a taste for dramatic clothes and grand entrances. Susan says of her: “No one, not even a former New York actress, should look so good in her mid-fifties.” Once, when I was asked to cast a hypothetical TV show based on my books, Geena Davis was the actress I chose to portray Elaine. 
            As a former actress, she is also prone to extravagant speech. Writing Elaine’s dialogue is one of the easiest parts of writing the books, as she speaks with the voice of one of my own longtime friends, Alice DeLana. In fact, Elaine Dodgson is named after her. (I’ll leave it to the readers of this blog — as dedicated mystery solvers — to puzzle out the relationship between their two names.)
           Susan has some reasons to worry about her friend: Elaine’s sense of drama occasionally leads her into impulsive action. I’ve already mentioned her stealing of the headmistress’s book, which would have been merely a mischievous prank had the headmistress herself not been murdered soon after. Elaine has also become instantly infatuated with a mysterious man, Jon Henninger, supposedly a writer of exposés of the rich and famous, but perhaps a bit of a con man. He has carefully staged a meeting with Elaine and then lied about who he is and where he lives.
            Susan fears Elaine might be an attractive prey for a con man. She is quite wealthy as a result of her divorce from her ex, Warren Dodgson, an attorney who left her for one of the younger associates at his firm. From her days as the wife of one of the Hartford’s most prominent lawyers, Elaine still has a social network that encompasses most of Who’s Who in central Connecticut.  Though Elaine's connections often prove quite useful to Susan in her investigations, they might also serve Jon's more self-serving purposes.
            We learn in Death at Hilliard High that Elaine grew up in the affluent suburbs of Hartford, Connecticut and returned, after a brief stint as an off-Broadway actress, to marry Warren. It's never been specified how many children Elaine and Warren have, and only one, an investment banker named Robby, is ever mentioned by name. Elaine's mother, Annabel Howard, makes a brief appearance in Most Likely to Murder.

“No one in my family is sane,” insisted Elaine. “My mother, bless her, is eighty this year, and she’s still nagging me to get married again. And my children! I love them, of course, but now that they’re happily married, they think I shouldn’t date at all. Just stay home by the fire and read and wait for the grandchildren to arrive.”

At their favorite restaurant, the two women discuss their professional and their personal lives as only old friends can. And of course if Susan is embroiled in a mystery at the time, they discuss the people and the events involved.  Dinners with Elaine allow me to summarize what’s gone before and to reveal where Susan’s current thinking is. And the loyalty and affection that Susan and Elaine so obviously feel for each other enrich the portrayal of both characters.
When Elaine finds herself in a romantic quandary, she turns to Susan, and when Susan needs a fabulous dress for her high school reunion, who better to advise her than Elaine?

Carole B. Shmurak, Professor Emerita at Central Connecticut State University, is the author of eleven books, including Deadmistress, which introduced professor/sleuth Susan Lombardi, Death by Committee, Death at Hilliard High and Most Likely to Murder.   Under the pseudonym Carroll Thomas, she is the co-author of the Matty Trescott young adult novels, one of which (Ring Out Wild Bells) was nominated for the Agatha for best young adult mystery of 2001.

You can find Carole online at:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Medieval Sidekick

Guest blog by Jeri Westerson
Sidekicks can serve an important role for a sleuth. Though Sam Spade started off with partner Miles Archer, it was clear his sidekick was really Effie Perine, his faithful and not faint-of-heart secretary. A sidekick does the legwork (and what legs!) and in some instances, can also be the source of the sleuth’s finding an important clue (it’s the sleuth that has to really solve the case, however, otherwise there’s no reason to spend three hundred pages with him!)

A sidekick can also be the source of some much-needed comic relief when the action gets dark and heavy. He’s a sounding board for the detective to bounce ideas off of. He—or she—can be in jeopardy, the damsel in distress, for the heroic detective to save.

Whatever the purpose the sidekick serves, he had better be more than a cardboard cut-out or there can be no empathy for his thankless and often tireless work.

A sidekick can be as cunning as Bunter for Lord Peter Wimsey, or the conscience of the piece as Sancho Panza is to Don Quixote. Without Dr. Watson to write it all down, we’d never know about all of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures. And Robin Hood would have no one to mourn him without Little John.  

A knight’s sidekick could very well be his squire, but since my hero Crispin Guest is no longer the knight he was, there can be no squire as such. Only an orphaned street urchin would be fitting for a man who now had to eke out a life on the mean streets of fourteenth century London. And so Jack Tucker, orphan, cutpurse, thief and street urchin comes into Crispin’s life. More comfortable on the streets and with the low-lifes he and Crispin encounter, Jack is often a go-between. He may be young—eleven when we first meet him in the debut of the series, VEIL OF LIES, and is now fifteen in the latest Crispin Guest mystery SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST—but he’s whip-smart, and even gave up the “habit” of cutting purses, the medieval equivalent of picking pockets (no pockets yet).

Jack is growing up and coming into his own. He’s becoming invaluable to Crispin and their relationship matures as they grow closer to one another. In fact, Jack Tucker was never meant to be in the books more than once, but my agent and editor liked him so much, he was made into more than a walk-on. Which turned out to be serendipity. Jack is a reflection of what Crispin was, innocent, sometimes naïve, adventurous, before life’s realities crowded in around him. And I think that Crispin would also have been mired in his own private hell if Jack hadn’t come along as a distraction. Now, Crispin does, on occasion, wallow a bit in his own miseries, but he also knows he has a responsibility as the only mentor and role model for his new charge. Knowing now that he will never have an heir (and an heir to what?) he cultivates Jack as he was raised, not only teaching him how to read and write, but languages and the art of battle.

Jack often humanizes the plight of the poor and uneducated to Crispin who has come from wealthy and intellectual origins, who had no inkling of the lives of his servants on his erstwhile estates anymore than he had a clue about the lives of the people he passed on the streets of London.

He also serves as the reader’s chorus, asking the questions we might ask the sleuth ourselves; standing in for us when we haven’t got a clue. He’s the one to whom the sleuth explains his failings, his thinking process, the one to whom he says “Aha!” but doesn’t yet elucidate, leaving the sidekick to race after him with, “Wait! What did you discover?”

And after six books in the series, Jack is certainly coming into his own. We’ve seen him grow up, even mellowing his mentor and master, Crispin Guest. But as Jack grows and his backstory comes to the fore, he’s becoming less of a sidekick and more of a full-fledged partner. He does his own sleuthing. After all, he knows those dark streets of London better than his master. And soon, he will get his own young adult series of books, though they will stray from mystery and delve into the depths of fantasy and paranormal in the Jack Tucker Tales. He’ll test his mettle in ways he’s never faced before. It will serve as a fine compliment to the Crispin series as I delve more into the character and adventures of a young man, trying to find his way and his place in a world that seldom has room for his like.        

We need our literary sidekicks. And it’s even more wonderful when we want to know more about them. What motivates them to play second fiddle to the hero? What sort of rewards can they expect?
Crispin writes his own blog (yeah, everyone’s got a blog these days) and he sometimes writes about Jack Tucker. Read it at For more on Jeri’s newest release, SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST, including a series book trailer and book discussion guides, go to 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jill Hughey on Historical Support

Like most of the authors who have posted about supporting characters here, I have more than one I love, so I’ll jump right in. I write historical romance, and my favorite supporting character is from my least successful book, Sass Meets Class. He appears in Arizona Territory where my heroine’s family is starting a general store.

An unfamiliar man clumped across the creekbed carrying what may have once been a chair. He stopped at the porch, the toes of his dirty work boots almost touching the bottom step. His disfigurements set Susan back on her heels. He possessed only one eye, the empty right socket sealed shut by scar tissue trailing down his cheek and jaw much like wisteria flowers over a porch rail. He'd swathed the stump where his right hand should have been in the sleeve of his blue and cream striped cotton shirt. His legs appeared to be intact, sheathed in worn but clean denim. "Morning, ma'am," he said cordially. The lips puckered around a mouth missing so many teeth it made his speech slur. "My name's Clive."
"I'm Susan."
"Dynamite," he said. "Everyone wonders, so I'll tell you straight out. Mining accident."
"O-okay," she said cautiously.
"I hear you're starting a store here."
"That's right."
"An excellent notion. You'll do well." He mounted the stairs carrying the rocker he might have been sitting on when the dynamite blew. He brought the creaking pile of sticks onto her sparkling porch then roosted like he owned the place. "Every town needs a store, and every store needs an old coot on the porch." He didn't even look at her as he said it, just peered around with his one eye surveying the little town of Gateway as if it were his kingdom.
Susan blinked at him. She'd given the store a good deal of thought on the long days of travel. A coot never entered the picture, especially one who would just as likely scare the customers away. Still, he filled the left side of an otherwise empty space with a comfortable, small town feeling.
"Any chance you'll get a new chair?" she asked resignedly.
"None whatsoever," Clive replied without even looking at her.

Clive begins as a stereotypical small-town geezer, but little hints of his difficult past crop up throughout the book. He becomes Susan’s watchdog, surrogate parent, and champion, while continuing to provide occasional comic relief.

Some of my other supporting characters have interested me enough to warrant their own books. I am augmenting the three novels in my Evolution Series of historical romances set in Charlemagne’s Empire with two shorter stories, both featuring servants from the larger works. My next release, coming out in a few weeks, will be a novella I’d originally visualized as a short story. Little Witch grew into 49,000 words featuring a character who originated as the Lord of Ribeauville’s stableboy, Nox, now all grown up and adeptly avoiding as many emotional bonds as possible. In the first excerpt, we see him as a teenager in Vain, and in the next, as an adult.


Lily forced herself out of the chair. With the lord gone, she could safely fetch some water at the well near the rear wall of the house. With the only two chipped cups to be found she approached the wood lined well. She cranked the windlass to lower the leather bucket down to the water, then rewound the rope on the shaft. She dipped a cup of the liquid and brought it to her dry lips, drinking thirstily. The water was refreshingly cool, and she drank another full cup.
“Hey ho. I got a wood bucket in the stable if you want to keep one,” a boy said from behind her. Lily turned to see a lanky frame dressed in a tidy homespun tunic, all topped with a riot of curling brown hair. Ribeauville was a small enough town that Lily recognized him, though she did not know his name. “Gusta said you would be livin’ in the shed.” His voice cracked unexpectedly, heralding his approaching adulthood.
“I am Lily,” she offered. “I would very much like to borrow a bucket, since I only have these two cups.”
“No way to wash in those,” he observed cheerfully. “My name is Nox because I was born at night. Could have been worse. My little brother’s name is Diem. Guess why.”
Lily smiled, instantly liking the forthrightness of the boy. “My mother named me Lily because I was born in the spring when the snowflake lilies were blooming. My father brought me some every year on my birthday….” Lily stopped. He hadn’t brought any this year. He hadn’t even been here. How could his love for her disappear in the span of a year?
If Nox noticed her sudden silence he covered it well. “Lily is a good name. For a girl.”
 Here, in Little Witch, Nox meets Salena, a friend from the childhood home where he lived before his family died and the Lord of Ribeauville took him in. He has come to investigate a disagreement over land boundaries.
 EXCERPT FROM Little Witch
 “What work do you do for him, other than checking on arguments about land?” Salena asked.
“He calls me his ‘reconnoiter.’ I do not think that is even a real word, at least not as a title for someone. He finds it amusing, and Lady Lily shakes her head at me every time he does it.” Nox smiled, obviously comfortable as he talked about the lord and lady who had jurisdiction over a large region around their town. “Theophilus must be away from home so much of the year — far away, on official business — that someone else must do this sort of investigation. He dislikes leaving, even for a day, to look into smaller issues like this. Not that he does not think them important,” he hastened to add. “I gather information. His clerk and I do our best to sort through things before setting the problems before him.”
Salena thought the work sounded fascinating. “That must be wonderful, to be able to travel all over the countryside meeting new people every day.”
He shrugged, a little embarrassed by her enthusiasm. “It sounds very lofty. I still help around his house, too, with things like firewood and the garden and exercising his horse. I wanted to come to the army with him in the summers, but he needs me here. He feels more comfortable with a man nearby in case Lady Lily and the children need help.”
“He must trust you above anyone,” she said, impressed and a little jealous. No one outside her own blood would ever ask her to watch over their family.
“I have never given him reason not to,” he replied, unaware of the pinprick he gave her feelings. “He has been good to me. I have often wondered why, out of all the orphans he has encountered in his life, he picked me to muck out his stables. He claims that another nobleman had stolen his former stableboy away the week before. That seems like an incredible bit of luck to me,” he said earnestly.
Salena smiled at him and gestured to their right, pointing out a path that would lead downhill toward the river. They would not go all the way to the water, just to a fertile square of flatland. “Lucky for certain, but probably not an easy change for you.”
“In its way, it was best.” He glanced over at her, as if weighing whether to say more. “Being removed from here allowed me to hold onto a childish notion for a time.” He paused again. “I used to imagine my family still lived here, that I had gone away and they continued on. That was a great comfort to me in the early years, pretending they were here, though I suppose I would be a very odd man if I’d never outgrown the fantasy.”
“What did you do, the first time your work brought you back here?”
The rawness flashed at her again. “I saw the new owner — Burke I think is his name — out front with a child. I walked right past, down the road, weeping like a baby,” he admitted.
Salena did not know what to say. She had cried through more than a few steps of her own walks and hated the idea of her old friend, now a fine young man, taking the same lonely journey.
In the first excerpt, Nox talks about Diem as if he were still alive, but in this one he admits that he used this pretense to cope with being in a strange place, alone and grieving. This tidbit is partially revealed in Vain, and I think is the kind of backstory that makes supporting characters interesting enough that readers want to see more, even if only in a short story. It also gives the opportunity to show your fans what is going on with your major characters.
As I mentioned above, my next release will be the last piece of my Evolution Series, Nox’s story told in Little Witch: Historical Romance Novella. It has been a pleasure visiting here today!
 *   *   *
You can also stalk her on Facebook at be enlightened by her tweets @jillhughey.
Jill Hughey’s most interesting characteristic is that she can sing really, really high. Her books are available at most vendors and are easily found from the links at

Thursday, August 15, 2013

St Roch, patron saint of dogs

August 16 is the day dedicated to St. Roch, patron saint of dogs. Celebrate dogs who help others by buying one our books, and we'll donate what we earn from August 16-18 to ECAD.

Notice the loaf of bread in the dog's mouth!
In his honor, Sharon Sakson and I are donating 100% of our royalties from August 16-18 for three dog-related books to Educating Canines Assisting with Disabilities, ECAD. We both love dogs, and know how meaningful a dog can be to one’s life, and we’re happy to support a group that puts service dogs together with those who need them.

Here are the three books:

Paws and Reflect, a book of essays Sharon and I edited together, about the relationships between gay men and their dogs

Paws and Effect: The Healing Power of Dogs, which Sharon wrote about the many ways in which dogs help their human companions with health issues

In Dog We Trust, the first of my golden retriever mysteries.

Here’s what Sharon and I wrote about St. Roch in Paws and Reflect:

In churches and cathedrals of southern France, there is often a statue of a saint who holds a staff in one hand while a friendly dog leans against his side. This is St. Roch, patron saint of dog trainers.

His story is an interesting one. In 1350, he was the son of the wealthy mayor of Montpellier and lived in aristocratic comfort until one summer when Pope Urban V visited from Rome. Roch was transfixed by the pope’s devotion to his faith and decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome. 

God showed his approval by giving him the gift of healing.
On his return journey, Roch entered village after village where the plague was decimating people. At each village, he tended to the sick, often curing them. 

But in the village of Piacerna, Roch himself fell sick.

He didn’t want the villagers to see his suffering, as he knew they would tend to him and thus reinfect themselves. So he disappeared into a quiet spot in the woods to live out his days. 

But a dog followed him to his hiding place, and each day the dog appeared carrying a loaf of bread. Roch ate the bread, which gave him sustenance to recover. When he was strong enough, the dog led him back to the home of his master, where Roch found friendship and the means to start over in his life as a healer.