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Friday, April 28, 2017


Gabriel Valjan and I connected because our short stories share the pages of the WINDWARD: Best New England Crime Stories anthology. His take on Lizzie Borden's life after giving her father forty-one whacks is a marvel of great story telling as well as terrific research. When we finally met at an author event (and via multiple tweets), I learned we shared many interests as well as a love of great writing. When the conversation turned to making great characters, I knew I had to share his insights with you. Enjoy! -cjh


In 1997, eight-year old Alice Newton stayed up all night to finish reading a manuscript after her father had teased her with the first chapter. The next morning she insisted — no, she demanded — that her father Nigel, the chairman of Bloomsbury Publishing, publish the book twelve publishers had considered either too long or demanding for children. The book? Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. A Muggle had intervened and saved Kathleen Rowling, the writer on welfare and single parent, from obscurity. J.K. Rowling is now the world’s most lucrative author.

In 1929, Virginia Woolf asserted the barest of necessities a woman writer needed for success: “A room of her own and five hundred a year.” Chance once again interceded. The death of an aunt provided her with the £500 [about $45,000 today] per year for life. Though she self-published most of her work, she experienced success. Virginia Woolf is considered both a great stylist and an innovator of the English novel.
Talented as they were, success had come to them through luck. Let me introduce you to the world’s first successful women writer. Another strong woman. Born in Venice, Italy in 1364, Christine de Pizan would live most of her life in France, where her father served Charles V as physician and astrologer. Her father believed that she should have an education. Christine married at the age of fifteen. Girls in her day married at twelve, boys at fourteen. Ten years later, with three children, she is a widow. Worse yet, Charles V and her father and another child died, so Christine lost her standing in court and became the sole means of support for her children, her mother, and a niece. She turned to writing to support her family.

Christine wrote whatever would fill the money purse. She started with poetry, moved onto biographies, moral treatises, and military theory. Gunpowder was new and artillery fascinated her. The Hundred Years War was raging and she had patrons in England and France, on both sides of the conflict. Her last work was a poem in honor of Joan of Arc. Christine supervised the production of all her books, oversaw their translations from Middle French into Middle English, and hired women scribes and an illustrator named Anastasia. She controlled every aspect of publication. She believed in quality artwork and design. The printing press would not exist until 1450 and an illuminated manuscript was a work of art.

Not only did she live off her quill, she defended women in print. Women were then thought of as morally and intellectually inferior to men, and they were portrayed as such in the works of Boccaccio and especially in Jean de Meun’s Romance of the Rose. She tackled misogyny by accusing male authors of ingratitude and slander against all women. Christine used sophisticated rhetorical strategies to point out the ironic contradictions that men would create the genre of courtly love to seduce women only to mock and devalue them in society. Christine advocated for the education of women and for greater roles in society. Though prolific, she is best known for The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies, which provide insights into the daily lives of women, autobiographical details, and chronicle the lives of famous women throughout history. Both works speak directly to women readers. Christine de Pizan died in 1430. Almost forgotten, even by medievalists until the mid-twentieth century, these two works were translated into modern English in 1982 and 1985, respectively.

At a time when books by women are reviewed less, awarded fewer literary prizes, the risk for disappearance is greater. The underlying, less obvious, theme here is strength, of women helping women. A girl, Alice Newton, helped J.K. Rowling, who in turn created Harry Potter, a worldwide social phenomenon. Had Virginia Woolf not received an inheritance, had she not written her novels, Hogarth Press, which she founded with her husband Leonard in 1917, would have nonetheless secured her place in letters. She and Leonard would go on to publish Vanessa Bell, T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Sigmund Freud, and Katherine Mansfield. In the long interlude of centuries between Christine de Pizan and us, we glimpse a strong independent woman who created art and commerce for women and by women.


Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing as well as numerous short stories. He lives in Boston’s South End, where he enjoys the local restaurants, and his two cats, Squeak and Squawk, keep him honest to the story on the screen.

The first book in his historical fiction series will be out in fall 2017.

Twitter: @GValjan
Amazon Author page:


Wednesday, April 26, 2017


I met Laura last year while moderating an author panel about writing good fiction, and, believe me, Laura writes terrific fiction. Her characters breathe and love and cry. Her stories are imbued with a refreshing morality that makes you realize you're not so crazy after all. I'm thrilled to tell you about her newest release. Do yourself a favor and download it now.

MAKING WAVES by Laura Moore 

A successful woman with a sweet life discovers even the best laid plans are no match for unexpected passion—as award-winning author Laura Moore kicks off a captivating new series set in New York’s hottest seaside paradise.

As the overly responsible daughter of an irresponsible socialite, Dakota Hale practically raised herself. Now she’s turned her talent for placating the whims of the rich and spoiled into a lucrative concierge business in the swanky Hamptons. Meticulous and determined, Dakota has her life mapped out with one goal uppermost in mind: never, ever be like her mother. Surfing the waves of the Atlantic keeps Dakota steady when the drama on land gets too outrageous. But when sexy mogul Max Carr hires her, it rocks her balance in a big way. When Max makes it clear that he’s interested in more than just her organizational skills, Dakota is flattered – and attracted - but she refuses to allow an avowed playboy to interfere with her life plans.

Max works hard, but he’s never had to put any effort into winning over a woman—until now. With her stunning beauty and keen intelligence, Dakota is worth the effort. But it’s plain she has no interest in a casual fling, and that’s all Max with his grief-stricken heart can offer.

An emotionally charged night changes everything, with consequences neither Dakota nor Max anticipated. Now they must navigate the rough waters of society gossip and devastating secrets that threaten their fragile relationship. If they can trust in the strength of their growing feelings, they’ll find the dreams they’ve been chasing are close enough to embrace . . . together.

Laura Moore 

Bestselling contemporary romance author Laura Moore's writing career began in a graduate school class that was, to put it kindly, a bit dry. After filling the pages of a coffee-stained notebook, she realized she’d written a love story that others might enjoy. Ride A Dark Horse was published the following year. Eleven books later, Laura thanks her lucky stars she enrolled in that graduate course.

When she isn’t writing, Laura enjoys riding, swimming, cooking, pulling weeds in her garden, and reading late into the night. An incurable romantic, Laura loves a happily-ever-after and has been known to cry at TV commercials, especially ones with puppies or Clydesdales. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband, two children, their black Lab, and their cat, Zevon, who keeps them all in line.

Learn more about Laura at:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Meredith Public Library Promotes Sisters in Crime 30th Anniversary

The following post is reprinted with permission from Matthew Gunby, Head of Circulation at the Meredith Public Library, in Meredith, New Hampshire.

Authors visit Meredith Public Library to Promote Sisters in Crime 30th Anniversary
by Matthew Gunby

On Thursday April 20th, authors Connie Johnson Hambley and Jessica Estevao visited the Meredith Public Library. They discussed their works, their writing process and how their membership in Sisters in Crime had helped them as writers. One of the great things about having authors for these events is the personal stories they share about their individual journey towards becoming an author. Also, it is interesting to learn how each author approaches their craft.

Sister’s in Crime is an international organization of authors and writing enthusiasts. All experience levels are welcome, and it provides great networking opportunities as well as assistance from experienced authors on all stages of the writing process. The organization is nurturing and supportive, but also realistic about how the publishing industry and writing process work. Jessica Estevao mentioned one activity promoted by the organization, Shameless Self-Promotion for Hussies, to help authors gain the confidence they need to market their materials. One section known as the Guppies is for great unpublished authors. New England’s Sisters in Crime chapter is the second largest in the nation.

Connie Johnson Hambley had many careers before she published her first novel. Some of her previous jobs included being a lawyer, banker, instructor, and journalist. She has been a member of Sisters in Crime for four years and this is her first year on its Board of Directors.

Connie is completing a trilogy of books that consists of the published works of The Charity and The Troubles. Many series, particularly in the mystery genre, tend to have the same investigator or sleuth with each book consisting of a different mystery. Characters will often develop over time, but the world remains relatively compact. This is not the case with Hambley's thriller trilogy. Each book expands the world and scope of the overarching story. In her first book, the protagonist witnesses a gang murder and is framed for the crime. Each subsequent book explores the whys and hows of the powerful network behind the murder.

Hambley wrote the book seventeen years before it was published, and discussed the idea of publishing it while on a long flight to China while still working in marketing. She was sitting next to a co-owner of a small publishing company and the idea of actually publishing it began to take form. Ultimately, she decided to publish the first novel on her own, because she knew what would be required to successfully market a product even though she was new to writing. Yet, this serendipitous event helped to spur along the process. She has had books both traditionally published and independently-published since then.

Jessica Estevao joined Sisters in Crime a short while before her first novel was published. She was at a talk by Lorna Barrett, and the author suggested Jessica join the organization. She does not believe she would be a published if not for the support of Sisters in Crime. She started to truly work on her first novel when her youngest son began kindergarten. She noted that she finally had 2 hours and 20 minutes every day when all of her children were at school. A friend mentioned to Jessica that there was a publishing opportunity that did not require an agent, just a manuscript of 70,000 words. Unfortunately, hers was originally closer to 85,000 words. She noted that she became very grateful for contractions in the critiquing process.

Jessica Estevao writes under several names, and she shared with the group her reasons for doing this and why it is a fairly common practice for authors. One reason is reader expectations. While readers are often omnivorous in their tastes, it can be shocking to pick up a book anticipating a cozy read and finding something far grittier.

As Jessica Estevao she writes historic mysteries set in Old Orchard, they also tend to have some supernatural elements, for instance the first book involves a pyschic. As Jessie Crockett, she tends to write contemporary, cozy mysteries. She is about to start a new series set in 1920s England under a new pseudonym, Jessica Ellicott. All of her novels have an amateur sleuth as the protagonist.

Some publishers also require authors previously published by a different publisher to use a different nom de plume. It is also a way for authors to bypass certain publishing contract limitations. She compared the experience to that of a custody battle for one’s own name.

Both authors were drawn to the mystery genre because of its structure. Jessica spoke about the desire to have the reader be one or two steps behind the sleuth in solving the case. Not so far behind that they cannot relate, but definitely not a dozen steps ahead of the protagonist. Connie said that she used her background as a lawyer when designing her story. She considers how it translates to the audience and how best to transport them into the world she has created. Pacing and usage of the reader’s bias can also be incredibly helpful in the crafting process. One example of this, is in trying to understand the antagonist’s motivation. She sometimes tries to make her reader a little uncomfortable, a technique that makes the reader want to keep reading. Connie also volunteers at a therapeutic riding stable and this work provided a great deal of insight into a short story she wrote and is now developing into a longer work. At one time, she worked with victims of human trafficking and learned a great deal about what they had gone through, and how their backgrounds were often far different than most would imagine.

The authors both discussed how realism and real events play into their fiction. Jessica owns a coffee mug saying “ignore my browser history I am a mystery writer.” Connie noted that her first novel was included in a counter-terrorism organization’s collection because its depiction was so realistic. She also said that realism in her novels was similar to having the reader walk across a plank, eventually they do not realize that there is nothing beneath them and they are totally immersed in the fiction. All of the pieces are real, it is how they are cobbled together that is the fiction. One reader wrote to Connie informing her she knew she was actually talking about a real gang, the Clover Club, in her novel The Charity. In this case, Connie had not intended to have this connection, but in researching the Clover Club--a Boston-Irish businessmen's association rumored to be affiliated with Whitey Bulger and organized crime-- Hambley saw how accurate the connection was. In other instances, both authors have used real historic events as building blocks for their fiction. Jessica noted there was an actual instance of the pier on Old Orchard having sufficient weight on it that it started to sway. This caused a panic and Jessica thought that this provided an excellent backdrop for a fictional event to occur in.

Both authors noted that real murders tended to be domestic and did not provide them with much in the way of ideas, but local police logs could be treasure troves of interesting tidbits through which fiction could be weaved. They also both do research for their books, though this can vary significantly from book to book. Jessica noted that even just holding an object she might use as a potential bludgeon in a novel is a form of research. Every trip to the grocery store or post office can give a glimpse into a new character. Other times the author needs to physically travel to the location their story is set in, to get an authentic sense of the sights, smells and sounds of a location. If the setting is in the past the setting may only be accessible through reading. Jessica noted she learned a great deal about the social implications of pigeon racing in the research for her newest novel set in 1920s England.

What truly made this event special was the interplay of the two authors and the great anecdotes they had to share. As well as being successful authors they are both very capable presenters and we are grateful they shared their time with us on Thursday. We wish them and the Sisters in Crime organization continued success and hope to host another similar event in the future.

Friday, April 21, 2017

STRONG WOMEN: In the Shadows of Human Trafficking

I didn't know I helped human traffickers. You do, too.

Human trafficking is not a third world problem.

It happens under our noses and our ignorance perpetuates the crime. 

We know the crime under names like "prostitution" or "sex trade." What we don't realize is the hidden blame embedded in those concepts.

Somewhere in our understanding of prostitution, we see a woman voluntarily giving herself over for a payment. We believe she has made a choice to be with a different man every thirty minutes. We believe she can "just decide" to stop. We also believe that the "prostitute" is, in fact, an adult woman capable of assessing choices. Darned if she just didn't make the right ones.

If we blame the victim, it's easy to dismiss the crime.

I'm embarrassed to admit I held these assumptions. I didn't realize how I perceived the crime helped to perpetuate it. Being unaware made me blind. I couldn't see the dynamics that support it.

My eyes were opened in a way you wouldn't expect. I volunteer at a therapeutic riding center. My "This-Horse-Can't-Do-Anything-To-Rattle-Me" attitude made me a perfect choice to be invited to become a horse handler for a unique group of women. I could handle the horses, but was surprised when I needed to be trained to handle the women.

The training centered on a core concept: Acknowledge the woman's power over her own choices. Does she want to pet the horse's neck? Yes? Great. Wait to see if she tries on her own, if not, demonstrate. Then step back to allow her space to try. 

If she says no, accept her answer. Period. My natural inclination would be to encourage her to try. "Oh, come on. Really. It's okay. Trust me. Just once."

I had no idea in what context she may have heard those words before. 

Human trafficking is a crime of powerlessness. Girls, some as young as eleven, are broken down by circumstance and presented a choice which is really no choice at all. In a process that is all too simple and common, a girl leaves one indescribable hell for another that comes wrapped in a meal, a warm place to sleep, a new outfit, or simply the promise of escape.

I began to see how broken social and familial structures contribute to creating hopelessness and fear.

I began to see how the cloud of desperation combined with the will to survive created the perfect storm for trafficking.

I've been fortunate to hear the stories of these women and have seen how the power they thought they had lost come flowing back to them in a series of small victories. I no longer harbor blame for them in making a choice to survive.

I have seen the strength of a woman in the eyes of a young girl when she strokes a horse's neck.

Friday, April 14, 2017


My first impression of Arlene Kay was at a Sisters in Crime conference. I was aware of a group of people huddled together. They would erupt with laughter, then fall silent, in obvious rapture listening to a powerhouse of a woman at their center. Enter Arlene Kay into my life. 

I've since been fortunate enough to share events with Arlene. Whether it's at Boston Book Festival, New England Library Association or other author events, time spent with Arlene is always fun. 

She's smart and sexy and writes smart and sexy books. 

What do I enjoy most about her? 

She doesn't take herself too seriously.

Strong Women Can Laugh at Themselves
 By Arlene Kay

One of my hallmarks for a strong, self-confident woman is one who appreciates the absurdities of life and some of the truly STUPID things she 
herself has done. 

That made me recall one of my less stellar performances some years ago in Dallas. I had an unfortunate run of luck with my Corvette (Lord, I loved that car), and decided that a brand new sports car was a smart move. Forget what Pope Francis says about FIATS, I purchased a Fiat X-19, a beautiful little red number dubbed “baby Porsche” and proudly sailed around Texas in it—-until it hit 12,000 miles which coincidentally meant the end of warranty. That piece of excrement was towed more than driven until one day while motoring to work, I looked in the mirror and saw that rear engine on fire! Actual flames spurting from the back!  

Naturally I panicked fearing an imminent explosion. I was relieved to see a gas station ahead and turned in. 

The attendant waved his arms in what I assumed was a welcome gesture but I was so wrong. Actually he was
screaming, “Lady, DON’T come in or this place will explode.”

He ran toward me, florid of face, with fire extinguisher in hand, and sprayed that foam all over my smoldering heap of Italian engineering.

Later, everyone who heard this tale said virtually the same thing: “That’s the dumbest move you’ve ever made!”

Come to think of it, they were right and the final irony—my Fiat X-19 survived to break down yet again.


Former Treasury executive Arlene Kay is known for snarky, sensual suspense and intriguing mysteries that bedevil and delight readers. Published novels include: INTRUSION; DIE LAUGHING; THE ABACUS PRIZE;(Mainly Murder Press), the Boston Uncommons Series: SWANN DIVE; MANTRAP; GILT TRIP; SWANN SONGS; (Belle Bridge Books), and coming in 2017, the Leather and Lace Series featuring QUAGMIRE.  She holds graduate degrees in Political Science & Constitutional Law. Despite attaining many of her goals, she still finds joy in every day blunders, particularly her own. 


Cecilia Swann had it all—brains, looks and a staggering fortune. When she plunges off a Boston high rise, the cops called it suicide but best pal Eja Kane knew better: CeCe had a morbid fear of anything higher than a step-ladder. With childhood nemesis Deming Swann, Eja forges an uneasy alliance to avenge her friend and unmask a ruthless murderer.

Dario Peters had a doting grandma and a ton of enemies. His sudden death on a Cape Cod cycling trail was a convenient accident that satisfied the locals but inflamed his influential family. When all else fails, trust the Swann sleuths to tackle this tangled web of larceny, murder and adultery amid the bucolic beauty of Cape Cod where all is definitely not what it seems. 

Bride-to-be Eja Kane gets more than she bargained for when she and Annika Swann join a local Dojo. The corpse of a scheming hussy falls at their feet unleashing a financial scandal that engulfs a sexy Sifu, jealous wife, and one of Deming’s biggest clients. Boston society is rocked to its core, forcing the Swann sleuths to learn the true value of precious metal.

For new bride Eja Kane-Swann, revenge is both sweet and deadly when Gabriel Mann the ex-spouse who kicked her to the curb begs for her help. Expect murder, misdirection and a pinch of glamour as that dazzling duo, Eja and Deming explore complex motives, political correctness and academic angst in the rarified air of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

EVENT! Celebrating 30 Years of Sister in Crime

If you're looking for something interesting this week, please join us tomorrow, Thursday evening, at 7:00 at the Amesbury Public Library, for mysteries and conversation. Edith MaxwellMarian McMahon Stanley, Susan Oleksiw and Connie Johnson Hambley are celebrating 30 years of Sisters in Crime.

What is Sisters in Crime, you ask?

Sisters in Crime New England is a chapter of the international organization Sisters in Crime. We are authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by our passion for the mystery genre and our support of women who write mysteries. We welcome Sisters and Brothers in Crime from anywhere who have an interest in the New England mystery community.

Monday, April 10, 2017


Talking about horses and books with an interviewer who loves reading and our equine friends? What could be better! 

When: Tuesday, April 11 at 3:00 EST
Where: Livestream

HorseGirlTV® is a LIVE, interactive studio show brought to you by Spalding Fly Predators and features special guests from all walks of equine life! Tune in. Tack up.® 

The series is hosted by long time equestrian lifestyle blogger and USDF Gold Medalist, Angelea Kelly.

HorseGirlTV is...

an USEF award-winning original web series focusing on the positive aspects of the equine industry, poised to lead and succeed in an increasingly more engaged, more connected new media environment. Our goal is to continually create unique, quality equine entertainment for the wireless generation!

Here's the information from their Facebook page

Tune in. Tack up.® this Tuesday at 3pm EDT / 12pm PDT as we go live with award-winning author Connie Johnson Hambley, answer more HorseGirl Mail, and introduce a new segment Bits n Bytes + a fun HorseGirlTV Classic revealed.

Friday, April 7, 2017


If you're in the Boston Area, treat yourself to attending Edith's book launch event at Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport, Massachusetts on April 7 at 7:00 pm. More information below.

Want to read Edith's take on strong women? Edith was a guest on my blog and unfolded the timeless qualities of some of her characters. Click here!

When Hannah Breed confides to midwife Rose Carroll that she’s pregnant out of wedlock, Rose promises to help her through the pregnancy and figure out a way to break the news to her family. But that night, amid the noise and revelry of the Independence Day fireworks, Hannah is found shot dead.

After a former slave and fellow Quaker is accused of the murder, Rose delves into the crime, convinced of the man’s innocence. An ill-mannered mill manager, an Irish immigrant, and the victim’s young boyfriend come under suspicion even as Rose’s future with her handsome doctor suitor becomes unsure. Rose continues to deliver babies and listen to secrets, finally focusing in on the culprit only to be threatened herself.

National best-selling author Edith Maxwell is a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery Delivering the Truth and her short story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” She writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to served as President of Sisters in Crime New England.

A fourth-generation Californian and former tech writer, farmer, and doula, Maxwell now writes, cooks, gardens, and wastes time as a Facebook addict north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs at, Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors. Find her at and elsewhere.