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Friday, September 29, 2017


The Story Behind the Andi Comstock Supernatural Mysteries

Do you believe in ghosts? Andi Comstock had never given ghosts much thought until she gets a new job and the dead begin to speak to her.

Several years ago, I was responsible for finding a new building for the nonprofit research center I worked for. I was also responsible for supervising renovations and when that was complete, the move into the building. From the first day, with all the remodeling dust settled, I smelled smoke. You have to understand, I have an excellent sniffer, which means I can usually smell things others can’t.

I live in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. We get smoke here in the spring and summer, from field burning (grass-seed growers) to slash burning (timber management) to structure fires to forest fires. Each time I smelled the smoke, I’d walk around asking my co-workers if they could smell it, too. No one could and I finally stopped asking. Once I was settled into my new office, I began to walk around the area surrounding our building. Could the smoke could be coming from the mortuary at the opposite corner of our block. There was a chimney, but did that mean they had a crematorium? I checked. They did.

That smoke stuck in my mind, waiting for a good story to bring it to life. Long after I left that job, a story idea struck me out of the blue.

My main character would follow my experience to a point. She’d work at a new job and smell smoke in the building that no one else could smell. Unlike me, she’d hear a voice each time she smelled the smoke. Mostly, the voices would have a friendly chat, but once in a while, a voice would ask for help concerning a murder. And that is how Andi Comstock came to be.

In Holy Smoke, the first book of the series, one of the cremated souls asks Andi to help her find her murderer. At the recommendation of another soul passing over, Andi seeks out Father Riley O’Shaughnessy at St. Gemma Galgani Catholic Church for guidance. Together, she and Father Riley approach the mortician at Chapel of the Garden, who confirms that the dates and times of the cremations he’s performed agree with the dates and times Andi has recorded in her journal.

Not to give too much of the story away, Father Riley solicits assistance from Jack Harmon, a parishioner at St. Gemma’s, who is also a detective in the Violent Crimes unit at Edgerton Police Department. Jack is skeptical at first, but as the story progresses, he can’t argue with the facts Andi presents. To compound matters, he and Andi are drawn to each other romantically.

Before I began to write Holy Smoke, I researched crematoriums and discovered that these days, most are “clean” of emissions, including the one near the building where I worked. That surprised me, because with no other source of smoke in the area, how could I smell it? That is a question that baffles Andi, too. That old chimney no longer served a purpose.

Solving murders of people who are cremated presents its own set of problems. For one thing, the only materials that survive cremation are those made of metal—dental fillings, pins holding bones together, shrapnel, bullets. In Holy Smoke, I wanted to use a poison as the means of death, but when I contacted a well-known forensic dentist, he listed all the reasons I couldn’t discover traces of poison from dental remains, or cremains, as some call them. The challenge was on and it took me on a path of discovery to SanterĂ­a, a Catholic offshoot that some consider more of a cult than a religion.

In Penitence, Andi encounters a soul who wants her to help call off a hit he hired on his wife before he died. That lead me down a dark path of killers for hire and provided a whole new set of challenges. Andi isn’t the kind of woman who tells everyone she meets that she hears dead people, but tracking down a hitman before he completes the job he was hired to do presented an entirely new quandary, not only for Andi, but for me.

After nearly a year on the job, Andi is still dealing with the why of being able to communicate with the dead. Each successive “case,” as she calls them, tests her mettle. With Angel Babies, she wonders if she’s reached her limits when the soul that seeks help from her belongs to an unborn baby. After time spent in self-reflection, she devises a plan to entice the snatcher of babies that even the most courageous and strong-willed would consider foolhardy. But that’s what makes Andi so amazing. She’s committed to righting wrongs, no matter what the expense to her psyche or her physical body.

Fortunately for Andi, who writes game apps, she has a logical-thinking mind and she’s quite orderly. Unfortunately, her brain devises schemes that tend to put her in danger. That’s where she and I part ways. I can create the dangerous situations she faces, and get her out of them, but I’m pretty certain I don’t have enough courage to attempt to solve crimes the way she does.

Andi Comstock Books Back-Cover Blurbs

Holy Smoke
Smoke doesn’t always mean there’s fire...

Andi Comstock loves her new job, but she can’t figure out why she’s the only person in the building who smells the smoke. And every time it happens, she hears a voice in her head.
One of those voices suggests that she talk to Father Riley at St. Gemma’s Church, “a man of God and a believer in the afterlife.” Stunned and hoping she hasn’t lost her mind or developed a brain tumor, Andi takes a leap of faith and seeks him out.

Much to her surprise, she gains a cohort in her effort to track down the source of both the smoke and the voices.

Sometimes, it means murder...

It isn’t long before Andi hears a voice that belongs to someone she knew years before, a voice that’s pleading for help.

Andi and Father Riley soon realize they may have stumbled upon a murder. The priest does the only thing he can. He turns to homicide detective Jack Harmon for assistance.

Now if Andi can just figure out why the voice keeps saying, “Look at my teeth.”

Where there’s smoke...

Andi Comstock has grown used to smelling the smoke that pervades her office every time a cremation takes place in the mortuary next door. She even enjoys the moment or two when each soul stops to chat with her on the way to the Pearly Gates.

But one day, a Smokie says something that leads her to believe he may be headed in the other direction.  I did something bad, Andi, and I don’t know how to fix it.

Sometimes, it means murder for hire...

Andi  isn’t the type of person who can let a plea for help go unanswered. Her sleuthing cohort Father Riley sometimes compares her to St. Jeanne d’Arc, fighting battles on behalf of others.

Andi’s no saint, but neither is she a coward. When someone – dead or not – asks for help, she can’t just walk away. Not even if it means putting her own life on the line.

Angel Babies
Where there’s smoke…
Andi Comstock is not the type of person to tell someone who’s been murdered to take a hike, especially if that someone is an unborn baby. Angel-baby Lucy asks Andi to find the woman who killed her and her mother before the baby-snatcher strikes again.

From past experience, Detective Jack Harmon knows his most valuable information will come via the spirits who talk to Andi after cremation, when they pass from this world to the next. This time, though, something is different. Andi’s been told she’s The Chosen One and for Jack, who is also Andi’s boyfriend, that’s a show stopper.

Sometimes, there’s a plea for help…

With Jack avoiding Andi while he attempts to wrap his mind around what it means for her to be The Chosen One, Andi is forced to devise a creative plan to find the baby-stealer on her own. The resulting brainstorm is both outrageous and ingenuous, and it has the potential to be fatal. For her, at least.

Andi’s sleuthing cohort, Father Riley, who often compares her to St. Jeanne d’Arc, urges her to abandon the scheme, but Andi is set on doing it her way.

After all, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Ann Simas Bio

Ann Simas lives in Eugene, Oregon, but she is a Colorado girl at heart, having grown up in the Rocky Mountains. An avid word-lover since childhood, she penned her first fiction “book” in high school. The author of 19 novels, one novella, and seven short stories, she particularly likes to write a mix of mystery/thriller/suspense, with a love story and paranormal or supernatural elements.

In addition to being a three-time Romance Writers of Amer­ica Golden Heart Finalist, Ann is also an award-winning watercolorist and budding photographer who enjoys needlework and gardening in her spare time. She is her family’s “genealogist” and has been blessed with the opportunity to conduct first-hand research in Italy for both her writing and her family tree. The genealogy research from century’s-old documents, written in Italian, has been a supreme but gratifying and exciting challenge for her.

Chloe’s SpiritH
Chloe’s Spirit Afterstories
First StarH
First Star Afterstories
Blessed Are the EaglesH
Loose Ends
Heaven Sent
Black Moon Rising
Footsteps in the Snow (coming 2018)

Grace Gabbiano Mysteries
Dressed to Die
Sliced to Die
Buried to Die
Quilted to Die (coming 2018)

Andi Comstock Supernatural Mysteries
Holy Smoke
Angel Babies
Hellfire (coming 2018)

Christmas Valley Romances
Santa’s Helper
Candy Cane Lane
Let It Snow
Fruitycakes (coming December 2017)
Sleigh Bride (coming December 2017)

Short Story Collection
All’s Well

HRWA Golden Heart Finalists

Contact Info

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Writers' Groups: More Prompt Fun

I've shared with you before about how one of the writers' groups I belong to begins each session with a random prompt and five minutes for us to write whatever comes to mind. It's a firm five minutes. When the timer goes off, the pens go down. No exceptions!

The prompts come from either a list of about 100 different starting points or one member creates one and shares it with the group. 

I thought it would be fun for you to see what each member came up with for the same prompt. I've provided an imperfect summary of what each member predominantly writes and placed the prompt in bold with the response following immediately afterward. The responses are not edited for content or grammar, but I did add paragraph breaks to make the responses read more easily in this post.

Donna (middle grade children's book author):

She was a funny old lady, but I knew she came to tell me ...

...something bad, something I did not want to hear. There was an eeriness around her as I gazed at her through the screen door. She continued to rap hard knocks making the door shudder. I wished her away—she and whatever baggage she came with. My stomach ached in sympathy with my heart. 

Against my will, I opened the door. Her hair stood out in spikes and her apron was on backwards. She opened her mouth and said, “He’s gone!”

“Why, where would he go?” I asked, relieved it wasn’t worse. 

“My husband, he is gone and he took the dog, my precious pooch…”

Bette (historical fiction author):

She was a funny old lady, but I knew she came to tell me ...

...exactly what I didn't want to hear. Did she really think I needed to be reminded of what was obvious to every passerby? Did she think I didn't know the latch was broken on the gate - did she think I wanted to gate itself hanging at that awkward angle? - Oh, and were you planning on scraping this paint on the fence--?

That I had an answer to--

"Oh, I just thought I'd hose it down with the sprang on high speed and wash all those chips away!" I opened the door. "Miss Bleezley. What a nice surprise. How can I help you?"

"It's you who can help me, dear May I come in?"

"Yes, of course." I backed up and swung the door wide. "It's so nice out. Let's sit on the porch." I led her though the hall to the back door---

Maggie (children's book author):

She was a funny old lady, but I knew she came to tell me…

That the butterflies circling during the ceremony were a signal.

“Of what?” Grace asked.  “Who?”

Her skirt was a shimmering green, like the tall grasses swaying in the field.  Her eyes, turquoise, like the sea with a wave of knowing.  He sun-golden hair flowed freely.  Funny, maybe, old perhaps, but all-knowing without a doubt.

Toe to toe we stood in the sand.  Her skin soft as held my hand.

“They are here!” She replied.


"The two men missing in your lives, Grace.  They are always with you … guiding, watching…loving."

Cyd (young adult historical fiction):

She was a funny old lady but I knew she came to tell me…

...[t]hat I could not possibly stay another night in the bed-bug infested hovel she called a B&B.

The nerve! I have been a model guest for all these days. All right, months, actually. Or maybe years? Have I lived here over a year?

I lost count after I won a bottle of Leprechaun Whiskey at the county fair. “Won” might have been a generous way to put it. “Blackmail” might be more accurate--after I witnessed an exchange between several scruffy ne’re-do-wells behind the carny wheel.

“There’s a steady supply o’ that if you a’ git to helping us here.”

Me (crime/suspense author):

She was a funny old lady, but I knew she came to tell me ...

...the wine flask was empty.

"Empty! Impossible!" I said.

A soft smile graced her lips. "Yesh, it is."

For all the years I'd been coming to the library, the last thing I thought I'd encounter was a drunk librarian. Maybe I was naive in thinking that. The flask was in my bag. I was the drunk, not Mable, but Mable added another layer to the Drunk Book Lady thing.

She added thieving.

And that explained a lot.

It explained why people stayed away from me at gatherings and why I heard whisperings of missing wallets or jewelry. Mable was my frequent companion on my infrequent outings. I am a horrible introvert. And the flask?

My strength.

Thursday, September 7, 2017


You are invited to the best book launch party ... EVER!

Saturday, September 23 at 7:00 at Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

After sweating blood and nibbling my fingers to the nub, THE WAKE is ready for its big debut. The JESSICA TRILOGY is complete, early reviews are amazing and I am looking forward to hearing from fans about the twists, turns, and wrenching decisions I made to create this new thriller.

Connie Johnson Hambley launches the third book in the
 Jessica Trilogy at Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport, MA

Jabberwocky Bookshop is one of the best book stores in Massachusetts. Sue Little, owner and chief book curator, has created a haven for book lovers. She has been a terrific supporter of local authors and literary events. Holding my launch events there is a win/win. Sue supports another local author and I get to support Sue. Seriously, what could be better?

Join me for a glimpse of the story behind the story, a brief reading, and WINE! Click through to this Facebook event link and mark your interest to attend and stay up-to-date on news. Oh, and while you're there, be sure to like my FB author page, too, for news and giveaways.

See you there!