Women in History Month – Influential Female Authors

Mary Stewart

MARCH 19, 2021-I was introduced to Mary Stewart through my mother. One summer, during high school, she gave me her tattered copy of Nine Coaches Waiting, and I was hooked. Stewart’s Wikipedia page describes her as, “a British novelist who developed the romantic mystery genre, featuring smart, adventurous heroines who could hold their own in dangerous situations.” I could not have written a better description of her writing style, and, as a reader who dislikes wall flower characters, Stewart’s strong female leads were right up my alley.

Stewart was born Mary Florence Rainbow, in Sunderland, England in 1916. She graduated from Durham University in 1938 with a Teaching Diploma in English and attained a graduate degree in 1941. During WWII she was a lecturer at her alma mater and met her husband Frederick Stewart, a professor of geology, at a costume party. They were married a few months later in 1945. They enjoyed traveling abroad, and the locales often made it into her novels. Her first novel, Madam, Will You Talk, was published in 1955, and became a bestseller. She went on to write 15 stand-alone, romantic mystery novels, a series of Arthurian legend stories, four children’s books, and a book of poetry. She passed away in 2014, a few months before her 98th birthday.

I remember the first time I read Nine Coaches Waiting (yes, I’ve read it many times since.) It reminded me of the dark suspense created by Daphne du Maurier’s, Rebecca. However, whereas du Maurier’s purposely unnamed protagonist spends much of her time wringing her hands and behaving foolishly, Stewart’s Linda Martin takes an active hand in mitigating the unknown threat that lurks in the shadows. While I enjoy both authors’ abilities to create suspense, it is Stewart who takes me on an escapade filled with action. It is one of the reasons, my character, Karina Cardinal, goes down the rabbit hole of adventure, even when friends warn her not to do so. It is a rarity that Stewart’s ladies come out of their escapades uninjured, unfortunately for Karina she also rarely comes out of her exploits unscathed, either physically or mentally.

Both Stewart and I write in the first person which gives the reader insight into our characters’ psyche. It can also amp up the suspense because the protagonist and the reader don’t know what their adversaries are doing behind the scenes. This style of writing plays out well in Stewart’s novel This Rough Magic, where the reader spends the first half of the novel questioning which man is the suspect. One of my favorite aspects about Stewart’s early novels is, even though they were written in her modern day, some of them are now over sixty years old. Because I enjoy that historical fiction facet, I’ve decided to write a short story mystery that takes place in the 50s or 60s-when ladies always wore dresses, and conservative conformity was at odds with the younger generation’s liberal rebellions.

For those who’ve never had the pleasure of reading Mary Stewart, I’ll end with my top 5 favorite picks so you can get started. Enjoy!

Top 5 Mary Stewart Novels

  • This Rough Magic
  • Nine Coaches Waiting
  • The Moonspinners
  • Airs Above the Ground
  • Wildfire at Midnight

Women in History Month – Female Authors Who Influenced Me

BARBARA MERTZ a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters or Barbara Michaels

 MARCH 12, 2021-I was a teenager when I was introduced to Barbara Mertz through the novel The Master of Blacktower, written under her pseudonym, Barbara Michaels. The tortured and cruel Gavin Hamilton hires poor, penniless, orphan Damaris Gordon as his secretary. The reader, along with Damaris, is drawn into a world of dark secrets that include crippling injuries and disturbing accusations. When I look up Mertz’s pseudonym’s online, her novels are labeled as suspense/thriller/mystery, but when I grew up reading them, the library and bookstores placed them under the “gothic” genre. In reality, her novels included romance, history, suspense, and supernatural elements centralized on highly curious, smart, and strong-willed women. Whether gothic or suspense, I remember staying up far too late, on a school night, to finish reading Damaris’s enthralling story.

Mertz was born Barbara Gross in September 1927, in Canton, Illinois and later married Richard Mertz in 1950. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and finally, in 1952, with her PhD in Egyptology. Her initial publications were nonfiction books on ancient Egypt, and her first fiction novel, The Master of Blacktower, released in 1966.


It was through Barbara’s nom de plume, Elizabeth Peters, that I discovered my own fascination with archeology, artifacts, and art crimes. Her three intrepid amateur sleuth series’ featuring Amelia Peabody, Vicky Bliss, and Jacqueline Kirby draws readers into such fantastical locations as the pyramids of ancient Egypt, crumbling Roman temples, or medieval German castles. Every story is woven with a witty and daring protagonist who jumps into each adventure with both feet.

Amelia Peabody’s trips to Egypt inspired me to incorporate an Egyptian artifact into my own Karina Cardinal mystery, Pharaoh’s Forgery. Her novels challenged me to take Karina on a trip of her own, down to sunny Mexico where her relaxing vacation goes awry, much like that of Jacqueline Kirby in The Murders of Richard III. Mertz’s mysteries also stirred the juices of my first Karina Cardinal novel, Isabella’s Painting, where I incorporated one of the highest valued art thefts in history. I also learned, through her Vicky Bliss series, that mystery does not necessarily have to begin with a dead body. Thieves, stolen artifacts, forged talismans, and grainy photographs can lead an amateur sleuth down perilous paths with just as much fun and entertainment as a dead body.

Sadly, Mertz passed away in 2013 at the age of 85, having written over fifty fun-filled, and thrilling masterpieces of mystery, romance, and suspense. Though she lived not far from me, her passing came just as I was launching my own writing career, and I never got a chance to meet her-a great regret of mine. However, I have many tattered copies of her novels, and I will enjoy rereading them for years to come.

Female Authors Who Have Influenced Me – Women in History Month Series

Carolyn Keene and The Nancy Drew Mysteries

MARCH 5, 2021-As you may know, Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym for over a dozen authors who have written for the Nancy Drew mystery series. Edward Stratemeyer, a publisher, and writer of children’s books had the original idea for Nancy Drew. Too busy to write the series himself, he hired ghostwriter Mildred Wirt Benson, and gave the series the penname, Carolyn Keene.

Benson grew up in Iowa. She enjoyed adventure, playing sports with the neighborhood boys, and was an avid reader. As a child she would write short stories and submit them to children’s magazines. Her first story was published at age 13. After high school, Benson went on to earn an English degree in college, and she was the first woman to graduate with a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa. It was during her graduate program Stratemeyer hired Benson to write the first Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret of the Old Clock, published in 1930. Benson went on to write 23 more Nancy Drew mysteries for Stratemeyer.

Much like Benson, I was a tomboy. As a young child, my friend, Tommy, and I would tear up the neighborhood racing around on our Big Wheel bikes. I was also a dab hand at making mudpies with him in the garden. By the end of the day, I’d arrive home filthy and my poor mother would hose me off before allowing me to enter the house.

In addition, like Benson, I became an ardent reader, and Nancy Drew was the first series to hook me. I couldn’t get enough of Nancy’s adventures driving around River Heights in her snappy, blue roadster, with her best friends Bess and George solving crimes. I would challenge myself to figure out who the bad guy was before Nancy unfolded it for us at the end of the book. I own about twenty of the original, yellow-spined, hard back books, and borrowed many more from the library. Of the first 79 stories written, I would venture to guess, I have read 90% of them.

I, of course, wanted to grow up to become Nancy Drew, or any female crime fighting detective for that matter. The TV show, ‘Charlie’s Angels’ was also popular at the time. During sleepovers at my girlfriends’, we would run around the house chasing invisible bad guys and karate kicking them into submission. I always played Sabrina Duncan, one of the smart, tough talking, original Angels. Clearly, by the age of 10, I knew solving crimes was in my blood.

In case you’re wondering, no, I did not go into crime fighting. Again, like Benson, I was a young writer. My first books were the gripping page turners, Micki Mouse Goes to Mexico, and Banana Bonkers, written during elementary school in third and fifth grades, respectively.

However, in high school and college, my writing turned away from fiction. I focused on windy public administration journal articles, grant proposals, and heavy duty political white papers on things like constitutional law. While I continued reading mystery fiction, my serious-minded degrees took me away from story writing. It wasn’t until I quit my job to stay home with my new babies, that I allowed myself to explore fiction writing. My early love of Nancy Drew is surely one of the reasons I’ve gone down the path of crime fiction writing.

Suffolk Mystery Author Festival Gone Virtual

While we can’t get together in-person, this year the Suffolk Mystery Author Festival has gone virtual and FREE! Saturday, March 6, from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. there will be panel sessions running each hour. I will be on the Writing Strong Women panel from 6:00-7:00 p.m. Register to join:

Pharaoh’s Forgery Excerpt & Trailer

Purchase links

Amazon    Barnes & Noble      iBooks      Kobo


“Karina, is that you?”
The connection was scratchy, but I thought I recognized the voice. “Mrs. Thundermuffin?”
“Yes, dearie, it’s me. I’m so glad I caught you.”
“Where are you?”
“In Mexico. Didn’t-” Her voice faded out.
“What? I can’t hear you.” I checked to make sure the volume on my phone was up all the way. “Hello?”
“I said . . . Mexico.”
The connection cleared as she spoke again. “I’m in Mexico. Didn’t I tell you that’s where I’d be?”
“Yes, you did. I’m surprised you’re calling. Is something the matter?”
“I’m not sure. Did you get that package yet?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, it came in yesterday.” I winced. “Only, I hate to tell you, I’m afraid it’s been damaged.”
“What? Did you say the item was damaged?”
“Well, I’m not sure about what’s inside, but the outer box was partially crushed, and there is a tear. Also, when I picked it up, there was a rattling sound.”
“Oh, boy.” She seemed to turn away from the phone to speak to someone else. Faintly, I heard, “She says the package is damaged. I don’t know, I’ll ask.” Her voice came back on the line at full strength. “Karina, would you do me a favor and check it out for me?”
“You want me to open the box?”
“Yes, and tell me what the contents look like.”
“Okay.” I retrieved the box from the front hall and brought it to the kitchen. “Let me put you on speaker.” Placing the phone on the counter, I sliced into the end that was not crushed.
“Okay, there’s a good bit of packing material.” I pulled out a bunch of the brown shredded paper. “We have a manila envelope, about four-by-eight, and scrawled across the center-‘To Aunt Milly for your stamp collection.’ I didn’t know you were a stamp collector.” I put the unsealed envelope aside.
“I collect all sorts of things.”
Half a dozen loose coins fell out, clanking their way across the counter. “And there are some coins in here. Maybe that’s what was making the noise. They say centavos on one side, and the other-oh, I see, they’re from Brazil.” Someone spoke in a foreign language in the background, really more like bellowed in short, demanding sentences. I couldn’t catch what he was saying, but the tone didn’t sound nice. “Are you okay, Mrs. Thundermuffin?”
“Just fine, dear. My grandnephew sends me coins from the places he’s visited. Now about the case inside the box, has it been damaged?”
I gave the box a shake, and a hard, black plastic case, about twelve-by-ten inches, slid into my hand. “The case looks undamaged, and it feels fairly sturdy. Should I open it?”
“No, I don’t think that’s necessary. As long as the case is undamaged, I’m sure it’s fine.”
“Okay. Then it’ll be here when you get back.” I laid it down.
“Actually, dear, I was hoping you could do me the favor of bringing it with you when you come to Mexico.”
“Um, I suppose I can do that. But I’m headed to Cancun, I don’t think that’s very close to Mexico City at all.”
“I’m no longer in Mexico City. I’m on my way to Mérida. It’s on the Yucatan Peninsula, not far from Cancun. I can arrange to get it after you arrive,” she explained.
“Well, I suppose that would work.” Someone shouted in the background and the line went dead. “Mrs. Thundermuffin? Hello?”

New Release – Blog Tour

Pharoah’s Forgery Now Available

Amazon    Barnes & Noble     iBooks     Kobo

The latest installment in the bestselling Karina Cardinal mystery series is now available in print and ebook.

Margaritas, mayhem, and-if she’s not careful-murder.

Cancun was supposed to be a relaxing getaway. Instead, thanks to Mrs.


Thundermuffin and  an Egyptian death mask, Karina and fellow lobbyist Rodrigo are besieged by crooks, conmen, kidnappers, and killers. When things really erupt into chaos, they could be going home in the tackiest of souvenirs-a body bag.

Visit some of the tour stops to learn more about Karina Cardinal, her favorite mojito recipe and learn a bit about the research done for the novel.


September 21 –  I’m All About Books  – SPOTLIGHT

September 21 –  Baroness’ Book Trove  – SPOTLIGHT

September 22 –  Celticlady’s Reviews  – SPOTLIGHT

September 22 –  The Book Decoder  – REVIEW

September 23 –  I Read What You Write  – REVIEW  

September 23 –  Dee-Scoveries  – SPOTLIGHT

September 23 –  Books a Plenty Book Reviews  – CHARACTER INTERVIEW

September 24 –  Mysteries with Character  – REVIEW

September 24 –  MJB Reviewers  – SPOTLIGHT

September 25 –  Brooke Blogs  – SPOTLIGHT, RECIPE

September 25 –  Literary Gold  – SPOTLIGHT


September 26 –  Ruff Drafts  – GUEST POST

September 27 –  Readeropolis  – SPOTLIGHT

September 27 –  Paranormal and Romantic Suspense Reviews  – SPOTLIGHT


Quarantine Days & Giveaways

Hello Readers!  
I have a variety of Giveaway  links that are available to anyone with an eReader, tablet, smartphone, or computer. Get your eReader out and start loading!

FREE First in Series – ONLY 2 DAYS LEFT!  
If you are looking to start a new series during quarantine, check out this promotion of over 40 authors writing in the mystery/thriller/suspense genre are giving out their first book. But get your eReader downloads quick, the deal ends this weekend!

Historical Fiction with Strong Female Leads  
For those who love historical fiction, this promo is for you! Over 30 authors have joined this giveaway promotion. You can download to your eReader full novels and chapter excerpts from a variety of historical fiction subgenres, including thriller, spy, romance, and mystery.   To get started visit this link:

Mystery Lovers Giveaway  
May is Mystery Month, and there are 50+ authors giving away their mysteries to readers like you! Mysteries genres include: cozies, thrillers, psychological, romantic suspense, crime, police procedural, and action/adventure. If you like mystery, you’re sure to find something to love in this pile.

Diamond Theft at a Local Level Featured in Ellen Butler’s Newest Novel

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. – Celebrated Northern Virginia author Ellen Butler is about to release her newest novel, Diamonds & Deception, the third in her international bestselling Karina Cardinal mystery series. In this novel, Karina Cardinal and her sister Jillian dig into a diamond theft, but they unearth trouble-a tangle of Russian mob ties and gambling debts. Karina realizes they’ve dug too deep, and maybe a little too far outside the law.

Like Butler’s first two Karina Cardinal mysteries, the setting of the book is local, starting with a mystery criminal absconding with diamonds from a Tysons Corner jewelry store. The fast-paced plot winds its way into organized crime, gang violence and human trafficking in Washington DC and northern Virginia suburbs, with the climax erupting in Arlington.

Having ties to Capitol Hill helped Butler create this installment of the series. “My contacts at the FBI and DC police force helped round out the gang and organized crime storyline,” she said. “It has been an interesting journey, and I think the novel’s themes, which touch on current events, will resonate with readers.”

The book holds a particular appeal to residents of, and those familiar with, the Washington, DC and northern Virginia regions. “Many of my advanced editorial reviewers appreciated the local flavor of the book,” Butler said. “It’s not hard to imagine this plot taking place here inside the beltway, which makes it even more intriguing to anyone who has ever lived here or visited this area.”

A former public policy writer, Butler is also the author of the award-winning  Love, California Style series and bestselling historical suspense,  The Brass Compass. She is a member of the Office of Strategic Services Society, Sisters in Crime, Virginia Writer’s Club, Write by the Rails and International Thriller Writers.

Diamonds & Deception is available for preorder through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo, and will be released officially October 7, 2019.

Butler will appear for signings, discussions and giveaways October 12, 2019 at Eat Local, Read Local at Cascades Library in Potomac Falls, Va.

On October 26, she, along with a variety of USA Today bestselling and award winning authors from the DMV area will be at the Royal Book Bash at the Hilton Garden Inn in Woodbridge, Va.

November 10, Butler will be interviewed by award winning author of the Washington Whodunit series, Colleen Shogan at The Wine Attic in Clifton, Va, where there will be wine tastings, giveaways and food.

December 4, she will take part in the Thirtieth Annual University Club Meet the Author Night and Book Fair in Washington, DC.

Publishing Workshop

You’ve Written Your Novel, Now What? Publishing World Options

A workshop open to the public, for new writers, aspiring writers and writers who have recently gotten their rights back from a traditional publisher and wish to indie publish their book.  

When: August 24, 2019 at 2:00 p.m.

Where: Ellen Coolidge Burke Branch Library, 4701 Seminary Rd, Alexandria, VA 22304

Workshop Overview:

The publishing industry has changed drastically in the past decade, and it continues to evolve. This workshop discusses an author’s options, from Traditional to Small Press to Indie Publishing. Highlights will include:

  • Pros and cons of each option.
  • What you can expect in your quest to obtain a Traditional contract vs. Small Press. Research, time investment, handling rejection.
  • Short overview of getting an agent – How & where to search. What they are looking for.
  • Going Indie – What you can expect. Covers, formatting, editing, and costs associated with going Indie. The importance of Amazon and other avenues you can use for distribution and obtaining hard copies.
  • Marketing – Every author MUST market no matter which publishing track you take. In order to achieve success, you need to decide if you can make an investment of money or your time to get results.
  • The importance of creating your own Brand from your Social Media to your Website.

Diamonds & Deception Cover Reveal Day!

 International bestselling and award-winning author Ellen Butler presents book three in the Karina Cardinal mystery series! Fans of Melinda Leigh and J.D. Robb, who love the humor of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum will adore this gripping mystery adventure.

When fashion crosses the line to felony, the only label left to wear could be a toe tag.

The rainbows-and-unicorns period of her friends-to-lovers relationship with Mike Finnegan officially over, Karina Cardinal is taking a tactical retreat. No way is she calling him for rescue from one of her infamous “scrapes.” Too bad trouble, if not her middle name, is a close relative.

Sadira Manon, friend and colleague of Karina’s sister Jillian, has been dropping way too much cash on designer labels for a middle school teacher. Even one who moonlights as a jewelry store clerk. But when she’s accused of theft, the loose diamond falling out of her purse is enough for the police to sing the song of their people-“Miranda Rights.”

Karina, Jilly, and Silverthorne Security join forces to investigate who’s setting Sadira up to take a fall, and why. They dig up a shady tangle of Russian mob ties and gambling debts. By the time Karina realizes they’ve dug too deep-and maybe a little too far outside the law-Jillian’s in trouble, and the only way out of this particular pot of hot water is to make that phone call-and hope Mike doesn’t let it go to voice mail.