Thursday, September 28, 2023

An Interview with Author, Graphic Artist, Podcaster, and General Entrepreneur Sarah Burr

 One Bite at a Time: Welcome to One Bite at a Time, Sarah. We don’t get a lot of cozy writers here. No offense to cozy writers, but my books were once described as “a cross between Justified and The Wire,” so that’s where the posts tend to fall. We’ll talk about your books specifically in a minute, but first tell us what attracts you to the cozies.


Sarah Burr: There’s so much to love about cozy mysteries. Not only are the settings warm and welcoming, but the people are, too. Readers can always be assured that the good guys will win in a cozy. Yet, there’s something much deeper that drew me to reading and then eventually writing cozy mysteries. Their sense of justice is really quite remarkable. You have an everyday civilian (an amateur detective) willing to put everything on the line to pursue the truth. My heroines could leave things to the authorities, but their desire to do good in the world outweighs hesitation or fear.


OBAAT: The Court of Mystery is a nine-book series, which is a significant undertaking. I’ve written eight Penns River procedurals, so I have an idea of what’s involved in keeping a series going that long. What is it about this universe that keeps you coming back?


SB: My characters are really the driving force for me to return. I love hanging out with Duchess Jacqueline and her friends as they solve mysteries. I love how her mind works and how she must approach a crime scene, given that the Court of Mystery series is set in a medieval-like fantasy world called the Realm of Virtues. I’ve created my own set of rules in this setting, and it’s been so fun to explore everything it has to offer Jax. While I plan for Book Ten to be the final story in the series arch, I do have a spinoff in the works so that Jax’s adventures can continue.


OBAAT: You also write the Trending Topics series of mysteries, which includes #Tag Me for Murder and #Follow Me for Murder. Please give us a feel for these stories and where you came up with Coco Cline, the protagonist.


SB: A podcaster once described the Trending Topic Mysteries as “Nancy Drew Meets Instagram,” and I can’t think of a more perfect summation. Influencer and blogger Coco Cline introduced herself to me several years ago, back when the cozy mystery genre was still hesitant to get involved with social media and technology. It’s hard to make the Internet as warm and welcoming as a small, storybook town. However, as a millennial, I yearned to see more of myself in the characters I was reading about, someone who viewed their phone as a resource, not a hindrance. Not long after, Coco knocked on the door of my imagination, and we’ve been fast friends ever since.


Coco lives in the small coastal town of Central Shores, Delaware. Beyond her popular lifestyle blog, she runs a small online marketing business. When she stumbles across a dead body in her client’s breakroom, Coco realizes she has a major PR nightmare on her hands. Can she catch a killer, or will Coco end up trending for all the wrong reasons?


OBAAT: You also also write the Glenmyre Whim Mysteries, Too Much to Candle and You Can’t Candle the Truth, featuring candlemaker Hazel Wickbury. Catch us up on those, please.


SB: This series allows me to explore my love of the paranormal. Hazel Wickbury isn’t just any old candlemaker. She can see when someone is going to die. So, when a wealthy business developer dies before he was meant to, Hazel knows there’s foul play involved. Since she can’t alert the police to her power—what her family calls a ‘whim’—Hazel teams up with her best friend/aunt, Poppy, to shine a light on a killer.


The Glenmyre Whim Mysteries helped me get through the isolation and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wanted to create a charming, happy place where I could escape, and with the help of Hazel, her friends, and the fictional town of Crucible, New York, I did. This cozy has a sparkle of magic sprinkled over it, and I have so much fun with its diverse cast of characters.


OBAAT: You Can’t Candle the Truth is now available as an audio book. How did that come about? Was there anything unexpected about the process of creating the spoken version?


SB: I first began working with the incredibly talented Melissa Green several years ago to bring the Court of Mystery series to life on audiobook. Since then, we worked together on countless projects, and the partnership we’ve developed has become truly special. I often hear Melissa’s performances in my head as I write; she really has become Jax and Hazel's voice. Also, her performances are so emotive that readers have become too attached to certain characters (me included). I’ve actually changed my decision to kill characters based on her narration.



OBAAT: Apparently writing doesn’t keep you busy enough; you’re also a graphic artist with a niche in helping to create images specifically tailored to book promotion. I’m delighted with the work you did for The Spread. Please talk a little about that business and don’t be shy about telling folks how to get a hold of you.


SB: I’ve always been a creative techie – I love new technology and exploring ways to make myself more productive. This has come in handy as an indie author because you’re required to create your own promotional materials. I discovered so many great applications to help me do this, and eventually, other authors took notice of my social media posts, asking me where they came from. Once I told them I had made the designs myself… well, BookstaBundles was born. Authors began asking me to create graphics for them, and soon, I realized I could help others with my passion for graphic design. I now offer various digital services, as well as bookmarks, posters, and bookplates. If you’re an author looking to post more engaging content featuring your novel, stop by to check out my portfolio and my offerings. (Editor’s Note: I ordered five graphics for The Spreads and wa delighted with Sarah’s work and creativity.)


OBAAT: You fill some of what must be copious free time with The Bookish Hour, a live-stream web series you co-host with J.C. Kenney Thursdays from 8:00 to 9:00 PM ET. The chats revolve primarily around craft, which is a topic I don’t think writers talk about enough, as too many discussions get sidetracked into the business aspects of writing. What led to this, and what are the joys and challenges of keeping it going?


SB: This was another venture that came about unexpectedly. J.C. Kenney is a dear friend of mine in the writing industry, and in May 2022, we both had books releasing at the same time. We wanted to host an online party where our readers could see and interact with us. So, I sat down at my computer, figured out how to livestream a Google Meet call onto YouTube, and voila! J.C. and I had a fabulous time chatting about our books and writing process, and our viewers joined in the fun, too.


After the livestream wrapped, we received several emails from our author pals, asking if they could come on “our show” and chat about their books. With that, The Bookish Hour became a twice-a-month web series, and we’re now booking into 2025. Our biggest challenge is accommodating all the requests we have! To do so, we’ve started a companion show, A Bookish Moment, that allows for much more flexible scheduling. If you have an upcoming release and would like to swing by and talk with us, you can read what we’re about at


OBAAT: Based on what we talked about already, I know you’re working on something now. What’s next for the readers to look forward to?


SB: I have yet another cozy mystery series in the works! I am busy with revisions for Book One in the Book Blogger Mysteries, which features…you guessed it, a book blogger.


Over My Dead Blog releases later this year, and I cannot wait for readers to meet Arwen “Winnie” Lark, her brother Strider, and the folks of Copper Bay, Massachusetts. Interested readers can always learn more about me and what’s happening in my writing world at or by signing up for my newsletter,



Thursday, September 21, 2023

Re-branding Nick Forte

 It’s been a while since I released a new Nick Forte novel. January of 2018 to be exact. While he has appeared in a couple of Penns River books (Grind Joint and The Spread) he has not been the star of his own book since Bad Samaritan.


That doesn’t mean he hasn’t asked for more attention. Ideas have been percolating from my subconscious all the while. Since the next Penns River book is going to require more research and thought than usual, I took a break from that series to write a new Forte novel. Off the Books will drop in the spring of 2024.


Since it’s been a while since Forte made an appearance, I thought it would be a good idea to relaunch the entire series as a lead up to Off the Books. I had hoped to get the first book (A Small Sacrifice) out by now, but a little research quickly showed me it would be in my best interest to dig deeper into how Amazon handles the metadata, so the first re-branding effort may slip a little.


Since I mentioned Amazon, I might as well go all the way: these books will be available only through Amazon. It’s a better deal for me to do it that way, and bookstores won’t carry my books, anyway. So to all those independent bookstores out there, I love you, but please understand this is strictly business. Just as I understand that’s the reason you won’t stock my books.


The tentative schedule is below, but please note: Except for Off the Books, all of these are re-releases of books that have been out there for five years or more. If you already own one, there is no need to buy another. All that will change are the covers and the metadata. Save your money for Off the Books. Or gift purchases. Those of you who have yet to read any Forte novels, here’s your chance.


The dates are tentative, and promotional pricing is still to be decided. I’ll give full notice when the time comes.


September 2023: A Small Sacrifice, the first Forte novel, in which Nick investigates a cold case loosely adapted from the JonBenet Ramsey killing. Nominated for a Shamus Award as best Independently Published PI Novel.


October 2023: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of. My tribute to The Maltese Falcon, of which Peter Rozovsky wrote in his sadly discontinued blog “Detectives Beyond Borders, “I can imagine this book finding its way into a class on writing crime fiction as an example of how to pay tribute to one’s predecessors while at the same time writing a story that can stand on its own. It’s an impressive accomplishment.”


November 2023: The Man in the Window. What begins as an adultery case ends up involving terrorists. Nominated for a Shamus as Best Paperback Original.


December 2023: A three-book set, yet to be titled, to include the three novels noted above.


January 2024: A Dangerous Lesson, my only serial killer story.


February 2024: Bad Samaritan, in which Forte takes on men’s rights activists.


March 2024: Off the Books. This is the new one, showing Forte in his post-agency life as he treads the line between Spenser and Ray Donovan.


Late 2024: A second three-book boxed set.


I’ll be busy otherwise, as well. My first Western will drop sometime next year and another Forte, as yet untitled, will come out in either late 2024 or early 2025. If the next Penns River novel has come together by then, I’ll return there for a three- or four-book run to complete the series. And another Western. Probably more Forte. And other projects I have in mind.


Ain’t no flies on me. Not yet anyway.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity X

 The tenth Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference took place last weekend in Columbia, MD. I’ve been to nine (missed the first for reasons I do not remember) and, while I can’t say this was the “best,” there have been none better.


Austin and Denise Camacho never fail to create a welcoming, familial atmosphere that not only inspires repeat visits, but embraces newcomers. A friend attending her first C3 told me she hadn’t been sure what to expect, but was made to feel at home as soon as she entered the registration area. She was not alone in that sentiment.


C3 always gets high-level keynotes. This year Jeffrey Deaver reprised his role as the original crime speaker, with Nancy Holder covering the sci-fi/fantasy side of things. Both were excellent speakers, outstanding panelists, and were more than accessible to the other 140 writers and readers who wanted bits of their time.


I’ve been going to conferences since 2008, so there isn’t as much new to me as there once was. I used to break out comments by individual sessions, but now my notes are thinner. Do not infer I didn’t learn anything. My personal highlights are below.


·       Taglines have vexed me since my first book came out. The panel that focused on them had several takeaways I can use as I begin a new project we’ll discuss more in next week’s blog:

o   John DeDakis: the tag should only be a sentence or two to hook a potential reader. Tags should be short enough to be read comfortably in one breath.

o   Susan Tullio: a tag is similar to a newspaper headline and should set the genre.

o   Sharon Buchbinder: tags should give a sense of the book so readers aren’t misled.

·       Jeffrey Deaver: The part of the brain that forms attachments with real humans is the same part that forms attachments with fictional characters.

·       About writing fight scenes:

o   Bryan England: the stakes in a fight can change as the fight progresses. A cop must write a use of force report every time he draws his gun, sprays a chemical, uses a Taser, or throws a punch; cops are writing the report in their head as they fight.

o   Teel James Glenn: Bruce Lee said people will fight the way they think; Those who are afraid will fight most desperately. The mindset of the individual may be key, as he or she must decide how dirty they are willing to get; running may be the solution.

o   Mark Bergin: the fight description should not be too detailed. Clarity and brevity are the keys.

o   P.A. Duncan: No one escapes a fight without consequences.

§  All: If you’re going to show the fight, you must show the consequences, including both mental and psychological.

o   There are differences of opinion about who to take out first when outnumbered.

·       On discussing the importance of realism:

o   Bryan England: Taser victims are only incapacitated while the current is running; it does not knock them out. Everything a cop does must go into a report before they can go back on the street, even if all they did was give someone a ride to the station.

o   Glenn Parris (an MD) sees too much “magical healing” and not enough medical complications. Tasers will not trigger cardiac arrest, even in those with pacemakers or defibrillators.

o   Mark Bergin never sees enough of how much cops rely on the radio or how calls can get garbled when passing them to jurisdictions with different 10 codes.

I can’t take notes on my own panels, for obvious reasons. Both “Rejections” and “Noir” had worthy takeaways. The one that sticks in my head is Terrence McCauley’s comment that Glengarry, Glen Ross, is a woefully underrated noir with nary a corpse shown nor punch thrown, to which I immediately thought, “Of course it is!” though it had never occurred to me before.


That’s the joy of a conference such as this: you learn things and have an opportunity to follow up on them. You also get to see old friends and invariably make new ones.


I would be remiss if I did not thank the panelists I worked with last weekend: Arlene Kay, Jeff Markowitz, Rick Pullen, and Ilene Schneider (Rejections); Christopher Chambers, Lanny Larcinese, Terrence McCauley (Noir).


Last, but by no means least, a shout out to those who read at Friday’s Noir at the Bar event. C3’s N@Bs are different from others, as horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and even steampunk may be included. This year’s readers were exceptional from start to finish, even though several had never read at such an event before. Some of the credit goes to the atmosphere Austin, Denise, and everyone involved in putting on the conference creates, but I cannot compliment highly enough the effort put forth by the readers: LC Allingham, Rob Creekmore, Ef Deal, William J. Donohue, Jeff Markowitz, Joanne McLaughlin, Josh Pachter, and Tom Sterling. You all conducted yourselves above and beyond what were high expectations. Well done.


Next Year’s event is September 13 – 15, again in Columbia. Early registrations get a discount, so head on over to to beat the rush.


See you in Columbia.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

What Do We Owe the Public?

 When I say “What do we owe the public?” I’m not talking about our readers. To them we owe our best effort. It’s not our job to write the book they want; our task is to make the book we chose to write as good as our skills can make it, every time. There is no excuse to do other.


What I’m asking here is, “What we owe the public at large?” We speak directly only to our readers, but they interact with countless others. What our readers pick up from us is always at risk of extending beyond our intended reach.


Let’s take what has become known as the “CSI Effect” in criminal courts. The CBS phenomenon “CSI” and its spinoffs have led to jurors refusing to convict unless the prosecution presents compelling DNA or trace evidence. A lot of cases, maybe most, don’t have the forensic version of a smoking gun, nor do many cities (read: none) have the resources depicted in the shows. The situation has gotten so bad judges now include warnings against it when giving jury instructions.


Why is that? Enough people have seen enough stuff “CSI” puts forward as “how this works” that they think these things have to be there for a defendant to be guilty. In fact, any such lack does not imply anything except there was no DNA/fiber/fingerprint evidence at the scene. Such an absence does not nullify a potential mountain of other evidence.


Why has this become such an issue? Because, for all the entertainment value shows like “CSI” and “NCIS” and others of that ilk provide, things don’t work that way. DNA and trace evidence results don’t take as long as they used to, but they still don’t come back in a few days, and they sure as hell don’t come back while the detective is standing there waiting. To manufacture such beliefs creates unrealistic expectations in the public’s mind. DNA and trace evidence can be instrumental in getting a conviction, but they rarely come through in time to identify who to arrest. Even if they do, the police need a suspect to compare it to.


Magical computer work is another. How many shows have you seen where the detectives stumble around for 45 minutes before happening onto a tiny piece of evidence or off-hand comment they can give to their computer savant and say, “See wat you can do with this?” Said savant types a little, may grunt something like “gotcha” under his or her breath, the turns around to tell the star of the show the suspect’s

·       Name

·       Date and place of birth

·       Parents

·       Siblings

·       Education record

·       Military record

·       Employment history

·       Arrests, convictions, time served (both where and when)

·       Known associates

·       Recent sexual partners

·       Hobbies

·       Last known address

·       Where he is now

·       Where he’s going to be by the time the cops can get there

That’s an exaggeration, but not as much as it should be.


There are other examples. What does it take to get a search warrant or a wiretap? Granted, these are tedious processes and no one wants to see how that sausage gets made. That said, the delays and work inherent in getting them should at least be addressed.


Why do you think people assume police brutality when five cops take down a single suspect? Because they see cops do it alone all the time on TV. They don’t see that going one-on-one for an arrest is not only dangerous for the cop, it’s dangerous for the suspect. The solo cop must beat the suspect into submission to take him in, all the while fighting for his own life because the party’s over if this skel grabs the cop’s gun. Five cops show up to take him, it’s going to be a much shorter fight, and shorter fights mean fewer chances for injury on either side. That’s if there’s a fight at all, as even a hardened criminal is a lot less likely to try to fight it out at five-to-one against.


Medical shows have similar issues that can lead to people thinking they know more about medicine than they do, which is a potentially dangerous situation. There are those who argue with their doctor over a diagnosis because they saw someone with what they think are similar symptoms on “House” and what that poor bastard had was way more serious than the quack standing in front of them is willing to admit.


Don’t believe me? Much like the “CSI Effect,” there’s a medical equivalent known as “60 Minutes Syndrome,” in which calls to doctors to check for a specific disease spike immediately after “60 Minutes” runs a segment on it. It’s great that some people bring this to their doctor’s attention when they might not have otherwise, but there is also an apparently natural tendency to take any symptoms one might be having and turn them into a warning sign for this disease. “Man, I’ve been tired all weekend. Stiff and sore. Ohmigod! Scott Pelley says I have Lyme Disease.” Never mind that said viewer spent the past week cutting down trees and clearing brush from the new acre of ground he added to his yard.


I hear you. “We don’t have time to go around all that. Readers and viewers want action.” I get that. Honest to God I do. But to let these convenient devices take the place of proper plotting and storytelling is lazy writing, especially when done to the extent that readers think things really work that way. At least make a nod to reality and craft a reason why what you’re doing is the exception, and the potential effects on the investigation. We’ll all be better off.