Springtime with Calves and Books

Angus calf with cowAs part of our livelihood, my husband and I raise purebred, registered Angus cattle. The majority of our calves are born in January and February, so by March these babies are playing in the pasture. It’s so fun to watch them run and buck. One calf gets started and all the others bust a move, releasing all that energy that comes from mama’s milk, sweet grass hay, and spring sunshine.

And what’s happening with the books? I’m thrilled to tell you that HUNTING HOUR has been selected as a finalist in the Colorado Book Awards mystery category and in the RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards for best mystery. I couldn’t be happier for this book, which began as a project of my heart. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s almost (although not quite) like having one of your kids recognized for an achievement. I’m so happy that others love Mattie, Robo, and Cole about as much as I do!

What’s happening in your neck of the woods this spring? I love hearing from you.

Colorado Book Award logo


Display at Ingram boothThe American Library Association held their midwinter conference in Denver this year and true to form, Colorado blasted us with an icy snowstorm. The convention center was nice and warm though and a lovely venue for thousands of participants who had at least one thing in common – we love books!

My publisher, Crooked Lane Books, and our distributor, Ingram Publishers Group West, gave away copies of HUNTING HOUR, the latest Timber Creek K-9 Mystery. Sharing free books with librarians and readers is a fun gig, and I’m so grateful to Crooked Lane for making it happen. It was wonderful to meet and greet those of you who were there that day.

I also spent time staffing the Sisters in Crime Colorado booth where we shared information about our national organization’s We Love Libraries program. Each month in a random drawing, Sisters in Crime National awards a $1000 grant to a library for purchasing books. It’s easy to enter and non-winners are automatically entered in the next month’s drawing. If you’re affiliated with a library and would like to enter, go here for details.

One nice thing about the snow, once I returned home after a long day at the convention, it felt great to snuggle under a comforter in front of the fire with a good book. Happy midwinter reading, everyone!

Patricia Stoltey Interview

I’m thrilled to interview Patricia Stoltey on my blog this week. Patricia’s book, Dead Wrong (2014, Five Star Publishing), was a Finalist in the 2015 Colorado Book Awards, and it is a suspenseful thriller that I highly recommend. She has a new book, Wishing Caswell Dead, that will be released December 20, 2017, and I can’t wait to read it. Welcome, Patricia!

Please tell us about yourself:

First, Margaret, let me thank you for inviting me to participate in an interview for your blog. It’s always a pleasure to work with my Colorado author friends.

I qualify as a late bloomer when it comes to writing. I dabbled a lot during my “working in the real world” years, attended mystery fan conventions, took writing courses, and dreamed, but the only thing I had published during all that time was a humor essay on ham radio (“What’s a Nice Lady Like Me Doing in a Shack Like This?”) and a books-on-tape version of a pretty bad thriller about truckers and unions (The Troubleshooter) my brother and I wrote back in the 80s.

Illinois was where I grew up, but I also spent some years in Muncie, Indiana where Ball State University started the Magna cum Murder mystery fan convention. Then off to a couple of years in the South of France (an amazing experience), eleven years in south Florida (hot and sticky), and finally retired to Colorado (a writer’s paradise).

Once my husband and I got the travel bug out of our systems, I got serious about writing. A novel writing class was the beginning, followed by a critique group, joining Northern Colorado Writers and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and finally, attending the Colorado Gold Conference where I signed up for a critique workshop moderated by Five Star editor Deni Dietz. The rest is history.

Let’s talk about your new book. 

Wishing Caswell Dead is the novel of my heart. Even if I never get another book published, I’ll be content, knowing this one finally found its way into the world. It took a long time. I wrote the first draft back in 2006-2007.

The novel is the story about some of the people who end up in the Village of Sangamon on the day Caswell Proud is murdered, how each of those folks came to be there, and how their lives were impacted by the evil that lurked in the village. Caswell’s younger sister Jo Mae is a central character, and more than anyone else, wishes Caswell dead. The short synopsis on the Amazon page reads like this:

“In the early 1800s in a village on the Illinois frontier, young Jo Mae Proud wishes her cruel brother dead. Forced into prostitution by Caswell, Jo Mae discovers she is pregnant and vows to escape. When Caswell is injured by a near lightning hit, he becomes more dangerous and more hated. The flawed residents of the Village of Sangamon harbor many secrets. Caswell knows them all. Will he tell? Jo Mae runs away and eventually finds shelter with Fish, the old Kickapoo Indian who camps by the river. Wishing Caswell Dead is a historical mystery about the evil that hides within a village, one girl who is determined to save herself and her child, and a violent murder no one wants to solve”–

How did you go about your research for writing a story set in the 1800’s?

It helped that I grew up in central Illinois where the book is set, so I had a little bit of Illinois history in my memory bank to give me a running start. There is even a detailed local history of a small town that’s located just about where the Village of Sangamon would be if it was a real place. Once I started reading, I almost couldn’t stop. Did you know that part of the Mississippi River ran backward right after the main New Madrid earthquake struck in 1811? You learn the coolest stuff when you start researching for a historical novel.

To fine tune my knowledge of the land, occupants, tools, and events, I visited the Museum of the Grand Prairie in Champaign County, IL (http://www.museumofthegrandprairie.org/exhibits.html)  and reviewed everything I’d ever learned about New Salem, IL, including when Abe Lincoln ran the little post office there.

Luckily, when Five Star asked for the sources for my information, I had every book title and author written down with my notes plus all the URLs for websites I’d consulted. I have everything carefully filed for future reference…just in case I decide to write a sequel someday.

Being a finalist in the Colorado Book Awards is quite an achievement. What has helped you most with the art and craft of fiction writing? Do you have recommendations for aspiring writers who wish to publish their work?

You know, I felt so prepared and so confident when I wrote my first novel because of all the reading I’d done, the classes and workshops I’d attended. When The Prairie Grass Murders was accepted by Five Star and I sent in my completed manuscript, I knew it was clean and ready to publish.

Can you imagine how I felt when I received the manuscript back from my new editor with corrections and comments and requests for changes on every page? Almost every paragraph? First I felt shocked, then anger, and finally, after reviewing every one of those comments and requests in detail, I felt embarrassed. I still had a lot to learn.

I had two choices. Quibble about everything and be a difficult author (and possibly lose my contract) … or put my nose to the grindstone and do the work. I chose to do the work. My editor, Deni Dietz with Five Star, taught me more about writing through the editing process of my four books that I learned in all those years of reading and attending classes.

Many of today’s writers want to shorten the process from writing to publication, and I don’t blame them. But each writer should be aware that we’re not our own best editors, and our critique groups probably can’t do the job an expert editor can. For the self-pubbing group, I recommend hiring a professional editor before publishing.

For those, like me, who prefer to stick with the traditional path because it’s easier on the time requirements and the wallet, be prepared for the worst when those editor letters arrive. If you managed to submit a clean manuscript the first time around, you’re a genius and I’m jealous. If you have a lot to work on, consider it a learning experience and be grateful for those wonderful editors.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Patricia! Please find contact details below in Patricia Stoltey’s Bio.



Patricia lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Katie Cat who keeps stealing her chair, and Sassy Dog who thinks watching Facebook dog videos is the only reason to turn on a computer. When she’s not writing, she gardens, crochets, and does a lot of lollygagging. Learn more about her at her website/blog (http://patriciastolteybooks.com), Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1105939.Patricia_Stoltey). Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/patricia.stoltey), and Twitter (https://twitter.com/PStoltey). Wishing Caswell Dead is available for pre-order at amazon.com (https://www.amazon.com/Wishing-Caswell-Dead-Patricia-Stoltey/dp/1432834401/) and other online booksellers.


Leeann Betts – In Search of Christmas Past

I’m pleased to host mystery writer Leeann Betts on my blog. Here’s a spotlight for her new book.


In Search of Christmas Past


This romantic suspense set in the mountains of Colorado came to me a couple of years ago when I was struggling to develop an idea for a novella. At that point, I’d never written a novella and only read a few of them, so I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I wanted to write about a place I love—the mountains—and a horse stable I’d visited in Estes Park, Colorado.


The characters came to me one day when I was in a WalMart parking lot. I saw gulls soaring overhead and landing to eat a discarded hamburger when the idea came to me that those gulls—which I called seagulls because I’m an East Coast girl—must have been blown really far off course to end up in Colorado. I mean, any coast is more than 1500 miles away from here.


So I went home and did some research, and I found out they aren’t seagulls—they’re just plain gulls. And despite my wanting to connect them with the ocean, they’ve never been there and likely never will.


Intrigued, I thought about gulls and mountains and horse stables and came up with this story.


I love these characters because they reflect me at different times in my life. As a teen, I was certain I knew exactly what I would be when I grew up—a veterinarian. Well, that didn’t happen, so I left college and worked for almost 20 years before deciding I could get ahead faster with a degree, so I did business and accounting since I was already working in that field. Then I decided to leave that career and go to veterinarian assistant, but God had other ideas. Instead, I moved to Colorado to wed a man I met online. But that’s a story for another day.


Grace and Luke also mirror my faith walk. Just like Grace, I’ve been angry at God over the years. I blamed Him for not answering my prayers to heal my mother, at a time in my life when I wasn’t even following Him. And I’ve also experienced a loving, growing relationship just like Luke does, and I’ve been through the mountains and valleys of everything in between.


The good news is that just like with Grace and Luke, God isn’t done with any one of us yet. We just need to hang in there, get around the next corner, and then be able to see what He has in store.


Here’s a sneak peek at In Search of Christmas Past:

At the sound of tires crunching on the snow, Luke Fisher looked up from the stake he was using to anchor an errant sapling into an upright position. A shiny red sports car eased through the gate and into the single cleared space in the parking lot. The farm didn’t open for five days, and he hadn’t gotten around to plowing since the storm on Saturday.

Luke focused on the task. Nobody wanted to buy a crooked Christmas tree. The driver was probably just lost and using the lot to turn around. He pulled the cord taut and checked the rubber collar around the trunk of the baby tree. Satisfied, he stood. The driver exited the car and pulled her coat collar around her ears. Her brown hair escaped her knit cap, and the ends danced around her face.

Luke walked toward her, feeling underdressed, like a poor country cousin, compared to his visitor. Her leather jacket hugged her form as though made especially for her. He glanced at his flannel garment hanging open over a t-shirt and jeans and groaned inwardly. This was no way to make an impression on a customer. Or a woman as lovely as she.

He peeled off his gloves and extended his right hand. “Welcome to Valley View Nursery. We don’t open for a few days.”

She returned the gesture in a solid handshake. Not too strong, no shrinking violet. He liked that in a woman.

She glanced at the trees around them. “I’m looking for something.”

“Anything in particular?”

“A tree.”

“Like I said, we aren’t open yet, but I guess I could sell you a tree if you find the one you want.” He eyed the car. “Planning to carry it back on that?”

She studied the acres of trees covering the hillside. “I don’t want to buy a tree. I’m looking for something on a bough.”

Luke offered a smile. “As you can see, we have lots to choose from.  And if you don’t see the one you want, we have about a thousand acres more.”

She stared at him, one eyebrow lifted.

Luke shoved his hands in his pockets. Great, she thought he was a babbling idiot. Best to keep his mouth shut.

She sauntered down the first row toward a tree all dolled up in Christmas ornaments, and Luke followed close behind. The frozen ground crunched beneath their feet and the breeze carried their breath off in clouds.

She pointed to the Colorado spruce. “Maybe this one.”

Luke waited near her as she scanned the branches. After a minute or so, she turned. “Any other decorations?”

“Sure.” Hitching his head to one side, he walked away in the opposite direction. He paused at a clearing between the spruces and the scotch pines. “There.”

He loved the effect this section of the farm had on people, and he wasn’t disappointed by her response. In typical fashion, her eyes grew large and her mouth formed an “o” as she stared at the eight trees, bedecked in hundreds of ornaments and lights. She stepped closer to the first tree and craned her neck to survey the twelve-foot pine from top to bottom.

At his laugh, she glared at him. “What’s so funny?”

He sobered. “I love it when folks see these trees for the first time. Doesn’t matter how old or young they are, same look on their faces.”

“How nice.” She turned on her heel and resumed her study.

Or maybe that wasn’t the right word. Not so much study as search.

“Are you looking for a particular ornament?”

She kept her eyes on the tree. “Something to do with the seas.”

Luke followed her gaze. “Seas?”

She pulled a piece of paper from her pocket. “Right, and something about being lost.”


She returned the note to her pocket. “Is there an echo here?” Tilting her head to one side, she smiled in his direction. “Nope. No echo.”

Was she flirting with him? Or taunting him? “Think I’ll sit in my trailer and get something hot to drink.”

She touched his forearm. “I’m sorry. I-I need your help.”

He paused and looked off at the mountains in the distance as if considering her words. Which he wasn’t. The jolt of electricity at her touch warmed him all the way to his heart, and he never wanted her to remove her hand. Years had gone by since a woman said she needed his help. Not since his mother—and never Melanie. No, she showed him what she needed. Hundred percent diva, that woman. She didn’t need him. She needed money to support her in the lifestyle to which she wanted to become accustomed.

And that wasn’t him.

Surprising himself, he nodded. “I’ll help. Tell me again what you’re looking for.”

When she spoke, the wind carried the vapor toward the nearest tree like a wraith. “Seas. Lost. That’s all I know.”



About In Search of Christmas Past

Grace Bellows, a senior in college, receives a Christmas card one month after her grandmother’s death, where her beloved Grammie challenges her to an old-fashioned scavenger hunt. Raised by her grandmother after her parents’ death in a car accident when she was eight, Grace has lived a jet-setter lifestyle with her wealthy grandmother. Now all she wants is to settle down and have a normal life.


Luke Fisher manages his family’s Christmas tree farm out of a sense of loyalty to his deceased mother because she gave up her dreams of being an attorney. He doesn’t want to live with any regrets and longs to escape the confines of loyalty to live a life of adventure in the real world.


Can Grace and Luke solve the clues and uncover the truth about their real feelings, or will the tension and their differences in goals and faith drive them apart?



About Leeann:

Leeann Betts writes contemporary suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical suspense. She has released six titles in her cozy mystery series, By the Numbers, with Petty Cash releasing in December. In addition, Leeann has written a devotional for accountants, bookkeepers, and financial folk, Counting the Days, and with her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, has published a book on writing, Nuggets of Writing Gold, a compilation of essays, articles, and exercises on the craft. She publishes a free quarterly newsletter that includes a book review and articles on writing and books of interest to readers and writers. You can subscribe at www.LeeannBetts.com or follow Leeann at www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com All books are available on Amazon.com in digital and print, and at Smashwords.com in digital format.


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I’m thrilled to announce that STALKING GROUND, book two in the Timber Creek K-9 Mystery series, has won a gold medal in the Reader’s Favorite Awards mystery category. Recognition that you’re on the right track is always nice to receive!

It’s been a busy year. I completed the manuscript for the fourth book in the series and sent it to publisher Crooked Lane Books this morning. This is the kickoff to the editing process, which will take several more months, but it should be ready for release by late summer of 2018. I hope readers will enjoy it! Book three, HUNTING HOUR, launched in August of this year, and I’ve participated in conferences, book signings, and author talks centered on its release. I have a few events left this year to round out the season. Please take a look at the Events page on my website for future appearances and stop by if you’re in the neighborhood.

Go here to see a Reader’s Favorite review of STALKING GROUND, and please post your own review or a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

‘Tis the Season…To Celebrate a Book Birthday!

The writing life circles around seasons that are tied in with the four that most people recognize, and since I’m writing a series, late summer has become the time when my family and I celebrate the birth of a new book. This year the new Timber Creek K-9 Mystery is Hunting Hour, and we’ve anticipated its release on August 8 for several months.

The writing cycle for this book began winter of 2016 when I first began to incubate the idea for it and started the research. As always, I brainstormed with my husband and other consultants who know more about the subject than I, and by February, I put together a loose outline that included most of the major turning points but still contained holes that needed to be filled. I started writing the book by March of 2016, plugging those holes as I wrote.

It takes almost two seasons – or about five months – for me to complete the first draft of a manuscript. I write in the mornings and work my day job in the afternoons. By August of 2016, I had completed a rough draft that needed a great deal of revision before I wanted to show it to my editor. I shared a summary of the story with the team at Crooked Lane Books, however, and by autumn of 2016, they had designed a brilliant cover.

Beta readers and consultants read and provided input for the second draft, I revised again, and by the third draft, it was ready to submit to my editor. By now, we were into October. Two to three rounds of editing took us through the fall and into the winter of 2017. By that time, I also began planning the next book.

During winter and early spring of 2017, we finished Hunting Hour with a couple rounds of proofreading for those pesky typos and mistakes, and I started to write the fourth book, scheduled to release around this time next year. Now, here at the end of the summer and on the eve of launching book three, the first draft of book four is almost complete. I can’t wait to see the cover that Crooked Lane comes up with for this next episode.

I’m grateful for all the support provided by my agent, Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary, during the many seasons of the writing process. And now, we celebrate. My two daughters will fly to Colorado from the west coast and join the launch party. Joy! The weekend will fly by, and I’ll spend every minute that I can with them.

Then we’ll all go back to work, and the cycle continues.