Every Mystery Deserves a Mixologist!

Most mystery writers have an editor, proofreader and beta readers.

What we deserve is a mixologist… and I’m pleased to report that the Whispers serial mystery appearing in Attraction Magazine now has its very own mixologist!

Bannings LogoHistoric Banning’s Tavern in Easton, Maryland is the sponsor of Whispers and to celebrate, we all thought it would be fun to come with special cocktails that match up with the main characters in the serial.

If you have special cocktails, you need a mixologist!  So, Banning’s co-owners, Tom and Stephen went to work and the initial results are exciting… as well as delicious!

Whispers Cocktail small


The Whispers logo inspired him to reach for the RumChata, a real cream delicacy.  To connect it to the murder mystery, he added his own secret ingredient for the “blood.”  To say, It’s to die for, isn’t too far from the truth.

Blackberry Margarita Edited

Then, he thought about one of the characters and was inspired to create another tasty concoction:  the Blackberry Margarita!  Isn’t this perfect for libation for a hot summer evening… or a hot character?

Which character?  I can’t tell you whom he had in mind, because we’re going to let the readers decide!

The cocktails will be introduced at a very special Happy Hour on Tuesday, August 25th 5-7!

Readers can vote on which cocktail matches up with which character!

Results will be announced in September.

So, if you’re on the Maryland Eastern Shore in Easton, come and join the fun. I’ll be there with my co-author Cheril Thomas along with our editor Jennifer Latham and publisher Richard Slaughter of Attraction Magazine… and lots of friends and readers.

Come and raise a glass… then stay for dinner!

Banning’s Tavern
42 E Dover St. at Harrison St.
Easton, MD 21601
(410) 822-1733

It’s Official! You can “Name the Pup” Now!

SunsetonCreekIt’s a beautiful spot on the Tred Avon River, right off the Chesapeake Bay. In the Whispers serial mystery, Maggie enjoys beautiful sunsets.  The ripples of salt water gently lap the shoreline. So calming…             But lights and strange sounds wake her in the middle of the night and her place is miles away from the police.


What is out there?  Is that a red light bobbing around in the marsh?

Should she panic? Call the police? No, her friends… and her authors say… what you need is a dog!

So, Maggie is going to adopt a dog from Talbot Humane Society, but she can’t decide on a name.

To help, Whispers and Attraction Magazine, along with Whispers sponsor, Historic Banning’s Tavern are asking readers to “Name the Pup” for Maggie. You can submit your suggestions online (details below). At the same time, you can make a donation to help Talbot Humane. The winner will be drawn at the Bark in the Park event in Easton, Maryland on October 10th.

The Whispers LogoThe winning name will first appear in Episode 25 of Whispers on October 13th at www.AttractionMag.com . It will be fun to see how the antics of Maggie’s new pet disrupt her life.

Cody Small

No time to pose! Cody sees a squirrel!!

I know it will bring back memories of the first months my black Lab Cody moved in…but that’s for another blog.

I’ve heard a rumor from the publisher and the sponsor that more prizes are coming. More about that later, after I check it out.

Here’s how the process works to “Name the Pup”:

Visit www.AttractionMag.com now and click on the Whispers logo in the right corner. The entry information form makes it easy to submit your favorite name(s). If you’d like to make a small donation to Talbot Humane, just click the secure link to PayPal. All proceeds go to Talbot Humane.

Let the crazy fun begin… and maybe that red light in the marsh will disappear!

Like Being in the Newsroom…Again

News Control Room 4Writing the serial novel, Whispers, for Attraction Magazine with the weekly deadlines reminds me of the days when I worked in television and radio newsrooms.

What does a murder mystery set on the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore have in common with news broadcasts?

Plenty!  Yes, I was surprised, too.

When I first took on the commission to write this serial last March, not a word was written. There was no protagonist.  No murder.  No motive.  My co-author, Cheril Thomas and I had nothing. The project was announced on March 28th and the first episode appeared both in print and online on April 18th.  That’s how fast this whole project came together.

Whispers Episode 12 is a wonderful example of newsroom echoes. (Link below)

Any news story requires context and local color. The same is true with mystery writing. According to our original plan, our characters would visit some of the fun, local events on the Shore as the story unfolded. They sailed in the Cardboard Boat Race in Oxford… and flirted. One bid fast and furiously at the Crumpton antique auctions… as an unsavory character appeared. They watched as the reenactment of the Boston Tea Party in Chestertown… where an argument flared.

A news story is built on the facts, facts that must be checked. When a mystery is using real places and real events, the same rule applies. Since Episode 12 for a visit to another special event, I picked up the phone to be sure all was correct.Question mark

And that’s when the weird coincidences began.

I’m afraid I can’t identify the event or the person(s) involved, but I can tell you about the coincidences:

  • One of the characters came to the Shore from a town on the other side of the Bay Bridge…the same town where one of the key event organizers was born and raised.
  • That character has a certain occupation… the same as the key organizer.
  • A sensitive family connection exists for the character… and the same is true for the organizer.
  • The first name of these two individuals – one fictional, one real  – yes, you guessed it, even their first names are the same!

The organizer said, “People are going to think the character is based on me!”

I can assure you that no Whispers character is based on a real person, living or dead. But, I ask you, what are the chances that fiction should mirror reality like this?Question marks

In the newsroom, the writer checks the facts and edits the story to reflect them. In fiction, the writer knows when the situation is too awkward, and so, deletes the episode and begins again… even when there are only a couple of days before it’s due to post.

That’s when I appreciated my training in the newsroom so many years ago: Write it right and write it fast!

Hope you enjoy the latest episode of Whispers, especially now that you know the story behind the story. Check out Episode 12, in fact all the episodes so far at www.AttractionMagazine.com and click on the Whispers logo in the right corner.The Whispers Logo


WHISPERS Murder Mystery Signs with Sponsor

Bannings LogoHistoric Banning’s Tavern in Easton, Maryland is the new sponsor of Whispers, the mystery serial appearing every Tuesday at www.AttractionMag.com.  Tom Haschen, an owner of Banning’s closed the deal with a handshake.  “We are pleased to be part of this unusual project.  It should be great fun!”

Cheril and I are thrilled to join with Banning’s in this novel adventure.  It is filled with history and the food is fantastic, a true oasis in the middle of Easton.  And the people are the best—both staff and patrons!  We had our first planning meeting at Banning’s about Whispers, A Maggie Maitland Mystery and it has been the site of many work session and celebratory lunches.

If you know the story behind Banning’s, you’ll appreciate how fitting it is that a mystery serial set on the Mid-shore is anchored in this intriguing place.  Banning’s was named after Jeremiah Banning, local war hero and patriot of the Revolutionary War. The restaurants owners Tom Haschen and Chef Stephen Mangasarian strive to keep our local history alive by providing their guests with interesting facts about the people and events of our area.

Banning’s is more than a history stop on a visit of Talbot County. The tasty menu, craft beer and extensive wine and cocktail lists will delight the most discriminating customer, as will the friendly and comfortable pub atmosphere. Historic Banning’s Tavern is a great place to set a scene in Whispers. The only problem is that when our characters place their orders, the writers get hungry. Good thing Banning’s is close-by. Settle in a booth, sit outside for people-watching or meet friends at the bar and read the latest episode of Whispers while you enjoy an excellent meal, glass of wine or craft beer.

The Whispers LogoWhispers is a murder mystery set on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake.  Many places in the story are real but, of course, none of the characters are based on real people, living … or dead.

Here’s the storyline:

Maggie Maitland, a wholesale antiques buyer and new resident of the Eastern Shore, is still reeling from the sudden death of her husband. Just as she begins her new life, she is thrust into the spotlight as a suspect in the murder of a local dentist – the man she believes killed her husband through carelessness. To clear herself and protect her friends, Maggie must do her own investigation and face the real killer.

Banning’s and Whispers … a great combination!

      Historic Banning’s Tavern is located at 42 East Dover Street in Easton in the Avalon Building, phone number 410-822-1733.  Check out their website: www.BanningsTavern.com and on Facebook.




By Any Other Name…

Guest Post by Cheril Thomas:Rose

With all due respect to Shakespeare, I agree with W. C. Fields, who said: “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”

Naming characters always starts out to be fun and the first name an author gives a character usually comes easy. Finding one that sticks – one that the character herself will answer to – is much more difficult. And the difficulty grows exponentially by the number of writers involved in the process.  In the case of Whispers: A Maggie Maitland Mystery Serial, there are two.

Maggie Maitland popped into Susan’s head. I loved the alliteration for the main character’s name and Maggie was a go. But dear Maggie was the only character in the entire series whose name hasn’t caused, at the very least, a protracted conversation.

Here’s a snippet of conversation during a naming session for Whispers:

Susan: “Roxanne is perfect. Really fits her. That’s one down.”
Me: “My cousin’s name is Roxanne. No Roxanne. How about Abby?”
Susan: “Hello? Main character of my Silver series? How about Kelly?”
Me: “She doesn’t look like a Kelly.”
Susan: “What do all the Kellys in the world like like? Never mind, how about Cindy?”
Me: “I work with a Cindy, how about…”

One character was easily named early on, but every time one of us wrote a scene about her, we’d spell her name differently, or couldn’t remember it or thought it ‘looked funny’. Well, if your creators don’t like you, you’ve got problems. The name went. The next name was worse. The character flat out refused to fit either name. We picked a third and then we really were in trouble.

Me: “What’s Asher’s wife’s name now?”
Susan: “I thought you were keeping the name list.”

The name list is one of the high-tech tools that savvy authors use to avoid a main cast named Adam, Alicia, Ariel and Alex.  Here is our secret: Take a clean, undoodled-upon piece of notebook paper and list the alphabet down the left side of the page. Write each character’s first and last name  with the appropriate letter in alphabetical order.

Notice that most of your names, either first or last, are bunched up around a couple of letters. Get a glass of wine. Start slogging through the mess and rename the people.

Obviously, it’s better to do this before you start writing the story. It’s imperative that you do this before publication starts. Too bad we didn’t think of it until a month ago.

Now we play Name Bingo.

Susan: “What letters are open?”
Me: “I thought you were keeping the name list.”

Sometimes characters refused to be named. You think you know who they are and what they will do, but they don’t fully reveal themselves until they appear on paper. Whispers Detective Sergeant H. C. Drummond has so far refused to accept a conventional name. We assume his mother didn’t christen him with initials. And that’s part of the fun of writing a weekly serial, we are as surprised as the readers when a character acts in an unexpected way and the story takes a twist we hadn’t contemplated.

Susan says I have the name list around here somewhere. Wonder who has jumped on or off since we last checked it? Check in each Tuesday to find out.

The Whispers Mystery Serial appears weekly at www.Attractionmag.com.  There is a comment-and-question box at the end of each episode.  Please leave a note and tell us what you think… along with your name!

Cheril ThomasCheril Thomas, co-author of Whispers, lives and writes on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Her non-fiction work has appeared in Municipal Maryland. Her short fiction has been published by Wordpool Press and featured in Digital Papercut Literary Journal, as well as Wild Violet Literary Magazine. New fiction is forthcoming in Blinders Literary Journal. Her new novel, Adverse Possession, will be released in 2016.


NEW! Whispers, A Serial Adventure!

Logo for the New Mystery Serial Published in Attraction Magazine

Logo for the New Mystery Serial Published in Attraction Magazine

What do Whispersa new murder mystery and David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities have in common? They all first appeared as a Serial, not as a novel.

This bit of Charles Dickens trivia popped up during a breakfast one morning in the Carpenter Street Dining Room in St. Michaels.  Suddenly, Attraction publisher Richard Slaughter, Associate Publisher Jennifer Latham and I had the same thought:

“What if we offered a Serial story in Attraction?”  The idea took on a life of its own almost immediately.

[Thinking back on that moment, I shiver at little bit at the enormity of the idea and my gentle acceptance of the idea that this would be fun to do.  FUN TO DO?  In 32 episodes?  THIRTY-TWO, between now and December 1st?!  When I think how all this came about and so quickly, I begin to hyperventilate, but REALLY, what a great idea and such a super opportunity!  Let's continue with the story of how Whispers came to be.]

Charles Dickens pioneered the idea of publishing a novel in episodes or installments.  Today, we are familiar with the idea as we watch our favorite television programs week to week.  Charles Dickens developed the idea of a Serial so more people could afford to read his work.  Today, things are very different.  The internet delivers a constant – and instant – stream of free content.

Cheril ThomasThe Serialized novel was a good concept, but it needed a story.  Everyone loves a mystery so I brought in another local mystery writer, Cheril Thomas of Easton, Maryland — the county seat just up the road from St. Michaels — to help with the story development and writing responsibilities.  She is very creative, flexible and good at handling tight deadlines like these.

Cheril’s non-fiction work has appeared in Municipal Maryland.  Her short fiction has been published by Wordpool Press and featured in Digital Papercut Literary Journal, as well as Wild Violet Literary Magazine.  New fiction is forthcoming in Blinders Literary Journal.  Her new novel Adverse Possession will be released in 2016.

Keep in mind, we’d never worked together or collaborated on a story.  The Serial concept, the story and the ways of working were all new.

Reading and writing mystery fiction has been a lifelong passion of mine,” said Cheril.  “I love Susan’s St. Michaels/Silver Mystery series and am excited to be working with a writer of her caliber.”

[I had to include that quote from Cheril that was used in a publicity piece released around the launch of the serial.  Wasn't that nice for her to say?  She is an excellent writer, diligent, attentive to detail and a all-around very nice person to work with!] 

We went to work, wading through a lot of details and possibilities.  Almost immediately, we decided that the characters in Whispers should visit some actual special events on Maryland’s Mid-Shore as the story unfolded.  Many places are real, but, of course, none of the characters are based on real people, living … or dead.

Whispers, the story…

 Maggie Maitland, a wholesale antiques buyer and new resident of the Eastern Shore, is still reeling from the sudden death of her husband.  Just as she begins her new way of life, she is thrust into the spotlight as a suspect the man she believes killed her husband.  To clear herself and protect her best friends, Maggie starts her own investigation and attracts the attention of the real killer.

The serial launched on April 28th and a new episode appears each week on Tuesday at www.AttractionMag.com.  Check it out and tell us what you think in the comment box at the end of each episode.

I hope you have as much fun reading Whispers as Cheril and I are having writing it.  Check out the latest right here.  Whispers has its own tab above.

Now, I have to run…. I’m facing another episode deadline!


Signing at the Baltimore Book Festival!

SigningOn Saturday, September 27 from 6-8, I’ll be at the Eastern Shore Writers Association booth P-36 signing with my good friend, urban fantasy author Melinda VanLone.   (If you’re at the Festival earlier in the day, Melinda and I will be walking around, taking in the sights.  Just ask some at the booth to call us and we’ll come meet you!)

Yes! I’ll have the Book #3 in the St. Michaels/Silver Mystery Series, Painted Silver!

If you’re near the Baltimore Inner Harbor, come and see the boats, the writers and ALL THE BOOKS!  What a fabulous gathering of writers and readers…and the weather forecast is perfect.

Come and say Hello! I’d love to see you.  –Susan Reiss

A Writer’s Challenge

There’s always something trying to trip up a writer – a convoluted plot, pesky characters, a mountain of laundry… or an ongoing test of nerves caused by clattering dishes in the cupboard, the roar of diesel engines and the almost constant beeping of trucks backing up somewhere close.


construction cropped

I live in a small historical town on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay where just about everything is old, including the sewer system.  Last March, the town announced it was time to replace it and rebuild the streets as well.  Work would be done by mid-May!  Great idea!

I wasn’t born yesterday.  I tacked on another four weeks and settled in:   Little sleep since their workday starts at 6:30 AM and I like to write at night.   Diesel fumes.  One worker explained that it was better for the engines to keep them running.  For twenty minutes UNATTENDED?!  I could have gone for a joyride on a front-end loader.  The appearance of prehistoric-size crickets displaced from around the pipes five feet down.  At least they weren’t roaches.

Cody Small

And, there were prescription tranquilizers for Cody who hates loud noises and strangers in front of the house.



Then one afternoon, the bottom dropped out of the plan… and the street!

Behemoth cropped

To save time and money, the street-building contractor brought in an earth-mover to take up the old asphalt.  It was almost four car-lengths long and 14 feet high.  My little street was built on a bed of oyster shells on a high water table.  The behemoth caused the street to collapse 17” along a 260-foot stretch.

And there was the battle to save my beautiful, 40-foot weeping oak tree someone planted in the utility easement ground.  Not smart, but who knew there would be construction people itching to use their chain saws sixty years later?  I tried all the grownup communication channels, but one morning, I went out to get my newspaper and found an orange stake firmly planted in the ground to mark the construction line straight through the tree’s trunk.

That did it.  I marched down the center of the street toward a cluster of workmen, screeching!  Being an adult hadn’t worked so I kicked and screamed and threatened to lash myself to the tree after calling the media.  The threats worked.  The tree is safe.  Somehow, I finished my third book in the Silver Mystery series and Cody is off the meds.  The street?  Oh, they’re still working and it is August 5th, but I’m not counting anymore.  The crew chief politely texts me when traffic and access to my driveway will be disrupted.  Today, they’re laying asphalt… again.  I’m told this doesn’t mark the end.

I started a new book last night, so I guess this writer met the challenge and, with the help of a little civil disobedience, triumphed!


Storyboard a Novel? YES!

How a Screenwriting Tool Helps a Novelist

First, a definition: a storyboard is a visual representation or layout of a story.

A storyboard is an important step in the production of an animated cartoon, television show, major motion pictures, even a thirty-second TV ad. It shows the progress of the action, one step or scene at a time. Each scene is shown in a frame that includes a picture and some copy to describe what is happening, like this:

Storyboard Frame

Sample Frame

So, the storyboard is a collection of frames representing the action in the proper sequence. It can be as elaborate or simple as you like.

WAIT!  A writer’s storyboard should be simple. It’s not another reason – like doing the laundry – to postpone the writing. Leave the fancy drawings to movie production companies that have art directors on staff.

I don’t know about you, but it is hard for me to manage the action, plot development, character arc and all the other important story elements over twenty, thirty, forty chapters. I came out of television and film where the guiding or limiting factor was time. The longest script I’ve ever handled was 130 pages and that was long, because 1 page = 1 minute. The ideal film length is 120 minutes (or 120 pages). Compare that to Painted Silver, the third book in the Silver Mystery series: 340 pages!

I realized early in my career as a mystery writer that I was in deep trouble. As a screen producer, the storyboard was always my anchor so I quickly started adapting the old tool to my new profession. This is how I made it work for me:

1.  I went out and bought hundreds of index cards, some cork boards and colored markers.

2.  I made one card for every scene in the story. I’m a terrible artist so I skipped the drawing and put a word or two to describe the place. Also, I listed the characters appearing in each scene and identified the stage of the story, like Ordinary Life, Dead Body, Red Herring, etc.

3. Each main character was assigned a specific color – yellow for sleuth, blue for police investigator, red for the bad guy, and so on. Every time a character appeared on the storyboard, the name was highlighted in the appropriate color.

4.  Another color marked each stage of the story. Think Twelve Steps of the Hero’s Journey or the Five or Eight Basic Stages of a Mystery.

5.  All the cards went up in order on the cork boards with push pins. IMPORTANT: When I was done, I did NOT step back to admire my handiwork. I made myself a cup of tea.

6.  With a cuppa and a cookie, I came back, sat down and looked at a picture of my story then went to work to make it better.

A color-coded storyboard makes it easy to see the plot develop. It shows if the setup of the story is too long, if the murder is too late, if the investigation drags or the resolution is rushed (as in the new film, Malificent).

Focus on an individual character’s color. Do you see the character arc. Since an entertaining story requires the main character(s) to change in some way, it’s important to see how and where it happens. Is the change paced well or is it all jumbled up at the end? Is it so gradual that there is no real crisis or drama?

And a coded storyboard will show if a character disappears in the middle of the story and never seen again. This is critical since it’s important to “tie the ribbons” on every character’s story in some way.

GUARANTEE: It’s tough to see the shortcomings of what you thought was a terrific story, BUT it’s a lot less painful to see the problems on a storyboard than to throw out pages and pages of a manuscript!

Postscript: It turns out that I’m not the only one to see the advantage of using a storyboard for novel writing. John Truby, the great screenwriting guru and script doctor extraordinaire, is conducting a new seminar about applying the board to the novel in L.A., New York and London. Great Minds!


And the Winner is…

The cover designer of "Painted Silver" incorporated elements in the poster for the Name the Character Raffle.

The cover designer of “Painted Silver” incorporated elements in the poster for the Name the Character Raffle.

A local woman who lives close to St. Michaels took First Prize in the Name the Character Raffle.  Dr. Eleanor Welsh was surprised she won because “I haven’t won anything in 20 years and I think the prize was school supplies.  This prize is so much better!”  She bought the winning raffle ticket on a lark.  As the Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Chesapeake College, Wye Mills, Maryland, she thought it was a wonderful way to support the school.  All proceeds from the raffle went to the Chesapeake College Foundations for scholarships.

The day after her ticket was drawn, we worked together to create the character of a volunteer in the new St. Michaels/Silver Mystery series book, “Painted Silver.”  She brought a little helper to the writing session:  her 10 year-old granddaughter, Vivienne Welsh, who was thrilled to be involved and loves to write.

“Painted Silver” takes place at the Plein Air Easton Art Festival.  Gifted artists competing for big prizes and fame along with elite art collectors searching for their next acquisitions are drawn into a web of creative envy, greed… and murder.  I wrote a volunteer character into several scenes of the story, including some dialogue.  It was great fun to watch the accomplished academic scholar work with her granddaughter in hammering out the details.  Vivienne is very creative.

And the character?  Sara-V (named for Vivienne), known for her unique and unusual earrings, is a financial professional who has retired to the Shore and is enthusiastic about her volunteer work at Plein Air-Easton.  The reader meets her early in the mystery when she is talking to amateur sleuth and silver expert, Abby Strickland.  Sara-V sees a suspicious man at the edge of the woods.  Is he the murderer?  Will she become a victim when she takes off after him and…?

The book comes out tomorrow and will be available at Amazon and local Eastern Shore bookstores and shops.