Characters are the life blood of fiction. A good character description can make a piece of writing come alive. The characters I create have to have some basis in reality. I focus on the way they talk, walk, dress or something they like or hate. I create them from people I encounter I the real world. Writers always draw from what they know. The Writing Loft thought it might be worth a look at the process of how writers get this is done, the building of a believable character.

The easiest way to start building a character is by describing his appearance. By using people we know or have met, we can start to construct out character’s look. Do you want a nerdy, skinny bookworm or do you need a rough and tumble football player?

Remember, a character doesn’t have to match your real life model in every way. Sometimes a single aspect of a real person is the first building block you’ll need. Copying the look of a real person is easy. But it’s more fun to tweak that model and ultimately build someone from scratch.

Imagine your main character as a clean slate. First, is the character man or woman? Let’s start with a man. He is a clean slate. What will he look like? Will he be tall or short? Will he be clean-shaven or have a beard? Long hair or short hair? What about a limp? Tattoos? Scars?

Now our character needs to be dressed. Our indistinguishable male from anywhere in the world needs clothes that match the character’s image. Will he wear a business suit or overalls? Will he be shod in sneakers, sandals or wingtips?

Take a look at Sherlock Holmes and his trademark deerstalker cap and curved pipe. By comparison, his sidekick Dr. John Watson is practically nondescript. Remember Superman and his red cape (which never seemed to get in the way while fighting the bad guys). It seems clothes often DO make the man!

Physical description is good, but sometimes we don’t get much in this department from writers. And often there is a reason for that. By downplaying physical attributes the reader’s mind will fill in the blanks if it’s a story worth following. And with everyone filling in the blanks, the characters become more real and more personal to each individual reader. We are not burdened with thinking about the scar the author placed on the top male character for no apparent reason. You have the freedom to see the men and women as you want to see them.

However, the illusion of a character’s appearance is often destroyed when a book is made into a movie or television show.

From here we our steps in building a character can branch out in accents, likes and dislikes in food, climate, and books.

I’ve always found the places where characters live to be intriguing. Consider the American dust bowl described by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath. Compare that to mystery writer Stuart Woods’ character Stone Barrington who hangs out in the upper New York East Side restaurants. And then there is Batman and his secret cave!

Can you create a believable character from an unshaven man in overalls who chews tobacco and carries a knife with a rusty blade who offers analytical assessments about world affairs? It’s possible, but as a writer, you will have to take time to build that character properly.

After developing the look, we can delve into our character’s mind – what does he think? If your story’s primary character, a hard charging businessman, is modeled after your Wall Street cousin, maybe we could make the character a woman? Think of the changes you can make now in building this character. In this instance, it’s the mindset you want to duplicate.

Climbing into the mind of another person is tough enough. However, when you have to create the mind of another person, things get a little tricky. Do you want your character to be moralistic? That has to be demonstrated. You’ll need to build scenes where he is faced with difficult choices and struggles to follow the right path. Then there is the age-old question, “What is the right path?”

In adventure/mystery stories your character may be called upon to do something heinous, such as kill another human being. Can you justify that in your story? Will the community of your character be satisfied that his action was justified?

All of these questions are part of the character building process. And they can all start with deciding how he will look. Will he be tall or short, wearing sneakers or wingtips!



As 2011 comes to a close, I feel it is time to review writing goals and make some plans for 2012. First on my list is to revive The Writing Loft. I want to reach out to a wider audience and encourage more commentary. Posting in 2011 fell off a bit while I spent time marketing my novel – Cocaineros Duel – throughout the New England area. While on the road I found some future venues for my novel’s hero, Frank Reardon.

So, what’s the best way to energize your writing for the New Year?

Get involved with a writing group! If you belong to one already, make a bigger commitment. All too often we allow ourselves to fall into the category of being a “lurker,” someone who sits back, offers a few comments on the works of others, and sips the free coffee. Writing groups can be great places to get feedback. But remember, just as with computers, junk in, junk out!

Offer up something to be critiqued, a new chapter of your book or a piece of flash fiction – 500 to 750 words that tell a short story. Offer something, anything to get your juices flowing. Even if the person next to you isn’t your target reader and hates your genre, that person still may have some good suggestions about structure, dialog or pacing.

Finding a good writing group can be challenging. Not everyone in the group has to share your genre. Start off by asking yourself if the other group members are the kind of people you would like to call friends. I’ve visited a few different groups for several sessions only to discover I simply didn’t mesh with the other people.

I remember one group that rotated meeting among the homes of members. The group would arrive and immediately give the host’s home the white glove treatment. There were snickers and quiet comments on the home decorating, quality of the refreshments being offered and, of course, comments about the poor member who couldn’t show up that day. That wasn’t a group for me. I left before my home came up in the rotation to be host. My advice: find a group that meets on neutral turf. Consider a library, social club or church hall . . . all good alternatives!

Writers should attend writing groups fully expecting to be critiqued. But members should recognize the difference between honest, constructive criticism and hurtful remarks. After all, the ultimate goal is to improve and polish the piece, not tear it down. A “friend” recognizes this concept.

What do you bring to read at a writing group? Should your contribution be something short or long? The answer to that question depends on the frequency with which the group meets, the size of the group and the length of time for the gathering. Generally, groups meet one to two hours a couple of times a month. Share the critique time.

Generally, I find it difficult to bring book chapters. It’s tough for members to maintain continuity with the numerous projects other members have in the works. But if the group is open-minded and they have enough context of the full work, book chapters can be an option. Just plan accordingly.

A short story is a good choice for discussion within a group. A piece 1,500 to 2,500 words is doable. It can demonstrate your skills within a set structure and later can be expanded, maybe even into a book.

Diary entries can be interesting, too. For example, I’ve written more than 100 vignettes about my days as a reporter and editor for newspapers. I often share them with my writing group.

All in all, you need to bring something to the table and let a fresh set of eyes have a look at it! And then, listen . . . and learn!


Herman Melville's tombstone in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx portrays a blank page, supposedly representing the blank page at the end of life.

When I get overwhelmed I dream about getting on a ship and sailing away. The wide open seas call to me on from the land and I wish I could spend my times riding the waves.

I like to believe the writer Herman Melville must have felt that way. He gave us the adventure novel Moby Dick, a tale that has excited people for generations. The book is believed to be based on an 18-month voyage he took on a whaler from New Bedford, Massachusetts, around Cape Horn to the South Pacific.

Herman Melville was born in New York City in 1819 and died in New York City in 1891. Buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, the front of Melville’s tombstone displays a sculpted blank page. Legend says the single blank pages represents the blank page at the end of life. That’s a pretty gutsy way for a writer to make a final statement. Or maybe he just wanted us to finish the story.

Or maybe that blank “statement” was his way of getting back at some people. It was said that around the time of his death he was so forgotten that there were probably more people who believed he had died years earlier than knew he was still alive.

I find it amusing, however, that Melville, so identified with the sea, was buried in the only borough of New York on Continental United States and not on one of the island boroughs!


Once Again, Jeannine C. Stauder has stepped up and provided The Writing Loft with a book review. This offering is The Leaf Peeper Murders by the writing team of Loni Emmert and P. I. Barrington.

Button Hollow Chronicles No. 1
The Leaf Peeper Murders
by Loni Emmert and P. I. Barrington
Published by Mainly Murder Press

Available at:

Review by Jeannine C. Stauder

Two suicides within days of each other, each by a self-inflected gun shot, has rattled the residents of Button Hollow, especially Sheriff Jeff Ramsey. While neither victim was a sterling citizen, no friend or foe of either would believe they would end their own lives. Sheriff Ramsey has a deep feeling that these two people were murdered and begins to investigate, going against the wishes of Mayor Tom Rutledge who prefers the verdict to be suicide. The shooting death of a third person, a true homicide, convinces the sheriff the deaths are related.

At the same time, the sleepy town has become home to a couple of nefarious characters who have the misfortune to tangle with Citizens’ Brigade leader, Anne Jolie Watson. She is on her own mission to prove that drug activity is taking place in the town. She is a constant thorn in Sheriff Ramsey’s side and it doesn’t help that the sheriff’s deputy, Rod Hargesty is Anne Jolie’s nephew and a good source of insider information for his aunt.

Anne Jolie convinces Bert Fussberger, another member of the Citizens’ Brigade to join her on a stake-out of a neighbor’s barn where Anne Jolie suspects drugs are being made. The stake-out fizzles when the two are knocked out, tied-up and driven to the edge of a cliff with the purpose of being pushed over. They are saved, but Anne Jolie, who knows everything and is always right, continues to keep a watchful eye on her neighbors.

Sheriff Ramsey’s beautiful and educated wife, Sharon, suddenly decides to pursue the career she forewent to move to Button Hollow as the wife of the town sheriff. Her interest in leaving Button Hollow for Boston hurts and confuses her husband. He has relied on Sharon’s support and comfort and now when his plate is overflowing with crime, he’s alone and worried for the future of his marriage.

Deputy Rod Hargesty, not known for his dedication to his job, takes on a new persona and works diligently with Sheriff Ramsey to discover the criminals behind the drug manufacturing and the killer of Button Hollow’s citizens. Anne Jolie is thrilled to finally be taken seriously by the sheriff and involved in the solution of the case.

This seemingly gentle story is filled with twists and turns that keep the reader engrossed. The authors have fully developed the personalities of the characters so the reader cares about them. They’ve arranged and rearranged the suspects during the story so interest is held to the end.

And all ends well in Button Hollow. The fact that The Leaf Peeper Murders is titled Chronicle No. 1 means more will follow. Will we have another Jessica Fletcher, albeit noisier, and will Button Hollow become another Cabot Cove? Stay tuned


Jeannine C. Stauder
Jeannine Stauder divides her time between sea-level Connecticut and the mountains of Colorado, where she is a member of the Steamboat Springs Writers. She wrote the stories of people’s lives for many years in her professional capacity as an adoption coordinator and family therapist. Insight into the emotional workings of adults and youths provided the groundwork for her writing career.

She has written short stories for middle- school-age and teenagers as well as adult short stories. She received first place in a Pen Works contest for creative non-fiction and third place for short fiction and poetry. Her poems are published in Voices of The Valley. A retired Marriage and Family Therapist, she is a book reviewer for The Writing Loft and a member of Mystery Writers of America. Her first Young Adult novel is Saturday’s Child.

P. I. Barrington and Loni Emmert

California sisters P.I. Barrington and Loni Emmert fell in love with New England during fall vacations in Maine and New Hampshire. Loni has spent the past twenty-five years working in the music industry and writing press releases and magazine articles. P.I.’s experience includes work as a newspaper journalist, radio air talent, and at a major record company. P.I.’s first suspense novel, Crucifying Angel, was released in 2009. They are members of Sisters in Crime and Romance Writers of America.

As basic as putting pen to paper (boy, that’s archaic!), I mean fingers to the keyboard, writers must understand the fundamentals of “The Interview.” Without that understanding, our writing can become a blathering stream of consciousness relying on the expertise of no one in particular. The Writing Loft decided to explore this topic and share some tales from the past.

Reporters interview people all the time to gather facts for their stories. Historians interview people to learn the back story of a period of time. Fiction writers should be interviewing people to help build their characters. It’s all information gathering and every interview should have a goal, be it a story, a lively quote or a deeper understanding of an issue.

Asking the obvious

I once interviewed a jet pilot from the Vietnam War. As an officer with nerves of steel, he flew many, many missions and always came home safely. I asked him if he was ever, even once during any of those missions, just a little frightened.

The pilot stopped speaking and finally he said “yes.”

“When?” I quickly followed up.

The pilot told me he was most frightened on the day Peace was to take place after all the treaties were signed. Peace was to be declared by both sides at noon on a specific day. All activities of war were to end. But on that day, at noon, this pilot and his squadron were 200 miles north of the DMZ, having just completed one last early morning bombing run.

“We were all racing through the sky to get back over the DMZ and into South Vietnam’s airspace.” He said he was frightened and knew everyone else in his squadron shared the same fear. “None of us wanted to be the last guy shot down by someone below who hadn’t gotten the word about the Peace Accords or didn’t know the time.”

It was an emotional story prompted by a single question. It was the best question of the interview because it got my subject to tell a story in his own words and express a deep personal emotion.

Questions from outside the box

Interviewers should also explore asking the unusual question. This tactic often gets the memories flowing from deep within the interviewee. Another time during my newspaper career I interviewed a former CIA agent who spent 20 years in a Chinese prison. The agent was recruited right out of college to do spy flights over China. On his first mission he was shot down and captured. He was a prisoner for most of his young adulthood. For two decades he was denied news reports of things happening in the United States.

I knew it had to be an unimaginable hell. So I tried to turn things around a bit.

“What was the best day of your captivity?” I asked.

He looked at me and said “That’s easy. It was the day the Chinese admitted they held me captive.”

I was puzzled.

“You see, for the first seven years of my captivity the Chinese denied having me. Once they admitted I was their prisoner they could no longer walk in and put a bullet in my head. They had to account for me after that point,” he explained.

That was his life for his twenties and thirties and part of his forties, a prisoner. And for most of his twenties, he lived in fear of being shot on a whim.

For writers, the lesson here is to ask the unusual. Try and get your subject thinking.

Planning questions in advance

I learned the hard way to plan my questions in advance. However, the second part of this lesson is to never ever ask a question that can be answered with a one word answer.

I once attended a national press conference featuring then-presidential candidate George H. W. Bush (soon to be Bush 41) to my area. I was determined to push forward and get a question asked and answered at the event and not be intimidated by the national media. I had researched an issue, read all the national publications I could find for days in advance and crafted a clear concise original question.

I elbowed my way to the front, hollered “Mr. Bush, Mr. Bush,” with the best of them and was finally recognized. I stood, clearly enunciated my question and Mr. Bush looked me square in the eye and said, “No, next.”

That was it. I had a two letter, one word answer of “No” to build my story upon. Lesson learned (as stated earlier), no matter how sharp your elbows are, never allow an interview subject the opportunity to answer a question with a single word!

Technology is only a tool

Finally, every writer who has ever used a recoding device has run into a problem. Expect dead batteries, bungled tapes, damaged chips or flash drives. Electronic tools are great . . . when they work! Check power lines and batteries in advance. Familiarize yourself with every operation of you device. You may not get a chance to correct a problem. In short, be prepared for the worst! Enough said on this topic!


William Barclay (a.k.a. Bat) Masterson gave up the life of a western gunfighter to become a New York sportswriter. He who wrote primarily about boxing in New York. people still visit his grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. As pictured here, some people leave mementoes, small whiskey bottles they drank from to toast him (see bottom of tombstone) and bullets (see top of tombstone).

Some people are lucky enough to spend their entire working life as a writer. Others transition into writing from other worlds. The Writing Loft decided to explore the one person who came to writing from another unusual career path. William Barclay “Bat” Masterson was originally a western gunfighter and lawman who ended up as a New York newspaper sports writer! It seemed appropriate to look at Bat Masterson in the aftermath of the World Series and the start of the football season.

Bat Masterson’s place of birth (about 1854) is a matter of debate. Some sources list Illinois while others list Canada. He had several law enforcement jobs out west that involved gunfighting, including a stint as a deputy to Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, Kansas. He drifted up to Trinidad, Colorado, where he was Marshall.

Ultimately, he made his way to Denver where he began promoting prize fights. He soon started writing a weekly sports column for a Denver newspaper. Taking to the road he ended up in New York City where he again joined a newspaper staff, The New York Morning Telegraph, as a sportswriter, then columnist and finally sports editor.

He was a friend of writer Damon Runyon and President Theodore Roosevelt, who appointed him Deputy U.S. Marshall for the Southern District of New York.

Masterson lived in New York at a time when the city was full of scalawags of all stripes. And rumor has it, Masterson fit right in. When he was broke, he allegedly went to pawn shops and bought old pistols which he sold to rubes in the city. He claimed the old guns were the weapons he used during his time in the west.

Masterson died at the age of 67 in 1921 sitting at his typewriter composing a newspaper column. His age alone distinguished him from other gunfighters from the wild west. Upon his death, his body was taken to Campbell’s, the famous New York funeral parlor, where a simple service was held in its chapel. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York. Several bullets were found atop his tombstone on the day The Writing Loft visited his grave, a unique tribute to a different kind of man and writer who lived in New York.

His large upright marker is emblazoned with the simple epitaph: “Loved by Everyone.”


The Writing Loft has encountered writers from all walks of life, including a retired teacher who travels the country in an RV to a member of the Alaska legislature. Recently, Judy Campbell, an author in the stable of writers from Mainly Murder Press popped up. Judy is a member of the clergy . . . and she kills people, with kindness and on paper!

I thought it was unusual to be both a murder mystery writer and an ordained minister. It’s a combo that opens up a world a sacrilegious jokes I won’t engage in here. Immediately, I offered her an opportunity to be a guest blogger here to explain how her two work lives – on and off the pages of her novels and in the pulpit – blend together.

Take it away, Judy!

Ministry and murder—most unlikely bedfellows

Good Day, John. And murky blessings to all.

Ministry and murder are most unlikely bedfellows, but put them together and they make for a good story and a good teaching tool.

I am a Unitarian Universalist minister. For years I served a church on Martha’s Vineyard before returning to community ministry. Now I travel across the country and to England leading religious and spiritual retreats, writing workshops and in my spare time writing (unholy) mysteries. My books are about people who do bad things in the name of, or in the guise of religion. If you pick up any newspaper or watch the news on TV, you know there is plenty of grist for my literary mill.

My protagonist, Olympia Brown, is a lady minister. Her partner in sleuthing is a gay Roman Catholic priest. Why that combination? Because it raises eyebrows; it gets your attention. We write what we know. I’m a minister. I know how ministers think and act and the problems they confront. Why a gay priest? My sub-agenda in writing these stories is challenging cultural stereotypes.

Fr. Jim Sawicki is one of the finest most dedicated human beings you’ll ever meet—even if he is fictional. He’s also not a pedophile. He and Olympia are an owl and pussy cat combination, best friends forever, each with a secret tragedy which shapes them as characters and helps to drive the action of the plot.

The first in the series, A Deadly Mission, is about a college student who becomes entangled in a nasty and manipulative religious cult. Olympia and Father Jim risk their lives and challenge the academic and religious establishment to save her life. It’s fast moving and my readers tell me they can’t put it down.

The second, due out in June 2011, An Unspeakable Mission, is about date rape, incest, and domestic violence. Olympia Brown and Fr. Jim Sawicki must prove a suspicious death is accidental and not murder. But evidence to the contrary is mounting and the off-beat clerical twosome have little time to learn the truth and prevent the daughter that the dead man abused for years, from ending her own life.

And woven into this are several continuing sub-plots. Olympia is restoring an antique home in Southeastern Massachusetts. In that house there is a nosy and outspoken house-ghost who has a story of her own. Olympia is trying to locate a daughter she gave up for adoption over 30 years ago. And Olympia’s gentleman friend from England wants to ask her an important question, but she’s not listening.

If you think about it, all of life is a mystery and I am not the first person to have that idea. What I can do is take chapters of those human dramas I have witnessed over the years, fictionalize them, and weave them into stories that entertain as well as inform. That’s what I want when I read a book, and that’s what I give to my readers.
Welcome to my world.

Rev. Judith Campbell, a.k.a. The Sinister Minister!


Bob Hope’s theme song was “Thanks for the memories.” Maybe he knew something way back then the rest of us are just learning today. People really do have a deep interest in the past.

If you go to your local bookstore these days you’ll notice it seems that every celebrity – big and small and those aspiring to become bigger celebrities – has a memoir published about their climb to the top. Trust me, most of these people aren’t that interesting, and few are as popular as Bob Hope was at his zenith. Nevertheless, it seems we have a fascination with the lives of others.

Check out your local newspapers and the odds are good that you will also see lots of library classes on writing family histories. With the explosion of various self-publishing companies that offer small press runs, every family can now have a bound family history. The readership of such volumes may be small, but they are important – to you and your loved ones!

Let’s look at what’s needed for a good family history.

Your first challenge is to develop a story line. Do you want to start with where you family came from originally? The common thread that runs through all American families is that, with the exception of Native Americans, we all came from some other country and culture base. You could track you family through the various waves of immigration and cherry-pick out the story of your great grandparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles parents or cousins.

You might want to collect old photos for your memoir edition. A photo will help illustrate your memoir/family history. Pictures put events into a timeline. They will depict the clothes people wore in the past, the cars they drove, These tidbits, along with the look of the old neighborhoods, will demonstrate how much time has passed and what cultural changes have happened over the years in a specific geographic area. In one of my old neighborhoods the family drug store was replaced by a jerk chicken restaurant, an apartment building has been replaced by a firehouse and the convent where the nuns of my grade school lived is now a halfway house for those with addictions. Time marches on and neighborhood cultures change.

To spice up you volume, sprinkle a few family recipes through your memoir. People may enjoy knowing that they can still enjoy the same food that was prepared by mom, grandma or your favorite aunt.

The real work in preparing a memoir comes when you’re ready to start interviewing relatives. At this point you have to develop a list of interview candidates. Plan to speak with as many of your relatives as possible.

The goal is to speak with the oldest family members and hope they have the deepest memories. It may be helpful to have pre-interviews with the generation just below the oldest. These people may give you story tips to investigate and jog the memories of the oldest family members. Go into the interview with prepared questions. This will help you keep your subject on track.

When it comes to the writing, ask yourself at the very beginning about your approach to the project. It’s at this point you have to commit to a specific story line. Will you simply start with the oldest or youngest and work your way to the opposite generation? Or will you select an overall theme that you hit upon and go from there?

Either method will work. Sooner or later, however, you’ll have to delve into a chronological order of who came first, who begat who. This will allow you to work from the past forward of the present backwards.

Once all these steps are completed, it’s production time. You can prepare a handwritten journal or you can send your manuscript out to be bound and printed. The choice is yours.

And sure as anything, someone will say “Thanks for the memories!”


Steve Liskow continues with his string of mysteries. Who Wrote the Book of Death? is the latest for this Connecticut writer.

Continuing with reviews of new books, The Writing Loft offers a review of Who Wrote the Book of Death? written by Steve Liskow.

Who Wrote the Book of Death?
Written by Steve Liskow

Reviewed here by
Jim Bair

Who Wrote the Book of Death? follows its own advice. Two of its three main characters are writers. At various times they discuss or ponder the things that make for good stories. Author Liskow has created a thriller that is a lot fun to read.

The third chief character, private detective Greg Nines, is called in as security for the beautiful romance writer Taliesyn Holroyd. Ms. Holroyd has had two near misses with death as the book begins. Much of the tension in the story comes from the continued threats and attempts on her life.

What complicates the story and the mystery is that Taliesyn Holroyd is the pen name of two writers who collaborate in an unusual way. Neither writer has any enemies as far as they know, and no one is even sure which of the two writers the stalker is after—or if the person thinks one of them is the “real” Ms. Holroyd.

There are some suspects: one writer’s ex-husband, a U. S. senator whose life is being fictionalized in the latest Holroyd novel, and the family of a boy who some think is the senator’s illegitimate son. Everyone seems to have an alibi, and nothing makes sense except that someone wants someone else dead.

Nines works on the security in the house where one writer lives and the other is staying. It is clear the suspect has closely observed the house and its inhabitants’ comings and goings. Attempts on their lives become more frequent—and Nines has to protect his charges but has no idea who or why. Can Nines success in thwarting the stalker before either writer is killed? Further complicating things is that while Nines has taken all kinds of precautions to set alarms and thwart unwanted entry into the house, it becomes clear that the stalker (or someone hired by the stalker) knows electrical systems and alarms very well.

The mystery stalker is reminiscent of similar thrillers like Mary Higgins Clark’s Daddy’s Little Girl or Frederick Knott’s Wail Until Dark (which is alluded to in the story). It borrows some of the mystery from the Sherlock Holmes story “The Red-Headed League.” But something else besides the tense plot keeps the story going—the characters. Both writers and the detective are puzzled by who would want to kill one or both of them, but at the same time they all have their secrets. As the story reveals the truth about who they really are, we begin to care more about them. I suspect that many readers will want to read more about Greg Nines and “Taliesyn Holroyd.”

The author has some fun since he is writing about authors. What motivates people to write? Is it to entertain? Is it therapy? Or is it to create a world that somehow magnifies the one we live in? From time to time we get to read some of the writers’ work. It is not as good as Liskow’s own voice, but in all fairness, they are mostly rough drafts. The author has a little fun with an occasional metaphor or simile that echoes Philip Marlowe like “she wears jeans that hug her curves like a lover.” If the writer is having fun, so should the reader.

One caution: Ms. Holroyd writes popular “bodice-ripper” romances. There are some steamy sex scenes, mostly from her romances, but towards the end some of the “real” characters have their own.

The story is set in central Connecticut; the author knows the location and gets it right. (I used to be a regular customer at one of the stores where Ms. Holroyd has a book signing when I had family who lived nearby.) Hopefully, Mr. Liskow himself won’t encounter Ms. Holroyd’s problems because a certain U. S. senator from Connecticut appears to be the model for the senator in the story…

This book is available through http://www.mainlymurderpress.com, http://www.Amazon.com and http://www.BarnesandNoble.com.

Author Steve Liskow has published stories in three anthologies of New England crime writing and has twice won Honorable Mention for the Al Blanchard Story Award. “Stranglehold” won the Wolfe Pack’s 2009 Black Orchid Novella Award and appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine during the summer of 2010. A member of MWA and Sisters in Crime, he is working on a private eye series and a novel based on his previous life as an English teacher. He lives in Connecticut.

Jim Bair is an English teacher and occasional freelance writer and editor. Over the years he has written numerous articles and book reviews. He authored the English grammar software Grammar Slammer sold at http://www.englishplus.com. Before going into teaching, he had been a law enforcement officer with the Coast Guard and a bookstore manager.


It amused me recently when I looked around and saw how much popular fiction writing was linked to food, specifically the preparation, cooking and consumption of very specific types of foods by our favorite characters. Along with the food, there was also drinking, lots and lots of drinking.

Following this thread of logic, it should be no surprise American over-eating has become the chosen cause of First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) Michelle Obama. The Writing Loft decided to don its investigative apron, check out the spice rack and delve into this literary stew.

Spenser, the formidable Boston detective created by the late mystery writer Robert Parker, was a gourmet at heart. Despite his constant search for the perfect beer (He seemed to finally settle on Belgian Blue Moon Ale), the investigator with a heart was always on the lookout for a decent restaurant, which could be the perfect hot dog stand in Glouster or five-star restaurant often selected by his main squeeze Susan Silverman in downtown Boston.

But Spenser always seemed to be able to come home after a hard day of sleuthing and whip up a restaurant quality meal with little more than Ritz crackers and mayonnaise. A little of this and a dash of that, saute for five minutes and pour over pasta or fresh greens (who just HAPPENS to always have fresh greens available?) and serve. He made it seem so easy while he let the perfectly matched wine breathe.

I read once that someone in Japan published a book of Spenser’s recipes. Alas, I’ve never been able to find it. If anyone out there has seen it, send along the name of the book, the publisher and any other details.

Phillip R. Craig, author of the mystery series featuring fisherman sleuth J.W. Jackson, offered up three recipes using lobsters, croissants, and Champagne in Dead in Vineyard Sand.

Craig, also recently deceased, offered actual recipes in the back of his books, in essence a two-fer deal, mystery/cookbook, for his readers.

The Jackson series, always based on Martha’s Vineyard, was the ultimate beach read, too!

New York City socialite investigator Stone Barrington (gotta love that name), created by author Stuart Woods, holds court on a regular basis in the famous upper East Side restaurant Elaine’s. From his corner table, Barrington assesses his cases and mingles effortlessly with New York’s high society engaged in low-class activities. Elaine’s is one of those “be seen” in eateries. The food is top end, but “making the scene” is more important.

Barrington does enjoy the finer things of life. With that in mind, Woods shared his recipe for the perfect Vodka Gimlet on his website.

He suggests you pour six ounces from a 750 ml bottle of vodka, believing the poured off booze will be used in an appropriately by a reader, and fill the empty spot in the bottle with Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice and a tiny bit of water. Then, shake the bottle and place it in the freezer over night. Woods further suggests an excellent martini can be made by using 5 ounces of vermouth in a 750 ml bottle of gin.

Good stuff to know.

There was always a lot of drinking and eating in Ernest Hemingway’s work. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway’s character Robert Jordan drinks absinthe while fighting with the loyalists in Spain. Hem turns to absinthe again in Death in the Afternoon where it is mixed with Champagne. In his book A Moveable Feast, Hemingway describes the joy of eating oysters in Paris.

Go deeper into the early years of Hemingway’s career and you’ll uncover a piece he wrote for the Toronto Star. In “Camping Out: When you Camp Out, Do it Right,” the future Pulitzer Prize winner describes frying a freshly caught trout.

Some years ago I spent a rainy afternoon in a lodge in the Tobeatic Wilderness area of Nova Scotia with a Cajun from New Orleans learning the proper etiquette of drinking Havana Club Rum from Cuba, a favorite of Hemingway’s.

All this gorging of food and drinking of booze runs through everyday literature. And readers are recruited to the topic early in life. A lot of the interest might have started with Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss!