Monday, July 28, 2014

Interview and Book Giveaway With Donna Fletcher Crow

by Jeff Reynolds

I'm excited to have Donna Fletcher Crow back with Sleuths and Suspects. We'll be giving away a copy of her latest Monastery Murder (e-book) -- check to see what the rules are below.


This is the third time Donna has been here. Heidi Glick interviewed her about three years ago when the first Monastery Murder, A Very Private Grave, was released. Last year, I interviewed her about the third book, An Unholy Communion. If you want to recall those interviews, here are the links:

Jeff Reynolds:  Welcome back to Sleuths and Suspects, Donna. Let me start by asking you what's new with you both in the literary world and in the literal one (other than the most recent Monastery Murder) since you last visited us in April, 2013?

Donna Crow: 
Thank you, Jeff. I’m delighted to be back. I always love visiting with readers. Top of the list in the “What’s new?” category has to be two new grandchildren. Our daughter Elizabeth in Calgary had Lucy Alexandra last September and our daughter-in-law Mindy here in Boise gave birth to Asher Hudson in March. That brings the grand total to 13 grandchildren.

In my writing life my 44th book, A Jane Austen Encounter, Book 3 in my Elizabeth and Richard literary suspense series came out last autumn.

JR:  The Monastery Murders are towards the top of my list of my all-time favorite series, and Father Anthony is my favorite fictitious character (I could make a joke that he took over from fellow Brit James Bond, but Bond was displaced when I was still in High School -- by Hercule Poirot as well as others). Would you like to tell us about the latest addition to the series?

DC: What wonderful company for Father Antony! And I’m sure he’s very honoured. But I’m afraid Antony needs all the support you can give him this time because he really has his hands full in A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary. Felicity is off to do a spot of translating for a community of nuns in Oxford and in spite of Antony’s warning her not to get into trouble we all know her proclivity for running headlong into danger. Then he learns that he must rush to the bedside of his Uncle Edward who raised Antony and his sister. All that just a few days before he is to lead a seminar of students in Oxford. Then he finds out that Felicity has forged an uneasy friendship with his estranged sister Gwena and expects him to make peace in the family. Then one of his students is killed in a ghastly accident. Or was it an accident?

JR:  In your previous interview you referred to this book as A Muffled Tolling. What led to the renaming of the book?

  That’s right, Jeff. A Muffled Tolling was my working title for this book because English change-ringing and the tradition of muffling, or more specifically half-muffling, bells for funerals and commemorations of the dead—something that has always fascinated me—is such an important part of this story. This seemed particularly appropriate because the book is set at the time of All Souls’ and my daughter had told me about her experience of muffling bells at Oxford for the commemoration.

My editor, however, didn’t feel it sounded sufficiently mysterious. We worked very hard on this title, e-mailing long lists of possibilities (some of them quite dreadful) back and forth until the word “crimsoned”  jumped out at me from an Easter hymn. Reliquaries are an important part of the plot as well, so bells were abandoned for the title. “Newly” was my editor’s contribution. This was all quite a process, but I’m pleased with the results in the end.

JR:  Hope you don't mind if I regress to your previous installment, An Unholy Communion. That story had a very strong spiritual warfare theme. What inspired that focus, and how does that focus relate to us in the U.S. in 2014?

DC:  One of the reasons I write murder mysteries is because they so clearly illustrate the clash between good and evil in our world and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Certainly that struggle is presented more concretely in An Unholy Communion because my characters are faced with actual satanic worship. This was a very hard book to write because I had to research the occult and learned things I’d really rather not know about. I chose the theme, though, because I wanted to show the reality of evil in our world. None of the demonic manifestations in my plot are made up. They are all based on experiences recorded by priests working in Deliverance ministry.

JR:  An interesting thing about spiritual warfare is that it often manifests in the physical realm, and A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary gives some illustrations of it, dealing with persecution believers endure both from unbelievers and from those who claim the name of Christ. Do you see persecution of Christians as a threat in our society? If so, how can we prepare for it?

When I was a child demonic practices like those in An Unholy Communion were something missionaries told about when they returned from foreign fields. Certainly nothing that would happen here. And the persecution of Christians happened in Roman times and behind the Iron Curtain. I am constantly amazed at how close to home all of that has come just in my lifetime. I think the only possible defense is a strong prayer life and a supportive community of believers.

JR:  The highlight in this novel (I could say the highlight in the series, though the youth pilgrimage in An Unholy Communion rivals that) is the debate between an atheist and Father Anthony. So let me ask my usual multi-part question: First, should apologetics be a part of our lives as a believer? Second, is telling stories more effective than dealing with, for example, the classic arguments of God's existence which Father Anthony considered using?

You never do ask easy questions do you, Jeff? That debate was nothing I had ever planned to write. I usually try to make my arguments less combatively, but debating is such a hallowed Oxford tradition (my model for the evening was actually the Oxford Union, but I didn’t call it that) that the scene just fell into place.

I certainly believe we need to know what we believe and why we believe it. I believe theology is very important. The question is how to present it best to a world that really doesn’t want to listen. For that, look to the Scriptures: Jesus told parables. The Bible itself is a narrative—the story of God’s redemptive acts among His people. 

JR:  What's next, both in the Monastery Mysteries and in your other fictious endeavors?

Last week I sent The Flame Ignites, an Elizabeth and Richard prequel to my publisher. This goes back to 1984 and tells how Elizabeth and Richard first met. All the books in that series have literary figures in the background and for this book it’s the beloved American novelist Elswyth Thane and Rudyard Kipling.

Later today I will start the next Monastery Murder, which I’m calling An All-Consuming Fire. Antony has been asked to narrate a BBC documentary on the English Mystics Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing. Felicity is determined to stay quietly behind in the Community of the Transfiguration because her mother (remember the prickly Cynthia from A Darkly Hidden Truth?) is coming over to spend Christmas with her and help her prepare for their Epiphany wedding. I am wondering just how well that will work out.

JR:  Thank you for your time, Donna. To refresh everybody's memory, how can they keep up with your latest activities?

  Thank you, Jeff. It’s always a delight to visit with you and I love the opportunity to get acquainted with your readers.

To read more about all of my books and see pictures from my garden and research trips, including my bell-ringing lesson with the Oxford University Society of Change Ringers, go to:  and I would love to have you follow me on Facebook at:

Jeff to reader:  At this point, it's time for a giveaway of an e-book version of A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary. Here are the rules:
  1. Leave a comment. That easy enough?
  2. Include your e-mail address so we can notify you. You can write it out if you wish, like AuntDotKahm(at)Ant(dot)com.
  3. Finally, what do you think is the best way to prepare for persecution/spiritual warfare/defending the faith? Or do you think these issues are better left to theologians and ministers?

Monday, July 21, 2014

FBI Houston Citizens Academy

Guest Blogger: DiAnn Mills

Posted by K. L. Bridgewater

When I received the invitation from the FBI Houston Community Outreach Coordinator to participate in their Citizens Academy, all I could think about was the research at my fingertips and the potential of taking a future suspense novel to the next notch of credibility. Actually, my aspirations were selfish. During the seven week course, I grew as a citizen who cared more deeply about stopping and preventing crime in my city.
 Displaying FBI logo.png            The Citizens Academy is offered yearly to thirty of Houstons citizens: professionals from all walks of life, religious leaders, and others who are actively involved in the community. I was the only writer and considered the invitation an honor. The nominations are made by FBI personnel and Citizens Academy alumni. I was recommended by Houston FBIs media coordinator. Wed become good friends, and she knew my concern about providing accuracy in my novels where the FBI is depicted.
            The goal of the academy is to give those taking the class a glimpse of the FBI and how its special agents serve within their investigations. This method of outreach is popular in cities all over our country.
            The mission of the FBI is to protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners. It performs these responsibilities in a way that is responsive to the needs of the public and faithful to the Constitution of the United States.
 Displaying DiAnn Target Practice.jpg           The class met eight times, once a week from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the FBI Houston office, and they provided dinner. An appetizing perk! The first night we arrived early for fingerprinting and a drivers license check. Handguns were not permitted, even for those who had a concealed handgun license (CHL), and cell phones remained in the FBI reception area until the exited the building. Those persons who needed to contact us were given a special number. Laptops stayed at home, but we were presented with notebooks that contained a detailed outline about each session.
            The presentations through lecture, guests, and powerpoint revealed the raw and gritty crimes that snake through our city. My heart went out to young girls and boys caught up in prostitution. The prevalence of human trafficking in the bad and elite neighborhoods opened my eyes. Hate crimes yanked anger I didnt realize was there. Terrorism here and abroad, espionage, scams, intelligence, and evidence response teams gave me valuable information to share with others.
            The final meeting took place on a Saturday morning at their firearms facility, and we could bring a guest. I brought my husband, and he outshot me. But I got over it. The firearms were heavy, and accuracy would take practice. We witnessed a thrilling SWAT demo, FBI simulation training, and firearm instructions. Wow! Maybe Id missed my calling.
          We learned about the various investigations from the special agents who were in charge of those areas or who had worked a specific crime. Listening to the special agents discuss their fields of expertise filled me with knowledge that I continue to share. We also learned the process of how particular crimes and cold cases had been solved. Forensics fascinated me, and we were present to demonstration and experiments to show critical evidence.
The following is a list of what the FBI investigates:
     Cyber Crime
     Public Corruption
     Civil Rights
     Organized Crime
     White-Collar Crime
     Violent Crimes & Major Thefts         

            Since graduating from the academy
    Ill never look at a tattoo the same way again. Some gang markings are embedded in my brain.
    Ill never look at a massage parlor with indifference again.
    Ill never look at a low-life bar again without questioning a possible crime in the making.
    My cell phone is no longer used while Im walking through a public area. Victims use phones and are oblivious to a possible crime against them.
    I took additional steps to learn how to defend myself against a potential crime.
    I scrutinize my surroundings before exiting my car in public places, and I do the same before returning to my vehicle.
    I tell others about crime awareness.   
    I know how to contact the FBI with possible crime information. And Ive done this.
    My story ideas have grown deeper with the understanding of the skills needed and sacrifices made by FBI special agents to insure our safety.    
            Most of the above are common sense items, but all of us get sidetracked in the business of life.     For those interested in additional information about the FBI, its mission, and investigations, check out
 Displaying firearminstructor.jpg           Many story ideas developed during the academy, including the new series FBI: Houston. Research for Firewall began during this thrilling and informative academy.
            Im proud of our FBI and their accomplishments. I look forward to more active participation in the Citizens Academy Alumni Programlots of exciting events have taken place. Ive met more courageous people to bless my life and provide a solid foundation for my work as a concerned citizen of Houston. A trip to Washington will give me more information and hand-on experience for the future. Im now in the process of training to be a speaker in an effort to stop and prevent the growth of gangs.
            Who knows what Ill be writing next?

 This is my personal review of DiAnn Mills's Firewall, which is located on Amazon:

            Diann Mill’s latest book, Firewall, lived up to its title. It was fast -paced from the beginning chapter when a bomb erupted in an airport, separating newly married Tayne Young from her new husband, Step.  The story throws in a couple of different twists as the story progresses along. The character of Tayne Young as an introvert was talked about, but not truly believable. Even though, I did enjoy the thrill of the hunt for the missing little girl, Zoey, and the mastermind behind the explosion and the hunt for Tayne’s head, Through the quick moving plot for the first three hundred pages, the budding relationship between Tayne and Grayson kept me wondering how their emotions would play out in the end. Struggling through the hurt from Step and the troubles from Grayson’s childhood, Tayne and Grayson lean on the feelings developing inside.

           But the one down side I discovered was the ending of the story dragged a little. It appeared Mills didn’t know what to do with Tayne or the intertwining of the bad guys, so she kept having Tayne captured by the bad guys, rescued by Grayson, and captured again before Grayson  freed her. The ending took too long to explain. I skipped a couple of pages by the time I read to page 290 because I figured she would be caught again and allow Grayson to come to her rescue minutes before anything horrible would happen. To Mill’s credit, the surprising identity of the person behind all the killings and bombings was someone I did not see coming. She did a good job at keeping this bad guy’s identity a total secret. Being a huge fan of DiAnn Mills books, I would still recommend every one of her book.

If you love fast-paced, detective stories, you will truly enjoy this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest reviews. All of my opinions are my own.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Interview with Sarah Varland

Congratulations on your first book, Treasure Point Secrets! I know it's exciting. Before we get into the book, though, tell everyone a little about yourself.

Let’s see…I live in Georgia so I’m definitely southern, but I lived in Alaska for nine years, so I consider myself an Alaskan too. I’m married to my favorite person to spend time with, have two adorable boys (who are 4 and 1 ½), and love being with my family. When I’m not writing I’m either reading, kayaking, baking, hiking, or possibly finally remembering to clean my house…

What has it been like for you as a newly published author, seeing your story come to life?

Oh, I don’t even know if I can explain it! First, though, the editing process was amazing and so hard and so wonderful. I had no idea how much an editor polished a story to really make it smooth and the best it could possibly be, but that was one of my favorite parts of the process, was seeing what the story turned into once someone with my editor’s skills worked on it. I also discovered how fun it was to help give ideas for the cover and how cool it was to see those ideas translated into the cover itself. The entire process has seriously been way more amazing than I’d realized it would be—truly above and beyond my dreams.

What was your inspiration for Treasure Point Secrets?

It was kind of a combination of a story I’d heard that got me thinking about bodies in a graveyard and why they were there and the character of Shiloh herself. Somehow she got in my head and I saw her in a square in Savannah and I knew she was running and I wanted to know why. Between wanting to find out why she was running and wanting to find out why several people were dead, I wrote the story to find out for myself.

Being a pastor's wife myself, I love the fact that Adam is a pastor. You did a great job showing the stress and expectations a pastor and his family deal with every day. How did your own experiences in the ministry inspire this?

Thankfully our congregation has been much sweeter than Adam’s. Haha. So the really negative issues he dealt with are based on things that I’ve known other people have had to deal with. But as far as my own experiences…I think what came through the most from me personal was this idea of what an ideal pastor’s wife should look like. In my head (before I was one) she was this perfect, soft-spoken woman who played the piano and did the children’s ministry and that was not me. At all. So I think I wrote Shiloh’s character to try to reconcile that in my head—that a pastor’s wife is someone who loves Jesus and marries a pastor. Not someone who necessarily fits any other role in a way people expect.

How much of yourself do you put into your characters and settings?

There’s a little of me in everyone heroine I’ve written so far, for sure. They’re not “me” exactly—in fact, some things they think or deal with are opposite of me—but there’s always an element of me in them that helps me identify with them and know them. The way Shiloh thinks, her temper, the way she hates storms, those are all things that were very, very easy for me to write. We’ll put it that way.

What's next for you?

I have another Love Inspired Suspense coming out in October. It’s called Tundra Threat and it’s set in Alaska, which is one of my favorite places in the world. I’m working on some other stories after that, but nothing is official there yet, so I’m just waiting to hear and having fun coming up with new ideas and seeing where those stories go.

Where can we find Treasure Point Secrets?

If you want to buy Treasure Point Secrets online, you can buy it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or you may be able to find it in your local Walmart (I even saw it at a grocery store the other day!!). I had so much fun writing it and I hope y’all have fun reading it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Interview and Giveaway with Nike Chillemi

Please welcome Nike Chillemi to Sleuths and Suspects. In fact, while you're here, why don't you wish her a happy birthday and come up with a unique comment to be entered for a chance to win a Kindle copy of Harmful Intent.

Harmful Intent

Nike Chillemi

Nike, your newest novels, The Veronica (Ronnie) Ingles and Dawson Hughes Series, is a departure from your historical suspense novels. How hard was it to transition from Sanctuary Point to modern-day Texas and New York?

HARMFUL INTENT is set in both Texas and New York, but the remaining novels in the series will be set in many different locations. It wasn't hard at all to transition from writing historical novels. In fact, I didn't even know I was writing a contemporary novel. It started with a writing prompt which was supposed to grow into a short story. Then the characters went rogue on me and it morphed into a novella, then a full-fledged novel. The thing that took the most time was research. Then again, I always do lots of research and actually like researching. I had to research west Texas customs, culture, and topography for HARMFUL INTENT. I didn't think of that as difficult, simply as part of writing a novel.

Don't you just love it when characters develop minds of their own? Ronnie and Dawson are fairly young. How did you research the younger generation, and how did you handle this in your books?

I haven't given them specific ages, but to have achieved a certain level in their careers, I imagined Ronnie in her mid-to-late twenties, and Dawson Hughes in his early-to-mid thirties. Neither of them follow the crowd, so I didn't have to immerse myself in the culture of that generation, but I did have to figure out what music they listen to, and so forth. Dawson likes country music, and Ronnie has no taste for that, to put it mildly. Ronnie listens to soft jazz. My birthday is the first week in July, and I'm not in my late-twenties. There were times I caught myself having Ronnie or Dawson use an expression too old for them and I had to change to something more contemporary. Since I'm going to be thirty-nine, yet again, for my birthday, I'm going to give away a Kindle copy of HARMFUL INTENT to the person with the most interesting and exuberant comment.
Ahem…as to the birthday giveaway, since I can't (won't) tell you how many times I've been thirty-nine, we can also include inventive in the criteria.

Ahh, the 39th birthday...those are fun no matter how many times we have one! I can't wait to read some of the great comments. How do you juggle the promotional aspect of writing with the actual task of writing? 

I become frantic and lose my mind. ~ Seriously, it can be daunting, as you well know. The most difficult thing is knowing what is effective. I've heard that rolling postings to Facebook groups is effective. Then I hear that's considered spam. So, there's a lot of conflicting advice out there. There are many groups that specify you can post one promo per day. So, on those groups, that's not spam. I have to use my best judgment, and I've made mistakes. Certain marketing strategies can be evaluated. I can look at my blog's stats and can see where traffic is coming from. I think it would be safe to say book sales are probably coming from the same source(s). HARMFUL INTENT rose into the top 100 sellers in Amazon's mystery > private investigator category. I was pleased because this is a pretty big category with authors such as Lee Child, James Patterson, and Stuart Woods.

Wow! Congratulations on now being one of Amazon's Best Selling Authors.  Any words of advice for novice writers?

Take advantage of online writing courses. Get into a serious critique group with authors who are already published or working toward that end. And most important of all, read the top authors in your genre. Don't copy them, rather study them.

Excellent advice. Do you set a writing schedule for yourself? What challenges do you face in keeping to a writing schedule?

Actually, I don't have a writing schedule. I do push myself to write but I'm seat of the pants in that area. I find that family and life events get in the way of my writing. If I've skipped a few days, I'll make myself sit down, and I'll get into a writing marathon. On the other hand, if I'm writing at a goodly, but sane pace, I won't try to fix what ain't broken.

Thank you so much for sharing a little about your writing processes with us on Sleuths and Suspects. Where can readers buy Harmful Intent?

Author Bio:
Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She is a member of Christian Indie Novelists (CHIN),American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers.She is the founding board member of the Grace Awards, a reader's choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction.
She was an Inspy Awards 2010 judge in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category and a judge in the 2011, 2012, 2013 Carol Awards in the suspense, mystery, and romantic suspense categories. She writes monthly book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine.
Her recent contemporary detective story HARMFUL INTENT has garnered acclaim and has been called: sassy, witty, gritty, charming, and yummy.
Her historical suspense Sanctuary Point series brought on a crime wave that swept the south shore of Long Island during the 1940s (BURNING HEARTS, GOODBYE NOEL, PERILOUS SHADOWS, DARKEST HOUR) won acclaim and awards.

Nike may be found at her website:, on Amazon:; on Facebook:

Purchase Harmful Intent on Amazon

To be entered into the drawing for a Kindle copy of Harmful Intent:
  1. Leave a comment
  2. Leave your email address - you may spell it out, if you'd like.
The winner will be announced on July 12th. Good Luck!