Accentuate the Postive

Hi there, guys and dolls! Yours truly had a very interesting conversation with an author friend of mine the other day. It was about what what you value and think about as a writer – telling stories and connecting with readers. The gist of it turned out to be all about what you are presenting , how it is received, and where you place your due care and attention. Talk about using your gray matter…

We chatted about pleasing people and the good (and not so good) opinion of others. As a writer, you have stories to tell, in a manner in which you are drawn towards presenting, but also the desire to reach people and want to consider the manner in which you present your stories to them. It can be at times a fine line, blurred by insecurity and overthinking.

We had both heard of authors experiencing thoughts of, “Well if I write it this way, will people like it?” sometimes compromising their integrity to be more popular. And then later on, when your work is out there, fussing over those who nit pick and don’t like your work (they are always out there, aren’t they?), sometimes publicly criticizing, other times wanting you to give your hard work away for free, or knocked down for a bargain deal ‘just for them,’ and you have no idea who they are and quite frankly have not behaved in a deserving manner.  And then, when they make us feel compromised or uncomfortable, we have trouble saying no, and worry and fret about what they will say to others about us.

Truth is, none of us are perfect and all of us have plenty to learn. When I have my druthers about me, I realize (my alter egos, actually) that I need to follow my heart and know where to place my focus. Tell my stories in the best way that I am inspired, do my research, take my time and have to confidence to share it in the way that I have been inspired to do. I’ve had some sage advice that I keep close to me – continue in the way of consistency to connect with those who have been interested and faithful to your ways, thanking them and having gratitude when they bring their peers to your work. Leave the judgmental naysayers and wheeler dealers behind, don’t get into it and let them go. It’s how they roll, you will not win as there is nothing to gain.  They’ll move on, and so will you as you gain more readers, and stay connected with those of kindred mind and heart.


Barbara Jean

Posted in Creativity, Reading, Self Esteem, Uncategorized, Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

State of the (He)art

Hi there, guys and dolls! Yours truly (or rather my alter egos Andrea and Heather) read many, many books, usually they each have a few on the go at the same time. They read cozies, thrillers, classics, literary fiction, from major and indie presses alike. The love of the word can keep both of them enthralled for hours at a time.

There are so many wonderful works out there, but then there are others, some real doozies. Now I’m not one to name names or publicly criticize anyone, but I have to admit, there are some works out there that make my head spin. Recently, there have been some books that I have come across that seem so wooden, so rushed, they have no heart.

There seems to be a big rush to produce mass quantities of books, working on the theory that more is better. Reading them can be a sad and empty experience. They come across as hurried, incomplete, full of errors and many times emotionless, in a way that feels like the author is just phoning it in to get it to market and get us readers to buy it. Really?

Now don’t get me wrong. Sometimes as a writer, you can be on a tear – a story takes you and sweeps you up, flows well and deserves a fast pace, and gets completed quickly. But at other times, certain works require development and process, depth to complete its rounded picture and to envelop a reader into their worlds.

Sometimes I get impetuous and wish my writer girls could complete their stories faster, but they have a little more maturity than I do. They too do get impatient with their process and progress, with so many more Poppy Cove Mysteries and other stories to tell. They know they are not perfect and what they are inspired to write may not be everyone’s cup of tea or meet the approval of all, but they do try. They have a deeper world they want to explore, share and express, all the while maintaining a life full of everyday events, demands and even pleasures to round out their creativity.

What I guess I’m really saying is fellow authors, please remember to value your work. Tell tales worth reading in a manner worthy of your readers. Love your process and if you don’t, find a way to or really consider what you are doing. This is meant in all kindness and sincerity. Be the scribe you know you are worthy of being.


Barbara Jean


Posted in Alter Ego, Authors, books, Commitment, Communication, Cozy Mysteries, Creativity, Fiction, Inspiration, Mysteries, novels, Patience, Perspective, Readers, Reading, Uncategorized, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Annie and Rae Take 5 with Barbara Jean

Hi there, guys and dolls! So it’s already the last Monday of January. Who would have thought it would come so fast. Guess I better take the tree down and pack away the mistletoe till the next go round. I’ll get to it sometime, when I’m not too busy and/or have the inclination.

Today though, I would much prefer to share a great little confab with another pair of Cozy Cat Press authors. Friends, if you haven’t already met Annie Irvin (Libby Vivone) and Rae Sanders (Candi Wilde), it is certainly time to do so. The write the Bitter Sweet Hollow Mysteries, with the first one being FINAL SALE, with more to come. I have to be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed the story (I’ll elaborate further in my review in the future) and look forward to more stories. The ladies are another writing team and my alter egos Andrea and Heather are always curious how they work things out in their storytelling. So without further adieu, here are Annie and Rae.

1. So tell me a little about your series and main characters.FINAL_SALE_1.jpg

Annie (Libby): Series and main characters was Candi. She thought up Bittersweet Hollow and Harper Reed. I did help with some of the others, but she is responsible for the main theme.

Rae (Candi): My sister and I are writing a series of Bittersweet Hollow Mysteries. The fictional Midwestern town of Bittersweet Hollow is home to our protagonist, Harper Reed. In her early fifties, Harper has been divorced for two years and has no interest in ‘shaving her legs on a Friday night” to jump into the dating pool. Her sister, Lonnie Carmichael, is happily married to a pharmaceutical salesman whose job takes him on the road, leaving Lonnie with plenty of time to help her sister hunt for clues, something they are compelled to do when someone commits a murder that hits close to home in our first book of the series FINAL SALE, A Bittersweet Hollow Mystery. We’re about three fourths done with our second book in the series, tentatively titled DOWN A DEADLY RIVER. In it, Harper and Lonnie’s close friend, Maggie McCarthy, is one week away from her wedding, an event she spent months planning. The ceremony is to be held on the south lawn of Maggie’s charming country home. However, a dead body in the back forty threatens to drastically change Maggie’s plans after the sheriff forbids access to the property while he scours the farm for evidence. Maggie turns to Harper for help in solving the murder. Over the years Harper and Maggie have often paraphrased Ralph Waldo Emerson, saying one of the blessings of good friends is how you can afford to be stupid with them. It might be stupid, but Harper doesn’t think twice about jumping into the middle of another murder.

2. Being that there are two of you, how do you write? Do you compose separately, or talk it out as you go along together, share or divide up characters, scenes or research?

Annie (Libby): We talk it out. We don’t always agree on how to get from point A to point B. I tend to go off on tangents, and Candi keeps me focused being the more linear one.
We will each do an outline and then combine them. I missed school the day they covered commas, so she has to go in and edit my work. I also tend to go fast and loose, and she will have to edit my spelling, often tense, and occasionally person. As far as characters go, we divide them up. I think this is one of the advantages of working with another person.  We don’t have to create the whole town on our own and you have the challenge of working with a personality you didn’t create.

Rae (Candi): When we first started to write, one of us would ‘set the stage’ with a chapter, then email it to the other. After a brainstorming session on the phone the other one would write the next chapter, send it back and so it went. We still do it that way. If one of us comes up with a change in scenarios we think would work better than what we have, we talk it through and usually keep the change. Annie lives in Iowa and I’m in Minnesota. So when we write we stay connected with email and telephone. We really should get with the 21st century and Skype.

3. What exciting moment or moments that made you realize that you were really an “author?”

Annie (Libby): It was exciting when we first put FINAL SALE on-line, but when Patricia picked us up I felt we had arrived and were real writers. Getting that first royalty check helped a lot too.

Rae (Candi): I don’t know how many rejection emails we got along the way but there were lots of them. One day I read an interview with Julie Seedorf in The Mankato Free Press. She talked about her cozy mystery book and the Cozy Cat Press so I took a chance and sent Annie’s and my manuscript off to Patricia Rockwell, the Managing Editor. Patricia asked for a few changes, which we happily made. Wow, when I got that acceptance email from her it was such a wonderful feeling. Annie and I had accomplished the goal we’d set for ourselves, although for me it took a while to realize we truly were authors. (Thank you Julie and Patricia).

4. What do you do to spark up your creativity when you feel the well of inspiration is running dry?

Annie (Libby): Sit down at the computer and write, write, write. I can’t get the juices going any other way, although most of it will get thrown out. I can sometimes salvage one paragraph in three pages. And I don’t necessarily write about the book we are working on at the time either. As I’ve already said, I go off on tangents.

Rae (Candi): When that happens it’s so easy for me to procrastinate and not even sit down at the computer. I find tossing a few ideas around with Annie usually gets me back in the mood to write. One thing we used to do is take turns writing short chapters of really bad murder mysteries just to make each other laugh. To name two of the characters in one of our not-for-publication stories, there was Campbell Zoop as well as Mitzy May Malone Goode whose business cards read MMM Goode. Just writing whatever pops into my mind and having a good laugh with Annie somehow revs up the imagination and I’m ready to rock and roll again.

5. Who are some of your favorite authors and how do you feel they have influenced your desire to write?

Annie (Libby): I grew up reading anything I could get my hands on. I love Agatha Christie, and still love a good mystery.  I’m a big fan of Diana Gabeldon, J. D. Robb, Lee Child, Karin Slaughter, and Richard Adams. I wish I could write like any of them, but for what it’s worth, I have realized I can only write like me. Which is hard on Candi but there you have it.

Rae (Candi): Like so many cozy mystery lovers, I read every Agatha Christie novel I could find when I was growing up. When I couldn’t find any more Christie’s to read, well, that’s when I decided I wanted to write cozies. I enjoy reading mysteries like the Father Blackie Ryan series of books by Andrew Greeley. Switching genres, I love Paula Wall’s books, THE ROCK ORCHARD and THE WILDE WOMEN. I also really liked Minnesota native Nicole Helget’s THE TURTLE CATCHER. And what’s a better read for a Minnesotan than anything by Garrison Keillor? I also have to say that there are a lot of great Cozy Cat Press books, including your Poppy Cove Mysteries.

Why thank you, Rae. And by the way friends, Rae also has just informed yours truly that today, January 25th is Annie’s birthday – how delightful! Let’s all raise a toast of the bubbly to her and when your glass is empty, why don’t you click onto Kindle and pick up your own copy of FINAL SALE. Now that was such fun.


Barbara Jean




Posted in Cozy Mysteries, Creativity, Interviews, Readers, Reading, Uncategorized, Writers, Writing, Writing Ideas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Where to Begin?

Hi there, guys and dolls! Well, I have to admit, my head’s just swimming. Sometimes it’s as if a swarm of bees are buzzing around in there. The truth is, my girls have so many ideas about different things, projects, plans, life in general it sometimes just gets all mixed up.

They’re working on the latest book, and it’s coming along, but they also have plans for other series that they want to do, more in the current series, the general fun and frivolity they give to me,  and other side projects that need attention, oh yes, and then every day life as well.

And sometimes it gets a bit muddled, and a person just doesn’t know where to begin, or which pen to pick up. The best thing to do at that point? Stop, drop and roll (although duck and cover comes to mind…).

Take a deep breath, go for a walk, take a pleasant distraction such as a favorite show or a good and goofy conversation about nothing. Give yourself permission to be multi-faceted, to be developing, shifting and changing at all times, instead of cursing it and trying to stop and deny all the inspiration that comes to you in various guises and at random times. Let them take your attention and see where your mind wanders.

It’s almost like panning for gold. Swirl around with the muck and mire, then see what’s left, bright and shiny, standing out in all its glory. Then pick up those pieces and see where they fit and what they will bring to you.

Get the thoughts and various plans on paper. Don’t censor or try to be too orderly – that’ll kill any goodness in it. Get everything out, play and relax. Don’t worry – stuff will show you where it fits if you just let it. And then you’ll know where to begin, or pick up right where you are.


Barbara Jean



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Writer Girl, Interrupted

Hi there, guys and dolls! Hope 2016 is treating you right. This week, Andrea and Heather are taking over the blog (as they so frequently do), talking a bit about what has been going on for them over the past year or so.

It certainly has been a bit of everything. There has been some amazingly A_Nate_To_Rememberwonderful times. We were very happy with A NATE TO REMEMBER, and are pleased with the progress of the fourth novel in the Poppy Cove Mystery series. We’ve also been planning out some other series that we want to write in addition to telling our Santa Lucia tales, and considering when, what and how we want to do them.

We chose to make writing our priority, and at that time it meant we shifted out of our day jobs. We are still both very glad we did. There were some fantastic things we would have never had if we had not done that. Our lovely book signings, workshops and library tour were experiences that will go down in our personal history books. There were so many wonderful people and the traveling was such food for our minds and hearts. We feel so blessed that we were presented the opportunities and we ran with them. Once we settled down a bit, we realized that we really enjoyed having other influences in our lives. Now we have settled in to other part time jobs that feel good, with purpose and add color to our creativity, and the structure and balance feel right. We have to admit it does feel better to have a little financial pressure off. As much as people don’t want to talk about it, at least for us it feels more fun and creative, more expressive when you’re not as concerned if the next word will put groceries on the table. Might be okay for some, but we’re happy how we are going about things.

We had so much more that went on as well, and some of it was a little more personally challenging, but they gave opportunity to grow in love and strength for our lives. Helping aging family members adjust to new living arrangements, as well as assisting them cope with some serious health issues, in addition to one of us now discovering that we have a matter that is thankfully non-life threatening, yet needs to be taken seriously that most likely will involve surgery and recovery, along with a rather lengthy waiting time to get the proper care is something we have to take in our stride, with reverence but in perspective is something that is happening for us now.

Anyway, rest assured, we will continue to tell our tales and carry on swimmingly, even if sometimes it feels like there’s one change or disruption  to accept and handle. We’ll privately and quietly throw the occasional ‘oh seriously, what next?’ hissy fit, deal with the delays and realize it’s all good, and enriches our humanity and compassion for ourselves and others. Then we’ll pick up and get back on the page.

Some of you have been with us since the beginning and we thank you. There is so much more to come and we will be certain to make it happen, just as it should in the grand scheme of things.

Warm Regards,

Andrea & Heather

aka Barbara Jean

Posted in 50's Novels, Alter Ego, Authors, book series, Cozy Mysteries, Cozy Mystery Series, Creativity, Perspective, Uncategorized, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

New Year, New Reads

Hi there, guys and dolls! Hope the new year is treating you right. I thought I would start out the year with a few reviews from some of my fellow Cozy Cat Press authors. Although it’s a summary of some reviews I have posted in the past year or so, they may be new to you and give you some great entertainment on the long winter evenings, or refresh your to read list if you haven’t gotten to them yet. Just click on the title and/or cover to be taken directly to their Kindle link, meaning you don’t even have to get up (unless it’s to refresh your hot buttered rum). I’ll have another if you are making one. Thanks!

ROLLER RUBOUT by Joyce Oroz –rrEBOOK.jpg
“You put your right foot in
You put your right foot out
You put your right foot in
And you shake it all about
You do the hokey pokey
And you turn yourself around
That’s what it’s all about”
Well that’s enough of that! Yours truly knows that’s ‘not’ what ROLLER RUBOUT, the latest installment in the Josephine Stuart mysteries, is all about. I was jumpy and downright scared as I read nervously along in some parts of this story. Someone is trying to scare Jo and others away from discovering the truth and digging up the past. I’d say they were doing a good job, making it difficult to sort out the facts from the fiction.
There’s murals, murder and many mysterious events! Jo even has a new house guest who is proving to be a handful, however her Bassett Solow is much taken with the little terror. A romantic tiff between Josephine and her main squeeze David adds tension, when he makes it very clear that he does not like her sleuthing and putting herself in danger’s path. In steps Officer Fishburn, who seems to have taken a shine to Jo and one begins to wonder if this handsome man will come between our heroine and her beau. I will let you know if any scoop comes my way, but for now relax, read, and enjoy ROLLER RUBOUT.
Bottoms-up to Joyce Oroz, the Hokey Pokey and roller derby queens everywhere!

Deathbed_&_Breakfast_360x540_Website.jpgDEATHBED & BREAKFAST by Bart J. Gilbertson – Welcome to Pleasant Lake, Oregon where hospitality is the first order of business. When thinking about the friendliness of the town, the first two ladies that come to mind are the Pookotz Sisters, Edna and Mildred who run their family bed and breakfast by the lake. If you stop by for the night you are sure to get a fine home cooked meal served up by Felix the head cook, waiter, and a funny, hard of hearing old coot to boot. There are old fashioned board games in the parlor, and it appears there may be games being played outside and in dark corners. There’s whispers of romance and death in the air, take a deep breath and read if you dare…
It’s a full house with a cast of characters that rivals the best round of “Clue” yours truly has ever played. Everyone’s there for their own reason, with their own motive, so watch out!
Be sure to bring your flash light, a thermos with a hot toddy of course, tuck yourself up in your favorite blanket and begin. Author Bart J. Gilbertson, the lovely Pookotz Sisters, their staff and the townsfolk of Pleasant Lake are inviting you to turn the pages for your own good. See, I knew you would! Find out what mischief and mayhem is afoot. I know yours truly can’t wait for her next visit to this charming little town and all its inhabitants. BlackDogebook.jpg

THE BLACK DOG by Glen Ebisch – Now I know what you might be thinking, what harm could a cute, cuddly little black dog do? Yours truly is here to tell you plenty! When Marcie Ducasse investigative reporter turned amateur sleuth is called to look into a mysterious death in the wilds of New England, it turns out that there’s much more going on than first appears.
When climbing West Peak the Black Dog you do not want to see for it is said that if you do, an ill wind blows your way. Was the death of Jerome Kronenberg a supernatural event or a deed most foul? Danger and disaster are around every corner for Marcie and her colleague Simon in their investigation of this particular matter. The locals it appears have their reasons for not mourning the loss of the deceased and they are certainly not happy that Marcie is digging around in their business especially as she gets closer to the truth or uncovers any of their secrets. Will Marcie fall victim to the little Black Dog or will she discover the truth before more people meet with a fatal end? Be sure to curl up with a warm cup of tea with a little extra drop of something that will take away the chill that is sure to run down your spine as you are reading Glen Ebisch’s latest installment in his Marcie and Amanda mysteries. Be careful when you are climbing peaks, you don’t want to find yourself tumbling down into danger or death!

TiaraTroubleEbook.jpgTIARA TROUBLE by Lane Buckman – Yours truly is certain that amateur sleuths everywhere will be wanting a sparkly head piece too, after they read Tiara Trouble by Lane Buckman. Destinee Faith is a real firecracker of a southern lady. Not only is she a super sleuth, but a well poised young gal to boot. She’s sure to have all of her little ‘dolls’ ready for the upcoming pageant and solve the case even if it’s the last things she’ll ever do. With humor, beauty tips, sparkles, a dash of romance, and pageant winning poise Destinee Faith will change her fortunes and save beauty pageants everywhere from extinction. You’re sure to be in the pink when you read this sparkling story from the pen of Ms.Buckman. So pour the bubbly, put up you perfectly polished toes and enjoy. I know I am ready for a tiara if there’s a pageant waiting to be won. Be careful though, you never knowWedding_Wipeout_1600x2400_Ebook.jpg what kind of trouble it might bring!

WEDDING WIPEOUT by Jacob M. Appel – What happens when two rabbis investigate the suspicious death of an elderly Jewish lady? It would seem that the Eisenstein sisters Lorraine and Florence have had nothing but trouble throughout their lives and it doesn’t appear to be getting any better in their so-called ‘golden years’ .
When Florence decides to get married, all of their estranged family members are invited to attend the wedding and there’s a mysterious murder. The bride dies and more than one person believes it’s not just from asthma attack. Rabbi Jacob Kappelmacher and Rabbi Rudolph Steinmetz — his trusted side-kick who is also the perfect narrator for this tale full of family secrets and betrayals are asked to investigate.
Kappelmacher believes that there is a rational explanation for everything. The guilty party whoever they are will be found even if it takes eating a pastrami on rye in every Jewish deli within the community and interviewing all of the quirky cousins, nieces, nephews, husbands, lawyers, and doctors then so be it. The whole Jewish community and the family are scrutinized to find the ‘rational’ explanation and solve the case.
Yours truly is just a shiksah who can’t say no to a good mystery! Mazel tov to this tale of marriage, murder, and mayhem by Jacob Appel. Be sure to add a little something to your next egg-cream, I know I will. I’ll be toasting Kappelmacher and Steinmetz my two favorite rabbis whose next investigation I’m definitely looking forward to!


Barbara Jean

Posted in Book Reviews, Cozy Mysteries, Cozy Mystery Series, ebooks, kindle, Readers, Reading, Uncategorized, Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Steve Takes 5 with Barbara Jean

Hi there, guys and dolls! Now where the heck did 2015 go? It’s disappearing faster than my waistline (and believe me, with all the delish food and drink around, it’s long gone). Now where did I put that industrial strength girdle? Oh never mind, I have a far better topic today.

Friends and fellow book lovers, let me share my latest author confab. This jpg_front_Audition_for_deathmonth’s very special guest is Steve Shrott, who has written a couple of terrific cozies published by my publisher, Cozy Cat Press. Both AUDITION FOR DEATH and DEAD MEN DON’T GET MARRIED are great fun not only to figure out, but also to be along for the ride with Steve’s characters.

1. So tell me a little about your series and main characters.
I’ve written two humorous mysteries, AUDITION FOR DEATH, and DEAD MEN DON’T GET MARRIED. They are not a series—as yet. I’m waiting for crowds to gather in front of my house and yell, ‘Steve, we need a new ‘Dead Men Don’t Get Married’ book! Hopefully, that will happen soon.

AUDITION FOR DEATH stars Joshua Mclintock, a career-obsessed actor. He’s appeared in numerous films and stage productions, although most of his roles have been as dead bodies. When he’s about to be arrested for a murder he didn’t commit, Joshua makes a run for it. After all, he has an audition for a great new role! Joshua believes he can track down the killer and keep his career going full blast at the same time. In the process he discovers deadly forces threatening to destroy Hollywood, and he must try to save show business before it’s too late.

Dead_Men_Don't_Get_Married_360x540_(Website)DEAD MEN DON’T GET MARRIED involves Arnie Katz, dentist, and part-time PI. (Note –No dentists were harmed in the writing of this book.) When Arnie’s ex-girlfriend asks him to find out who murdered her fiancé, Arnie packs his pockets with dental probes and picks so he can defend himself in case he runs into ‘difficult’ situations. And there are a truckload of those, including two warring crime families, a maniac killing local orthodontists, and an eighty-year-old dental patient who, under gas, thinks she’s Lady Godiva. Arnie has his hands full as he attempts to figure out what happened to his ex’s fiancé, and just why, DEAD MEN DON’T GET MARRIED.

2. What is your writing process like? Do you thrive on routine or work spontaneously as the whim takes you?

I generally write most weekday mornings and take weekends off. That way I feel fresh when I come back on Monday. I like routine but I also like variety so it helps that I write in different areas—creating jokes for comedy performers, screenplays, routines for magic tricks, short stories, and, of course, novels. I think this assortment of writing activities helps keep my creative juices flowing.

3. What exciting moment or moments have made you realize that you were really an “author”?

Even though I had previously done a lot of writing, I only thought of myself as an author when I held a copy of my first book, AUDITION FOR DEATH in my hands. Thank you Cozy Cat Press! Of course circumstances sometimes change your thinking a little. A library in town happened to order copies of one of my books. So I decided to take it out and show the librarian at the check-out desk that I was the author. I figured that would make her day. I proudly pointed to my name on the cover and said, “That’s me,” waiting for the oohs and aahs. She read a little of the book, and even flipped to the picture on the inside. Then she shook her head and said, “No it isn’t.” I never did convince her.

4. What do you do to spark up your creativity when you feel the well of inspiration is running dry?

If I’m blocked on my novel, I usually just switch gears and start working on a short story or other writing. I also find that doing something completely different such as taking a walk, or looking around a place that sells interesting gadgets very helpful. I often go to dollar stores and try to figure out how I can use items like squeegee’s for nefarious purposes in my crime stories.

5. Who are some of your favorite authors and how do you feel they have influenced your desire to write?

Originally, most of my writing involved jokes for performers. But when I read a few of Dave Barry’s humorous novels, they inspired me, gave me the idea that maybe I could write some fun books.

A second favorite is Jonathan Kellerman. I really enjoy his descriptions and noir-ish style. He made me want to write that type of material, and I ended up selling a few noir short stories.

Another favorite is Harlan Coben. He made me want to write a book where the readers kept turning pages as I did when I read his work. Due to his influence there is probably a thriller in my future.

Well, this has been fun, and I’d like to thank Barbara Jean for the opportunity.

And to you too, Steve.  It’s been fabulous to share a hot toddy or two with you. Now all you mystery fans out there need to read Steve’s books if you haven’t already done so. Click on the covers and/or titles to get your Kindle copies today and while you at it, visit his webpage at

From the bottom of our hearts to yours, we wish you a healthy, happy and harmonious 2016.


Barbara Jean

(and those half wits who make me whole – Andrea & Heather)


Posted in Authors, Cozy Mysteries, Creativity, Interviews, Readers, Reading, Uncategorized, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Really Have No Clue What’s Going On…

Hi there, guys and dolls! Well, my girls have me hard at work on Poppy Cove Mysteries book four and a funny thing occurred to them as they were writing.

As the authors of the tale, they know exactly what and how the murders and/or mayhem happens. Not only when, but who did it and why, even if it shifts and changes along the way. But they don’t only write about one thing, or in one direction. A writer has to wear many hats and have many theories and situations that come up. There are more than one character involved, and tales need to be multifaceted.

There’s the true story path, but also offshoots and trails rounding out the story and weaving the mystery. And all situations need to seem plausible and intriguing.

That means there’s always an element of the unexpected, a twist or turn that involves more than just the perpetrator and victim. It is reflected in the innocent bystander and suspicious witness. A clue that seems to be so vital may turn out to be nothing, and something so innocuous holds the key to the whole darn thing.

Keeping track and writing the stories can be as much fun (if not more) than reading them. At times, when coming up with details or re-writing a draft, the writer needs to suspend disbelief and truly be clueless from certain perspectives. There needs to be an element of intrigue where the story tells the reader the truth and the said reader will have at least one moment of, ‘Well, I didn’t see that coming.’

See what I mean? Sometimes it’s wise to not know everything. It’s how you discover what really happened along the way and truly learn. And you know I’m not just talking about reading and writing, don’t you ;-)?


Barbara Jean

Posted in Cozy Mysteries, Cozy Mystery Series, Creativity, Readers, Reading, Uncategorized, Writers, Writing, Writing Ideas | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanks, Fiona!

Hi there, guys and dolls! This week we had the privilege to be featured on a fantabulously popular blog – Author Interviews by Fiona McVie. Here it is in its entirety. And friends, you should do yourself a favor by giving the blog a read or better yet, a follow. You’ll be glad you did.


Andrea: Andrea Taylor

Heather: Heather Shkuratoff

Barbara Jean: I am the shared pen name — Barbara Jean Coast


A: 48

H: 48

BJ: A woman never tells, as she is classically ageless

Where are you from

A: Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, raised in Oliver, BC and now reside in Kelowna, BC

H: Born in Oliver, British Columbia, Canada, now residing in Kelowna, BC

BJ: Santa Lucia, California, my fictional town loosely based on Santa Barbara

A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc  

A: I always imagined myself being a supersleuth girl detective and writing adventurous stories, full of mystery and intrigue since I was old enough to hold a pencil.  After living for many years in Vancouver, BC and London, England I now reside in Kelowna, BC, Canada, although I travel often with my co-author friend to California to further develop our stories and escapades of the Poppy Cove Mystery Series.  I have also published freelance articles about fashion, current events, and childcare, and is currently blogging on WordPress about creativity and poetry, as well as researching for my own literary novels.

H: As an avid mystery reader, I joined lifelong friend Andrea Taylor to create the Poppy Cove Mystery Series, written under the pen name of Barbara Jean Coast.  Growing up in a family of talented crafters and sewers, I developed my own skills to become a dressmaker and designer, which helps to give rich detail and character to their stories.  I live in Kelowna, BC, Canada, but spend a great deal of time in California, researching for the novels and doing my best to live like Barbara Jean.

BJ: I am the half-wit pen name for authors Andrea Taylor and Heather Shkuratoff. I am a resident of Santa Lucia, California (eerily similar to Santa Barbara), where I enjoy long lunches, cocktail parties, and fancy dinner dates with attractive and attentive gentlemen.  My interests include Alfred Hitchcock movies, reading Carolyn Keene, music by popular musicians, such Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, shopping for new dresses, attending society events and always looking fabulous in kitten heels.

Fiona: Tell us your latest news?

A: We’re currently working on our fourth novel in the Poppy Cove Mystery Series, the follow-up to A NATE TO REMEMBER. The Future Homemakers of America Society and Barbara Lewis feature prominently.

H: We’re also bandying about ideas for a couple of other series, as well as keeping on in this one. The new ones would be set in different times, and we’re just having fun deciding what exactly we want to bring to fruition next.

BJ: I just do what the girls tell me, other than being the ‘bonne’ looking for my ‘vivant…’

Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

A: Since I could hold a pencil and found out that words could go together. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t write. It’s just in me to do.

H: Since my teens, I had kept a journal and free formed my thoughts onto paper. I just felt like I had stories to tell.

BJ: The girls brought me to life about twelve years ago. They wanted to have one name on the cover of the books that was easy to remember and spell, and something that reflected the era that they write about, which is the late 50’s/early 60’s.

Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

A: When I was young, about nineteen. I had my first articles written about fashion published in a Vancouver entertainment newspaper.

H: When we saw the first Poppy Cove Mystery (STRANGLED BY SILK) take shape with a solid plot line.

BJ: When the girls told me to put down my cocktail and tell them a tale or two ;-)!

Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

H: I had always loved cozy mysteries, and had my own dressmaking/design shop for some years, but I did not know if I had it in me to write a series of books on my own. I knew Andrea was always writing and shared a joy of cozies as well, so I told her my idea and before long, she ran with it.

A: We wanted to set it in a time when dressmaking skills were revered, yet commonplace in the average society and as we started talking, I had sussed out a couple of major plots and the two main characters, then we thought we may have something and started working on the first book in earnest.

BJ: Santa Barbara, the muse for Santa Lucia cried out loud and strong, as well as my fun-loving views on life and love and the whole danged thing with a touch of harmless gossip gives them guidance.

Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?

A: We talk. A lot. Out loud. Sometimes at the same time.

H: Yep. We sit side by side, and plot out the major story line and then the scenes and consult each other along the way as we write, edit and revise.

BJ: They do all the work, I take the glory.

Fiona: How did you come up with the title?

A: The stories revealed the titles to us as we wrote them. They showed themselves as we went along.

H: The first, STRANGLED BY SILK, came after we wrote the first chapter and it stuck. DEATH OF A BEAUTY QUEEN was the headline that we came up with for the town’s local paper, The Santa Lucia Times, and the third, A NATE TO REMEMBER was a play on words. We were watching the movie A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and the romance concept of ‘a date to remember,’ and were just bantering back and forth and it showed up. We sat with it for a few days and it grew on us.

BJ: I like a little punny drama in my life.

Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

A: The books are set in the late 50’s/early 60’s, and there is change afoot as we move on and how it affects the community we write about.

H: Cozies give that unique perspective of black humor. Although it seems bucolic on the surface, there’s always something brewing underneath.

BJ: Everyone has a story, and the books are about a certain character’s past, present, or future, depending on who is featured in that story.

Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?:

H: Our town, Santa Lucia, California is loosely based on Santa Barbara. We have taken into account a great deal of the location, the climate, the general vibe of the place. However, all of our people are fictional, and the situations are not based on actual events of the town.

A: We have been in touch with the Historical Society of Santa Barbara and they have been very helpful to us, providing us information about certain details, such as highways and routes, as well as the types of businesses and lifestyles that were popular during the time in the places we write about.

BJ: Being that I am a fictional entity and a resident of Santa Lucia, from my perspective, every word of it is the gospel truth.

Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

A: No, more of a composite of people or personality traits.

H: We think about how different personalities would interact and handle certain situations.

BJ: For me, the more drama, the better in my made up world.

Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?

A: Specifically for writing our mysteries, authors such as Donna Andrews, Susan Wittig Albert, and Jeri Westerson have been a great inspiration with their style of storytelling.

H: Also Carola Dunn, Rhys Bowen, and Laura Childs to add a few more. I like how they set up their time and place. The worlds they create are so full and inviting.

BJ: Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, Josephine Tey and Carolyn Keene.

Fiona: What book are you reading now?

A: BODY OF WORK by Christine Montross, THE DARLING DAHLIAS AND THE SILVER DOLLAR BUSH by Susan Wittig Albert, and HOTTUB OF DEATH by Rita Strombeck.

H: A TOUCH OF STARDUST by Kate Alcott, MILLION DOLLAR BABY by Amy Patricia Meade, and DEAD MAN DANCING by Kate O’Connell.

BJ: MADAM, WILL YOU TALK? by Mary Stewart, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, by Rona Jaffe and PEYTON PLACE by Grace Metalious.

Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

A: There are so many great books out there, it’s hard to pin down just a few, but the first that comes to mind is Eleanor Catton who wrote THE LUMINARIES.

H: Hmm, hard to pin down. I do find it really exciting when an author is new to me and I discover they have more than one book. Then I binge read on all of their books. That just happened for me with Kate Alcott, and now I’m on her third.

BJ: My publisher, Cozy Cat Press has some awfully good newly published writers. All of them have a great stories to tell.

Fiona: What are your current projects?

A: Currently, we’re working on our fourth book in our Poppy Cove Mystery Series, as yet untitled (it’ll come to us). Also, I’ve got a couple of other standalone novels I am percolating at the moment.

H: We’ve also been sussing out a couple of other cozy mystery series that we’d like to do outside of the Poppy Cove ones. We’re figuring out how and when we want to develop them as we keep writing the current series.

BJ: The girls keep me very busy with being the social butterfly in Santa Lucia and on social media. It’s all I can do to keep up.

Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

A: The readers who have embraced Poppy Cove. They have been wonderful.

H: Also the author community who write cozies and other mystery writers. They have been so generous with their encouragement and comradery.

BJ: The social set of Santa Lucia, who let me tell their stories.

Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?

A: Yes.

H: Yes.

BJ: Ditto.

Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

A: No. We were really happy with how A NATE TO REMEMBER turned out.

H: It was a story we wanted to tell right from the very beginning.

BJ: I’m happy with it.

Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

A: I was always telling stories and making things up since I was a child. Once I could hold a pencil, they ended up forming stories.

H: I’ve loved a good story since I could remember. The ideas in my head just became something I wanted to have down as a record of events.

BJ: I think good gossip and tales of murder and mayhem need a place to be safely out in the world.

Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?

A: The fourth book in our Poppy Cove Mystery series concerns the Homemakers Society of America and the idea of the Happy Homemaker.

H: Some of it turns out to be not so happy.

BJ: And a little deadly.

Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

A: The editing process. That’s when you’re dealing with the nitty gritty minutiae and it can be a bit of a slog.

H: Sometimes when you are writing, and the words don’t come. Or you don’t like how it seems to be going, but it’s best not to over-analyze, because when you look back at it, sometimes those turn out to be the best passages.

BJ: Sometimes the act of work cuts into my socializing. Sigh.

Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

A: Tracy Chevalier. What strikes me about her work is her historical details.

H: Whitney Otto. Her work can leave me breathless in the way she transports a reader through her prose.

BJ: Mary Stewart. Her international glamour gives me aspirations to live a jet set life.

Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

A: We’ve spent extensive time in the Santa Barbara region, as well as the central California coast and Los Angeles regions, which served as the muse to our stories.

H: We still go as frequently as we can.

BJ: I love to travel, but Santa Lucia is my inspirational home.

Fiona: Who designed the covers?

A: Our publisher, Cozy Cat Press has some brilliant cover designers.

H: Being with a small press, we definitely had some say and approval over the covers. We are very happy with them.

BJ: Personally, I think they are suitable for framing in any home.

Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

A: Sometimes it can be a challenge finding time to write in a busy life.

H: Now that we have work published, we find it hard sometimes to balance between marketing what’s already out there and writing the new work.

BJ: Getting the girls to stop giggling and laughing to write down my stories.

Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

A: That writing a book is not as easy as it first seems. There is so much in the way of reshaping, honing and editing that has to go on past the initial idea.

H: How much fun and gratifying it is to tell a whole and complete story. That the hard work does pay off, just in itself for being recorded down.

BJ: Cocktails and Frank Sinatra make the writing process complete.

Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?

A: Write. Just write.

H: Set aside the time and get your thoughts out. They’ll take shape later.

BJ: Dig in, tell your story.

Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

A: Thank you. You make it all worthwhile.

H: We are so happy to share our stories with you.

BJ: You are always welcome in Santa Lucia. Just watch out for a little murder and mayhem among the fashion and fabulousness.

Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?




Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?

A: A good story, whether it be in the form of a book, movie or a personal tale can make me laugh or cry.

H: Those unexpected moments in life. The little things that make the human experience worth living.

BJ: Getting up in the morning and seeing what the day brings.

Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?

A: Agatha Christie. A conversation with her would be so interesting.

H: Cole Porter. For his wit and wisdom in such a stylish manner.

BJ: Any red blooded male who will put me on a pedestal and never let me down.

Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?

A: I actually don’t plan on having a head stone. I want my ashes scattered.

H: Same here. I plan on becoming part of the Big Sur coast.

BJ: Being that I am only fictional, I’ve not been born, so I won’t die. I kinda like it that way.

Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?

A: I do collage, playing on Pinterest, reading, baking and listening to music.

H: I sew, love to cook, going out for walks.

BJ: There’s bound to be a happy hour always somewhere….

Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?

A: Really love British mysteries these days. Morse, Lewis, Endeavour come to mind, as well as Poirot. Oh, and the Thin Man movies.

H: I like those too. I’ll add Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders and Wallander to the list. Absolutely love anything with David Lean and Anthony Minghella in the director’s seat.

BJ: The Saint, The Twilight Zone, I Love Lucy, Perry Mason.

Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music

A: I like food, period. I’m not a picky eater and enjoy most ethnic foods. My favorite color is orange. I like classical, jazz, pop – whatever I’m in the mood for at the time.

H: I’m a big eater. There’s not much I don’t like to try. My favorite color is blue. The only music I don’t care for too much is country or explicit rap. I tend to listen the most to alt/indie and jazz, I guess.

BJ: Whatever is floating around at the cocktail circuit, usually served on toothpicks. I like pink. Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, and Nina Simone are some of the singers that really send me.

Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?

A: I don’t really give that much thought. I’ve done other jobs that I have enjoyed to make a living, but I am always happy that I write.

H: I also have designed and been a professional dressmaker and have liked that as well as writing. I still dabble in it and sometimes think of doing more.

BJ: Being paid for just being a social butterfly.

Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?

BJ: Yes. The girls have given me where I post a musing every week. Also there is a website – where I have a little fun.

A: I also have a couple of blogs that I do independently. One is about creativity and also a poetry blog .

Buying Links


Thanks again, Fiona :-).


Barbara Jean




Posted in 1950's California, 50's Novels, Authors, Bloggers, books, Cozy Mysteries, Cozy Mystery Series, Creativity, Fiction, Fictional Characters, Interviews, Mysteries, Uncategorized, Writers, Writing, Writing Ideas | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Behind the Seams

Hi there, guys and dolls! Well, I’ve been busy working away on book four in the Poppy Cove Mystery Series (title yet to reveal itself), and my alter ego writer girls have certainly been enjoying themselves forming and crafting the story.

Because the stories are set in the late 50’s and will carry on into the 60’s (this one is 1959) and the main heroines are surrounded by glamour and fashion, there is a great deal of creative research that goes into rounding out the tales of murder and mayhem. Andrea and Heather spend happy hours looking at beautiful clothes in pictures and at real garments from the time as well. It’s a perk of the job.

It amazes me how much unseen support and construction goes into d62e69dd24e59374afda7408197c2d90making a dress appear perfectly fitting and flattering for the wearer. Quite often there is boning, hidden seams, snaps, ribbons, lining, interfacing (the list could go on), that give the illusion of, “Oh this? I just threw this old thing on.” Some of the hard work to make the right outfit is never seen by the observer or wearer, not to mention the hit and miss trial and error that has gone on to make the outfit just so.

The same thing happens when writing a story. There are details about the characters and scenes that may never be in the final draft that shape the nature of the players in the novel that give motive to their actions and behaviors. The weather and atmosphere of the time that form reasons for the way a situation plays out and take a natural course of progression. The rough drafts and rewrites that are like a muslin copy to get the fit right that gets discarded for the finished project.

Some people get frustrated when the stories need to take time to cultivate and hone. They put pressure on themselves and cut corners, skip the research, and it leaves a story as limp as a cheap suit. They feel they have cheated themselves and don’t know why. Perhaps they have. In such a hurry to get the work done, they skip the details and don’t enjoy or trust the process. Now I don’t know everything (but I do try), and maybe I’m a naive hack to suggest it, but what the hay, I’m a pen name so I can do what I like. My thought to you is to put thought into everything you do. Slow down, make your stitches even and create a work you are proud to present. God (or simply Good Orderly Direction if you prefer) is quite possibly the one in the details.


Barbara Jean

Posted in 1950's California, 50's Fashions, 50's Novels, Alter Ego, Authors, books, Cozy Mysteries, Cozy Mystery Series, Creativity, fashion, Fiction, Fictional Characters, Inspiration, Mysteries, Patience, Pen Names, Perspective, Readers, Reading, research, Uncategorized, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments