Phil Bowie, Author

Phil photo for buzzPhil Bowie is a lifelong freelancer with 300 articles and short stories published in magazines including The Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, Harper’s, Yankee, Troika, Heartland USA, Make, AOPA Pilot, Southern Boating, and many other travel, aviation, and boating publications.

GUNS, his debut novel in the John Hardin series, earned honorable mention at the London Book Festival. He also has a collection of short stories out. Dagger and other tales includes a number of previously-published yarns such as “The Cat from Hell,” an award-winner begun by Stephen King.

Phil is a light-plane pilot, Coast Guard-licensed boat captain, motorcycle rider, inventor, fiddler, and voracious reader of everything.


The site includes reviews, a photo gallery, and easy direct-buy links to all of Phil’s books.

Deathsman cover.jpegPhil Bowie’s new novel, DEATHSMAN, is number four in a taut suspense series. The first three books, GUNS, DIAMONDBACK, and KLLRS, have been endorsed by top international bestsellers Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts. The new tale finds pilot John Hardin (a WITSEC identity) and Cherokee girlfriend Kitty Birdsong pitted against a crime lord who sells generic illegal drugs, and a shadowy hit man named after professional executioners of centuries past, the deathsmen.

Like all of Phil’s novels, this one takes place mostly in the misty folds of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Buy link

(1) Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

I wanted the background to be about illegal drugs because they’re such a huge problem across the country. But I wanted a fresh slant.

Prior to 2012, people were freely selling analogs of illegal drugs through convenience stores, disguised as bath salts or aroma products and labeled not for consumption to avoid FDA scrutiny. Actually, analogs are smokeable chemical concoctions that push the same brain buttons as illegal drugs. They were, up to quite recently, perfectly legal because the specific chemistry was not DEA-listed. Think of them as street generics. Laws have been passed, but that’s only driven the analogs underground and pushed up prices. So this became the novel’s background.

I like to paint such backgrounds for my stories. With my debut, GUNS, it was the world trade in light weaponry, which fuels so many conflicts, often with the sanctions of major governments. The backdrop for DIAMONDBACK was a lost Cherokee gold mine, based on true history. KLLRS involved a psychological study of the approach-avoidance conflict, a study I took part in as a test subject many years ago when I was skydiving.

You have to take care with background agendas, though. The stories can never get preachy or stridently angry or too complex because that will put off readers. I just like to honestly lay out some well-researched anchor or framework issue as a back story and let readers form their own opinions while I hope the up-front story entertains them.

(2) How do you get inspired to write?

My mother was an excellent newspaper reporter back when reporting was supposed to be scrupulously objective and unbiased. She interviewed Boris Karloff (Frankenstein’s monster on the movie screen, but a mild-mannered gentleman in person) and Eleanor Roosevelt, a lady she much admired. She told me real and imaginary stories, and instilled in me a love of and respect for language, for its beauty and power. She ignited my early inspiration.

I can also remember from childhood how I loved to get absolutely lost in my wide-roaming imagination for hours. Pretending a picnic table overturned in my back yard was a sailing ship on the open ocean. Imagining how it would feel to fly from a mountain top near my home out over the valley. Creating a community in my sand box. Voraciously reading stacks of comic books—Superman and Superwoman, Prince Valiant, Popeye.  Playing cops and robbers with my friends, armed with cap pistols. Making up characters and stories.

I’ve never quite grown up. I still like to get lost in my imagination. Now I do it through writing.

(3) What are you currently working on?

I want to set the next novel in Africa because the people and their many dire, entrenched problems intrigue me. But I’m uneasy because I’ve never been there, so it will take a lot of research before I’ll feel confident setting a believable novel there.

It’s a big departure for me because I like to write as much as possible from personal experience for verisimilitude. My series protagonist is a pilot, loves old western movies, rides a motorcycle, and likes to work with his hands. That’s pretty much me. His girlfriend is part Cherokee. My Naomi (editor, incisive critic, soul mate, number-one supporter) is also part Cherokee, and I admire the Indian cultures. I grew up in the Berkshires of Massachusetts so I love the similar Great Smokies of North Carolina, where my stories are mostly set.

And I’m always working on a short story or a magazine article.

(4) What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

Read Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It’s a skinny little book but the finest on how to use language accurately and well. Keep it by your computer. Follow its dictates. Also read On Writing by Stephen King.

Read widely in the genre you want to write. But simply reading lots of good books won’t teach you the basics, because top writers have fleshed out their stories cleverly, making it look easy. Which it most assuredly is not. Choose a few novels by top bestsellers you admire and take them apart. That is, read them through, then go back and read them again, taking notes on characters, scenes, pacing, twists. Strip them down until you expose their bare bones, and you’ll begin to understand how it’s done.

Shun adverbs and don’t overuse adjectives. Don’t use clichés; write from your own careful observations of people and settings. Be clear. Be accurate.

Get stubborn. Never give up. You’ll only lose when you quit. Shrug off rejection, which every writer experiences. Value honest advice from critics to improve your writing but ignore those one-star losers who roam the Net, often anonymously, and who’ll try to drag you down out of sheer meanness.

Above all, write.

(5) What’s the best thing about being a writer?

There’s something attractive, magical, enviable, even admirable about the word freelancer. About setting out to accomplish a major feat like writing a hundred-thousand-word novel simply relying on the wonderful powers stored within your own mind.

Of course it’s also fulfilling to reach people. I keep a file of notes and e-mails from readers who’ve enjoyed my work.

An example: “This is the first fan letter I have ever written in over twenty years of reading . . . your books have taken me back to what I miss the most, the outdoors and all its splendor, what it means to be alive . . . your writing stays with me as I step up the physiotherapy intensity . . . I thank you sincerely.” That came from a man in Birmingham, England, confined to a wheelchair because of an auto accident. It’s taped to the wall behind my computer.

(6) How do you deal with writer’s block?

I’ll take a walk. I can start out on a three-mile jaunt mulling over some vexing plot problem, say, or casting about for a new short story idea, and quite often by the time I get back I’ll have at least the glimmer of an answer. I think it’s because walking lets me focus without distractions and it helps oxygenate my brain.


Steven Martin Cohen, Author

Author's photo from BR back coverSteven Martin Cohen is a scientist, engineer, inventor, artist, humorist, and writer.

Author of Becker’s Ring (Crown Publishers and Warner Books), Seven Shades of Black (Warner Books), Toy Inventor, Katherine’s Bosom, The Watermark, Screw the Planet, Urban e-tiquette, and coauthored Caverns of the Shawangunk and its Environs, Southeastern New York, published by the National Speleological Society. His books have been published in Italy, England, Japan, and Romania.

Link to Author’s Amazon Page

7 shades of black cover 404 verticalSEVEN SHADES OF BLACK

While the Persian Gulf War rages, radio-controlled bombs are murdering hundreds of people in skyscrapers and Manhattan landmarks. Detective Brent Kramer combines forces with a brilliant team assembled to find Saddam Hussein’s elite terrorist cell known as The Seven Shades. Improvised munitions expert Nigel Atkerson reverse engineers bomb construction from shards of evidence. Herbert Raymond Boucher, former classmate of Nigel at MIT, is the FBI’s top anti-terrorism expert. Kurdish freedom fighters are smuggled into the US to search for the same mastermind who murdered 5000 people in a genocidal gas attack. Also enlisted is the most unlikely crime-fighter of all, notorious pickpocket Handy Hands, whose photographic memory guides police to track down the three most dangerous people on earth. Technology, guile, and ingenuity combine in an action-packed techno-thriller, taking us from abandoned New York train tunnels to cable cars high above the East River, from glider air drops over northern Iraq to an ill-fated hostage exchange—they must find the secret lab where a mild-mannered chemical engineer is cooking up on a kitchen stove the most powerful liquid explosive known to man, and no one is safe while his soldering iron connects the wires of another detonator.

Katherine bosom cover 416 verticalKATHERINE’S BOSOM

Katherine Parvo considers herself to be a good Christian, astrologer, scholar of many disciplines, and loving mother of an interracial child. In reality, she is a shallow, pretentious, fetishistic white Afrophile pretending to be more black than her black husband while smothering their daughter in a vice of sadistic control, mixed signals, and lies. And she has a secret sexual life she shares with no one. Under the fig leaf of tedious political correctness, Katherine is really a selfish, negligent scatterbrain with a pathological appetite for worship by those ensnared within her manic web of deception.

Hypocrisy and duplicity are taken to new levels as she manipulates family and friends to create a real estate empire that consists of a single mismanaged eight unit tenement slum. Guilt and psychosexual shame compound her dysfunctional relationships. She thrives on the creation of the chaos, which grows in ever-expanding circles as insane solutions to small problems beget still bigger problems, until things explode in catastrophe and murder. Katherine is a disease masquerading as the cure. And when she finally snaps, nothing good results, with many moving parts on a collision course in this dystopic Petri dish powered by hilariously-flamboyant mental illness.

beckers ring front cover 601 verticalBECKER’S RING

Recently released parolees are being abducted and having their hands amputated in an underground operating chamber. Their bones are then surgically fused to make one continuous limb from elbow to elbow. When dumped back on the street, the press calls them hoopers, and they become media celebrities under the tutelage of a sleazy promoter who shamelessly exploits these victims. The lead detective assembles an eccentric team of experts to catch the lunatic surgeon who is taking the law into his own hands. The mutilations grow more bizarre, resembling tree grafting experiments gone awry, and the comic horror escalates in a techno thriller where all things have gone terribly wrong in a life-or-death race against time. Will the cops find the mad surgeon before the most gruesome experiment of all?

Urban E-tiquette Cover small e 810 verticalURBAN E-TIQUETTE

Everyone who walks on a sidewalk experiences the stupid movement of others. In cities we collectively waste millions of hours just being in each others’ way. In one single rush hour subway stop two entire man-days can be collectively squandered due to aggressively-inconsiderate behavior of a few idiots blocking the doors. This time adds up. Man-days of waste become man-years, and eighty years of stolen time from the collective is not unlike murdering an entire person, several of which are micro-murdered every day. This time is carved from each of us against our will, and it can be prevented. Think of what could be accomplished with all this lost time.
There is a science to walking on sidewalks and stairs. There are optimal places to position oneself in moving crowds. There are sensible ways to get on and off elevators and trains. Conventions of motion etiquette can minimize delay. This pull-no-punches book humorously explains the dynamics of movement to save time. Pathologies are identified and named so people know what to call different time-wasting syndromes. And knowing what to call obstructive movement helps us avoid it.
This book also places bad social behavior under the microscope. Spitting and litter affect our quality of life. Things people wouldn’t dream of doing in their living rooms they freely do in public. As our awareness of intelligent motion and modern 19th century hygiene rises, so too will our movement efficiency and appreciation of where we live, work, and play.
Anyone visiting large cities should read this book, as should seasoned urban residents to refresh what they may only think they already know. Urban e-tiquette is a handbook for movement and general behavior in crowded places, and you’re guaranteed to have a few laughs.

Toy inventor cover 2498vTOY INVENTOR

When a brilliant toy inventor gets his vintage sports car stolen, he wages vengeance on car thieves in New York City. Diabolically booby-trapped cars are used as lures, and when the bait is taken, thieves are murdered within these computer-controlled execution chambers of horror. The press goes wild as the high profile death toll rises, and the heat is on the police to catch the psycho while public opinion splits between getting criminals off the street and opposition to vigilantism. Jealous love interests play upon the sexual deviance of the booby-trapper, threatening to unravel all his plans. Detective Brent Kramer is back from Becker’s Ring, along with Nigel and Sally, and politically incorrect mishaps escalate to give an inside peek at the perversions of the toy industry.

STP cover Issue 1 798 verticalSCREW THE PLANET, ISSUE #1

Like dark humor? Sick of all the politically correct crap they force feed you—the lies, hypocrisy, perversion, religious psychos, sleazy corporations, corrupt governments, and stupidity on a global scale? Well, Screw the Planet might just be the underground antidote for that politically incorrect laugh you’ve been longing for! So go ahead, indulge your inner misanthrope and laugh your ass off. We’re all going to Hell anyway.

WARNING: Screw the Planet is not approved by Corporations, Church, or State. Screw the Planet is harmful to the conformist brain. Screw the Planet can cause irreversible brain damage to those lacking a sense of humor. Many consider Screw the Planet to be a crime against humanity. Do not take Screw the Planet if you suffer from excess sensitivity, ignorance, are brainwashed, unevolved, or are just a plain douchbag.

STP cover Issue 2 798 verticalSCREW THE PLANET, ISSUE #2

Issue # 2 is armed and dangerous. Like dark humor? Sick of all the politically correct crap they force feed you—the lies, hypocrisy, perversion, religious psychos, sleazy corporations, corrupt governments, and stupidity on a global scale? Well, Screw the Planet Issue # 2 might just be the underground antidote for that politically incorrect laugh you’ve been longing for! So go ahead, indulge your inner misanthrope and laugh your ass off. We’re all going to Hell anyway.

WARNING: Screw the Planet is not approved by Corporations, Church, or State. Screw the Planet is harmful to the conformist brain. Screw the Planet can cause irreversible brain damage to those lacking a sense of humor. Many consider Screw the Planet to be a crime against humanity. Do not take Screw the Planet if you suffer from excess sensitivity, ignorance, are brainwashed, unevolved, or are just a plain douchbag.

Tom Coffey, Author

tomcoffeypicTom Coffey’s most recent novel, BRIGHT MORNING STAR, was published earlier this year by Oak Tree Press. His first novel, THE SERPENT CLUB, was published in 1999 by Pocket Books and earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Pocket Books published his second novel, MIAMI TWILIGHT, two years later. In 2008 Toby Press printed BLOOD ALLEY, which also earned a starred review from PW. Tom has worked as a reporter and editor for some of the leading newspapers in the country, including The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and New York Newsday. Since 1997, he has been a staff editor at The New York Times, and since 1999 he he has been a member of Mystery Writers of America. Tom lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife and daughter.

CF 1 - Bright Morning StarBook link:

Here’s a link to my author page on Facebook:

And here’s a link to my website:



And now for those questions:


BRIGHT MORNING STAR is a historical novel with a mystery at its core. It’s set in the early 20th century, in both the United States and the Philippines, and the plot revolves around the nasty guerrilla war that American troops fought against Filipino insurgents after the Spanish-American War.

I got the idea for the book a long time ago. I’m old enough to remember the Vietnam War, and its attendant controversies. Many members of the World War II generation were puzzled by all the dissent. Didn’t America always unite in times of war?

Actually, it doesn’t. With the exception of World War II, all of America’s wars faced considerable opposition while they were going on. Which led me (I’ve always been a history geek) to study this country’s military involvement in Asia, which dates to the Spanish-American War (1898), when America, to the astonishment of everyone in the United States government, gained control of the Philippines.

The Filipinos wanted independence, but the United States was not going to grant it. The result was a protracted struggle that featured atrocities by both sides, but particularly by the Americans. The squelching of another people’s desire for independence, coupled with lurid stories about war crimes, combined to make the war deeply divisive in the States. Many prominent Americans, most notably Mark Twain, lined up to denounce the government’s policy as being in direct violation of the principles upon which this country was founded.

I’ve wanted to write a novel with the Filipino war as its backdrop for many years. With our seemingly endless struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the topic seems particularly timely. (We keep fighting wars in Asia. We keep learning nothing.) A few years ago, I hit on the idea of framing the book as a love story. The protagonist is a young woman (a departure for me) who is, daringly for her time, a magazine journalist. She is assigned to investigate the court-martial of a soldier who has been convicted of murdering civilians in the Philippines. The twist is this: the soldier is a young man she was romantically involved with back in her hometown in upstate New York.

The setting gave me a chance to explore issues about sex, race, religion and America’s role in the world — all topics with a great deal of resonance today. It also gave me a chance to have some fun with historical figures like Twain and Theodore Roosevelt.


“Inspired” really isn’t the word I’d use. Writing is the best way I know of trying to say something meaningful about the human condition. To that end, I view writing as a craft, and I do my best to set aside time every day for writing. Since I work nights, I’m almost always able to get some writing done during the day.

I’m always looking for ideas. I carry around a small battered notepad with a New York Mets logo on it, and whenever an idea strikes me (which can happen frequently as I go about my business), I write it down immediately. At this point in my life, I have to write down an idea right away. If I don’t, I’m almost certain to forget it.


I am returning to my roots and writing noirish crime/mystery novels. I recently completed a novel titled PUBLIC MORALS, which is set in the New York of the 1970s and today. I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll say this: In the first part of the book, in the ’70s, a crime is committed. In the second part of the book, in the very different New York of 2015, the crime is revisited. I’m trying to get an agent to represent it, and if anyone out there knows of anyone …

Right now I’m writing a sequel to PUBLIC MORALS titled SPECIAL VICTIM. All of my previous books have been one-offs, and the process of writing a sequel is interesting. For one thing, I already know a lot of things about the main characters. That’s saving me a lot of time.


Do not wait for inspiration, whatever that is, to strike. You have to write consistently, and you have to hone the craft constantly. Carve out a specific time of the day, every day — at least an hour — and make that your writing time.

And be observant. As Yogi Berra was once reputed to have said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” If you prefer to quote Henry James, he put it this way: “Be the type of person upon whom nothing is lost.”


When my daughter was in second grade, her reading ability made tremendous strides. One day she was looking around our apartment and she asked me, “Daddy, why does that book have your name on it?” And I replied, “Because I wrote it.”

That felt good.

My daughter is now a teenager, and about a year ago she read my novel BLOOD ALLEY, a murder mystery set in New York in the 1940s. She was visiting her grandparents while she read it, while I was stuck in New York, and she started texting me as soon as she finished it. She went on and on about how twisted it was, especially at the end, and finally I asked her if she liked it. She confessed that she did.

That felt good, too.


Weirdly enough, I’ve never gotten writer’s block. I think that stems from creating a schedule where I write at least five days a week. I know that some days will be better than others, but I never get too down on myself when I struggle — or too euphoric when it all seems to be coming easily.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that I’m just not intelligent enough to get writer’s block.

Closing out this e-interview, I just want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to promote my latest book and say a little bit about it. And thanks for the questions — they gave me a lot to think about.

Sharon Love Cook, Author

portraitSharon Love Cook grew  up in Gloucester, MA, American’s oldest seaport.

Granite Cove, the setting for her mystery series, is inspired by her New England coastal upbringing. Additionally, like her protagonist, Rose McNichols, Cook writes for newspapers and once wrote for a weekly similar to the Granite Cove Gazette.

She is an art school grad who has illustrated her book covers. The next Granite Cove Mystery is Laugh ’til You Die, in which Rose moonlights doing stand-up at nursing homes, something Cook has undertaken.

She lives in coastal Beverly Farms, MA with her husband and  cats.





It’s midnight in Granite Cove and only the sea clams are open. Murder creates havoc in this sleepy New England fishing village and Rose McNichols, reporter for the Granite Cove Gazette, is drawn into the case. Who killed Vivian Klinger, Ph.D., a woman too perfect for mere mortals, a woman who had everything but a sense of humor?



(1) Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

This is my third Granite Cove Mystery. When it appears, I can truly call it a series. In my mind, three books are a series, or at least a sound beginning. In my current book, Laugh ’til You Die, Rose McNichols, my protagonist, is moonlighting as a stand-up comic. Her hours at the Granite Cove Gazette have been reduced. Best friend Betty Ann, activities director at Green Pastures Retirement Center, gets Rose a gig at Shady Nook, a pretty shady facility. There Rose meets Mabel Smithwick, former society maven who’s daughter in law has had Mabel committed to a locked unit.

Mabel tells Rose that she witnessed a drowning at her pool the previous summer. She’s afraid she was seen by the killer, a hooded figure. Rose doesn’t give much credence to Mabel’s fears until Mabel’s roommate dies in a questionable accident while sleeping in Mabel’s bed.

I felt confident writing about Rose’s ordeal as a nursing home stand-up comic because I have done this as well. Working the nursing home circuit is good practice for life. If you can continue your act while your audience falls asleep or walks out in disgust, you have conquered pride.

(2) How do you get inspired to write?

At 17, I was hired by the Cape Ann Summer Sun, a seasonal supplement to the Gloucester Daily Times. I was a correspondent, covering Long Beach in Rockport, where my family lived. I also drew cartoons, illustrating some aspect of my column. It was the first time my cartoons appeared in print. In any event, not much happened during those summers in the mid ‘60s. I wrote about the Red Cross swim classes and the dances at the old wooden hotel at the end of the beach. Occasionally I’d mention their dinner specials. I also covered the August jellyfish invasions, including who got stung.

For decades I’ve written a (humor) column for The Salem News, which is now, ironically, a sister paper to the Gloucester Daily Times: LINK

Writing a humor column is much more interesting than writing news stories. In college (where I was an adult, non-traditonal student), I was an editor for the campus newspaper. This was great because I drew a lot of cartoons and never rejected my stuff.

(3) What are you currently working on?

I have finished my third Granite Cove Mystery: Laugh til You Die. Right now I’m editing it, going back over every chapter, which is a lot easier than having to write original stuff every day(!) Once I’m finished, I give it to Linda Ellis, a professional copy editor who not only picks up grammar errors, etc., but also offers advice on content. Writers need objective, experienced input. I’ve worked as an editor and have an MFA in writing, yet I know to seek others’ opinions.

(4) What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

Read the above about seeking professional help to make your book as “perfect” as it can be. Also, I’m always amazed by what happens when I put my manuscript away in a drawer and take it out two weeks later–or longer. The errors fairly jump off the page. I’d advise everyone to do this. I’d also add that it’s probably better to write to your strengths. If you like “cozy” mysteries but think you should pen a thriller because that’s what’s popular, go ahead and do it. It will probably feel like you’re slogging away. I think you must be totally invested in your writing. Otherwise your readers will yawn and nod off.

(5) What’s the best thing about being a writer?

You get to sit a lot, which is also one of the worst things about being a writer. What I love is creating a town–in my case Granite Cove, a “sleepy New England fishing village”–and populating it with “real” people. By the time you’ve written your third book, you see these characters. You know them intimately.

(6) How do you deal with writer’s block?

I went to Bennington College in Vermont for an MFA in writing. It was a low-residency program where we were on campus for two weeks every semester. When we returned home we had to write chapters of our novel, or in my case, short stories. This was pre-email days when we’d send our packets off to our faculty advisor who would make comments, etc. We had a deadline for sending our work in. Teachers wouldn’t accept excuses. Additionally, I used to write a column for another newspaper, a local weekly, in the ’90s. I had to submit my column every week, no excuses. Needless to say, the experience helped alleviate writer’s block.

Leslie Budewitz, Author

Leslie-WEB-Color 200Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. She first fell in love with Pike Place Market when she was a college student in Seattle. As a young lawyer working downtown, she ate her way through the Market at least twice a week, and still makes regular pilgrimages.

The president of Sisters in Crime, Leslie lives in northwest Montana with her husband, Don Beans, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model and avid bird-watcher. Connect with her through her website and blog (LINK) or on Facebook (LINK).

Book links


GUILTY AS CINNAMON (Spice Shop Mystery #2, out December 1, from Berkley Prime Crime)

Pepper Reece knows that fiery flavors are the spice of life. But when a customer dies of a chili overdose, she finds herself in hot pursuit of a murderer…

From the cover …

 Murder heats up Seattle’s Pike Place Market in the next Spice Shop mystery from the national bestselling author of Assault and Pepper.

Springtime in Seattle’s Pike Place Market means tasty foods and wide-eyed tourists, and Pepper’s Seattle Spice Shop is ready for the crowds. With flavorful combinations and a fresh approach, she’s sure to win over the public. Even better, she’s working with several local restaurants as their chief herb and spice supplier. Business is cooking, until one of Pepper’s potential clients, a young chef named Tamara Langston, is found dead, her life extinguished by the dangerously hot ghost chili—a spice Pepper carries in her shop.

Now stuck in the middle of a heated police investigation, Pepper must use all her senses to find out who wanted to keep Tamara’s new café from opening—before someone else gets burned…


Readers often imagine that the main character in a novel—the protagonist, in writer-speak—is the writer herself. Now I’m writing two series, the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries and the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries set in NW Montana. Which woman is me—Pepper Reece, my Seattleite, or Erin Murphy, my Montana girl? Both—and neither. And that’s the fun. I get to draw on my own experiences, while imagining very different lives.

Erin Murphy, the protagonist of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, is a lot like me in many ways. She left her native Montana, then returned in her early 30s. She spouts off snippets from plays and poems with little provocation. Jewel Bay, her hometown, is a lot like the community where I live, so she lets me dive into that theme of coming home, only to find that both you and the place have changed more than you expected. I also get to share my love of this wonderful state and a town that never fails to surprise visitors!

On the flip side, Erin is quite a bit younger, lives near her food-loving family, and even runs a business with her mother. Challenges, challenges!

Pepper Reece, the owner of Seattle Spice Shop in the Pike Place Market, is a Seattle girl through and through. She lets me indulge and explore my love of the Emerald City. We both fit the “life begins at 40” cliché, and as with Erin, I find it a lot of fun to explore an aspect of my own life through the life of a younger woman with her own talents, quirks, and choices.

Pepper dove into retail after her marriage ended and the law firm where she’d worked in HR, managing staff, imploded in scandal and took her job with it. She tossed her office wardrobe, cut her hair, and bought the Spice Shop, a forty-year-old institution that had lost its verve. She’s also got a wonderful loft in a century-old downtown warehouse, and in ASSAULT AND PEPPER, inherits a dog. She’s loyal, creative, and adventuresome, traits I think we share. Those are also great traits for an amateur sleuth. In GUILTY AS CINNAMON, those traits lead her to investigate the murder of a young woman she’d admired, and expose secrets that others are desperate to keep hidden.

As with Erin, Pepper’s commitment to her business gives her eyes and ears in the community—and that allows me to slip them into an investigation easily. Both are passionate about what they do, making them great company—a bonus when you spend months with a character.

I’ve got a theory about what makes amateur sleuths so intriguing, and it fits both Pepper and Erin. Murder disrupts the community. In an amateur sleuth mystery, the protagonist investigates, while law enforcement runs a parallel, official investigations. The officers and prosecutors are responsible for restoring external order. The amateur, through her involvement in the community, restores the social order. Both are essential for true justice.

And that drive, that belief that each of has a responsibility to work for justice, is ultimately what unites my protagonists and me, and makes them worth writing.

Alan Cook, Author

portraitAlan Cook is a recovering computer nerd who is well into his second life as an author of mystery/suspense novels and children’s books. His Carol Golden amnesia series now numbers five novels with the publication of Good to the Last Death.


Alan Cook

Author’s Den



When Carol Golden’s husband, Rigo, disappears, she not only has to look for him but also elude the FBI at the same time since there is evidence she may have been involved in his disappearance. She doggedly follows a faint trail, keeping her location a secret from everybody except her friend, Jennifer, a spy-in-training, who takes time off from her top-secret job to help Carol. What they find out is that an organization of “good” people dedicated to saving the earth from pollution and global warming may feel justified in carrying out activities reminiscent of the worst tyrants of the twentieth century as part of their solution, and that Rigo may be the first casualty.
The search for Rigo and the truth will take Carol from her married home of Los Angeles to the ruggedly beautiful Rocky Mountains near Denver where an unusually hot summer is fueling passions that may not be conducive to the long-term viability of the human race. Carol and Jennifer must have concrete evidence of wrongdoing and Rigo’s whereabouts before they can call in the FBI, but keeping themselves alive is going to be their first job. One misstep in the mountains can be fatal.

Links for purchasing Good to the Last Death:







Some people say the science of global warming (or fill in your own favorite cause) is settled. Science is never settled. If it were, the earth would still be the center of the universe. But new discoveries are constantly being made. My new suspense novel, Good to the Last Death, takes a look at do-gooders who may be doing a lot more harm than good.

When Carol Golden’s husband, Rigo, disappears, she not only has to look for him but also elude the FBI at the same time since there is evidence she may have been involved in his disappearance. She doggedly follows a faint trail, keeping her location a secret from everybody except her friend, Jennifer, a spy-in-training, who takes time off from her top-secret job to help Carol. What they find out is that an organization of “good” people dedicated to saving the earth from pollution and global warming may feel justified in carrying out activities reminiscent of the worst tyrants of the twentieth century as part of their solution, and that Rigo may be the first casualty.

The search for Rigo and the truth will take Carol from her married home of Los Angeles to the ruggedly beautiful Rocky Mountains near Denver where an unusually hot summer is fueling passions that may not be conducive to the long-term viability of the human race. Carol and Jennifer must have concrete evidence of wrongdoing and Rigo’s whereabouts before they can call in the FBI, but keeping themselves alive is going to be their first job. One misstep in the mountains can be fatal.

Albert Ashforth, Author

Albert Ashforth, authorAlbert Ashforth attended a technical high school in Brooklyn, where he became interested in drafting and illustration, and after graduating served in the Army overseas. After returning to the States and graduating from Brooklyn College, he worked for two New York City newspapers. Although he took his first newspaper job with the thought of becoming a cartoonist, Mr. Ashforth’s first writing was done for newspapers. On the basis of a newspaper article he wrote, he was offered a contract to write a book on the 19th-century English scientist, Thomas Henry Huxley, a project which required two trips to London for research at the Imperial College. Mr. Ashforth subsequently returned to Europe to work as a military contractor, and has done tours in Bosnia, Germany, Kosovo, Macedonia and Afghanistan. Among the subjects he has taught for the University of Maryland’s Overseas Program are Technical Writing and German. At the University of Basel and the University of Bern, in Switzerland, Mr. Ashforth delivered lectures on the acceptance of Charles Darwin’s ideas in continental Europe. He has worked as an instructor at Special Forces headquarters in Bad Tolz and trained officers at the German military academy in Neu Biberg. Mr. Ashforth has written three books and numerous stories, articles and reviews on a variety of subjects. His recently published novel, The Rendition, which unfolds against the background of Kosovo’s struggle for independence, is an espionage thriller which takes the readers into one of Europe’s poorest and most crime-ridden countries. The Rendition received the bronze medal from the Military Writers Society of America as one of the three best thrillers of 2012. Publishers Weekly described The Rendition as “an exciting spy thriller.” Mr. Ashforth is an assistant professor at SUNY and lives in New York City. He has completed the sequel to The Rendition. The title is Afghan Vindication. It takes place largely in Afghanistan and is scheduled to be published early next year by Oceanview.



The brutal secret war to win Kosovo’s freedom from Serbia is in full swing when The Rendition takes readers behind the headlines for an inside look at the United States’ involvement. Alex Klear, a veteran intelligence officer, is sent to the Balkans on a hastily planned rendition which goes terribly bad. Alex decides it’s time to retire. However, when he is persuaded to go to Germany as part of an operation connected to the rendition, he finds himself caught between two dynamic women, an old girlfriend and the female colonel running the ‘op.’ While there, he becomes a target of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a murder suspect to the German police, and for his superiors the perfect fall guy to take the heat for a badly botched secret operation. With Kosovo’s independence declaration coming closer by the day, the secret war heats up and Alex comes to realize that he is at the center of a murky conspiracy aimed at making the United States an international pariah.


A Villain By Any Other Name by Albert Ashforth

The place was a military installation in Germany. The time was the 1970s, smack in the middle of the Cold War. In the course of briefing a number of GIs, an officer announced, “Let’s not forget, we’re here for one reason, guys – and that’s to kill Commies!”

Looking back to that time, I’m reminded that “Commies” was an all-purpose word which served to describe our enemy. A Commie was a person who wasn’t quite human, and you didn’t need to suffer any qualms of conscience in the event that, along the way, you might have killed one or two. Just the opposite was true. As the officer indicated, killing “Commies” was a pastime to be encouraged.

I still remember that briefing, and I have to confess I was mildly surprised at the time to hear our enemies described in such a direct and unsympathetic manner. Didn’t “Commies” have families? Weren’t any “Commies” nice guys? Were there any “Commies” who helped old ladies to cross the street?

Today, military people are still straightforward in talking about the enemy. Commies, of course, are no longer the problem. In Afghanistan, I often heard the enemy referred to as Talibs,” but more often simply as “bad guys.”

But hold on! Our enemies in Afghanistan don’t think of themselves as “bad.” They think of themselves as “good.” For them, we Americans are the “bad guys.” We’ve invaded their country, and in the course of the invasion, we’ve been shooting up the towns, the cities and the landscape. Of course, we would say we’ve invaded for a good reason – to avenge the World Trade Center attack and to help make Afghanistan a more modern and better country. In this case, the invasion is seen from two different viewpoints, and that’s what causes each side to regard the other as “bad.”

Human nature being what it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a phrase in the Pashto language which serves to demean us the way we use “bad guys” to demean them.

Moving into the mystery writing world, I think we writers have a problem similar to that of military people. In talking about their books, mystery writers often refer to the “villains” inhabiting their stories. The term “villain” is interchangeable with “Commie” or just plain “bad guy,” and I think the problem is clear. The character in the story doesn’t think of himself or herself as a villain. No matter what they might be doing, I can assure you the “villain” feels perfectly justified in doing whatever he or she is doing.

In fact the term “villain” often sounds as if the author is writing off the character’s motivations as being unjustified. Or just plain awful. Or illogical. This is unfortunate because the person who is opposed to the hero is frequently the most interesting person in the book – and in fact can often be quite likable.

The best example of a likable villain is probably to be found in a couple of Shakespeare’s plays. Looked at closely, Falstaff is as awful a person as can be imagined. Sir John is repulsive in just about every way, and is everything a knight is not supposed to be. And yet he was the most popular and likable figure in all of Shakespeare’s plays. He obviously has some good qualities. He’s got a sense of humor. He can laugh at himself. He’s imaginative and never at a loss for words.

So take it from the Bard. Where your villain is concerned, give him or her some good qualities – thoughtfulness, generosity, a sense of humor. Let your villain be as likable as you can make him or her.

And give him or her some good lines. What are the most memorable lines in Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most popular play, and who speaks them? Polonius’s words of advice for his son are unforgettable. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” he tells Laertes, who is on his way to Paris. These lines also emphasize his concern for his son. In fact Polonius’s love for Laertes seems so great, it led him to murder King Hamlet. In the course of the play, he wants to kill Prince Hamlet probably to make it possible for Laertes to one day become king of Denmark. Polonius is definitely someone who thinks ahead – and who has an interesting mix of motivations, some good and some not so good.

As I said, the “villain” is quite often the most fascinating and complex character in a thriller or mystery. This means his or her motivations should be closely analyzed and explained in the course of the story.

I think “villain” is a kind of all-purpose term which is thrown around too casually. I prefer to think of people not on my hero’s wavelength as “opponents.” They are people who very definitely have an agenda different from my hero’s. By not thinking of them as “bad,” I find it is easier to make them human and interesting.