The Story Behind the Strong Heroine

Cessna Centurion 210

West of Famous developed from a desire to create powerful women role models. This is the third book in the Compass Crimes collection. The stories are connected by the ensemble cast of characters whose lives intersect because of crimes. Like the previous two books, this one features a heroine whose life is overturned by a crime, but she does not react as a victim waiting like a fairy tale princess to be rescued.

I was raised on stories like Cinderella, but I wanted my stories to be more like the 1998 movie Ever After. My favorite scene in that updated version of the Cinderella story is when Drew Barrymore, playing Danielle, rescues the prince from a band of gypsies.

In West of Famous, Martina Ramos is mistaken for a celebrity by kidnappers. She does not have the option of waiting to be rescued because only the kidnappers know where she is, and they don’t value her life. Those who value her life don’t know she’s missing.

My desire to create strong women role models comes from a deep-seated sense of rebellion. When I was in grade school oh, so long ago, society expected girls to choose from a short list of roles: teacher, nun, wife, and mother, nurse, secretary, waitress, or stewardesses. But I wanted to write. It was as though all other career options were considered unsuitable for good girls. To say I wanted to write was tantamount to declaring I wanted to be homeless or insane. An outlier. An outcast.

Like Sara Paretsky so brilliantly describes in Writing in the Age of Silence, women have been told by society to be quiet, to keep their opinions to themselves, to be seen and not heard. But Dorothy Parker, Pearl S. Buck, Harriet Tubman, Virginia Woolf, and Harper Lee told entertaining stories that challenged people’s perceptions about the status quo.

My high school guidance counselor tried to dissuade me from going to college even though I was an honors graduate. By then I’d already started earning money as a writer. I told her that if she wasn’t going to help me, she should get out of my way. So off I went to Indiana University to earn a degree in journalism.

I write stories about bold women who fight to overcome whatever life throws at them because we need role models like that.

I have one. While I was in college, my mother was widowed for the second time. So, after raising three children and surviving two toxic marriages, she announced at age 55 she had quit her job as a legal secretary to go to law school. It was as inspiring as it was heartbreaking that she was finally going to do what she wanted to do.

I’d like to be a bold role model for my daughter Jessica, but if she gets any bolder, I’ll have to raise bail. There is quite a strong similarity between her and the heroine of West of Famous, but don’t tell her that.


This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Magazine, Winter 15, 2019 edition.

By the way, In my forties I fulfilled a lifelong dream and earned my pilot’s license. Only 6% of pilots are women, so yeah, this was life-affirming and empowering. I then earned my instrument-rating. My husband also flies, so we have to take turns to prevent a wrestling match into the cockpit. I want to lead by example and encourage other women to be bolder.


Bouchercon 2018 from a First-timer

Long before I wrote my first story I was a reader. My favorite genres are suspense, thrillers, and mysteries. So imagine my joy at attending Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida this month. Bouchercon is the World Mystery Convention, the premier annual event for readers, authors, and all lovers of crime fiction. As a local, I volunteered to stuff books into book bags for attendees ahead of the conference. The organizers were expecting 1500, so it was a long day.

Bouchercon book bags pile

After we filled all the carts, we stacked the book bags on the floor.

Bouchercon book bags in carts

Bouchercon book bagsAmong the volunteers were fans and authors. We were giddy with the selection of FREE BOOKS. Among the volunteers was Author J.D. Allen. Her latest book 19 Souls was among the giveaways we were adding to bags. I remember the beautiful cover.


19 Souls by J.D. Allen

After the 1500 bags were stuffed, super fan, Judy Bobalik invited all the volunteers to the upstairs bar for drinks. I had long drive home on I-4, so I had a soda. My hands were so sore from stuffing bags I drove home and stuck my hands in ice water.

Bouchercon at the Vinoy Renaissance ResortThe next day, Wednesday, September 5, I drove back to the Vinoy Renaissance Resort with my friend Author Donna Kelly. We checked in to the resort and then we picked up our registration packets and goodie bags (free books!). Going over the schedule, we found even more book giveaways at author signings. At registration, Donna and I met another first-time Bouchercon author named Frank Zafiro. A retired detective, he writes the River City Series, the Stefan Kopriva novels, and more.

We wandered around the resort to find the ballrooms where panel discussions would be held. We encountered gators.

Bouchercon gators

Bouchercon lineup

Donna in the author’s lineup.

And Donna stood in an author lineup. Donna wanted books signed by Lee Child and Michael Connelly. I said I’d be hunting down Diana Capri, Sara Paretsky, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Laura Lippman.

Bouchercon authors

Hank Phillippi Ryan autographed a book for me!


Donna Kelly meets Lee Child.


Michael Connelly signs a book or two for Donna.


Sara Paretsky, founder of Sisters in Crime, signed a book for me!

Laura Lippman taught a workshop at Eckerd College years ago that taught me significant lessons in story craft. I was long overdue in thanking her.


Laura Lippman autographed a book for me.

I ran into Kerry Lonsdale, whom I’d met at a Women’s Fiction Writers Conference in Albuquerque, NM.


Author Kerry Lonsdale put a selfie of us on her blog a few years ago, so…

The authors and fans blended into a giant excited crowd. When asked if we were authors or fans, we’d answer, “Yes.” How can you be a writer without being an avid reader? The 4-day event featured panel discussions on various topics, book signings, lunches, award banquets, and of course, what is known as barcon–gatherings in the bar until the staff scoots us out. The main bar at the Vinoy is in the main lobby. There people clustered on sofas and ottomans and balanced drinks on tiny tables while debating crime stories and favorite authors. Donna and I, as new members of Sisters in Crime, met other members at their breakfast gathering.

Bouchercon meeting room


Authors Christine King and Diane Capri shared writing stories.

I enjoyed chatting with Diana Capri and Christine King about boating, adventures, and writing. Diane juggles a number of series, one of which ties in with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Diana served on a panel discussion titled “Familiar but New–Writing Established Characters.” Christine and Diane are also members of Sisters in Crime. They welcomed me as a new member.

Ah, fun. The 2019 Bouchercon will be in Dallas. I hope I can go. Back to work.