A Shadow on the Snow: the Book Trailer

I am so excited to share my book trailer with you! I hadn’t planned on making a book trailer because I knew I didn’t have the skills to make it look great. Or even nice. But my niece has been editing home movies with music and special effects for years, so I asked if she could help me create one. For two hours one Saturday afternoon, we searched for public domain video and music clips to create the 45-second trailer. It was fascinating watching my niece work. I felt like a Hollywood director collaborating with a top-notch editor while my sister acted as creative consultant. So much skill, and my niece is all of fourteen years old. Without further delay, enjoy the world premiere of A Shadow on the Snow: the Book Trailer.

Thank you so much to authors Laurie Lucking and James R. Hannibal for providing endorsements for my novel!

For my fellow writers–if you like how the trailer looks, I recommend downloading the software Filmora. You pay a one-time price, and the software comes with automatic updates. However, that price does not include a fourteen-year-old film technician. So you’ll have to recruit your own.

To pre-order my debut YA mystery, click on the links.
Barnes and Noble

If you like A Shadow on the Snow, please consider leaving a positive review wherever you review books. Reviews help authors gain more visibility on the book retailer sites.

Collaborative Mystery: the Complete Saga

I had a lot of fun working on this collaborative mystery with author M. Liz Boyle. Creative people make my creativity spark in unexpected ways. Click here to see all the prompts for the collaborative mystery. And thanks, Liz, for the ending. We had a family emergency, so I didn’t know if I had the brain power to craft a sensible ending. Or even a non-sensible one. I was very fortunate that you wrapped up the story, and I especially liked your last line! So now sit back and enjoy the collaborative mystery: the complete saga.


I couldn’t have found a better day for a shoot. The October sky was that brilliant blue you only get in the fall when all the humidity has seeped away. The sun shone clear, and the air had an apple-crisp tang to it. The cheery landscape was the perfect contrast to the derelict vehicles scattered around the abandoned junkyard. I bent to my viewfinder and focused on the ancient convertible, so green that it could pass as a weird plant species that you only–what’s that?

I straightened and stared at the far side of the car. No. It couldn’t be. I took a step closer for a better look.

As soon as I stepped closer, I wished I hadn’t. There’s a person in there, no mistaking it. Is she – dead? I scan my surroundings, and not feeling any more endangered with getting a closer look than gawking from back here, I tiptoe to the window. A young lady, breathing, thank the heavens. Wait, isn’t that Geralyn Moss, the would’ve been valedictorian who disappeared last March? And no, I’m not a creeper to recognize her. Her picture has been on every billboard for three counties. For six months. What valedictorian stages her own disappearance? Or who set her up? And what do I do now? Wake her up? Call the cops? My phone rings. Loudly. I scramble to silence it, but the girl, Geralyn, stirs in her sleep and her eyes fly open.

Geralyn leaps from the rust heap of a truck and bolts uphill, dodging wrecks.
“Wait! I won’t hurt you!” I call after her.
She doesn’t even slow her speed.
I start to run after her when I glance in the truck. On the floor is a photo.Torn in half. With a handwritten note. I pick it up.

I grab the photo and note, stuff them in my jacket and look back toward her retreating figure. It must be the photojournalist in me, or maybe the father in me, imagining Geralyn’s parents when they are reunited with their daughter. I run after her, continuously calling her name, letting her know I just want to help. The girl has obviously been living on meager rations of food, and she soon runs out of energy, allowing me to catch up. I find her ducking between a dead tree and another rusty clunker car. “Did somebody hurt you? Your parents, everyone, they’ve been looking for you,” I say between breaths. She shivers.
“You shouldn’t have found me. They could get us all now.” Her eyes are wide.
“Who could get who now?” I want to turn on my voice recorder, take pictures, really interview her, but I’m afraid she’ll bolt again, so I take the casual, concerned adult approach.
“I saw you take the note. It explains as much as I know.” Huh? I retrieve the note from my pocket, taking a discreet glance at the torn picture at the same time. Looks like a break-up. Hormonal teenagers. I hold up the note and read. Oh this is not what I expected.

Written over and over in spidery cursive are three words: “Alive and dead”.
I say, “Who are these people in th photo?”
Jamming her hands in the pocket of her dirty sweat jacket, Geralyn says, “I don’t know. I just know they sent me that note and photo, then kidnapped me from school. I escaped from the car before they could take me anywhere. I’ve been hiding out ever since.”
“Why didn’t you go to the police?’
She pulls a long strand of dark hair from her cheek. “I didn’t want to endanger my family.”
“But why would–”
The woods darken. The fog burned off in the morning has rolled back in.
“Come with me.” I say. “The cops can protect you and you family.”
“No. They can’t. How can–”
Leaves rustle. Geralyn leaps to her feet and takes off.
I spin in the direction of the leaves crunching under footsteps. A figure emerges from the fog.

“Dad!” I recognize my sixteen-year-old son’s voice.
I spin toward him and nearly collapse, my heart beat thumping in my head. “Don’t scare me like that again. Run after her!” I point toward Geralyn’s direction of escape.
“What? Who? Are you still taking pictures out here?” He asks questions like he’s still three.
“That missing valedictorian girl, Geralyn. She’s here!” We start to run together.
“You saw her?! What’s she doing? Is she okay?” Again with his nonstop questions.
A new voice stops us in our tracks faster than when Scamp catches the scent of a squirrel. “The real question is, what are YOU doing?” We slowly turn on our heels and see a hairy guy who could take on a bouncer. I gulp and nudge Tyler behind me. The bouncer guy walks toward us, obviously aware that his presence is all he needs to scare us into his control.
“Two choices,” his voice booms. “You can follow her and I take you all captive, or you can stay here and I take you all captive. Plus your wife,” his gaze penetrates me. “502 East Oak Street, correct?”
What is going on? I glance back at Tyler and I inhale sharply when I see what he’s about to do.

The bouncer guy pulls a gun from the pocket of his coat and motions with it. “Move.”
Tyler freezes, and I step between him and Bouncer Guy. “So we have no choice?” I say.
Grinning, he reveals crooked teeth. “None at all.”
I gulp. “I guess we’ll–” I throw my camera at him, yelling. “Run!”
Bouncer Guy jerks, stepping back, and I hurl myself on him, grabbing for his gun hand.
We hit the ground, dead leaves exploding underneath us, the gun flying out of his hand.
Tyler races in and kicks the man in the head until he goes limp.
“I told you to run.” I shout, sitting up, glancing around for the weapon.
“I couldn’t leave you, Dad.”
Through the mist I spot the gun laying beside a truck with no doors.
I roll to my knees when another figure detaches from the mist. A woman.
I gasp. It’s the woman in the–wait. She resembles the woman in the photo but she’s not the same person.
She tilts her head to one side, her gaze gliding to the gun that lays between us.
I pull my legs under me, my eyes fixed on this woman, who breaks into a not-quite sane smile.

Her voice startles me as much as her showing up out of the mist. “Are you here to rescue us?”
“Who is us?” I make my way to the gun, slowly so I don’t scare her.
Out of the mist, I see Geralyn timidly return. Tyler, who is using his belt to tie up Bouncer Guy’s wrists, pauses long enough mid-buckle to toss his phone to Geralyn. “Call 9-1-1!”
Geralyn catches the phone but looks confused. “Why?”
I’m angry now. Whatever Bouncer Guy has been doing has totally traumatized these ladies. “Because you don’t have to live in fear of this monster of a guy!” Both ladies jump enough to remind me to rein in my anger.
I hold the gun towards Bouncer Guy and tell Tyler to call 9-1-1. Between the gun and his restrained wrists, I can keep him at bay until the cops arrive.
Geralyn quietly asks, “Should I get the others now?”
“What others?” I ask. I hear Tyler explaining our location to the dispatcher. Please hurry.
“The rest of the people and animals he’s training for his traveling show.”
I feel my face blanch. People and animals? Is a lion going to appear next? Bouncer Guy mumbles something in his unconscious stupor. “If you…tell…kill…you….” His eyes roll back again. Sirens are coming now, fast.
I look at Geralyn and the other lady. “You’ll be safe now.” I’ve still got the gun aimed, just in case. The cops have parked and are running through the woods toward us.
Tyler hangs up and gives me a nervous smile. “I guess you got your story, Dad.”
“Better. I watched my son be a hero.”

Hiding the Villain in a Mystery

Hiding the villain in a mystery is the toughest task when writing a story in the genre. Planting clues and red herrings effectively is hard too, but if I don’t correctly handle hiding the villain in a traditional whodunit, I’ve ruined the whole story.

Do’s and Don’ts for Hiding the Villain

Don’t have a very minor character be the villain.

Mystery author Bill Pronzini describes this pitfall in a chapter of his book Son of Gun in Cheek when writing about his love for the old Charlie Chan movies made in the 1930’s and ’40’s. He writes that often the villain turned out to be such a minor character that it was difficult to remember what scenes he or she was in.

Part of the fun of a mystery is to reread them after the solution is revealed, noting how the villain acted and what clues I missed that pointed to his guilt. If the villain hardly appears in the story, the reader has no satisfaction in seeing him unmasked. The mystery’s solution isn’t a revelation but a shock and a cheap one at that.

Now I can have a very minor character turn out to be an accomplice. That can provide a nice twist to the plot. But this character should still have enough page time for the reader to say, when revealed as the villain’s ally, “Aha!’ instead of “Who?”

Do make the villain a major player.

He should be an important secondary character, someone who has significant interactions with the detective. But if he has too many scenes in which he plays a pivotal role, the reader may get suspicious. So …

Don’t make the villain the only major player.

As I’ve written mysteries, this tip is the one I’ve found helpful: give each suspect almost equal time on the page. Creating suspects with as much reason to be guilty as the real culprit and allowing them meaningful page time helps disguise the true villain. The drawback of this method is that if a character acts suspiciously but is innocent, my detective either has to uncover to reason or the character must explain her actions. Unlike in real life, mysteries must tie up loose ends. For more on writing about clues and red herrings, click here.

What mysteries had the best reveal of the villain?

Collaborative Mystery Part 4

Collaborative mystery part 4 goes up today and it’s the last prompt for the story. I’ll post the story in its entirety next Monday. If you want to read part 1 of the mystery, click here. For part 2, click here. For part three, click here.

If you are new to this kind of writing prompt, here are the rules:

  • I’ll write two or three sentences in the comments to start the next section of the mystery.
  • Anyone who wants to may write two or three more sentences. 
  • Please no graphic content.

What Makes a Mystery a Cozy?

This is an updated article from 2019. The term mystery or crime fiction covers many subgenres, cozy mysteries being a very popular one. What makes a mystery a cozy? Below are the four most prominent features of cozy mysteries, ones that I incorporated into my YA mystery, A Shadow on the Snow.


One reason I think cozy mysteries are so popular is because, in the end, they are underdog stories, and these have huge appeal. The amateur sleuth can come in many flavors, but he or she can’t have any official standing within law enforcement, automatically making them the underdog. However, amateur sleuths do need some kind of advantage or skill they can rely on when they tackle a case. For more details on that special ability, click here for my post, “Three Tips on How to Build a Teen Detective.”


Many cozy mysteries are series, and readers derive a lot of enjoyment from spending time with characters they regard as old friends. It’s important to develop secondary characters, who add a family feel to the stories.

I had a ton of fun creating secondary characters for Shadow. My main character Rae has just discovered who her father is and that she has a whole herd of relatives. As Rae gets to know her new family, so does the reader.

  • Her worry-prone, protective dad who is the sheriff.
  • Her three half-brothers: Rusty, the quiet, imaginative writer. Aaron, the enthusiastic inventor. Micah, the easy-going, practical first-grader.
  • Her laid-back, unflappable grandmother.

Rae has more relatives but those are the ones I focus on in my novel. Because I’ve created this world of complex secondary characters, I have a great raw material to work with in my next novels. In my second book, maybe I’ll focus on Rae and her cousins or on the young deputies she jams with in a band. Two of my beta readers really liked Rae’s great-grandfather. That surprised me, but I’ll try to work him into future stories.


For many cozies, this translates into a small town, like St. Mary Mead where Miss Marple lives, or Three Pines, the hometown of Inspector Armand Gamache. But the setting can be any small, tightly knit community. The members of a community theater, a sorority, or a carnival would all fit in a cozy mystery. In fact, the amateur sleuth’s membership in this community may give her an edge. Such as the teen who is investigating threats at her high school. She would be able to questions suspects in a much different way from the police.

Rae Riley is a newcomer to rural Marlin County, Ohio. It’s the kind of county where a newcomer stands out, and several generations of a family live within its borders. One of Rae’s advantages in such a community is that she can judge people without any preconceptions that might come from knowing someone for twenty years.

Although small-towns might seem cliched, I think a majority of Americans don’t know what small-town living is like and find reading about it in fiction intriguing. This truth came home to me last week. I’d been invited to a Bible study in a town of about 700 people. We were going to meet in an old bank that’s been converted into rental office space. When I got there, I couldn’t find any of the ladies who’d invited me. But I knew one owned the salon across the street, so I poked my head in and asked if I’d gotten the wrong day. She said no. We were starting at 7:30, not 7.

Later the salon owner told me that when I stopped by, she had a couple ladies from a nearby big city waiting. One of them was surprised by my visit, remarking that everybody really did know everybody else in a small town. Her reaction made me smile.


Readers of cozies do not want heads rolling down the stairs or couples rolling around in beds. That doesn’t mean they expect a G-rated story. They know someone will be murdered. They know adultery or other plots revolving around sex are likely.  They just don’t want every grisly detail of the murder described or told exactly what the two-timing wife did in the bedroom with her boyfriend. Those details are not essential to solving the mystery.

What are some of your favorite cozy mysteries?

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