Muse Wednesday — Annette Dashofy

In the Bleak MidwinterWelcome to the first in a series of Muse Wednesday blogs leading up to the Bouchercon 2015 panel “Maintaining Pace in Mystery,” scheduled for Saturday, October 10th at 1 pm EST.

I have the honor of moderating the panel consisting of Annette Dashofy, Hilary Davidson, Laura Benedict, and Rebecca Drake. The ladies have enthusiastically agreed to share their Muses with you.

Leading off this Muse Wednesday series is author Annette Dashofy, author of the Zoe Chamber mystery series.


When Monette first invited me to blog about my muse, I thought what fun! But then I thought some more and it struck me what a complicated mission this was. Or maybe I was over thinking the whole matter. I’ve been accused of this in the past.

My inspiration has changed over the years, going back to books like My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara, and Walter Farley’s Black Stallion and Island Stallion series. Yes, I love horses, but what stuck with me about those novels was the sense of place. Setting.

I also devoured anything about the Wild West, especially those written by Zane Gray. Again, the stories transported me to another place.

But the novel that changed the direction of my youthful attempts at fiction writing was Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark. Suddenly nail-biting suspense became vital in everything I read. And my fiction has been entirely crime related ever since.

As an aside, I met Ms. Clark a couple of years ago and had a chance to shake her hand and thank her in person for setting me on the path of mystery writer. She was as sweet as can be. A true Lady.

Fast forward a couple of decades to the point where I became serious about publication. I found another muse—Dick Francis. Still in love with horses and Walter Farley’s series, I penned two mysteries set in the world of Thoroughbred racing. Two agents and many rewrites later, that first series of mine remained unsold. I moved on to another series, my Zoe Chambers mysteries. I had completed a rough draft of the first, Circle of Influence, when my friend (and soon-to-be-debut author) Joyce Tremel put Julia Spencer Fleming’s In the Bleak Midwinter in my hands. I was enthralled. Like Circle, it had a rural setting, took place in winter, and had dual protagonists, including a small-town police chief. Unlike mine, Julia’s writing was exquisite! I immediately proclaimed (and continue to) that “I want to write like her when I grow up!”

Another aside—I met Julia for the first time at the same conference where I’d met Mary Higgins Clark and was equally fan-girl over her! I remain completely in awe of her skill with the English language.

To this day, she remains one of my muses. And I’ve added another, perhaps influenced by my early love of Westerns—Craig Johnson and his Longmire series. Any time I find myself stuck and trying to figure out how to show-not-tell emotions, setting, character, dialogue—just about anything—I crack open one of Julia’s or Craig’s novels and soak in their words, trying to learn by osmosis.


Annette Dashofy-small fileBio:

Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE, published by Henery Press, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and for the David Award for Best Mystery of 2014. The second in the series, LOST LEGACY, was released in September 2014 followed by BRIDGES BURNED in April 2015. Her short fiction includes a 2007 Derringer Award nominee featuring the same characters as her novels. Annette is vice president and past president of the Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime. She serves as vice president of Pennwriters, as well as being their 2013 recipient of the Meritorious Service Award. She also belongs to Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. Annette and her husband live on part of what used to be her grandfather’s dairy farm in southwestern Pennsylvania with one very spoiled cat.


Featured Book: Bridges Burned, Book Three in the Zoe Chambers mystery series.


Buy Links:
Barnes and Noble
Mystery Lovers Bookshop

Muse Wednesday Redux

It’s been awhile since I posted regular Muse Wednesdays. I missed them.  I love learning what set my fellow authors on the road to writing. But social media is a time suck and so I put the Muse blogs aside for only special occasions and the odd one-off author who actually seeks me out to do one.

So why bring them back now?  What’s special about the next four Wednesdays in September?

Bouchercon 2015 will be held in Raleigh, NC, from October 7-11th.

And once again, I have the distinct honor of being a Moderator for a panel entitled, Maintaining Pacing in Mystery.

The panel consists of published authors Annette Dashofy, Hilary Davidson, Laura Benedict, and Rebecca Drake.  Our panel is scheduled for Saturday, October 10th at 1 pm.  If you’re attending, we’d love to see you there.  If you aren’t, there is still time to register for this conference which is the largest mystery convention in the world. See the full scheduled of events and panels, HERE.

My four panelists are all at the top of their game in the mystery/suspense/thriller field, so I thought it would be fun to ask them who or what their writing Muse(s) are — and at the same time get some promo and advance excitement for our fabulous panel.  Yes, I am devious that way. 😉

The Muse Blog schedule is as follows:

September 9th –Annette Dashofy

September 16th –Hilary Davidson

September 23rd–Laura Benedict

September 30th – Rebecca Drake

I’ve already seen Annette’s blog and I love her choice.  And, no, I’m not telling, you have to come back next week and see who she picked.

And to remind you what a Muse Blog is all about, I am re-blogging my original Muse Blog which addressed why I write what I write:



Monette Michaels

 In the summer of 1964, I picked up The Moon Spinners.  From the opening line, Mary Stewart had this twelve-year-old girl hooked: “It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it.”  Such a simple line filled with questions. Who is the narrator?  Where was the narrator that she chanced to see an egret fly from a lemon grove? And what exactly had started?

From that little line, I traveled with Nikky Ferris, a young British woman, on a journey of discovery and danger. When Nikky takes that first step off the beaten path to Agios Georgios, she didn’t know it yet, but she has changed her life forever.  As she makes her way into the rugged mountains lining the Greek coastline, I tasted the dust Nikky’s shoes cast into the air.  I smelled the lemon flowers as she wends her way through the grove.  I shivered at the coolness of the mountain water when Nikki pauses to rinse her hot, dusty hands.  I shared her sense of isolation and the building anticipation that something was going to happen.  When Lambos drops into her path, knife in hand, my heart rate jumped right along with Nikky’s.  What had started out to be a pleasant little getaway with her aunt in a sleepy little Greek seaside resort, has now become a life and death matter as Nikky’s future becomes inextricably intertwined with Mark and Colin Langley’s lives – – lives that had been changed forever when the brothers stumbled across murder in the wilds of Greece.  And I was with her every step of the way.

What amazes me, now that I also write novels, is that the set up in The Moon-Spinners is done so effortlessly and in less than two chapters. There are no wasted words or lines in a Mary Stewart book.  Just as the fabled Moon Spinners spin the moon, Ms. Stewart spins her story, effortlessly and inexorably pulling in her reader.

So what is it about Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels that has captured several generations of readers and influenced a generation of authors?

For me, other than the amazing settings and sense of place, it is her ability to create an atmosphere that holds you breathlessly in its thrall from her novels’ first words until the last. Her usage of words rivals a poet’s.  No doubt about it:  Mary Stewart is a master wordsmith.   Added to her perfect selection of words is a superb sense of pacing.  Each word, each line of text builds upon its predecessor, building tension and  providing relief, only to escalate again until the final climactic scene.  Her plots are a perfect balance of description, suspense, and romance and as seamless as a Mobius strip.  This is why myself and a whole generation of authors have attempted to emulate Mary Stewart’s style.

In my romantic suspense novels, I sweat every word, every line, striving to recreate the  suspense-romance symmetry, the perfect pacing of a Mary Stewart novel. My villains are driven to commit evil.  The heroes are strong; the heroines, just as strong or stronger. Fate throws them together, changing their lives for better – – or worse, as the case may be.  In my books, as in Stewart’s, good always triumphs over evil, but sometimes the line between the two is a bit smudged.  From lean first lines to the end, I strive to take my readers on just as breathless a ride as Mary Stewart always gave me.  Do I do this as gracefully and seamlessly as she did?  I only hope so.  Time will tell.

Copyright, Monette Michaels, 2006. This essay  is not to be reprinted without the express permission of the author. Worldwide print anthology rights are held by Crum Creek Press.