Most of you have read the Emily books in the What Doesn’t Kill You mystery series. You learned about the story behind them in a series of posts:

The Emily novels introduced Laura, who appears as well in the recently released WDKY prequel novella Act One. Laura is a champion quarterhorse-racing jockey who lives on the Wrong Turn Ranch in New Mexico with her husband Mickey. She’s a native of Wyoming, a U of Wyo dropout to pursue her racing passion, and a new foster-pending-adoption mother to Farrah, a Syrian refugee whose painful past in foster care inspires Laura to pursue a degree in therapy, certify in equine therapy, retire from racing, and open an aftercare center for survivors of human trafficking on the ranch, specifically survivors of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).

As I wrote the Emily novels and later began work on Laura’s stories, my heart moved closer and closer to the need to learn more about the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the USA. Up until that point, I’d explored it through the lens of immigration, and I wanted to see how this evil really manifested itself in our communities. In my community.

Enter Hope Rising Ministries, half an hour from our Nowheresville, TX home. They offered a 4-day certification program called Hands That Heal, to train people who want to work with survivors of CSEC. The things I learned there blew my mind and opened my heart in ways I can’t describe in words (and I’m a words girl, y’all). I’ll tell you what most impressed me is that while the program is faith-based, it isn’t church-y. It’s about loving survivors as you find them. Period. The whole program in fact could be summed up in that one word: LOVE.

The impact of CSEC on our country chilled me to the bone. It was far more evil and pervasive than I’d even imagined it for my novels, and it was in my small towns. Your small towns. Our home communities. Not just impacting illegal immigrants (who are terribly at risk because of their off-the-grid status); the majority of the victims in the US are US citizens.

Yes, the things I learned are horrifying, and they are inspiring and impacting my Laura novels. Even more, they are changing my life. I now volunteer with Hope Rising, I’m getting certified in equine therapy, and I’m using my TTT (time, talents, and treasure) on CSEC, through Hope Rising.

If you have a heart for this issue, your help is needed. Things you can do, right now, if so:

  1. Pray
  2. Learn and Share (recommended: Roadmap to Redemption, Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale: A Memoir)
  3. Get Certified
  4. Volunteer
  5. Donate silent auction items and/or money for the March 25, 2017 Hope Rising 2nd Annual Boots N Bows and Ride for Hope. I can’t attend, so we’re donating a few packages including home stays at our Nowheresville, TX and Snowheresville, WY properties and a deluxe reader collection of my books and assorted book-related funsies.
  6. Chip away at their wish list
  7. Become an equine sponsor
  8. Become an ongoing partner of Hope Rising

{About Hope Rising: Hope Rising at the Meadows Ranch is a faith-based aftercare program that offers outpatient and short term stays (6 week intensive outpost program) to adults and (coming soon) family-style foster living for girls that include therapies that are experiential in nature and are proven to accelerate stability in trauma victims. We use equine therapy, art therapy and discipleship character building to bring the trauma victim out of survival mode and into self-awareness and emotion regulation as well as help them with developing healthy interpersonal skills. Contact the inspirational, loving, and stronger-than-steel Sherri Clement, 832-779-2190, 

Thanks for tuning in, you guys, for this crisis which has inspired my heart, my passion, and my Laura novels, which will launch, BTW, starting in 2019 (Ava gets her turn first! Look for Bombshell Summer 2017.).

Life, imitating art, imitating life. Crazy.

p.s. Don’t forget:

  • You can get cool stuff like #TeamPetey  and #NotFiringOnAllSyllables merchandise, HERE.
  • Subscribe to my newsletter to get your free WDKY prequel mystery novella Act One ebook, HERE.
  • When I’m writing, I write. Brain on, game on. Some days I wake up with poems or lyrics in my head. Do you do this? One morning’s Snowheresville, Wyoming insomnia was thanks to moon shadows on snow, a magical sight words can never do justice.

Moon Shadows

Inky black moon shadow
Overflows on ghost snow
Blackens, drips, pools

Rorschach glimpse quickening
Shape shifts bear to hawk wing
Lightens, flows, cools

Sunrise robs moon’s remains
White paged spirits domain
Unseen, churns, fuels

Night vows a swift return

This started as a short caption to the picture below, at the end of my mother-in-law’s recent visit. Once I started expressing myself, though, all this came pouring out. I shared it with my husband, who surprised me by asking me to publish it. So here it goes . . . thoughts on aging, specifically, on our parents aging.

Imagine a woman who knows she enjoys this soft friendly dog who likes to get in cars, even though she can’t remember its name or gender (you can bet she never blanks out when it comes to #TeamPetey, ha!), but that’s okay because she doesn’t always remember who our kids’ parents are, just that she loves all of them, and us. Emotional memory is powerful like that, seeming to outlast even memories of youth and jingles and nursery rhymes and the re-discovered joy of playing with sticks and leaves when she sits outside and of fiddling with trash from the console of the car (ignoring someone directly talking to her by name in her wonder over an empty Gu package), until eventually those all leak away, too.

But not yet for her. She is still very aware she likes to ride with the sun on her face and that she prefers to do it with a hat (which was confiscated on the day of this picture when she’d filled it full of foul armadillo shell pieces and stinky deer bones to ask what they were), so our ORV/Razr was a lovely surprise every day. And horses. Every day she became braver and more in love with horses and was elated to learn we had some! At the end of two weeks she had an epiphany, that once she had a horse (two in fact) and it was a beautiful moment for her, and bittersweet for us as she wondered if there was ever a way to see a picture of the horse again (there is, her son included Peanut Butter in a slide show a few years ago, one she used play incessantly on her computer, running through the hundreds of images and cherishing the memories they evoked, while they were still clear to her).

Imagine, if you dare, imagine the courage it takes to face each new day like this, with most current things new and scary again, like 50 First Dates, but without Adam Sandler’s helpful video for Drew Barrymore’s character to get you up to speed. Imagine the leap of faith and trust every morning, the pretending and hoping no one notices. We helped her keep a diary each day, although it was a) mostly oh-so-slowly dictated by us to her to write down because she couldn’t recall her day and b) augmented by us before she left to make sure the things she enjoyed all made it in. We pasted in and captioned pictures. Each day she read haltingly from the beginning all the way through before she would attempt the current day, and each time, she expressed shock (and asked the same questions about) the things in it. Even on the plane ride home, Eric once again took her through it over and over. I doubt she’ll open it again unless someone picks it up and shows it to her—the near past is *past* (bits and pieces come in and out of focus) and she doesn’t notice much around her unless someone gets her specifically onto something—but maybe I’m wrong.

(This hits home for me very poignantly, given my memory and speech struggles of the past year and a half.)

On the last night of her visit, we reminded her she’d spent a few weeks in St. Croix before she came to visit us. “I did? When? I really did?” she asked, and burst into tears. The anxiety of traveling home, even with Eric, was crippling and in those moments she blurts out anything. Like, “how can I be sure I won’t starve while I’m here?” Or “I don’t know why no one believes I didn’t go on a church mission to Haiti last year, even the people at church don’t believe me, which is so embarrassing, because I DID (She didn’t, sadly).” Or “but I can’t wear these socks they have holes, and no I didn’t bring other black ones and they have to be black and no I can’t borrow yours” until Eric becomes the parent and has to say firmly, “Mom, I’m putting these socks and shoes on your feet right now and then we’re getting in the car,” because there’s a plane to catch, and no time for the senior-to-toddler moment. It’s when she is talking to your son’s new fiancee who she has only met once before and saying, “But I don’t understand why they won’t let me live here, I would cook and clean and help out and wouldn’t be any trouble, I promise. Why doesn’t anyone *want* me?”

And what is left in those moments is the holding of hands, the sudden smiles, letting her sing the nursery rhymes and agreeing that yes it is amazing she can remember the words to so many, the knowing you can make it happier and easier, for a time, and accepting that you can’t turn back the clock and restore her ability to remember. But you can remember. You can remember all the things she forgot, like the times it was your hand she held and your nursery rhymes she listened to, your socks she put on your struggling feet, and your tears she wiped away. You can remember it all for her, as your kids will for you someday.

Aging is not for sissies, I tell you, not for sissies at all.

p.s. I’ll update you more on this later, but I’ve begun working with Hope Rising Ministries, for rescue/recovery of victims of human trafficking. Honestly, my characters Emily and Laura inspired me to do it. If you are interested in learning more or being part of helping survivors through prayer, donations, or volunteerism, won’t you check out Hope Rising? It would mean a lot to me, and to the exploited in our world.

Just had to let you guys know that you can now access “Cool Stuff” from the menus across the top of my website, which includes everything in the photo above and more coming soon. My faves: my husband in his new tee, the #TeamPetey line, including dog sweaters, and the v-neck women’s Not Firing On All Syllables tee.

I recommend a size-up for the pet shirts. This is Petey in 25-40 lbs. He is a barrel-chested bruiser, but only 30 lbs, and we couldn’t have gotten any more of him in it with a crow bar.

For the women’s tees, I normally buy a medium, but honestly next time I’ll go with an XL on these. I like things loose. Just not a clingy clothes kind of woman. They have every color under the rainbow and the cut is super cute. They also offer a round neckline.

I got the bag in black 🙂 I’ll probably end up with one in khaki too.

For some reason, the men’s choices run large even though women and dog’s run small. 🙂 Doesn’t Eric look awesome? Georgia with the photobomb!

Let me know your favorites.

p.s. Personal updates of the week:

Video of Eric holding his mother’s hand and taking her to pet Feathers. Priceless.

My favorite picture of my mother-in-law’s visit.

Got bucked off last week, but it was my fault. Kitty has forgiven me, and I braided her hair, after I popped 800 mg ibuprofen.

Today, I have a fun surprise  to share with you. I’ve teamed up with 50+ fantastic  authors to give away a huge collection of mysteries with humor to one lucky winner!  You can win my novel Saving Grace, plus books from authors like Jana DeLeon and Deborah Coonts. One lucky grand prize winner will win a Kindle Fire as well!

Enter the giveaway by clicking here: Entries are accepted through February 6, 2017.
Good luck, and enjoy! 

Getting water to feed the horses with this adorable ranch hand one minute, trudging to my tent and getting sexy with Ava the next. Ah, the life.

A few years ago, I wrote three novels about a late-blooming woman named Katie Connell. Some time later, they were published, and the reaction to these books and their characters surprised the heck out of me. The question I was asked most frequently was, “When will you write another Katie novel?”

I’d left Katie in a good place at the end of her 3rd star-turn in Finding Harmony. I was excited about the interest in her, and I suggested to my then-editor and then-and-still-husband-and-story-partner Eric that I write more Katies. Both of them voted NO, with no equivocation. I was terrified that if I left Katie and moved on to another protagonist, readers wouldn’t come along with me. Meghan and Eric both argued for the integrity of Katie’s journey/story/character development.

My gut told me they were right.

By then, I’d already written Going for Kona, which was anchored by Katie’s law school friend Michele. I brought Katie and Nick into the story as well.

The question, then, was what was next. I didn’t want to start with a new character. I wanted to stay in the world I had created. If I wasn’t going to focus on Katie anymore, I had to choose between Michele and my other characters, Emily and Ava. I wanted to wait to write more about Michele. She’s my most personal character. The one most like me and my life. She needed space in the timeline of my books to heal. That left Emily and Ava.

And I’m going to be totally honest: I wrote about Emily first because Ava terrifies me!!!

Emily has become popular now in her own right. I’ve introduced new female characters, two of whom are slated for what is now known as the What Doesn’t Kill You series: Laura (introduced in the Emily novels) and Maggie (introduced in Fighting for Anna). As with any author of multiple protagonists, I find people who are #TeamKatie, #TeamMichele, or #TeamEmily, and that’s totally cool. But meanwhile people have been asking for more AVA.

Ugh, Ava. Oversexed Ava. Non-monogamous Ava. To write her without dealing with these truths of her personality and life would be inauthentic, yet these are the two of the qualities I am least comfortable exploring. I’m just not a Fifty Shades of Gray type of author or reader, even though I don’t think I’m a Pollyanna. I just have personal preferences as to what I enjoy exploring in fiction.

So I’ve wrestled with how to write Ava’s point of view for the last few years. She should have been easier, since she’s based on my best friend from St. Croix, Natalie. The translation from person to page, though, is not a straight line. I played with Ava in Earth to Emily. I experimented with her in my novella, Act One. It was harder than I’d expected. Then I launched into her 1st story (already discussed and outlined over the previous year with Eric) last fall, only to find myself struggling with my own health issues and putting the manuscript down for a few months.

I was relieved to stop. *Sigh*

I picked it up against last week. I’m 80 pages into it. In the first 70 pages, I managed to channel Ava without having to confront her sexuality with direct behavior. Heck, the only times I’ve written sex scenes, they were love scenes, and I could turn to experiences I am familiar with. Not with Ava, not in her life at the time I am writing about. Love has nothing to do with the scenes I need to write.

Finally, that moment came when to continue to keep Ava out of this sexual situation was no longer possible, if I was going to be true to her point of view.

So I trudged up to my writing tent in my knee high snake boots and some really attractive gray yoga pants that ended at the top of my boots. I’d jammed a straw cowboy hat on over my wet hair and thrown on a t-shirt promoting tiny Burton, Texas. Our two draft cross horses were munching sweet alfalfa from a round bale, eying me and lazily swishing their tails. Three dogs dug their sleeping spots and settled at my feet in a cloud of dust.

I didn’t look like a woman about to get her sexy on, that was for sure, and I didn’t feel like one either.

I closed my eyes and pictured Ava. Within seconds, I am on St. Marcos, at a party on the patio of a gorgeous home, the silky night air caressing my skin, the stars winking at me from above. In this scene Ava’s the date of a wealthy, mysterious man (just her type!) who’s a partner in the business she’s just gone to work with. There’s been a murder, maybe two. Someone is stalking her, or maybe not. Not everything seems kosher with her new employer, or maybe it is. She’s struggling as a single mom and only child of aging parents. And, she’s trying to convince herself that she’s not in love with another man who she’s just dumped (spoiler: think Earth to Emily). So she’s throwing herself into a new relationship, or, relationships—this is Ava, after all. The evening unfolds, ripe with sinister elements, suspense, and night blooming jasmine, and suddenly I can see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, and touch it, as if I’m Ava instead of Pamela. She makes choices, says things, does things, that I have no experience with, yet they flow from my fingertips as if it’s all happening around me and to me, because of me. And I don’t even have the grace to blush.

When I finished the scene, I looked up. The horses have come to the fence nearest me. They’re watching me, curious. I wonder if they’d sensed my departure from my body, the temporary takeover staged by Ava. They’re empathic like that, and after a few moments, they resumed eating, and I realized, yes, they probably knew better than I what just happened.

Time and many, many more words will tell whether or not this scene will stay in the book as is or whether it will get a substantial toning down or be cut altogether. Maybe we’ll close the door and not be a voyeur to Ava’s private life. Sometimes as a writer, though, it’s not about what makes the final cut, but about writing it true, understanding your character, and letting the chips fall where they may later.

Yesterday, I wrote Ava true. And I think I need a cold shower 😉

So before the end of 2017, you’ll get a chance to judge for yourself. Ava is pretty lovable, and she’s got me cheering for her. #TeamAva #Bombshell #WhatDoesntKillYou #9

p.s. Don’t worry, dear readers. As with all my oh-so-flawed and hopefully-authentic characters, they’re on a personal journey, struggling to find their best selves. Ava is a sensual woman. But like all of us, she has a story, a past, and reasons for who she is and who she wants to be. She will always be sensual. She just may stop sabotaging her own relationships, start respecting herself more, and allow herself to be loved—if not in this novel, certainly that’s what I hope for her by the end of her 3-book run. You’ll find out when i do <3


Last Friday I received a UPS delivery. The box was heavy. I wasn’t expecting anything.

“What’s in there?” my 19-year old asked.

“What’d you order?” my savvy husband said.

“I don’t know. Or if I did I don’t remember.” That’s my usual answer, and a sadly truthful one :-).

I ripped it open and shook out the contents. Seven paperbacks tumbled onto the kitchen tabletop.

“There goes Ava,” Eric said, but he was smiling.

“You bought yourself more books?” Susanne was incredulous. She—and Eric—get tired of seeing my nose in a book, or hearing my audiobooks playing as I work around the house.

Truly, if I’m not playing with furry creatures or writing, I’m reading. I consider it part of my job. I’m not going to lie: I love to read. I love the escape of stories, the passage of time in another world. I love the perfection of a moment when I finish a book and shout, “Well done!” But I read very critically these days, and I’m just as likely to discuss with Eric in the hot tub my disappointment, my frustration, or downright irritation with a book that misses the mark by a whisker or a full beard. I read to learn how other writers sound, how they plot, how they structure their books, how they pace. Their dialog. Their setting. Their description and characterization. I do it for my own writing, and I do it as a paid manuscript consultant.

Yes, I buy a lot of books. Here’s what my Kindle and Audible screens look like right this second:

(See anything you like?)

But, to my delight, I hadn’t bought myself the books in my UPS package. These were assignments, entries for me to judge for the RITA award contest, the (IMHO) most prestigious US award for romance and romantic books. I don’t usually choose a straight-up romance when I read, because I’m studying thriller/suspense/mystery elements. But who doesn’t enjoy a good love story now and then? And seven of them for me to judge? Right when I need to get into the mind of my most sensual character, Ava?

Pinch me. It really is my job. On this rainy day, I have that to look forward to, after I spend a few hours cavorting in the sun with Ava on St. Marcos.

p.s. This week’s poem is called “Wyoming Horses.” For context, you should know it barely rains in Wyoming. It snows, but that’s a dry cold. Well, we moved our Wyoming horses to winter in Texas, and dang if we didn’t discover that rain, rain, is a different thang!!!!


Assault of raindrops on snow horses.

Spinning, jumping, skidding, snorting.

Wide-eyed, HELP US.

Led to shed.




Happy Friday the 13th, y’all. A few important things.

  1. I’m feeling decent for the first time in a long time. Hallelujah!
  2. As a result, I shot 9 online courses for the SkipJack School, for writers (I am so sick of my own voice). They’re not all released yet, but you can still see what we’ve got already, HERE:
  3. We’ve enjoyed some weather in the teens in Nowheresville, but still managed a few half day trail rides with the big hooved ones. Pics below, along with a few randoms 🙂
  4. I’ve adored having our youngest home for a few weeks, but she leaves after this weekend. I’ll miss her so, and I’ll be so glad she’s gone, an enigma in a riddle in a paradox, ha.
  5. Thus, it’s time for me to WRITE, WRITE, WRITE.

The plan is for me to figure out Ava and create 3 Ava books, then return to 1 last Michele (which is partially written and unnamed at this time) before I move on to Laura and Maggie, with a few ensemble novellas along the way. I’m about 4 chapters into my first Ava book (working titles of her books are Bombshell, Stunner, and Knockout), and so far Bombshell is a disaster, but somehow I will find Ava’s voice and my way. I have faith. I could use prayers and positive energy this month though as I try to kickstart that part of my brain, and host my mother-in-law. Are these things mutually exclusive??? I hope not!

I tested out my writing tent, which is now a writing lean-to since it has a tin roof (thanks, honey!), and warmed up with poetry. I am not a poet, but I wrote about what I could see, sad over the death of a friend, and what came out felt right, felt like a precursor to re-immersing myself in the WDKY world. I called it “Texas Winter.”

Ropy vine in cedar,

wind tossed,



Morning glory echo,

wild and



Turquoise-yellow butterfly,




Spring is not a promise.

I also wrote a ridiculously long love letter about my horse on Facebook, which is another sign that I’m in the starting gate, about to write.

Facebook post as writing prompt/meme, LOL. If I’d just written a chapter of Bombshell instead of that post, right? But it doesn’t work that way for me. Think of this as stretching for the brain.

Meanwhile the audiobook of Fighting for Anna came out, narrated (fantastically) by Natalie Gray. You can get it on Amazon, Audible, or Apple. Hardbacks on, and e-books and paperbacks everywhere. Reviews greatly appreciated.

2017. Let’s do this.

p.s. If you want to get your hands on my mystery novella, Act One, the only way to do it is to subscribe to my monthly newsletter, as this novella is exclusive (and free) to subscribers.

World’s most expensive dog bed.

Country life. 🙂

If you’ve read Fighting for Anna (and if not, why???), you’ll know why this find in the forest was so amazing!

With my best girl, Katniss.

And with my best guy <3

Another anniversary with the world’s greatest husband, and, of course, a head band!

If you’ve followed me very long, you’ve probably realized I’m pretty Type A. I’ve been accused of being intense, over-structured, and the Energizer Bunny, notwithstanding these last six months of getting less done, which you can read about HERE if you must 😉

I am a huge believer in outlining, character studies, writing-from-once-upon-a-time-until-the-end, and one-pass revision. So one day when I was out walking the dogs and had my digital recorder in hand, I pressed record and starting talking. But not just any talk. I talked my way through a twenty thousand-word novella, a prequel to the What Doesn’t Kill You series. Without any outlines. Without any character studies. Without any planning at all. I had no idea what I was going to say or what I would be saying it about.

And it felt freeing. It felt right, for right then.

It was my second foray into digitally recording my drafts, so I was better at that part at least. Still, as I talked my way through it, I ran into obstacles. I hadn’t written Ava, Laura, or Maggie points of view yet. I waffled back and forth between first and third person, past and present tense, simplicity and complexity, accent and diction, as I experimented on the fly with my women. I struggled as I wrote a mystery without knowing who the bad guy would be, and what red herrings and clues to drop.

When I got the first draft back in written form, it was a hot mess. I could totally see why outlining first was my usual methodology!! And guess what I ended up having to do? Write character studies on the new women, who I thought I knew well from their supporting roles in earlier novels, but of course, it turned out, that wasn’t nearly enough to put them in the drivers’ seats. Possibly because it was only 20% as long as my novels, I found revising the plot line easier than I’d expected. I had fun re-immersing myself in characters whose minds I hadn’t dived into for awhile.

And I discovered a big surprise: my beta readers loved Laura and Maggie! They already knew they enjoyed the other protagonists (Katie, Emily, Michele, and Ava), because they’d gotten to know them very well. Their notes and comments about the new women were immensely gratifying.

The story behind the story of Act One, thus, is that this old dog is learning a couple of new tricks, turning over new leaves. And to keep it with cliches, I put the cart before the horse, and what didn’t kill me made me stronger 😉 Also, I found out I could write something shorter than a novel and pull off a complete mystery.

It was liberating . . . and I can’t wait to get back to OUTLINING my next novel, write after I finish my CHARACTER STUDIES!!!!

p.s. If you want to get your hands on Act One, the only way to do it is to subscribe to my monthly newsletter, as this novella is exclusive (and free) to subscribers.

I love catching up with the What Doesn’t Kill You women and imagining where their paths will take them next! Here’s their 2017 resolutions:


Plan a reunion with my best girls.


Got accepted to Texas Tech law school, so I guess decide whether to become the oldest day student in the class of 2018.


Prepare for my big role as maid of honor in Papa’s wedding!


Party like a rock star. Kiss my man under the mistletoe.


Quit worrying about what other people think. Study less. Hug Mickey and Farrah more.


Smile in the checkout line even though every gossip rag in the rack has a “Where Are They Now” story about washed up stars featuring me on the cover.


Happy 2017, y’all!

This is the week of the year where I usually post the Hutchins Christmas letter, but I didn’t actually write one this year. In fact, I haven’t written much of anything since May. One reason is that it’s a lot of work managing employees who are administering the programs for my books. We launched three this year: Hell to PayFighting for Anna, and Act One. The second reason is that I have been producing online courses for the SkipJack Publishing school for authors; that knocks out time I didn’t have. The third is that buying a house in Snowheresville, WY and a couple of enormous horses were a time-consuming and highly enjoyable distraction. The fourth is that I’ve had  a run of writers block and thus wrote anything and everything except new material. The fifth is that we hosted a paleo Thanksgiving for fifteen people, six dogs, and two cats. The sixth is that I traveled multiple times with Eric and he with me on our respective work trips.

The seventh is the big one. I’ve been sick. Sick in a way that started when I had my hysterectomy and horrible reaction to anesthesia in 2015 and worsened considerably in August of 2016. I’ve written about it before, so if you care, you can read it there. I don’t want to repeat it. No one was able to diagnose why the hysterectomy affected me so horribly. Lots of theories were knocked about. Thyroid imbalance. A stroke. Unexplainable reaction to the anesthesia. Nothing was confirmed and I tried lots of natural remedies (for memory), but it’s been affecting me all this time, so much so that I doubted my ability to ever write again. I have terrible short term memory. That’s not true. I have terrible memory altogether. Since my anesthesia reaction, I didn’t think I could knock out 300+ pages and hold the threads of story and characterization together. Truth be told, it was much, much harder on these last three books. But it wasn’t insurmountable. It just took more time and more help (especially encouragement and understanding) from Eric. I found it much less taxing and scary to hike, ride, and cook: things requiring less focus through my fog.

Beginning in August, I noticed that my memory issues, lack of motivation, and inflammation/pain (and some other symptoms I don’t feel comfortable writing about here) were joined by a crippling anxiety and complete lack of emotional bandwidth. Since then, there have been whole weeks I didn’t write for no other reason than my inability to deal with the anxiety. Racing heartbeat. Endless loop thought patterns. Paranoia and irrational thought. I wracked my brain for what had changed. I started experimenting with ways to fix myself and finally locked in on changing my multivitamin. I also backed off on my thyroid meds, which increased my all-over body pain. The anxiety eased. I accidentally took the multi-vitamin again. My anxiety sky-rocketed. I got off them. A week later I was feeling a little better, although I realized that over a few months my immune system had gone to heck, and, come to think of it, my allergies were worse.

I went to my doctor’s office. I’m a big believer in integrative, natural medicine (as is my physician father). I’ve written about my past successes with it HERE and HERE. Last year, after my symptoms started post-hysterectomy-anesthesia, they’d noticed my homocysteine had doubled. They put me on active folate and tri-K. This year when I came back and told them about my reaction to the multivitamins and other systems, they tested me for MTHFR, a gene mutation that they felt explained my overreaction to anesthesia and inability to recover from it. My allergies and cruddy immune system. My inability to handle wheat and dairy. We learned my multivitamin had folic acid in it, which is basically poison to someone with MTHFR mutation. And we learned that, yep, indeed I did have the MTHFR mutation. They also said that because of this stockpiling of “poisons” and the prevalence of many other environmental toxins (that impact all of us), I should undertake not just MTHFR protocol, but also a comprehensive detox program. They warned me I would feel worse before I felt better (they were right, and that’s where I am right now, unfortunately).

So I’ve been detoxing in accordance with the protocol at, where you can read all about what MTHFR is and how to get tested and treated for it. I won’t bore you with the details, other than an exciting picture of me in a portable infrared sauna. They’re funny looking, but they’re supposed to work, and I’ll try anything. Sure, I feel a little angry now that I’ve learned how easy it would have been for my anesthesiologist to ask a few more questions so he wouldn’t accidentally poison me with something it has taken my body 1.5 years and counting to get rid of. But I’m grateful beyond measure it didn’t kill me, and now for answers and a program that gives me hope.

It’s too early to celebrate, but I’m feeling pretty merry, and hopeful. Hope is the important thing.

So what I plan to do this Christmas is breathe. Continue to recover. Believe. And not pressure myself to write, at least not yet. Eric and I are going to play with our dogs, ride our big horses, and embark on a yaupon eradication program at Nowheresville.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

Recently I received this e-mail:

I enjoyed the books I read in this series (5,6,7) but was somewhat perplexed by some of the characters in the book, Emily’s character in particular.  I was struggling with the concept of church going, prayers to God for direction, protection, etc. while still having a sexual relationship out of wedlock.  I am a Christian…believe God sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross for my sin as well as the sin of others, that Jesus was without sin and died in my place, was raised from the grave, and sits on the right hand of the Father so even though it wasn’t stated for fact in the books I read that Emily was a believer, the book suggested a relationship with God.  Believers do sin and have to ask for forgiveness but certainly should not be ‘living in sin.”  So as I said I was perplexed with the story line that had no problem with sex outside of marriage.
Thought I should at least share my concern.
Your Reader

I responded, after much thought and  chatting with my assistant, Bobbye, who keeps herself busy (more than)  as mom-to-four, romantic mystery author, and pastor’s wife, amongst about a bazillion other things. Here was my reply:

Dear Reader:

Great to hear from you, and I think you’ve nailed one of the themes of the book. Can an imperfect person believe and still sin? I think the answer is yes, that is a normal condition with a multitude of sins, not just “living in sin”. 😉 I didn’t try to write Emily perfectly, just authentically, which means having flaws consistent with her upbringing and experiences. If I wrote Christian fiction, I would have left Emily in a different place in her personal development, but I don’t, so I left it to the imagination of each reader to figure out where her growth will take her next.

Thanks for writing!

After our talk, Bobbye asked if she could guest post on this topic, and I loved the idea, so, I want to share her interpretation on this question, from a bigger perspective than just my novels, to include all the novels from SkipJack Publishing, my publisher. She rocked it, so here you go!

By Bobbye Marrs, romantic mystery author and publishing assistant at SkipJack Publishing

SkipJack Publishing is a small, indie-focused publishing company.  We may be small, but we have huge expectations. Our authors are professionals with award-winning masterpieces. The types of books we publish are “novels for adults that are not inconsistent with a life of faith—whatever that faith may be, and however questioning.”  Wow—that’s a mouthful. Recently a reader showed concern for one of our main characters who appears to be a Christian, but displays behavior not traditionally Christian. This incongruity of choosing a lifestyle that some would consider sinful, but also praying and appearing to have a relationship with God, was cause for confusion.

So where does this “faith—whatever that faith may be” come in to the writing process for our SkipJack authors? If you were hoping that because I’m a pastor’s wife that I’m the in-house expert theologian, you are in for disappointment. But I hope I can give some insight as a reader into the characters of the What Doesn’t Kill You series, and those from Whippoorwill Hollow as well as  the characters from Pennies from Burger Heaven that sleep beneath the Warrior Angel statue.

It really boils down to one thing: Authenticity.  When you read the pages of these books you’ll find people struggling with addiction, dealing with broken relationships, behaving in ways that might not be considered polite. And that’s authentic. To take those things out would be to write a sci-fi novel about a utopian society (which sounds interesting, but not what we publish). Or to include them and resolve them consistent with the highest aspirations of the Christian faith would be Christian fiction (and that’s not what we publish either).

If I were to meet some of these characters in real life—Katie with her “sloppy drinking habits,” or Emily who lives with “smoldering and mysterious” Jack, or Michele who has a hard time controlling her language, or Copper who’s seen more than any kid should, or Wallace and Ethan, the homosexual couple from the Emily and Michele books—what would my reaction be?  How would I treat them?  I hope I’d be a nice person. I sincerely pray I wouldn’t be a jerk. I’d like to think I’d be my authentic self, too—BTW, that’s someone with “a past,” someone with flaws, and someone always in need of an extra measure of grace.

I’ve thought about Emily’s specific situation, which Pamela’s reader referred to as “living in sin.” Let’s be super clear here and identify the actual issue here is sex outside of marriage. Wow, that’s can of worms if I ever saw one, but it is an issue at the foundation of the Christian faith. In the course of my adult life I’ve had many friends and loved ones in Emily’s situation; specifically, people who were Christians but lived a life not necessarily consistent with the values they professed. What have I done? I’ve smiled. I’ve hugged. I’ve welcomed people into my home. I’ve hoped that I’ve been a blessing to those around me. Maybe that’s just part of getting the plank out of my own eye before I worry about the splinter in someone else’s. I try to be totally authentic in real life, and I want that in the characters I read about, too.  As a reader I love to get to “peek behind the curtain” and see the emotional turmoil in a character’s life.  It’s rewarding to travel with them along their character arc.

We write fiction here at SkipJack, but that doesn’t necessarily mean fake. SkipJack books are not faith-based books, but our writers understand that within the human heart is a place made for faith. And just like in real life, that faith takes on a lot of different forms. For many of our characters their religious upbringing or their experience in church or their search for life’s meaning is what makes them deeper than just the page they’re written on.

So if you see characters whose actions don’t always match up to what they may profess to believe, take a look around the real world, or even in your own mirror. I’ll bet you’ll see some real people just like that.


Bobbye Marrs is a supermom extraordinaire with currently 5 jobs, 4 teenagers, 2 dogs, and a husband crazy enough to be a pastor.  When she’s not working or Bobbyelearning some new hobby like the HAM radio, she is trying to be a romantic mystery writer. Look for her book, I Am My Beloved’s to debut this spring.  In the meantime, she started a t-shirt business to support her writing habit at


Everyone that subscribes to my e-newsletter is a winner today and gets an EXCLUSIVE What Doesn’t Kill You e-book, the first chapter of which you can read below (teaser! teaser!). But before you begin, we have two special winners of the Fighting for Anna butterfly pendants/charms out of 750 entrants: Jo and Pat. Congratulations!

Now, on to Act One.

Act One (What Doesn’t Kill You, Prequel): An Ensemble Mystery Novella




A literary, dramatic, or cinematic work whose narrative takes place before that of a preexisting work in the same series.




A unit or group of complementary parts that contribute to a single effect.




A short story with a compact and pointed plot.

~ OCTOBER 2007 ~

Five years before Saving Grace (What Doesn’t Kill You, #1): A Katie Romantic Mystery


Maggie teases her brunette hair with its chunky blonde streaks into a bigger rat’s nest. She leans in a nose length from the mirror, eyes unfocused and crossing, then hefts an industrial-sized can of Aqua Net and blasts her roots. Instant stink. Her ballast shifts, and she loses her balance, stealing a quick glance every which way, not realizing I see her bobble from where I stand behind a rolling costume rod. When she’s steady-ish, she flips her hair over and bends at the waist. I get an eyeful of ripped fishnet hose under her miniskirt and learn two things I wish I didn’t know: she doesn’t wear panties, and she shaves her girlie parts. She starts spraying again like she’s wielding Raid and her hair’s full of jack spaniards, but this time she clutches the wooden ledge in front of her.

The woman is a Grade A drunk, and when she isn’t drunk, she’s high. The bitch of it is she’s drop-dead gorgeous and has more talent than anyone in this dime-store-turned-murder-mystery-dinner-theater. Including me, because Jah hates me. Or God, as they say here in Wack-o, Texas, aka hell.

“Careful,” I say. “You’ll break your head.” I keep my voice light and use my pretend-helpful tone.

Maggie stands up quickly, swaying, looking for me, not fooled even three sheets to the wind. She tells me she thinks I’m number one with a middle finger salute from her left hand. “Diva,” she says in a hiss.

Maybe she’s right, but it takes one to know one. “Watch you’self. You fangs showing.” I play up my island accent and drop the continental diction I normally use here in the states. “Yanking,” we call it on St. Marcos, where I’m from, as in “talk like a damn Yankee.”

From behind me, the director—if you can give such a hoo-ha title to the cat herder in charge of It Happened One Weekend in Waco—scolds me. “Ava! Leave Maggie alone. We need her at her best tonight. It’s a sold-out crowd.”

The director’s always talking down to me. I’ve been stuffing cash in a pillowcase for a move back home, and I’m so close I can taste fresh island mango on my lips. I’d followed a no-count sumbitch named Zach from NYU to Vail to here, where he suddenly ups his game to a pill-popping, trailer-park-ho-banging, credit-card-stealing, bank-account-hacking loser who’s about to feel the long arm of the law.

I swallow the tone I’d like to use. “Yah, mon,” I say to the director, and I curtsy.

Lizbeth, as in no-E-no-A-because-I’m-not-Elizabeth, gazes at me, her expression vacant. Then her eyes shift, and she gets a load of Maggie. Her face sours, lips puckering. She turns back to me, and her tone is pure pain. “I was going to have Maggie take the lead tonight since Julianna called in sick, but”—she shakes her head—“I don’t think that’s gonna work. Can you take the role?”

Before I can answer, Maggie staggers forward. “That’s bullshit!” Her words are full-on slur. “I’m the first understudy.”

First understudy? What does she think this is, Broadway? I rake the crappy dressing room with a quick glance. Plywood walls with exposed wiring. Cracked linoleum squares on the floor. Bare lightbulbs dangling overhead. It’s dingy and low rent, and I almost gag on the stench of cigarettes, body odor, and old garbage underneath the Aqua Net. Ah, but how the mighty have fallen. Maggie used to be a bona fide rock star, Texana folk version, on the cover of Texas Monthly not even that long ago. She looks like a younger, hotter version of Shania Twain and sings like a folksier Natalie Maines. I hear tell she plays every instrument better than her band. Sometimes it’s her licks on their tracks. Yep, she was on an express train to Nashville and the big time, until she got kicked out of every festival she was booked to play at in the last year. Scuttlebutt is her band members up and quit on her, as did her manager, her agent, and her record label. Maggie’s sunk down with us bottom-feeders now. But she has to pay for that expensive Jack and coke habit somehow.

I ignore her and to Lizbeth say, “Irie,” the island version of “It’s all good.”

Lizbeth raises an over-tweezed set of eyebrows. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

It’s better than a yes, because if I kill it tonight, I might steal Julianna’s part out from under her. That could mean a big fat raise and put me a few weeks closer to the Promised Land.

From across the room, I hear another cast member and her boyfriend shouting at each other. It’s Becky, a mousy thing, but nice and not catty and stabby like Maggie. A secret admirer had sent her a huge bouquet of long-stemmed red roses earlier, and her man’s none too happy about it.

She yells, “I’ve got a show, Randall. Get over it, and get out of here!”

Lizbeth doesn’t allow anyone but cast backstage before a show, so I know Lizbeth is upset about Maggie being wrecked, since she doesn’t notice Randall. I keep a straight face as I watch Randall leaving in a huff from the corner of my eye. I didn’t know Becky had it in her.

The director goes on, speaking to me, but she’s eying Maggie. “Becky will cover your part, Ava. I’ll go tell her now.”

Lizbeth walks over to Becky, but stops short. A pale-skinned woman in sodden clothes, her freckles the color of her dripping hair, is rifling through the costumes, her face hidden. But everybody knows who she is. She tried out for my part, and she still can’t quite accept that I got it instead of her. The woman needs some Prozac.

“Cast only—you know the rules. You’ll have to leave now, Sandra,” Lizbeth says, putting a hand on her shoulder.

The space between all her freckles turns bright red. Sandra nods and scurries out the way Randall had a few moments before. She leaves little puddles behind her. It’s supposed to rain like a sumbitch out there tonight. Must be already.

Just as Sandra’s leaving, Maggie starts throwing a tantrum like a spoiled teenage girl, tossing her hair over her shoulder, fussing some more with her makeup, and muttering snotty and loud enough for everyone backstage to hear. “Nobody in the audience is going to buy some no-count black karaoke singer from the Islands playing a Baylor sorority girl.”

The room descends into an awkward silence, which I break with a sweet smile, Yankin’ in my best Texas drawl. “Chi-O, Chi-O, it’s off to bed we go.” I smooth my hair, which is shaved nearly to my scalp.

That brings the house down, or the back of it, anyway.

I skip off to change my costume and put on the blonde high-ponytail wig. I’ve always looked damn fine in red and yellow.


To continue reading, click HERE and subscribe to my monthly newsletter via email. This novella e-book is an exclusive gift to subscribers.


phutchins signature

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog to let you know that I’M IN AMSTERDAM!! It was a popup work trip for my husband Eric, and I had enough miles to tag along. So, instead of writing a post today, here’s a few happy pictures from a grateful Thanksgiving.

And NEXT WEEK you’ll get the first chapter of Act One (and subscribers will get the entire exclusive free novella!!).



Thanksgiving in Nowheresville. We forgot to take pictures on Thanksgiving, so we missed Thomas and his girlfriend. And somehow Clark Kent and Allie evaded pictures (by not hot tubbing or riding horses). Rats!




Eric with our niece, enjoying the cool side of the swim spa.


Our youngest, Susanne, with our niece.


My brother sweet talking Katniss.


Even Feathers is smiling! And that’s after everyone in the house took a turn riding him, sometimes two at a time.


Just us girls hot tubbing.



My mother and her lookalike granddaughter.


Our niece, displeased that something so unladylike came out the back end of my beautiful girl horse!



The french braids I did in my nieces’s hair.

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The women of the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series have a few gratefuls to share this 2016 Thanksgiving.

Before we start, I wanted to let you know that my fellow SkipJack author Ken Oder is offering his mystery The Closing for the discounted price of 99 cents in e-book form through Black Friday. Be sure to snatch up your discounted copy this week, HERE.

  • Katie: The Dixie Chicks concert in Austin with Nick.
  • Michele: Looking forward to what’s coming next, for the first time in a long time.
  • Emily: Jack, Betsy, and me visiting Greg and watching the Masked Rider at a Tech home game.
  • Ava: Getting what I need and finding out it what I want.
  • Laura: Grand opening of Right Turn Equine Camp!
  • Maggie: A music studio in my birth mother’s house.

And a few of their favorite people want to chime in, too.

  • Nick: My hot business partner.
  • Rashidi: That I not born a redneck.
  • Wallace: A Texas wedding!
  • Nadine: No.More.Drama.
  • Jack: (lopsided, one-dimple grin)
  • Collin: If I told you, I’d have to kill you.
  • Mickey: Everywhere I turn, kids, kids, kids.

As for me, I’m thankful for my (1) husband, 5 kids, 2 horses, 3 donkeys, 2 cows, 3 dogs, lots of goats, health, safety, extended family, readers (!!!), Nowheresville, and Snowheresville. And that Hell to Pay won the 2016 USA Best Book Award for Cross Genre Fiction. Woot! Most of the winners/finalists this year were traditionally published, dominated by the big houses, so winning for the second year in a row was especially sweet.

What are you grateful for this year?


p.s. Don’t forget to sign up for my e-newsletter (monthly) to receive your exclusive free copy of Act One: A What Doesn’t Kill You Prequel (Ensemble Mystery Novella)!!

p.p.s. Butterfly charm/pendant winner announced next week!

p.p.p.s. Have you read Fighting for Anna yet? I’d be honored if you left an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads (or wherever you like, for that matter!).


Change of gears. We’ve been talking F4A, F4A, F4A for a month now, and while it’s still on my mind, we are only two weeks away from the official release of ACT ONE, a prequel novella set five years before Saving Grace, featuring all six of my protagonists in an ensemble at a point in which their lives intersected at the scene of a murder. It’s going to be an exclusive to e-newsletter subscribers. Can’t get it anywhere else, can’t pay for it. The only path to it is to earn it with your awesome, awesome loyalty. Please note that I won’t release it on this blog, as that would make it public. So if you’re a blog subscriber, please also make sure you’re an e-newsletter subscriber, so you’ll get ACT ONE. The link to subscriber is If you have any trouble making this work, email me at pamela at pamelafaganhutchins dot com. I can manually add you to the list.

Before I reveal the cover, let me remind you that you have one more week to enter the giveaway of the Michele BUTTERFLY pendant/charm from Jewelweed Sprouts to celebrate Fighting for Anna’s release! Winner announced next week on the blog. Enter through the Rafflecopter, below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And now, with no further ado, here’s the cover for ACT ONE.


I love it! It’s the first cover done by my assistant, Bobbye Marrs, so y’all give her some love in the comments and emails you send me.

Don’t forget to make sure you subscribe so you’ll have it in your inbox on December 2nd!

Coolness: Saving Grace is now available in Italian, with other languages coming soon.


And last but not least: we now have my novels available in hardback (Barnes & Noble online only), in addition to the e-book, paperback, and audio versions (links to all formats and sales sites HERE). We hope you’ll consider making the What Doesn’t Kill You gang part of your holiday gift giving <3 <3 <3.


Fighting for Anna ebook

Thank you for your support in the Thunderclap!!

We believe it is a huge contributing factor in successful launches of my novels. And successful it was. Fighting for Anna reached #2 in hot new releases and top 15 sellers. Pictures are better than words though:



Before we begin the FINAL part of this 4-part installmentStory Behind the Story Series, I have a reminder. Remember how I gave away a little fox charm/pendant with the launch of Hell to Pay? Well…I’m giving away a little BUTTERFLY from Jewelweed Sprouts to celebrate Fighting for Anna’s release! Pictures coming soon. Enter through the Rafflecopter, below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And now, the last installment in the Story Behind the Story of Fighting for Anna (F4A), the 8th novel in the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series, featuring Michele. Here’s a look at the practical magic behind F4A.

By now you guys know that I love me some everyday, practical magic. Magical realism some call it. In G4K, the practical magic arose from Michele’s relation to her Papa and Mexican abuela/grandmother, who taught her Aztec mythology. Her father nicknamed her Itzpapalotl after a knife-winged butterfly goddess. Michele channeled Itzpa in her times of greatest stress.

In F4A, Michele is starting to feel tired to her bones, despite being only forty-one. She is beginning to feel drawn toward another man, with her husband Adrian now dead for more than a year. Michele doesn’t feel like a butterfly. She feels dirty and old. She no longer identifies with Itzpapalotl. Instead, she imagines herself more and more like Tlazolteotal, the “eater of filth.” As an Aztec goddess, Tlazolteotl rules over the cycles: ritual cleansing, female menses, the growth and life/consumption/expulsion/fertilizing cycle, and the sexual cycle (especially of woman). She is the goddess of sexuality and the forgiver of sexual sins and taboos.

She fit Michele’s “stage” and mindset like a glove in F4A. I’m writing the last Michele novel now, and I can’t wait for you to see where she goes next. However, you’ve got three Ava novels coming first, before you get another dose of Michele.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Story Behind the Story series as much as I have. I have a free novella coming out after Thanksgiving, exclusively for subscribers to my blog and newsletter, so I’ll write another piece for this series “The Story Behind the Story” series when Act One: A What Doesn’t Kill You Romantic Mystery Novella (Prequel Ensemble) comes out. [Be sure to let your reading friends know to subscribe!]


p.s. It was a big week for other reasons.




Eric competed in the Oilman Half Ironman triathlon. He crushed his goals, didn’t get injured, and had fun. I was so proud. I’m sure he was too: I did a cartwheel on the edge of the course during his run, while I was cheering for him. Mission accomplished: he laughed.


Horses and donkeys got to know each other.


Donkeys stole our hearts. (Fitz, Kathryn, Annabelle)

Fighting for Anna ebook

It’s RELEASE DAY for Fighting for Anna! Woot! Get your ebook copy before the price goes up from 99 cents to $4.99!

Help us spread the word about Fighting for Anna by joining the Thunderclap (click below):

Before we begin the third part of this four-part installmentStory Behind the Story Series, I have an announcement. Remember how I gave away a little fox charm/pendant with the launch of Hell to Pay? Well…I’m giving away a little BUTTERFLY from Jewelweed Sprouts to celebrate Fighting for Anna’s release! Pictures coming soon. Enter through the Rafflecopter, below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And now, the third installment in the Story Behind the Story of Fighting for Anna (F4A), the 8th novel in the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series, featuring Michele. This week, I’m sharing the story behind Gidget, Michele’s charming neighbor at the beginning of F4A. [Next week, I’ll close the series with a look at the practical magic behind F4A.]

When my husband Eric and I became empty nesters, we moved into our dream house on our dream property in Nowheresville, Texas. We expected to love our place. What surprised us was how much we loved the people in our community. They welcomed us warmly.

One night we were at an opening for an antique mart. There was a display of 70s-80s women’s clothing including a long white linen gown. Something about the gown called to me. Not as an art piece. I wanted to put it on myself and wear it. I picked it up, admiring it, and Stephanie—the most authentic, open, empathic creature I’d ever met—walked up to me and told me the story of the dress, which goes something like this:

A woman appeared in a house in Nowheresville, moved there by those “close” to her, suddenly and somewhat forcibly. They’d packed up dirty dishes in her sink, they were in such a hurry to exile her from Houston—where she’d lived and been an art gallery owner until she started experiencing health issues. She wasn’t in great shape. People got to know her, a little. Enough to know she was never seen without her devoted little dog.

She hadn’t been seen for a few days, when her little dog broke out a window in her house and went for help. Neighbors found her collapsed. She survived, but moved into a facility that could provide her greater care. Some time after her death, Stephanie’s family bought the house the woman had lived in, the one her dog had broken out of to save her. Stephanie spent weeks going through the woman’s things, getting to know her, connecting to her, and, ultimately, telling me her story.

The story she told me summoned the muse, and instantly a fictional version was born in my head. I bought the dress and wore it while I drafted F4A. I wrote an ending for the dog, whose story no one seemed to know.

I’ve left out most of the good details Stephanie shared with me, and possibly better ones that she didn’t. But that’s okay. My story to tell was Gidget’s. The other belongs to Stephanie, and I hope she writes the true account some day.


p.s. New stuff to get excited about: subscribers-exclusive novella, Act One, coming out next month. It’s a prequel to the series (which started with Saving Grace) featuring all of my protagonists, past, present, and future. Cover reveal soon! Be sure to let friends know that the only way they can get their hands on it is by subscribing on my website.

p.p.s. November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Before I was published, I did it several years in a row. I wrote the original drafts of Saving Grace, Finding Harmony, and Going for Kona during NaNoWriMo. Well, this year, my schedule called for me to draft my next novel during November. So . . . I’m NaNoWriMoing this month, writing BOMBSHELL, #9 in What Doesn’t Kill You and my first novel featuring . . .AVA!! Yippee!! Here’s Eric prepping my writing tent, with a photobomb by Horse Feathers. Note no tent on the frame. We lost it in storms May 2016. Someday maybe we’ll re-tent the tent.


p.p.p.s. A cougar has killed the last three surviving baby goats from this year’s crop. We suspect it is a female with yearling cubs, because there are no birds, rabbits, or deer in our area. Something is HUNGRY. So we got three donkeys to help defend the goats (and the big scaredy-cat horses, who, at 1500 and 1800 pounds, are not cougar-bait). Aren’t they cute? Their names are Fitz, Annabelle, and Kathryn.

Fighting for Anna ebook

Help us spread the word about Fighting for Anna by joining the Thunderclap (click below):

Before we begin this the second part of this four-part installmentStory Behind the Story Series, I have an announcement. Remember how I gave away a little fox charm/pendant with the launch of Hell to Pay? Well…I’m giving away a little BUTTERFLY from Jewelweed Sprouts to celebrate Fighting for Anna’s release! Pictures coming soon. Enter through the Rafflecopter, below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And now, the second installment in the Story Behind the Story of Fighting for Anna (F4A), the 8th novel in the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series, featuring Michele. This week, I want to focus on art: pop and junk. [On release day, I’ll share the story behind Gidget, Michele’s charming neighbor at the beginning of F4A. Last but not least, I’ll close the series with a look at the practical magic behind F4A.]

Art is in the eye of the beholder and central to F4A. It starts with the art of the murder victim and her history as a gallery owner in Houston. I had a ton of fun creating Gidget’s art and the art in her gallery. I think I was inspired by the beautiful art created by my assistant, Candi, honestly. I had even more fun researching Andy Warhol and building him into the story. He even helped me explore the religious element.

All of what we normally consider art is juxtaposed against the junk art scene of the Roundtopolis area of Texas, very similar to what we all watch on television shows like Fixer Upper (best show ever!), American Pickers, or Junk Gypsy (they really are based in Round Top, by the way). A good friend of mine in Nowheresville, Tiffany, inspired me when she made her dreams come true with the real Flown the Coop (which can be found in Burton, TX, just down the road from its fictional counterpart). There, art abounds, in the form of repurposed, rethought, reused, and up cycled industrial, retro, primitive, and vintage pieces. So of course my supporting female character and newest future protagonist, Maggie, is a junker.

By extension of including junking and the Roundtopolis area, I got to include some of my favorite places as well as invent a few new ones. Props to my assistant Bobbye for discovering Moore’s Fort, the oldest building in Fayette County. It was originally in La Grange and later moved to Round Top, where it was most recently moved to a central location between Espressions coffee house and Probst wine bar. Once upon a time this twin blockhouse was a shelter for settlers. Now it is a piece of art, if you will, in creating a town entirely of “once upon a time” rebuilds. (Check out the Round Top library, also in the book, as another crown jewel of this phenomenon.)

Pop art meets junk art, and the result is awesome.


Fighting for Anna ebook

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Before we begin this four-part installment of the Story Behind the Story Series, I have an announcement. Remember how I gave away a little fox charm/pendant with the launch of Hell to Pay? Well…I’m giving away a little BUTTERFLY from Jewelweed Sprouts to celebrate Fighting for Anna’s release! Pictures coming soon. Enter through the Rafflecopter, below. (Email subscribers may need to visit this post out on my website)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And now, the first installment in the Story Behind the Story of Fighting for Anna (F4A), the 8th novel in the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mystery series, featuring Michele. This week, I want to focus on two elements of the book: religion and politics. Next week, I’ll cover art: pop and junk. And on release day, I’ll share the story behind Gidget, Michele’s charming neighbor at the beginning of F4A. Last but not least, I’ll close the series with a look at the practical magic behind F4A.

You know the adage not to talk about politics and religion in polite conversation? I’ve always followed that rule. I’ve found that I can’t change other people’s minds and they don’t change mind, 99.9% of the time. I play the averages, and I like serenity, what can I say? 😉

In the last year, my Facebook feed has been clogged with posts about religious freedom, discrimination, and politics. Whether or not I’ve agreed with them, I’ve found the underlying issues fascinating, even if I wanted to see pictures of horses and goats and bunnies in my newsfeed instead. I bided my time, and I did what all of us lucky enough to write novels do: I put them in my next book. (I do this in all my books, as you know if you’ve read all my Story Behind the Story posts)

Very near our Nowheresville home are some historic churches called The Painted Churches. My husband Eric and I visited most of them all on an anniversary a few years ago. You can read about that HERE.  I mentioned them in Going for Kona, and the property Adrian bought in G4K is smack dab in the heart of them.

Last fall, Eric took his mother to see them, and on that tour he visited the one closest to us, which we’d failed to see on our earlier tour: St. Paul Lutheran Church located in Serbin, Texas. This church was founded by Wendish immigrants in the late 1800s. The Wends are a Slavic people who fled religious persecution in Germany in the latter half of the 19th century, seeking religious freedom elsewhere. The Serbin group were originally led by a pastor named John Killian, who allied their church with the Lutheran Church – Missouri-Synod. Over the years, they assimilated into their predominantly German Texas community, giving up, for the most part, their own language in favor of German, and then English. You can still visit the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum and even experience the culture at the annual Wendish Festival in Serbin.

Originally enchanted by their church, I became equally fascinated with their story. I decided to include it thematically and as the backdrop for F4A. I realized that I could explore freedom of religion and discrimination organically this way (you’ll have to let me know how you think I did, after you read the novel!). Eric and I had a lot of fun driving around, visiting the church and museum, talking to folks, and taking lots of pictures. I was lucky to find some resources for this (and other) research on the internet as well.

Just recently, I was emailing with the former owner of Nowheresville, a Lutheran pastor. I told him about the inclusion of the Wend’s story in F4A. He shared with me that he has had many Wend families in his three different congregations near us. Somehow, this brought it full circle for me. I live on ground once occupied by someone with a huge heart for the Wends. How could it be otherwise that once I moved out here on this same ground, my heart would open to them as well?

I love how the universe works.

But what’s a “conversation” about religion without throwing some gasoline on the fire, in this case, politics? Nothing better for drama than mixing church and state. So I did. For starters, I included a former Senator, a Tea Party Republican, in a prominent role. No, I didn’t base him on Ted Cruz. My fictitious senator lives in Round Top, but no, he’s not Rick Perry (the former Governor lives a hop, skip, and a jump from Nowheresville). My fictional senator is just a politician. {There are lots of them, you know.} To stoke the fire, I added a potential presidential campaign and a pass at an underage staffer. Then to keep things interesting, I threw in some current events (the novel is set in the summer of 2015): Houston’s HERO battle (transgender bathroom usage became the big issue in a fight over adding GLBT to a municipal anti-discrimiation regulation) and the pending (then) case of gay marriage before the Supreme Court.

Because of the death of the woman that launches the plot in F4A, there are also local “state” issues: the probate of the will becomes quite the hot topic, especially when a major bequest is made to a daughter no one knew existed.

These state/political/legal issues meshed really nicely with the religion/discrimination story lines, I think. At least it felt right to me.

Now, lest you think this is some serious head-pounder of a novel, it isn’t. It’s a romantic mystery. But y’all know how I like to do things, right? I like complex characters with rich histories and complicated right-nows. That’s where all this good stuff comes in. Well, and with the plot, too. But I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll stop there.

Enter to win a butterfly! Support the Thunderclap! Pre-order your copy of F4A now! Pamela, stop using exclamation points!!


p.s. A week of horse joy . . .

Eric working “online” developing trust and rapport with Feathers, HERE (must watch, so cute, and very short)


Partying with my parents at a cousin’s wedding


Don’t you love how weddings remind us to love one another?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00074]

Before you read today’s installment of The Story Behind the Story, please join my Thunderclap for Fighting for Anna?

Probably the two most well-known stories I’ve told about my books relate to Leaving Annalise (Eric and the potential Annaly burglars when he had a bunch of cash from a liquidation/estate sale, which you can read HERE) and Going for Kona (that I was mad at Eric one day and had written three chapters in which I killed a triathlete husband in the second chapter by that night, which you can read HERE).

So I’m not going to repeat that old Going for Kona story. Instead, I’m going to share with you the quantum change that occurred on my umpteenth rewrite, five years after I first wrote the book. The story starts with an agent who loved Going for Kona except that she didn’t like the protagonist, Charlotte. It continues past my decision to go indie and even past the publication of Saving Grace and Leaving Annalise. Over the years, I’d done several rewrites of G4K (as we call Going for Kona at my house), but I wasn’t happy with the results. When I picked the manuscript up again in April 2013, it was do or die time. I’d done the 60-cities-in-60-days book tour. My novels were selling well. I had great reviews, including from Kirkus. Finding Harmony was nearly done and ready to queue up. I needed to act like a professional author and get my next book finished and in production.

Except I was terrified of it. I didn’t know how to fix it, just that I’d been told it wasn’t right, and knew in my core that the agent was on target with her opinion. Those closest to me loved the novel, though, and were just as scared of me changing it and possibly ruining it. What to do???

The book was intensely personal, very emotionally different from the first three in the series, and featured my first foray into a “Friend of Katie” protagonist. The intensely personal aspect was the problem. The protagonist was far too much like me, and the relationship with the husband was stymied by the fact that I identified him with Eric and with us. I needed distance. Writing what you know about protagonists who could “almost” be “you,” is one thing, but writing with accuracy about your own relationship is another!

So I planted my butt out in the Quacker trailer at Nowheresville (this was before we built a home and moved there) for three weeks. I shut out the input of others and trusted my gut. The weather was gorgeous and cool. I spent a lot of time in a chair in a field of wildflowers with butterflies all around me. My editor, Meghan joined me for a week (working independently but enjoying Nowheresville together), and Eric was there as much as he could be, but I mostly tuned them out as I immersed myself into a power rewrite.

The first piece that fell into place was channeling my cousin Michele into the protagonist role, to break it away from being a reflection of me. Michele’s father Arturo is Mexican and her mother Patrice is a Caucasian Texas native. Michele was, at the time, a single mom with a great son, and dating a very athletic guy she has since married (and with whom she has an adorable daughter). I realized that at least at the surface level I could make Charlotte into Michele.

What a relief that was! Immediately, it freed me up to realize Michele’s differences from me. Hallelujah. I realized she had a hyper active imagination, and my favorite scenes with her became the ones where her imagination ran wild, like when she discovers Scarlet has betrayed her, and marches away from Scarlet and the ESPN producer, convinced she’s morphed into a knife winged butterfly who takes off and bursts into flames. It rivals the Katie-mewling-like-a-kitten-in-the-courtroom scene from Saving Grace as one of my favorites of all time to write.

Since Charlotte was no longer me and Michele was now Michele, Adrian, the husband, was no longer married to me, and thus no longer my husband Eric. He was still a good guy, but I could talk about his flaws in writing without betraying my husband/talking bad about him in public. I could prepare Michele for a three-book romantic mystery story arc that would move her on from Adrian. This was much harder for Eric than me, especially when I wrote the next Michele novel, Fighting for Anna, but it worked for Michele, and that was all that mattered for the novel. (Eric and I could hug it out when it came to the rest, and we did ;-))

I put Michele in the occupation of attorney-turned-editor-turned author. I allowed myself to build on that to create what others perceive as the author life, instead of sticking with accuracy—Michele’s experience as an author is far more glamorous than the real thing for most authors.

Finally, as I wrote the Katie books, it had become increasingly clear to me that magical realism, or day-to-day practical magic, was part of the way I viewed the world and thus woven into what I wrote. Since Michele now had a Mexican Papa, she had a Mexican grandmother, and in came Aztec mythology. Oh how excited I was, sitting there in a wildflower field surrounded by butterflies, to discover Itzpapalotl, the fearsomely beautiful knife-winged butterfly goddess. Itzpa, oh Itzpa. The rub between Papa’s heritage/Michele’s desire to honor it, and her mother’s practical Methodist upbringing. Itzpa, as Michele’s alter ego, brought the magic to the book.

I wish I could say Michele no longer was anything like me, but she still retains my strengths/challenges. A nail-biting perfectionist who is more about getting it done than having fun, she’s a woman I can relate to. I wrote my worst fear in G4K: what would I do if I lost my own husband and had no one to turn to but myself to solve the mystery of his death and protect my family. I wrote it down to my secretly held belief that in my grief I’d be no good to anyone, even our beloved kids, and that hurt. In fact, it hurt so much that when I read this novel aloud to my teenage son (yep, Sam is based on him) and got to the horrible confrontation between Michele and Sam, my son started crying and told me to shut it and never make him read it again. Ouch. But I could understand. It cut to the bone with its unfortunate ring of possible truth for me, too.

In the end, my goal with the book was that it still have humor and move quickly even as it wrung emotions out of readers. Michele is a more serious protagonist than my others, to date anyway, and you’ll see more of her in Fighting for Anna (aka F4A), due out November 4th. Don’t worry: I don’t kill any more family members. Not in F4A anyway 😉

Stay tuned for part one of four of the final installment (for now) of the story behind the story, when I share the secrets of Fighting for Anna!


p.s. A fun time was had by all in Nashville, as we joined three of our offspring for a Vanderbilt game, after a successful week presenting and moderating at AFPM for Eric.



Oh yeah, I worked on my upcoming Free-and-exclusive-to-subscribers, prequel, ensemble What Doesn’t Kill You novella. So did Georgia, in my lap in the swing.


The gang’s all here, but Dad’s manning the camera.


Vanderbilt lost, but we scored some good shirts.