A New Kind of Spinoff

I love my secondary book characters so much I’m writing stories starring them, and bundling a handful of these zippy tales in an anthology tentatively titled “Pepper Sprouts.” They’re drawn from my Pepper Kane Mysteries—cozy modern whodunits set up and down the West Coast. With dogs and horses. And elusive lovers. Stories are fun to write. They take less time than producing an entire book, which takes up to a year!

“Beach Body” is the first story of a projected five. It stars my amateur sleuth’s daughter, western jewelry designer, dog lover and new mom Chili Kane. I am polishing  another story with Pepper’s son, a former artist now working as a private detective in Seattle.

It’s unknown how many authors write stories about captivating secondary characters. But some give them starring roles in books outside the novel in which the person first appeared. If well drawn—and they have interesting jobs, roles or personalities—the characters makes us wonder about their lives outside the original novel(s). We want to read more about them.

Last year when casting about for new book ideas, I realized I had lots of cool characters in the Pepper mysteries. I drafted 20 pages of what I thought was a book starring Chili Kane. She’d recently divorced her Iranian husband, and moved with their baby from Seattle to the Oregon Coast—which I adore. She’d be closer to Mom, and live in a small town near the beach. (I love a good beach yarn: I’m reading “The Invisible Husband of Frick Island,” and “Coastal Christmas” is queued on my Kindle)

I soon got the idea that the proposed mystery book—and a possible series—could first be a story. A fine way to test the waters, as it were, for a full spinoff starring Pepper’s daughter. If the story floated, I would write the full novel.

*A story is a great way for readers to sample an author’s voice, style and genre in less than 30 minutes. It’s one reason I offer  “Beach Body” FREE, to valued email subscribers. There’s a signup box at www.caroletbeers.com My newsletters are OCCASIONAL, and information is NEVER shared).*

I—or any author—can write  stories with secondary original-book/series characters as one-offs, or by the handful to package as an anthology. What a fun way to market books, pique interest in ALL our creations. Seriously? If you’re a writer? Consider doing this.

The “Beach Body” story is a shade darker than my usual Pepper mysteries. Tighter, snappier, more twisted. But, as true of all “New West Mysteries with Heart,” it brims with outdoor drama, and animals, wrapping with a skewed yet hopeful ending. Not to mention a hint of romance. I have to have that, or at least a hint of it, in everything I write.

These new stories—singly or collectively—can stand strong on their own. But I also expect them to spur interest in my novels, both the modern mystery-suspenses set in the Pacific Northwest with its intriguing landscape and characters, and in the writing, whatever form it takes.

Penning these stories separately for newsletter swag, or offering them for sale in one package, gives repeat readers and newbies a time with those likable secondary characters. And it’s tasty bait. It can attract them to the fabulous books they spring from.

Why wouldn’t we?


Marketing a Mystery (?)

We discussed book marketing at our last writers group meeting—how tough, draining and discouraging it can be. We wanted to know what we can do to get sales and reviews when we’re not widely known. Should we have giveaways, enter more contests? Pay for ads and boosts? Schlep product to more bookstores?

Marketing’s not fun for most of us. It takes time away from writing and editing, from the joy and delicious angst of creating a masterpiece. But, if you haven’t already done so, expand your efforts with social media. And I don’t mean one post a month.Show up regularly, once a week or more, on one or several platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.)

Support other author’s efforts there. Comment, or just like. At very least, it gets your name and brand out there. It might even spark a sale or at least a look. To borrow a fishing adage, you have to throw the line in the pond.

And you might blog-tour, host other authors on your website, and comment on others’ posts on their websites. Or in online crimewriting groups.

This social connecting, casual or intense, is something I believe in, because readers on social(s) tell me they buy/read my books—though not quite to bestseller status. I learn what they like or don’t like in each book. Elements they expect (or hate) so I can fine tune my books going forward and, occasionally, backward. Tweaking style and story. Broadening the base. Brightening my author brand: “New West Mysteries with Heart.” 

Word by word, book by book.

I find social marketing fun. But many don’t. It takes time away from writing, from the joy and delicious angst of creating. But why not give social media a good shot. Show up somewhat regularly on one or several platforms, and support other author’s efforts there. Comment, or just like. At very least, it gets your name out there. It might even spark a sale. To borrow a fishing adage, you have to throw the line in the pond.

Why toil away, sweat blood, and pounce on great ideas when you still have limited readers/followers? Would a musician keep playing to an empty theater? You want publicity. You need people to experience your art and craft. So work at it. All of it.

Authoring books is not just a journey. It’s a freaking expedition.


Does an author’s mashing genre and shifting voice in new books turn off readers? Cause whiplash?Blur the brand? Not if done right. And my horse Brad (pictured) would agree!

Opening my books, readers expect New West Mysteries with Heart. “The Pepper Kane Mysteries,” in fact. A little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll. Cozies with friends, family, and frisky femmes. And horses, of course. Then I hit them with a literary novella, a middle-grades fantasy, and now a slammin’ good Women’s Fiction/Thriller: “Runaway Moon.”

It’s set in the contemporary West, yes. It has a feisty heroine and critters. A fast, sometimes hellbent pace. And a budding enemies-to-almost-lovers romance. But there it differs from much I’ve written.

“Runaway Moon”—published this month—surprises some.  My writing colleagues call it darker. It’s a modern, coming-of-age novel about an abused teen’s escape from a modern Oregon ranch to chase writing and training dreams. Shades of “True Grit” X “Wild,” resolving into “Heartland.” Yes, Cora Cassidy faces wild animals, outlaws, starvation, and a would-be rapist. But she also faces her own demons, and finds allies she didn’t know she needed. In the end she solves a mystery (during a heart-in-mouth showdown), and finds a home for her heart. As heroes do in all my books.

See, that last is key. The trick in successfully mashing genres and writing a little outside your brand or usual voice, is this: Stay with a few familiar landmarks (relatable characters, settings and moral compasses). Things your regular readers expect and relate to. THEN you can turn up the dark or light. Use scarier or tamer scenarios. And let your character think, speak and act with younger or older, nastier or sweeter voices than characters in your other work do.

All my books you love may, on the surface, appear different. Mess with your expectations. But are they really different? Maybe in the kind of character and level of grit. But you know? They all have souls to root for, intriguing modern mysteries to solve, and tons of action. Not to mention, heart! Always. That’s what glues us to a page or a whole book. That, and a flawed but brave hero, fascinating setting and urgent, compelling quest.

I trust my wonderful readers to get that. And that they will love this new book—a true New West Mystery with Heart.

Howdy, Carmen Peone!

Carmen Peone

Welcome back to my Writer’s Heartland here in southern Oregon. I’ve missed you, but have been busy herding cats: promoting my Zuni-inspired fantasy novel, “The Stone Horse.” And writing a fire-investigator mystery novel.

Lately I am inspired by Carmen Peone. She’s an awesome friend, true lady of the West, a past president of Women Writing the West—and the author of notable YA and Romantic Suspense, plus haiku (who knew?) Please join me in welcoming Carmen to our literary ranch house.

Q: Hey, Carmen. Thanks for being a supportive friend and for writing such heartfelt, down-to-earth books! How do you see yourself, your role, in writing, today?

A: Thanks for having me, Carole. And congratulations on your new release, The Stone Horse. What a wonderful novella!  Well, first and foremost, I see myself as a literary entertainer. But one who covers important topics and issues like abuse, illness, and hardship. The good news is that my characters always find hope and love, family and friendship.    

Q: Background us a “smidge’ on your life. How does that background and its recurring interests and themes continue to shape you and your work?

A: I live on the Colville Indian Reservation in northeast Washington State. All of my books to this point have either Native American lead or orbital characters and are set on or near Indian Country in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. My husband and children are enrolled members of the Colville Tribe, and my grandchildren are either enrolled or direct descendants. 

Having a degree in Abnormal Psychology, writing wasn’t on my radar until I moved to the rez and worked with tribal elder, Marguerite Ensminger, learning the Arrow Lake language (One of the twelve bands that make up the Colville Confederated Tribes). Living among the rich Indigenous culture is what cultivated the material I needed to begin writing, first for teens and now for adults.     

Q: What main thing did you learn from leading “Women Writing the West?

A: Having coordinated the after-school program here on the rez, I knew the importance of teamwork. But with turning out a novel and curriculum, keeping up with a young horse and grandkids, and leading WWW, I learned how far I could be pushed and discovered my boundaries, which I’d pushed beyond healthy limits. 

The good news is, I discovered I could handle more than I’d thought, just not too much. But to be honest, somethings came up in my writing where I had the chance to get involved in the homeschool community by creating workbooks to accompany my novels, and I took it. This was something I’d been wanting to do for some time. 

Now that I’ve completed my curriculum and can reflect on my time with WWW, I can honestly say my WWW team was extraordinary and were an incredible support. I learned how dedicated the membership is. WWW is an incredible organization, and I urge those who write the west with female leads to join.   

Q: What are your ideal writing habits? Have you a set number of hours, or words, to write a day?

A: Yes. As a full-time writer, my goal is 2000 words per day and five to six days a week. I track them to keep me on course. I write in two to three spurts a day as I have a small attention span and animals to care for.  

Q: Tell us about your interest in writing haiku? Does poetry help your prose writing some way?

A: I began writing Haiku poems while coordinating the after-school program. Japanese college students have been visiting our community for about fifteen years or so and have taught me and my students how to write them. One day, I decided to pick it back up and use it as a tool to get my brain working in the morning before I start my writing day. I love photography and because the traditional Japanese Haiku poems accompany photos, it was a perfect fit. 

The poems have to be tightly written, so yes, that does help remind me to keep my novels tightly written as well, cutting extra words that don’t need to be there. Why write five words when two will do and pack a more powerful punch? 

Q: Are any of your young relatives interested in writing? What advice would do you give them?

A: Yes. For youth, I tell them to pay attention to their English teachers and learn spelling and grammar. For youth and everyone else, I tell them to get to know their characters on the most intimate level and that research makes their writing authentic. 

Q: Do you have a favorite horse, a favorite craft?

A: I am a lover of the American Paint Horse. Especially tobianos and happen to own one. Buck is now twenty. He was my extreme challenge horse until he came up lame. Now he gets to hang out at the ranch and boss my nine-year-old half-quarter, half Morgan horse around. I also love photography. It’s fun to turn my photos into haikus and greeting cards. It all revolves around the culture of my novels and my lifestyle. 

Q: Paint Horses! My favorite, too—no offense, other breed lovers.Have you a favorite oral story, Carmen, perhaps with humor, told by one of your or your husband’s elders?

A: “Coyote and the Origin of the Columbia River,” (both) of which I can view from my home, is one of my favorites. (Taken from Carmen Peone’s Girl Warrior Literary Guide.)

Origin of the Columbia River 

Coyote (Sinkaleep) was traveling, and heard water dropping. He said, “I will go and beat it.” He sat down near it, and cried, “Hox-hox-hox hox!” in imitation of water dripping. He tried four times, but the noise never ceased. He became angry, arose, and kicked the place where the water dropped. The noise ceased. He thought he had beaten it, and laughed, saying, “I beat you. No more shall water drip thus and make a noise.”

Shortly after he had gone, the water began to drip as before. He became angry, and said, “Did I not say water shall not run and make a noise?” The water was coming after him, and increased in volume as it flowed. He kept on running; but still he heard the noise of water, and was much annoyed. Now he traveled along the edge of a plateau. There was no water there, nor trees. He looked down into the coulee, but everywhere it was dry. It was warm, and he became very thirsty. He heard the noise of water, but saw none. Then he looked again down into the coulee, and saw a small creek flowing along the bottom. It seemed a long distance away. He went down and drank his fill.

He ascended again, but had barely reached the top when he became thirsty. He heard more noise of water, and, looking over the edge, saw a large creek running.

He went down, drank his fill, and ascended again, but had not reached the top when he was thirsty, as before. He thought, “Where can I drink?” The water was following him. He went to the edge of a bench and looked down. A small river was now running below.

He descended and drank. He wondered that much water was running where there had been none before. The more he drank, the sooner he became thirsty again. The fourth time he became thirsty he was only a little way from the water.

He was angry, and turned back to drink. The water had now risen to a good-sized river, so that he had not far to go. He said, “What may be the matter? I am always thirsty now. There is no use of my going away. I will walk along the edge of the water.”

He did so; but as he was still thirsty, he said, “I will walk in the water.” The water reached up to his knees. This did not satisfy him; and every time after drinking, he walked deeper, first up to the waist, then up to the arms. Then he said, “I will swim, so that my mouth will be close to the water, and I can drink all the time.”

Finally he had drunk so much that he lost consciousness. Thus the water got even with Coyote for kicking it; and thus from a few drops of water originated the Columbia River.

Q: Don’t you love it? Thank you so much, Carmen, for the gift of your time and energy. Stay safe, write on, and have a wonderful Spring and Summer.

*Read more about Carmen at www.carmenpeone.com (“Healing, Harmony, Hope, Horses”)


On a recent milestone birthday I called  75 “the new 60.” That may have been a slight exaggeration. But it was how I felt, or desperately wanted to feel.

Some think me young—especially those older than I. On hearing my age, people in their eighties and nineties look at me with amused forbearance, calling me “just a kid.” Is it because I relate well to tots and teens?  I still make up my eyes as I did at 16 when sex-kitten Brigitte Bardot rocked the silver screen with her bouncy breasts, white lipstick and smoldering gaze (although my breasts bounce differently, now). Am quick to dance to a hot tune. Laugh loudly. Walk short dogs up tall hills.

I embrace intellect, fresh ideas. Write books. And, with a nonchalant grin or occasional grimace, heft a 40-pound Western saddle onto the back of my 16-hand horse, Brad, and ride him several days a week.

Youngers consider me old. My skin sags and wrinkles where once it was taut. My muscles, weaker now and slower to recover from stress as they did—even at 60—are quick to slack from underuse. Arthritis gnaws my fingers, knees and hips. It makes me slow to rise, and more mindful doing everyday tasks. Such physical changes feed my genetic tendency toward fleeting depression. I can’t do some things I once took for granted—what differently abled  people never could do, or do with difficulty.Let’s not even talk about my mind, as known names and memories sometimes dodder.

And yet. Folks in their sixties or younger say they hope they’ll be blessed with spunk like mine when they’re old, that they’ll enjoy a “get on with it” attitude. Ouch! There’s a compliment with teeth. OK. Whatever. I’ll take it. It’s what I admired about Marjorie Lewis, a 100-year-old friend. Certainly age depression and mourning the loss of abilities and loved ones, shadowed Marjorie. And yet…

At 75, face it: I am indeed aged. I was born before World War II ended. Years of experience might gild this truth. A wish to keep going  allows me to cling to illusion. But numbers don’t lie. So why do I skip or amble along in apparent denial, swept up helplessly but mostly happily in benign, unfurling time?

Call it faith. Inborn will. And a commitment to being meaner than whatever is chasing me, as my book heroine Pepper Kane would say, “down the tunnels of decrepitude.” Chasing me toward an ending—though I see death as a transition to a another dimension neither understandable nor sought. I grin, read, sip coffee. Watch the TV morning show. Tussle with dogs. Endure the sad fact of our aging and eventual demise. Look for signs and answers. Lunch with friends, attend church, deeply inhale fresh air and silence. And welcome blessings and endure curses as I find them.

Our subconscious, our spirits, see this, and know. They come to know graceful ageing is an act of will, or of NO will. Ultimately we are asked to love, forgive, accept what is, and feel what is. Look at plain truths, even if discomfiting. Just not for too long, nor too publicly. That does no one any good.

“Just do it,” I remind myself sternly or gently. I ask, “What’s next on my calendar?” I stay engaged.

As long as I have life, I must live it and try to love it. Warts and all. Nothing lasts forever in the same form. But one’s individual energy, wisdom and style endure in footprints and soul prints left on the Earth and other beings.

Breathe. Love. Cry. But most of all, smile. In my experience, even those precious aware souls who seem to have lost all, can still convey a smile, if only in their eyes. Show acceptance. Hope. Love.

And that, to me, is the ultimate triumph of mind over matter. Even when mind no longer matters.

Two Flights of Doves

I saw a flight of doves yesterday while walking Georgie, my last remaining Boston terrier, down our hill. Then through bare branches against a weeping sky, I saw another small flight, chirping in time to their fast, pillowy wingbeats. I took this repeated sign to mean I should be at peace.

Peace has been hard to come by this holiday season. That’s because Dolly, our spirited 12-year-old Boston, has suffered from the effects of deafness, near-blindness and Cushing’s syndrome due to a brain mass. I have been her on-call nurse, guide and comforter.

That chapter or our earthly connection died Friday with our precious girl. My protector, finder and healer left us almost a year after Billy—her stoic yet playful consort—died last January. A wise and compassionate mobile veterinarian helped all of us honor the passing. We lay our Dolly in a sanctified hole in our fenced back yard, said sacred words, and smudged.

I have moved through subsequent days in a veil of tears or the oblivion of sleep, aware of her spirit slightly confused, but close, comforting. A streaky smudge of her face, llke ones left by Billy, remains on a front-door side window and a mirrored closet-door. She follows me, I talk. Sometimes stroke her invisible body. Trying to affirm and reassure us both.

But the pain remained, until came the doves. 

I’d just read in a book, “Signs from Pets in the Afterlife,” that the heart-center of beloved ones—pets and humans—sends signals to comfort us, to reassure us they are still around though in different form. Signals that suggest we feel at peace about them and ourselves. Signs that we cherish memories, but go forward with something like hope, faith and love. And that doves, a gentle, peaceful bird, embody all that plus peace. When one sees doves, especially in flocks, one is  reminded to embrace peace, and know that our loved one is at peace.

And, after yesterday, so am I.


Night Rides by Carole Beers

Three books published in one year? Hell, yeah. That was my output for 2019—two new Pepper Kane Mysteries, plus the holiday novella, “In From the Cold.” In a world where publishing one book a year is the norm or at least a goal, I gobsmacked even myself. How’d that happen?

My background, as many of you know, was in daily big-city journalism for nearly 40 years, and mainly for The Seattle Times. Features, hard news, obits, criticism and columns. Oh, I ground out some stories for romance and horse publications. But predominantly I was shaped by the values and daily discipline. Fine training for any writer—Hemingway and Faulkner, included!

Retiring in 2006 and moving back to Grants Pass, Oregon, where I graduated high school, I read voraciously, gardened, rested and competed in horse shows—all the things I couldn’t pursue as I liked while employed full time. I also wrote short stories as part of the Monday Mayhem fiction group. The stories were, for the most part, less than stellar. I soon learned writing fiction is way different than doing journalism! You invent characters, settings, plots, rather than having them handed you on a sterling tray.

The next ten years, between stories, I penned three rough-draft novels—including the devilishly tongue-in cheek whodunnit, “Saddle Tramps.” And queried, and queried some more. In 2016 a small indie press I use today, W & B Publishers, signed me to a contract for “Saddle Tramps.” The next two years I wrote a book a year for them while continuing to study craft and build my author platform. Always trying to hue to a morning writing schedule, ever building more complex plots and characters. Learning from readers and other writers. Social media!

What happened was, rather than working at and studying writing, at sweating, editing, grinding it out—which I still confess to doing, at times—I fell in utter love with it. And, as they say, If you love your work, you’ll never work a day in your life. So I was in love. Fully engaged, inside my stories and settings, caring about my characters as if they were family, and wanting to know what happens with them, 24/7.

And, voila! Stop the presses! For me this was the “secret,” the key to prodigious (and more fulfilling) production. My path to writing three books a year. Being “retired,” no doubt, is a ginormous help. More time and energy! But it was the love that made it happen.

You’d be surprised at how much writing you get done when you’re prepared for and are truly captivated by a project—as writers taking part in NaNoWriMo learn. (I’ve not done National November Writing Month, but I understand you madly plot and prepare for it in advance so your daily word count in the month is stratospheric!)

Here’s to falling I love with not only writing, but also what you’re writing about. It can take you places you never imagined. Even to multiple books a year!


Can authors have it both ways? Create books that earn honors, tick bestseller boxes and align with a strong author brand while laying bare our hidden secrets, shames, fears and dreams? I’m beginning to believe so, thanks to recent nudges from Creator. I touched on inner concerns—or wrote around the edges—in my first books. Used social issues as metaphor, or offered guarded glimpses into my/my heroine’s flaws and vulnerabilites. It was my unbiased reporter’s way. But now I’m ready to show myself more clearly through characters and story, to be not only brave and positive, but also as sometimes clueless and vulnerable as anyone else.

In her seminar here in Grants Pass last week, literary strategist Anna Weber said that an author’s writing her own deep, scary but authentic truths in her book speaks to READERS’ deepest needs, desires and truths. Which we must do to be successful. This is a big reason why we read book, crave story. Weber’s seminar resonated powerfully with me. That’s one reason I want to read. That, and to be entertained.

The next day came my author friend Susan Clayton-Goldner’s newsletter, “Writing the Life.” She said that sharing in book form (“Missing Pieces,” the achingly dark tale of her late father and her relationship) not only helped heal her, but also to reveal her strength. All of which we as readers also look for. Don’t we all want to be healed and strengthened? Susan says showing one’s weakness without fear, not hiding behind words or an image, is the real strength.

For example, I might write deeper into my longtime fear of not being chosen (for a team, friendship, prize) despite hard work and commitment. Or, my often-fulfilled situation of forming a group, or hosting a party for friends and loved ones, and then having the committed guests cancel. Fifteen minutes before the event. When the standing rib roast is coming out of the oven. Knowing how such betrayal crushes me, I try to respond to invites and requests in a timely, truthful way, and fulfill commitments even if “something came up.”

God! The pain of promised success–whether in friendship, finance or romance–that is inexplicably yanked away. I’m sure the lesson here is to stay loose, and flexible. But it’s still hard.

I’ve occasionally faced having to eat a beautiful dinner alone or semi alone. I accept that I’ll never understand the whys. But at such times I’ve somehow pulled myself together and asked someone else to come on the spur-of-the-moment, and had them come! I’ve also driven the meal to people who haven’t eaten yet, and will appreciate having dinner delivered. And had a blast!

To be successful, authors must come up with relatable characters, engaging plots, and fascinating twists and turns. We want to immerse readers in story and action. To do so, it turns out, we must also show ourselves/our characters as realistic, relatable, engaging, with fascinating twists, turns—including darkness and vulnerabilities. Maybe even celebrating same.

We don’t have to go overboard. Don’t have to devolve into melodrama. Who wants to come to that party? But we as authors can think more about our book characters, show their fears and weaknesses and, by proxy, some of our own. Which goes a long way forward making them “true.”As a matter of fact, I have begun to do exactly this in “Shadow on the River,” my current Work in Progress. It is Pepper Kane Mystery #5. It may be my strongest yet.


Yes, we’ve had some rain in Oregon. I have to come clean. Mud puddles are not my preferred body of water. Murky brown glimmers or shining silver sheets on the path or road hold terrors and mysteries my horse and I can only speculate about. Does that wet patch lying dead flat ahead or shimmering in a breeze, hide a rock, a bog, perhaps even a bottomless hole?

Same deal when an author writes toward a perceived hole or other obstacle in a book. I write forward boldly, stodgily or timidly, for forward I must go. While the soggy monster lying in the way grows larger and more threatening. I am drawn toward it, and yet I fear it. Funny thing is, the closer it looms the more I start second-guessing and questioning why I even considered such a random development in the first place. Why on Earth did I think I need this question, that scene, this surprising dialog, that shocking denouement? Am I mad? My heroine would never, SHOULD never, do such a thing. It’s out of character.

But is it really? I put a toe in, keeping one foot back on solid ground, and what the heck. Write her into the puddle, see what happens. My writers group balks. “You can’t have her/him doing that. It’s not realistic. Your readers won’t like it. I don’t like it.” I sulk a moment. Then I rise to the challenge.

“You say my amateur sleuth, Pepper Kane, wouldn’t let her memory challenged, 80-YO father go on night patrol on the guest ranch after a body was found? And that I, the writer, shouldn’t make him go?

It’s the the nudge this Creative needed. Go ahead. Tell me I can’t do it. Then I’ll move heaven and earth to prove you wrong, make my book even better than I’d imagined. What’s “wrong” suddenly seems terribly right. This plot twist, this character trait, was never expected. But that’s why it’s so damned satisfying when it works.

Does something similar happen to you? The more you want something, the more resistance you encounter, the less time or energy you seem have to go through or get past something unresolved or unpleasant? Yet you lift your chin, call in your courage and imagination, and tackle it anyway? I bet you often find it turns out pretty well, in the end. Maybe better than everyone thought.

My parting words to you, when writing, when living, when facing puddles? Maybe even a whole swamp? Embrace the mud!


What do you see in book covers? Promise of the world between them, of what a reader can expect as to theme, mood and style? Or a wall graffitii’d with a title and author name? To me a cover is like a front door. It can either be an invitation to enter, or a barrier that practically dares me to open it.

With the rise of covers shown in online vendor sites such as Amazon, we’ve noticed larger type and more contrasty colors against nondescript backgrounds. Or with simpler, cliched images (e.g., romance and Westerns). The thinking is to simplify since readers can’t discern detail let alone realistic people and places, in an image the size of a thumbnail or tarot card depending on the device displaying it. And with the barest suggestion of the characters, setting and action inside. Unless you’re familiar with the author’s work, buying such a book is a guessing game.

I don’t want to have to guess! I want to get an idea of what I’m buying. In the case of my own books, The Pepper Kane Mysteries—four to date, one one the way—I’ve been blessed with a publisher who asks if I have a cover concept. I not only have a concept, I have 200+ professionally shot photos from which to choose (thank you Jenny J Jaks Grimm), and a wonderful designer (Cheryl F. Taylor) to add filters, backgrounds and effects that suggest what’s inside the book. Perfectly. A Western show diva and her horse silhouetted against a mysterious background with symbolic details, e.g., a sky with full moon and owl (“Ghost Ranch”). Western colors such as coral, Sienna and aqua add to the ambience.

Many compliments have come our way for those covers—particularly the one for the latest, “Night Rides” (Pepper #4) with its mountain horizon, night sky and lightning bolt. But all capture well what I intended with the novels, which is a gripping, and sometimes beautiful and lighthearted, mystery set in today’s sophisticated American West, with shades of cozies and serious women’s fiction. Can we touch on tough issues like loyalty, child trafficking, and faith/race/gender prejudice? OK, but with a hopeful outcome.

Oh, yes. I worry the horse and the cowgirl hat will turn off some readers who think my books are Westerns, or horsey, or I-don’t-know-what. That with my books’ unique covers in related styles, which indicate a series, they might look a little different from “Big 5” or establishment covers. But I kind of love them for those same reasons! They ARE different, they do offer a unique entertainment and voice.

Besides. I get to immortalize not only a way of life I’ve enjoyed—horses, nature, life sleuthing and relationship building–but I also get to see my entire creative vision displayed. That’s big. And YOU get what you see. My doors don’t lie!