Friday, March 23, 2012


My guest is mystery/suspense author, Joyce Yarrow. Joyce shares a bit about the background of the latest book in her Jo Epstein Mystery Series, The Last Matryoshka, and the travel she did to give it an authentic feel. 

I had reached a crossroads in my story – actually Jo Epstein’s story. Her Russian émigré stepfather was being pursued by demons from his past that he refused to unmask. Jo’s job was to prove his innocence— the only acceptable outcome given the vulnerable state her mother was in—but Nikolai had made this nigh impossible. His irascible nature and reluctance to share even the most basic information – for example, that he had a sister still living in Moscow—was driving her mad. And just when she finds some clues that might exonerate him, Nikolai foils her once again by fleeing the country.

It was a given that she would follow him – after all, I’m the writer and had planned this all along. But nonetheless, I was not as ready for this transition as I might have been. With shelves crammed with books about everything Russian, and in particular the class of criminals known as the vory, I was as confident of accurately writing the scenes set in Russia as a first-time skier who has mistaken Mt. Everest for the bunny slope.

So I went ahead and bought tickets for my then 16-year-old son and myself from Dublin to Moscow.  We would take our family vacation in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and then my husband would fly back to the States, leaving Ian and me to embark on our adventure.

This was not the first time I had traveled “in Jo’s shoes.” Although I grew up in New York, I live in Seattle and it seems that while I wasn’t looking, someone turned Manhattan into a foreign country. Which was why--during the writing of the first Jo Epstein mystery, Ask the Dead—I took so many trips back home to update myself I would have used up all the visa pages had my passport been required.

Oh yeah – I was talking about Russia. Every place that Ian and I explored in and around Moscow—from the Mayakovsky Metro Station (I loved the Moscow Subway!) to the Suzdal Monastery and the Matryoshka factory in Sergiev Posad—every nook and cranny in the Soviet-style apartment we stayed in near the University—made its way into the book. We were even treated to dinner in a Georgian restaurant by a Commander in the Russian Criminal Police. He blessed the plot I had devised—yes, sometimes we writers do our research and get it right—and then gave me his cell number just in case I had further questions. How lucky was that? And it was fascinating to hear him talk about the days when the vory battled the police in a fair fight and everyone followed the code. No so today!

My son was very tolerant—although he did panic a little when the doors of Vladimir Central Prison clanged shut behind us—the first Americans ever to tour this fearsome place. His paranoia rubbed off on me and Jo ended up spending some unexpected time incarcerated there.

I could have finished The Last Matryoshka using Google Earth and without ever leaving home – after all, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island while he was confined to his bed. But being a neophyte in Moscow alongside Jo was too good a chance to pass up. How else could I have learned that to avoid being recognized as an American in Moscow all one has to do is carry a plastic bag instead of a backpack? Or that certain underground monastery cells were once used to imprison heretics? Where else could I have experienced the chaos of airports where queuing up is for sissies only? And how else could I have met the model for Nikolai’s mysterious sister, Olga, who he wrongly believed had betrayed his parents to the KGB?

  • Have you ever traveled someplace you never dreamed of in order to follow your dream?

  • What's your favorite "travel tip" for blending in with the natives?


Available in hardcover and ebook 
The Last Matryoshka by Joyce Yarrow

A poetry-writing private investigator tries to save her Russian stepfather....

Full-time private investigator/part-time poet Jo Epstein travels to New York and eventually to Russia to help clear her emigre stepfather—who is framing him for murder and who is sending him threatening messages in Russian nesting dolls (matryoshkas). Her investigation takes her on a journey into her stepfather’s past and into the honor-bound code of the “vory,” a Russian criminal syndicate. Excerpt Book trailer

"Intricately layered like the Russian nested doll of the title..." Library Journal


Joyce Yarrow was born in the SE Bronx, escaped to Manhattan as a teenager and now lives in Seattle with her husband and son. Along the way to becoming a full-time author, Joyce has worked as a screenwriter, singer-songwriter, multimedia performance artist and most recently, a member of the world music vocal ensemble, Abráce.

Joyce is a Pushcart nominee, whose stories and poems have been widely published. Her first book, Ask the Dead (Martin Brown 2005), was selected by The Poisoned Pen as a Recommended First Novel and hailed as “Bronx noir”. Her latest book, The Last Matryoshka, takes place in Brooklyn and Moscow. It was published in hardcover by Five Star/Cengage and is now available for Kindle through Istoria Books. (

Joyce considers the setting of her books to be characters in their own right and teaches workshops on "The Place of Place in Mystery Writing."

You can find Joyce on Facebook and at her Website.

You can read more about Joyce Yarrow’s writing journey, her P.I. brother, her childhood in the Bronx, her use of place as character in her books:


Look at other Istoria Books offerings here:
Istoria Books: eBooks You Want to Read at Prices You Want to Pay

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

KIM SANDERS: Her Romance Blooms On A Porch

Please welcome my guest Kim Sanders. When she's not almost becoming an alligator snack, she writes romantic suspense. I'm thinking she likes that touch of danger in her life.

Kim, welcome to Over Coffee. Glad you could make it.
Hi, Sia! Thanks for inviting me.
I'm curious, why did you choose this genreromantic suspense?
I think the genre chose me. Winking smile

I've been a hopeless romantic my entire life—the cheesy type. My family groans if I claim a “me” day during our annual Fourth of July beach vacation. I’ll threaten to leave the television tuned to the Lifetime Channel for an entire rainy day just to watch them cringe. But for the sake of peace and family unity, I’ll pop in the movie Independence Day instead and everybody’s happy—plus there’s a kiss at the end.

There is advice out there for writers that suggest trying other genres. Have you?

I did try another genre recently. I entered a horror story in a Writer’s Digest short story contest. I’d read news reports about young girls in Africa being raped by men who believed violating virgins would cure their AIDS. I transformed that horror into a short story. I gave my main character, a girl named Fatimah, a supernatural ability to save women.  But regardless of the grave tone, two new characters made an appearance that were bound and determined to have a full-blown romance. A young Scottish doctor encountered an American Peace Corps worker, and the next thing you know, there it is—a cheesy romance blooming right in the middle of horror. I tried to edit it out, but love stories seem to be my nature. Needless to say, it didn’t win. I’ve decided to file the story away and look at it again later as a possible romance novel.

Your muse seems quite happy with Shades of Gray and it seems to be doing quite well.

I have been more successful with the romance genre. My novel, Shades of Gray,  has received awards and praise and climbed to Number One on the Amazon Best Sellers’ lists for contemporary romance and Number Two for romantic suspense—so I think I’ve found my niche. Besides, I tend to live in my main character’s world while I’m writing, and the romance world is safer and more satisfying. So even though I might wander into other branches of fiction in the future, until I’m a bit braver, I think I’ll stick with love.

Congratulations! Describe your writing space?

Porches. Front porches, back porches; screened porches, verandas. As long as the weather hasn’t reached that unbearable Southern humidity, I spend hours writing from porches. If there is an ocean breeze and the faint sound of birds in the distance, I write. If the rain pounds on the tin roof, I write.

What would be your DREAM writing space?
My dream writing space would be...a sweeping veranda with the perfect view of crashing ocean waves during a storm. Of course, dream laptops are very rain resistant.

And dream verandas are safe from stray rogue waves, too. What's a favorite thing you do to relax or recharge your creative spirit?

Besides reading, photography is my favorite hobby. I try to take a camera with me every time I go for a long walk. If I leave it behind, I always regret its absence. I love landscapes and nature. Last summer, I was walking along a trail and spotted and a beautiful heron. I had a short lens, but the bird was asleep so I crouched really low and got closer and closer. Eventually, it flew off. By that point, I was pretty close to the edge of the water so I stood up and glanced down. A huge alligator was lurking just a few feet below me. I snapped a couple of shots and backed off quickly. If I’d have waited a few more minutes before scaring the bird away, I might have had an amazing action shot, but I might have been next on the menu.

Yikes! That would have been a definite bad ending. But, it's interesting that your hobby is also creative in nature. Any similarities between writing and taking pictures?

Photography fits in well with my writing.  Looking through the camera lens, I notice the details of the scenes around me with an isolated intensity. I frame the pictures and later crop them for impact. The same applies to writing in a lot of ways, but I must admit, I find it easier to crop a photograph than a page of words.

Oh, me too. I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to getting the photo just right. Editing photos gives you immediate results and that's not always the case with writing. :-D  What's next for you?

I am currently working on two more novels—SHADES OF JUSTICE and THE EX LOTTERY, and hope to have another novel ready for release by the end of the year.

Kim, thank you for taking the time, away from your lovely porch and writing, to visit with us a bit today. I've enjoyed it.

  • Readers and writers: have you ever had something totally unexpected happen when you've been involved with a hobby?


Nothing is black-and-white when dealing with love or murder. In “Shades of Gray,” an award-winning photojournalist finds herself on the wrong side of the lens when she is framed for murder.

Samantha "Sam" Jennings has been hiding from the world since she was seventeen years old. At twenty-seven, living in isolation on a small private island off the coast of South Carolina, Sam guards her privacy. Her photographs are famous, but her face is anonymous. And she likes it that way.

Caleb McCloud is a defense attorney who basks in the spotlight. His legal successes have him on a career path to become the youngest president in the United States. But an entanglement from his past may put a kink in that path.

When front-page headlines scream: "Photographer Shoots to Kill," Sam finds herself facing murder charges in the death of Ben Fuller. To stay out of jail and catch the true killer, she must turn to Caleb, the one man who has haunted her dreams since she was a teenager. She vows to trust him with her life but not her heart. But as the two begin a journey to find a killer, Caleb vows to win both. Is he too late? Find out in the action packed love story of Samantha and Caleb. There is an excerpt on Amazon, and an additional one HERE

Oozes all the necessary passion of any good romance novel . . . The romance enthusiast won't be disappointed with this novel that never skimps on passion or story. 
Kirkus Reviews

Rachel Brown photography

Kim Sanders was born in Smithfield, North Carolina, the middle of three children. Her father owned and managed a small dime store in a tiny town in eastern North Carolina, and her mother was an English teacher. Kim attended the University of North Carolina, earning a degree in Journalism, and later, a law degree from Emory University. She and her husband, Paul, have two children.

You can find Kim: Facebook, Twitter, Website

Monday, March 19, 2012

MONDAY MUSINGS: When Scots Become Irish.

My family isn’t really Irish well—lets just say we are more Scot than Irish, but a Celt is a Celt. However, for St. Pat’s we’re Irish.

My family isn’t small. My mom had 9 kids. I tease about coming from a litter of 9. My mom laughs while telling me how bad I am. Any family get together is usually pretty big and even bigger when we add in the kids of kids.

My brother throws an annual Celtic party every St. Pat’s Day. It truly is his favorite holiday he tends to go all out with decorations, lights, and atmosphere. This year was no different. Though not all the family could come, we still had a large group of family and friends. The weather was outstanding for March, shirtsleeves even at 10 p.m. There are huge amounts of food prepared, lots of laughter and music. Oh, yeah, green beer—ugh—and a few other green colored alcohols, which were much better than the beer, in my humble opinion. Tis a grand time when we get together.

This year my son took his girlfriend of nine months to the gathering. They loved her and she fits in because she looks like a Celtic fairy. Well, she’s also a good kid and fun. She thinks my “family is amazing” (I really like this kid). We’re an affectionate bunch. We hug and give kisses—a lot. I think it was a bit of a surprise for her to see even my brothers hugging each other and handing out kisses to the cheek. We've always been that way. I love being on the receiving end of hugs and kisses. This year was special because I was so sick last year and although they only live 45 minutes away, this was the first time I had seen most of them in a year. This was unusual as I’m more often than not down visiting at least twice a month. So I had lots of hugs to catch up on.

At any given, conversations run the gamut of family gossip (a favorite pastime), politics, conservation issues, books, and music. Visitors are sure to find a topic of interest under discussion. Mostly, it’s a relaxing and fun time.

My family is special to me. They’ve been the constant in my life as we bee-bopped around the country with Dad’s job. We fuss and argue—what family doesn’t?  It usually doesn’t last long and not much time goes by before someone throws a cookout or party and we are able to come together and reconnect, renew, and take strength from being together yet another year.

Slàinte (slawn-che) 

  • Did you do anything special over St. Patrick’s’ weekend?