Titles can either attract or repel an audience. Case in point. NBC’s new 10 episode drama (Sunday,April 5), got a nice review from the typically censorious NY Times. It sounds like the type of thriller that would interest me. The title, however, is a turnoff. “American Odyssey”–that reminds me of a dull but worthy offering by PBS, NPR or the like. Rather like a travelogue or an examination of small town sports mania. Why not call it “Odyssey”? That alludes to the heroine’s journey (she’s an American soldier stranded behind the lines in Afghanistan), and hints of intrigue and mayhem. The success of HOMELAND; JUSTIFIED; and naturally “24” show how effectively a name can showcase content.
Authors should consider the importance of a title in naming their own works. For my mysteries, I favor short, snappy titles that hint at the snarky humor and fast pace inside.(Mantrap; Gilt Trip; Intrusion are good examples.)
Some classic novels also illustrate this point: LOLITA; WAR &PEACE; GOOD AS GOLD; and that beloved work PRIDE & PREJUDICE; to name a few. Consumers get a fairly accurate idea of what to expect and that builds brand loyalty and customer satisfaction.


Featuring Sgt. Micki Li (SLICE); and those sizzling sleuths, Eja Kane and Deming Swann. (SWANN DIVE; MANTRAP; GILT TRIP & SWANN SONG)

 Boston evildoers beware: Bellbridge Books has launched three new crime busters whose steely determination and mad detective skills are kryptonite to all felons.

Micki is a no nonsense cop who follows the rules and always gets her perp. Eja, a mystery author uses her instincts and creativity to go where no sensible civilian dares to go. Fortunately Deming is an attorney who bails her out when things go awry.

Q- Micki, what do you think about civilian involvement in homicide investigations?

 A – Involvement is too nice a word. I call it interference and I won’t stand for it. Taxpayers expect professionals to solve crimes not amateurs. That’s what they pay us for.

Q – Wow! That’s a strong reaction. What about it, Eja?

 A – Sometimes an amateur can do things that police officers like Micki aren’t allowed to.

A – (Micki interrupts). That’s precisely what I’m talking about.

Q- Any reaction, Mr. Swann?

 A – (Deming Swann). I agree with Sgt. Li. Eja should stick to fiction. Plus, she drags my mother into her schemes too. It’s dangerous.

 Q – You have a partner, don’t you, Sgt. Li? How does that work?

 A – (Micki Li) I trust my partner with my life. All cops do. We work as a team.”

A – (Eja). Exactly. Just like Deming and me. And my mother-in-law too.

(Deming throws up his hands in disgust. Micki snorts.)

Q –  Micki, in SLICE, you tangle with some really bad guys, carry a gun, and manage a kids’ baseball team. That must keep you in shape.

A – (Micki) I also run and work out at the police gym. Part of the job.”

Q – Eja, what about you?

A – (Eja. Looking sheepish). I’m allergic to sweat. Mostly I starve myself. Deming is the gym rat.

A – (Deming). Eja thinks about exercise and then writes about it.

Q – This is for all of you. What’s your preferred method for solving crimes?

A – (Micki). I’m constrained by the law and police procedure but I also use my instincts. All good cops do. That’s how criminals are caught and punished.

A – (Eja) All my favorite literary sleuths are amateurs too. Miss Marple, Lord Peter and Harriet Vane, Amelia Peabody. I could go on and on. They rely on brains and cunning and so do I.”

Q – Deming—what’s your reaction?

A – (Deming sighs). You don’t want to know.

Q – Thanks to all of you. Readers can follow the exploits of our crime fighters in these novels from Bellebooks:


SLICE (Micki Li mystery #1) by Mary Jo Kim

SWANN DIVE (Boston Uncommons mystery);

MANTRAP (Boston Uncommons mystery #2) GILT TRIP & SWANN SONG 

by Arlene Kay


Imagine my excitement at the prospect of dining with one of my literary heroes, Edgar Allan Poe. I took great care in planning the menu. Mr. Poe was known to have a very delicate constitution and was susceptible to a number of ailments. He was partial to roast chicken (and alcohol truth be told), so I prepared a plain, inoffensive meal designed to soothe the most contentious stomach.
He arrived promptly at eight o’clock, garbed entirely in black, bearing a bouquet of roses and carrying one of my novels under his left arm. Slips of paper protruded from the pages of my work, a grim reminder that my guest was one of the preeminent literary critics of his day. My hand trembled as I reached for his. Surely he would savage my poor efforts as he had so many others. This towering intellect, a genius in both poetry and prose would dismiss romantic suspense as a poor cousin to real mysteries. I greeted him in a wispy, wavering voice that was quite unfamiliar to me.
Poe was taller than expected and rail thin, a stark reminder that consumption—Tuberculosis to us—was a constant companion to those of his age. He had lost his foster mother and beloved wife to that scourge.
His greeting was gentle, his manner courtly. We sat in my living room, which he called a parlour, and sipped Sherry, wretched stuff, but all that I had to offer.
His conversation confounded me. He neither railed against his critics nor damned his detractors. Instead, the genius in my midst spoke of love and his quest to honor it. He quoted his hero Byron, and laughed at the description “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” The lost Lenore, and the beautiful Annabel Lee each made an appearance, wrapped in a shroud of memory.
Before he left, he handed me my novel and a priceless memory. “Keep writing,” he said. “You have the gift.”


I freely confess to watching and loving the Sons Of Anarchy, Justified, Homeland,  Twenty-Four, Luther; Ray Donovan and any martial arts film featuring a certain Chinese-American actor. My literary favorites also include healthy servings from Nelson DeMille, Lee Child and Barry Eisler. What, you might ask, attracts an otherwise peace-loving mystery writer to a diet of unmitigated mayhem? It’s not the violence, although a man who can smite his enemies for a just cause is a major turn on. I hasten to add that neither the films nor the books contain any acts of animal cruelty, a non-starter for me and many other women. A few bodies fall in these adventures—Sons of Anarchy stacks them up like cordwood; Jack Bauer and Raylin Givens were never considered gun-shy—but for the most part, their hearts and biceps are in the right place.

There are two reasons that I adore these fictional tough guys: their willingness to pursue justice even when it imperils their own safety and the indisputable fact that they are major babes, big on biceps, brawn and brains. Intellect is important to me and although I have no proof about their IQs (Stanford-Binet where are you?), when it comes to survival these heroes rise to genius level.

Some of the same attributes appear in the stars of my mystery novels although the body count and violence quotient are considerably less. Movies, television, and novels sell the same thing—a respite from real world woes and a whopping dose of fantasy. Heroes are smart, sexy and audacious. Women are appreciative.

Lest you think I am hopelessly sexist, I also love The Big Bang Theory and never miss Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock. I just don’t fantasize about them.

Critical Mass

What is it about women and criticism that raises the room temperature? Formerly, some managers gave female employees a pat on the head rather than an honest critique fearing that women might weep if comments were too frank. That paternalism has now been replaced by a more legitimate fear: cries of sexism!
Author Tara Mohr cites a persuasive study (NYTimes, 9/28/14), which found that women employees did receive more negative feedback than men, and 76% of it cited flaws in their personality or appearance (only 2% of males received negative comments about personal traits). The usual suspects—“abrasive,” “judgemental,” and “strident” figured prominently in the study. Incidentally, the managers studied were both male and female. No surprise— I’ve been there, heard that.
What to do? Instead of gnashing our molars, the author offers several observations that make sense to me. Remember that great line from Julius Caesar about the fault lying in ourselves and not our stars? If the duplicitous Cassius figured it out, why can’t we?
Women who mainline praise like heroin addicts must find a cure, toughen up and make a choice. Important work requires courage and the hide of a rhino, particularly when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune find their mark. (Enough about Hillary Clinton’s hair, please. What about the men without any?)
Don’t expect plaudits every time at bat. Be courageous and true to yourself. For heaven’s sake, shed the “Good Little Girl” image. It usually means you aren’t making tough calls or are incredibly sneaky and manipulative. Most of all learn to counsel the women and men that you lead in frank but positive ways. Then and only then will we achieve Critical Mass.


Just saw “The Equalizer”, a terrific action flick, starring the inimitable Denzel Washington.Forbes-on-line predicts it will top the box-office this week. As I was leaving, a lady (probably in her 80’s), caught my eye and nodded. “Great movie,” she said. “Denzel’s still got it,” I remarked, to which she said “He’s HOT!”

As a writer, I pondered this question: what qualities give a character appeal across-generations, genders, and races? It’s a critical issue as we craft our own literary heroes and strive to attract broader audiences.Here is my answer: the protagonist that is wildly handsome, brave, and INTELLIGENT, still rings the bells of female and male audiences. Please share your opinions on this topic. After all, we would all love to top the box office.

Book Blogging and Coaching

Good to know that elegance and taste take a summer vacation on Cape Cod. Last week at an awards dinner, I sat near a presenter from California whose presumed areas of expertise are book blogging and coaching. Judging by her accent and attitude I’m quite certain that this person is actually a New York transplant who has yet to acquire the sangfroid of the ‘left Coast.’
My first clue was the semi-sneer blanketing her face when I mentioned “romantic suspense/mystery.” She leaned across the table and said to two other women, “My professor in college tried to write a romance novel but decided he couldn’t write badly enough to succeed.”
I pride myself on self-control. Rather than spewing vitriol, I tried sweet reason. “Romances are the best selling genre of novels”, I observed. “They bring pleasure to a lot of readers.”
My nemesis had an immediate retort.”Yes, but women are ashamed to admit they read them. They hide the covers on the subway. Thank heaven for e-books.”
“50 Shades of Grey sold 90 million copies,” said I. “It got front page coverage in the New York Times.”
She sniffed, dismissing that eye-popping statistic with a flick of her hand.
“And what do you write?” I asked.
“Memoir. I’ve had a really interesting life.”
Oh well. Boring people like myself will stick to fiction.



A snarky piece in today’s New York Times (8/24), affirmed once again why I love the Grey Lady. Besides proving that readers can digest words of more than one syllable, the Times (particularly the Sunday edition) hosts talented writers with tart observations on life that echo my own. Check out “Of Myself I Sing,” a not quite tongue in cheek riff about those who use “over-weening prose” and shameless self-promotion to “strut their entrepreneurial stuff” on social media. Too many writers have taken to heart the bromide that there is no bad publicity (wrong), and that endlessly trumpeting suspect 5 star reviews on Amazon will drive sales.(wrong again)

Although I discount psychobabble, I support the theory that mindless over-sharing has more to do with ego than marketing. Friends who chronicle their every triumph via Face Book are deluded. They vastly overestimate the capacity of their audience for cant. After all, how many e-book sales can one absorb without falling into a stupor?

Personally, I prefer begging. It’s a time-honored, unambiguous tradition that dates from Biblical times. If ‘the quality of mercy is not strained’, the author who throws herself at the feet of a largely indifferent public may be pitiful but never pompous.
(By the way, two of my recently released novels, SWANN DIVE and MANTRAP, have garnered numerous 5 star reviews on Amazon. Available now for your reading pleasure).


Everyone’s a critic, or so it seems. Reviews of every service purveyor flood the internet offering wildly different opinions on value and quality.Writers, actors, and movies are particular targets of alleged “experts” who often have a personal axe to grind.
Consider movie reviews. If I had not already decided to see JERSEY BOYS, the review in the Boston Globe (1 1/2 stars) might have deterred me. After viewing that thoroughly enjoyable film, I have to question whether the critic actually watched it or allowed his obvious dislike for director Clint Eastwood to influence his review. Phrases such as “his best work may be behind him” and “the last person suited to direct this film” were the tip-offs. They even verged on “Age-isim” one of the sins abhorred by politically correct media types.

The same is true of book reviews. Many novels that have been anointed by the cognoscenti seemed boring, poorly edited and over-written to me. (Wolf Hall, Gone Girl and Death Comes to Pemberley spring to mind.) Others genuinely enjoyed them and that is fine.
We’re all entitled to our opinion–I get it. Just ensure that it is YOUR opinion not regurgitated pablum from a scion of the nanny state. Consumers who keep their critical faculties on alert reap the best of both worlds–access to other points of view and the ability to decide for themselves.

By the way–go see JERSEY BOYS. It is a hoot.


POINT OF ORDER: At what juncture does self-esteem morph into arrogance? When friends who experience a modicum of success suddenly assume they are superstars, it’s a game-changer. Humility is the correct estimate of one’s own self-worth. (That’s what the nuns beat into my head). It requires a REALISTIC assessment of both strengths and weaknesses. Give thanks for those natural gifts and try to improve the pesky shortcomings. N.B. No writer is a superstar until he/she climbs to the top of that NYTimes list.