I’m so happy to announce the February edition of Tidewater Times features an article by Helen Chappell, WELCOME TO MALLARD BAY The Mysterious World of Cheril Thomas. A prolific and celebrated author herself, Helen honored me with this lovely piece about my writing and the Eastern Shore Mystery series. If you don’t want to wait for the print edition, here’s a link to find Tidewater Times and the article online:


I hope you’ll check it out. It’s a great start to the countdown for Commission on Murder coming in March 2018!

Thank you, Helen Chappell and the wonderful Tidewater Times staff!



New Article in ATTRACTION Magazine!

‘Local Launches Mystery Series’ – is a featured article in the August 2107 edition of Attraction Magazine! Squatter’s Rights is Book One in the Eastern Shore Mystery series. This terrific article by Jennifer Latham looks at the storyline behind the series and the houses that inspired Delaney House in Squatter’s Rights. 

Here’s the link to Jenn’s article and the rest of this month’s outstanding edition of Attraction:  http://attractionmag.com/2017/07/26/local-launches-mystery-series/


Publishing 101

Years ago I wrote three books in a mystery series. Book One was finished, polished and ready for print, Book Two was finished and Book Three was in detailed outline. My mistake was to stop writing and try to sell Book One. I would have a drawer full of rejection letters if I’d kept the responses I got from agents and publishers. My favorite was one sentence long: I don’t consider any fiction manuscript written in first person. That was the day I realized that not all of those agents were smarter than I was – but they all had something I wanted: a foot in the door. Still, my writing rhythm was broken, life intervened and twenty years went by.

The whole time I was writing Squatter’s Rights, I procrastinated. I had an outline and an end game but the route from writing in the rocking chair to holding my book in my hand was vague at best. Help arrived in the form of a podcast. A couple of years ago, I discovered Joanna Penn, who writes fiction as J.F. Penn, but more importantly to me, she has a podcast and a wonderful website called The Creative Penn. Joanna is a fantastic role model and teacher for struggling writers. Her crisp British accent makes me want to straighten up and forge ahead. Nothing is impossible if you are willing to learn and to work. And if you listen to two years of instructions, you eventually forget that you’re not supposed to be able to do whatever it is you’re set on doing and you just get on with it. I got on with it.

Publishing a book can be expensive. You need professional editors, proofreaders, cover designers, formatting specialists and someone to make frequent runs to the wine aisle at Acme. Some of these expenses can’t be avoided. Acme won’t give the Chardonnay away, even to the most deserving of writers. Skimping on editors and proofreaders is foolish. I should know, I misspelled my own mother’s middle name in the dedication for SR. (In my own defense, no one ever called Mama ‘Janice’ and I’m a huge Janis Joplin fan, but still.) Which leads me to another, little known trick of the trade – have your sister proofread the book in addition to using a professional to do the final review. Just sayin’.

Joanna Penn warns against designing your own book covers and trying to format your own manuscript for the publication process. I really enjoyed learning how to do both. Ron may argue that point since he’s had to listen to my wailing and worse over the last month as I finalized the cover design and jumped into the frustrating world of Kindle and Createspace formatting. But I have emerged at the other end of those traumas with a wealth of knowledge I didn’t have before. I know the difference between a PDF, a PDF-print quality, PNG and JPEG. I know your JPEG cover needs to be 300DPI and I know how to get it there from a 92DPI. I know fonts can be licensed and how to get free ones. I know your iPhone camera is good and a 35mm is still better for portraits. I know I don’t have a single author photo I want the world to see and never will, so I got over it and learned how to crop a picture of myself having a good time with the kids. It’s a little fuzzy for a headshot and that’s a good thing, folks.

As I write this, Squatter’s Rights is on Amazon for Kindle and the paperback will be out in another ten days or so. The Createspace wizards are giving it the final once-over and then it will finally be put out into the world in tangible form. I’ve started book two in the Eastern Shore Mystery series. I plan to have Commission on Murder out before the end of the year. I’ve just jinxed myself and I know it, but you have to have a goal to work toward and that’s mine.

So, Squatter’s Rights was born, raised up and published. Let me say right here that while the writing part may be solitary, the rest of the birthing process is a village affair. So many wonderful people helped me, I will be trying, with pleasure, to pay it backwards and forward for the rest of my life. Thank you all.Doodle at work

Hard at work on Commission on Murder!

Squatter’s Rights is Here!


 Who is buried in the backyard?

Julia Reagan dreamed of saving her family home but time ran out. Her dying wish sends her daughter, a Washington attorney, to Maryland’s Eastern Shore to renovate a decaying mansion and deal with the relatives who never left the sleepy village on the Chesapeake Bay. Before she can buy the first can of paint, Grace finds a grave, a murder and tantalizing clues to her own hidden past. A decades-old murder resurfaces, setting off a chain of events that could destroy what’s left of Julia’s family and her daughter’s career. If you like a good murder with family drama and historical events that won’t stay in the past, you’ll love Squatter’s Rights.

Old lies. Old loves. Old Murder. Welcome to the Eastern Shore!

COMING IN 2016 2017

While it’s motivating to publicly announce an ambitious goal, there’s always a chance you will publicly fail to meet it. When that happens you have two choices: you can forget your self-imposed deadline and hope everyone else does, too, or you can ‘fess up and move on. Pledging to release two books in 2016 was just crazy talk. Now there are only 4 days left in 2016 and Santa didn’t leave the last fifty edited pages of Squatter’s Rights under the tree. (What was he thinking? I’ve been good. Mostly. Well, at least twice that I remember clearly.) Anyway, since Santa ate the cookies (I’m just sayin’) but didn’t finish my homework for me, the odds are SR won’t be in print in 2016.

There are good reasons why I failed to meet my publishing goals for this year. In fact, there are so many reasons, listing all of them would eat up today’s writing time. Also, each and every one of those reasons is my fault. Well, not the vacations and long weekends with the twins and family visits – I was just a willing participant in those. Sometimes the instigator. Okay, those are on me, too. But then there is my writing partner. While she patiently listens to all of my ideas and stays right next to me while I work, she insists on frequent cookie breaks and long walks. She’ll also sleep on the laptop if it’s left open and within her reach. What a big, shaggy Goldendoodle head can do to a keyboard still amazes me.

But, as I am apt to say in all kinds of situations, this failure just can’t be my fault. For proof, I submit a pictorial summary of my year of writing distractions blessings. I’ll be a lucky girl, indeed, if 2017 will just mirror the last twelve months.

Here’s wishing the best of everything wonderful to you and yours in the new year!



A Compassionate and Practical Guide to Living with ALS

Our good friend and neighbor, Mike McHale, has written a moving account of his wife’s battle with ALS. ‘ ALS – Taming the Beast: Living, Really Living, with One of the Planet’s Most Dreaded Diseases’ is a compassionate and practical guide to life after a diagnosis. The indomitable and wonderful Jean McHale lived life on her own terms and that included dealing with ALS. Mike’s book radiates hope – not for a cure today but for quality of life during the time between diagnosis and inevitability.

Other books can educate us on the biology of ALS and the ongoing research for a cure, but Taming the Beast offers solutions for the everyday and once in a lifetime issues no one ever expects to face. Every patient’s experience is different and this is one of the main themes of this book. It offers not only insight to how the McHales decided to handle the diagnosis, but real ‘Takeaways’ that can be applied to almost any ALS or other chronically ill patient’s situation. Not everyone will want -or be able to – deal with a terminal diagnosis the way Jean and Mike did, but there is something for everyone in this book.

In addition to being informative and uplifting, ‘Taming the Beast’ is a down-to-earth good read that will open your eyes, broaden your outlook and even make you laugh. I dare anyone to read the accounts of Jean on her scooter and the cruise ship waiter without at least a big smile. Not possible.

There is a large rock just to the left of the McHales’ front porch. On it are these words: “I am not a bystander”. Jean McHale wasn’t a bystander and Mike, her love and co-conspirator in life, isn’t either. Read the book – you’ll be glad you did.

‘ ALS – Taming the Beast: Living, Really Living, with One of the Planet’s Most Dreaded Diseases’ is available on Amazon.com. All proceeds from the book go to Johns Hopkins ALS Clinic.

Memorial Day – A Civil War Mystery

Last week I did a Facebook reposting of my annual thank you note to our veterans, identifying four in my direct maternal line. I started that posting the year after my mother died. Every Veteran’s Day she called her brothers, C.L. and Frank McMahan, and thanked them for their service to our country. I liked the idea of continuing her tradition and I added her father and great grandfather to the honor roll. Why just those four men?

First, the short answer for the original selection of McMahan veterans: I knew and loved three of them and spent hundreds of hours looking for the fourth. My grandfather, Charles Lee McMahan and his sons, Charles Lee, Jr. and Franklin served in WWI, WWII and the Korean War, respectively. George William McMahan, my grandfather’s grandfather served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Four bloody wars, each with untold acts of honor, bravery, sacrifice and horror.

Those who read the post this year might have seen my sister’s comment asking if we had Confederate soldiers in the family. A reasonable question since we are Southern, born and bred. Yes, we had had Confederate soldiers in our family, each with a story worth writing about. We also had veterans of the War of 1812, the Revolutionary War and before that, territorial battles on the western frontiers. But George William, our Union soldier, has a story with a twist and one of these days, I’ll write it all down.

Around the time I did the first posting, I finished a five-year search of genealogical records in which I successfully traced our branch of the McMahan family to their departure from Ireland around 1740. My direct line eventually settled in what is now western North Carolina and stayed in the same general area for more than 200 years. It wasn’t hard to find a George McMahan in the historical records, it just took ages to pin down the right George McMahan. There are (at least) two McMahan lines dating from that period in the North Carolina mountains. Each has a George William McMahan and, at one point, I thought there were three. When I started the research on my mother’s family, all trails of our direct line stopped with her grandfather, William Nelson, because I couldn’t find his birth records or determine which of the Georges was his father. His mother’s name was illegible on the few documents that listed her.

After years of piecing together records from family documents, interviews and internet records, I determined that there were only two Georges who were possible contenders for G-G-grandfather status. Each man linked my family to a very different path. One led back to English sympathizers in the 1770s, the other to revolutionists. One was in the coastal region of South Carolina, the other in the Western Carolina mountains. In genealogical research, it’s best to go with simple until it’s no longer an option – I concentrated on western North Carolina.

In 2011, my cousin and I interviewed some far removed cousins near Burnsville and Barnardsville. The Burnsville Historical Society reading room produced an inventory of cemeteries in the area which led me to tiny mountainside family plot that held the answers to a five-year search. There I found George William, father of William Nelson, son of Edmund, grandson of James and so on and so on back through the mists of Ireland. My vacation photos from that year are full of glamour shots of tombstones.

But back to the Memorial Day post and my sister’s question. While we had many ancestors who fought in the Confederate Army, our George McMahan was one of six men listed on the Union pension rolls for Yancey County, North Carolina. At first I thought it was a typo in the snippet of information I found on Ancestry.Com. Or yet another George rising up in the records to torment me. Then I remembered Sharyn McCrumb’s 2003 book, Ghost Riders, which introduced me to a history that is often passed over – that of mountain people who wanted no part of the war, but who ended up under conscription to one side or the other, and in many instances, both sides at different times. Again with the multiple Georges, but there are tantalizing indications that our George was both charged with desertion and decorated for bravery in addition to somehow earning a Union pension.

Some men were paid an enlistment fee and promised they’d be home for harvest or spring planting. In those years of terrible hardship, such offers would ensure food for their families. Other men where ‘enlisted’ against their will by roving bands of both Union and Confederate ‘recruiters’. Still others fought for the side they believed in and took up arms against their brothers. I have no idea where our George falls, but one day I hope to find out. In the meantime, I’m just grateful that he survived.

At the end of the Civil War, G-G-Granddaddy was a 21-year-old disabled veteran. George William went on to have seven children, outliving four of them and both of his wives. When he died in 1917, he was raising an orphaned grandson. The year after George William died, another of his grandsons, my grandfather Charles, went off to the Army and eventually to France and World War I. My heart believes George William knew what was coming and didn’t want to see war visited on his children’s children.
And so on and so on into the mists of time.

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