by Jill Amadio

As a Brit I put up with a lot of ribbing in America. Some friends take me to task for pronunciation. Well, I can’t help it if I have a very slight West Country accent as I am from Cornwall. As a writer, though, the ribbing can give me indigestion.

The main problem is spelling. I am warned by colleagues that editors at U.S. publishing houses come down hard if you keep inserting a “u” into words like behaviour,  colour, and honour, or substitute a ”z’ for an “s”. Other minefields include using “ae” rather than “e,” as in “aeon” and “eon”.  Maybe it’s a matter of simplicity. Americans pare as many ells and u’s as possible while Brits love double ells, such as “levelling” versus “leveling.”

My books are published here first but habits die hard and I usually claim that Brits use the correct spellings. They only got chopped when they arrived in America where unnecessary (to whom?) letters are summarily killed off. Flautists are called flutists, and gaol is jail. Obviously what it comes down to is pronunciation. Americans spell words as they are spoken although it escapes me why tyre is spelled tire.

It’s a huge temptation to some authors who have leapt across the pond to use British spelling, perhaps as a sly signal to agents and publishers they are querying that the writer is a Brit – a sort of literary snobbism one occasionally encounters at conferences.

Then there’s the grammar. Collective nouns in particular give me pause. Is a group, say a government, singular or plural?  I have a page from the Associated Press Stylebook permanently stuck to my printer to remind me which to use.

Figuring out past particles is always fun. For instance, Brits say “pleaded” Yanks say “pled”. Oh, and the very, very worst word I hate to see changed is “hanged”. To my mind it should refer only to someone at the loop end of a rope, giving the action a far heftier meaning than the word “hung” as used here. People are not paintings.

Punctuation. I don’t worry about it although when I send in my column to the UK magazine I write for I make sure I place the comma and full stop after the quotes, not before.  What else? “Have” and “take” always flummox me. Am I going to take a bath? Or, am I going to have a bath? I read somewhere that this is an example of a delexical verb, which I’m not even going to touch.

While writing my first mystery my beta readers caught another mistake. I wrote, “He drove her to hospital.” Wrong. I was told there should be a “the” in front of “hospital.”  I’m sure there’s some kind of diabolical rule about this but I think it’s fine to give an in-house editor something to mark up to justify his/her salary.  As for tenses, the past participle in the U.S. for “got” is “gotten,” an ugly word that makes me shudder enough to want to write a thriller entitled “The Dangling Participle and the Dark, Dark Pluperfect”.

While writing the first in my crime series based in Newport Beach, California, whose amateur sleuth is a disgraced Cornishwoman exiled by the palace for discovering a scandal (what, again?), I had to learn the police rankings and figure out who was a sheriff and who was a police officer. Having worked with a reporter at the good old rag, the Sunday Dispatch, I decided to have my sleuth simplify her confusion (and mine) and re-affirm her “foreignness” by using British titles. When caught speeding she addresses a California Highway Patrol (CHiP) officer as “Chief Superintendent,” and calls the Chief of Police, “ Constable.”  I am, however, very pleased that sheriffs and policemen can be lumped into a group collectively referred to as “cops”.

When I mention a British pastime such as a pasty-throwing contest, blank stares are common. I talked about nighthawking the other day and no one had a clue as to its meaning. I’m giving the nasty habit to a character in my WIP although I know the explanation could be tedious unless you’re a nighthawker yourself. Both of these words are giving my Spellcheck nightmares.

Even the four seasons can be a challenge. Seeking representation for my first mystery I scoured the agent lists and was rejected by 65 of them. I knew small presses can be approached directly and I found one with whose name I fell totally in love: Mainly Murder Press. However, the website declared, NO SUBMISSIONS UNTIL LATE SPRING!

Ha. I immediately sent in my query along with a note: “Dear MMP, I live in Southern California and although it is only January according to the calendar, and snowing where you are, it is already late spring here. You should see the roses!”

I received an email back within three hours, asking me to send chapters. Which I did. Obviously the publisher was not off in Tahiti but still on the East Coast. Then came a request for the manuscript. By the end of a week I had signed a contract for three books. MMP publishes only 12-14 books a year, but who could resist the name? Sadly, MMP went belly-up before I could finish my third mystery.

So my advice is to go ahead and break the rules, lay it on thick, and change the climate. Worked for me.

How I Set A Mystery In The Galapagos

By Guest Blogger, Sharon Marchisello

For as long as I can remember, I had three goals in life: become a bestselling author, meet and marry the love of my life, and travel the world together. And I always figured I’d do them in that order. Although I achieved my dream of being a published author, I’m still working on that “bestselling” part.  

When I graduated from the University of Southern California with a master’s degree in professional writing, I realized I’d have to get a “real” job. Not only was I not making a living as a writer; I wasn’t even published. Should I go for an opportunity that involved writing but might drain my talent and energy? Or should I look for something mindless that would pay the bills, so I could focus on my stories during off hours? Then a position as a reservations agent at Western Airlines fell into my lap.  

My roommate had a friend who worked there, and one day the friend called to say Western Airlines was hiring. I was the first person to listen to the message on our answering machine and begged to go to the interview too.  

The woman who interviewed me said, “You’re overqualified for this job. You just want it for the travel perks, and I know you’ll quit after a year or so. But I won’t stand in your way.” I stayed with the company for twenty-seven years; my roommate left after six months.  

But she was right about me wanting the travel benefits, and my first few years, I was on a plane every time I had a day off. I met my future husband at the Los Angeles airport, and together we’ve taken 65 cruises and visited over 100 countries on all seven continents.  

Although I kept writing fiction and even published a few travel articles, I never set a story in one of the destinations I’d traveled to. Until the Galapagos.  

If you’re looking for the Galapagos on the map, it’s a group of islands straddling the equator, approximately 600 miles off the Pacific Coast of Ecuador. I never planned to set a book there, either, but six months later, I remembered an experience from our cruise that I thought would make a great opening scene for a mystery.  

Normally, the guides were conscientious about counting heads and watching over all the passengers in their charge whenever we were away from the ship. In an archipelago comprising 97% national park containing flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth, tourists must be carefully supervised.

But one day, my husband and I left another activity to join a snorkeling excursion already in progress, and neither of the guides assumed responsibility for us.  

We were swimming along, marveling at the vast array of colorful underwater life, when I surfaced to see both Zodiac boats motoring back to the ship—without us! I can still feel the panic of being left alone in the middle of the ocean, treading water off the shore of an island populated only by sea lions and blue-footed boobies.  

I waved and screamed, bobbing up and down like a spyhopping whale, and fortunately, someone spotted me. One of the boats turned around and came back to pick me up. I didn’t see my husband right away but told the guide he was still out there. In a moment, he’d swum up and climbed aboard. All was well.  

But what if… What if my protagonist’s companion didn’t get picked up? And what if the person was left behind on purpose?  

I had a great time writing the book, reliving our trip through photos and program notes, plus doing a lot of supplemental research on the internet.  

When Secrets of the Galapagos begins, my heroine, Giovanna Rogers, is snorkeling with her new friend, tortoise researcher Laurel Pardo. The two get separated from the group, and Laurel disappears. No one on the ship will acknowledge that Laurel didn’t make it back.  

To determine a motive, I recalled a conversation I’d had with one of our guides during a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, the largest town on Santa Cruz (one of only four inhabited islands in the chain). “I know a secret about Lonesome George,” he said. “But if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”

Lonesome George was a Galapagos giant tortoise made famous for being the sole survivor of the Pinta Island species. Unfortunately, efforts to breed George were unsuccessful, and the ancient tortoise passed away in 2012 without an heir.  

But what if someone discovered another giant tortoise from a different subspecies also thought to be extinct? And then a tortoise researcher unearthed information about the animal that the tourist industry didn’t want released?  

You’ll have to read Secrets of the Galapagos to find out what happens next.  


Shattered by a broken engagement and a business venture derailed by Jerome Haddad, her unscrupulous partner, Giovanna Rogers goes on a luxury Galapagos cruise with her grandmother to decompress. At least that’s what her grandmother thinks. Giovanna is determined to make Jerome pay for what he’s done, and she has a tip he’s headed for the Galapagos.  

While snorkeling in Gardner Bay off the coast of Española Island, Giovanna and another cruise passenger, tortoise researcher Laurel Pardo, become separated from the group, and Laurel is left behind. No one on the ship will acknowledge Laurel is missing, and Giovanna suspects a cover-up.  

When the police come on board to investigate a death, Giovanna assumes the victim is Laurel. She’s anxious to give her testimony to the attractive local detective assigned to the case. Instead, she learns someone else is dead, and she’s a person of interest.  

Resolved to keep searching for Laurel and make sense of her disappearance, Giovanna learns several people on board the ship have reasons to want Laurel gone. One is a scam involving Tio Armando, the famous Galapagos giant tortoise and a major tourist attraction in the archipelago. And Jerome Haddad has a hand in it. Thinking she’s the cat in this game, Giovanna gets too involved and becomes the mouse, putting her life in jeopardy. But if she doesn’t stop him, Jerome will go on to ruin others.




Sharon Marchisello is the author of two mysteries published by Sunbury Press—Going Home (2014) and Secrets of the Galapagos (2019). She has written short stories, a nonfiction book about finance, training manuals, screenplays, a blog, and book reviews. She earned a Master’s in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California and has been an active member of Sisters in Crime since 1995, currently serving as treasurer of the Atlanta chapter. Retired from a 27-year career with Delta Air Lines, she now lives in Peachtree City, Georgia, and volunteers for the Fayette Humane Society.  

Website: sharonmarchisello.com (https://smarchisello.wordpress.com/)  


This article was posted by member, Jackie Houchin. If you’d like to read my review of the audiobook version of  SECRETS OF THE GALAPAGOS, click here.   



When I’ve thought about “listening” in the past, it’s been in terms of music. Unfortunately, no amount of listening can improve me musical output in that I’m “tone death.” But what brought me to this post of “listening” in terms of writing was bemoaning my mental lethargy  regarding my current WIP. Then my turn came around for my Writers in Residence post! And in starting to get my mind in “posting mode,” I started rereading many of my fellow author’s posts. And there were my answers to get moving.

What I already have are setting (The Mojave of course), general main character outlines, and who gets murdered. I didn’t have – how or who’s head is the third person (narrator me) that tells the tale G.B Pool has talked about listening to your characters, but I’m talking about myself and listening to other authors on topics like…the books we’ve read or are reading… making time for writing, the words we use, and our coaches.  Heard for sure, but was I really listening?

Or even listen to my own past experiences? I’ve been stuck before…

Then there’s the listening to the off kilter “noise” in my own brain? I know, what the heck am I talking about here? Admittedly vague (I was a philosophy major ha, ha). A narrator mentioned Ambrose Bierce in a show about aliens with Willam Shatner. A perfect character! Then watching a show on the Middle East, and realizing I’m older than Israel by two years! Which suggested another character!

Midsomer Murders (with John Nettles) is my most favorite drama/mystery/suspense—based on the novels and characters written by Caroline Graham. Re-watching an episode and “listening,” I realized I could hear a symphony of great British Actors, devious plots, beautiful settings…in some ways, maybe not so tone death?

Usually I do “see” my tale in my mind, hear my characters talking, and imagine the events leading to exposing the killer. But somehow, I wasn’t even listening to myself!

And why share my mental meanderings in this post? To point out hearing, reading,sharing, etc. don’t automatically mean one is listening…and because somehow this “listening” perspective has gotten me back to the keyboard.

And therein is the bottom line, I think…if we “listen” hopefully, our readers will “hear” the good stuff in the minds and hearts our character and tales! Which leads me to thinking about better getting my readers to “listen” to the “music” in my tale… “story music” … is there even such a thing?…

All thoughts are welcome!

Happy Listening ”—oops—“, I mean writing Trails

“Letters From Afar”

An Interview by Jackie Houchin

For about a year and a half, I have been receiving by subscription ‘LETTERS FROM AFAR’ through the (snail) mail. They are stories about real places written by the “fearless explorer” Isabelle. I am an avid traveler myself, and these letters feed my wanderlust in between my trips. As a writer, I got curious about who wrote the letters, how they got started and a bit of the process. Was Isabelle really her name? Did she actually travel to these places?

I read up on it on the LETTERS FROM AFAR website, but I wanted more. As writers and readers, I thought YOU might be interested too, so I interviewed the gracious gal and she responded with lots of interesting and encouraging facts.

Jackie – I love your “fearless explorer” Isabelle and her history, but what is your actual name and history?

My name is Shawnee Mills. I’m originally from Texas, but have lived in New Mexico, Colorado, Kentucky (where I met my husband), North Carolina, and now New York City. I was homeschooled from the second grade and attended college early at age 14. From there, I decided to pursue cosmetology, and I worked as a stylist for 8 years. Throughout my career, my true passion was always creating art and traveling as often as possible.

Jackie – Tell me about your family. I know you have a husband, but do you have children and pets?

I’m the middle of 3 girls. My parents chose quite a different pathway for us, and I firmly believe it’s led to my current career and lifestyle. When I was nine, my parents decided to sell everything they owned and begin living off the grid in Colorado. My father built our home (a log cabin), and my sisters and I spent our days exploring, pursuing our own unique interests, and avoiding our daily lessons as much as possible. 😉

After that adventure was over, we again sold everything we owned, bought an RV, and traveled the country on a year-long quest to find our next home base. We eventually settled on Kentucky, where I began my adult life and career as a stylist and met my husband, Palmer.

Palmer and I do not have any children, only of the furry variety 🙂 Our two dogs’ names are Izzy and Bronco.

 Jackie – What did you do before the LETTERS FROM AFAR?  Did you travel for business? Was the painting for pleasure or business?

When Palmer and I decided to sell everything we own (see the theme here? ;)) and move from Kentucky to North Carolina, I left my job as a stylist behind. I decided to dive right in and attempt to make it as a full-time artist…. Which was daunting, to say the least.

My medium of choice back then was oil painting, and peddling my works in local coffee shops and art markets was not panning out as planned. After doing a lot of research on profitable business models, I decided to try to find a way to blend my passions for art and travel into the world of subscriptions.

While I had traveled the United States extensively, I had never actually left the country. In a roundabout way, creating LETTERS FROM AFAR manifested my current life of travel and adventure. My actual life and my business fuel each other.

Jackie –   How did the idea come to you for the letters? Was it an “Aha” moment? A passing suggestion from someone?  Your hubby or your muse?  Which painting were you doing? Were you sitting in a café in Bangladesh?

 One day, I was brainstorming and jotting down ideas in my journal. It was a scorching day in July, and I was sitting on the beach on a random weekday.

I had no job, and after my failed attempts at selling my artworks, also had no money. Around that time, I had been reading a fiction novel (cannot remember the name of it), and the main character was traveling and writing a letter to her mother. The idea hit me hard and fast…. Write letters about faraway places, include illustrations of the location, and send the letters to readers on a monthly basis!

I drove home so quickly, and excitedly told my husband all about my idea. His exact words were, “I love the idea. Go for it… if it even pays the water bill, it’ll be worth it.” 😉

Jackie – What was the process from that first idea, to the actual addressing and mailing out the letters?  Did you imagine it would spread so widely around the world?

That same day, I pulled out my dusty and rarely used watercolors and a piece of paper and hopped onto my computer to learn as much as I possibly could about Marrakesh, Morocco.

I had never been but had always dreamed of going. After researching, I wrote a letter from the perspective of someone who was there. The character was telling their friend all about the sights, smells, and wonders. At the bottom of the page, I sketched out a scene of Marrakesh and added a splash of color with my watercolor paints. Voila! The very first LETTER FROM AFAR was born. I made copies of the original, folded them with care, and prepared them to be mailed to my future readers

We decided to name the fictional writer of the letters Isabelle. My dad came up with the name. She’s inspired by the real-life Isabella Bird, an explorer that lived in the 19th century and bravely traveled solo.

I created an Instagram page and a website and began advertising my little idea. That first week, five people subscribed to receive my monthly letters. I’ll never forget the feeling. It paid for the water bill in just seven days.

The letters have come a long way since then in terms of style and skill… but this very first letter was and is very special to me. Even then, it somehow felt like the start of something big…. Not in terms of finances but in the idea that I was on my way to “making it.” AKA, truly doing what I love.

Jackie – How many subscribers received the first letters, and about what is your readership now?  How did you go about building your mailing list?

We were very fortunate that LETTERS FROM AFAR basically grew on its own. Through word of mouth and occasional posting on social media, it grew to over 1000 subscribers in the first year. 3000 by the second year. My husband was able to quit his job to help full-time. And the third year? That’s when covid hit.

Like many small business owners, I was in sheer panic when the world shut down. Would my little company survive? Would the postal system even be able to deliver my letters? To our complete shock, the pandemic was the catalyst that skyrocketed our monthly readership.

While everyone was stuck at home and no longer able to travel, my letters became a small way to see the world without having to leave. In 2020, our readership grew to over 8000, and in 2021, to 10,000. It’s steadily continued to grow each year since.

Today, we grow and maintain our readership by continuing to post on social media and doing some light paid advertising.

Jackie – I personally began with the letter about Predjama Castle in Slovenia.  How many letters came before this one?  (I see on your website; you can order past letters. How would a person go about that, and how much would they cost?)

I’ve created a new letter each month since July of 2017. In short, there are many, many letters! Some of them are out of print, and some are still available in our “archives.” The previous letters can be purchased for $7 on www.pastlettersafar.com.

Jackie – Do you write and illustrate ALL of the LETTERS FROM AFAR yourself?

I research, hand illustrate, and write each monthly letter. The process is long, but it’s my favorite part of this whole endeavor. My goal is for the colors of the letter and the story told to portray the true magic of each location.

In the beginning, I started each letter by heavily researching each location. Nowadays, I’m so happy to say that some of the letters are written on location. The eventual goal is for all of them to be written on location. That means a LOT of traveling, the idea of which makes me smile.

Jackie – What gave you the idea to hide objects in the letters for readers to find? (Very clever and fun!)  I like the Field Notes and the actual map too.  Why did you decide to include that extra insert?

From day one, our audience has been mixed. While half of our readers are children and homeschooling families, the other half are adults who simply love to travel and learn about new places! I added the “hidden images” to entertain my littlest readers. 🙂

I decided to start including the field notes insert so I could be sure to include as much information as possible. LETTERS FROM AFAR is inspired by old-world exploration, and I imagine an explorer would always carry their trusty journal to jot down interesting facts or “field notes” from the journey. It’s just a way to make it a touch more special, in my opinion.

Jackie – I like that you help (with a portion of all sales) to sponsor education in Third World Countries through ‘Pencils of Promise’. A perfect charity for explorers. Thank you.

You’re welcome! I’ve always wanted this project to have some sort of an impact, so I was happy to partner with them.

Jackie – Thank you for joining us today, Shawnee. It’s been fascinating to learn about what you have accomplished in “doing what you love” through the LETTERS FROM AFAR.  I look forward to the monthly LETTERS, and when I see that yellow airmail envelope with the golden seal, I open it first, find a comfy chair, and dive into whatever new place you are taking me to.

You are welcome. Thank you and have a great week!


Website to subscribe – LETTERS FROM AFAR

About – Idea/Destinations/Process

Isabelle – Meet your new Pen Pal

Instagram – letters.from.afar

Facebook – Letters From Afar


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