Friday, 16 August 2019 12:06

Eleanor Taylor Bland’s influence on the mystery genre is respected.

Her first published novel, Dead Time (1992), introduced African-American police detective Marti MacAlister and set a tone for her subsequent novels as well as influenced other writers at the time.

Marti, recently transferred from Chicago to the small town of Lincoln Prairie, Illinois, was committed to her family, community and religious convictions. A hallmark of the series was how Bland weaved in social issues into the investigations of Marti and her partner, Polish American Vik Jessenovik.

By the way, Bland’s second book, Slow Burn, was the first one she had written, but she could not find a publisher interested. Still, she persisted.

Bland was known to be a personable, compassionate writer and generous to other authors. Her death in 2010 left a void.

But her influence on the genre continues through the Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, which is given annually to an emerging writer of color who has not yet published a full-length work. Sponsored by Sisters in Crime the award was established in 2014 and carries a $2,000 grant.

Jessica Martinez, left, is the recipient of the 2019 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award.

Judges Cheryl Head, Mia P. Manansala and Tonya Spratt-Williams said in a joint statement: "Ms. Martinez has great potential as a fresh new voice within the crime fiction community and capably displays a proficiency with humor. Her submission introduced the committee to a fun and witty protagonist and left the committee looking forward to her completed novel."

Martinez is a government worker by day and blogger/aspiring novelist by night, or by naptime for her boys, according to the press release. Martinez has worked in customer service for more than 15 years and has been writing on the side for years but recently started to hone her craft through classes at Santa Barbara City College, Arizona State University, attending SDSU’s Writer’s Conference, and writing blog posts. Jessica has a non-fiction blog where she writes about her real life encounters with difficult situations.

For more information about the award and how to apply, visit

Oline H Cogdill
Saturday, 03 August 2019 00:02

Viewers will see a different kind of Lucy Lawless when the actress’ latest series My Life Is Murder makes its U.S. and Canada premiere beginning Aug. 5 on Acorn TV.

Lawless says that Alexa Crowe, a former homicide detective, is the closest to her own persona than any role she has had.

“There is more of me in Alexa than any character,” said the Australian actress in a phone interview.

“For one thing, she’s a modern woman and she is my age,” said Lawless, who is 51. “She has a sexuality and has life experiences with losses and loves. I have never played a character like that.”

There’s also the wardrobe that excites Lawless. “It’s modern clothes,” she adds, enthusiastically.

That means no corsets, no armor, no Victorian dress, no outer space garb for Lawless whose roles have included the title character in the television series Xena: Warrior Princess (1995–2001); cylon model Number Three D'Anna Biers on the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series (2005–2009); and Lucretia in the television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand (2010), its prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (2011), its sequel Spartacus: Vengeance (2012); Countess Palatine Ingrid Von Marburg on the WGN America supernatural series Salem (2015); and Ruby on the Starz horror-comedy series Ash vs Evil Dead (2015–2018).

“I give women who had to endure those [old-fashioned] clothes a lot of credit just getting through the day,” said Lawless, who also had a recurring role as Diane Lewis-Swanson on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation (2012–2015).

The 10-episode My Life Is Murder has the makings of another successful series for Lawless.

Her Alexa left the Melbourne, Australia, police force after her husband, also a detective, was killed in the line of duty. His death left Alexa adrift, as the series illustrates. She’s cut herself off from others, spending her time baking bread and spending time with her cat that she refuses to acknowledge is really hers. (Don’t worry, he is well taken care of.)

Alexa’s pulled back into investigating tricky cases by her former boss, Detective-Inspector Kieran Hussey (Bernard Curry). Cases will include a male escort, the mortuary business, and identity theft. Set in Melbourne, My Life Is Murder also showcases the Victorian city that has become a cosmopolitan arts-centered city.

The comedy-drama also features a fine swath of sly humor. Alexa can figure out the most complicated cases but she’s having trouble fixing her bread machine. In another episode, she deals with her husband’s ashes, blending pathos and humor.

“Humor is a good part of the series and I get to ad lib quite a bit,” said Lawless, who also is an executive producer.

“The series allows me to bring so much of me to it, including the humor. Sometimes I’m not sure where Alexa ends and Lucy begins.”

Lawless is quick to give credit to the series creators, producers, writers, crew members and co-stars. She especially is enthusiastic about Ebony Vagulans who plays computer expert Madison Feliciano, who assists Alexa. Their relationship is a combination of mother and daughter; boss and sidekick, and just friends.

“Ebony will have a long, brilliant career and I take such pride that we found her first,” said Lawless.

“We knew instantly when she auditioned that she had the intelligence and sparkles that we needed. Ebony shows that her character has the ability to handle her end of the bargain, that Alexa could handle a task to her and she would figure out how to get it done without having her hand held.”

The crime element is very much in Lawless’ wheelhouse. Shes ays she is a crime buff, watching and reading both nonfiction and fiction books, TV series and movies. She also often attends murder trials wherever she is filming “to see how it works in different countries.”

“I am very much interested in crime fiction and nonfiction. The [genre] underpins the basics of human behavior in a most intense time of life.”

Lawless may always be remembered for her role in Xena: Warrior Princess series, which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year. Lawless says the character will always have a place in her heart and loves it when people ask about it.

Personally, she said, Xena “gave me everything, and not only a solid fan base who have kept with me through all the turns in my career. Xena is where I met my husband (Xena's executive producer, Pacific Renaissance Pictures CEO Robert G. “Rob” Tapert) and my two sons and allowed us to buy our home,” said Lawless who also has a daughter, Daisy.

“Xena set me up for life. I am endlessly grateful. I owe Xena everything.”

Xena also left a legacy of acceptances for many viewers. The relationship of Xena and Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) became touchstones for lesbian and gay fans. As the series went on, it became an open secret that the two women were in love.

“I think Xena gave people a message that you can do it. You can have a better life, get out of a bad situation. That’s appealing to everyone but especially to those who are marginalized whether by sexuality, race, sex or just feeling like an outsider. We all fear being less than. That’s a universal message. And if any change is attributed to me than I am delighted to have help change,” said Lawless

Aside from acting, Lawless is a fearless activist for programs involving children, the LGBT community and the environment. “I’ve been given a platform; how could I not do my part to give back and make things better. I want to be part of the solution.”

Lawless’ appealing personality shines in My Life Is Murder. But she says one thing she will not do in the series is sing.

“That would be weird, it just would break that wall,” said Lawless, who has appeared in several musicals including Grease on Broadway, and Chicago in Los Angeles and New Zealand.

“Kelsey Grammar can get away with singing at the end of Frasier but it would be jarring if I did it. But I do get to use my foreign language skills—I studied language. And that has been fun.”

My Life Is Murder launches with its first two episodes to air on Aug. 5, 2019, on the streaming service Acorn TV, and will continue through Sept. 30. Check local listings. Visit

PHOTOS: Top Lucy Lawless; center Lawless with Ebony Vagulans; bottom, Lawless with Bernard Curry. Photos courtesy Acorn TV

By Oline H Cogdill
Saturday, 27 July 2019 20:51

Each year, Bouchercon—the worldwide mystery convention—honors authors with its highly respected Anthony Award.

But the convention also honors those who toil behind the scenes.

This year Jenn and Don Longmuir are the recipients of the 2019 David Thompson Memorial Special Service Award. All the awards will be presented during the 2019 Bouchercon to be held Oct. 31 through Nov. 3 in Dallas. This marks the 50th anniversary of Bouchercon.

The Longmuirs have been fixtures in the crime fiction community for more than a quarter-century. The couple owns and runs Scene of the Crime Books in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, and they have been book room organizers, book sellers and attendees at mystery conventions across North America. Don Longmuir also served on the Bouchercon Board for five years.

The David Thompson Memorial Special Service Award is given by the Bouchercon Board to honor the memory and contributions to the crime fiction community of David Thompson, a Houston bookseller who passed away in 2010. Recipients are recognized for their "extraordinary efforts to develop and promote the crime fiction field."

For additional information, please visit or

By Oline Cogdill