Sisters in Crime Turns 30: Guest Post from David Ciambrone

sisters in crime logo

Even though the main goal of Sisters In Crime is to advance female crime fiction authors, it has a large number of male authors who benefit from the group. One member, David Ciambrone, is this week’s guest blogger to celebrate the organization’s 30th anniversary. Below, David gives advise to male writers writing female leads; something his Sisters experience has helped him in.

Male Authors Writing Female Heroines – How Can They Do It?  

Guest Post by David Ciambrone

I have gotten asked, if I as a male who writes female characters, have any advice for writers on how to create believable female characters while avoiding clichés.

My first reply is:

Write all your characters as human beings in all their complexity, especially the female characters.

That’s a good answer, although rarely easy to pull off.

A man writing male heroes is not too hard. But for guys to write believable female characters it can get tricky. First, men, for the most part, do not understand women very well. Second, females can be unpredictable and moody, and, at the same time strong, outgoing, affectionate, intelligent and sometimes sexy. Your female character can run a business, be a doctor or lawyer or a librarian and/or be a housewife and mother and a detective all at the same time. She has dreams and ambition. In most of my novels the lead characters are women. They are the main character or the semi-main characters.

So, after writing multiple mystery novels, here is my advice, such as it is:

Have a good critique partner who is a woman and willing to give you her womanly opinion. Listen and take her advice.

Know your audience. If the story will tend to be read by women, then you must try and make your female character believable to them. Give her qualities the women will like and maybe aspire to or wish they had. If your intended audience is female, make sure to include plenty of personal pronouns—“I,” “you” and “we”—and descriptive terms.

If you want to appeal to a mixed audience, watch out for instances in which the language skews toward your own gender. Make revisions to include a balance of wording that caters to the other sex as well.

Put enough women in the story so that they can talk to each other.

Have female characters in the plot as strong, intelligent, energetic participants, whether as primary or secondary or tertiary characters in both public and private roles within the story.

Have your female characters exist for themselves, not merely as passive adjuncts whose sole function is to serve the males.

Get to know your female characters in depth. Have a clear understanding of who they are and the role they play in the story.  They will write themselves.

In real life, women, act and react in a multiplicity of ways to the circumstances in which they find themselves. The female character in your story should, too. Make her believable. Give her and appropriate background, dreams, and ambition in her personal life.

Write stories that move beyond the idea of gender being the most crucial thing we know about someone or the root of their behavior. Being female in a “man’s world” can have its advantages. She has natural “weapons” she can use against male characters. Use them. Your heroine can act as brave, tough, intelligent, dynamic, or as daring as a man, then slip into a very feminine role. She can do this to gain whatever she wants or needs in the story. But above all, remember…she is a WOMAN. Do NOT sell your female characters short.

Remember, men like to accomplish things and women tend to focus on relationships. BUT, keeping that in mind, blur this stereotype and have your female character go after something with the drive and vigor of a man. In real life women do this all the time.

Because the author is male, it is highly recommended that he get to know multiple women, listen to them, engage with them and learn, as best he can, how they tick. I have melded a couple different women I know into each of my female characters. Each of the “real women” brought something to the fictional character that blended into a believable, standout, strong, loving, daring, spunky, engaging, female character.

David Ciambrone is an award winning, best selling author who has published 20 books, both fiction and nonfiction. He has also written columns for newspapers and business journals. Dave is a member of Sisters in Crime, (he is a sister with a Y chromosome). Latest of his Virginia Davies Quilt Mystery series released is Suspicious Threads.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Adam Sternbergh


  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

I’ve often described Adam Sternberg’s The Blinds as if Sheriff Walt Longmire’s jurisdiction was Twin Peaks. The Blinds is a small Texas town that contains former criminals whose memories have been erased and and who’ve been given new names. The law is Sheriff Calvin Cooper who has to solve the town’s first murder that occurs after another resident commits suicide. I talked with Mr. Sternberg about building this world.

MysteryPeople Scott: The Blinds is such a unique novel. How did the idea for it come about?

Adam Sternbergh: The Blinds was the culmination of three different ongoing obsessions of mine: 1) The idea of the Witness Protection Program, and how you go about starting a new life after a life of crime; 2) the notion of insular communities that live by their own moral code, whether it’s the Western town of Deadwood or the Branch Davidian compound at Waco; and 3) the ongoing research into changing, or even deleting, certain memories for victims of trauma — and what kind of memories each of us would choose to change, or erase, if we could.

MPS: How did you tackle the challenge of building the town of the Blinds?

AS: In thinking about a community of this size — less than 100 people — that’s cut off from the world, I had to decide: What’s important to its survival? Would the town have a sheriff? A mayor? A library? A dance hall? What kind of things can people live without, and what is absolutely essential? A big part of the allure of the Blinds to me is this fantasy of being completely unplugged — in a sense, they’re free of all the online obligations and distractions that many of us (me, anyway) struggle with everyday.

MPS: Was there something you always had to be aware of as a writer when dealing with this community?

AS: I spent a lot of time thinking about what a community in which every member essentially arrives with little or no past would be built on. For example, what do people talk about? How are relationships formed? But I realized it’s not so different from many situations we find ourselves in, when we have to find common ground with people of various, or even mysterious, backgrounds. There’s mystery to not knowing someone’s backstory, but a kind of freedom to — you can be whoever you want to be, or whoever you can convince people you are.

MPS: Each member of the Blinds has to pick the name of a movie star and one of a vice president to come up with. Do you have favorite one you came up with for a character?

AS: There’s a minor character named Errol Colfax — a combination of Errol Flynn and Schuyler Colfax, our 17th Vice-President — and I really loved that name when I came up with it. To me, “Errol Colfax” was the proof of concept for the whole naming idea. Movie star names have a natural charismatic aura to them — whether its Humphrey or Errol or Marilyn — and the Vice President names tend to have a whiff of historical formality, like Colfax or Burr or Calhoun. So I really loved that combination —Bette Burr or Orson Calhoun.

MPS: While the book is literary in nature, it also has a style and tone that I associate with film and music as well. Are you inspired by media outside of novels?

AS: Absolutely. The book was definitely inspired by the look and feel of films from Unforgiven to No Country for Old Men. And when I was writing, for a stretch I listened exclusively to the Jonny Greenwood soundtrack for There Will Be Blood, which evoked a feeling I found really inspiring. I’m very interested in cultural mythologies — the rules and tropes and familiar elements that appear in different genres, and why they are resonant — and possibly no genre is more rich in that kind of mythology than the Western, whether it’s the old John Wayne films or the more modern, more bloody iterations.

MPS: I hope this doesn’t become a question you’re going to get sick of, but I am curious. What name would you pick for yourself in The Blinds and do you have any idea of what your crime would be?

AS: My publisher, Ecco, rather ingeniously put together a website,, that will automatically generate a Blinds name for visitors. On my first visit, playing around with it, I got the name Harry Harlow after a minute or so — a combination of Harry Truman and Jean Harlow — and I immediately wished I’d used that name somewhere in the book. Who knows? Maybe Harry Harlow will turn up in the Blinds in some future continuation of the story. As to my crime: We all have things we regret, or choices we wish we’d made differently. To me, the most appealing thing about a place like the Blinds is leaving those regrets behind — which is not an option we have in regular life.

You can find copies of The Blinds on our shelves and via

Sisters in Crime Celebrates 30: Guest Post from Francine Paino

sisters in crime logoThis October, Sisters in Crime celebrates its 30th Anniversary. We reached out to HOTSINC (Heart of Texas Chapter, Sisters in Crime) for a few guest posts to help our readers celebrate the work of Sisters in Crime. Our first post comes from Secretary of the Heart of Texas Chapter Francine Paino. You can celebrate with Sisters in Crime at BookPeople on Sunday, October 8th, from 2-4 PM on BookPeople’s 3rd floor. There will be cake. 

History, Mystery, and Crime for Women Writers

  • Guest Post by Francine Paino

In 1986 forces in the universe converged and an idea materialized into reality through the efforts of Sara Paretsky, Phyllis Whitney and a host of women writers. Change was in the air. It was time for women to have a place at the table as crime and mystery authors.

In an impassioned speech before a conference of women writers at Hunter College in New York City, Paretsky expressed her concerns over the trend of women being portrayed as either vampires or victims. She had, in 1982, introduced the writing world to her lady investigator V.I. Warshawski, a believable protagonist with the strength and intellectual capacity to traverse the wicked streets and take on the ugly underbelly of society: the criminal class. And now another first for Paretsky. Time for women crime and mystery writers to band together to promote and support each other.

The cause was also advanced through the now famous letter written by Phyllis Whitney to the Mystery Writers of America, pointing out that women authors weren’t being taken seriously or nominated for awards. At first, her letter was dismissed, but Mystery Writers of America soon learned that these women were to be taken seriously. They would not be ignored.

Paretsky convened the initial meeting of interested women at the Baltimore Bouchercon in October 1986. A steering committee was formed and its members started a newsletter and organized information on publishing books. The ball wasn’t rolling, it was cannon shot, flying through the air reaching all corners of the country. Sisters in Crime was born.

Nancy Pickard, an original member and the first president of the national organization said it was scary. She described the hard work with no guarantee of success. It took determination and the belief that women crime and mystery writers had arrived in their corner of the women’s movement. They never wavered reaching out to as many women writers as they could contact through the mailing lists they assembled.

A short ten years later, in 1996, Elaine Raco Chase recalled that Publishers Weekly referred to Sisters in Crime as “ubiquitous.” She had to look up the word. It wasn’t an insult. It meant that Sisters in Crime were everywhere, and indeed they were.

The dream of these forward thinking women reached across the nation and arrived in Austin in the early 90’s. The Heart of Texas chapter was formed. The 1994 president, Betsy Tyson, a published author and member of the Texas Section-ASCE, one of the largest sections of the American Society of Civil Engineers, led the organization dedicated to the goal set out by the national leadership. They were “committed to helping women who write, review, buy or sell crime fiction.”

One of its stellar members, the late Barbara Burnett Smith, president of the national organization from 1999-2000 and an activist whose many accomplishments advanced the cause of the organization, was also dedicated to growing the Heart of Texas Chapter. After her untimely death in 2005, the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation was established in her honor to uphold one of the major goals of Sisters in Crime: to support and provide mentoring to help budding writers, because in the words of Sara Paretsky, a founding member and the woman credited with starting it all, “you have to be alone to write, but being alone is very painful. An unsolvable condundrum,” but as a member of Sisters in Crime, you are not alone.

The Heart of Texas Chapter has been a base of support and encouragement for its writing members. It is also an open and welcoming organization for others, non-writers, readers, anyone interested in crime, both fiction and non-fiction, elements of what it takes to write and the informational lectures offered to all.

It’s been thirty years, not a long time in the scheme of life, but time passes, attitudes change, people grow and the Heart of Texas Chapter also continues to grow. It has opened its arms to brother writers in crime, as evidenced by the presidencies of Chuck Tobin in 2001, and Dave Ciambrone in 2011.

Under the current president, Helen Currie Foster, Sisters in Crime has had a great year bringing in fabulously interesting speakers with expertise in subjects ranging from drones to bombs, JAG lawyers, U.S. Marshalls and Cyber Security for the edification of members and the public; there is more to come.  

As we celebrate thirty years of Sisters in Crime, we can be proud of the company we keep from the founders to the current leadership, nationally and locally, as we continue advance the organization. Happy Thirtieth Birthday, Sisters in Crime.     


Three Picks for October

Ex-cops, Texas Rangers, and hired killers – all in a day’s reading this October.

  • Selected by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery


Hunting The Five Point Killer by C.M. Wendelboe


A washed up ex-cop job as a consultant for a Denver news program takes him to his less than idyllic childhood home of Cheyenne to look into the separate deaths of three policemen connected to two murders they were all investigating. A strong intricate plot, full of colorful characters, navigated by an engaging under dog hero. Wendelboe’s latest comes out Tuesday, October 10th – Pre-order now!

9781785651809Quarry’s Climax by Max Allan Collins

Collins takes his hired killer, Quarry, back to when he had to protect a Larry Flynt style publisher while flushing out the one ordering the hit in seventies Memphis. Great hard boiled action with the right amount of sleaze. Collins’ latest from Hard Case Crime comes out Tuesday, October 10th – Pre-order now! 

9780571337743The Long Count by J.M. Gulvin

A Texas Ranger teams up with a just-returned Vietnam vet who’s discovered his father dead from a gunshot wound; the local police ruled it as a suicide, but his brother’s gone missing from an asylum, and the vet and ranger are ready to do some digging. A moody Texas thriller with one twist of an ending. You can find Gulvin’s latest on our shelves and via 


MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: RIGHTEOUS by Joe Ide

Joe Ide’s back with the second installment of his Isaiah Quintabe series, Righteousa perfect follow-up to last year’s IQ. In his latest, Isaiah and Dodson take a trip to Vegas to help a DJ out of a messy situation involving gangsters, gamblers, and gamines. Meanwhile, Isaiah finds new evidence about his brother’s murder. Below, Molly reviews Righteous – keep an eye on the blog for her Q&A session with the author. Righteous comes out October 17th

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9780316267779Many of us here at the store enjoyed Joe Ide’s debut IQthe first in a series featuring his new Holmesian detective Isaiah Quintabe and Quintabe’s hustling sidekick Dodson. In IQ, the two ease into their role as investigators in the present while a past timeline details their previous life of crime. IQ’s heartbreak at his brother’s death in a car accident, while moving, doesn’t set the tone of the novel; instead, the plot is driven by IQ’s clever criminal activities in the past and his present-day investigation of threats made to a rapper unable to handle his success.

In Righteousthe two reunite after Sarita, IQ’s murdered brother’s former fiancée, recruits Isaiah to bail her gambling-addict sister and her goofball of a boyfriend out of trouble. IQ tells himself he’s helping her out as a favor to a family friend, reluctant to admit his true urge to help her stems from his lingering attraction to her, as well as the memories of his dead brother her presence evokes. IQ brings Dodson along, Dodson (at first) happy to avoid his partner’s cravings and anxieties as she nears her due date. IQ’s feeling a bit preoccupied on his trip to Vegas. He’s just found out at the start of Righteous that his brother’s death was no accident – it was a hit all along.

Dodson and Isaiah’s working vacation will require all their combined street smarts and intellect, as they wade into a tangled mire of sex trafficking, gambling debts, and one hellish mafia enforcer after another. Sarita’s sister hasn’t just accrued a gargantuan debt. She’s also stolen information from her father, a man involved in shadier endeavors than her privileged upbringing could ever have allowed her to discover. She’s on the run from her father’s criminal syndicate and her dry-humored loan shark, and IQ must pit the two organizations against each other in order to extricate the two gambling addicts from their self-made morass.

Woven through the novel is a timeline from the recent past, in which IQ investigates his brother’s death for the first time as a murder. Not content to quietly look into the matter, IQ manages to piss off an entire LA gang and some highly dangerous hitmen in the process. Like Chechov’s gun, every piece of information, no matter how significant, comes to matter by the end, as does every criminal syndicate, minor and major.

The first half of the story is true to its Sherlockian inspiration, diving into plots as intricate as any the Great Detective might have solved. The second half of the novel is pure action. Joe Ide takes us through a stylishly choreographed fight scenes in a Vegas massage parlor to a shootout with a twist in LA for one heck of a crime thriller. Unlike the traditional detective novel, happenstance plays its part as everything falls into place for an outrageously good ending.

Violent content does not equate to a high valuation of violent men. Some characters are destroyed by the guilt of past violent acts, while others use violence as a shortcut to a happiness they have no chance of achieving. Gangsters who’ve worked hard to separate their private and professional lives find their families undone by twisted revelations, while others realize too late that those enforcers they’ve placed in harm’s way may be the closest thing they have to a friend. The relationship between an ex-gang member, his out-of-control younger sister, and his former mentee-turned-fixer makes for poignant reading, as we trace their journey from enjoying their prestige to feeling emotionally crippled by their pasts.

Joe Ide is a versatile, playful and affecting writer. He knows how to have us laughing one page, crying the next, scratching our heads to solve a puzzle the following page, and on the edge of our seats the page after that. His works are a heightened, stylish take on the real struggles and emotions of human experience, and he can just as easily write a dinner party as a fight sequence. We can’t wait to see what IQ and Dodson investigate next.

Righteous comes out October 17th – pre-order now!