Guest Chick: Barbara Howard

Jennifer here. So happy that Festive Mayhem is back! I contributed to the first limited-edition collection of holiday short stories. Today, Barbara Howard is visiting us to share about her work and Festive Mayhem 2.

Thank you, Jennifer, and the rest of the Chicks on the Case crew! I’m so happy to be a guest on your blog today to share about our new limited-edition anthology, Festive Mayhem 2. This year’s anthology features seven culinary cozy mysteries with a bonus recipe included from each story. It’s been a joy to collaborate with this wonderful team of authors. It is my first project with them, and I feel like the super introverted kid that raised her hand to recite the virtues of a class project. Hmm, I just remembered, I am that kid. Surely, I’m not the only writer that prefers invisible worlds and imaginary characters over public (online) speaking, even in blog form. We’re somewhat solitary creatures, aren’t we? We are gifted with the supernatural ability to invent an entire universe of beings with complex emotions and marvelous adventures. We carve out segments of that universe into worlds where our stories come alive, then pour them into words on the page. We build these stories, painstakingly selecting each word, into paragraphs and chapters, destroy them, and rebuild them. But when the dust settles, we crave real-life communities to remind us that what we feel, seek, and imagine has substance. And that it resonates with another soul. Follow me to a sidebar for a moment. I promise to bring you safely back to the topic at hand, the Festive Mayhem 2 culinary cozy mystery anthology.  You didn’t forget about that did you? Come on.

Let’s visit an eight-year-old little girl sitting quietly at her desk, scribbling out a short story based on a writing prompt given by her English teacher, Mrs. Goolsby. Yes, the little girl is me. No, I don’t remember what the prompt was, at all. It must have been extremely simple, but it sparked something in me that I can still feel inside. My palm pressed down on the thick notebook paper and left sweat stains, as I scratched the round blue Laddie pencil within the pale pink lines, building my story. I was still writing when the teacher said, “Pencils up.” But I had the ending in my mind, bright as a lightning bolt. I raised my hand to read to the class before Mrs. Goolsby asked us to share. She called on me to be the first one. I think she was shocked by my enthusiasm. In hindsight, so was I. What is it about writing that can keep you walled in like a hermit while writing and launch you like a comet once you’re done? But let’s get back to Little Barbara’s short story. I bet you’re a little curious about it, am I right? Well, I don’t remember much about the middle, but it started with a gardener in her greenhouse and a trowel in her hand. The ending was an (animated) geranium vine crawling back to its pot with the bloody trowel and the gardener dead on the ground. The last line was a haunting refrain that I picked up somewhere. Needless to say, Mrs. Goolsby was twice shocked. There was a call to my parents to make sure everything was “okay” at home. My mother found the whole thing amusing. I loved my story. I still do. And just like Little Barbara, I still love Edgar Allan Poe, Alfred Hitchcock, and Ellery Queen. I suppose that class of eight-year-olds was not my “community” that I needed to help foster my ideas. Or perhaps there was a little too much “tell” and not enough “show” in that story. Years of studying craft would help with that.

Alright, thanks for taking that trip with me. Now let’s fast forward to Golden Girl Barbara recently retired and the rekindling of her writing. She has fully embraced the new muse wrangling and Master Gardener volunteering lifestyle. And, pow! A novella series, Finding Home was launched during a global pandemic. There is a gardener. There is a murder. There is a community. I love my characters and the exhale of “having written” in my soul! It was exciting and frustrating and empowering and when the dust settled, I was surrounded by people that were not my “community” just like Little Barbara. Writers that write, and kvetch about writing, and continue writing because, what else is there? Those people. Where to look? Ah, to the internet, of course! After dozens of rabbit holes, and dead links, and vacated blogs, I found Crime Writers of Color. Huzzah! The bond in the group is sure and uplifting. And through the relationships built within CWoC, I birthed my second short story, A Cup of Secrets, which is included in the limited edition, culinary cozy mystery anthology, Festive Mayhem 2. (See, I told you that I’d get us back here. Did you doubt me?) My short story is a spin-off of my series, but it stands on its own. Although, I highly recommend purchasing the series, too. Wink, wink. I think Little Barbara would be proud to read A Cup of Secrets in front of Mrs. Goolsby’s English class, even if they didn’t get this one either, because it doesn’t matter. The universe is full of stories and readers who are the perfect match magically that find each other, just like my muse and me. So, check out our anthology! There’s something for everyone!

Festive Mayhem 2 anthology cover; green background with a red bow and a gingerbread house with skull

Let me introduce you to the talented authors that collaborated on this collection.

Paige Sleuth (Nefarious New Year)

Francelia Belton (The Brotherhood of Tricks and Treats)

Angela Henry (Cookies, Lies & Homicide)

Rhoda Berlin (Last Bite)

Carolyn Wilkins (A Praline for Pepe)

Barbara Howard (A Cup of Secrets)

Stella Oni (The Jollof Rice and Crayfish Mystery)

Readers: How do you find community?


Barbara Howard is a “not-so-cozy” mystery and YA author of a dozen books, including her most recent trilogy, Finding Home Mystery Series; Final Harvest, Charlotte’s Revenge, and Milo’s Journey. Stories with drama without the trauma, crime without the grime. She is a first generation tech geek turned master gardener with a passion for fresh air, vegan cuisine, and tracing her roots. A big city girl with a small town heart, she returned to her family home in the Midwest after an extensive career as a Department of Defense Project Manager at the Pentagon and spends most of her time treasure hunting, spoiling her fur-babies, growing veggies and raising chickens.

She has also published a collection of books on food-related topics, food safety, and heirloom recipe cookbooks under the pen name, Arlene Lee.

Memberships/Affiliations: Mystery Writers of America (MWA), Sisters in Crime (SinC)



Seven crime writers of color have teamed up for the second year running to offer you the gift of escape this holiday season. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, Halloween to New Year’s, cozy mystery fans are bound to find a favorite holiday represented in this limited-time collection of exclusive, never-before-published seasonal short stories.

What you’ll find inside:

• “Nefarious New Year” by Paige Sleuth. A suspected poisoning leads Cherry Hills, Washington animal rescue maven Imogene Little to spend New Year’s Eve 1999 tracking down a would-be murderer.

• “The Brotherhood of Tricks and Treats” by Francelia Belton. A young man wants to fit in with his older brothers, but gets in over his head.

• “Cookies, Lies & Homicide” by Angela Henry. When lonely widow Mercy Davenport finds a lost dog, she has no idea searching for its owner will land her in the middle of a murder mystery, putting her in the crosshairs of a killer and on the radar of a grumpy local police detective.

• “Last Bite” by Rhoda Berlin. When Emily introduces her fiancé to her family, Thanksgiving comes to a fateful end.

• “A Praline for Pepe” by Carolyn Marie Wilkins. Carrie McFarland’s psychic powers are tested when a showboat featuring a racist revue brings a handsome stranger, a new cuisine, and a cold-blooded killer to Aaronsville, Indiana in 1921.

• “A Cup of Secrets” by Barbara Howard. Debutante Chelsea Parker’s birthday celebration launched his catering business into an overnight success, but Milo is thrown into the center of a murder investigation before dawn with his business partner and love of his life as the primary suspect.

• “The Jollof Rice and Crayfish Mystery” by Stella Oni. Elizabeth Ojo senses trouble when billionaire businessman Chief Arowolo, his wives and family come to celebrate his 75th birthday in the Mews, and she is not wrong as Chief collapses on the day of his celebration.


40 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Barbara Howard

  1. I love this insight into how your love of writing came to be, Barbara! And I can just imagine the classroom’s shock as eight-year-old you recited your story in front of them. Luckily, as adults, we don’t have to hide our love of (fictional) murder. Thank you for this fun post, and huge thanks to Jennifer and all of the Chicks for featuring Festive Mayhem 2. Wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I’m with Mark! What a journey! I adore that story about you reading your story and then the teacher checking to make sure everything was okay at home, lol. The short story collection sound wonderful. Congratulations!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yes, it was interesting 🙂 Later, Mrs. Goolsby read more of my stories and encouraged my parents to enroll me in extra-curricular creative writing courses and a mentorship program. But that first impression was a bit jarring for her taste, LOL. I joined SinC and the NEOhio chapter this year. I’m meeting so many awesome people!

      Liked by 5 people

  3. Great essay, Barbara! I love the details! And I remember being that little girl too. But I wrote a story out of my spelling words instead of just sentences. 🙂

    So glad we were able to having a second heaping of Festive Mayhem!

    Liked by 5 people

  4. What a wonderful story and journey, Barbara, and I so love this quote: “The universe is full of stories and readers who are the perfect match magically that find each other.”

    Congrats on the story, and thanks so much for joining us today on the Chicks! The mystery writing community is my family!

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Barbara, thank you for sharing the story, both tender and bold, of your writerly evolution. Here’s to you, and here’s to the Chicks for providing a fun, welcoming place for mystery lovers!

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

    Liked by 5 people

  6. The anthology looks great, and I love the idea of including recipes. I think the first one to do that might have been the inimitable Rex Stout, when he wrote the Nero Wolfe cookbook (which I have a copy of).
    I found a great community through my Sherlock Holmes stories – I was invited to join an international scion of the BSI, which meets monthly on Zoom. We have members from the US, Europe and India. I’ve also met many fans of Natalie McMasters through my FB group Nattie’s Readers.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Thanks so much for visiting and sharing this anthology with us, Barbara! I’m looking forward to reading it.

    I would LOVE to have Mrs Goolsby write *her* version of that day, the story of the surprising little Wednesday Addams in her class!

    Like you, my community is made up almost entirely of readers and writers … the best and brightest!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. At my first Malice Domestic conference, to my delight, I realized there really are other people like me. I sat in the lobby with other writers talking about ways to kill people, and pointed out good places to hide a body as we were going up in the glass elevator. Some of the people around us reacted a bit like Mrs. Goolsby!
    The new short story collection sounds like a perfect holiday read/gift! Thanks, Barbara for hanging out today with the Chicks!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Vickie! How fun!! I wish I could have eavesdropped on that conversation, ha! I was van-pooling with some gardening buddies and shared about an interesting Sisters in Crime webinar on weapons and poison that I had just attended. The silence was deafening. Guess you had to be there. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Barbara, It is so nice to meet you here at Chicks—thank you for being our guest and sharing the story of Little Barbara’s “aha!” moment! Loved it. Thank you also for sharing info re: the new anthology. It sounds wonderful—what a great group of authors—and I can’t wait to dive in!

    Liked by 2 people

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