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Demons, Debutants, and a Murdered Politician: A Recipe for Three Killer New Authors

This week I’m thrilled to introduce my readers to three  ITW Debut Authors, Jessica Bayliss, John Copenhaver, and Saralyn Richard.  Young Adult (YA) to Adult fiction, there’s a little something for every reader. From horror to historical to hanging out with high society there’s plenty of murder and mayhem to go around. Drum roll please …

Jessica Bayliss is a fiction author with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology who loves all things reading and writing. Her work crosses genres including romance, urban fantasy, and horror. Although it’s typically advisable to focus on one audience, Jessica just can’t seem to settle down; she writes Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult and (eh hem) regular adult fiction.
Jessica also spends a great deal of time with friends and family. She is a lover of all animals especially one very special Havanese and one extremely ornery cockatiel. She also loves to cook, eat, and exercise (it’s all about balance, right?) and is a firm believer that coffee makes the world a better place. (I’m with you on that one Jessica!) You can also find Jessica on Twitter and Facebook. Her debut novel Broken Chords is available on Amazon, Kobo, Goodreads, and Smashwords.

What is one of your favorite elements in your debut novel?

My book is called Broken Chords, and it’s a YA horror novella published by Leap Books. It’s about Lenny, a teen who tries astral projection with her friends at a music festival, and unfortunately for her, she catches the eye of a demon that is now able to tug her into its hellish realm whenever it wants. This is a fast-paced book, but it also has layers, and I love how the theme of cords/chords came together. It really just fell into place. I don’t want to give too much away—folks will have to read it to see how the click happened—but it did; it just clicked. This book was one of the most fun and satisfying to draft, actually.

What led you to writing your first novel?

My first book was sort of a random occurrence and, at the same time, a long-time coming. That sounds contradictory, but it’s true. For many writers, they’ve been writing for years. Not so much for me. I’ve dabbled a little bit here and there, but I mean it when I say just a little bit. And in 2001 I started a MG novel, which I then forgot because shortly thereafter I started graduate school. Fast forward to 2010 when I’m done with school, done with licensure (I’m a clinical psychologist), and have a real, grown-up job, and I decided I needed a hobby. I decided I’d try to write a book. I’d literally written nothing in all that time (except research papers, which is SO not the same thing). So, I started a book and it wasn’t working. Then I remembered the one I’d started all those years before. Amazingly, I had a copy of the file backed-up on my computer. I read it, cut a lot, and about a year later, that was my first book. So, both random and a long-time coming.

What are you working on now?

I’m about to dig back into revisions for another YA thriller I wrote earlier this year. I love this book. It’s a friendship story—a twisted friendship, that is—but like Broken Chords, it’s meant to be a fast-paced ride. The whole thing takes place on the NJ shore because this summer I was longing for an east coast beach vacation, and I didn’t get one. So, I wrote one for myself. That also includes a madman who sends two teenaged girls on a twisted game of dare. And their lives are at stake. (When I DO eventually get my shore vacation, I hope it won’t involve anything more threatening than sunburn and jelly fish stings.) I can’t wait to finish this one and share it.

Thanks for visiting with us, Jessica! Looking forward to reading your work.

John Copenhaver grew up in southwestern Virginia and graduated with a BA from Davidson College, MA in literature from Bread Loaf School of English, and a MFA in fiction from GMU, where he served as Executive Editor of the literary magazine Phoebe.

Currently, he chairs 7-12 English Department at Flint Hill, a college preparatory school, outside of Washington, DC, where he live with his partner Jeff and two ridiculously photogenic dogs, Winky and Roxy. Dodging and Burning is his first novel. He also reviews crime fiction at Lambda Literary, you can find his column, Blacklight, here. To learn more about John, visit his website, and find him on Facebook and Twitter.

What is one of your favorite elements in your debut novel?
The twist in the final pages of the novel came as a surprise to me. For obvious reasons I can’t say much about it, but I will say that it was a discovery I made while writing, not something planned from the beginning. The realization was thrilling to me. That I had Bunny Prescott, my debutant-cum-novelist, make the discovery was entirely (yet unexpectedly) appropriate. She’s had to reckon with her own culpability in the past; her imagination is darker as a result. She can discern evil where Ceola can’t, whose hopefulness is a kind of blindness.
What led you to writing your first novel?
Many years ago, I took a class in graduate school called “Photography and Modernity.” It was a literature course about how photography, particularly the mass reproduction of images, changed modern life and literature. We spent a lot of time discussing the power of the photographic image to communicate—and miscommunicate. At some point, I wondered what it would be like to tell a story that pivoted around an evocative crime scene image that served as the primary evidence for a murder that couldn’t be verified. With photography, the enticement is always to focus on what the photograph displays, not what is just beyond its frame. I was fascinated with the way photos gather meaning when provided with context in the form of a story. The question is: Is that story the truth?
What are you working on now?
I’m polishing up a novel manuscript set in post-WWII DC about two teenage girls, one of whom is (perhaps) a budding sociopath. They work together as amateur detectives to unwind the mysterious connection between an assault on their favorite teacher and the brutal murder of a classmate. I like to think of it as a femme fatale’s coming of age story: What were Cora Papadakis and Kathie Moffat like as young women? Can we have sympathy of the succubi?
What a great concept! Looking forward to the launch of your debut.


Saralyn Richard has been a teacher who wrote on the side, but now she is a writer who teaches on the side. Some of her poems and essays have won awards and contests from the time she was in high school. Her

children’s picture book, Naughty Nana, has reached thousands of children in five countries.

When not writing, Saralyn likes going to movies and concerts, traveling, and walking on the beach with her husband and two dogs. She is an avid reader and is working on her second mystery, Murder at Lincoln High. Saralyn is a member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America. For more information on Saralyn, you can visit her website, follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn


What is one of your favorite elements in your debut novel?

There is a certain appeal in reading a “locked room” mystery, where all of the suspects are “locked” in a particular setting at the time a murder takes place. No one has come in or gone out, and everyone has the means and motive to commit the crime. Like the detective, the reader must work out the possibilities within the narrow confines of the small setting.

In my debut mystery, Murder in the One Percent, thirteen people attend a weekend party during a snowstorm in a country mansion on a Pennsylvania horse farm. After much eating, drinking, and cigar-smoking on Saturday night, everyone retires to their rooms, and when they reconvene, one of them is found dead—on the fourth floor. The fact that all of the guests are wealthy and powerful citizens with unblemished reputations is enough to worry the detective and the police chief, but it worries the other guests, and hopefully the reader, too.

What led you to writing your first novel?

Some years ago, I attended a birthday party/weekend retreat like the one described in the book. That Saturday night I commented to another guest that this would be a great situation for a murder mystery. When I joined a writers’ critique group and considered what to write, I remembered the situation and began inventing the ensemble cast of ultra-rich characters, the connections between them, and the events that would ultimately turn their lives inside out. Once the young and unsophisticated detective made his entrance, the book took on a life of its own, as the contrasts between one-percenters and those who serve them propelled the story forward. Adding a jigger of greed, a splash of lust, and a garnish of jealousy, I felt I had the perfect story.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am revising my second novel, Murder at Lincoln High, and contemplating a third mystery in which I bring back Detective Oliver Parrott.

Sounds like the perfect recipe for a rollicking good mystery!

Happy Reading!

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. Zari Reede

    Your thoughts at that party, so long ago, revealed that you were a writer then. I find myself in the dentist office thinking about the lives of the people there and what might have happened just before they sat down. When I am having a drink at the bar, I think about the person serving it and what if… It’s been that way all my life, and my friends just thought I was paranoid. I just thought I was assessing every possible avenue of events that could unfold.

  2. Beverly Goldberg

    I’m so happy to learn all this about you. Your success comes as no surprise; I’m just thrilled that you’ve found this outlet for all the talent inside. Will look for your book, and the one on the way

  3. Daniella Bernett

    Congratulations! It’s always interesting to get inside the mind of a writer. So many different things can provide inspiration. I wish you success with your debut mystery novel.

  4. Leonardus G. Rougoor

    Murder in the one percent sounds like a novel I will read in the near future. It takes a sharp mind to write a story like that and make it plausible. It must be hard to not leave holes in the story.
    Good for Saralyn Richard
    Leonardus G. Rougoor Author

  5. Kathleen Kaska

    Hi Saralyn,
    I love “locked room” mysteries. Best of luck with Murder in the One Percent!

  6. June Trop


    Like many, I am looking forward to more from Oliver Parrot!

  7. Hannah Miller

    So exciting! Something that fascinates me about the mystery genre is how the readers themselves become an active participant in the story. I am so excited to dive into these books and help solve the mystery!

  8. Kathleen Stafford Sukiennik

    This is so exciting! You have beautifully and successfully nurtured others to write. Your time has come. From Naughty Nana to naughty suspects! Perfect!

  9. Penny O'Reilly

    Haven’t gotten around to checking out Oliver Parrot yet but definitely will soon. Congratulations to you, Saralyn, so wonderful.

  10. Susan Sofayov

    Fresh take on a “locked room” mysteries. Definitely adding it to my reading list!

  11. Camille

    So proud of you my friend. ❤️

  12. Laura Elvebak

    I’m a big fan of the “what if” in starting any story. Great interview! You’ve hooked me and I’m looking forward to reading your book.

  13. Sheri sullivan

    Can’t wait to read this mystery. You have an amazing take on things .

  14. Yvonne McCoy

    “Murder in the One Percent” sounds exciting and interesting–I can’t wait to read it! I’m so happy for you!

  15. Jeanette Cobb

    So happy for you. “Murder in the Once Percent” will be my first murder mystery to read in years. It was interesting how you put the book together, piece by piece.

  16. Denise Stigge

    I am definitely hooked and can’t wait to read this book!

  17. Denise Stigge

    I cant wait to introduce Murder in the One Percent to my book club!

  18. Chris Zacny

    Can’t wait to read your book. Love knowing this background on the development of it. Your brain has always been churning up new ideas lurking in the corners of your mind! Best of luck with this new literary avenue.

  19. Chris Zacny

    Love knowing this background on the development of the book. Your brain has always been churning up new ideas lurking in the corners of your mind!

  20. Pat

    Can hardly wait to read it.

  21. Tim

    Way looking forward to reading this. I remember almost 11 years ago that you said you were going to write a mystery. You were a great administrator mentor. Miss you!

  22. Jill Boswortb

    Congratulations, Saralyn! I look forward to your locked-room mystery!

  23. Michelle

    Looking forward to reading your Novel Saralyn.

  24. Lisa

    I’m so looking forward to reading your novel!

  25. Lisa

    I’m truly looking forward to reading your novels. Congratulations for your ongoing and well-deserved success!

  26. Erin

    As a former teaching colleague and fan of murder mysteries, I’m looking forward to this first novel, Saralynn!

  27. Suellen Brown

    So looking forward to it!

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