Over the next few weeks, I have some exciting cover reveals for our Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries. When Five Star closed down its mystery line, they returned the hard cover publication rights to us. And while we didn't want to continue to publish this series in hard cover, trade paperback seemed like the perfect print format. We commissioned all new covers for the series as created by Jess Danna Photography and we'll be bringing them to you one at a time. And as I find the process of making these covers interesting, we'll also look at how the individual designs came about.

DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT depends very heavily on its sense of place.The salt marshes of Essex county are practically a character in the book. It's also an area that's near and dear to my heart and my daughters' who accompanied me to the marsh in Massachusetts on a research trip. So when Jess and I sat down to brainstorm the new cover, there was really only one possibility for us - our own photos of the actual marsh.

From a technical standpoint, Jess was given some challenges, but easily managed them. All our shots were taken in bright and cheerful daylight, but that wasn't the mood we wanted. We wanted something that captured the darkness and danger of the marsh.

She started with these two pictures:

She combined the images, removed any sign of life in the form of houses or outbuildings, changed day into night, added the correct star constellations for when the book is set in that location (September 2012), and then spent time working the colour tones to make them just right.

Honestly, I really love this cover. It's Matt and Leigh's marsh, right down to the last detail. Looking at it, I remember standing there, the sea wind blowing around us, hearing bird song and the rush of water through the marsh grasses. It's like a trip down memory lane, back to one of my favourite places.

Now, without further ado, here is the finished cover:

DEAD COVER FINAL - 3 (light) ebook.jpg

And here the full cover for the trade paperback print edition which will be available later in April:

DEAD COVER FINAL - 3 (light).jpg

More to come on availability in the coming weeks as we are actively finalizing this version of the series.

Next cover reveal - A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH!

It’s Mystery Week at Goodreads!

May 1st to 7th is Mystery Week at Goodreads and we’re jumping into the fun to celebrate with two book giveaways.

Go back to the very beginning of the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries with DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT. This first book in the series joins Leigh Abbott and Matt Lowell at their very first meeting. Things are a little bumpy at first as Leigh and Matt try to figure out a way to merge their very different strengths in the quest to find justice for victims in a case that quickly starts to spin out of control.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Dead, Without  a Stone to Tell It by Jen J. Danna

Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It

by Jen J. Danna

Giveaway ends May 08, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Jump into our FBI K-9s series with LONE WOLF before the sequel, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE arrives on September 26th. Meet Meg Jennings and her black Labrador, Hawk, as they and the other K-9 teams of the FBI’s Human Scent Evidence Team track down a deadly spree bomber.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Lone Wolf by Sara Driscoll

Lone Wolf

by Sara Driscoll

Giveaway ends May 08, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

We’ve got two copies of each book to give away and both giveaways run from May 1st to midnight on May 7th, so don’t miss out!

Big Publishing News for Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries!

Ann and I are thrilled to have not one, but two publishing deals to announce today!

First of all, the paperback rights for DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT have been contracted by Harlequin Worldwide Mysteries. We’re thrilled that our debut novel will now be available in three formats—hardcover, ebook, and paperback—for accessible reading no matter what your preference. Recent discussions with Harlequin indicate a moved-up release date of December 2014 to the very early part of 2015. More on that when we know more.

But our really big news is that the fourth installment in the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries, TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER, has been accepted for publication by Five Star Publishing, which has released all the full length novels in our series to date. Described by our editor as our best book so far, we love this book for its blend of mystery and history.


Publishers Marketplace recently published the two official announcements. Big thanks to agent extraordinaire Nicole Resciniti of the Seymour Agency for all her work on these deals:

March 3, 2014 - DEAD WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT by Jen Danna and Ann Vanderlaan 
Fiction: Mystery/Crime
Jen Danna with Ann Vanderlaan's DEAD WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT, when a single human bone is found on a lonely stretch of coastline, a determined homicide detective and a reluctant scientist risk their lives when they join forces to bring a serial killer to justice, to Laura Barth at HQN Worldwide Mystery, in a nice deal, for publication in Fall 2015, by Nicole Resciniti at The Seymour Agency (NA).

March 13, 2014 - TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER by Jen Danna and Ann Vanderlaan
Fiction: Mystery/Crime
Jen Danna with Ann Vanderlaan's TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER, the fourth book in the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries, where a body discovered in a long-forgotten speakeasy proves to be ground zero for a cascade of murders through the decades, to Deni Dietz at Five Star, in a nice deal, for publication in Spring 2015, by Nicole Resciniti at The Seymour Agency (NA).


TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER will be released either in March or April of 2015, so we’re pleased that this will keep the release of each installment in the series to less than a year apart. We can only write so fast because I still work full time in the research lab, but keeping the series rolling with regular release dates is very important to us.

So… what’s coming up next for Matt, Leigh and their team?


Prohibition was a time of clandestine excess—short skirts, drinking, dancing . . . and death. But a murder committed so many years ago still has the power to reverberate decades later with deadly consequences.

It’s a double surprise for Trooper Leigh Abbott as she investigates a cold case and discovers two murder victims in a historic nineteenth-century building. Together with forensic anthropologist Matt Lowell and medical examiner Dr. Edward Rowe, she uncovers the secrets of a long-forgotten, Prohibition-era speakeasy in the same building. But when the two victims are discovered to be relatives—their deaths separated by over eighty years—the case deepens, and suddenly the speakeasy is revealed as ground zero for a cascade of crimes through the decades. When a murder committed nearly forty years ago comes under fresh scrutiny, the team realizes that an innocent man was wrongly imprisoned and the real murderer is still at large. Now they must solve three murders spanning over eighty years if they hope to set a wronged man free.

A reminder to our readers that A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH will release April 18th and be available shortly thereafter. This is the third installment in the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries, following DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT, and the e-novella, NO ONE SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL. To mark this event, next week we’re going to start a series of posts on fire investigation and forensics. Please join us for this fascinating topic.



Writing WHO You Know

One of the most common pieces of writing advice out there is ‘write what you know’. I’m going to go off on a tangent from that concept to discuss writing who you know.

In reviews of DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT, there are always comments about the main characters, Trooper Leigh Abbott and Dr. Matt Lowell, and the chemistry they share. But the second most frequent comment is about the book’s secondary characters.


The book is true to the teacher/student relationship. I love the way Matt taught his students, trusting them and respecting them but also protecting them where he needed to. As a teacher, I can say it felt...right, to me. I liked that none of the relationships fell back on stereotypes.


There is a dynamic cast of secondary characters that add depth and humor to the storyline.

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about J.D. Robb’s ‘In Death’ series is the large cast of secondary characters that surround the leads and how those characters were given time to grow and develop, and sometimes earn substantial storylines of their own. I always wanted to have that kind of feel within the Abbot and Lowell Forensic Mysteries series.

As a bench scientist for more than 20 years, I’ve had students come and go from our lab. Some passed through quietly, but a number of them made strong impressions on me. When it came to developing characters to back up forensic anthropologist Dr. Matt Lowell, I took advantage of being able to write the characters I knew.

Take Matt’s senior graduate student – Akiko Niigata, or Kiko as she is usually called. Without a doubt, Kiko is the fictional version of one of my best grad students, Vera. Like Vera, she is strong, has a wicked sense of humour, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, is skilled in martial arts, and is a fantastic artist. We always used to tell Vera that she needed to find a way to combine her dual skills in science and the arts, perhaps by illustrating textbooks or journal articles. In Kiko, we have an osteologist and forensic anthropologist-in-training who uses her artistic skills to offer accurate crime scenes sketches for the team, and to provide 2D and 3D skull reconstructions of victims. The name I gave this character is also an inside joke, and my labmates from that time will remember exactly who the infamous Akiko is.

Some grad students in the fictional series are a compilation of past real-life students. Another successful Ph.D. student, Dusan, provides character Paul Layne with his sense of humour and ability to ‘stir the pot’ (especially with the girls in the lab).

The relationship that Matt has with his grad students is really the relationship that I enjoyed with mine. Adults in their own right, these were skilled young men and women who had give-and-take relationships with their trainers, and that aspect is reflected in these characters. The grad students in the series bring their own individual skills to the group, and it’s the combined talents of the two leads and the three students that truly make the team successful in their investigations.

Writing who you know has the advantages of grounding characters in your head and giving you a spring board. While you won’t write your characters exactly as you know real people in your life, you can take aspects of their personalities that strike you as quirky, stubborn or resiliant, and build those into your fictional characters. This isn’t cheating; it’s using the world around you to your advantage. If you’re having trouble finding dynamic characters to write about, instead of falling back on familiar tropes, trying drawing from your own life experiences. You may be pleasantly surprised by how real your characters will seem, and how they will jump off the page for both you and your readers.

What A Book Launch It Was!

Sunday, June 9th marked my very first book launch. With the wonderful help of family and friends, we gave DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT a great send-off into the world.

A few weeks before the launch, I’d gotten it into my head to give everyone a little swag bag as a thank you for taking time out of their busy schedules to join us for the launch. I decided on some tie-in items to go along with the book. Luckily, I have two beautiful daughters who helped me every step of the way (along with my husband, Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Picture).

My eldest, Jessica, is the artist behind the bookmarks—charcoal and burguny organza and satin ribbons with a skeleton key charm on one end and a skull on the other.  This was part way through Jess making 150 bookmarks:

Jordan, my younger daughter, is my kitchen whiz, and she helped handcraft 450 white chocolate bones. This was the first batch coming out of the molds:

Yes, those long bones are femurs and they’re pretty darned anatomically correct!

150 bags, all stuffed and ready to be ribboned:

The final product:

The launch itself took place at our family church. In fact, if you look back at the post about my brother Mychael’s big post-Oscar event, you’ll see it’s in the same place.

This is Pat. Pat is awesome. When I wasn’t even sure that I was going to have a book launch, Pat stepped in and organized it for me. With the help of a large number of church members, they put on lunch for everyone that came. Since there were over 100 people there, this was no small feat, let me assure you.

Pat is also a bookseller and she’s passionate about her books. To introduce both myself and the book, she talked everyone into going to their local Chapters bookstore and to ask for me to do a signing there. Then she had the crowd start chanting the name of the book over and over again. It was very funny.

After Pat’s introduction, I got up to give a little background about my writing career to date—how I’d written as a pre-teen and then given it up for about 25 years before coming back to it. So much so, my interest in writing was a total surprise at the time to my husband of over 15 years… SURPRISE!

Then I read Chapter Six for the crowd as it’s one of the early turning points in the story. It was very well received.

Then the book signing began…

One of my favourite aspects of the day was seeing old friends, many of whom had traveled great distances to attend:

Cheryl, who is in the above picture in the right upper corner; a Twitter friend for a long time I've only known by her handle until a few weeks ago.

Amy, my coworker for 11 years, who sat by my side in the lab every morning and was always so sure I’d make it in publishing, even when I wasn’t.

Jane, the representative of my Internet moms group. We’ve been together since August of 1996, a group of gals all due to give birth in April of 1997. It’s an amazing story of friendship, but most of us are still together as an online group and we still share our ups and downs together. Jane brought with her some wonderful gifts from my very, very thoughtful friends.

It was also nice to meet new friends. Lloyd Kelly of Nelson Education, Five Star’s Canadian distributor, not only drove all the way out from Scarborough, but he brough boxes of extra books to make sure we had enough. He helped us get set up and then even contributed some of the pictures taken that day.

It was a busy, nerve wracking (public speaking and I are not comfortable with each other) but fun day. Thanks to all who came out and all who helped make the day a wonderful experience!


One of the most exciting moments in the career of a debut author is when her virtual book starts to become tangible—the digital product she’s spent so long working on slowly becomes ink and paper. Part of that journey is complete when an artistic team takes the author’s vision and turns it into graphic art for the cover.

Ann and I had that moment last week as we finally got a sneak peek at the cover for DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT. For the longest time, we’ve had a vision of what we wanted to see on the cover, centering on the concepts of the coastal salt marshes in Essex, Massachusetts and the strong forensic/forensic anthropology angles involved in the story. When the cover was finally unveiled, we were both very pleased with the results. Our thanks to Five Star/Gale Cengage and ENC Graphics for all their hard work on this project.

So now, without further ado, we’re thrilled to release the cover for DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT, releasing May 15, 2013:


So, what do you think?