Thursday, March 24, 2011

Secrets by Maggie Toussaint, Guest Blogger

My guest today is Maggie Toussaint, author of the Cleopatra Jones mystery series from Five Star/Cengage as well as novels of romance and romantic suspense from Wild Rose Press. Like many of us, Maggie did not start out as a fiction writer. With marriage, family, and career to deal with, it was only later that she transitioned from scientist to freelance writer.

One of the things she likes about writing mysteries is the puzzle involved, the who-dun-it. And what works better than a secret to hide the identity of a killer or send the protagonist after the wrong suspect?


Secrets by Maggie Toussaint

Secrets grab your attention. Two long-running television programs by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman a few years back, “What’s my line” and “I’ve got a secret,” popularized at-home guessing and entertainment to solve a small mystery.

One aspect of “What’s My Line” that fascinated me was the imposters. They boned up on the secret-holder’s vocation, ad libbed, and lied with straight faces.

Years later, as I began writing mystery books, I realized it’s important to have imposters and secrets in a story. With multiple people who could be murder suspects, readers keep turning pages. With layers of secrets, characters have a lot at stake. Both imposters and secrets foster conflict and add reader interest.

In my cozy, On The Nickel, Mama’s car is the murder weapon, and my sleuth Cleopatra Jones has to not only prove Mama wasn’t behind the wheel, she has to figure out who ran over Mama’s rival. That’s not the easiest thing in the world, especially when Mama is keeping several secrets and has no alibi for the time of death.

Her secrets are enough to drive a daughter crazy.

Why won’t Mama come clean and reveal her secrets? That’s what Cleo wants to know. Why can’t Mama give a straight answer to a straight question?

Knowing Mama, that’s not possible. For one thing, she has a weak heart. For another, she hates being told what to do. Lastly, she doesn’t consider that she has to answer to anyone about anything.

So yeah, Mama’s got secrets, and she’d rather go to jail for murder than let the rest of the world and her immediate family learn her closely held secrets.

Must be pretty powerful secrets, eh?

Unraveling secrets is a time-honored plot device. I’d love it if you share about a book you’ve read that contains secrets. One lucky commenter will win a copy of On The Nickel.

Meanwhile, here’s an abridged excerpt from the book:

I entered the back of the meeting room in time to see Mama stride up to Erica’s podium. My eyes watered at the thick cloud of sweet perfume.

Mama planted her hands on her hips. “I’m saying what nobody else has the guts to say. You are despicable. That outreach activity was supposed to bring joy and laughter to those dying children. You crushed their hopes. Worse, you gave them false hope. They were crying, Erica. You caused those dying children to suffer more.”

“Errors happen,” Erica said.

“This one could have been avoided.”

Erica’s thin nose came up. “You think you could have done better?”

“I know so. All that hard work the committee put in. You wasted it. You hurt those kids. Those circus tickets were nonrefundable. You threw away money we worked hard to raise.”

“Don’t worry.” Erica barked out a sharp laugh. “We’ll find more needy kids to show our civic merit. The hospital has a never-ending supply.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A glance at Mama’s flame-red face and I knew Mount Delilah was about to erupt. I hurried forward.

“I demand your resignation as chair of the Ladies Outreach Committee!” Mama shouted.

“You’re out of order, Delilah,” Erica shrilled. “Sit down and shut up.”

Mama’s mouth worked a few times with no sound emerging. I touched her shoulder. “Mama?”

She glared at Erica. “You can’t talk to me that way.”

“Think again.” Erica smacked her palm on the podium. “This is my meeting, my committee, my church, my town. I can talk any way I want.”

Poor Mama. We needed to get out of here before both of us did something we’d regret. I tapped Mama’s shoulder again. “Excuse me, but I have to leave. Please come with me now.”

Mama nodded to me and inhaled shakily. She narrowed her eyes at Erica. “This isn’t over.”


Maggie, thanks so much for being my guest blogger today. You took me back a few years when you talked about "I've Got a Secret" and "What's My Line?" My family and I used to watch those shows every week. They had a pretty long run, starting not long before my dad bought our very first television set.

To learn more about Maggie and her books, visit her website. She also blogs at Mudpies and Magnolias. That's where I found this nice quote from the Kirkus review for On the Nickel: "The second in this amusing and romantic series (In for a Penny, 2008) is a welcome addition to the cozy ranks."

And don't forget, your comment on today's post gives you a chance to win a copy of On the Nickel.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Maggie.

Maggie - Secrets really are an important part of a good mystery. And it can be tricky, too, because the secrets can't be too farfetched. Otherwise it isn't fair to the raeder. On the other hand, some secrets can really spice up a plot. I can actually think of dozens of stories I've read where people keep secrets. Christianna Brand's Green For Danger has lots of secrets that the characters keep. So do Pat's own The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders. So do a lot of Agatha Christie novels. And the list goes on... ;-)

Stacey said...

I just finished a book on my Kindle called Cape Seduction by Anne Carter. Alternating chapters tell two stories that eventually tie together. One is set in present day and one is set in the 1940s and there are secrets in both stories. Nancy Pickard writes fantastic books whose basis are secrets. The Nature of Water and Air by Regina McBride is a story with a very big secret that kept me on the edge of my seat until the revealing. I love Maggie's books and can't wait to read On the Nickel.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Good morning everyone! Or good afternoon, depending on where in the world you are as you read Pat's blog! I'm delighted to be here and thank Pat for inviting me.

Hi to Margot and Stacey who get the earlybird award for making comments and for suggesting books with secrets. I'm delighted to make Margot's acquaintance and Stacey, thanks for your kind words about my writing.

One thing I forgot to mention before is that we need your email addy in case you win the drawing for the copy of ON THE NICKEL. So if you'd like to be entered into the contest, please make sure we have a way of contacting you.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Maggie,

Congrats on the important reviews your new novel has garnered! It sounds like a wonderful mystery.
I totally agree with you: there need to be secrets in a mystery novel, in fact any good novel. Surprises and twists in the tale make for a challenging and entertaining novel.

Stacey said...

Forgot to leave my email address in case I'm lucky and win a copy of On the Nickel.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Jacqueline,

I consider it a major mystery that the financial fate of something that authors labor away on, alone, for a year or so, depends entirely on the opinion and goodwill of others.

This time around I was lucky enough to draw 3 of the big 4 reviews, plus some get online reviewer comments. Let's see what happens.

Thanks for stopping in!


Maggie Toussaint said...

uh oh. spelling alert. I meant to say "great" online reviews above. Where's spell check when I need it?

Celia Yeary said...

Maggie-as usual, you write a great post. I can't wait for our library to get On the Nickel.
Off the top of my head, I can't think of a book I've read that had a secret, but that's because my head is full-up with cookie making--lots--young boys can eat a bushel of cookies!--plus a long list of other fun things. Uh-huh.
I hope the winner of the book enjoys it as much I did the first one, and know I will enjoy this one. Celia

Clarissa Draper said...

I think secrets are important. Readers expect them. When they don't occur, the reader is disappointed. Great interview.

Diana Cosby said...

:) Maggie,
I loved What's My Line as well. Mysteries are fun and you do them so well. Love your work and wish you continued success!
*I'm already a fan so please don't enter me in the drawing for your book. I'd love another reader to 'discover' your wonderful stories!


irishoma said...

Secrets are fun and one of the reasons a book keeps my interest.

I've recently finished reading Devious by Lisa Jackson. Devious had lots of juicy secrets as part of the story.

Great cover for your book, and I love the Cleopatra Jones character's name.

Here's my e-mail address in case I'm a lucky winner.
dvolkenannt (at)

Donna V.

Zequeatta Jaques said...

Great post, Maggie. Best of luck with On The Nickel. Now I have to wonder-what is Mama's secrets? I love a Mystery.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Gosh, I dove into my reporter job for an hour and lot at all the fun I missed here! This is great. Hi to Celia, Clarissa, Diana, Donna and Zequeatta. I'm so happy you all came by and read the blog.

Celia and Diana are great friends and longtime supporters of my writing, and I admire their writing right back.

Clarissa, I'm glad you love secrets in a book.

Donna, thanks for your kind words about my cover. It is lovely and eye-catching. I'm very fortunate!

Zequeatta, I hope you remain curious enough about Mama's secrets to read the book!

Thanks, everyone!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi everyone -- Hi Maggie -- I'm happy to see so many visitors this morning. I'm heading back to Twitter to help spread the world.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Oops -- I mean spread the word. :)

Maggie Toussaint said...

Patrica, It might be fun to spread the world. Much better than spreading manure:)

Anonymous said...

Maggie, great story! Love tales of family secrets.

Selena Fulton

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Selena/Beth, I know your secret!! Thanks for stopping in. Maggie

Merrillee said...

Loved the excerpt.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Merrilee,

Thanks for stopping in. I have to watch that Mama. She keeps trying to take over the series.


LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Maggie! It's funny, I grew up reading the Hardy Boys and then for years said I didn't like mysteries. Hm. Of course I do! It's the gore I can't deal with. The cozy mysteries are tons of fun. My love for them was rekindled a couple of years ago when I was asked to review "Asking For Murder" by Roberta Isleib. Lots of fun and plenty of secrets.

I look forward to reading "On The Nickel"! Best of luck with it!

Angela Jefferson said...

Hi Maggie,

Sounds like a great story and Mama is a hoot! I can't wait to read it. You are my hero!!!

Abigail said...

Hi, Maggie! What a great excert. I know I like stories with secrets but I can't think of a dang one right now! *laugh*

Keena Kincaid said...

I think secrets are important in any story, whether it's a mystery, a romance or a coming-of-age story. A characters' secret--what it is, when it'll become known, how it will become known--are part of what keeps a reader reading.

I haven't been reading much fiction lately, so no books with good secrets come to mind.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Loraine, It's a testament to your indie personality that you were a Hardy Boys fan! Roberta Isleib is an excellent writer. Great recommendation.

Hi Angela, Thanks for your kind words and admiration. I keep waiting to buy one of your books! Keep writing.

Thanks for coming by.


Carol-Lynn Rossel said...

Do put my name in your hat for the book draw. I remember when I was in high school and my chemistry teacher one day wasn't in class. We discovered he'd been on "What's My Line?" impersonating a Shark Killer, and he won. He was a pretty good storyteller. He ended up winning a Pulitzer Prize writing a play about us that was later made into a movie called "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the Moon Marigolds."

Phyllis Humphrey said...


I love cozy mysteries. In fact I've written two of a proposed series myself (so far unsold).There are plenty of secrets in books, but my all-time favorite is that of Max de Winter in REBECCA. Congratulations on your series.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Abigail, Keena,Carol-Lynn and Phyllis, Welcome to the madness! Glad to know we are all fans of secrets in our reads. Carol-Lynn, how cool that your teacher was on What's my line. I loved hearing about that. Phyllis, great recommendation of Max in Rebecca - and I wish you success in placing your series.

Keely Thrall said...

Maggie - I love a good secret. And I love how secrets can be constructed so that either the reader knows about the secret and the protagnist doesn't, neither the protag nor the reader knows the secret, or the protag(narator) knows the secret and isn't forthcoming with the reader. All such interesting permutations to play with!!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Wow, Maggie. I went to get groceries and came back to find an awesome party going on. Thanks to all of our visitors.

And to answer your comment, Maggie, LOL. Spreading the word around the world is a better option.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Keely, I love the way your mind thinks! Thanks for stopping in.

Patricia, Once someone says the word secret, the phone lines start buzzing! What fun!!!

Deirdra Eden-Coppel said...

I love your site and as I browsed your blog I decided to award you the Creative Blog Award.

Go to and pick up your award.


Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Deirdra,

I may be creative but my mental speller isn't working so great. Took me three tries to get the r's in your name in the right places.

How exciting to win a blog award. That's a first for me. I'll swing right over and collect it!


Maggie Toussaint said...

folks, I'm logging off for a bit. I'll check in later tonight for more comments. Patricia, when do we want to select a book winner?

Patricia Stoltey said...

Maggie, why don't we wait until tomorrow to select the winner from those who responded before midnight (based on the time stamp of the comment).

Let's select the winner by numbering the comments and using the random number generator at: Would you like to do that, and then announce the winner in a comment here?

Maggie Toussaint said...

Sounds good, Patricia. I'll come back early tomorrow and make an announcement in a comment.

Night, all!

Anonymous said...

Maggie, I'm intrigued! The excerpt sure makes me want to know what Mama is about to get herself into! Sylvia

Anonymous said...

Hi, Maggie! Excellent post. As a matter of fact, the most recent book I read that contained a secret was entitled "In For a Penny"! You wouldn't happen to know the author, would you? :-) Your villain carried quite a secret--and very well, too! I never guessed. What a fun, compelling read that was. I look forward to "On the Nickel!"

Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie! Your book sounds like a riot! I'd love to read it. The first writer who came to mind for me was one of my fave mystery writers, Martha Grimes. She takes a handful of local people (not usually directly connected to the murder mystery) and does a wonderful job of peeling off their layers. With each book, the reader gets a new glimpse of one of those characters. Very rewarding!
Thank you for the giveaway! I'd love to be entered for a chance to win. Thanks for the opportunity.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Good morning all. Thanks for the comments Sylvia, Kathy and Emily.

These are the names for the drawing: Margot, Stacey, Jacqueline, Clarissa, Donna, Zequeatta, Selena/Beth, Celia, Merrillee, Loraine, Angela, Abigail, Keena, Carol-Lynn, Phyllis, Keely, Deirdra, Sylvia, Kathy and Emily. Both Diana and Patricia asked not to be included in the drawing. Let me pop out to pull a random number.

Back in a flash!!!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hello hello! I've got news!!!

The lucky winner is -- drum roll, cymbal crash -- Abigail Sharpe!

Thank you everyone for posting comments. If you would like to purchase On The Nickel, its available for pre-order now at Amazon. Or, if funds are really tight, please request it at your local library.

On The Nickel by Maggie Toussaint
Five Star / Cengage ISBN 9781594149542
Available for pre-order at Amazon

(unfortunately blogger stripped the Amazon/toussaint-specific hyperlink; go to and enter my name in the search box. My books will come on screen)

Thanks everyone, and thanks Pat for having me here.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Congratulations to Abigail!

Maggie, you're an awesome guest and a pleasure to work with. I hope you'll visit us again one of these days.

StephB said...

Maggie, who doesn't love a good secret? On The Nickel sounds great! Cleo sounds like a very fun character.