Saints & Spies bonus features

Everybody loves bonus features! Here are some little extras from the books in my Saints & Spies series.

SaintsSpies_CVR_MEDBe sure to join my readers’ group to find out when I add more goodies to this page!

The inspiration & process | More behind the idea & process | Irish cultural myths & reality | Irish crafts | Irish songs | Irish slang | Deleted Scene: original opening scene | Rewritten Scene: original bar scene | Tour of Holy Name Cathedral | Saints & Suspects inspiration collage | Saints & Suspects sticky toffee pudding recipe

The inspiration & process behind Saints & Spies

I kept on writing in spite of my too-short and too-broken first two novels. And as it turned out, the third time was the charm. This new project completely changed my writing career.

El Padre y la ViudaAnyway. My best friend and I were chatting one day about a friend of hers who became a priest after college, and what it would be like to choose a celibate life at a young age. The conversation wandered off into paths of foreign soaps with Catholic priests pursued by young women (namely Ballykissangel and Abrázame muy fuerte). Sometimes these fictional priests would fall in love and leave the ministry, and my friend and I speculated what would happen if a priest fell in love.

That night, my mind returned to that theme. What if, I wondered, he wasn’t really a priest? For the first time, my mind went to what would later become my favorite fictional question: what if he were a spy?

I emailed my friend and within a day or two, we’d sketched out our stories and begun parallel novels: mine following the adventures of Father Undercover and the parish secretary, and my friend’s following the story of a teacher at the parish school (who happened to be Father Undercover’s sister) and a seminary candidate.

The book stats

Title: Finally settled on Saints & Spies
Genre: Romantic suspense (my first contemporary-set novel!)
Inspiration: a conversation with my best friend
Writing dates: 22 October 2008 – early December 2008. And then editing until February 2010. Seriously. And then editing again in 2015, and finally published October 21, 2015!
Length: Maxed out at 101,000, but submitted at around 90,000
Elevator pitch: An LDS FBI agent must go undercover as a Catholic priest to root out the mob in the parish—if he doesn’t fall for the parish secretary first.

What I learned from writing this book

Man. What didn’t I learn from this book?

From the initial writing, I was reminded what it was like to fall in love with a story. It had been nearly a year since I’d started a new project, and my enthusiasm for my previous books was as mired down as their plots. I realized I could write a book in a contemporary setting, and I learned how much fun it was to co-author. The best part was always writing the scenes with all four of our main characters interacting. My friend and I still squabble like our sibling characters when talking about a scene where they have opposite agendas 😉 .

But probably the farthest-reaching lesson I learned was how useful plotting really is. With four MCs, two main plots, intersecting subplots, shared scenes, etc., planning out our stories in advance was a must. The actual plotting took me less than a day and I was still very excited about the story. The actual book was very different from the original plot—we cut the rival mob that was the main plot entirely—but having a guideline in place was an amazing revelation. It didn’t stifle my creativity; the outline enabled it.

This book became my first submission, and thus my first rejection. That, right there, says a lot.

I would not give up. Editing the book again taught me more than I’d ever learned about writing. I went through each scene to perform a tension check, ensuring there was some source of tension in the scene, striving to weave in more interactions with antagonists, bringing out the suspense. I took my heroine from a crying waif to a proactive former policewoman. I learned how to better write character emotions from the inimitable Margie Lawson.


I learned how much real work it would take to get that book from first draft to publishable (my secret sauce of writing). It took more than a year of work after the rejection to get it that way.

After I finally learned what editing was, this book became my first contest win. Then it became my first acceptance from a publisher. And one day, it will definitely be available. Once upon a time, that day was going to be last month, but it isn’t now. Which is okay, too—because if you saw the dates above, I started this book five years ago and often I’m not sure I want to look back at where my writing was back then!

Originally posted on my blog

Photo credit: el Padre y la Viuda (the Father and the Widow)—Carlos MuLec

More on the idea, process & learning to write

Trying to “fix” a Winchester Mystery Story to make a habitable home novel wasn’t the only reason I turned to plotting. My next project came about from off-the-wall speculation with Sarah, one of my writing friends from high school. (Off-the-wall speculation is our specialty.)

trust your crazy ideasOne day, our crazy speculation turned to international soaps we watched as teenagers—Abrázame muy fuerte (Mexican telenovela) and Ballykissangel (Irish soap opera). Although the soaps were really different from one another, they were both set in Roman Catholic cultures, and featured priests characters prominently. We felt really compelled to explore this fascination in fiction, and we wanted to write something together.

The day after this conversation, I sent her an email:

Okay, this idea is just crazy and a product of watching too many fabulous spy shows, BUT–what if he was joining the priesthood as a spy cover/to escape a horrible secret?

And she did me one better:

I LIKE IT! So now I have an even crazier idea.

I was thinking, maybe we could turn this story into that LDS themed book. Maybe we can have two couples? One LDS guy turns into a Catholic priest as a cover-up that he’s a spy. His friends and family won’t know and they’ll be totally shocked by it. What if he started flirting with this Catholic girl who really likes him but is disturbed by it (plagued with guilt) because she thinks he’s a real priest? So maybe guy A’s sister ends up moving to X-town where her brother lives and meets a real initiate (haha what do you call future priests?) and falls in love. [. . .]

Too crazy?
There are several seminaries in Chicago. Maybe “priest” A is posing as a Priest to get in with the mafia somehow?

You know, when you put it like that, it sounds absolutely insane . . .

My favorite kind of book!

So we set about our parallel novels, mine about the spy/priest and secretary/parishioner, and hers about the sister and the seminarian. To keep the projects straight, of course, we couldn’t both just pants our way through these novels. So I didn’t just dip my toes in the plotting pool. I jumped in the deep end:

I've never successfully plotted like this, but whoa.

  • I wrote out full plot treatment, about one page long, hitting the milestones of the Hero’s Journey.
  • I wrote a journal entry from the villain’s POV to understand his motivation behind the murder.
  • I made a day-by-day timeline in a spreadsheet, her events in one column, mine in another.

That might sound like a lot of work. The first two were done the day after our emails, and we traded first chapters in the first two days after that. Most of all, however, we had fun. We didn’t shy away from the absurd, we put our characters into horrible straights, and we laughed and laughed and laughed.

The best parts were the scenes with all our characters in them. We would schedule times to “get together” online and write the dialogue/blocking in a spreadsheet (often with our own running commentary in another column…). Once we had them roughed in, we’d convert those scenes to prose with our characters’ thoughts.

The whole time, I feared the project was too “controversial” for an actual publisher to be interested. My previous projects were not going to get into publishable shape any time soon (or, likely, ever). Could I afford a third “flop” if I really wanted to be a published author?

In the end, though, I loved the story too much to let my perception of the market stop us. So we wrote and enjoyed our story. Within three months, we had two finished first drafts.

But, as any one knows who’s written “The End” enough times, that’s only the beginning. And in this case, the journey was a lot longer than it probably should’ve been. I had a lot to learn.

Photo credits: trust your crazy ideas—Leandro Agrò; planning—Jez Nicholson

Originally posted on my blog

Irish culture myths and reality

I have to confess: secretly, I have Irish ancestry.

Okay, it’s not that big a secret. But for some reason, it’s not that big a deal, either—I also have Danish, German, French, English, Ulster Scots and other ancestry, and I don’t get a parade for that—and I also recognize that being (technically) Irish-American doesn’t mean I know jack squat about Ireland and its culture today.

Or, I didn’t until I wrote a book with an Irish protagonist. And no, not Irish like you and I are Irish—born-and-raised-in-Ireland-until-adulthood Irish. And surprisingly, although we allegedly speak the same language, that entailed the same amount of research as any other character from another culture might.

So here’s some of what I learned—a few St. Patrick’s Day myths for you.

Myth: St. Patrick’s is the quintessential Irish holiday

Well, St. Patrick is a pivotal figure in Irish Catholic history, but not a whole lot is known for certain about him. He was a Briton taken into slavery in Ireland, escaped after six years and returned to Britain, then entered the Catholic church and returned to Ireland. He is the most famous of three patron saints of Ireland (although technically he’s never been canonized by a pope). Legend says he banished snakes from Ireland and used the shamrock to teach the concept of the Trinity.

March 17th is his feast day and has been celebrated as a day of holy obligation (and a day off from Lent) in Ireland for centuries. However, the first recorded St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston (1737—the first parade in Ireland was nearly two hundred years later, after dozens of American cities had established parades of their own). St. Patrick’s Day is largely a holiday celebrated by the Irish Diaspora—people of Irish descent not living in Ireland. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1990s that Ireland began capitalizing on the tourism possibilities of the “traditional Irish holiday.”

Myth: Corned beef is the traditional Irish meal

Good news if you don’t care for the stuff: corned beef isn’t a traditional Irish meal. However, if you like it, the reason corned beef didn’t catch on in Ireland is doubly depressing: most Irish people couldn’t afford beef.

The tradition, like that of St. Patrick’s Day, is largely Irish-American: once they came to America, Irish people could afford beef and prepared it as they would have their cheaper meats back home. (I have no idea how people too poor to afford beef bought passage to America—details, details.)

A more traditional Irish meal would feature uncured bacon (Canadian bacon)—but do we really care?

Myth: In Ireland, everyone speaks “Gaelic.”

In Ireland, the vast majority of people call the traditional language “Irish.” While everyone in the Republic is required to learn Irish in school, few people actually speak it outside of school. (Think about it—when’s the last time you used your high school French? How good is it?)

There are a couple areas in Ireland where Irish is the native language: a few areas mostly on the west coast called the Gaeltacht (gale-tacht, with a ch like in Bach or loch). Population: 91,000, or about 2% of Ireland’s 4M+ people.

A fun fact: the Irish police force, the Garda Síochána (guard-a she-chòn-uh), requires at least a passing level of Irish proficiency for prospective officers (though they reassure applicants that it’s really not that big a deal).

Myth: Nice accent—are you from Scotland or running for the next Lucky Charms mascot?

Good try. You got one of the British Isles. Now, here are your study materials: Father Ted. Ballykissangel.

A couple hints: saying “I’m oyrish” means you’re probably not, “dinna, canna,” etc. and trilled r’s are waaay more common in Scotland that Ireland (though if you look really hard, you can find Irish accents that have one of those features, but not all).

(How do you get it right? The easiest way is to pick a specific place in Ireland for your character and find recordings of someone from there, or vice versa. And unless your character lived in Ireland past age 8 or so—even if their entire extended family is Irish—they probably have an American/Australian/Canadian/wherever they’re living accent. Linguistic phenomenon.)

Myth: Okay, then, Irish people speak English like the rest of us.

Uhhh yeah. They use many of the same words, but . . . well, let’s see if you can tell what this means:

“Did you hear that the scrubber and the wagon were plastered last night and ended up in a mill? It was deadly!”
—from The Feckin’ Book of Everything Irish

Oh, you did know that meant the woman of low sophistication and morals and the unattractive woman were drunk last night and ended up in a fight (it was awesome!)? That’s a lot of cheek, ya cute hoor—have you the knees to go with it?

Myth: The kilt is the best way to show off your Irish heritage

Your knees, yes. Your Irish heritage, not so much. In Ireland, you’re most likely to see kilts on pipers. Really, the kilt is a Scottish tradition (and even then, the length of that tradition is disputed). Although there has been a bit of a movement to adopt it as Gaelic national dress (and what have you), the Irish kilt is mostly a phenomenon celebrated outside of Ireland.

(And in case you’re wondering, it’s not like everybody in Scotland’s wearing one, either. During the two years my husband lived there, he’d see someone about town in a kilt perhaps weekly.)

Myth: Erin go bragh is a Gaelic Irish phrase that means . . . uh . . .

Erin go bragh is the Anglicized version of . . . well, Irish speakers aren’t totally sure, but most seem to think it came from the Irish Éire go Brách, which literally means Ireland until eternity.

And, once again, it’s not that popular in Ireland. Sorry. It was used as a slogan a few centuries ago—is that better?

Myth: there’s nothing that’s really Irish about all this celebrating, is there?

Absolutely! In fact, St. Patrick’s Day is a great time to celebrate the way Irish culture has adapted during the Irish diaspora—because Ireland’s greatest export is its people.

And the other stuff that’s “really Irish”: potatoes, Catholicism, beer, Irish whiskey, shamrocks, the color green (and orange!), Brian Boru’s harp, Irish dance (though not necessarily Riverdance), Halloween (Oíche Shamhna (ee-chah how-nah)). Yes, it’s all cliché but still so true.

Check out Annette Lyon’s Word Nerd Wednesday to find some other Irish influences—on the English language. And my friend Stephanie Black actually lived in Ireland for a few years, and she’s posting about Irish chocolates and pictures (of Ireland, not the candy) today.

Originally posted on my blog

Fun Irish crafts

St. Patrick’s Day is probably my favorite pointless holiday of the year! There are two basic reasons for this—and neither of them is my rich Irish heritage. (Incidentally, I do have Irish heritage, but considering those people died in the US a century before I was born, I don’t really have a strong attachment to the culture from them.)

No, my real reasons are at least half ridiculous:

1.) When I was in college, I spent Thanksgivings with my aunt. Randomly one year when we got up silly early for Black Friday, we began speaking in an Irish accent. These things only make sense before 5 AM.

2.) For the Saints & Spies series, featuring characters from Ireland, I’ve spent approximately 1,000,000 hours studying Irish language, slang and culture 😉 .

To celebrate, I’m going to share a little “true” Irishness with you.

Irish Potato Candy—real!

Complete with recipe!

Irish Flag Apron—kinda kitschy, but real!

Complete with instructions—and it only cost me $5!

Originally posted on my blog

Irish songs “Moll Dubh” and “Molly Malone”

“Moll Dubh”

“Moll Dubh” is a real Irish folk song, though I think it’s on the more obscure side, based on how many recordings I found, or rather, how few. While finding the song was really fortuitous, it’s not quite as big a coincidence as it seems — I changed Molly’s original appearance to match the song once I found the lyrics while writing the first draft.

“Moll Dubh” (pronounced mall doov or mall doo, with the “oo” as in “book”) is considered a sean-nós song, or “old style” traditional Irish song. These songs are usually performed a cappella with stylized vocal ornamentation.

The lyrics here are the ones I used in the book, but they are not the only version of this song out there. The most popular recording of these lyrics is by Irish musical group Altan from their album The Red Crow. (Purchase on Amazon for only 89¢ – aff.)


1. Tá ba agam ar shliabh ‘s níl duine ‘gam na ndiadh,

Ach mé do mo bhuaidhreadh leofa;

Bíodh idir mise is Dia má’s orthu ‘tá mo thriall

Is bhain siad mo chiall go mór uaim.

English (direct translation)

1. I hear cattle on the hill with no one there to tend them

And for them I am deeply worried

Between myself and God, to them I take the trail

For they have taken my senses from me

Curfa: ‘Sí Moll Dubh a’ Ghleanna í, ‘Sí Moll Dubh an Earraigh í,

‘Sí Moll Dubh is deirge ná’n rósa

‘S dá bhfaighinnse féin mo roghainn de mhná óga deasa ‘n domhain,

‘Sí Moll Dubh a’ Ghleanna ab fhearr liom.

Chorus: She’s Dark Molly of the valley

She’s Dark Molly of spring

She’s Dark Molly, more ruddy than the red rose

And if I had to choose from the young maids of the world

Dark Molly of the glen would be my fancy

2. Mise bheith gan mhnaoi feata choíche ní bhím,

Is Moll dubh bheith i dtús a h-óige;

Och, is fann guth an éin a labhras leis féin

Ar thulaigh nó ar thaobh na monadh.

2. Me without a wife, I won’t be all my life

And Dark Molly in youth just blooming

Lifeless the song of the bird that sings alone

On a mound by the edge of the moorland

3. Is ag Moll dubh a’ ghleanna, tá mo chroí-se i dtaiscí,

‘S í nach bhfuair guth na náire;

Is go ceillí, múinte, cneasta a dúirt sí liom ar maidin;

“Ó imigh uaim ‘s nach pill go brách orm!”

3. Dark Molly of the glen has my heart in her keeping

She never had reproach or shame

So mannerly and honestly she said to me this morning,

“Depart from me and do not come again!”

4. Níl’n óganach geanúil ó Bhaile Átha Cliath go Gaillimh,

Is timpeall go h-Umhaill Uí Mháinnle,

Nach bhfuil a dtriall ulig ‘na ghleanna ar eacraidh slime sleamhainne,

I ndúil leis an bhean dubh a b’aille.

4. There’s not a handsome youth from Dublin to Galway

And around by ‘Umhail Uí Mhainnle’**

That’s not heading for the glen on steeds so sleek and slim

Hoping to win the dark maid’s affection

Another version of the lyrics adds another character to the mix: the daughter of an earl trying to win the main character. Noted sean-nós singer Máirín Concannon recorded her take on this version of the lyrics, as did YouTuber Natália Danzmann (you can find the Irish lyrics in the descripton of her video). Irish harpist and singer Emer Kenny included this version on her album Parting Glass, and on Celtic Woman 3: Ireland. (Purchase here from Amazon for only 99¢aff.)

**It took almost eight years, but I finally figured out what where ‘Umhail Uí Mhainnle’ is. Umhaill, Anglicized as Umhall was, to quote Wikipedia, “an historical district of west Connacht dominated by the Uí Mháille.” Who are the Uí Mháille? That would be the 26th century shipping magnate O’Malley family, which included the pirate Grace O’Malley.

“Molly Malone”

This song first appeared in a book printed in Boston, but it’s become Dublin’s unofficial anthem. There’s much more to why my Molly is called Molly — but you’ll have to read the second book to find out about that!

In Dublin’s fair city,

Where the girls are so pretty,

I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,

As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,

Through streets broad and narrow,

Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”


“Alive, alive, oh,

Alive, alive, oh,”

Crying “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”

She was a fishmonger,

But sure ’twas no wonder,

For so were her father and mother before,

And they wheeled their barrows,

Through the streets broad and narrow,

Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”

She died of a fever,

And no one could save her,

And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone.

But her ghost wheels her barrow,

Through streets broad and narrow,

Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”

Irish slang

You’d think they spoke English in Ireland—until they open their mouths! Molly carries a mobile in her handbag (not a cell phone in her purse!), and her Irish slang has Kathleen effin’ and blindin’. Here are ten of my favorite uniquely Irish terms, phrases and constructions!

10. feck
No, no, lower your pitchforks—I’m a trained linguist, I can handle this one. (No, really, I have a degree in linguistics, so I can say all kinds of taboo words 😉 .) This Irish euphemism earned me a gazing-down-the-nose we know what she reeeeally said when I used it in earlier drafts of Saints & Spies, but it’s not (that) offensive in Ireland. Or maybe it is—court cases have waged over whether or not the term qualifies as obscenity. A good friend who’d lived in Ireland assured me that it was not part of a church-goer’s vocabulary.

9. Your man/your wan
The Irish version of “that guy” or “that girl,” this may or may not refer to a specific person. “Wan” is from the Irish term “bean,” meaning “woman.”irish accent gum front1024x577

8. Only
Okay, yes, every variety of English uses “only,” but it really threw me for a loop when I read a Dublin Murder Squad novel and a character lamented that “It was only awful.” It wasn’t until I realized that “only” and “just” are interchangeable in that variety of Irish English that I could suss out what we were trying to say.

7. “You know yourself.”
Used where an American would say “you know” at the end of a sentence. Like, “It was good, for what I paid, you know yourself.” I loved this because it’s such a small difference but it really flavored Molly’s Irish “accent.”

6. Amn’t
Oh my goodness, I wish we had this in American English! “Ain’t” is the closest we’ve had to a good contraction of “am” and “not,” and that one’s never been standard. In fact, it’s so awkward that we use “aren’t I?” (But seriously, “I aren’t”? Come on, American English. Go for the “amn’t”!)

5. Yes or no, or neither!
Instead of “yes” or “no,” you’ll find that Irish English speakers will reply with a complete sentence: “I am,” “it isn’t,” “He doesn’t,” “She can.” This mimics the syntax of Irish, and makes Irish English speakers killer at that game where you can’t answer a question with a yes or a no.

4. Crap.
Okay, it’s not uniquely Irish, but I do find it funny that crap is, according to my research, a very common mild vulgarity in Ireland as well as in the US (and many other English-speaking countries, of coures). I also find it funny that whereas most people I’ve met would use “crappy” as the adjective (“This is a crappy example.”), my research showed the Irish usage to tend more toward “crap” as the adjective (“This is a crap example.”) But neither of those made it in the book.

irish accent gum back576x10243. After
Speaking of Irish English that didn’t make it into my books, Irish English uses the word “after” in a very unique way (in addition to the regular way, of course). Instead of saying “I’ve just read this post,” you might hear an Irish English speaker say “I’m after reading this post.” Which is super hard for American English speakers to decipher, including me, hence not making it in the book.

2. So
Sentence ending with the word “so” have become more popular in American English in the last few years (thanks, Jake from State Farm), but that’s for comic effect. In Ireland, this word is frequently used at the end of a sentence where an American would likely say “then” (which is also used in Ireland). “Well, all righty, so” may not have the same ring to an American’s ears, but only a little Father Ted showed me that this really is a thing in Ireland. All righty, so.

1. Craic
Although the term seems to have originated with an English spelling in the 1970s, the best way to make something uniquely Irish is to use the Irish spelling, right? So this term, meaning fun and good times, is now most popularly spelt craic. Either way, it’s pronounced “crack,” and it’s deadly—but not in the way that “crack” is “deadly” in the States. . . . Oh boy.

Deleted Scene: original opening scene

The first scene of the finished novel wasn’t in the very first draft. Neither was the second scene. The story began with what’s now the third scene, and instead of Molly’s perspective of the arrival of her new priest, we got Zach’s POV. The setup of the story was too difficult to understand jumping in that late, so the previous scenes were added—first the scene of Molly discovering Father Patrick, and later the scene of Zach outside the cathedral. His cover name was also different—Tim O’Leary, a play on LSD advocate Timothy Leary, which turned out to be less funny than I’d hoped. You can see how it’s changed in the excerpt from the award-winning first chapter.

Please note this is basically an unedited rough draft! And I’m resisting the urge to polish it. *tic*tic*tic*

Zach took a deep breath of the musty air of the small church. It was nothing like the chapels he was used to, of course, but he had act like this was his new home.

“Father?” A woman’s voice came from behind him. Dublin accent. Zach closed his eyes for a moment, briefly reveling in the once-familiar sound, before realizing she was addressing him.

“Yes, my child?” He turned around and found the most beautiful Irish woman he’d ever seen—and that was saying a lot, considering he’d lived in Ireland for two years.

As if they knew exactly how to tempt him.

“You’re Father O’Leary?” She raised her eyebrows in surprise, and her expression showed off her deep blue eyes.

“I am.”

“Oh, but you’re so . . . young.”

Zach smiled sheepishly. “Some of us heed the call earlier than others.” He tried to keep his expression unchanged as he scrambled to remember how long seminary was supposed to last.

Four years after college. So at twenty-eight, he was not only a menace to society but also old enough to be a Catholic priest. Of course, he’d only spent two weeks in seminary. Unless you counted four years of early morning seminary in high school.

Somehow, he didn’t think that would count for this parishioner. “And what was your name?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, how silly of me. I’m Molly.”

“Pleased to meet you, Molly.” Zach offered her a hand and she shook it. This would probably be easier than the mission. After all, as a priest, he could still hug members of the opposite sex.

Then again, that might not be any easier. And he’d been home from the mission for seven years. This mission might well be completely different.

“Now, Molly, is there something I can help you with?”

Molly laughed and Zach couldn’t help but smile in return. “I believe I should be askin’ you that—I’m the parish secretary.”

“Oh, good—I guess this is all a little new to me still.” Understatement of the year, at least.

That was probably enough of the commentary on how weird it was to be a Mormon—and an FBI agent—posing as a Catholic priest. If all he could do was think about how funny this really was, he was never going to take this mission seriously.

“Well, what would you like to see first?”

Zach glanced at the suitcase at his feet. “I suppose the rectory would be a good place to start—there is a rectory, right?”

“There is.” She smiled again, but her smile quickly faded as if she were suddenly self-conscious. Zach realized he was returning her smile with perhaps a bit too much charm. He wasn’t supposed to be flirting with her, no matter how pretty she was. He was a Catholic priest now.

And he wasn’t Zach Saint, either. He was Father Tim O’Leary. For now.

“Have you spoken with Father Fitzgerald yet?” Molly asked as she led Zach to the rectory.

“No, I’d only just gotten here when you found me.”

“We’ll introduce you.”

Molly opened the front door to the rectory—unlocked, naturally—and admitted Zach. The living area wasn’t much, but it was better than any apartment he’d had on the mission.

“Be sure to let me know what you’ll be wantin’ for your meals.”

Zach turned back to Molly, one eyebrow raised. “Oh, are you the cook, too?” He belatedly turned down the level of flirtatiousness in his smile.

“Well, in a manner of speakin’.”

“Is that really in your job description?”

Molly shrugged. “Father Patrick says—said,” she corrected herself, glancing down a moment as if to memorialize the slain priest, “that it was more important that he and Father Fitzgerald tend to their ministries than spend their time cookin’ and cleanin’.”

“You clean the rectory, too?”

She smiled shyly and looked away.

“Molly, you won’t—you don’t need to do that for us. For me, anyway.”

She nodded and changed the subject. “Father Fitzgerald’s mobile phone number is by the phone.” She pointed to the kitchen wall where the telephone hung. “And the desk number. Just call me if you’ll be needin’ anythin’.”

“That I will.” Zach glanced back at her, but she was already gone.

Focus. It wasn’t like he’d never had to work with a pretty girl on a mission.

Granted, he’d never had to work with a pretty Irish girl.

Originally posted on my blog

Rewritten scene: original bar scene

Set up: Special Agent Zach Saint is undercover as a Catholic priest after the parish mob murdered the last priest. This is his first week in the parish, and he’s joined one of the parish mobsters (Cally Lonegan) at the local bar. Zach doesn’t drink. Ever.

In the original manuscript, this was the only scene set in the bar. Later drafts added more scenes with Zach taking his investigating into the mobsters’ hangout. (This version is edited for length to participate in a blogfest.) You might notice Zach’s cover has a different surname, and he goes to the bar to meets with a totally different mobster than in the book, both edits in the last few months before publication.

The bartender placed fresh glasses in front of Zach and Cally Lonegan. Zach took a tentative sip of his; it was bitter and alcohol-free as his last four drinks. Lonegan had guzzled 90-proof gin as fast as Zach could down his tonic and limes.

Lonegan reached for his tumbler, but looked away at the last second. The momentary distraction was timed perfectly for Lonegan to knock the glass over and spill the juniper-based spirit in Zach’s lap.

Great. Sighing, Zach grabbed a towel from across the bar to mop up the mess. Oblivious, Lonegan was busy flagging down a friend. “Doyle!” Even with the crowd, his shout was twenty decibels too loud. But it wasn’t the shouting that had Zach’s attention—was this Murphy?

Before he looked around, the full case file flashed through Zach’s mind. The crime scene photos of the last underling Murphy had had executed sprang to the forefront. He turned to follow Lonegan’s gaze.

Eyeing Zach, a man who carried his weight like he was used to being obeyed approached the bar. He looked just like his file photo: tall, hefty, and subtly menacing. “What kind of company you keeping now, Cal?”

“Who, this?” He punched Zach in the shoulder harder than necessary. “This is Father Tim. Salt of the Earth, that’s for sure!” Lonegan roared with laughter.

“Doyle Murphy.” The newcomer—the resident mob boss—settled at Zach’s left. Well, that was easier than he expected.

As long as he didn’t end up like the last guy who Murphy didn’t trust. The blood spatter on the sedate floral sofa hung in his mind. The Bureau believed the guy had been an hour late to deliver a shipment.

And then there was Father Patrick.

Zach fought back his racing pulse and shook the mobster’s hand. He’d been this close to vicious killers before. Worked with them, even. But a nagging feeling in his gut said ingratiating himself to this control freak over the next weeks—months, maybe—would be the most dangerous assignment he’d faced yet.

Yes, there’s more to the scene—but that’s where the chapter ends.

Originally posted on my blog

Photo by Silus Grok

Tour of Holy Name Cathedral

St. Adelaide is a fictional Catholic parish, but Saints & Spies starts with Zach at Chicago’s cathedral, which is 100% real, right down to the bullet hole from a mob hit. If you know where to look, you can get a brief glimpse of the hole as well as a look inside the cathedral here:

(The bullet hole is above the cornerstone, marked with the building year, as seen here.)

You can also get a look at Holy Name Cathedral in their welcome video. (Yep, the cathedral has a YouTube channel!)

Saints & Suspects inspiration collage

I’ve (finally) begun editing book two of the series! The biggest breakthrough so far: the title. (Yep, it only took me seven years to find the one that is PERFECT . . . and kind of obvious.) To celebrate the still-kind-of-far-out-there-but-upcoming release of Saints & Suspects, and by popular request, I’ve made a collage of some of the best parts of the book!

saints and suspects collage

Photo credits (clockwise from top left, via Flickr/CC unless otherwise noted): Ring—Heather Matthews, Chicago—Mike Boening, Irish dancers—Patrick, Chicago River dyed green—Matthew Smith, the breakup—Terrell Woods, bomb (yes, made of carrots)—Philip Bragg, background graffiti—Jeremy Keith, FBI badge & gun (public domain)—FBI via Wikipedia

Good eats: Sticky Toffee Pudding

In Saints & Suspects, Grace Canavan, our Irish antagonist, serves Zach and Molly sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Like Zach and Molly don’t point out, the dish was invented in England. But it’s so tasty it’s definitely worth sharing!

The first time I was introduced to this dessert was through a Häagen-Dazs® ice cream contest, where fans entered their own flavor choices. After watching sticky toffee pudding ice cream win the Food Network special, my husband and I had to try the flavor, and we loved the dark, date cake pieces and the toffee sauce.

The Great British Bake Off inspired my first attempt at making this, using a BBC recipe. I learned the hard way that, although it’s passable in some recipes, you should not substitute baking soda for baking powder in this recipe, which calls for both. One of these days I’ll track down the photo (I’ve searched through three years of pictures to find it to no avail!), but “volcano” might not be an inaccurate way to describe the experience.

Eventually we did get all the burned pudding off the bottom of my oven!


Pudding (date studded cake)
¼ c butter, room temperature, plus more for pan (or use shortening on pan)
1½ c sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1½ c chopped pitted dates
1¼ c water
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 c white sugar
2 large eggs

Toffee sauce
1¼ c packed light brown sugar
½ c heavy whipping cream
¼ c butter
½ tsp vanilla extract
Optional whipped cream or vanilla ice cream*

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour 12 cup muffin tin (you may also need 1-2 1-cup ramekins). Pour dates and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
2. Remove from heat and add baking soda. The mixture will foam. Set aside and let cool.
3. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.
4. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla until the mixture resembles pea-sized crumbs. Beat in one egg.
5. Stir in half the flour mixture and half the date mixture.
6. Repeat with remaining egg, flour mixture and date mixture.
7. Pour batter into muffin cups, filling cups ⅔ full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool in pan 20 minutes.

8. In a small saucepan, bring sugar, cream and butter to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil, still stirring, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla.
9. Serve pudding topped with sauce and optional whipped cream or ice cream.

* If you have leftover cream, combine ½ c cream, 2 Tbsp sugar and a few drops of vanilla. Freeze in a shallow pan, stirring every 5 minutes, until you have instant vanilla soft serve!

Adapted from Epicurious

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