Blog posts about the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and their author Rabbi Ilene Schneider

Archive for May, 2017


Read all about how my quick and simple solution to naming characters wasn’t. Now on “Bookbrowsing,” PJ Nunn’s site:…-ilene-schneider/


A return appearance here by J. L. (Janet) Greger, author of the Science Traveler Thriller/Mystery series. In her life before becoming a fiction writer, Janet was a professor in the biological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she likes to include “sound bites” on science and on exotic locations in her mysteries. Her books include Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers [PSWA] annual contest and finalist for New Mexico–Arizona book award), I Saw You in Beirut,Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA annual contest), and the latest Riddled with Clues

 In Riddled with Clues, a hospitalized friend (Xave Zack) gives Sara Almquist a note, which he received just before he was severely injured while investigating the movement of drugs into the U.S. The note is signed by “Red from Udon Thani.” However, he doesn’t know anyone called Red, and the last time he was in Udon Thani was during the Vietnam War. After Sara listens to his rambling tale of all the possibilities, both are assaulted. Xave is left comatose. Sara must determine whether the attacks were related to events during the secret war in Laos fifty years ago or to the modern-day drug trade. As she struggles to survive, she questions who to trust: the local cops, her absent best friend (Sanders), the FBI, or a homeless veteran who leaves puzzling riddles as clues. 

The paperback and Kindle versions of Riddled with Clues are available from Amazon at  I Saw You in Beirut ( and Malignancy ( are also available from Amazon.

To learn more, visit her website: or her Amazon author page:

And to learn her tips on keeping characters realistic, even when not real, read on:


Are you like me? I think it’s a mistake to base a character too closely on real people. (I don’t want to be sued.) On the other hand, characters need to be realistic.

Interesting characters don’t have to be bizarre. I love Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, but I don’t want to write a mystery with another neurotic genius. Let’s face it – most problems are solved by normal people, albeit sometimes smarter or more observant than most. However, the protagonist of a mystery needs a quirk or two to pique readers’ interests.

Sara Almquist, the lead character in my thrillers: Riddled with Clues, I Saw You in Beirut, and Malignancy, is an epidemiologist (a scientist who studies the incidence and control of diseases in populations). Her profession gives her legitimate reasons to pry into everyone else’s business and makes her a whiz at handling large data sets. She’s normal, but maybe a bit cranky and nosy. She’s also dotty about her dog, Bug. [Ilene here:  As is Janet.]

Realistic characters can be amalgams of several real people. I’ve done pet therapy at the VA campus in Albuquerque for almost ten years. My dog and I have met many veterans in rehab facilities. The veterans portrayed in Riddled with Clues are composites of these men. However, the character Bug in my novels is based on my real Japanese Chin dog, Bug. (He won’t sue me.)

Fictional characters can have real experiences. A medic in Laos during the Vietnam War in the 1960s shared his memoirs with me. I used his notes to create many of the clues mentioned by Xave Zack in Chapter 2 of Riddled with Clues. The real medic wants me to note he doesn’t resemble the character Xave Zack in my novels, but he did treat men covered with hundreds of leeches, a baby monkey, and Hmong children with yaws and vitamin A deficiency besides lots of wounded soldiers.

Vital characters need to grow and adapt to different situations. You could argue comedic or pathetic characters can violate this rule. However, major characters in a series become boring if they’re static and always predictable.

I don’t want to give away a subplot, but in this thriller both Sara and her special friend, Sanders, assess their past assumptions about relationships and what they value in others. It’s an opportunity for growth and mistakes.

Characters, at least in a thriller, need to act on their beliefs and concerns not just talk about them. However, action scenes are illogical to readers if they don’t understand the individuals’ motivations.

Now aren’t you curious about my characters’ motivations and actions?

Now it’s your turn. How do you create realistic fictional characters?




Another great review on Amazon for YOM KILLER!
Rabbi Aviva Cohen brings justice with humor in Yom Killer
Slow to develop what the mystery is, Yom Killer is nonetheless a winner. Readers will find a strong female protagonist, familiar characters, an intriguing series of incidents and clues, and moderate and friendly Jewish content accessible to all levels of knowledge. Plenty of dry humor frames the family story that plays out alongside the mystery.
Early hints play out gradually as we get to know the characters, potential layers of deception, and ultimately what crimes are committed and by whom. The mystery and the the characters seem familiar and generally realistic.
Hints at previous crimes solved by protagonist/sleuth Rabbi Aviva Cohen are well placed to suggest that she is both an ally and a bit of a bother to the police, including her ex-husband who plays a major role in this novel despite being out of his jurisdiction. And the layers of Judaism are generally well addressed to ease the non-Jewish or lesser-educated Jewish reader. If anything, I thought there could have been a little more Jewish flavor throughout the story — but that’s the kind of reader I am.
All in all a good read. 4 plus stars.


I’m always thrilled to welcome Marilyn (aka F. M.) Meredith to my blog. Today she is discussing “Choosing Names for Characters and ‘Rules’ I’ve Broken.” 

When I first began writing the Rocky Bluff P.D. series I didn’t know as much about writing as I do now. There are some rules or suggestions about character names that are to help the reader no tget confused about who is who. Some of these include not having names that sound alike or rhyme, not using names with the same first letter—that’s the one I’ve broken the most. Another is using names that are right for the time period. No problem with that since the series is contemporary. Picking names that somehow convey the character—like not naming a strong male character Cuthbert.

With this particular book I had two names I had to use because two people who happen to be friends won a contest to be characters in the book and they requested to be a particular type of person. I’m not going to explain further because I don’t want to spoil anything.

The character who appears in all the books is Doug Milligan. I have a cousin and a nephew with the name Doug and I’ve always liked the name.

I’ve had the most fun with a character called Gordon Butler. When he first appeared, I had no idea he would become so important in other books. The name just seems to fit him.

My first African American character is called Felix Zachary. I don’t remember where Felix came from, but Zachary seemed like the perfect surname for this ongoing character. Chandra Taylor is the new police chief, also African American, and the name came out of nowhere and fits her perfectly.

Sometimes I have to work at finding the right name and for that purpose I’ve hung onto graduation programs over the years, a wonderful collection of first and last names. And of course, if I’m looking for a particular ethnic name, the Internet is a great source.

If a name doesn’t fit a character, I have a hard time remembering it. When that happens, I know I need to come up with a new name.

What about you other authors out there? Do you have a system for choosing names for your characters?


#13 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Unresolved, by F. M. (aka Marilyn) Meredith

Rocky Bluff P.D. is underpaid and understaffed and when two dead bodies turn up, the department is stretched to the limit. The mayor is the first body discovered, the second an older woman whose death is caused in a bizarre manner. Because no one liked the mayor, including hisestran ged wife and the members of the city council, the suspects are many, but each one has an alibi.

Copies may be purchased from Book and Table by emailing with a 10% discount and free shipping and from all the usual places.




F. M. Meredith lived for many years in a small beach community much like Rocky Bluff. She has many relatives and friends who are in law enforcement and share their experiences and expertise with her. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra.

Visit her at and her blog at




Tomorrow, May 4, she answers the question “Why a Blog Tour?” on