Whenever television programs or academics discuss audience demographics and true crime, they usually recite the fact that it’s women over forty years old who are most interested in accounts of real-life cases. When asked why, I’m sure most would answer they’re fascinated by the work of the detectives rather than the criminals. I know this is certainly true for me. There’s also a long tradition of women writers of crime fiction; Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers being just two who spring to mind. Another is Toni Kief, author of the Mildred Unchained series. I was fortunate enough to discuss crime fiction with her as a part of a panel of writers during a recent online literary festival. She’s now joined me again for this month’s blog to discuss the inspirations behind her work, her colourful past, and her exciting new release.

1) Could you start with telling us a bit about yourself and your writing?
I’m from a small Midwestern town, Pekin, Illinois, and a family of high spirits and laughter.  My entire life Father claimed he named me after a stripper in the 1940s. I’ve caught buses and moved west, south and finally settled in a smaller town in Washington state. I am constantly amazed by the mountains and trees. My story includes decades in insurance as one of the first women outside casualty investigators in Florida. Also, a long-time civil rights activist with an FBI file.  At sixty years old, a friend dared me to write. We wrote a cookbook based on women from history and myth, Dangerous Dishes and the Food they Inspire. It hasn’t been published. Soon after I joined a writer’s group that specialized in flash fiction, which developed into novels. I have coined my genre as OA which is Old Adult, couldn’t let those YAs get all the attention. Retired, I now have 6 books published, and #7 is very close to release. I’m a co-founder of The Writers Cooperative of the Pacific Northwest and in this time of pandemic, I’ve been walking the cemetery looking for plots. (Oh, and picking up trash – I can’t ignore it.)

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2) The concept of your Mildred Unchained series is one I haven’t seen before. What was the inspiration behind it? 
Tell the truth I thought of her name, Mildred Petrie, and then she took over the rest. It was a stand-alone book, then there was romance, murder, lies and cheats. Now I have a 5th one picking at my brain.  I’m sure my years investigating claims in casinos helped me more than I like to admit.

3)  Why did you choose to write Mildred as an older lady? 
As I have been aging, I noticed how women over 50 seem to disappear. No longer noticed. So, I decided to make it into a “super power”. No one is better than an older woman who is ignored and dismissed to watch. I guess I’m fighting the idea that we get frail and dumb, and something I haven’t noticed in my associations.

4) There’s a lot of humour in your books. Do you think it’s important for crime fiction books to have a balance of humour and violence? Why?
I believe in life we laugh more than we cry. So, it seemed like a natural part of life and adds realism, giving the character’s depth.

5) Could you tell us a bit about your upcoming release?
Saints, Strangers and Rosehip Tea is based on one of the lost historical people. Susanna Jackson -White/Winslow. Life and family placed her on the Mayflower in 1620 and her birth last name has just been discovered in the past two years. So often the women are overlooked and she was one of the survivors of the first winter. She had a child when they were at anchor near Cape Cod, and even though her husband and ½ the other passengers died, she kept her sons alive and was one of the four adult women alive at the first Thanksgiving.

Susanna went on to be a driving force behind her second husband, Edward Winslow, well known historically. I found her in a family tree on my paternal grandmother’s side of the family and spent four years researching. 

6)  If you could meet one of your literary creations in real-life, who would it be and why?
I would want to meet Mildred Petrie, mostly to meet at the buffet and to eat all of the desserts. She has a positive nature and not much of a filter. We would laugh, maybe have a drink or two, too.

7)  What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing a crime fiction book?
Do it, but dig deep and research. Also, a good idea to clear your search history if you should catch COVID 19. If you have a question, research it. I have found notes scribbled that would cause a police investigation. My granddaughter asked the other day “Is this note for me?” When I looked it was “Kill Mrs Winslow and maybe that kid too.” I let her off the hook on that one and I did it with a keyboard.

8) How can readers connect with you?
By visiting my website at: http://tonikief.com
By sending me an email at: Tonikayk@hotmail.com
By visiting my Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Toni-Kief/e/B01CR8V3RG/ref

I’d like to thank Toni for taking the time to chat with me today and I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out about her work as much as I have. Don’t forget you can discover the Mildred Unchained series for yourself by purchasing it from your regular Amazon marketplace.


~ T.G. Campbell, September 2020