Profiles in Characters

What Makes Annie (Tillery) Tick?

You’re writing a book to appeal to a certain market. First you need to research your market. Who will be looking at your marketing material, your book cover, and most importantly that blurb on the back that introduces your character?

My choice was to write a mystery series for kids. My background teaching science, particularly forensic science, opened a whole world of possibilities for plots. But I thought the thing that will grab my young readers is my main character. Thus, came Annie Tillery.

Creating Annie was a joy, just great fun. Many of my readers ask me if Annie is me. My answer is that Annie is the teen I would have loved to have been. I enjoyed creating a fantasy world and putting Annie into it to see what she would do. You know, sometimes the characters make the decisions. That being said, I manufactured my girl sleuth

The process was like dressing a paper doll. Let’s see what the basic body type is. This is important! Your readers want to visualize what she looks like.images I decided to address this issue (which, by the way, was brought to my attention by my editors) by adding a description somewhere early in each book. Next, I tried on, not different clothing, but different characteristics. Some of the choices for a junior sleuth were: brave vs. reckless, smart vs. nerdy, enthusiastic vs. low key, sneaky vs. inventive, and feisty vs. passive aggressive.

Annie’s final personality includes some degree of all those traits. It depends on the circumstances. Each trait comes to play as the plot demands.

Searching the Attic for Charlotte

Searching the Attic   for Charlotte


“I’ve seen the ghost,” whispered Ty. Was he testing me?

It’s also important to give Annie a personal life, family, boyfriend and such, and not a perfect family, but one that presents her with challenges and brings out the characteristics that will endear her to her reader.  Or, make them angry at her.

And then, there is the boyfriend!


teen mystery Annie Tillery mysteries

Trouble on the Brooklyn Bridge



My beloved once told me that I was a good story teller, and it went to my head. That comment sent me on the road to making up stories for my students about the world of science, scientists and the very students in my classroom. These silly stories received a warm enough welcome that just fueled the fire of my ego. It moved me to get more serious about investing my energies into producing a story big enough for a book.

Ideas can come. And then, they can go.

Ideas can come. And then, they can go.

But what kind of book? I lived in a world of classrooms filled with young students, whose minds were like sponges when it came to a good story. So, I decided to attempt a mystery with an attractive young couple who meet a ghost on one of the best beaches on the East Coast, Fire Island.

I just needed to create a main character who would suck the reader into the story. That became the major quest. I had a wealth of role models in my students and that gave rise to my smart (not nerdy), attractive (not gorgeous), daring Annie Tillery. Early in this quest for the main character I decided that Annie would not do it all alone, and I created Tyler Egan, the most perfect boyfriend. Annie and Ty became the “dynamic duo” of my series.

Ty is not only the love of Annie’s life, but her best friend. Being a bit older he helps her with the issue she has with her alcoholic mother and her father who works overseas.  Ty’s dad is an alcoholic too. Ty admires Annie’s fine ability to puzzle out mysteries and Annie looks up to Ty for his support and strength. The books include their sweet little romance which adds to the exciting flavor of a page turning story.

The history of Fire Island lends itself to ghost stories. This ghost happens to be hiding a secret that impacts on national security. The book, The Madonna Ghost, is the first of a series called Annie Tillery Mysteries.

This book sold locally, inspiring me to move on to the next book, Girl with Pencil Drawing. One day I was sitting on my stool at the check-out desk in the library at Seaford High School. No one was in the library since the librarian did his best to keep kids away from “his” books. I loved library duty. It was quiet and I had a chance to write the case study “mystery stories” I created for my forensic science classes.

I was dating a man (my next beloved) who lived in Brooklyn Heights in an old brownstone that had a hidden room in his basement. I was teaching about how art pieces are authenticated and forgeries detected. I had just seen “The Train”, a classic film about the fate of the art the Nazis confiscated during WWII. These elements came together forming the basis for what I thought was a great stand-alone next Annie Tillery mystery.

The truth is that I did write this first draft and put it away for a few years. When I picked it up again and read it, I realized I didn’t know word one about book writing, even though I had a good story and credible research. I decided it was time to invest in a writing course, specializing in producing a novel. This is really where Annie Tillery Mysteries was born.

In 2010 and 2011 I self-published The Madonna Ghost and Girl with Pencil, Drawing. In 2014 I published Secrets in the Fairy Chimneys and in 2016 The Mystery of the Lost Avenger.

Secrets in the Fairy Chimneys has it all. The story is set in exotic Istanbul and Cappadocia, a land of enchanted caves and rock formations. The plot involves ancient mysteries, archaeological secrets, and thieves who will commit murder rather than give up the treasures they steal. Annie acquires new friends. Cedric Zeeks is trying to find a link between his African ancestors and the inhabitants of a 9,000 year old town in Cappadocia.  Yelda and Ahmet Atsut, twins with a Ouija board and awesome sleuthing talents, help Annie and boyfriend, Ty Egan, solve the mysteries, both the ancient ones and the ones that threaten them as they work the archaeological dig.

  The Mystery of the Lost Avenger takes place in two times, the present and in 1943. The mystery revolves around Annie’s great grandmother, Charlotte Wheeler, who was a Womens Air Service Pilot (WASP) during WWII. She tested and flew the Avenger aircraft for Grumann Aviation Corp. and became enmeshed in some wartime intrigue at the plant. Annie and Ty, and her mother, Carol Wheeler, become involved when the wreckage of an Avenger airplane, crashed in 1943, is discovered with a note from Charlotte implying a mystery about the plane. When NCIS contacts Carol, the investigation into Charlotte’s past begins. Buckle you seat belts and prepare for take-off!

Self- publishing has given me a confusing maze of opportunities. My world has been filled with websites, contests, book fairs, webinars, and endless newsletters claiming to imbue me with the secrets of becoming a “successful” writer. And after self-publishing four books, I think it’s about time to turn to the other side of publishing, the endless stream of rejections from traditional publishers. I’ve learned a lot about the book world and it boils down to a contest between those rejections vs. the decisions, decisions, decisions of the self-publishing world.

I produce a local access TV show, The Writer’s Dream, seen on YouTube. I interview authors about their books and the elements of their journey including writing, publishing and marketing. I have a question I like to ask them: What do you want to get out of the author’s journey? I’m not really sure I can answer this myself.

The goals that come to mind include a best-seller, fame, a movie contract (now you’re talkin’), recognition as a writer, reaching out to the reader with a good story, sharing information, elevating the reader with an inspiring story, and on and on. I started out just wanting to write a good story and have some fun. Where it goes from here? Your guess is as good as mine.




I produce a local access TV show, THE WRITER’S DREAM. I interview local authors regarding how they write, publish and market their books. It’s pretty impressive how many different ideas arise to create the books featured on the show. I’ll share some of the things that make me proud to be an author.

For instance, most of the authors I interview never planned on writing and publishing their works. Some say they’ve always written. Most have no formal training as writers. A fair number work or worked in the publishing industry.

Well, where did that combination of ideas, talent and persistence come from? Many authors claim that the book arose from their non-author professional lives. A common theme is teacher/professor/educator turned author. It seems that the desire to enlighten and share the jewels of their subject matter propels them into the worlds of fiction and non-fiction writers. Fictionalized characters lead the reader to experiences, sensations and locations that the reader may never get to experience any other way, and that the author wishes to share.

I really enjoy interviewing educators as my journey is so similar. The elements of that journey include having a knowledge base, creating the lessons and stories necessary to convey that knowledge, making that lesson stick, sneaking in the facts, and most of all, snagging their interest.


Civilizations are defined by their stories. The authors I have interviewed want the young folks who read these stories to carry on those stories and traditions.

For example, one of my guests, James A. Perez, author of Maia and Icarus, brings in a new twist on the Greek Mythology tale of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun. https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maia+and+icarus



Another guest, Barbara Ann Mojica, has written the Little Miss History series, taking the reader to a number of the U.S. National Parks, enabling them to not only enjoy the natural wonders of these places, but to learn their history. http://www.littlemisshistory.com/


Many of the authors express concern that kids are isolating behind social media. They know, when they write their books, that they must achieve a balance between including facts and keeping their books exciting. All of us are wondering what the effect of social media will have on the acquisition of true knowledge.

Next time, we’ll explore writing memoirs.

Interviews with both Perez and Mojica will appear on YouTube soon. Look for them.

I have included the interior illustrations for The Mystery of the Lost Avenger. I think my illustrator Marianne Savage did a great job on book cover and illustrations. Here they are.


bookcoverMyster of the Lost Avenger -R2

Searching the Attic for Charlotte

Searching the Attic for Charlotte Wheeler, Annie’s great grandmother and test pilot.

Charlotte in Hangar - reduced

Searching the Attic for Charlotte Wheeler, Annie’s great grandmother and test pilot.


Annie, Ty and Trouble search for clues in treasures from the attic.





Here are some cool posters and photos I found when I researched the role of women in WWII, especially those who were involved with the manufacture, testing and flying of milItary aircraft.

An American Icon

An American Icon

An American Icon

An American Icon

The Avenger

The Avenger

images (2)

Dreaming about the Pilot who will fly this plane?


Proud, Confident and Competent.
























bookcoverMyster of the Lost Avenger -R2Hey Fans of Annie Tillery Mysteries, the next adventure is on its way. Annie’s great grandmother was a young woman, in love with a pilot, during WWII. She had a job with a defense contractor that produced planes used to fight in a war that would save democracy. She tested the planes, and flew them to naval bases. Her fiancé flew the planes in battle.

In the new story, The Mystery of the Lost Avenger, the wreckage of one of these planes is found in the mountains of Appalachia. It crashed in 1943 on its way to a naval base. In it is a note, written by Annie’s great grandmother, Charlotte Wheeler. Even though the crash happened many years ago, the Navy is investigating the cold case of one of its planes. NCIS finds a note in the plane, which they trace to Charlotte, and then to her surviving family member, Annie’s mother, Carol Wheeler. And so, the mystery begins.

Why did the plane crash? What did Charlotte Wheeler’s note mean? Annie and her mother decide to dig into Great Gramma’s past. They discover a packet of letters between Charlotte and her fiancé, a Navy pilot. There is a code to be broken in these letters, a ghost to be confronted, and The Mystery of the Lost Avenger to be solved.

Charlotte finds a secret.

Charlotte finds a secret.

Annie and her boyfriend, newly licensed pilot Ty Egan, fly into this intriguing and puzzling adventure; planes, pilots, and wartime intrigue. Do you know what your great grandmother was doing?

The People in the Story

Annie Tillery-Annie is the Point of View character. She is the title character. Annie lives with her aunt, Jill Tillery, NYC police detective. Her natural curiosity draws her into situations that just need to be unraveled, solved, or otherwise brought to justice. Her connections with Aunt Jill and her father, who works for the State Dept., enable her to access the tools necessary to solve the mystery d’jour.

Tyler Egan-Ty is Annie’s boyfriend. The combined brain power, dedication to each other’s safety, and confidence in each other’s abilities make them a formidable team. Their lovely little romance sure adds an element to the stories that keeps readers wanting to hear more.

Lt. Jill Tillery-Annie’s Aunt J, a force to be reckoned with, she provides access to the world of forensic science and police protocol that help Annie and Ty in the “pursuit of justice and the American way”.

Randall Tillery-Annie’s Dad helps Aunt J provide her with warmth, stability and advice, not just about the current mystery, but about her life.

Carol Wheeler/ Annie’s Mother -Annie and her mother have a strained relationship because of Carol’s substance abuse problem. In this story Carol is the main conduit to Annie’s ancestors and family DNA. They both move tentatively to a better relationship.

Searching the Attic for Charlotte

Searching the Attic for Charlotte

Jazz Wiedermeier- Ty’s flying instructor provides some interesting side-lights on flying and planes .

Felix Wiedermeier- Jazz’s father sheds some light on what it was like to work in the Grumann plant during WWII, and how the WASP’s (Women’s Air Service Pilots) fit into the war effort. He also provides some necessary insights into the plot.

Charlotte Wheeler- Annie’s great-grandmother is the central character of the story. It is her story during her time at the Grumann plant during WWII that is the mystery Annie, Carol and Ty must solve.

Frank Bradenton- Frank, aWWII Avenger pilot, was Charlotte’s fiancé.

Doc Egan- Ty’s uncle lends his services as a former CIA operative to unravelling what happened back in 1943 that impacted on Charlotte and her WASP buddies.

Alice D’Elia- As local Fire Island historian, Alice provides useful information about L.I.’s role during WWII. She is also a ghost hunter.

The Flying Ladies: They are Charlotte’s WASP buddies. They know what happened in 1943, and tell Annie about her great-grandmother, her courage, her fiancé, and her contribution as a woman in WWII.

  • Angie Frank
  • Maxine Flynn
  • Edie Frank
  • Connie Faber

    An American Icon

    An American Icon


Finally! In the next few weeks, the new Annie Tillery, The Mystery of the Lost Avenger, will be available. I’d like to provide Annie Fans with some previews. The book takes place in two times, the present and in 1943. The mystery revolves around Annie’s great grandmother, Charlotte Wheeler, who was a Womens Air Service Pilot (WASP) during WWII. She tested and flew the Avenger aircraft for Grumann Aviation Corp. and became enmeshed in some wartime intrigue at the plant. Included here are two excerpts, one from each time period. In future posts I will let you know about the setting, the adventures, and best of all the characters. Buckle you seat belts and prepare for take-off!

bookcoverMyster of the Lost Avenger -R2


The Dangers of Flying Solo

The Present

Carol Wheeler sat in her car on a suburban street in New Windsor, Maryland. Her hand shook as she read the letter from the Department of the Navy for perhaps the twentieth time. It concerned something they had discovered about her grandmother’s role in World War II. The Navy had found a note in the wreckage of a plane that crashed in 1943, recently recovered in Appalachia. The note was traced to Charlotte Wheeler, Carol’s grandmother. Why had her grandmother put a note in a fighter plane that was being flown by someone else to a California air base? Charlotte had not been flying that plane. She did not die in 1943.

Carol pulled into the driveway of the home she grew up in and stared at it, memories of her childhood and school days flooding back. Maybe I can find something in the attic that will shed some light on this mystery. After all she did live here. Carol tucked the letter into her purse, shivering at the idea of entering that attic. Fishing in her purse, she pulled out the keys she needed to get into both the house, now occupied by a tenant, and the attic. I feel like a sneak thief, she thought. I’ll leave a note for Tallie. I don’t want her to think I snoop around here at will. I did send her a note. “Darn it! Why do I feel so guilty? I own this place,” she said, slamming the car door.

Gathering her resolve, Carol fumbled with the keys, finally selecting the correct one and entered the house by the side door, made her way to the second floor, and unlocked the door to the attic stairs.

“It smells the same. Probably nobody has touched a thing here since I put Mom in the nursing home. They’re going to put me in the loony bin if I don’t stop talking to myself.”

The heat in the attic produced a sheen of sweat all over Carol’s body, making her a bit light-headed. I’ll have to get out of here fast, she thought, propping the door open.

“Good. The trunks are where I remember them. Before she died, Mom told me all the family mementos are packed inside of them.”

Carol approached the trunks. Two were stained oak with barrel tops, bound in brass straps. The hardware was beginning to show signs of rust. The third one was a maroon steamer trunk, the kind used by immigrants bound for America on ocean liners. This was the one she opened. A strong smell of cinnamon and cloves rose from it. Inside were packets of letters. She scooped them up, and put them in her tote. The second trunk held picture albums. “It’s too much to carry. I’ll have to come back with someone.”

Curiosity got the best of her and Carol lifted a few framed pictures, turning them to the light from the single bare bulb. She gasped. The young woman in the one photo that fell out of the group looked back at her like a mirror image. The photograph was signed in the bottom right corner, Charlotte. My grandmother, Carol mused. That could just as well be me, she thought.

The door to the attic slammed, making Carol jump and clutch the photos to her chest.

“Who’s there?”

Carol ran to the door, pulling at it. It was stuck. She put the photos on a bureau and pulled at the knob with all her might. The door opened, nearly toppling her to the floor. She looked down the long hall where the door to the rest of the house stood open. A woman with a carefully pinned up-do of blonde curls, in a knee-length floral print dress was heading to the floor below.

“Tallie, is that you? Wait! Who is that? What are you doing in my house?”

There was no answer. The photo of Charlotte popped into Carol’s head. She shook herself to clear that vision, her hands trembling.

“That’s impossible,” she whispered. She put the photos back in the trunk, grabbed her tote, and ran out of the house. Heart pounding, Carol dropped the keys as she tried to lock the door.

Safely inside her car, she said, “What in the world was THAT? I’m not coming here alone again, she thought. Turning to the house, she muttered, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but did I just see one?”



            The Last Flight of Avenger # 3008

         June 12, 1943

          At 6AM, the sun made a brief appearance on the horizon before hiding behind the cloud bank building to the east. Somewhere in that direction, ships carrying troops and supplies to the Allies in Europe were being preyed upon by German U-boats- a wolf pack that sought to destroy the Allies’ effort to win the war.

The tarmac was damp with the night’s deposit of dew and the air smelled of the Atlantic Ocean only a few miles away. No wind, no rain, especially to the west where newly built planes were headed to U.S. Navy pilots who would fly them to win the war in the Pacific.

“Charlotte Wheeler,” the dispatcher known as Sarge called out.

 A tall woman in a brown flight suit hefting a messenger bag moved toward the plane indicated by Sarge’s outstretched hand.

“Sign here. Charlotte Wheeler, right?”

“You forgot who I am?” Charlotte mumbled sarcastically. “I need to check a few things, Sarge.”

 Charlotte completed a walk around the plane, pausing by the wing on the left side. She climbed up on the wing, fished in her pocket for something, slid into the cockpit like the pro she was, and came out about thirty seconds later. Charlotte knew everything there was to know about the Avenger. She had built them and flown them to the west coast naval base where they were loaded onto aircraft carriers that would take the planes and the pilots trained to fly them to fight the Japanese fleet.

“I’m going inside for a minute. I have to check something I found,” Charlotte called over her shoulder to Sarge.

“You’ll lose your place,” he called back.

“Just one minute!”

Charlotte disappeared into the hangar and Sarge called out, “Brenda McPhee!”

Brenda walked up, crossed out Charlotte’s name, replaced it with her own signature, and against her training, did an incomplete check of the plane. She trusted that Charlotte’s inspection was good enough. All of this took three minutes. Brenda climbed into the cockpit. By the time she finished a quick cockpit check and fastened her seatbelt, Charlotte had not reappeared.

The grounds man pulled out the wheel chocks and gave Brenda the signal to go. As Brenda taxied toward the runway, Charlotte emerged from the hangar. When she heard the roar of her plane speeding down the runway, she looked for Sarge. She saw him talking to a guy in civilian clothes, a dark suit and a fedora pulled low, showing only his profile. Sarge said something to the suit and he turned away, walking briskly to the exit.  Sarge saw Charlotte and she gave him a hard look. He, too, turned away. Brenda and the plane were never seen or heard from again.