The Writers: Meet the Characters of Magnolia Bluff

It’s critique night for the writers gathering at the Magnolia Bluff library. Or is it criticism night? Murder? Critique night can be almost as bad.

There they sit, the members of the Magnolia Bluff Writers Association.

Caroline McCluskey. She’s the town librarian.

Reverend Billy Bob Baskin. He’s the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church.

Daphne Leigh. She’s a beautician.

Graham Huston. He’s the editor of the weekly newspaper.

LouEllen Mueller. She runs a country honky-tonk on the edge of town.

It’s critique night.

Or is it criticism night?

In Dewey Decimal Dilemma, book 7 of the Magnolia Bluff Crime Chronicles, writers read their work at their own risk, and feelings are laid bare.


Critique night is almost as bad.


Linda Pirtle, author of Dewey Decimal Dilemma

Caroline tapped her gavel on the table. “Meeting called to order.” She looked around the table at her colleagues. “Folks, even though she’s no stranger and has given you haircuts and perms for years, I’d like to introduce our newest member to you: Daphne Leigh.”

“Here, here,” Baskin said, giving Daphne a high-five. “Welcome aboard.”

“Okay, as I recall from our last meeting, we decided that the

person seated next to Graham would be our first victim,” Pauline Tidwell, the recording secretary said. “And, I’m sorry to say that would be you, Daphne.”

A few relieved chuckles from the others told Caroline that now – before giving Huston an opportunity to speak – would be a good time to review the purpose of the critique group.

“Okay, let’s remember to offer constructive comments in a positive way. No need to insult anyone.” Caroline said, looking directly at Graham Huston. “And since our illustrious newspaper editor has an interview after our meeting, we’ll postpone our usual social hour until the end of meeting. Let’s give an applause to LouEllen who so graciously provided snacks.”

Huston grinned. “Thank you, Madame President.” He turned to Daphne, “Are you ready to read the first fifteen hundred words of your story?”

“Yes, sir.” She passed around copies of her pages so that everyone could silently read along with her.

Thurgood smiled. “Why, Daphne, I’m surprised.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Baskin.

“Three evenings a week, Daphne comes by the coffee shop on her way home. She always sits at the corner table and writes poetry.”

Baskin’s dark chocolate eyes lit up. “I see.” Turning to Daphne, he said, “Good for you. I’m sure all of us will enjoy your story.”

“Okay, you two guys, quit jawing and let Daphne begin,” instructed Huston.

“Here, here,” said LouEllen. She pushed an unruly lock of her long, blonde hair over her ear and leaned forward, propping both elbows on the table and revealing an ample cleavage in the process.

Caroline choked back a giggle when the good reverend quickly turned his gaze back to the newbie short story author

poised to read. She noticed that Thurgood’s attention lingered until LouEllen winked at him. I wonder about those two.

“The title of my first short story is…”

And that’s as far as Daphne read.

Graham Huston interrupted. “‘The Stranger in My Chair.’ What kind of title is that? Tell me you haven’t re-written the three bears and goldie-what’s-her-name?”

Now, Graham, don’t be rude. Let the woman read her story,” LouEllen chided.

Mouth agape, Daphne sat frozen, not knowing what to do until Caroline said softly. “Yes, dear, go ahead. We’re all anxious to hear it.” She nodded and smiled encouragingly.

Billy Bob used a blue ballpoint pen with First Presbyterian Church engraved on its side. He made checkmarks at the end of several lines. Evidently, Caroline thought, he would make comments about those phrases when it came his turn to talk. Such a kind man. At every meeting, he goes out of his way to tolerate Graham’s insolence. He has the patience of Job.

The retired high school math teacher, Pauline gazed out the large oval lead-glass window that faced the parking lot. It was evident she wasn’t listening to Daphne. She’s in another world. Looks worried. I bet it’s that no-good husband of hers. I wish Pauline would divorce him. As if Pauline heard Caroline’s thoughts, she jerked alert and began marking punctuation errors and writing notes in the margins.

LouEllen, a Dolly Parton look alike with big Texas hair, used a yellow highlighter on a couple of lines, smiling as she did so. Like me, she’s a widow. Unlike me, she’s in the market. Like me, she admires muscular physiques. And with that last thought, Caroline felt Thurgood’s scrutiny. His bright blue eyes held their proverbial twinkle. He grinned and motioned his head toward Huston who glared at Daphne.

“The end,” Daphne announced, shoulders squared, smiling as if she were waiting for a round of applause from the critique group.


Everyone waited.

Graham Huston was supposed to speak first. And he did.

“I’ve never in my life heard anything quite so…so…” Graham was obviously out of character trying to search for the right word, a positive one.

Caroline had never seen the man so speechless. Uh oh. Be prepared, Daphne.


Daphne smiled at Huston, expecting to hear some praise.

“What the hell was that all about?” He roared like a stuck pig.

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