“Better not to say” – richmondmagazine.com

About the game

The winner of James R. Writers and Richmond Magazine’s fourth Best Self-Published Fiction competition is Anne McCartney’s “Better Not Saying.” McAeny’s manuscript was selected from 30 entries by a volunteer jury led by USA TODAY bestselling author Liz Long. As editor of The Roanoker and Bridebook magazines and Virginia Travel Guide, Long has self-published more than 20 young adult fantasy and romance books.

“‘Better Left Unsaid’ is an excellent novel, full of mystery, suspense, and enough tension to keep you turning the pages until you’re done,” Long said. “McCarney does a fantastic job telling a well-written story about a murder mystery, mostly from the perspective of a local reporter, which is made all the more so as she solves a cold case affecting an unwitting small-town community. Funny. …she puts you in a loop that keeps you going until the very last page — and probably leaves you thinking about the twist days or even weeks later.

The competition also had two finalists: Alan Butler (“The Pharaoh’s Forgery”) and Kathryn Murphy (“A Secret About Time”).

Chapter 1

Bethany Phillips

fifteen years ago

Grandma Liv would be proud that Bethany followed her oft-repeated advice: never keep valuables with proof of ownership. Bethany does better. She tucked the estimate sheet into her bra and the sales slip into her shoes. After all, the nine-block area in Gaston, Virginia, is named after the crime wave that washed over it years ago and never returned to the sea, so it can’t be risked on the waves.

She wiped the last bit of chicken fat off her hands and steered her red Hyundai towards the muddy alley behind her crumbling brick house. She glanced at the window on the third floor of the apartment building and sighed. Her upstairs neighbor’s bronze lamp glows with a familiar faint glow, but at least the older occupant, Finn Astley, is not in her usual chair. As long as Finn doesn’t come back within the next 60 seconds, Bethany can avoid late-night chats and gain valuable time dealing with her newfound luck.

As she turned into the gravel parking lot, she recalled that she needed to pick up groceries for Finn tomorrow. Shopping for the agoraphobic widow was one of the charities she did in her life. But given the sudden change in Bethany’s fortunes, she will soon be saying goodbye to Finn. Should I hire someone to help the old woman out? Yes, she will. That would be a decent thing.

She pulls into her designated spot, where a drunk Al usually fills the middle of his ancient caddie, but at this point, Al is likely tossing his fifth whisky back to his favorite bar, Flaky’s. Later tonight, he’ll be staggering home, and in the morning, he’ll be shuffling back for the car. Drunk Al It’s another Tuesday.

A dull clang sounded as Bethany extinguished the ignition. As her paranoia surged, she froze, her hand almost merging with the key. Is anyone following her? Has her brother discovered her secret? Is that squinting messenger boy back?

She listened as if her life depended on it. Then, getting colder in the crisp March air, she jerked out her keys and reached for her purse in the passenger seat. The darkness engulfed her forearms, but she felt relieved when her fingers touched the two belts.

Another jingle sounded.

In her hyper-alert state, every swish, tap, and clank seemed amplified, but the lingering silence that followed felt eerie and limiting, and one she wished to hear A series of reassuring sounds – horns, sirens and random shouts – told her she was home and safe.

A tremor passed through her, loosening her tense muscles and quelling her fear.

Come on, BB, it’s nothing. Just a skater doing tricks or a teen jumping over a fence on the way home.

A faint rubble scraped against her ear. Uneven slopes surprise one foot? The friction of a cat’s claws as it pounces on its prey?

Her heart was pounding, and her ribs were almost bulging. She felt like a bird in a cage, protected only by cheap, foldable car frame metal, on full display for all to see but unable to fly away if the situation required it. Her suspicions grew as the pulse beat in the vitreous space behind her neck and eyes.

She looked around and saw nothing out of the ordinary, but the words of the last 24 hours echoed in her mind like a dire warning: Dirty Nazi blood; Be careful; Kill or be killed; BB’s plans for you It always went so well – the last time her brother had sarcastically brought it up less than an hour ago.

She pulled the doorknob and opened it, disgusted by its squeak as she tilted her head one last time for audible assurance. Cars sped down Calverton Street in front of the building; thunder in the distance heralded the onslaught of the next hour; familiar drops of water dripped from the leaky pipes next door, rhythmically hitting puddles of their own making.

For God’s sake, BB, you’re only 6 feet from your building. No one thinks you have anything in your wallet other than tissues, gum, and crumpled items.

Finally, embracing the inner warrior Grandma Liv had always believed in her, she got out of the car and grabbed her purse to her belly. The next second, when she turned to lock the door, the looming presence of another person was revealed.

She could smell the musty human scent found in the folds of elbows and in the crevices of crooked ears that defined men and their desires. She felt the erosion of the air around her, as the molecules surrounding his body replaced those normally attached to hers.

Turning, she nearly bumped into a broad-shouldered stranger standing inches away. A hoodie covers his hair, a ski mask covers his face, and tight black gloves cover his hands. Why didn’t she see him, hear him, feel him? Why all the nights tonight? How could this happen?

The intruder’s hand, faster than a snake’s tongue, reached for her purse, but her ten fingers were locked to the bag, whitening herself with force, twisting the leather.

“No!” she screamed. “I’ll give you my wallet! Take my wallet, but I need that bag!”

As she battled the attackers, her pleas fell on deaf ears. grunt. catch. despair. She curled her body around her purse and hugged it like she was running back in a race to win.

“Let go,” he whispered frantically. “I don’t want to hurt you. Give me the bag.”

His mournful, almost whiny words contrasted sharply with his harsh actions, as if he snorted something that made him more aggressive but wasn’t sure the reason for the attack. If anything, his efforts seem directionless and half-hearted. If that’s the case – if it’s just some random robbery making a few bucks for his next settlement – she’s not going to surrender. Will not jeopardize the future of her family.

“I’ll give you my wallet,” she said angrily. “Take it and go.” But her words, with a weak impact, fell to the ground with a bang. Turning over, she couldn’t even breathe, let alone scream.

“This is not the wallet I want,” he said, his voice cold and sure.


meet the author

Anne McAeny started her writing career almost 20 years ago after hearing that a friend quit her job and started writing. “I said, ‘I’ve always wanted to do this, and I’m going to start today,'” recalls McCartney. After writing screenplays for a few years, she switched to book writing, creating children’s literature and two humorous novels she self-published. Then she decided to write a mystery and realized it was her calling. She started self-publishing in 2010, Time Crime Collection is an award-winning thriller series that can be read in any order. They go after ordinary people investigating past crimes involving their loved ones. Her third edition in the series, “Skewed,” was acquired by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint and is an international bestseller.

McCartney framed The Unspoken Good in the manuscript style of the main character, Jenna Naismith, and passed it on to her friend Heather Graves, who then added her own notes (and chapters). Set in the fictional town of Highbank, Virginia, the novel follows Naismith as he investigates why a friend’s fiancé was muttering the name of a murder victim in his sleep. Problems arise as she digs deeper, and Naismith finds herself immersed in a world of corruption and dual identities, where game manipulation turns her life upside down and leads to a surprising ending.

McCartney likes to keep her readers guessing. “Most of my plots have twists, but I go to great lengths to make sure every twist is supported,” she said. “I hope readers will end up saying, ‘Oh, this is surprising, but I should have seen it come.'”

Released in 2020, the paperback edition of Better Left Unsaid is available through Amazon, while the digital edition is available wherever ebooks are sold.

This isn’t the first time McCartney has entered the James River Writers competition for best self-published fiction. Her novel Ocular Denial was runner-up in 2019. She has a new manuscript pending, although she is currently looking for an agent and is putting off self-publishing. “If any agents want to see my new mystery thriller, please contact us,” she said with a laugh. – Nicole Cohen


20th Annual JRW Writers Conference

Writers, editors and literary agents will share insider knowledge of the publishing industry at James River Writers’ 20th Annual Writers Conference October 8-9 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Masterclasses on nine popular topics will be held online via Zoom on Friday, October 7th. Conference tickets start at $269 (two-day), $175 (one-day) and $125 (student). Online master classes are available a la carte, starting at $50 per person.access jamesriverwriters.org Details.

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