Sunny Side Up By Daniel Stallings: Review/Giveaway/Interview/Event

Feb 24, 2018 | 2018 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrance V. Mc Arthur

by Terrance Mc Arthur

This week we have a review of the debut mystery of first time mystery author named Daniel Stallings, and an interesting interview with Daniel. This is also the first cozy released by Fresno publisher Linden Publishing from their new mystery imprint Pace Press. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Sunny Side Up, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.

Daniel will be giving a talk for the San Joaquin Sisters in Crime in Fresno on March 3 (non members welcome)-more info on their website.

Sunny Side Up by Daniel Stallings
Review by Terrance Mc Arthur

Men are supposed to like hard-boiled mysteries, where the two-fisted detective muscles his way through to catching the killer. Personally, I prefer cozy mysteries, where the amateur detective—usually female—reasons her way to the solution. I often think that female mystery authors are more interested in creating human characters, while male-penned whodunits are more concerned with prowess and puzzles. I have a read for you that crosses some of the borders.

bookSunny Side Up by Daniel Stallings introduces Liam Johnson, called Li. Reeling from the slow death of his father, the 20-year-old hires onto a cruise ship as a waiter. That dream, cushy job turns into a nightmare as he deals with a faux French maître d’ who wants him fired (if not dead), a blustery lawyer who delights in sending back every dish and kicking Li (especially when he’s down), and a pair of dueling icons from the fashion industry. On top of that, Li’s ship shoes are too tight, and it’s the anniversary of his father’s death. He’s too much in grief to chase after women, although he is suspected of affairs he has not had.

When Li discovers one of the women dead on the sunbathing deck, he is thrown into a mass of motivations, old hatreds, false identities, and jealousy. With no experience in crime-solving, but possessed of a scholarly curiosity, he navigates hazardous waters on a ship where the truth might be inconvenient. Li is knocked around, exploited, and degraded at every turn. This all-too-human amateur sleuth is a wimpy sad sack, but you root for him anyway. With all the things going against him, you want him to come out on top.

The pre-murder section goes back and forth between the POVs of various characters before settling on Liam as the primary point of view. This isn’t the Love Boat, and there are hateful suspects that belong on a Ship of Fools, but Stallings manages to bring the vessel into port safely, although some characters don’t survive the trip.
By the way, the cover of this book, released by Fresno’s Linden Publishing’s Pace Press imprint, features swirly, travel-poster-worthy artwork by Dominic Grijalva, known for his directing and virtual-reality set designs that have enlivened a number of Valley theatrical productions.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Librarian with the Fresno County Public Library and has published several short stories.

Interview with Daniel Stallings:

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Daniel: I have been working on writing as a profession for 13 years, although my mother likes to tell stories about me at age four stapling huge reams of paper together to form “books” that I would “write” in. So a lifelong lover of words.

KRL: Where are you from?

Daniel:I live in the city of Ridgecrest in the middle of the Mojave Desert in Southern California. Our local joke is that it’s two hours from anywhere. But the isolated location has given me some wonderful and unique opportunities.

KRL: I believe this is your first mystery novel, correct? Have you done any other types of writing, and why did you decide to write a mystery?

Daniel: Yes. Sunny Side Up the first in my Li Johnson series, is my first published mystery novel, but I have been writing mystery fiction of some sort for many years. I have been in love with the genre ever since I saw the 1974 Sidney Lumet version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, when I was about 11 or 12. It was on two VHS tapes back then. I remember begging my family to finish the film despite it being a school night. By the end of the movie, I was inches from the TV. That was the moment I found my genre. When it came to my career in writing, I started as a poet, then moved to theatre. I’ve been working in theatre for almost as long as I’ve been writing, and have written 17 original shows to date. My 18th premieres this spring. Each one is an interactive murder mystery show where guests are invited to solve the crime.


Daniel Stallings

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.

Daniel: At first, I didn’t want to write about characters who were too similar to me. I wanted escapism. I wanted to divorce myself from where I lived and who I was. After attending the Las Vegas Writers Conference in 2012, I learned a lot about my craft and a lot about myself. On the advice of an editor, I completely retooled my books and my approach to them. I designed a character I related to far more than any other. I created a sleuth I wanted to read about, who I felt a connection with. I created Liam “Li” Johnson, a millennial minimum-wage worker trying to deal with his father’s death, and keep his head above water in a rapidly changing world. I wanted Li to grow up in the series, to change and develop and mature as the books progress, with the idea that the Li in the first book will not be the same Li in the last.

The setting of Sunny Side Up, the first Li Johnson mystery, is based on a cruise I took to Mexico with my family over a decade ago. It was a four-day excursion from Long Beach to Ensenada in Baja, with a stop at Catalina Island. I chose it because those memories were powerful ones. I remember that vacation so well, and the idea of a murder on a cruise ship was enticing. Using the sun as the murder weapon made the challenge of writing the book all the more appealing.

The series will be primarily set in Southern California. Part of me chooses these locations because of the challenge of setting a mystery there, especially in our increasingly digital age.

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?

Daniel: I remember a quote from Agatha Christie where she mentioned that she didn’t view herself as an artist, but as a storyteller. I’ve really taken that to heart. When I was younger, I used to have these grand visions of creating art, but now the most important thing to me is to tell a wonderful story. I like to think of myself as a showman, a performer, and my job is to entertain and tell the stories I want to share. Reading is fun, and I want my readers to take whatever they wish from my stories.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?

Daniel: I try to find time to write every day. Working as much as I do has dwindled the amount of prose writing I get done, but I make time.

KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?

Daniel: The process is different for each book. I don’t outline as a hard rule, but I’ll do it if I’m trying to work out the order I want scenes to go in, or to solve specific problems. With my second manuscript I did a storyboard, because there were certain specific clues that had to be in the mystery. I wanted to shift these little pieces around to find the best combination and order.

KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?

Daniel: I’m a night owl. It comes from all my theatre training, and we are always up late doing shows. So I tend to work better at night. My first book, Sunny Side Up, would get written from midnight to 3 a.m. some nights.

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published?

Daniel: I suppose so. It’s as difficult as applying for any job. That’s how I went into the process. I’ve always treated publishing as a business and a job first. The biggest difficulty for me was the wait. I’m pretty impatient.

KRL: Do you have a great rejection, critique, or acceptance story you’d like to share?

Daniel: I received the offer of a publishing contract on my birthday. It had been the birthday/Christmas present I had always dreamed of. I was speechless.

KRL: Are you looking forward to doing book signings/talks?

Daniel: Very much so. It’s the theatre background again. I’m a showman. I like to talk and tell stories and share my experiences. I like to entertain and inspire and make people feel great. I want to create an experience where readers can have a book and a show. Interactive mystery book signing, perhaps?

KRL: Sounds fun! Future writing goals?

Daniel: I want to continue developing my mystery series, and produce some really amazing stories that [will] revitalize the puzzle-style mystery of the Golden Age (think Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, etc.), but with a strong, modern voice. And I want to spread my mysteries into other forms of media: plays, musicals, radio, podcasts, and so on.

KRL: Writing heroes?

Daniel: If you couldn’t deduce it already, Dame Agatha Christie is a huge one. She’s the best in the business. Her work inspired generations of mystery writers. Others include Carolyn Hart, multi-award winning author of the Death on Demand, Henrie O, and Bailey Ruth Raeburn Mysteries. She’s had a phenomenal career I would love to have, books that are a delight to read, and I was beyond flattered (more like stunned, really) when she offered to blurb Sunny Side Up.

KRL: Carolyn Hart is also a huge favorite of mine!
What kind of research do you do?

Daniel: It depends on the project. My Li Johnson novels are set in contemporary times with settings such as grocery stores, office buildings, just these everyday places, and turning them into sites of extraordinary happenings. So my research is often just living life and talking to people. I do research for the technical details or areas I cannot access. But my best source of inspiration and knowledge comes from talking to all sorts of unique people and paying attention to the world around me.

KRL: What do you read?

Daniel: I’m almost a caricature of a mystery writer. I read mysteries mainly. I like being aware of what’s happening in my genre. I do read horror novels and poems, and lots of plays. But I’ll read anything that inspires me.

KRL: Favorite TV or movies?

Daniel: Again, anything that sparks my imagination. My favorite film is the aforementioned Murder on the Orient Express, and I like to watch a lot of reality competition TV with favorites such as Top Chef, The Great British Bake Off, and RuPaul’s Drag Race. My scripted television varies. Mostly, I want fun and original concepts, good storytelling, and interesting visuals.

KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Daniel: Don’t give up, and finish what you start. You will learn so much as a writer if you finish the stories you tell. And don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.

KRL: Anything you would like to add?

Daniel: Sunny Side Up is the debut novel of the Li Johnson Mysteries, and I hope to bring many, many, MANY more of his stories to the world. The second one is already finished, and I am working on the third in the series. I have a plan on where I want to take him and when, but I’ve left it open enough to explore and be inspired by everything and everyone around me.

KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Daniel: I am a huge Top Chef fan, and have seen every episode of every season more than once. I could tell you trivia about every single season: who went home, what challenge why, etc. One of my dreams is to meet Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons one day.

KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?

Daniel: My author website is, but you can also find me and my interactive murder mystery shows at and at Master Mystery Productions on Facebook.

KRL: Please give us details about your Sisters In Crime event, and any other local events you have coming up soon?

Daniel: I’ll be speaking at the San Joaquin Sisters meeting on Saturday, March 3, at the Yosemite Falls Café at 4278 W. Ashlan Ave., Fresno, CA 93722. The meeting will start at 10 a.m., and I will talk at 10:30. There will be copies of Sunny Side Up for sale and I will be happy to sign your copy.

To enter to win a copy of Sunny Side Up, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “sunny side,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 3, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.

Use this link to purchase the book & a portion goes to help support KRL & indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy:

You can also use this link to purchase the book on Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases using those links. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Love the title and the plot set upon a cruise ship.

  2. Interesting. Would love to read this.

    kckendler at gmail dot com

  3. I always enjoy learning about new authors and their books. Thanks for the introduction to Daniel Stallings and his book, Sunny Side Up. Also thanks for the giveaway. Fingers are crossed.

  4. Sounds like a great read.

  5. What a great setting for a mystery. So many different personalities on board a ship and until the ship docks, you’re stuck on board. Can’t wait to read it.

  6. Sounds like an interesting storyline. Great cover.

  7. Love to get in on a new series.
    Best of luck for a long list of good
    reads ahead

  8. We have a winner!


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