My mystery, THE BODY IN THE BEAUTY PARLOR, is officially out today! Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod can start work on the huge, red brick Georgian-style house they’re going to flip. It’s in good shape, just needs updated. A quick project,. That is, if Jazzi can spend more time helping gut the kitchen and bathrooms, paint and sand floors. Or will she be too busy solving murders? The new hairdresser her mom and sister hired is found dead in Olivia’s shampoo chair with her scissors jammed in her chest. And Jazzi’s ex-fiancée, Chad, goes from having a missing wife to having a dead one. Everyone knows they’d been arguing before she disappeared, but Chad swears he didn’t kill her. Once again, Gaff invites Jazzi along to sift through clues with him. It’s going to be a busy spring!
I’m a Libran, so I’ve been told I seek balance in my life. I’ve also been told I like harmony, but not too much of it, that I’ll play devil’s advocate if I get too bored. I don’t know that I agree with that, but I do know I crave variety, and I like balance in the types of books I read. If you look at the ones I’ve recommended on BookBub or Goodreads, you’ll notice I bounce between cozies and suspense with something new tossed in here and there. I recently finished two light cozies back to back, so now I’m in the mood for something grittier, a bit darker. And this time, I turned to J.D. Robb and JUDGMENT IN DEATH. I’m halfway through it, and it keeps surprising me.
I’m amazed that a writer of bestselling romances doesn’t shy away from harsh reality and violence when she turns to mysteries. And her Death series contains elements I don’t find often in other authors’ works. Eve Dallas is a kickass female detective…and yes, that’s been done before. She has issues with commitment and romance. Not a complete novelty. Lots of detectives and P.I.s who walk the mean streets are loners. She openly admits it and has a hard time opening herself up to Roarke, her romantic interest eventually turned husband. Their relationship; however, is anything but ordinary. She likes to do things her own way, but then, so does he. He’s rich as sin and not above bending the law. I can’t remember two people who are as openly combative, while in love, as these two. In this book, their love scene feels a lot like combat to determine dominance. But it works for them:)
The people Eve works with in her department are well drawn and interesting. Her commander is clever and shrewd. Their dialogue comes off tough and professional. They want to get the job done. The villains are ugly and nasty, the murders violent and unusual. Each cop on her team serves a purpose, is better than usual at a particular skill. I enjoy the interrogation scenes when Eve drills a criminal. They’re hard and staccato, trying to pry information out of a person who doesn’t intend to part with it. Another favorite is when she talks to Mira, the police psychologist. Mira’s insights on the villain–what drives him, what his next move might be–are fascinating. And then there’s Roarke. He loves Eve and always does his best to protect her, even when she resents his help. But he’s equally as stubborn. The pace never slows down. Or, I should say, rarely does. Occasionally, Eve’s friend Mavis appears to add a bit of humor when it’s desperately needed.
The stories take place in a not too far off future where people can travel between planets and drive air transports back and forth to their jobs. But the murders are weighted by human behavior, and that doesn’t change much over time. So solving murder takes plain, old hard work and lots of investigating. Eve faces each obstacle head-on and answers questions with sometimes brutal honesty. She’s an interesting protagonist in a complex relationship and a dangerous job. This series is the perfect counterbalance to reading too many cozies in a row. I’m enjoying it for now. Hopefully, I’ll finish the book by the end of this month–which is only two days away.
Have a nice finish to February, and then…happy March!
Since Kensington decided to drop my Jazzi novels, and since I’d already written a 7th book while they were trying to decide if they wanted another one, I have a new Jazzi mystery with no home. I’ve decided to publish it myself on Amazon. BUT, that means that the wonderful Tammy Seidel won’t be doing a cover for it. Which means I need to come up with something myself. And I’ve been playing with ideas. Mine won’t be nearly as wonderful as hers, but I still have George, the pug, and that helps. Here’s what I have so far. It’s been sort of a challenge to try to make a trench look interesting:
I’ve been working on a new series about a girl whose family owns a butcher shop, A CUT ABOVE. And I’ve been playing with ideas for a cover for that, too. It’s been a little more fun. I mean, what says murder like a meat cleaver? What do you think?
Anyway, I’m hoping to finish Karnie’s mystery in the next few weeks, and then I can polish Jazzi #7 with the notes from my CPs. That should keep me out of trouble for a while.
The Body in the Beauty Parlor comes out March 2nd. Right now, it’s only $5.99, and here’s a little snippet to tease you:
When they stepped into the kitchen, the cats ran to greet them and twine around their ankles, begging for food. Jazzi laughed and bent to pet them, then noticed the answering machine blinking in the corner. They only used it for business, so she went to push the button to listen to the message.
“Sorry to call this number, but it’s the only one I had for you, Jaz. This is Chad. Can we meet somewhere to talk? Maybe the coffee house on Anthony we used to like? Ginger and I are having problems. I blew it with you, and I thought you could help me so I don’t blow it with her, too. I’d sure appreciate your take on it. Tomorrow night, if you can?”
Ansel stiffened ramrod straight. “I call you Jaz. He did, too?”
She shrugged. “What other nickname can anyone come up with for Jazzi? Did Emily have a nickname for you?” When a flush colored his face, her eyebrows flew up, and she grinned. “That good, huh? I’m a slouch. I only call you Norseman or Viking because of your coloring.”
“And my parents are one hundred percent Norwegian,” he added.
“What did Emily. . . . ?”
He cut her off. “Don’t ask. She was a nurse, obsessed with body parts.”
“Really? Who knew? Did you play doctor?” She was enjoying watching him squirm.
He glanced at the answering machine again, and his humor faded. “Your Gran warned you about Chad yesterday.”
She gave him a look. “Not to go back with him. Like I ever would. I have you. I hit the jackpot.”
His shoulders relaxed a little. “Are you going to meet him? He was a jerk the last time we saw him.” They’d run into him at a restaurant when he was with his buddies at a bar. He’d stopped to say hi, but all he did was complain because he’d found out Ginger had an abortion when she was young and somehow it made it so that she couldn’t have babies. Chad had always wanted a houseful of kids. That’s one of the reasons they broke up.
Jazzi studied him. “What would you do if Emily was in town and called you for help?”
Ansel’s blond brows furrowed into a frown. He grimaced, and she knew his answer. “I’d meet her.”
She went to wrap her arms around him. “I know you would. That’s why I love you so much. You’re so nice.”
With a sigh, he dropped a kiss on her forehead. “Can you meet him early enough to come home for supper tomorrow so we can eat together?”
She nodded. “He can meet me on my terms or forget about it.” She called Chad back and agreed to be at the coffee house at five-thirty. When she hung up, Ansel didn’t look happy, but he’d come to terms with her going.
This has been a hard week. My sister’s dogs are both old, and one of them has been having a lot of problems. I drove Mary to the vet’s last Thursday, because neither of us thought Ebbie would be coming home with her, and I knew she’d be a mess. It’s hard to sob and drive. Neither of us are graceful or pretty when we cry. But the vet gave Ebbie meds for nausea, and they worked for her once before, so we drove back with the dog and a glimmer of hope. Unfortunately, the med was a bust this time around, and on Monday, before the blizzard hit, my sister drove back to the vet’s on her own. She was prepared this time, she said, and wanted to be alone. This time, she didn’t come back with her dog.
I talked to her later that day, and she said the poor dog was so sick that it was a relief to be able to spare her any more misery. She said she was doing fine. She was just tired. But I knew she’d call later that night, crying. And she did.
Then the snow started. Lots and lots of snow. So did the phone calls. Lots more than usual. It’s hard to write around one phone call after another. And I know I could ignore them. I could shut my office door and tune them out. But when bad weather comes, people get more upset, so I answered them. And listened. And I’m glad I did.
Then there were things to do. But I still wrote. And I thought of new chapters. And I’m happy with what I got done. But today, I’m out of steam. I feel like someone hit me with a tired stick. So I worked on the second book I started. And I got jazzed up about it. I was in a different set of minds, a different setting, a different type of feel. And it gave me the energy to get more words on pages than I expected.
But tonight, I’m sagging. I’m going to bed early and sleeping in late. I ordered enough groceries to feed most of our neighborhood and we pick them up tomorrow. After I put them away, I’ll try to write again. I’m excited about both books now, so maybe I’ll take turns writing scenes for them. I’m behind on lots of things, but I want to keep pushing forward with my writing. I feel like The Little Engine Who Could when she felt like she couldn’t. But I’ll get there. I always do. My energy will come back. This is just part of my February annual drop in place. It happens to me every year.
I don’t know if February wears you out or not, but I hope you’re hanging in there. And happy writing!
No, I’m not talking about romances. I’m talking about writing.
HH and I found a new series to watch on Prime–MY GREATEST DISHES. Each show highlights one of top 20 chefs who’ve won Michelin stars for their restaurants and asks them to choose four dishes that represent them and their career the best. Most choose a dish from their childhood, one that their family loves, one that brought fame to their restaurant, and one that represents their style of cooking. These are chefs, not cooks. Some of the dishes look beautiful and win raves, but HH and I look at each other and ask, “Would we really want to eat that?” Offal and pigs’ cheeks slow us down a little, but watching the programs is inspiring. Because every single chef we’ve watched is so passionate about the food he creates.
I imagine every artist of every type goes into his field of writing, painting, music, or performing hoping that he’ll be really good at it, that he’ll be “discovered,” and that his work will be rewarding, one way or another. Reality is harsh, and most artists suffer a lot of rejection and have to work hard to find any success. And to do that, they need passion. And perseverance.
The passion is one of the reasons it’s so wonderful to get together with fellow writers. When we’re in the same room or place, we eventually start talking craft and business, marketing and favorite books and authors, on and on. When I was a teacher, it was the same way. HH used to joke that you could take the teacher out of the classroom but you could never take the classroom out of the teacher, that when we got together, we talked shop. Same with the nurses I know. And I’m guessing it’s the same with anyone who’s passionate about what he does for a living.
When my writers’ group gets together, we talk about hooks, plotting, pacing, word choice, and how hard it is to make it as a writer. Is it better to finish a book these days and look for an agent and a publisher or to self-publish? How much marketing do you have to do? Can you get away without marketing at all, only relying on paying for ads? Shop talk. And it’s wonderful to bounce ideas off each other. We can agree to disagree.
I can’t think of one of us who hasn’t hit bottom at one time or another, and the rest of us are there to listen and encourage, to sympathize and strategize. Nothing a person wants to be good at is easy to do. Nothing that I can think of. The more serious you are about it, the harder it gets. And I don’t think that ever changes.
I’ve listened to writers who’ve written lots of books and become best-sellers, and they all worry that the new book they’re working on will be good enough, that readers will like it. When I first started writing, I hoped that it would get easier and easier. And in some ways, it does. You find things that work for you. And in other ways, it gets harder. Because you want your new book to be at least as good as the last one and hopefully better. If you keep trying to make each book better than the one before it, you can’t rest on the things that you’re comfortable with. You keep pushing for more.
Do you ever feel comfortable just doing what you do? I don’t know. I haven’t reached that point yet. I’m not sure I ever will. That’s what keeps my passion strong. That, for me, is one of the reasons I love to write.
Good luck to you in your endeavors. And happy writing!
A while ago, I wrote about starting a new mystery with more suspense than my cozies. I’ve been reading the Louis Kincaid series and wanted to have the kind of tension I enjoy so much in those books. One of the ways to build that is by using multiple POV. But that, in itself, isn’t enough.
Years and years ago, I went to a Bouchercon mystery conference where Mary Higgins Clark was the featured speaker. And she differentiated the different types of suspense novels and explained techniques that made each one work. For women in jeopardy, which is what she writes, she recommended introducing a female protagonist who’s recovering from something bad that’s happened to her and making her sympathetic enough that readers want her to be happy again. And then, introduce the antagonist, who’ll cross paths with her and then focus on her as his next target. Immediately, the reader knows the killer will go after her, and the woman will have to try to survive until he’s caught. Immediate tension.
For thrillers, she recommended using a ticking clock plot to build tension. We meet the antagonist–maybe an assassin preparing to kill an important target–and then we meet the protagonist–who’ll try to keep a step ahead of the assassin and figure out when and where so that he can stop the assassination from happening. We know when the target will give his speech or attend the meeting, etc., when the assassin plans to make his move. And the protagonist has to figure everything out before that happens. Of course, the more important the target, and the more danger to the protagonist, the higher the stakes.
But I’m interested in writing a traditional mystery with lots of tension, like I enjoy reading in the Louis Kincaid series. And what I realized is this, Louis is always investigating murders that are DISTURBING. They don’t necessarily have to be shocking. Or gory. I’m not much of a fan of shock value in fiction. But they need to grab your attention. There has to be something unusual about them, something that bothers you at gut level and makes you uneasy.
The other thing to focus on, I think, is the antagonist himself. No black and white. He has to be complicated enough to make a reader wonder about him, to be afraid of him. Sometimes, to be afraid for him. How messed-up is he? Can he control his evil impulses or not? What drives him? Once I realized that, my killer fell into place for me. And the sad truth is, now that I know him, I feel sorry for him. But whatever you choose, he has to be interesting.
I don’t know if you read favorite authors and study what they do…or, if like C.S. Boyack in his Story Empire posts…you watch favorite TV shows or movies and study them. But there’s stuff to be learned by a craftsman who does something really well. I’m not expecting to write a Louis Kincaid type novel. I don’t even want to. I mean, P.J. Parrish has already done it and done it really well. But I can learn things from that sister writing team that might make my writing better. Every time I read someone who does something really well, I pay attention. What makes it work? What makes it stand out? And for now, I want to know how to add more tension to my stories.
Hope your stories are coming together. And happy writing!
A closed room in her newest fixer-upper leads Indiana house-flipper Jazzi Zanders to reopen a chilling cold case involving a high school girl . . .
Jazzi, her cousin Jerod, and her husband Ansel are preparing to renovate a charming house that reminds her of an English manor. Before purchasing it, they had inspected the house for structural issues, but now when they do a more thorough walk-through, they discover a teenage girl’s bedroom that clearly hasn’t been touched in years. Dust covers the pink canopy bed, clothes still hang in the closet, and a hope chest remains full of journals and memorabilia. They’ve stumbled on a shrine to a dead girl.
They learn Jessica was killed in the middle of her high school graduation party. The murderer was never identified, but the brother-in-law of Jazzi’s friend, who went to school with Jessica, was suspected and never lived it down. He implores Jazzi to review the cold case and finally prove him innocent. Now it’s up to the house-flipper to nail a killer who will do anything to close the door on the past . . .
A long time ago, when I was experimenting with different genres to write, I sold some dark, quirky short stories. When I gave one of them to a fellow writer to critique, she said “You can’t use a happy word when you write dark fiction. It breaks the mood.” I’d described a forest with trees with dark, gnarled branches and then had birds hopping on the them overhead. Wrong. Happy birds don’t belong in gnarled forests. Ravens hovering might work with a gray, moody sky. But I realized that every word had to add to the tone of the story.
Once I started writing longer fiction, and tried my hand at even more genres, I realized that page after page of suspense or moody prose could use a break here or there, so I started to use humor as a relief occasionally. Sometimes the humor even made the dire circumstances more dire when I returned to it. But the humor had to be brief. And its tone had to match the tone of the story.
Once I started writing cozies, I could use humor to jazz up a scene or two. Humor added nice variety to digging for clues, and it could show relationships in a different light. It gave the entire manuscript a lighter feel. I like humor. I like using it, but I’m no pro. C.S. Boyack uses a lot of humor in his stories, and he does it well. He used the root monsters in his Voyage of the Lanternfish to add comic relief to his tale of a good man who had to turn to piracy to fight an oppressive government, and a lot of readers fell in love with the odd little vegetable men. I know I did. https://www.amazon.com/Voyage-Lanternfish-C-S-Boyack-ebook/dp/B07MP8V633/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=c.s.+boyack&qid=1613058898&sr=8-3
Boyack uses humor so often, he wrote two blogs about it for Story Empire, giving examples of different kinds of humor and how to use it: Expansion Pack: The Return of Comedy | Story Empire (wordpress.com) I read both posts and enjoyed them. And sometimes, serendipity happens, because right after reading the post about using “misunderstanding” for a chuckle or two, I started reading a book that uses that type of humor to wonderful effect–The Fear Hunter, by Elise Sax.
I’ve read a few suspense books back to back recently, and I have to admit the lighthearted cozy feel of a witch who’s out of touch with modern society trying to solve a crime is a delightful treat at the end of the day. Humor is subjective, and for me, Sax’s constant light touch is spot on.
I don’t know if you like to read or write humor. It won’t work in the new series I’ve just started, but it adds a lot to any cozy I write. Whether it works for you or not, happy reading and even better, happy writing!
No writing wisdom or news to share this time. But the temperatures are plummeting, so I’m preparing to hibernate and expecting to spend more time at my keyboard. This takes serious planning. So this post is all about having everything in place so that I can write. And for HH and me, that means making sure there’s enough food:)
HH loves to watch the weather channel. While I’m sitting in my office, pounding on keys, he’s following weather patterns across the U.S. to tell me what the temperatures will be and what to expect in the near future. When he informed me that below zero was expected and there would be single digit temperatures for most of the coming week or two, we decided to do our grocery shopping while it was a balmy 33 degrees outside.
Now, even though it’s just HH and I in the house now, I spent most of my life fighting with a grocery budget to feed us and two kids and whatever friends they brought home with them most days. I learned that buying big packages of meat and then repackaging them into what I needed each night for suppers was a lot cheaper. It’s still cheaper, so that’s what I still do. The upside of my old habits is that we should never starve, even if we’re snowed in for a LONG time. The downside is our freezer is jam-packed with food, so that it’s hard for HH to find room for the cartons of ice cream he can’t do without.
Just as an example of my penny-saving ways, we came home from our shopping trip with a huge package of beautiful pork chops for a little over $12 on sale. I divided the package into small Ziploc baggies with 3 pork chops in each one and got 5 packages out of it. That’s 5 meals for $12, unless I invite someone for supper and use two of them in one night, which I’m prone to do.
Anyway, our freezer and cupboards are well-stocked now, and you’ll all be happy to know we shouldn’t perish if we can’t leave our house for a long time. We even bought enough coffee. And once the temperatures plummet, we’ll hibernate. HH will watch the news and the weather channel, and I’ll write. And cook. And be pretty content.