Virtue

I decided not to off Keon’s grandmother.  She’s a pain in the you know what.  Everyone’s lives would be better if she bit the dust.  She’s pushy and mean.  And Lux is a murder mystery, after all.  But I’ve already killed off two other old ladies in this manuscript, and I decided enough is enough.  Especially since she’s family.  After all, family has bonds, even if they don’t like each other.  I had the entire scene plotted out, and it was good.  High drama.  Lots of emotion.  And that’s great for a subplot.  But…  I scratched the scene and went for something else.  Lux still caught the killer–for that crime–and the plot moved forward.

There are things I try not to do in mysteries.  I never kill cats.  I never kill dogs.  But people are fair game.  I mean what’s a murder mystery without a body or two..or more?  And let’s face it.  If the body provides a punch in the storyline, all the better.  But killing Grandma Johnson?  I decided that might be pushing it.  But what do you do with an old woman whom a nursing home won’t even take?

And this probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s read my work, but I added two kittens in the mix.  I like to show the maternal side of my characters.  In the first Lux book, I introduced Ian–a young teen in trouble–and that filled that slot in the story.  A grandmother who’s a pill doesn’t accomplish what I wanted.  So Lux and Keon buy two kittens.  It was Keon’s idea.  The man’s a big marshmallow inside.

I’ve never not had a pet for any length of time.  When my black cat Pywackett had to be put to sleep at twenty years old, I swore I’d never get another cat.  Turned out, a gray cat meowed at our door and chose us.  A chihuahua turned up on our porch and scratched to get in the house, too, and before I knew it, we had two  more pets.  A house feels empty without one furry beast to demand attention.  So they end up in my stories.

My main plot is a tried and true mystery type, so I didn’t need to wrestle with my conscience about it.  Only Grandma.  And Grandma, blast her rotten disposition, won.  She’s going to live to grace another page.  <wince>  That might be good for Grandma, but not so much for the Johnson family.  Oh, well, mysteries have to be a little true to life, right?  And we don’t always love every family member we have to claim.

Happy Writing!

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Musings

I should call these wanderings today instead of musings.  I’m not very focused, just pondering random thoughts.

When I was young, I wrote darker, gloomier stuff.  Not as dark as my daughter’s bleak poetry period when she turned sixteen.  She wore black every day and wrote poems about death.  Worried me for a while until friends told me that was normal.  And it didn’t last.  It was just a phase–one of a few that I was happy to see gone.

The thing is, now that I’ve gotten older, somehow I’ve mellowed  more.  I’ll never write completely cheerful, humorous stuff, but I don’t push the bleak as much as I used to.  And I was in a happy phase of my life when I wrote it.  But life happens to everyone, and I’ve survived more ups and downs than I ever saw coming.  Bleak doesn’t appeal to me like it once did, (and I think bleak is different than dark.  I still like dark once in a while).  It’s made me think that my writing has changed with age, just like I’ve changed with age.

Stephen King has always written horror, hasn’t he?  I know he plays with different things between books, but when he sits down to write a novel, it’s horror, right?  Has his horror changed over time?  I love Alice Hoffman’s PRACTICAL MAGIC, but I read her newer book that was a prequel to that story, and it seemed a lot gloomier than the original story to me.  But she’s survived breast cancer.  Did that change her writing?

I read a title on twitter and was busy so didn’t take the time to read the actual blog.  But the title was about the different stages of a writer’s life.  I wish I would have read it.  Do we all have similar stages?  Or does each person’s life affect his or her fiction?

It’s the Fourth of July as I write this.  Fireworks are bursting up and down our street.  I’ve made three slabs of BBQ ribs to take to Indy tomorrow to see my daughter and to drop off at my grandson’s and his wife’s.  We were all going to get together, but one of Tyler’s friends was exposed to Covid and he doesn’t want to take any chances and give it to us.  So I’m leaving a slab on his doorstep:)  Along with a container of watermelon salad and a small container of panzanella salad.  We’re taking the rest to my daughter’s to eat at her apartment.  She’s providing the dessert!

It’s going to be a nice weekend.  Have I mellowed because life is good?  Or have I mellowed because I’ve learned that I’m strong enough to survive things that I thought would flatten me?  And fingers crossed, I don’t have any major challenges in my future.  I hope the same for you.  But you know the saying…if wishes were cabbages… and all that crap.  If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Snippet from Bad Habits, a Lux mystery

The Escalade in front of me turned right, like I did, and stayed in the turn lane for the strip mall.  I studied its dark, tinted windows.  It was an expensive model.  When it slowly circled the parking lot the long way to reach the back of the buildings, I decided to follow it.  The driver never sped up.  Coming from this direction, it would pass Keon’s with the passenger’s door facing the building.  As we approached Ian and his friend, the restaurant door opened and Keon stepped out, motioning to Ian.  Just then, the car’s side window rolled down, and a hand holding a gun was clearly visible. If I lowered my window and yelled a warning, I’d be too late.  Instead, I laid on the horn.

Keon glanced up, tackled both boys to the ground, and pinned them there as bullets flew over their heads.  The car started to stop and the side door began to open so the shooter could get out and finish his job.  My heart thudded so loud, I could hear it.  An image of Keon with a bloody bullet hole in his head made my flesh go cold.  My car lurched forward before I realized I’d stomped on the gas.  I sped up and rammed my car into the back of the shooter’s.

Their car slammed forward, and a random shot pinged skyward.  Their car door swung, pinning the shooter’s leg between it and the car frame.  He screamed in pain.  The driver sped up, trying to shake me, but I sped up, too.  My Bentley’s so big with so much horsepower, I pushed the car forward into a nearby dumpster and wedged it there.

The driver and the shooter jumped out, and the shooter aimed his gun at me.  I ducked and opened my glove compartment, tugging out my own nine-millimeter.  I opened my heavy door, using it for cover, and shot out the back window of their car.  They took off, running.  I aimed again, but couldn’t make myself fire.  I’m not a true fan of guns.  I only carry mine for self-protection.

Keon was shoving his cell phone in his pants pocket when he reached me, out of breath.  He yanked me to face him.  “What the hell were you thinking?  You could have been killed!”

Keon usually tried not to cuss and only resorted to street language when he was really upset.  “They were going to come for you and the boys.”  I hugged myself to stop my shaking.  “I couldn’t let them do that.”

He stared, fighting for composure.  I glanced at his hands and knees, scraped and bloody.  “Are you okay?  The boys?”

He gave a curt nod

Two at a Time

I’ve made it to the halfway point of my second Lux novel.  I enjoy Lux.  She does things I’d never do.  Never.  I gave her stuff I always thought I wanted, but didn’t need.  She has lots of money.  I gave up thinking I’d win the lottery a long time ago.  She drives a yellow Bentley.  I saw a Bentley at a car show in Auburn years ago and still tease that if I had a longer garage, and I won that lottery someday, I’d buy one.  I probably wouldn’t.  I don’t like to call attention to myself, and it’s pretty hard to drive a Bentley incognito, especially when you live in a cozy bungalow in a small community.  Lux is daring, and I’m not.  She pushes the envelope, and I don’t.  So it’s fun to write about her.

And then there’s Hester, my witch from Muddy River.  She’s a teacher at the school for young witches and loves teaching as much as I did.  But she has power.  Real power.  And that’s what makes her fun.  I avoid power when possible.  It comes with responsibility.  And that means work.  So I live vicariously through Hester instead.  She and Raven only flex their magic muscles to make things better.  And that makes me like them.

As much as I love Lux, I lose steam on any novel once I reach the middle.  Yes, I have plot points.  I know what happens in every chapter, but the longer a book goes, the more clues and subplots there are to keep in mind.  And they keep getting more and more complicated.  And my writing slows down.  So that’s why I started a new Muddy River short read.  I start the day writing about Lux, finish a scene, and then need time to process everything–which takes me a minute.  So that’s when I switch and start working on Hester and Raven.  The scenes are shorter and I can sometimes finish one by the time I quit writing for the day.  By trading off, I get more work done.

I’ve tried and can’t switch off to working on Jazzi.  Writing two different mysteries at the same time gets too confusing for me.  Lux and Hester are different enough, I can keep the characters and plots straight.

I got the idea of two at a time from C.S. Boyack.  And as long as the series are different enough, it works for me.  My critique partner and writer friend just shook her head when I told her about it.  She tried and got less writing done than usual.  It’s not for her.  It doesn’t work for everyone.  But for now, when I’m in the middle of Lux and the set-up for Hester and Raven, it keeps my writing fresh. Wish me luck.

And whatever you’re up to, good luck to you, too.  And here’s wishing that you have a wonderful July.  Can you believe half a year is over already?  Happy Writing!

Mystery Musings

I just finished reading the book CIRCE by Madeline Miller.  I love Greek myths, and I’ve always enjoyed the story of Odysseus.  On his journey home, Circe was one of the more fascinating characters he met.  And she’s a witch.  Now, anyone who’s read my blog very long knows I’m fond of good witches, too.  So this was a double win for me.  And Circe WAS a good witch.  His men deserved to be turned into pigs.

When I wrote urban fantasies, I used myths and witches in a lot of my stories.  But this book is literary, so Circe’s journey involves character growth more than adventures and battles.  And it explores what gives life meaning.  Circe is a nymph, so she’s immortal.  But the gods and goddesses she meets and who make up her family are shown mostly as petty.  There are a few exceptions, but they’re rare.  Most of them are full of pride, and they’re fickle.  They live forever, but their lives don’t mean much.

Circe is her mother’s firstborn, but her mother doesn’t consider her beautiful enough.  Neither does her father, so she’s the object of a lot of scorn.  Her sister, however, and then her brother are radiantly attractive, but mean.  Looks trump goodness of character every time in Helios’s halls.  Immortality doesn’t deepen wisdom or kindness.  It blunts it.  The gods purposely abuse mortals, because they know when frightened, humans worship them more, not less.  Thankfully, Circe sees this as the defect it is.

Circe tries to cope until she finally angers her father so much, she’s banned from his halls and sent to live on a small island.  This island becomes her sanctuary, where she learns to develop her spells and grows stronger day by day.  She learns lessons the hard way until she becomes a woman smart enough to defy the gods and get away with it.  It’s a pleasure reading how she becomes true to herself, even when the odds are against her.

My Florida daughter recommended this book to me, and I’m so glad she did.  The story made me wonder if imperfections are what make us grow to become the best we can be.  In stories, characters without flaws are boring.  Is that true in real life?  And as always, Greek gods are shown as vain and thoughtless.  A great combination for an interesting read.

Cats, coffee, and murder….

One of my blog friends is celebrating a book birthday today, so I invited her here for you to meet her.  She’s a cat lover, like I am.  And she’s come up with a fun idea for a new mystery series.  Please welcome Ruth J. Hartman and check out her book!

Thank you, Judy, for inviting me to guest post today! My new cozy mystery, Hairballs and Homicide, is Book #1 in a new series. I’m well under way writing book 2 in the series as well.

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=ruth+j.+hartman&crid=2M84JIAEHA3NL&sprefix=ruth+j.%2Caps%2C161&ref=nb_sb_ss_ac-o-p_1_7

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=ruth+j.+hartman&crid=2M84JIAEHA3NL&sprefix=ruth+j.%2Caps%2C161&ref=nb_sb_ss_ac-o-p_1_7

When Ellie Warren opens the Kitty Beret Café, her life revolves around finding forever homes for rescued cats and serving lattes. That is, until a woman’s body is discovered behind her shop—the same woman who’d thrown a hissy fit with Ellie in front of lots of witnesses. With Ellie’s cat, Templeton, supplying clues and the help of handsome Detective Simon Dare, she’s on the prowl for the murderer. Will Ellie discover the identity of the culprit before the murderer sinks their claws into her?

As you can see from the cover and probably tell from the title and blurb, my book involves cats. Lots of them. I’ve loved cats forever. We had them growing up – actually that was always what I looked forward to coming home from school every day, a hug from our cat. My husband and I have two, a black female, Roxy, who has the attitude of a princess. She needs a tiara! And a female Calico, Remmie, whose occupation would be thief or spy if she were human.

Hairballs and Homicide takes place in a café that houses rescue cats – either those that have been brought in by someone who can no longer care for them, or by someone dropping off their unwanted pets at the door of the café for Ellie to take care of. But rest assured, every cat that comes to Ellie is totally loved by her until she finds them a forever loving home of their own.

This is something dear to my heart. Helping pets find homes has always been important to me. When my cousin and I were talking one day, she asked if I’d ever been to a cat café, I hadn’t even heard of them since we don’t have one in our town. She then suggested I could write a mystery centered around the café. After some research about them, I was hooked on the idea. What could be better than cats, coffee, zany characters, and murder?

I had so much fun writing this story. My favorite character is one of the cats, Templeton. Because without his feline sneakiness and cunning, they might not have solved the murder! He brings clues to his human, Ellie, to discover the real culprit. As I wrote the book, I could imagine our Calico doing the same. Finding things for me to check out, then giving me a wink when it turned out to be something important.

Another favorite character is Ellie’s grandmother, with her active love life, eclectic wardrobe, and sayings, plus the way she goes out of her way to embarrass Ellie, especially in front of the handsome detective on the murder case, Simon Dare.

But the stars of the show, of course, are the café cats. Each one has a unique personality, as he or she wears cute little outfits and hats hand made by Ellie.

Thanks for spending a little bit of your day with me. I hope you’ll enjoy reading Hairballs and Homicide as much as I did creating it!

Thanks for visiting today, Ruth!  Your book sounds like a fun read!  I hope lots of people give it a chance.

Grannies

In my books, I love Jazzi’s grandmother.  She’s the one who taught Jazzi how to cook.  When Jazzi was a little girl, she’d go to spend a weekend with her once in a while, and they’d fiddle in the kitchen together.   But Gran has reached the age where she’s beginning to be forgetful and sometimes gets addled.  It’s a mild case, though, and another woman whose husband died has moved into the farmhouse with her.  Samantha couldn’t keep up her large house and property after she was widowed, so she and Gran have teamed up together.  It suits them both.

I should also add that Gran has the gift of sight.  More often than not, it’s hard to decipher and confuses Jazzi more than helps when Gran first announces a bit of information, but in the end, Gran’s always right.  Ansel has a soft spot for her and is happy to fetch her a glass of red wine when she comes for Sunday meals.

In Lux 2–the book I’m working on now–Lux isn’t close to either set of her grandparents and never mentions them, but Keon knows his grandmother all too well.  All five of the Johnson siblings dread spending time with her.  She’s caustic and demanding.  This sounds horrible, but I fashioned her after both of my grandmas but made her worse.  My grannies were both tough, old birds.  After my dad’s father died, his mom sat on the couch every day, eating bananas and reading True Confession magazines.  My parents dragged us to her house every other weekend while they worked to keep her house in order.  If we tried to talk to grandma to pass the time, she’d wave us away.  Once, she threw a book at my sister’s head.  I used that in a story.

My mom’s mother looked like a sweet, old lady.  She wore her snow white hair pulled back in a bun, and her dark brown eyes sparkled, just not often with humor.  I have to give her credit.  She survived the depression with four kids, sometimes without enough food to make them supper.  She’d tell them to go to bed early.  Then, when her money got better and she moved to our hometown, her daughter caught diphtheria and went deaf.  She had a hard life and never trusted that it would get easier.  I respected her, but she wasn’t the type to spend pleasant afternoons with or cuddle.

I wanted to show both types of grandmas.  Jazzi got lucky.  Keon, not so much.  But family bonds are strong, even when they chafe, so when Keon’s grannie breaks her hip and falls, Keon’s dad brings her to Summit City to live with him and his wife.  And no one can see any good coming of that.  But it’s hard to decide what to do when your parents reach an age that they can’t care for themselves anymore.  It’s often an agonizing decision to put them in a nursing home, especially if they don’t want to go there.  Often, though, there aren’t any good options.  No matter what you decide, it doesn’t feel good.  I wanted to show that, too.

I’m talking about grannies when my books are mysteries, but the characters in the books don’t just solve crimes.  They work, entertain, and visit friends.  And they have families.  If you’re writing, I hope your characters are walking and talking on the pages for you.  And happy writing!

 

Mystery Musings

In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten especially happy talking about reading with my daughters and my grandson’s wife.  My Florida daughter and Tyler’s wife both convinced me to read the book CIRCE, by Madeline Miller.  I love Greek myths.  They both love literary fiction.  All three of us are excited about the book.

My Indy daughter’s an eclectic reader, like I am.  She tries a variety of different things, but we both share a passion for Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series.  I bought her the newest book in the series for her birthday this year.  She finished it so fast, I should have bought her another book to finish out the weekend.

Sharing books made me think of things I read growing up, books my mother loved and recommended.  She bought me the entire set of Laura Ingall Wilders novels.  Later, she loaned me all of her Grace Livingston Hill collection.  I still remember The Enchanted Barn and want to make that a project for Jazzi, Jerod, and Ansel sometime–converting a barn into a home.  She gave me Betty Zane by the author Zane Grey.  I was so taken with that character that after I read the book, I tried to teach myself to purse my lips every time I was deep in thought, like she did.  Now I regret that.  I have the wrinkles to prove I succeeded.

I read to both of my daughters when they were growing up and tried to buy books I thought they’d enjoy when they got older.  I gave my Florida daughter all of the Alice Hoffman books on my shelves.  She’s still a fan.  She read a lot of Stephen King, too.  My Indy daughter read every single Fever series book by Karen Marie Moning before I could read them.  She’d snitch my Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels new releases, too.  And I loved it.  I read every single word of every single Harry Potter to my grandsons.  It was a special bond for us.  That, and playing Frogger together.

What about you?  Do you have any special memories of books you shared as a family?  Any books you share now?

 

Excerpt

Wolf’s Bane is free until the 22nd, so I thought I’d try to tempt you to try it:

The story made headlines—a naked woman’s corpse found on 29th Street.  There was no mention of an attack, no comment on anything Reece witnessed.  If she witnessed it.  If she wasn’t hallucinating.  Or crazy.  The reporter stated that the woman had not been herself lately.  Friends and loved ones were worried about her.  When police interviewed her husband, he admitted she’d been acting strangely.  She left the house in a hurry that night, telling him if she didn’t come home in the morning, to be happy for her.  Her curse was over.

Reece reread the short, concise article.  Talk about a sanitized version of an event!  She wasn’t about to correct anyone, though.  She felt limp with relief.  Her name wasn’t mentioned anywhere, and that was a blessing.  Being part of a murder investigation wouldn’t be good for business.  Parents might pull their kids from her martial arts studio.  And telling people that werewolves existed would make her a laughing stock.  The last thing she needed.  She was thrilled for the tame version.  It had to have something to do with the phone call the cop got.  Everything changed after that.

Still, seeing is believing.  And she’d seen the werewolf and the winged man.  Hadn’t she?  Her mind said yes.  Her instincts said no.  She hadn’t been drinking that night.  Eugene had.  But was she the one seeing pink elephants and flying men?  She thought of buying silver bullets, but where did you find them?  On the web?  And how would that make her look?  Deranged?

And what about the huge, winged man who killed the beast?  He’d looked like a Michelangelo sculpture brought to life—an angel of retribution.  Reece wasn’t one who indulged in flights of fancy.  Her dad was an engineer, a nuts and bolts type of guy.  A practical man.  She’d taken after him—bought her own studio with her inheritance and invested wisely.  Flying heroes were the stuff of novels.  But which ones?  What was he?  He seemed more a savior than a threat.

She turned what happened over and over again in her mind.  Should she warn people?  Would anyone believe her?  Her gut feeling was the cops already knew there were things that went bump in the night.  They seemed ready to deal with that.  She wasn’t.  Better to shut up and move on.  She still glanced at rooftops, though, looking for someone who might fly from one to another.  And she still tensed when she drove past dark alleys.  But one day rolled into the next.  Her routine fell into place.  She got up mornings, got ready for work, and taught classes.  She had Joseph and Jenny over on weekends.  And eventually, a month passed.  There was another full moon, and she found herself at her mother’s brownstone again, dealing with Eugene.

Clever

It’s hard to trick readers.  They know their stuff, learn your rhythms, your tricks, how your mind works.  They work hard to figure out what you’re up to before you get to the big reveal, the final clues, the last page.  When you can pull a surprise out of your hat, AND play fair, it’s a big accomplishment.

People talked and talked about The Sixth Sense and Knives Out because the movies kept  most people guessing right up until the end and they didn’t see the last twist coming.  I felt that way about the last episode of POIROT that HH and I watched.

We pay for Acorn and watch that show every Sunday night, making our way through all of the old Poirot series we watched years ago.  I’ve read all of Christie’s novels and must have watched these shows at one time, but it’s been so long ago, I don’t remember “who did it” anymore.   And The Hollows completely stumped me.  I have to admit, when Christie tricks me, it’s an added joy.  It makes me admire her even more.

This particular story had a LONG lead in.  HH kept looking over at me and asking, “Is someone going to get killed?”  Any Agatha fan knew she was setting up the husband to be a corpse sometime in the future–lots sooner than old age.  And the suspects, this time, all had better motives than the usual.  Oddities of behavior and offbeat clues popped up all over the place.  So many suspects did such unexpectedly stupid things–the butler polishing the gun because he found it on the hall table and it had dust on it, the mistress of the estate finding that gun in the hen house and putting it in her egg basket, etc.–that I had to scratch my head.

Of course, at the end of the show, every silly reaction had a perfectly good reason, but they didn’t fall into place for me until Hercule explained all of the events in order.  And then I was pleasantly amazed.

I try to give motives and clues in my mysteries, but I seldom feel truly clever.  But then, I never really aim to amaze my readers with a hidden twist that was there in front of them all the time.  It’s too daunting of a task for me.  I’m just happy if I get everything right when I finish the last page.  There’s a man in my writers club who writes clever twists with ease.  I’m in awe of that.  It’s not a talent that comes naturally to me.  But boy, is it fun when someone else does it.

Happy Writing!