Oh, The Pain!

For the last couple years, I’ve had a surplus of favorite authors to read, bouncing back and forth between them because I found their series late enough that I got to play catch up. It was wonderful. If I read a new author that didn’t quite live up to expectations, I’d download a favorite author and know I was in for a good time. But like all good things, I ran out of books in their series. I have to wait, like everyone else, for the newest to come out. So I read blurbs on BookBub and tried some more new authors and tossed in some new genres, and I’ve found some I really like, but I’ve kept waiting for my favorites to show up.

And waiting. And waiting. And then I realized that the new books were going to take longer than I expected. The authors each started new series, so now they have to divide their writing time between the ones I love and the second and sometimes third series they’re offering. I know how this works, because I’ve done the same thing. Instead of writing one Jazzi and Ansel after another, I took turns, adding two Lux novels, a Karnie Cleaver mystery, and a darker thriller to my list. I understand that a writer needs to stretch once in a while, to try something new.

But oh, the pain! I finally looked up upcoming releases to see how much longer it would be before a new book in my favorites would come out. I read Anna Lee Huber’s A WICKED CONCEIT in April of 2021. The next one, A PERILOUS PERSPECTIVE, is scheduled for April 5, 2022. A year apart! Fair enough. The Lady Darby series is historical and takes lots of research, and they’re not quick reads, so I’m sure that they’re not quick writes. I’ll just have to hang in there.

So I turned to Lynn Cahoon, who writes cozies. I love her Tourist Trap series. But once again, I’ll have to hold my breath. PICTURE PERFECT FRAME was released on March 16, 2021. WEDDING BELL BLUES comes out March 1, 2022. She writes the Farm to Fork mysteries, along with her Cat Latimer series, and recently started The Kitchen Witch novels.. I’ll have to wait my turn.

I follow three Ilona Andrews series, and I’m waiting for a new book in any of the three. Her books are long and complicated, so it might be a while. And she has more series than the three that are my favorites. She’s shared some really interesting blogs lately about writing and how she works and how often things don’t go as planned. Here’s a good one about waiting for your favorite author to deliver what you want: https://ilona-andrews.com/2021/answer-it-is-upsetting/

Luckily, I’ve found some new authors I really enjoy. Who knows? I’ll probably catch up on their series, too, and then I’ll have to find even more new authors I want to read over and over again. But that’s a good thing, right? And even the authors who don’t make me want to read their next book and the next have been mostly good. But finding authors you treasure is sort of like dating. There might be lots of good possibilities out there, but finding the one that makes you want to commit doesn’t happen that often.

He killed a dog!

I’m shocked. Horrified. I’m reading Preston and Child’s BLOODLESS, because my blog friend Mae Clair made it sound so good in the review on her blog. If you’ve never read one of her reviews, you’re missing something. But beware! Your TBR file will grow even when you swear you won’t buy another book. https://maeclair.com/

I’m only at 72%, but this book is one heck of a thriller. And I’ve just learned how most of the parts come together, which involves…and I love this….the paranormal. Piecing all of the clues together has been a fun ride, but I couldn’t figure out WHAT’S killing people. Now, I have an idea. And it’s awesome.

But along the way, Savannah’s lead detective enlists the help of a tracker whose dog catches the scent they need and rips his leash away from his owner to follow the trail. From the way the pacing’s set up, the reader knows this isn’t going to end well. I’m not giving anything away here. If you read it, believe me, you’ll know. But I kept thinking, writers aren’t allowed to kill dogs or cats in mysteries. It’s one of the UNSPOKEN rules. Guess what? Rules are made to be broken. And boy, was it effective!

I’m reaching one of the high points of the book now. I’d have kept reading last night except I couldn’t keep my eyes open. A lot is happening, and I’m curious how the writers are going to bring everything together. A lot of bodies and carnage look possible. But the authors have already tossed in some great twists and turns, so who knows?

BUT…let’s face it. People can die. They usually do (in mysteries). But to kill a dog? It upped the ante of the killer. Job well done. And I hope I can stay awake long enough tonight to finish the book! Mae Clair recommended a good one!

The Waiting Game

I sent my manuscript POSED IN DEATH to my agent, and even though I know better, I always hold my breath, waiting for feedback from her. I’m not sure she’ll like a darker mystery or think I’ll have any luck selling something that’s not a cozy. So I worry. And I wait. I start out confident. I think I wrote a good book. My writers’ club liked the chapters I read to them. My critique partner liked it. But the more time passes, the more reasons I can think of why Lauren won’t take it. Maybe that market’s harder to break into than cozies.

While I wait, I started work on my next book, another Jazzi. And then I started worrying about that. Maybe I should have written that first. Maybe I’ve waited too long between books. I won’t have a new book to publish for another three months. .Maybe readers will have moved on to something else.

For me, part of writing is worrying. Not a totally bad thing if I keep it in check. It prods me to push myself a little harder. And it makes me appreciate the days when the words flow and turn out better than I hoped for. Somewhere in the process, the characters start pushing me whether I worry or not. And then I find a fflow.

I know this sounds crazy, but even if Lauren turns down POSED IN DEATH, I’ll feel better than waiting for her answer. The waiting gets to me. But I’m hanging in there and keeping my fingers crossed.

Old Friends

HH and I went to a bar Wednesday night to meet up with a group of old friends. Joyce and Abe used to live in town before they retired and moved to South Carolina to enjoy the sun and surf, but they went to visit their family’s cottage for a month and were passing through town on their way home, so we all gathered to meet them. There’s something comforting about being with old friends we’ve known for years and years and weathered ups and downs with. Like having a second family.

I’m writing my eighth Jazzi and Ansel now, and they get together with their family and friends every Sunday. On top of that, Jazzi gets together with her sister and friends every Thursday night for a girls’ night out. HH and I meet our friends at the same bar every other Tuesday. That way we can keep up with each other. The guys all worked together at a little hamburger/ice cream place during high school, and the joke is that when they got older and married, the wives became part of their group, whether we wanted to or not:) And it’s been nice. Over the years, we’ve had kids, watched them grow up and move out, survived health problems , dealt with aging parents, and now we’re all “couples” again–empty nesters.

Jazzi and Ansel and their friends are at the stage our group was at in our late twenties. Their parents aren’t old enough to retire, so they’re working. In this book, Eli (Jerod’s father) has to fire a mechanic who’s worked for him a long time. Vince began scamming clients into repairs they didn’t need when they brought their cars in to be worked on, not reporting the “extra” repair and pocketing the money. Completely out of character for him. When he ends up dead, Eli wants to know who killed him and why, but mostly, what drove Vince to such desperate measures. He asks Jazzi and Ansel to help find answers, and the mystery begins…

Not my destiny?

I’ve been trying to write a blog for days now. Not anything earth-shaking or deep and wise. Just a little, simple blog, but every time I sit down at my computer to write it, someone stops to visit or calls. I’ve decided the stars and planets are warning me to keep my thoughts to myself this week..

HH loves to go to the American Legion every Thursday after supper. There are hardly any young members. He sits with other veterans and drinks beer and tries to win at raffles and has a “guys night out.” While he’s gone, I sit down to write a blog, but this week, my sister called, and we hadn’t talked for a while, and before I knew it, HH was home again. How did the time fly that fast? The night before that, my grandson called. And the night before that, I invited a friend over for supper and had a wonderful night, yakking.

I know I could write a blog during the day, but I work hard to reserve that time for writing books–and it’s hard to hang onto that slot of hours anyway. There are always things that need done. HH thinks he should have something to eat every day, silly man. He likes to have groceries in the house:) The dog and cat think they deserve attention once in a while. And weeds keep growing every time it rains–and it’s rained more than usual this year. Not that I’m complaining. I feel for the people in drought. And for the poor people who are flooded.

Everyone I know struggles to find enough time to get everything done, so it’s a common ailment. But I can usually sneak in a blog post here or there. Not this week. But that’s okay, because instead of connecting with internet friends, I spent time with family and flesh and blood friends. It’s all about balance. Hope your life is balanced right now. And happy writing!

Patience (not one of my virtues)

I’m writing plot points for Jazzi and Ansel #8, The Body in the Buick. I’m excited about this book, but I’m being pickier than usual about pacing, and it’s making this process take FOREVER. Either that, or vacation made my brain turn to mush and I’m trying to wake it up again.

I thought this time, whizzing through plot points would be a breeze. I’ve thought about this book a lot before I started trying to organize it. I did my mystery questions and answers, getting to know the victim, his family and friends, suspects, witnesses, and minor characters. I jotted down ideas on Scapple, little twists to move the story forward. You’d think I’d have a head start. But trying to organize everything has been about as easy as herding cats.

It’s odd how books work. Some come easy, almost showing you the way to follow the dots so the story just falls into place. This isn’t one of those. Some are like beating your head against the wall. They fight you every inch of the way. But those books still want to be written and bug you when you put them down. Easy or not doesn’t determine if they’re good or mediocre. Some stories that are the most difficult end up being the best. But not always. Sometimes, you invest a lot of time trying to beat a story into shape, but it never quite comes together. You can make it work, but you won’t pat yourself on the back when it’s done. You’ll sigh with relief and know it could have been better, but not from lack of trying. I’ve yet to figure out how it all works, and I wish I could.

I reached a wall two nights ago and thought The Body in the Buick might be a really short mystery. I couldn’t figure out what to do next, and then I woke up the next morning, and bam! An idea made me so happy, I did a little dance around the kitchen’s butcher block. I wanted to have all of the plot points done by the weekend, but it didn’t happen. Now, I’m just relieved I’ll HAVE plot points, and I’ll start writing when I finish slogging through the rest of them. It just goes to show you. The best laid plans–because I’d done a lot of work up front–don’t always work out. That’s the thing about writing. I love it, but sometimes it makes me nuts. (Of course, HH would say that doesn’t take much).

I hope whatever you’re doing is going more smoothly than my work right now. And happy September!

Weasel’s Demise

I know that many authors use newsletters to communicate with their readers and send them special bonus features and details of upcoming events. I don’t have a newsletter and use my blog to keep in touch instead. And once in a while, authors write special short stories to share with their readers as a bonus thank you, so I decided to write a short mystery for you. If you like it, I hope you’ll share it on twitter, and even if you don’t share it, I hope you enjoy it.

Weasel’s Demise

by

Judi Lynn

The alarm went off.  Speed had to work this Saturday.  Part of being an EMT.  Not like paralegals.  She worked in Judge Hershel’s office, arranging court dates, calling lawyers, arranging crime scene pictures and evidence, a nine-to-five job with an hour lunch.  She and Herschel, known for being a tough female judge, clicked, working seamlessly together.

She started to lift her head to glance at the clock and groaned.  She should have stopped at one bottle of wine last night.  Speed had to help her to bed.  He was good like that.  She might even love him.  Did he love her?  Maybe.  Whatever.  They made a good team.  She reached behind her to nudge him.  “It’s five-thirty.  The alarm went off.  Get up.”

Naked, he pushed out of bed and started to the bathroom.  Worth opening an eyeball to see.  Great ass, skinny legs, but his shoulders were broad.  His thick, wavy, black hair fell over his forehead.  She stretched out an arm to turn off the alarm.  Never safe to do until one of them was up and moving or they’d fall back to sleep.  They might indulge in bad habits—she liked her wine and he liked his pot—but they never missed work.

When he came back out, he quickly dressed, bent to kiss her cheek, and started for the door.

“Have a good day.” 

He stopped and turned, frowning down at her.  “What do you want?”  She never sent him away with a sappy saying.

“You could bring home pizza when you’re done for the day.”

He raised a dark eyebrow.  “A small or big bottle of wine?”

“With pizza?  What do you think?”

“I’ll buy a cheap red, but you’d better not get mouthy after you drink it.  Red does that to you.”

She zipped her lips, and he shook his head.  “Right.”  Then he was out the door.

She slid her legs on his side of the bed, enjoying the extra space, and went back to sleep.  It was eleven when she finally got up.  First thing, aspirin, then the bathroom.  Leaning heavily on her cane, she wandered out to the kitchen for coffee.  White Chinese cartons littered the coffee table.  Styrofoam containers were scattered across the countertops.  They needed a larger apartment so she didn’t have to toss the trash so often.  As it was, she had to drag a large garbage bag around the one large room every few days, or they’d be buried in take-out crap.

The good news?  They never had to clean the stove top.  Neither of them liked to cook, but she did love to bake.  Speed fancied himself king of a grill and invited friends over once in a while for burgers and brats.  She frowned.  One of his get-togethers was coming up soon.  They’d have to hit the store for real food.

Cleaning could wait.  With a cup of coffee in her left hand, her cane in the right, she headed to the sectional that took up most of their living area.  She stretched out on it, easing some of the ache from the top of her tibia, just under the knee, which had been turned to rubble when the drunk driver crushed that side of her car.  Ironic really, since the woman had had imbibed too much wine.  But Noira never drove when she drank.  That’s why God created Ubers. 

Physical therapy had helped her heal so she could do almost everything she had before, but the leg still ached when she overdid.  She and Speed had walked most of Promenade Park last night.  Fun, but she could feel it today.  Then they’d come home with take-out from Don Chavez.  Fresh air and chimichangas.  Life was good.

She flipped on the TV and started watching White Chapel on Prime.  She was still binging when Speed walked in the apartment with wine and pizza.  He looked around the apartment and shrugged.  “We can clean tomorrow.  You needed a day off.”

One of the reasons she loved him.  He moved the last empty pizza box aside and opened the new one. 

“Any excitement today?” she asked, reaching for a slice of the goat cheese and prosciutto specialty he favored.  It was his turn to pick.

He swallowed a bite and washed it down with a sip of beer.  “An odd thing happened.  Ditto and I got called to a heart attack run, but when we got to the house, it was boarded up.  The condemned sign on the door had been there a while.”

She frowned.  “Someone gave you the wrong address?”

“We thought maybe it was a neighbor who got the numbers wrong, so we knocked on a few doors, but no one had called us.  We had the dispatcher call back the number on her screen, but no one picked up.”

“Was it a prank?”

“Not a funny one.  Husky and Weasel got called to a truck that overturned and had to cover it on their own.”

Noira knew all of the EMT drivers Speed worked with, and their nicknames suited them.  Ditto always agreed with whatever anyone said.  Husky was a big boy with a heavy build, looked like a linebacker.  And Weasel had a narrow face, pointed features, and beady little eyes.    

“Do the dispatchers save numbers like that so they can’t prank you again?”

Speed nodded.  “Like the boy who called wolf.  If that person calls again and needs help, he’s out of luck.”

“Serves him right.”  She held up her new slice of pizza and they toasted each other. 

###

Four days later, Speed called Noira at work.  “Can you come home?”

Something was up.  Neither of them ever interfered with each other’s jobs.  “Give me half an hour.”  With a quick knock, she stuck her head in the judge’s office.  “Speed needs me at home.  I have to leave early today.”

“Go.  Will you be back in the office tomorrow?  I’m in court on Friday.”

“Should be.  If I can’t, I’ll call you right away.”

Herschel nodded.  Friday’s case was a guy she’d seen a few times too many.  This time, it wasn’t just burglary.  He’d had a gun.  If all went well, she wouldn’t see him again for years.

Noira grabbed her purse and headed home.  When she and Speed had first moved in together, she’d been disappointed that they couldn’t get a second-floor apartment with a balcony.  Now, with her leg, she was grateful she didn’t have to maneuver any stairs.  And Speed loved their patio with his grill.

She found him on the patio, nursing a beer and looking upset.  He glanced up at her.  “Thanks for coming.  I didn’t want to be alone.”

Oh, God.  What had happened?  She went to get a glass of wine and sat across from him at the small, round table.  “How bad is it?”

“Someone called that she saw a guy lying in an alley with blood seeping out from underneath him.  He was breathing.  She thought maybe he’d been shot.  Ditto and I were delivering a woman to the hospital, so Weasel and Husky had to make the run.  They got to the alley but no body.  They wondered if he came to and tried to crawl away, so got out of the vehicle to search for a blood trail to follow.”

He paused to take a long gulp of beer.  She braced herself for something bad.

He inhaled a long breath.  “When they stepped between two garages, someone shot Weasel in the chest.  Husky said the shot came from behind a nearby house.  He didn’t see anybody.”

“Did they try to shoot Husky?”

Speed shook his head.  “There was just the one gunshot.  Husky didn’t run after whoever did it.  He was trying to stay low and working to save Weasel, but he bled out.”

“Weasel’s dead?”  What a stupid statement!  He bled out.  But it was hard for Noira to wrap her head around the fact that Weasel was gone.

“The calls weren’t pranks,” Speed said.  “They were set-ups.  Someone must hate EMTs.”

Goosebumps covered her arms.  She was cold.  What if the shooter had aimed at Speed?  She didn’t want to lose him.  But then she frowned, remembering the time he and Ditto had sped to a condemned house.  They’d left their vehicle, too, looking for a heart attack victim.  “Were there more than the two prank calls?  Did other drivers go on wild goose chases?”

He pulled his gaze from his empty beer bottle to her face.  He had beautiful, milk-chocolate brown eyes.  “Yeah, Roly and Stringbean got called to a used car lot that was closed, and Red and Irish ended up at a barn on some country road.”

“The shooter doesn’t hate EMTs,” Noira said.  “He wanted to kill Weasel.”

Speed snorted, unconvinced.  “Why not kill at home?  It would be easier.  Why on the job?”

She shrugged.  “No witnesses?  Weasel lives. . .”  She winced and corrected herself.  “. . .lived in an apartment complex, like we do.  Too many people around.  He hardly goes anywhere—mostly to work and home—and he only hangs out with other EMTs.”

“Exactly, so who’d want to kill him?”

She pushed to her feet for another glass of wine and leaned more on her cane than usual.  Her knee was acting up.  “I didn’t know him well enough to even guess.  His girlfriend?”

“Baby Cakes?”  Speed shook his head.  “They’d been together four years.  You’ve met her.  Who else would want her?”

Noira had been with Speed six years.  If she was going to kill him, it would have been in the first one, not the fourth.  Little things drove her nuts.  He never rinsed his whiskers out of the bathroom sink.  He left the toilet seat up.  He cut his toenails and left them on the floor.  If they survived what friends called the seven-year itch, they’d probably be together forever.  She filled her wine glass.  “Baby Cakes never came to any of your grill parties.  Have you met her?”

“I got the impression she’s sort of a loner, not very social.”

“Is she planning his funeral?”

“Nah, he planned his own last year.  Said he watched too many people die, leaving everything for their families to deal with.  If it was up to his family, though, he said they’d throw his body in a wooden box and bury him in a pauper’s graveyard to get more of his money.”

Noira lifted her eyebrows in surprise.  “Did Weasel have money?”

“Beats me.  He might.  He sure didn’t like to spend any.  You had to pry a nickel out of his fingers.”

She smiled, remembering.  “Yeah, when you grilled for everyone, some of the guys pitched in on the beer.  Never Weasel.”

“And he’s the one who drank the most.  If it was free, it tasted better.”  A laugh started, then stuck in his throat.  “He was sort of a jerk, but I’m gonna miss him.”

Noira reached to pat his hand.  “Let’s go out tonight.  The Club Room has great food and good music.  Or we could get sushi.  That’s one of your favorites.”

“After one more beer.”  He went to the kitchen and came back out with fresh drinks for both of them.  He raised his bottle to clink her glass.  “To Weasel.”

“Rest in peace.”  They drank, then got ready to leave.

###

Two days later, Noira was surprised to see Weasel’s case file tossed on her desk.  Judge Hershel was going to preside over his case.  Hunter, a detective Noira worked with occasionally, had arrested Grifter for killing him. 

Noira read the evidence.  Two homeowners had seen Grifter in the alley before Weasel was shot.  Hunter checked his cellphone.  He hadn’t made a call for an EMT, but the techs had found a burner phone in a trashcan nearby, and it had the call on it.  No fingerprints, but Hunter hadn’t expected to find any.

“Any calls on his phone at the time Weasel died?”

“One from an unknown number the night before to score some crack.  The deal was supposed to go down in that alley that morning.”

“He was set up.”

“Or else,” Hunter argued, “Grifter thought Weasel saw the deal go down and would turn him in, so he shot him first.”

She shook her head.  “I’m not buying it.  Grifter’s a small-time drug dealer.  You told me he wasn’t even worth picking up.” 

“He was there,” Hunter said.  “Opportunity.”

“And motive?”

“Husky told us that Weasel tracked Grifter down a month ago, angry because some kid almost overdosed on heroin he sold him.  Told Grifter that if he didn’t clean up his act, he’d make sure he was behind bars.”

Noira stared.  “Weasel?  I never thought he cared that much about anything.  I got the feeling he just wanted a paycheck.”

Hunter snorted.  “He had special motivation.  The kid’s mom cleans rooms at the hospital.  He met her delivering a patient there.  They struck up a conversation and got a little cozy.  He liked what he saw and was trying to get in good with her.”

“But he lives with Baby Cakes.”

Hunter rolled his eyes.  “And men never cheat?”

“I didn’t think he could.  Why would any woman be interested in him?”

“You know better than that.  Anyone, even the worst-looking stripper, can attract someone.  It’s a matter of knowing what your options are.  Guys like Weasel don’t expect to snag a debutant.”

Something still didn’t feel right.  Grifter would never bother to buy one burner phone after another, and he’d never lure Weasel to different locations to kill him.  She was going to go home and think through everything Hunter had told her.  After he left, a memory niggled.  She pulled Grifter’s file, and she’d remembered correctly.  He’d been beat up a year ago.  He had a gun but couldn’t make himself use it, only carried it to scare people away.  When a cop had asked him about it, he’d said that guns scared him.    

She called Hunter to share what she’d found, but he was unimpressed.  “Things change.  After the pounding he got, maybe Grifter decided he’d rather pull the trigger than spend time in the hospital again.”

She was still fussing when she got home that night.  Speed listened to her with more sympathy when she told him about Grifter. 

“Weasel bragged about giving him a scare,” he said.  “But it was mostly a grandiose gesture, and both he and Grifter knew it.  It impressed the kid’s mom, though.”

“So he wouldn’t hunt down Weasel to kill him?”  Noira flipped through her cellphone to decide what to order for supper. 

Speed went to stretch out on the sectional and flip on the TV.  It was his turn to pick what they watched.  He settled on an old repeat of Survivor.  When he picked their shows, she picked their meal.  “I’m guessing Grifter’s heard more serious threats than Weasel’s.  He doesn’t deal with the nicest people.”

Noira called in an order for fries and buffalo chicken wings.  When she went to sit beside Speed before leaving to pick up the food, she said, “If Grifter didn’t kill him, who did?”

Speed reached out to tousle her chestnut curls.  Her hair was more unruly than his.  “Babe, neither of us are detectives.  I don’t have a clue.”

With a sigh, she admitted defeat.  She’d have to console herself with an order of cheesy garlic bread.

###

Speed set the day for his grill party and decided to dedicate it to Weasel.  He invited Baby Cakes to come, too, telling her, “The guys and I have raised some money instead of sending flowers.  We thought you might be short until Weasel’s finances are settled.”

The morning of the barbecue, Noira dragged her garbage bag around the apartment, tossing all of the empty cartons and containers inside it.  She helped him set up card tables and chairs outside, and she filled an aluminum trough with ice, then beer and wine.

Speed was grilling burgers and brats when Husky and his wife arrived.  Noira had made cole slaw and bought tons of chips and dips.  She’d baked a chocolate sheet cake, too.  Juanita helped her set them out on a long, portable table.  Little by little, the rest of the crew trickled in, grabbing drinks and settling in to yak.

It was a perfect day for an outdoor gathering.  Late summer sunshine shone in a robin egg-blue sky, and the temperature hovered in the low eighties.  Husky raised his beer bottle in a salute.  “To Weasel!”   

Everyone joined in, and he said, “Juanita made chicken enchiladas to take to Baby Cakes after Weasel died.  Thought it was the right thing to do.  Boy, did she get an earful.”

He motioned for Juanita to tell the story.  She was a small, slender woman with a warm smile.  “Baby Cakes was furious that Weasel planned his funeral ahead, said he ordered the most expensive of everything.”

Ditto paused his beer bottle midway to his lips.  “But he prepaid for it.  She doesn’t have to worry about spending a penny.”

Juanita glanced at Husky.  “That’s what he said, too, but Baby Cakes said it left less money for her to survive on.  She and her sister went to talk to the funeral director about it. She told him that Weasel had changed his mind in the last few months.  He told her that he didn’t want his body to lie in a coffin indefinitely.  He wanted to be cremated.”

Roly ran a finger around his shirt collar.  He was always too warm and unbuttoned his top button.  “Maybe that was her way of getting even with him.  I stopped by his place a month ago to return a post hole digger he loaned me.  The two of them were in the middle of a row, and he told her to pack her bags, because her days were numbered.”

Ditto shook his head in disbelief.  “He was going to break up with her?”

“He said she spent more time with her sister than with him, wouldn’t even watch TV in the same room he was in, and he’d met someone new who actually liked him.”

Speed went inside and returned with a tray that held buns and condiments.  “Did she get to change Weasel’s wishes?  He told me he wanted to be laid out in a blue casket with doves on it.”

The men looked at each other and shrugged.  Noira and Speed had been watching for an announcement of Weasel’s funeral but hadn’t seen one.  Speed checked the meat on the grill and announced, “Everything’s ready.  Come and get it.”

People stood in line to load their plates.  Baby Cakes showed up just when everyone was settling at the tables, and she brought someone with her.

“This is my sister,” she told them.  “I didn’t want to come alone.”  She walked to Husky’s card table and plopped an urn on it.  “Thought I’d bring Weasel, too.  He never missed one of your get-togethers.”

A shiver raced up Noira’s spine.  This gathering was to honor the man, but she hadn’t expected to have his ashes here.  Everyone glanced at the urn uneasily.

“When was the funeral?” Speed asked.  “We wanted to come to it.”

“I decided to keep it private.”  Baby Cakes gave her sister a look and nodded slightly to the tray where the fat envelope was propped, then said, “It was nice of you to think about how broke we’re going to be a for while.”

We’re?  The sister must have moved into Weasel’s small house.  Noira was surprised by how rough-looking both women were.  Too thin.  Tattoos on their necks, arms, and legs.  And neither looked overly upset by Weasel’s death. 

Speed went to get the envelope to hand to her.  “We’re sorry for your loss.”

Baby Cakes shrugged and stuffed the envelope into her purse.  “Well, it was great meeting you all.  We have things to do so can’t stay.  I wanted to drop off Weasel, though.  You can keep him.”

Everyone stared as the two women turned to leave.  The nerve!  Noira reached for Speed’s phone and dialed the number he’d used to invite Baby Cakes.  Baby Cakes stopped to dig her phone out of her purse to see who was calling.  Then she frowned and glared at Noira. “What’s the deal?  What do you want?”

What did she want?  She wasn’t sure.  She just felt that something wasn’t right.  “We meant for this to be a memorial service for Weasel.  We were hoping you could stay and tell us some special moments you had with him.”  As she talked, she stood, moving closer to the two women.

“Special moments?”  Baby Cakes sneered.  “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“You lived with him four years.  Surely, there’s something you can share.”

With a huff, Baby Cakes started to turn away. 

“Wait!”  Noira moved to follow her, then purposely slipped, going down on one knee.  Her bad knee.  It hurt like crazy.  Her cane slid out from under her, tripping the other woman.  As Baby Cakes threw out her hands to break the fall, her cellphone flew to Noira.  She picked it up, scanning the screen.  Then she looked at Baby Cakes with a raised eyebrow. 

“Give me that!”  Baby Cakes lunged for it, but Noira tossed the phone to Speed.  “Detective Hunter will be interested in why you called Grifter the night before Weasel was shot.”

“I like a little lift now and then.  So what?”

“You set up both men—Grifter and Weasel.”

“You can’t prove that.”

Speed punched numbers into his phone.  “We can’t, but I bet Hunter can.”

The EMTs moved forward to block both women before they could leave.  They held them there until Hunter came for them.  The rest of the barbecue was filled with talking and hashing over the events that had just happened.

###

Grifter was back on the streets a week later.  Hunter rested a hip against Noira’s desk, explaining, “Weasel and Baby Cakes were together four years.  He left everything he had to her, including a hefty life insurance policy, but if they broke up, all that would end.  She bought a gun a few weeks ago, used her sister’s name.  The two of them were planning on selling the house and moving to one of the Carolinas together.”

“Baby Cakes told you that?” Noira asked.

Hunter shook his head.  “No, the sister.  When we asked to see her gun and told her she’d be an accomplice for murder, she spilled everything in exchange for us dropping the charges.”

“So, she knew what Baby Cakes had planned?”

“Oh, she knew.  Said he deserved it after living with her sister for years and then dropping her when someone younger looked his way.”

“Did Baby Cakes really spend more time with her sister than him, though?”

“She barely tolerated him.”

“But she thought he’d stay with her?”

Hunter crossed his arms over his beefy chest.  “I never said Baby Cakes was a genius.  And Grifter asked me to give you a message.  If you ever need anything from him, it’s on the house.” 

“No way.”  The less they had to do with Grifter, the better.

Judge Hershel came out of her office.  “Case closed.  If you two want to solve anything else for me, be my guest.”

Hunter put up his hands in surrender.  “No thanks, I’ll just stick with the ones that land on my desk.”

She raised her gray eyebrows at Noira. 

“Count me out.”  She was looking forward to going home tonight, opening a bottle of wine, and eating coney dogs with Speed while they watched The Great British Baking Show.  As much stress as she wanted to handle.

White Chapel

HH and I don’t watch a lot of TV. He gets bored with series pretty fast. He’ll stick it out for a few cooking shows, though, and lately, he’s gotten hooked on a few mystery series. He’ll watch repeats of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple (unlike me, he forgets the big clues and whodunnit) and he likes McDonald and Dodds. Once in a while, I can sneak a Lewis and Hathaway past him, but he really likes White Chapel on Prime.

The first season of White Chapel was pretty grim–a killer who was doing exact copycat murders of Jack the Ripper. Now, I like reading a good Jack the Ripper novel, but I thought HH would call it quits pretty fast. Not true. I was curious what the show would do for season two, since the Jack the Ripper theme was played out. But they went on to another copy cat mystery, this time, something that was more recent in the White Chapel area of England (fictionally).

One of the things HH particularly likes about this TV show is the set-up of a flawed, OCD protagonist who’s made the lead detective over seasoned detectives who think he’s a bother but learn to respect him, as he learns to respect them. It’s a case of two different worlds bumping heads and learning from each other. There’s the wise, world-weary detective who’s seen it all and reluctantly begins to care about the newcomer, and a young detective who’s still pretty idealistic. There’s a detective caught in the crossfire of loyalties, and a detective who bends the rules and ends up demoted. Add to this a man who researches old crimes and can guess what might happen next. It makes for a pretty entertaining mix.

Watching the characters interact and grow makes me think about the people writers use to make great mysteries. Elizabeth George’s Inspector Thomas Lynley is a deeply flawed man who comes from privilege, like the young detective who heads the investigations of his team on White Chapel. Lynley’s partner, Barbara Havers, doesn’t mind pushing the boundaries and often gets in trouble, so stubborn she doesn’t listen to Lynley but proves a perfect complement to him.. And of course, there’s the superintendent who gives Lynley a hard time and sometimes undercuts him. White Chapel uses some of the same staples, but like Elizabeth George, the show makes them work and feel fresh.

Failure

Writers don’t talk about failure too much, so I wanted to share mine with you. Failure doesn’t hurt as much as it used to. When I was a new writer, I took it personally. If I got a hundred rejection letters, I kicked myself as a bad writer, even though I got handwritten notes from editors saying, “Loved the story, but it’s not what I’m looking for right now.” Somehow, I missed the “I love” part. I thought they were just being nice, trying to let me down easy. And I concentrated on the “I don’t want it” part. Now, I know I have a talent for writing what’s already glutted or what no one wants. I’m good at that. But rejection still felt personal, like I was a failure. The one thing I took pride in is HOW MANY rejections I got. It meant I gave each story/book a good chance. I didn’t give up without a fight.

Over time, I sold more short stories and eventually, even sold books. And somewhere over the years, rejections became part of the business, not a direct opinion that I should turn off my computer and tend to my garden instead. There were people who liked what I wrote, and people who didn’t.

When Vella went live, I wanted to try it. I thought a serialized novel might work for Muddy River, that I might find some new readers. Not so much. I knew it was a gamble for me. My mysteries sell a lot better than my paranormals. But I didn’t want to try to serialize a mystery, and if Muddy River failed, life happens. I was only going to write 30,000 some words, and I could take those down and publish them on Kindle as a novella.

Unpublishing; however,, is not as easy as it sounds. I had to push the Unpublish button and learned that Vella won’t take down the story for 60 days, in case readers had started it and needed a chance to finish it. That sounded fair. And long. But when I hit the unpublish button, I got a personal e-mail that Vella would make a one-time exception for me because Alex, who is very nice, had looked up my numbers, and only THREE readers had looked at my story. EPIC FAILURE.

There are people who have over a thousand likes on Vella. Some writers are finding success. I’m just not one of them. What did I do wrong? The cover? The blurb? The tags? Beats me. But I have to admit defeat. Am I hanging my head in misery? Not so much. I was curious about it. I gave it a try. It didn’t work. And that’s the thing about writing. Sometimes you write something that you think is your best, and it dies on the vine. Writing isn’t all about what a good writer you are. Plain, old, dumb luck is involved. Hitting the right thing at the right time. Getting good reviews from the right people. And what editors are looking for and buying comes and goes, too. There are so many variables, I could never keep track of them all.

But the most important thing I hope you get from this is: FAILURE ISN’T THE END OF THE WORLD. Sometimes, it’s the start of something new. I wrote one cozy after another for years and got rejections. No one wanted them. So I finally decided to write something else. And I sold a romance. Don’t snicker and say, “I could never write one of those.” Because that’s what I said. And guess what? I could. Just like in horoscopes, timing is important. If you can’t sale one thing, maybe you should try something else. Really pay attention to any comments about why an editor didn’t choose your novel. Try to fix what’s wrong. It might not be your writing. It might be your subject, or the way you told the story. Maybe it’s too much like what’s already out there. Or maybe it’s not enough like what’s already been done.

But failure’s just a no. Keep writing and trying until you get a yes. Mine took a long time, and I thought about giving up. There’s no shame in that. If you don’t enjoy what you’re working on, why do it? But if you’re determined to succeed, use those failures to stand on and push yourself higher.

I’ve unpublished SOLSTICE RETRIBUTION on Vella and I’ve loaded it for Kindle. It might still bomb, but I enjoyed writing it, and I like Muddy River. Failure isn’t the end of the world. A lot of hugely successful people have failed their way to success, so if you’re hooked on writing, hang in there!

Our Libraries

This is a love letter from me to the libraries HH and I use and love. HH is a fast reader and flies through books much faster than I can. He often comes home with a stack of five or six books he’s chosen from the Waynedale Library, not far from our house. He starts each book, but if they don’t hold his attention, they’re quickly dismissed. Sometimes, all of them are returned, unread. A reminder to me. There are a lot more readers like my HH out there. A writer has to hook them fast, or they move on.

Before the head Waynedale librarian, Don, retired, every time HH went to find books, he and Don would open the HUGE dictionary sitting on a stand near the checkout counter to find one or two new words HH found in the previous books he’d read that he didn’t know. He reads a lot of nonfiction and historical novels, and most of those use a larger vocabulary than cozies and thrillers. HH and Don would read the definition and pronunciation together, then HH kept them in a notebook, hoping to increase his vocabulary.

(My younger daughter and a stocker at our nearby grocery store used to play the vocabular game, too, when Robyn was in grade school. They took turns. One week when I went to buy groceries, the woman stocker would have a word for Robyn to see if she knew it. The next week, Robyn would have a word for her. That lasted until Robyn got bored spending an hour with me in the store and stayed home).

My writers’ club meets at a more central library for all of us to drive to. Little Turtle has been kind to us, letting us use the big meeting room every second and fourth Wednesday of each month, except during the summers–when they pass out free lunches to school children and offer programs for them. Then we go to the main library, downtown, and it offers us a room. The main library used to showcase local authors once a year with tables set up for us to display our books, and many of us were invited to speak on panels about the craft of writing during the program. Covid ended that. I don’t know if or when it will start up again, but it was a nice way to meet fellow local authors.

Libraries, like so many other things, have taken a beating during the pandemic, but ours have done everything possible to keep providing books to readers. And of course, they have a strong e-book and audio book program, too. I have to admit, I rarely check out books at the library, because I’m a Kindle junkie and buy most of the books I read, usually when they’re on sale, but even if they’re not for favorite authors.

What about you? Are you a strong library user? Or is your TBR pile jammed on your Kindle? Are you lucky enough to get a lot of visiting authors at your local book stores or libraries? Do you go to hear them? And these days, do you like listening to authors on podcasts or Facebook? There are a lot of different options anymore. What are your favorites? Or would you rather just read and ignore the rest?