Snippet

My new mystery, A CUT ABOVE, goes on sale May 3rd. I pre-loaded it, but this week, I’m going through it one more time to tighten and tweak it for its final version. Karnie works in her family’s butcher shop. She’s worked there for years and knows all of the customers, and they know her…maybe too well. Here’s a snippet from it:

https://www.amazon.com/Cut-Above-Karnie-Cleaver-mystery-ebook/dp/B08ZWDQJL9/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=a+cut+above%2C+judi+lynn&qid=1618326939&sr=8-1

Chuck gave her a wink.  He started to whistle as he went back to the cutting room.  Why was everyone so stinking cheerful this morning?

She finished her prep and a few minutes later the first customer walked in the shop.  Bald with only a fringe of gray hair, Woodrow Datlow stalked to the counter, looked her in the eye, and smirked.  “Give me two pounds of bacon.” 

She crossed her arms, glaring at him.  “You’re not supposed to eat bacon.  What would your wife say if she was still alive?  You were only fifty-nine when you had your heart attack and stents.”

“That was over ten years ago, young lady, and I’m still here.”  He pulled himself up to his full height.  “I worked until I was seventy, so if I want some bacon, I’m buying it.” 

“Your wife wasn’t happy you didn’t retire at sixty-five.”

“Because she worried about me.  I worried about our money—our stocks and investments.  Besides, right after I retired, my wife left me.”

Karnie snorted.  “She died.  Not the same thing.  How she put up with you that long, I don’t know.”

A smile threatened, but Woodrow pushed it down.  ”I like bacon, darn it.  And pies.  And sweets.  I’m retired now.  I can enjoy life.”

“Not for long if you clog your arteries.”

“Stuff it, girl!  What else have I got to live for?  My Lizzie’s gone.”

“You have two sons who still like you and three grandkids.”

Woodrow waved that away.  “If I’m gone, they’ll get all my money.”

“If they haven’t murdered you by now, they must like you more than an inheritance.  Why?  I’m not sure.  You can be awfully crotchety.”

“And you’re all smiles and rainbows?”  He raised his eyebrows.  “I can’t imagine what you’ll be like at my age.”

“Healthy, that’s what.  Now rethink what you want.”

He looked smug.  “No, because my daughter-in-law sent me in to buy this for her.  She’s making some kind of big breakfast casseroles for her church group.”

Karnie heaved a frustrated sigh.  “Why didn’t you just say so?”

He threw back his head, laughing.  “And miss dueling with you on a Thursday morning?  Haven’t had so much fun for a while now.”

Giving him a dirty look, she went to wrap his order.  He took it and hummed a little tune as he went to pay for it. 

Blast the man.  A pain in the fanny.  That’s what Woodrow was.  She listened to him harass her mom at the cash register because she hadn’t made a banana cream pie to sell this week.

Genre Structure

Spoiler Alert: If you read this, I’m giving away some things about this book that you might rather have as a surprise.

I stayed up late last night to finish reading P.J. Parrish’s A Thousand Bones. Louis Kincaid is one of my favorite mystery series. I’d read two cozies and was in the mood for something grittier, heavier, and Kincaid is always a sure bet for me. For the first time, though, I had issues with the storyline. The writing, as always, was topnotch. The characters are so complex, they’re amazing. Even secondary characters pull me in. But Parrish played with the basic structure of a mystery, and it made me realize how much I LIKE that structure.

For one thing, for the first time in the series, Kincaid isn’t the POV character. His love interest, the female Miami detective, Joe (short for Joette), is. Parrish framed Joe’s story to blend it into the series, and it mostly worked, although the frame was really rushed. She had Joe come to see Kincaid and ask him to walk the beach with her while she tells him something important. The “something” makes up the entire book–the story of the horrific case Joe worked on her first job as a deputy in Michigan. Parrish is never nice to her characters. She comes up with unusual, grim crimes for them to deal with, but in this book, she outdoes herself. She uses the Indian Windigo legend as a motive for a man who hunts women, and the only remains the Echo Bay police force can find of them are scattered bones.

I settled in to add up clues to who the killer was, and Parrish tossed a red herring or two at us, and then at a little halfway through the book, she revealed who he is. It stunned me. I even reread the scene, thinking I’d misunderstood. I mean, one of the things I love about mysteries is trying to figure out who the villain is and why he’s committing the crimes. But at midway through the book, I knew the villain. That left me wondering where the story would go next until I realized she told us so that she could pit the killer against Joe and see who survived. I shifted genres from reading a mystery to reading a thriller. Okay, I could go with that, even though I like mysteries better. But then, three-fourths of the way through the book, the killer catches Joe, does what he does to women, and leaves her there to die. And he takes off. Wait!! I’m not used to that happening in books either. And I was left wondering again–what now? It took me a while to switch gears and get back into the story while Joe tries to heal. I slogged for a while until the plot picked up steam again and felt like a mystery that careened to an ending that…surprised me. I’m not sure how I feel about that either. Again, Parrish went against type. And part of me got it and understood, and part of me wanted my old true tropes back. I know. I sound pitiful. Parrish’s story is sophisticated, and maybe all I wanted this time around was a tried and true mystery.

At the end of the entire flashback, Parrish frames the book again by having Kincaid ask Joe why she told him all this, bringing the mystery back to the regular series format. And Joe’s answer…again….threw the series in a new direction I’m not overly happy about. I won’t ruin the surprise by mentioning it, and it’s just a personal frustration of mine, but I was disappointed.

Am I happy I read the book? ABSOLUTELY. But it’s the 8th (?) book in the series, and it didn’t do what I’ve come to expect from a Kincaid mystery. Or any mystery, actually. It was brilliantly written. And I’ve always thought it wouldn’t matter to me if a book “followed the rules” of genre tropes, but this made me realize I like those tropes more than I realized. It was still a great book and a powerful read, but I hope the next Kincaid is closer to what I’ve come to expect.

First chapters hate me

My critique partner busted her fanny to read through A Cut Above and get it back to me quickly so I could take my time with rewrites. She made me ecstatic when she told me that she liked it so much, she stayed up to one a.m. to read its end. She works early hours, and it’s a sacrifice for her to lose sleep, but she said she loved the story. Then she added, “But your first chapter is crap.”

Now, some people might not take that well, but I always worry about my opening pages, so I was happy to get an honest opinion. And isn’t that what critique partners are for? She and I have known each other way too long to mince words. But bless her, she told me what I did wrong and THEN, she told me a great way to fix it. A win! And once I looked at the pages again, I knew she was right. And now I know what to do to make those pages better.

While I was waiting for her feedback (I still need comments from my second CP), I struggled with plot points and ideas for a straight, serious mystery that I want to write: VOLUNTEERING FOR TROUBLE. And I got excited about what I’ve come up with, so decided to write a few chapters to meet my characters and “hear” them speak. The ideas were flowing and the characters were walking and talking, so I made it up to about chapter 6. And then I realized the beginning of the book was too “happy.” It set the wrong mood for the story I want to tell. So guess what? I fiddled with the first few chapters, and then I fiddled with them again. I’ve already played with them so much, I’m not sure at this point if I’m making them better. Only time will tell.

First chapter crap syndrome is something I know well. I almost always end up having to rewrite the beginning of my books. I dump too much info too soon. I give away clues I should hide for later. I try too hard, and it shows. So it’s back to the drawing board. Many times. I write for a while, then look back at the chapter and tweak it, write some more and tweak it again, all through the book. Once in a great while, a miracle happens and the first words I write are the right ones. But that’s few and far between.

It’s worse when I start a new series. I haven’t hit a comfort zone with my style or characters yet. Beginnings get easier the more books I write in the same setting. A Cut Above is book one in the Karnie Cleaver series, and I tried for a different pace, a little different tone. It took me a while to settle into it. I haven’t written a serious, darker mystery for a long time. That’s been even harder for me. I had Laurel smiling and waving at her two neighbor girls across the street. No, no, no. I need the two girls to remind her of her daughters when they were little. They’re fully grown now, and when her husband died before Kendra graduated from college, that left Laurel alone. She volunteers now to fill her days, to give her life meaning.

I’m sure when I reread my first chapters once I’m halfway through the book, I’ll find things to tweak again. The only books that start easily for me are the urban fantasies I write for fun. I think that’s because they percolate in my mind and I ignore them until I can’t resist writing them anymore. I’ve already thought about them for months or more before I sit down to bring them to life.

I’m thinking about my middle muddles while I’m finishing this blog, and I realize that I complain about them, too. Hmm, maybe I’m masochistic. I enjoy writing so much, maybe I ignore how hard it is. But whatever! It’s worth it. Keep hitting your keys!

Snippet

Jazzi and Ansel invite their friends and family to their house every Sunday for a family meal. That way, they keep in touch with each other. And when Jazzi and her hunky hubby are trying to solve a murder, they discuss that, too:

Olivia sniffed the air.  “What are we eating?”

“Kebabs.”  Ansel went to carry them outside to the grill, and Walker, Thane, and Radley tagged along to supervise.  Dad and Eli disappeared in the basement to see the kids, and Jazzi took the roasted potatoes out of the oven to dish up.  By the time Ansel returned with the chicken, it was time to eat. 

Everyone chattered at the same time as they loaded their plates at the kitchen island and found seats.  Then it grew quiet for a while as people ate.  It was during this lull that Olivia announced, “Thane and I have talked, and we’ve decided not to have children.”

Ansel’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, and he glanced at Thane.

“I’m fine with it,” he said.  “Kids cost a lot of money and energy.  We’d rather invest in more fun.”

Gran nodded.  “Kids aren’t for everyone.  My Lynda should have never had them, didn’t want them.” 

An understatement.  That’s why she’d gone to New York to give birth and give them away.  One of the reasons they’d found her skeleton in a trunk in their attic.

Jerod wrinkled his nose, remembering.  He pointed to his three kids.  “I’m sure glad we have ours.  They might make us poorer, but what could ever be a better investment?”

Walker beamed at River and baby Noreen.  River wasn’t even his, but he loved him as his own.  “Ours have made our lives richer.”

Ansel turned a worried frown at Jazzi.  She smiled at him.  “I want them, just not right now.”

“Is your asparagus and rhubarb starting to come up?” Dad asked Gran.  A deliberate change of topic, and Jazzi chuckled.  He grinned at her.  She and her dad had always been close.

The talk turned to casual conversation, what they’d been doing during the week.  At the end of the meal, the guys stayed to help clean up, then took the kids out to the pond to look for frogs, skip stones, and to get rid of some wiggles. 

The women poured themselves glasses of wine and headed to the living room to visit. 

Gran looked at Jazzi.  “Xavier knew who it was.”

Jazzi blinked.  Gran’s visions always took her by surprise.  Gran, too.  “Do you know who killed him?”

Gran shook her head, coming out of her trance.  “Do I what?” Jazzi glanced at Samantha, who shared Gran’s house with her, but Samantha only shook her head.  When the vision was gone, it was gone.  Jazzi had learned from experience, though, that Gran was never wrong.  If she said Xavier knew who was stealing from the job site, then he did.  But why hadn’t he told someone?  She didn’t like the probable answer.  He must have tried to blackmail them for his silence.

Easter

In my mysteries, Jazzi bakes cookies to give to friends and family every Christmas. So do I. For Easter, she makes candy.. I’ve decided to do that this year, too. Our kids are grown now. So are our grandsons. Marshmallow chicks and sidewalk chalk don’t excite them anymore. So I thought I’d make them an Easter basket full of adult candies and goodies.

I’m going to start with my dad’s peanut butter fudge. I’ve had a lot of different fudges, but his is still my favorite, maybe because it brings back so many memories. I included it in the recipes for one of my Jazzi books, but I thought I’d share it with you now:

PEANUT BUTTER FUDGE

In saucepan, mix well: 2 c. sugar and 2 T cocoa

Add: 1/3 c white Karo and 2/3 c milk

Mix together and cook on slow heat till 235 degrees on candy thermometer (or soft ball stage)

Add 2 T butter. Take off heat and add 1 c. peanut butter (I use creamy). Stir but don’t wait too long and pour into buttered pie dish.

Let cool, then slice.

I’m also going to make caramels, and I’m sharing Brenda Hanchar’s recipe. She made the best caramels!

CARAMELS

Butter 9 x 9 pan.

In heavy saucepan, melt 1 c butter over low heat. Don’t let it go brown or dark.

Add 2 1/4 c. packed brown sugar and a dash of salt. Stir until blended.

Add 1 c light corn syrup and a 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk.

Cook and stir over medium heat until mixtures boils. Reduce heat to medium , letting it boil at moderate rate until 245 degrees on candy thermometer (firm ball stage, about 12 to 15 minutes)

Remove from heat and stir in 1 t. vanilla.

Quickly pour into buttered pan. Let firm (about 3 hours). Cut into squares & wrap with wax paper.

Those are two of the candies I’m going to make–the old stand-bys. I want to try homemade marshmallows, too, and chocolate truffles. And I want to add a surprise or two if I have time.

Whatever your Easter plans are, HAPPY EASTER! Or, if you don’t celebrate it, happy Sunday! Enjoy.

.

Snippet

THE BODY IN THE TRENCH, the 7th Jazzi Zanders mystery, is on Amazon now. I thought I’d tease you with a small snippet:

The hard rain had turned into a steady shower as they dashed to their vehicles.  Jazzi didn’t like the feel of a poncho, but it kept her dry.  She listened to the rhythm of the windshield wipers as they drove to Len’s job site.  Gaff’s car was parked in the soggy grass area, and they parked next to it.

When they climbed out of the van, George scooted to the center of the backseat.  The pug circled and snuggled down to wait.  He had no desire to leave the vehicle and get wet.  Ansel reached to pat his head.  “We’ll be back.”

Their footsteps squelched as they plodded across the gravel to the trench.  Gaff walked out from under the building’s roof to join them.  He’d been waiting in the half of the warehouse shell that was finished.  He was wearing a long raincoat and carrying an umbrella.  He motioned them to the boards lying beside the mound of mud where the trench collapsed.

Ansel bent to study them, then jerked his gaze to Gaff. 

“I asked Hammer about this, and he got really upset,” Gaff told them.  “He said he built the wall himself, but now, it wasn’t put together right.  Two heavy support beams should have been nailed across the vertical boards.  There are nail holes where they must have been, but somebody removed them.”

Color drained from Ansel’s face.  His expression turned grim, then bleak.  “Someone purposely did this, made the wall weak enough to collapse on Xavier.  There’s no way it was an accident.”

Jazzi could tell he’d been hoping it was.  Old friends worked here.  And even though his family wasn’t worth much, he didn’t want the murderer to be one of them. 

“This puts a whole new spin on things,” Gaff said.  “Someone planned this.  It was premeditated, no accidental bump.”

Jazzi shivered.  Someone purposely buried Xavier alive.  Walls collapsed sometimes when dirt was too heavy pressing against them, and that’s what Ansel was sure must have happened.  He grew quiet and moody.  She wanted to comfort him, but this wasn’t the time.  “What now?” she asked Gaff.

He tossed Ansel a sympathetic glance.  “I start digging into the backgrounds and finances of everyone on the crew.  I try to find answers.  Want to come with me for interviews when I do them?”

Ansel shook his head no, but she nodded a yes.

“I’ll give you a heads-up when I have something,” Gaff told her.  “And you’ll share with me?”

“I always do.”

He gave her a brief smile before motioning toward their vehicles.  “Then we can call it a wrap for now.  And thanks for meeting me here.”

Ansel silently followed them to the vehicles.  He handed Jazzi the keys to his van, and she drove home.  She didn’t try to make small talk.  He wasn’t in the mood.

The Body In the Trench: Jazzi Zanders mystery #7 by [Judi Lynn]

The Body In the Trench: Jazzi Zanders mystery #7 – Kindle edition by Lynn, Judi. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Foot in Mouth

It’s three on a Monday, and I’m already getting nervous. I didn’t use to. I’d do panels and feel confident and share my ideas on almost anything to do with writing. I did an entire library series on writing with some of my friends that they aired on our local public TV. I felt pretty chipper back then. But I’ve gotten beat up over the length of my career, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot but who knows if any of it’s right? At four today, Leah Bailey, a perfectly kind person, I’m sure, is going to question me for her Cozy Ink Podcast Author Interview. After the interview, she’ll let me know when the podcast will air. But it’s the question and answer segment that makes me nervous.

People who know me, and love me anyway, know that I’m perfectly capable of foot in mouth disease. And I’ve gotten worse with age instead of better. A bummer. You’d think you’d learn from experience, but sometimes things fly out of my mouth and I wonder what in the world I was thinking. My filters have taken a beating. I’m not the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed person I used to be. And some of the things I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing with publishing have left me a little jaded. And disappointed. But I still love to write and share stories and characters. And I’ve worked with a lot of wonderful people. Kensington might have dropped me, but I’ll never regret working with my editor there, John Scognamiglio, and the team of publicists, media makers, and book lovers that I got to know. Publishers focus on the bottom dollar, but editors and publicists love books and authors. They do their best to support them.

I’ve been on more panels than I ever expected over time, and I feel like I have a lot to share, but honestly, there’s something about being asked a question with no warning that makes my mind go blank. And some of the questions are hard for me, because these days, I tend to overthink them. Like one I had at a conference–“What do you think is the hardest part of writing cozy mysteries?” My first reaction was, “I think it’s hard to write anything well.” But the person on the panel next to me–a cozy writer I admire, Mary Angela–had a brilliant answer. “Having an amateur sleuth be able to question enough people to solve a crime poses a special problem. No one HAS to talk to her.” Wow! Wonderful answer. Why didn’t I think of that? I would have when I was younger. These days. My brain hits pause and I ponder.

So, wish me luck at 4:00. And I’ll let you know when the podcast is available.

UPDATE:

Since this blog was pre-scheduled, and it hadn’t gone up yet, I just wanted to let you know that the podcast will be available on April 27th, and Leah Bailey is SO easy to talk to, she was like chatting with a writer friend. She made it so nice! I survived and I’m really happy I met her.

Romance is in the air

It’s spring. It became official on March 20th. Mother Nature sometimes takes that in her stride, but there’s something about that date that always makes me feel better. There’s more sunlight with only more and more to come. My snowdrops and crocuses are blooming, my daffodils and tulips are poking their heads above ground, and the temperatures are warming. People are stepping out of their houses, life is revitalized, and romance is in the air.

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

There’s romance in my new mystery series, A Cut Above, but Karnie–my protagonist–isn’t looking for it.. Karnie works in her family’s butcher shop. She’s plain, 27, and has no interest in complicating her life. Her older brother, Chuck, is married with two kids, and she’s happy for him. Loves her niece and nephew, and enjoys family get togethers, but enjoys a simple, no stress lifestyle…until Donna Amick is killed. Her body’s left behind their butcher shop. Then everything changes. Detective Carmichael’s number one suspect is a young guy who trained at their shop, a kid Karnie is sure is innocent. Karnie’s determined to prove he didn’t do it. And then Matt Roeback, her brother’s friend on the football team in high school, who didn’t even notice her back then, suddenly realizes she’s grown and interesting.

In high school, since Matt’s so good looking, girls followed him in the halls, and Renee–a cheerleader–let him know she was available. He married her soon after they graduated, but it didn’t take long before he realized Renee liked him as the high school football star a lot more than as a farmer. Matt raises the grass-fed beef that Karnie’s dad and brother butcher for their shop. He makes a good living, but eventually Renee asked for a divorce and left him with their two kids to raise. The football hunk becomes a single parent, devoted to Jackson and Chelsea. Then Chuck invites him to one of his family meals, and he sees Karnie again–as prickly and opinionated as she was in high school. But now that he’s older, she interests him.

Photo by Vanessa Garcia on Pexels.com

I don’t know if you like a romance subplot in a cozy mystery, but I do. I have a few things that turn me off–love triangles. I hate them. Someone has to get hurt. And romances that never go anywhere from book one to book kazillion. My friend Midu would add “Instant love,” but I haven’t read too many of those in cozies. Mostly, I think a romance adds to a cozy mystery. I’m reading Murder In An Irish Village by Carlene O’Connor right now, and I’m voting for the local cop to win fiery red-head Siobhan O’Sullivan. And I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t take a dozen books before they get together. I won’t make it that long.

Anyway, it’s spring. And I’m hoping warmer temperatures and the hope of flowers give you new energy and inspiration. Happy Writing!

Flippers

In THE BODY IN THE TRENCH, Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod decide to buy the worst, most rundown house they’ve ever decided to flip. It sits on a corner, and an expensive, upscale subdivision sits behind it. They plan to gut the house, rip off the roof, and make it into a two-story instead of a ranch. They know it’s going to take serious work and money, but they think they’ll make a bigger profit flipping it than most of the ones they’ve done because of location, location, location.

The yard is overgrown and horrible, so they have to clear it. Once they do, Jazzi stares at the house in dismay. It’s uglier than she first thought.

The interior isn’t any better. Jerod has to hire Rob to rewire the entire house and Thane and his crew to replumb it and add heating and cooling. The three of them even have to add studs to the walls and ceilings because the original owner tried to cheap out on construction..

When HH and I bought our house, it wasn’t this bad. It was a good solid bungalow, but a minister and his wife had owned it and skimped on things, too. They had to. No money. When I scraped a wall in the living room to get it ready to paint, I punched through wallpaper they’d put up to connect the drywall to the ceiling. Our ceilings are over eight feet and the drywall didn’t reach them. The house was so dated, we had to redo every room and most of the plumbing. We had to add on to the kitchen and upstairs, too, and make the basement into a family room. That was a long time ago, and now we’re having to update some of the rooms we renovated back then.

Many of the neighbors who lived here when we moved in are now gone. But young people are buying their houses and new renovations have started. The young guy who bought the house next to ours tore off the bungalow’s roof to make the house a two-story. The young couple across the street gutted their house and redid the floor plan. The husband owns a construction company and knows his stuff. HH and I were rank amateurs who learned as we went. Our new neighbors are pros. They know what they’re doing.

So do Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod. Since their flipper has to compete with such an upscale neighborhood, Ansel wants to decorate it in a sleek, trendier look than their usual cozy, comfortable style. You can find their ideas for the house on my Pinterest page for The Body in the Trench: (71) Pinterest

And as usual, in the middle of renovations, Jazzi and Ansel find themselves with a mystery to solve. Not one, this time, but two. A murder and vandalism. And as always, there’s some entertaining at their house thrown in for fun. George is in the mood for Cinco de Mayo. Ansel even buys him a sombrero. And Ansel’s brother, Radley, and his Elspeth, have some good news to share.

The Body in the Trench was fun to write. If you give it a try, I hope you like it.

Writers Club Today!

My writer friends are coming to my house for Scribes today. Three readers have volunteered to share their work. Until we can get back into the meeting room at our library, I’m hosting them here. We usually go to a restaurant after our meeting, but not all of us have had our second shots yet, so I make something for us to eat afterward. I do the cooking, and M.L. Rigdon bakes some wonderful dessert for us. She’s bringing a German apple cake today and deviled eggs. We have readers and food. How good of a day is that!