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!

Jazzi #7, THE BODY IN THE TRENCH

Yesterday, I loaded my seventh Jazzi Zanders mystery onto Amazon. It’s the first time I’ve self-published a Jazzi, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that readers find it. I love writing this series. I’ve grown so fond of the characters, I look forward to seeing what they’re going to do in each book.

This time, Jazzi isn’t the one who’s asked to solve a murder. Ansel’s uncle, who promised him a job when he came to River Bluffs, then let his sons drive him away, asks for his help. I’m not as nice of a person as Ansel is. Len treated him like crap. I’d tell him to stuff it and secretly rejoice that he was in trouble, but Ansel has high standards that he lives up to, even when others don’t. When Len tells him that one of the members on his construction crew was buried when a retaining wall gave in a trench, and that the police suspect Trey–his son, Ansel agrees to look into what happened.

Trey’s a jerk. HIs brother Willy’s weak. And Len is…Len. But Ansel likes Hammer and Jerry, who trained him when he first worked for Len. When he and Jazzi go to talk to the entire crew, Ansel realizes he really wants the accident to be just that–an accident. He doesn’t want anyone he knows to be guilty of murder. But this is a mystery…so…you know.

If all goes well, The Body in the Trench will go live on Friday, March 26.

Let’s Get a Little Civilized

Our local newspaper had an article about a woman who’d been under a lot of stress who took comfort in reading cozy mysteries. I have to say, a nice, personal murder always puts me in a better mood:) And not because of the murder. That’s just the event that propels the character studies for the rest of the book. Because, to me, cozies are just as much about the why as the whodunnit. They’re puzzles, mind games, and those are fun. I mean, what’s more settling than an afternoon tea and a cozy?

I love mysteries in general, but let’s face it, each sub-category of mystery appeals for different reasons. Thrillers are just that. They thrill. They’re page turners because the stakes are high. Women in jeopardy make our pulses pound because a good woman goes up against a bad villain and has to win…or else. Police procedures intrigue me for a different reason. They feel like I’m getting a peek into the steps a cop might use to solve a murder. And sometimes I get a glimpse of a cop’s life, which makes me grateful any person chooses that job as a profession, because they see the worst of the worst. Sordid things I try to avoid. I know cops are under a lot of scrutiny now, but I sure wouldn’t want their job. And, as in most things, there are a lot more good cops than bad ones. But that holds true of almost everything. I know I’m an optimist by nature, but I truly believe there’s more good in the world than bad, and the same holds true for every profession I can think of. There always has to be a clinker, but that’s because we’re all human.

Anyway, back to mysteries. I enjoy cozies because the murder in the story is personal. It’s not random or misplaced violence like we read about in the newspaper almost every day. Cozies are a matter of cause and effect. A person, who is generally considered a GOOD person, feels so threatened or desperate–or so ill used–that they kill another human being to feel secure again. Okay, I guess I need to add in greedy, because money’s a great motivation, too, but most of the time, the killer feels WRONGED. He considers the murder essential to making things right again. He believes that the person he kills deserves to die, even if that person isn’t the one who committed the sin. The old Bible saying that the sins of the fathers (or mothers) are born by their children holds true in cozies.

There’s a long list of motivations that work in this scenario: vengeance, a child who’s passed over and raised in poverty or misery who blames someone for what happened, love gone wrong, a woman scorned–you name it. The difference between most newspaper headlines and a cozy is that the murder is clever. I went to a mystery conference once where a detective told us that most criminals aren’t very smart, and unfortunately, I think that might be true. It’s not true in cozies, however. The killer has thought about it a long time. He’s smart. It’s personal. And not random or gory.

One of the most important things about a cozy, though, is that the killer is always discovered and almost always has to pay for what he/she has done. There are a few exceptions, of course. Hercule Poirot, who abhors murder, doesn’t turn in the killers on The Orient Express. He considers that justice has been done. And that’s the key. Cozies are more about justice than the law. It’s Karma. Evil is punished. The balance between Good and Evil is restored. And that’s what’s so satisfying about reading a cozy.

In some mysteries, like The Silence of the Lambs, the villain almost becomes as interesting as the protagonist. Some mysteries have anti-heroes or criminals as protagonists. Not cozies. Like in old Westerns, there are the good guys and the bad guys. The good guys wear invisible white hats, and the bad guys are symbolically dressed in black. And the good guys always win. Not always so in real life, but a must in a cozy. And that’s why they bring me so much comfort.

Luck of the Irish

Some of our friends have gotten really serious about genealogy. For HH’s birthday last year, one of them (thank you, John S.) made up a thick notebook of HH’s family history all the way back to his relative who lived in England. I can’t imagine how many hours of work that took, but it was super detailed. Our local library is one of the best genealogy research centers in the country, and HH always says someday he’s going to dig around there, but he never does. When his brother came to visit us, though, he read through the book and went home to dig more into their family’s past.

I helped HH’s dad do a notebook for the part of their family that came from Ireland. Seems one of HH’s great-great-greats poached on a lord’s land and had to leave Ireland as a stowaway to save his skin. I haven’t been bitten by the family tree fever yet, but I know my mom’s dad, a Pedersen, and his parents moved to Wisconsin and started a dairy farm when they left Denmark. My grandmother was a Ransberger when she met him at a square dance and later married him.

Ethnicity can add interest to a person and his background. That’s why I made Ansel’s family Norwegian and why they owned a dairy farm. In Karnie’s series, Karnie’s dad’s family is Italian, so he loves to cook Sunday suppers and expects Karnie and her brother and his family to show up. There are cheese boards and pasta dishes. Her mother’s family is from England, and her mom loves to bake. Think trifles and puddings.

Heritage adds a dash of flavor to a character and his background. Since today was St. Patrick’s Day, I made corned beef with cabbage, onions, carrots, and potatoes for supper tonight–in honor of HH’s great-great something. And I’m going to start reading Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O’Connor. I hope you had a good St. Patrick’s Day and you found your idea of a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Cooking Shows

When I don’t want to concentrate or think too hard, when I’m ready to relax, I like to watch a cooking show. No plot. No character arc. No sound track. Enough information to hold my attention and entertain me. And that’s enough. HH is hooked on The Great British Baking Show, but we’ve watched them all. Then he liked Somebody Feed Phil, and we watched all of those, too. We sprinted through the Prime series My Greatest Dishes, but he’s only so-so on my weekend regulars of The Pioneer Woman, The Kitchen, and Delicious Miss Brown. I get a kick out of Midnight Diner, but it’s not really a cooking show. It focuses on the customers who come in late at night to eat and tells a different one of their stories each episode. I think it’s clever. HH gets tired of the subtitles.

My new mystery series is more like Midnight Diner. Karnie, who works in her family’s butcher shop, interacts with the customers who are mostly regulars. Her dad and brother carve and cut the meat. Karnie works the display case, and each week, when her dad lists the weekend specials, she makes recipe cards for each of them. She also records a cooking show once a week..

Karnie’s customers appreciate the fact that she not only sells them quality meat but takes the time to answer any of their questions about what to do with it. That’s what A Cut Above, their butcher shop, is known for–great customer service. And that’s why Donna Amick wants to steal Karnie away to work at her new butcher shop on the north side of Crossroads, Indiana. Besides, Donna’s desperate. She’s so moody and demanding, she’s fired every person she’ hired to manage the meat counter. Her shop’s only been open a short time, and she’s already made lots of enemies. But that’s no reason to leave Donna’s body propped against the back door of their shop with a meat cleaver embedded in the back of her head.

Finding Donna’s body is inconvenient, but Detective Carmichael doesn’t really think anyone from A Cut Above killed her. He does suspect Sam Lessman, though, the young trainee who worked in their shop before leaving to become a fulltime butcher Karnie, her dad and mom, and her brother Chuck all argue that Sam would never hurt anyone, but Karnie decides to dig deeper to make sure Sam isn’t blamed for something he didn’t do. From that time on, her Mondays are filled by visiting people involved with Donna’s shop… And with Matt Roeback, Chuck’s friend from high school, who supplies the grass-fed, black Angus meat they sell. Two years older than Karnie, he’s been divorced for six years now, raising his son and daughter on his own. As Chuck’s longtime friend, he takes it upon himself to tag along with her when she goes to question anyone. He’s determined Karnie shouldn’t interview people on her own, that it’s not safe. Even though she makes it clear she’d rather he left her alone, he makes it clear that he’ll show up whether she wants him there or not.

I only have a few more chapters before I finish the first draft of A Cut Above, and it’s been a fun book to write. I didn’t expect to get so attached to the shop’s customers, but they showed up often enough, they became real to me. I’m hoping to pass the manuscript to my critique partners soon, and then I can get serious about polishing my 7th Jazzi book. By now, I should be more objective when I read the feedback I got on it. And once I finish a slew of editing, I’ll be able to start work on another new book.

Fun and Clever!

I had a great day yesterday–so much fun that I didn’t get around to writing my usual blog to post last night. I hosted my writers’ group for the first time this year, and it was wonderful! When Covid numbers spiked last November, we decided to err on the side of caution and postpone getting together. But now, the majority of us have gotten our second vaccinations, and we’re a small enough group, we decided it should be okay to get back on schedule. We’ll be meeting at my house the second and fourth Wednesday of each month until we can return to our faithful library meeting room and go to a restaurant afterward. Seeing everyone was WONDERFUL, talking writing and catching up on what they were working on. We lingered longer than usual because we’re friends as well as critique partners.

By the time everyone left, I wasn’t ready to be industrious or do anything of value, including writing, so I flipped through Netflix and found a TV movie to try, ENOLA HOLMES. And boy, did I get lucky. What a find! It was funny and clever with great twists and turns and clues. Enola was the sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, and she learned detecting from her famous brother, played by Henry Cavill. Poor Mycroft didn’t come out well in this show, doing his best to “tame” Enola by enrolling her in a boarding school after her mother left the house and disappeared. The mother, Helena Bonham Carter, raised Enola on her own and taught her all of the things women WEREN’T supposed to learn at that time in history–reading on a wide range of subjects, playing sports, and practicing martial arts. No embroidery. When Enola escapes her brothers to look for her mother, she meets a young viscount who’s running away from his family. A good thing since they’re trying to kill him, and the two team up to help each other.

The movie is well acted, fast-paced, and just good, witty fun. I enjoyed the Sherlock movies with Robert Downing, Jr. and Jude Law. This take has the same clever wit and eccentric clues. I thoroughly enjoyed it. So I not only got to see my writing friends yesterday, I got to watch an entertaining, wonderful mystery, as well. A good day. And that’s why my blog is late. Oops. And now it’s time to get back to my writing:)

Could it be Mr. Mustard in the basement with a broom?

I’m getting within spitting distance of the end of my new mystery, A Cut Above. I’m trying to make as many of the suspects into as strong of candidates to be the murderer as possible. Looking back at the chapters I’ve written, I’ve introduced enough suspects, but I haven’t focused on some of them like I should have. So I’m trying to add a few more twists and turns before the big reveal.

I don’t know why, because I do a lot of cause and effect when I outline, but I always come up short on words and punch near the end of a book. I always have to skirmish to add more. Usually, I’m fighting mild panic, worrying I’ll get everything right, but this time, my characters have been especially generous, and they’ve thought of ways to make themselves look worse than they already did. One of them is happily trying to throw the blame on the others under consideration, and that adds to the mix.

One of the things I enjoy about cozies is that many of them choose a victim who’s so unpleasant, people would stand in line to rid the world of her. That’s not mandatory, of course, but does make things more fun. Donna Amick, the first victim in my book, would have a longer line than most. It’s hard to decide who killed her when everyone wanted her dead. Unfortunately, in most mysteries, after the protagonist starts digging deeper for clues, there’s a second victim. And often, that person is someone likeable. And then the investigation changes course a little, because the protagonist has to decide why that person died.

I’m a little pleased with myself this time because I thought of a twist I didn’t see coming . Before I start writing, I know who the victim/s will be, who the suspects are, and who the killer is. I’ve read blogs by writers who don’t know which of their characters committed the crime until the end of the book. That amazes me. I don’t know how they can plant clues and red herrings when they don’t know who did what. But even with my knowing, my characters can think of something I didn’t and make it work in the story. That happened this time, and it added to the fun.

I’ve been talking about common plotting techniques in cozies, but Ilona Andrews answered a reader’s question about self-publishing, and how even though the author has a lot of freedom and control, he’d still better know the basic “rules” for each genre before he breaks them. I thought she gave an especially good answer, so here’s a link to it: I Have the Power! (ilona-andrews.com). And if you read it, you’ll see even choosing a cover for your book comes with expectations.

Soon, I hope to introduce you to Karnie, the protagonist in A Cut Above, who works in her family’s butcher shop. In the meantime, happy reading. And happy writing!

Happy Book Birthday!

My mystery, THE BODY IN THE BEAUTY PARLOR, is officially out today! Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod can start work on the huge, red brick Georgian-style house they’re going to flip. It’s in good shape, just needs updated. A quick project,. That is, if Jazzi can spend more time helping gut the kitchen and bathrooms, paint and sand floors. Or will she be too busy solving murders? The new hairdresser her mom and sister hired is found dead in Olivia’s shampoo chair with her scissors jammed in her chest. And Jazzi’s ex-fiancée, Chad, goes from having a missing wife to having a dead one. Everyone knows they’d been arguing before she disappeared, but Chad swears he didn’t kill her. Once again, Gaff invites Jazzi along to sift through clues with him. It’s going to be a busy spring!

J.D. Robb

I’m a Libran, so I’ve been told I seek balance in my life. I’ve also been told I like harmony, but not too much of it, that I’ll play devil’s advocate if I get too bored. I don’t know that I agree with that, but I do know I crave variety, and I like balance in the types of books I read. If you look at the ones I’ve recommended on BookBub or Goodreads, you’ll notice I bounce between cozies and suspense with something new tossed in here and there. I recently finished two light cozies back to back, so now I’m in the mood for something grittier, a bit darker. And this time, I turned to J.D. Robb and JUDGMENT IN DEATH. I’m halfway through it, and it keeps surprising me.

I’m amazed that a writer of bestselling romances doesn’t shy away from harsh reality and violence when she turns to mysteries. And her Death series contains elements I don’t find often in other authors’ works. Eve Dallas is a kickass female detective…and yes, that’s been done before. She has issues with commitment and romance. Not a complete novelty. Lots of detectives and P.I.s who walk the mean streets are loners. She openly admits it and has a hard time opening herself up to Roarke, her romantic interest eventually turned husband. Their relationship; however, is anything but ordinary. She likes to do things her own way, but then, so does he. He’s rich as sin and not above bending the law. I can’t remember two people who are as openly combative, while in love, as these two. In this book, their love scene feels a lot like combat to determine dominance. But it works for them:)

The people Eve works with in her department are well drawn and interesting. Her commander is clever and shrewd. Their dialogue comes off tough and professional. They want to get the job done. The villains are ugly and nasty, the murders violent and unusual. Each cop on her team serves a purpose, is better than usual at a particular skill. I enjoy the interrogation scenes when Eve drills a criminal. They’re hard and staccato, trying to pry information out of a person who doesn’t intend to part with it. Another favorite is when she talks to Mira, the police psychologist. Mira’s insights on the villain–what drives him, what his next move might be–are fascinating. And then there’s Roarke. He loves Eve and always does his best to protect her, even when she resents his help. But he’s equally as stubborn. The pace never slows down. Or, I should say, rarely does. Occasionally, Eve’s friend Mavis appears to add a bit of humor when it’s desperately needed.

The stories take place in a not too far off future where people can travel between planets and drive air transports back and forth to their jobs. But the murders are weighted by human behavior, and that doesn’t change much over time. So solving murder takes plain, old hard work and lots of investigating. Eve faces each obstacle head-on and answers questions with sometimes brutal honesty. She’s an interesting protagonist in a complex relationship and a dangerous job. This series is the perfect counterbalance to reading too many cozies in a row. I’m enjoying it for now. Hopefully, I’ll finish the book by the end of this month–which is only two days away.

Have a nice finish to February, and then…happy March!