Mystery Musings

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

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

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

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

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

 

Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clever

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Writing!

Not Forgotten

Long, long ago in a land faraway…okay, that’s not true…in the same office I work in now, I wrote urban fantasies as Judith Post.  I really enjoyed them.  They gave me a kind of freedom I don’t have with romances or mysteries.  My characters had powers ordinary people don’t have.  They also had bigger enemies.  And even with magic, they had bad days and worries.

Even back then, I had a fondness for good witches, so I wrote three books featuring Reece Rutherford.  Reece didn’t realize she was a witch until a werewolf attacked her and a gargoyle saved her.  Where the werewolf had pressed his paw against her chest, a blood-red, hexagram tattoo stained her skin, and her powers started to awaken.  Eventually, she joins Damian and his fellow gargoyles to fight the rogue werewolves who are trying to take over their city.

I’ve neglected all of my urban fantasies for a long time, but since I’m writing the Muddy River supernatural mysteries, I thought I’d spotlight them once in a while again.  From Thursday, June 18 to the 22nd, WOLF’S BANE is free on Amazon.

Mystery Musings

I’m working on my second Lux mystery, and I’ve finally reached 19,000 words.  I’ve finished the first fourth of the book, and for now, I’m happy with it.   I’ve introduced the book’s big question (who committed the murder since it’s a mystery) and a subplot (The Johnson siblings’ grandmother is moving to Summit City to live with their mom and dad, and no one’s happy about it).  Grandma Johnson is a bitter, outspoken woman, who fell and broke her hip, so she needs care until she’s better, maybe for the rest of her days.  Lux, a freelance writer, is working on an article on aging, so Grandma Johnson ties into the research she’s doing for it.

Lux gets involved in solving the book’s murder because the victim is Cook’s nephew.  Cook worked for Lux’s parents and was always there for her.  She loves Cook so much that she convinces her to move to Summit City, too, along with her oldest sister.  Things get complicated when Cook’s nephew’s body is found in one of Lux’s storage units.  He was murdered while he was stealing things from her.

I always enjoy writing the set-up of a book.  That’s when I try to make my characters come to life as I throw them into the story.  It’s where I try to plant readers in the setting and describe the house, town, and surroundings through action.  And it’s where the important changes happen in my protagonist’s life that make her take action to fix things.

In my first Lux book, I started with more background information than usual.  I felt that the story needed it.  But usually, I tread lightly when sprinkling background into my writing.  I need to know all of that information, but the reader doesn’t necessarily need much of it.  C.S. Boyack wrote a great post on this for Story Empire.  He showed the drip, drip, drip method of feeding readers information.  Writers can go from sparse to a lot more.  I often end up in the middle.  Here’s Craig’s article:

https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/05/27/case-study-the-mandalorian/

I’m now heading into the second fourth of the book.  Lux is ready to dig into finding clues and making things work.  Of course, ten or so chapters from now when I reach the middle of the plot line, there’ll be another twist and she’ll have to shift directions.  Nothing can be that easy for a protagonist.  So she’ll be keeping me busy for a while now.  And that’s the joy of writing.  One fourth of the novel done.  Three-fourths to go.  And so far, the middle muddle hasn’t slowed me down.

A snippet

This is from BAD HABITS, my first Lux mystery:

Keon drove to the Black Dog Pub a short distance down the street and close to his apartment.  We found a small table in a corner, and a few people waved at him as he passed.  He met a lot of people as a chef.  A few smiled my way, too.  I’d interviewed my share of experts for articles, in and out of town.

A man sitting at the bar got up and walked toward us.

“Speak of the devil,” Keon muttered.

Almost six feet tall and stocky with blond hair and blue eyes, he grinned at me but talked to Keon.  “Hi again.  I talked to one of your brothers tonight.”  His gaze never left my face.

Keon frowned, not hiding he was irked.  “So I heard.”

The man nodded to me.  “Aren’t you going to introduce us?  Offer me a seat?”

With a sigh, Keon motioned to a chair.  “Detective Petersen, this is a longtime friend of mine Lux Millhouse.”

He sank into the chair next to mine.  “You can call me Pete.  Everyone does.”

Keon motioned for three beers, then leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table and hunching his shoulders.  “Any ideas who shot the guy in the parking lot?” he asked Pete.

“Not a clue.  Not much chance of catching him either.  Drive-by shootings and gangs are too random.”  He returned his attention to me.  “What kind of journalist are you?”

The question threw me off balance.  “How did you know I was a journalist?”

“Tyson mentioned it.”

Oh.  “Freelance,” I told him before taking a sip of my beer.  “My next assignment is Drugs in the Midwest.  I might give you a call for information.”

He pulled out a business card and handed it to me.  “Can we trade?”

I dug for one of mine and gave it to him.

“Mind if I call you for a drink sometime?”

“Why not?”  He seemed nice enough.  It never hurt to have another contact I could call.

Keon’s brows drew together in a scowl.  “Are you two done flirting?  I came here to relax.”

Grinning, Pete pushed out of his chair.  “Nice seeing you, chef.  Hope to eat at your place sooner rather than later.”

Keon watched him return to his friends at the bar, then turned to me.  “Do you give your number to anyone who asks?”

His prickly mood caught me by surprise.  “He seemed decent enough.”

“For a cop.”

“You’ve never had any trouble with cops before.”

“Maybe it’s just him.”  He took a sip of his beer.

I laughed at him.  “You’re not in the best mood tonight, but you’ve had a lot on your plate lately.  You’re more worried about Tyson than you admitted, aren’t you?”

“Maybe.  I don’t like it that you’re involved in this.”

“How could I not be?  You guys are like family to me.”

“But we’re not family, are we?  You forget that sometimes.”

I stared, hurt.  His comment felt like a slap in the face.  “Are you telling me to butt out, that this is none of my business?”

“No, I never think that.”  With a sigh, he pinched the bridge of his nose.  “I’m trying to tell you that. . .well, that. . .“ He stumbled to a halt and shut his eyes, frustrated.  When he opened them again, he was calmer.  “Never mind, I’m being stupid.  This is coming out all wrong.  I must be tired.”

I immediately reached out to touch his arm.  “Let’s drop it for tonight and just enjoy our beers.”

He grimaced, still upset, but nodded.  He raised his glass to me.  “Thanks for coming with me tonight.”

We clinked drinks and purposely talked about other things.  After our second beers, he stood.  “Ready to go home?”

On our way out, I glanced at the bar and Pete was gone.  So were his friends.  On the drive to Keon’s apartment, I said, “It’s been a big day.  When we get to your place, it’s straight to bed for me.”

That seemed to frustrate him again, and I frowned, puzzled.  I could usually read Keon really well, we’d known each other so long.  But something was off tonight and I wasn’t sure what it was.

 

Family

Our family is small.  HH’s parents are gone.  So are mine.  I have two sisters…sorry, one now…I’m not used to saying that.  My younger sister died a little over a week ago.  Neither of them married.  HH has one brother.  He married, but he and Stephen had no children before they separated.  We have two daughters, but my younger and her husband decided against children, too.  My older has two boys, grown now, and one of them recently married.  But that’s it.  If we have a “big” family get-together, there are only eight people.

My aunts and uncles are all gone.  So are HH’s.  We have cousins scattered somewhere but haven’t kept in touch.  At my grandson’s wedding, the “groom’s” side of the room was filled with lots of family friends, but hardly any family.  We shake our heads once in a while at our puny size, but we make up for it in how much we care about each other.

When HH and I first got married, it was easy to fill our house with over twenty people with our parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Not any more.  But in the books I write, families are important cores of the stories, even if in Muddy River, “families” are supernaturals who came together to escape being hunted and bonded to protect themselves.

Jazzi, in her series, invites her family and a few chosen friends to her house every Sunday for a family meal.  Each week, they get together to stay in touch and catch up on each others’ lives.  When HH and I first got married, my dad insisted that we take turns cooking suppers with them every Thursday night.  Mom cooked one week.  I cooked the next.  He told us that if we didn’t, it got easier and easier to drift apart.  We were happy to see Mom and Dad and my two sisters every Thursday.  The only problem?  I’d never learned to cook.  I had to plan ahead when it was my turn so that they’d have something edible.

Both sides of my family had reunions once a year.  So did one side of HH’s family.  We met uncles and aunts we only slightly knew and cousins we only talked to occasionally.  There are no more reunions for either of us.  Not any of my friends attend any either.  Maybe reunions got too hard to do when families moved farther and farther apart.

In my Lux series, Lux was an only child, and she lost both of her parents soon after she graduated from college.  But the Johnson family “adopted” her, and she grew so close to them that she moved to Summit City when the four oldest Johnson siblings moved there.  They’re the family she never had.  In the second Lux book that I’m working on now, even her beloved Cook moves to be close to her.

Family isn’t always the people who share your bloodline.  Sometimes, when you move to a new city, they’re the people who share your heart.  In all three of my new series, family plays a big part in the storylines.  Probably because it’s so important to me.  What about you?  Are you close to your families?  Do you still have reunions?

Whatever you’re working on, happy writing!

Mystery Musings

I just finished reading SCARED STIFF by Annelise Ryan.  Her protagonist is an ex-ER nurse who has to leave the hospital she loved working in when her husband–Dr. David Winston–cheats on her with a fellow RN.  It’s too awkward for Mattie to work with David, and no one’s going to fire a skilled surgeon, so Mattie finds herself working as an assistant to her friend, Izzy, the town’s coroner.

My daughter’s a nurse.  So are a few of my friends.  When they get together, I hear an information overload about diseases, body parts, maladies, and things that can go wrong.  It always makes me hope I stay healthy.  And their humor?  If cops are known for dark humor, nurses might be able to top them.  Some of the situations Mattie finds herself in made me chuckle and cringe at the same time.

After she moves out of her house, her husband wants her back.  But Mattie is thrown together with Hurley, the new homicide detective in town.  And Hurley is delicious.  When she and Hurley are called to examine a dead body, Mattie discovers it’s the nurse her husband was cheating on her with.  Mattie doesn’t want to reconcile, but she doesn’t believe David is capable of murder.  So she starts poking into things.

This series does a great balancing act of mixing medical facts, humor, and clues, along with romance.  It makes for an entertaining mix.

Food

My grandson is in the marines.  He’s served most of his four years and will be out later this year.  For a long time, he was stationed so close to San Diego that he could zip there and order the most wonderful Mexican food he swears he’s ever had.  It’s authentic.  And he’d bug me about making “American” Mexican food, so I bought a cookbook and sometimes went to the bother of making pork shoulders and chuck roasts with seasonings and shredding them, etc. to make my Mexican meals more “real.”   Now, he’s in Pendleton, California, and the food’s okay but nothing to brag about, and he often calls to ask me what I’m making for supper that night.  The last time he came home for leave, he had a list of things he wanted me to cook for him.

My daughter and the two boys spent most of their growing up years living with us so that she could study to be a nurse and survive.  We all liked it, and the boys loved to help me cook.  They liked it so much that they became pretty darned picky about what they liked and didn’t.  To the point, that when they were in fifth grade and their teacher was on a chapter about nutrition, she did a quick Q & A for the kids to recognize different foods.  Our boys were the only ones who knew every single item, even the odd ones most of the other kids couldn’t identify, like bok choy, napa cabbage, artichokes, and anchovies.  Our older grandson would go to the grocery store with me because he liked to pick out the cuts of meat I bought.  He was really serious about chuck roasts.

Both boys are really good cooks today.  So are both of my daughters and the boys’ friend who spent a lot of time at our house.  When he moved in with his girlfriend, he’d e-mail me for recipes.  I still love that kid.

I love to cook so much that it sneaks into every book I write.  And I really DO love to cook.  We only grab takeout or go out to eat once or twice a week, including lunch.  But with Covid, and restaurants closed, I got bored and started making recipes I’ve never tried before.  And nearly all of them have been successes.  Some recipes are more dependable than others:)  For French cooking, I always fall back on Ina Garten’s cookbooks.  I have almost all of hers.  For variety, I love Nigella Lawson.  My daughter bought me her new cookbook for my birthday a couple years ago.  For gatherings, I pull out Pam Anderson, and for healthy (I’m diabetic), I turn to Marlene Koch.  They’re true, trusted cookbooks that have never let me down.  BUT, a girl can never have too many recipes.  So I tear pages from the many food magazines I’ve subscribed to.  I read them for the same reason I attend my writers’ meetings twice a  month.  They recharge my batteries and inspire  me to try something new.

My biggest new fad lately has been recipes for my air fryer.  And one of my favorite cookbooks for that has been Every Day Easy Air Fryer by Urvashi Pitre.  I’ve made shrimp & chorizo tapas, chicken souvlaki, and char sui, Cantonese BBQ pork, from that, among many other things.  Nigella taught me the joy of coconut milk sauces, but this cookbook includes flavors that I’m not familiar with, and that’s fun.  Even after our favorite restaurants open, (and I can’t wait), I’ll still grab this cookbook just because it’s not the usual spices and rubs that I use.  I have more Oriental recipes than anyone needs (because the boys loved them), but these pull more from Morocco, the Middle East, India, and Africa.

Which means, that somewhere in the future, when you grab one of my books (I include recipes in my Jazzi mysteries), you might see spice mixes you’ve never seen from me before.  And you’ll know that they cheered me during our virus scare.  And they just might cheer you, too.

Here’s to happy cooking, happy reading, and lots of happy writing!

 

 

Writing Helps Center Me

Writing has made me a better person.  I don’t do well sitting and relaxing and having too much time to think.  I’m not sure what that says about me or my disposition, but I get antsy and grumpy with too much free time.  Cooking relaxes me, makes me happy.  So does writing.  Both, for me, are creative outlets.  Maybe that’s why I have trouble writing the same types of books back to back or cooking the same things over and over again.  I get bored.

I’m used to cooking and writing with lots of distractions.  Actually, when the phone’s ringing off the hook or people are underfoot, both activities keep me from snapping at anyone.  Or at least, I snap less.  This week has been particularly chaotic.  My younger sister died on Sunday morning.  She’s been on oxygen 24/7 for a long time with diabetes she didn’t control very well.  She lost more and more energy and strength until lately, she got winded just talking on the phone.  She went into the hospital Saturday night, had tests, was teasing nurses at 8:30 a.m. when they came to take her vitals, saw her heart doctor, and half an hour later, fell asleep and didn’t wake up.  The doctor said when her  pulse tanked and her alarm beeped, he was only twenty steps away from her, raced into her room, and she sighed and smiled, and that was that.  I’m happy for her.  When it’s my time to go, I hope I get that lucky.

Neither of my two sisters married, though, and they bought houses next to each other.  My youngest sister–twelve years younger than I am–is whom I feel sorry for.  She’s going to REALLY miss Patty.  She told me she feels so alone now.  We only live ten minutes apart, but I’m not the same.  And I understand that.  My two sisters were a team.  Now the team’s down to one player.

I know from watching friends, losing someone really close to you can shut you down and nothing brings comfort until you can work through your grief and come out on the other side.  That’s where my sister is now.  So I’ve told her to call me as many times in a day as she wants to.  I’ve told her when she needs help with anything, I’m here.  And she’s called a lot.  And that’s good.  Because when I hang up the phone or return home, I write or work on something that’s writing related.  And I center myself.  She’s lost.  For now, I have my husband, my writing, and my cooking, and I’m okay.

I sound a bit like a fraud, like I should be mourning more, too, but things were only going to get worse for Patty.  And I’m glad she was spared that.  My dad died from multiple myeloma, and it took years.   When he died, his spine and skull looked like they’d been riddled with moths, full of holes.  If I could have, I’d have spared him that.  My mom died of Alzheimer’s, and that took ten years.  It was worse.  Dad was still dad until he let out his last breath.  Mom lost being mom along her journey.  But just because quality of life goes away, health can make people linger.  Patty didn’t have to.  When her quality of life could have taken a real nosedive, she got to leave.  That’s what I focus on.

I have friends who are atheists, agnostics, Jewish, you name it…and I respect their beliefs…but I firmly believe in life after death.  So I picture Patty in heaven with Mom and Dad and all of her pets, and I picture her flying.  She always wanted wings.  I doubt that they’re pure white, but I bet they’re fun.  Patty’s free, so it’s my youngest sister who needs me now.  Grief takes a long time, usually at least a year, but I’m determined to be there for her.  At least, as much as she’ll let me.  My family’s a stubborn lot.

And when things get to me, I’ll write.  Or cook.  I hope you find your happy spot.  And happy writing.