Two at a Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery Musings

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

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

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

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

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

Grannies

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mystery Musings

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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.

Mystery Musings

Unrest.  After watching the news, I understand why people are angry and carrying signs that Black Lives Matter.  EVERY life matters.  I get that.  But it makes me wonder if I published BAD HABITS at the wrong time.

In my mystery, Lux Millhouse has been best friends with Gabbie Johnson, a black girl, for a long time and visited her home often.  So many times, that when Gabbie and her three older brothers pack up to leave Chicago and move to Summit City to start businesses, Lux moves, too.  Lux came from rich parents, who died soon after she starts her career as a newspaper reporter.  The accident takes them so suddenly, Lux wants to sell everything and start over someplace else.  And she invests in the Johnson brothers’ businesses.

More, she’s known Gabbie’s older brother, Keon–a chef–for so long that it surprises her to realize that she doesn’t think of him as a big brother.  She’s attracted to him and wants more.

I really wanted Lux, who’s rich and white, falling for Keon, who’s black and fell for her a long time ago, to be no big deal.  In my mind, it ISN’T anything major.  When my HH and I got married and moved into our home, we picked a small community that had been swallowed up by the city.  Our neighbors were nice.  Everyone kept up their properties.  So it came as a shock to learn that our little town had once been a stronghold of the KKK.  But times change, and when the KKK wanted to march down our street, people shrugged and said, “So what?  Let them, but we don’t want to see them.”  And when no one got riled up and didn’t care much, they canceled their march.

When our daughters started school, race wasn’t much of an issue either.  And our middle class neighbors shrugged when daughters came home to introduce their parents to their black or Hispanic boyfriends.  “Is he nice?  Will he be good to you?” were the big questions.  Mind you, I don’t know how this happened.  I don’t know when it became no big deal to the people we knew.  All I know is that we all had to work hard to pay our bills, and we knew those people were working hard to pay their bills, so we were all trying to make ends meet together.

When our daughter graduated from cosmetology school and came home to introduce her boyfriend, a black chef, to us, his family had a lot more money than we did.  We were middle class.  They were upper middle class.  And Jason cooked the most wonderful anniversary dinner for us I’ve ever had in my life, and we liked him.  He and my daughter didn’t make it, but it wasn’t because of race.  It had a lot more to do with temperaments, but to this day, we still like him.  So does our daughter.  They just should never live together.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way to say that I wanted to show a rich, white girl with a black chef and it is NO BIG DEAL.  They’re two people who are right for each other.  But right now, things have gotten so sensitive, I hope people see it that way.  That’s how we lived it.  That’s how some of our neighbors lived it.  And I hope, someday, that becomes the norm.  Maybe we got lucky.  Or maybe it’s because we were all middle class.  I don’t know.  But it’s time it just doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter in BAD HABITS.  And that’s how I wanted it to be.

 

 

Another New Book

I’m sorry.  I really am.  I just loaded BOUNTY HUNTED onto Amazon a little while ago, and I try not to drown anyone with my books.  But I wrote the first book for a new mystery series months ago and my agent just gave me the okay to self-publish it.  If I were smart (and that happens sometimes), I’d hold onto it for later in the year, but I already have plans for then.  Add to that, I REALLY hate waiting–and I’ve already waited a long time–so I put it up on Amazon.

I know the two book releases are too close together.  Not smart marketing.  But BOUNTY HUNTED appeals to urban fantasy and supernatural fans, and BAD HABITS is a mystery.  Not a cozy.  Lux’s book is more splash-dash, more untraditional.  She’s every bit as loyal to people she loves as Jazzi or Hester (from my other series), but she’s more unorthodox in her approach to problem-solving.

Luxury Milton Millhouse’s parents are filthy rich, but usually absent, so whenever she can, she spends time at the Johnsons’ house, with her BFF Gabbie’s parents and four brothers, who happen to be black.  She comes to think of them as her second home.  She’s so close to Gabbie and the three oldest brothers that when her parents die in an accident, and the Johnson siblings are moving to Summit City to start new businesses, she moves, too.  She wants to leave Chicago and its memories behind.  It’s not until Mr. and Mrs. Johnson retire and Keon talks them and his youngest brother into joining them in their new city that trouble follows them.  Then it’s time for Lux to use her journalist degree to find out why people are breaking into Tyson’s car and a dead body is found next to his open trunk.

 

Best Sellers

I read In The Market for Murder by T. E. Kinsey and really enjoyed visiting Lady Hardcastle and her kung-fu maid, Florence, a second time.  Humor permeates these books.  This one takes place in 1909, but Lady Hardcastle is way ahead of her times, always pushing the boundaries and solving crimes.  The mysteries–three in this book that seem separate but are all connected–are solid.  I like it when I read a mystery and the mystery is a decent part of the plot and well thought out.  These are.

I bought the first book in this series because I looked at the top 100 mysteries for some category and noticed not one or two, but FIVE of T. E. Kinsey’s mysteries listed.  And they were historical.  Always a plus for me.  So I decided to try one.  And I found it extremely entertaining.  Which surprised me.  In my mind, I had decided that best-selling books had to be weighty and serious.  Lady Hardcastle is NOT serious.  Neither is her maid, Florence.  They take potshots at each other and enjoy it tremendously.  Lady Hardcastle enjoys brandy…often.  And when stressed or bored, Florence fills the kitchen with so many cakes, they have to give most away.

In this particular Lady Hardcastle mystery, sleights of hand play a big part.  There’s a séance that might or might not be legit.  Trophies disappear from a case but the thief didn’t leave the premises.  All clever.  All fun.  And the books are hugely popular.  As they should be.

My theory that bestsellers have to involve angst, character growth, and a certain amount of suffering hasn’t proven true in this case.  The stakes didn’t make me lose sleep.  I fell asleep smiling.  And I love it!

I hope whatever you’re working on is going well, and enjoy this LAST week of May.  I can’t believe it.  It’s almost June–which I love.  But where did the time go?  Again?

 

 

Mystery Musings

My thoughts are muddled and cobbled together this Monday.  As so often happens to me, I’ve ended up with more questions than answers, and they’re all sort of blending together, and I’m letting them.  I finished reading In The Market for Murder by T.E. Kinsey last night.  On the cover, there’s a lady in a long coat with a maid in a long black dress and white apron.  I’ve read so many Regency mysteries and romances lately that my mind went right to that period of history.  But I was wrong.  The first book in the series takes place in 1908, and this–the second book–is shortly after.  For whatever reason, that date caught me off guard.  Lady Hardcastle and her husband were spies, and when her husband was killed, she retired to the English countryside with her maid–who traveled with her before she made it safely home.  The maid knows martial arts, and both ladies are quite capable of taking care of themselves.  But men constantly worry about their delicate sensibilities.

For me, the time period in this book feels a lot like the social niceties of the Regencies and Lady Darby mysteries that I read.  Except in this book, Lady Hardcastle decides to buy an automobile.  And that scene, in itself, made for an amusing read.  The salesman couldn’t fathom a woman buying a car by herself, with no husband, no chauffeur, and no mechanic.

For some reason, I read that scene and it triggered thoughts about my grandmother–how many changes she saw in her lifetime.  She grew up on a farm and lived through World War I.  When the men came home from fighting, she went to barn dances by horse and buggy.  She met and married my grandfather sometime during the Roaring Twenties.  Men whistled at her legs when she wore her flapper dresses, and she cut her hair in a bob.  Grandpa became a truck driver, and they moved to Chicago.  A gangster tried to hire him to run alcohol from Canada to a bar, but Grandpa turned him down.  One of his friends took the job and was shot dead on one of his trips.  Then came the Great Depression, and they lost everything, including their home.  They had to move back to live in a small worker’s shack near her mom.  And then came World War II and both of her sons were drafted.  Thankfully, both of them returned.

All of those memories, along with the books I’ve read lately, made me think about war and wars since today’s Memorial Day.  My husband put out the flag on our front porch.  Usually, a small neighborhood parade goes down our street, so loud you can’t sleep through it even if you wanted to.  Which we don’t.  We like seeing our neighbors and former neighbors who often return to see the high school band, an old train engine changed over to celebrate veterans, and all of the other groups that participate in the parade.  We visit on the side of the street and people marching by throw candy to the kids.  We linger for a while once it’s over, and then we all retreat to our homes and whatever our plans are for the day.  But not this year.  Covid19 put a stop to the celebration.  Maybe it will return next year.  Maybe not.  Things have changed.

But we’ll always honor the men and women who served our country and lost their lives to protect us and our freedom.  And that led me to think about the nature of war.  It’s always been with us.  All you have to do is read the history books we were taught growing up.  We jump from the The French and Indian War to the Revolution to the War of 1812 and so on.  History is full of wars.  Every country fought them, all the way back to the Romans, the Egyptians, even the cavemen.  And wars changed mindsets and attitudes.  They brought back new ideas and products.  But at such a high cost.  Are we forever destined to fight them?  Maybe.  There’s always someone who wants to dominate, plunder, or subjugate.  Maybe it’s part of the human condition.

When I was young and idealistic, and wondered if we’d ever get tired of wars, I read The Devil and the Good Lord by Jean-Paul Sartre.  And it made me think that wars will always be with us, that if you’re too idealistic, you’re vulnerable.  But there will always be strong, honorable people who do the right thing, who respect one another.  And I can’t help but hope that there will always be more of them than angry, disgruntled people who are willing to trample their fellow man to get what they want.

See?  I warned you that my mind was rambling today.  And I might be able to add up clues to solve mysteries, but I can’t begin to fathom the mystery of Destiny or mankind.  I hope you had a wonderful three-day weekend, and happy Memorial Day.