Mysteries

In my first mystery, The Body in the Attic, I meant to write an Agatha Christie type murder where a body is found in the first chapter and then countless witnesses and suspects are introduced until the murder is solved.  That was my intent.  And I didn’t quite stick to it.  But I just finished reading Mary Angela’s A VERY MERRY MURDER.  She purposely structured her book to be like a Christie novel, and she pulled it off.  She even used a Christie story for her protagonist, Professor Emmeline Prather, to teach in her Crime and Passion English class–an elective class that focused on mysteries and romances.  Even better, Angela used the same murder technique for the current mystery that Christie used in hers.  If you’re a Christie fan, it was awesome!

Such attention to detail, alas, I didn’t manage.  I discovered poor Aunt Lynda’s body in the first chapter, yes, but then I introduced a subplot that intrigued me a little too much, and before long, another body was required to move the plot along.  Which, I have to admit, I was pretty happy with.  Which shows that even if you outline, like I do, the best laid plans can go awry.

In my second mystery, The Body in the Wetlands, bodies seemed to pile up without my even trying.  One murder leads to the next and the one after that until Jazzi and Ansel, along with Detective Gaff, finally catch the killer.  The moral of the story?  Try never to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And of course, there’s another dog in this story.  I grew quite fond of Cocoa, the chocolate Lab.

I’ve been reading quite a few mysteries lately, and back when I read Christie, the actual murder and puzzle are what made me turn the pages.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoyed Miss Marple and Poirot.  And Christie could draw a character in only a few brush strokes, so I “knew” them–what motivated them–but didn’t get to know them, if that makes any sense.  Lately, though, I’m every bit as interested in the characters in the story, who they are and what they’re doing, and I’m disappointed if they’re not filled out more.

I liked Mary Angela’s professor and how seriously she took teaching college students who often weren’t as motivated as she was.  I enjoyed the budding romance between Enmeline and Lenny, and I loved the widow who lived across the street and didn’t miss anything.  She was a whiz at baking and let Emmeline know her Christmas cookies were inferior.  All fun stuff that added layers to the story.

I guess, these days, I enjoy lots of different kinds of stories hung on a mystery plot.  The only time I’m disappointed is when the end of the mystery–how it’s solved and whodunnit–aren’t handled well.  After all, it’s a mystery, even if the murder only serves as a foundation to wrap other subplots around.  But I expect a murder, clues, red herrings, and a satisfying conclusion.  The rest is all extras.  I don’t want a murderer pulled out of a hat or for the clues to not add up.  Other than that, I go along for what I hope is a fun ride.  Whatever you’re reading now, I hope it keeps you turning pages and you’re happy you read it when you close the book.

And happy writing!

 

 

 

Advertisements

A mongrel

Our Chihuahua has enough Pomeranian in him, he loves to snap at my Dear John’s feet–and I’ve been told that’s a Pomeranian trait.  Our cat’s a stray.  And the new story that I started for my webpage isn’t a purebred either.   Just like our pets, it’s a mongrel.

My husband loves it that I’m a writer.  Not enough to read any of the books I write, but he loves the IDEA of my being a writer.  The only exception is that occasionally, he’ll read stories that I put on my webpage, and he ALWAYS read every Babet and Prosper novella I wrote.  He had a thing about Babet and Prosper.  So did some of my friends.  Come to think of it, so did I.  And I miss them once in a while.

I also missed writing mysteries when I wrote urban fantasies.  I’m an Agatha Christie/puzzle solver at heart.  And that’s why I decided to combine the two–supernatural and mystery.  I don’t have any delusions that would sell.  Writing cross-genre books isn’t for anyone who studies markets.  It’s possible to find success if your stars are aligned and a light from heaven beams on your computer, but that hasn’t happened to me yet.  But…that’s what my webpage is for.  It’s for ME.  To write whatever tickles my fancy at the moment.

So, I didn’t want to write a different mystery series right now.  I did that with Chintz and Callum.  And even though I had a ball writing about a caterer and a cop, I yearned to write about witches and demons with a few vampires, Fae, and shape shifters thrown in.  So I decided to write Muddy River Mystery.  It’s sort of a post-as-you-go moment.  I don’t have many chapters written ahead.  But damn, I’m having fun!  And every once in a while, as much as I love meeting deadlines and developing series’ characters, I like to kick up my heels and do something different.

So, my webpage is the big blank page where I get to play.  And that’s exactly what I’m doing.  Enjoying myself.  My wish for you:  that whatever you’re working on now, I hope you enjoy it.  And I hope the words flow for you in 2019.

Cover Reveal

Lyrical Press has released the cover for my second Jazzi Zanders mystery.  It’s due out April 23, 2019, but I’m always excited to see what kind of a cover they’ve created for me.  And this time, I loved it that they featured Cocoa, the chocolate Lab, in a similar pose as George, Ansel’s pug, in book one.  Only in this book, Cocoa’s digging up a fairly fresh corpse(:  That puts a real downer on the fixer-upper project Jazzi, Jerod, and Ansel are working on.  Here’s the cover.  I hope you love it as much as I do.

TheBodyInTheWetlands_hires

High summer in River Bluffs, Indiana, is always sweltering and sweet. But the heat is really on when a decidedly dead body turns up in the neighborhood.

When established house flippers Jazzi Zanders and her cousin Jerod donate a week’s worth of remodeling work to Jazzi’s sister Olivia, they’re expecting nothing more than back-breaking roofing work and cold beers at the end of each long, hot day. With Jazzi’s live-in boyfriend and partner Ansel on the team, it promises to be a quick break before starting their next big project—until Leo, an elderly neighbor of Olivia’s, unexpectedly goes missing . . .

When the friendly senior’s dog tugs Jazzi and the guys toward the wetlands beyond Olivia’s neighborhood, they stumble across a decomposing corpse—and a lot of questions. With Jazzi’s pal Detective Gaff along to investigate, Jazzi finds her hands full of a whole new mystery instead of the usual hammer and nails. And this time it will take some sophisticated sleuthing to track down the culprit of the deadly crime—before the killer turns on her next . . .

http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/book.aspx/37414

I hope all of you have lots of good things to read, can sneak in a little writing, and enjoy a merry Christmas and happy holidays!

 

No Motivation

Life has been busy lately.  Almost all fun stuff.  My writers club had its last meeting of the year–our annual holiday carry-in–last Wednesday.  Dawn and David went all out to decorate their beautiful house for Christmas, and trees and holiday decorations brightened every room.  The food was wonderful.  It always is.  We gossiped and laughed, and since we’re writers, ended up talking shop here and there.

We won’t have another meeting until January 9.  And for some reason, that makes me feel like I don’t have to be a “good” writer and pound out so many words a day, like I usually do.  The pressure’s off, which is silly.  I still have 15,000 words to write on my fourth Jazzi mystery.  But no matter how hard I try, when I don’t feel accountable to Scribes for making progress, I revert to being a kid on summer break.  And I don’t even feel that guilty about it:)

I intend to still write, still work on book four, but I’ll write at a more leisurely pace.  I’ll enjoy the perks of the season more than usual.  We had friends over for supper on Friday night and I made Cheryl’s favorite dessert–bread pudding with rum sauce.  Next Friday, we’re having another friend come for supper.  She loves smoked meat, so I’m making smoked Cornish hens.  And Tuesday night, I’m going to a Christmas program with Sia.  I’m in the mood to play more than work, ready to make jolly.

I still have writerly duties to do.  Lyrical Press scheduled the book cover reveal for The Body in the Wetlands for December 22nd.  I need to go to Canva.com to design Facebook and twitter headers for the second book.  I need to find some excerpts I can share once in a while.  Today, I want to polish the Jazzi and Ansel Christmas story I’m going to post on my webpage this coming week.  BUT, I can work for a while, play for a while, because I won’t be reporting what I’m up to at Scribes.  I don’t have to be a responsible author again until January 9th:)

Happy writing to all of you, but I hope you get some play time, too!

 

It’s Not Easy

My writers club had its last official meeting for the year on Wednesday.  We meet twice a month except in December, and for that month, we have our annual Christmas carry-in, and that’s it.  No critiques.  No agenda.  Just sharing food and conversation.  I always e-mail every member and invite them to come, even if they’ve missed a few meetings.  I did that this morning, and as always, it made me think about the people who used to be regular members who no longer are.

Plenty of people have tried Scribes and dropped us as quickly as possible.  We’re not for everyone.  But I’m not talking about those.  I’m thinking of writers who came month after month, sometimes year after year, and then disappeared for various reasons.  Sometimes, they move.  Sometimes they get divorced and their lives go into upheaval, and they can no longer write.  A baby’s arrival can usurp a mother’s time.  Some have health issues.  One of our members just had three heart surgeries in two days, and she finally got to return to us, thank heavens.  Not everyone can.  One member retired, and now she travels and plays too much to write.  I know Life can throw people curveballs, and it’s sad to lose them from our group, but I understand why.

The missing-in-action because of discouragement bother me more.  I’ve watched people who share their pages with us rewrite them, share them again, get better, and become talented writers, only to give up under the heavy weight of rejection.  They decide they’ll never be good enough, never sell.  I get it.  Rejection hurts.  But . . .  it’s part of being a writer.  Still, and I have to remember this, it’s not for everyone.  When writing causes more pain than joy, maybe it’s time to walk away, to give writing a break.  I always hope they’ll pick it up again at some other time, but maybe they won’t.  Maybe writing doesn’t grip them like it does me.  Maybe other interests bring more fulfillment.

There have been many times that I’ve been discouraged.  Many times that I think I must be a masochist for pounding away at stories and novels.  But if I stop for a while, the emptiness is too much.  I never dreamed of being a writer, but writing is just like my pet strays.  Once I opened the door for it a tiny crack, it took over my life.  Writing isn’t easy.  Rejection is worse.  And talent doesn’t guarantee success.

Jeez, I sound gloomy.  But the good news is that I celebrate every time a writer I know, including myself, finds some success.  And there have been enough successes to keep me hopeful.  Scribes is full of wonderful, brilliant writers, and we work to encourage each other.  I hope you find encouragement and joy in your writing, too.

Happy December!

 

And P.S.  If you live in Fort Wayne, Kyra Jacobs and T.G. Wolff will be signing books and reading short excerpts at Half-Price Books this Saturday, Dec. 1st, from one to three.

 

Stan Lee

I don’t buy comic books and I don’t know much about any of the heroes, but when my grandsons lived with us, they dragged me to see a lot of Iron Man, Avengers, and X Men movies.  And I enjoyed almost all of them.  Just like the urban fantasies that I love, comic book heroes always face overwhelming odds.  Good always versus evil.  The fate of the world is at stake.  And there’s so much action.  How fun is that?  So it surprised me when I listened to a quote by Stan Lee, after his death, where he said, “I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end.”  (I got that quote from Screen Rant’s list of 10 most important quotes from Stan Lee:  https://screenrant.com/10-inspirational-stan-lee-quotes/ )

I love his words.  When I was a kid, I always wanted to do something important with my life.    It wasn’t about making oodles of money.  It was about changing the world, and in my eight-year-old mind that equated to becoming a teacher.  To me, teachers shaped kids’ minds and kids were our future.  And I didn’t change my opinion all through school and college.  That’s why I taught elementary for six years.  But it dawned on me that yes, teaching was important, but there were so many other factors that shaped a child, my influence was like a pebble dropping into an ocean.  And when laws changed, and Indiana wouldn’t hire anyone with a Master’s Degree anymore when I wanted to return to my old job, I told myself that raising two awesome daughters could change the world, too.  Still believe that.  And then when I discovered writing, I thought I’d found the perfect vehicle for more.

Somewhere in time, though, I realized that serious fiction might not be for me.  I was more drawn to genre novels.  At the first writers’ conference that I ever attended, the speaker asked us to raise our hands if we wrote genre.  My friend and I lifted our arms, and he sneered at us and informed us that we were hack writers, that we only worked for money.  (I wish).  Now, I knew that I’d never be compared to Margaret Atwood or Shakespeare, but that still ticked me off.  I took pride in what I wrote whether he thought it was worthy of literature or not.

A few writer conferences later (and I chose ones that focused on genre fiction), and the speaker asked one of the really talented romance writers why she chose to write “beneath” her.  Again, I silently fumed while the poor writer struggled for an answer.  (She came up with a good one, too.  Not that it satisfied Mr. Smirky Pants).  Since then, I’ve decided that it’s hard to write ANYTHING well.  And if you do a good job, you’ve earned my respect.  I’ve also learned that some people STILL have to have an hierarchy of what’s important literature and what’s not.  That’s their problem, not mine.  But I still fussed about the things that, in my mind, I couldn’t write well.

That’s part of the reason I had so much fun writing outside of my comfort zone for the three short stories I posted on my webpage for the beginning of October.  I’d told myself that I couldn’t write dark and dismal very well.  And when I posted those three stories, I was pretty satisfied with them.  I’d achieved my goal.  And do you know what?  It wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.  Because they’re not the real me.  Yes, I could write them.  Did I want to write any more?  Not really.  And that was a revelation for me.  I’m happy writing what I write.  That’s why Stan Lee’s quote struck such a chord for me.

I’m grateful to all of the authors who write the books that I love to read, the ones that bring me so much enjoyment.  Stan Lee’s right.  Offering entertainment is an end in itself.  Yes, serious, weighty volumes inspire me, but so do cozy mysteries and smalltown romances.  The world needs people who care about what they do, whether they collect garbage, perform surgeries, sing and dance, or write comic books.  Do what you feel passionate about (within reason:)

P.S.  I won’t be posting another blog until after Thanksgiving, so enjoy the holiday.  And happy writing!

Borderline Illiterate

I went to the writers’ conference Magna cum Murder last weekend.  It’s a small, intimate feeling conference housed in the Columbia Club on the circle in Indianapolis.  The building’s old with that faded glamour of yesteryears that I love.  I didn’t learn any of the things I went for.  The panels were designed mostly for readers, so no panels on publicity or marketing.  I was hoping to hear how other writers and their publishers handled those challenges.  BUT, the conference was small enough to make it easy to meet fellow conference goers.  And the readers who attended read a LOT.

Some of them had attended the conference every year for 17 years.  They’d heard the majority of the international guests of honor and domestic guests of honor.  And the lists were impressive.  This year, they were Reavis Z. Wortham and Peter Lovesey, who sat at our table for the final lunch.  Previous guests were M.C. Beaton, Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, and Mary Higgins Clark, among many others.  Most attendees could claim 10 years or more.  Only a handful of us were new.

One of the women I met there had recently retired and joined SIX mystery book clubs, 1 nonfiction book club, and 1 fiction club.  I asked how she kept track of everything she was supposed to read, and she said she stacked her books in the order of her meetings.  I was so impressed!  This year, I’ve been making a real effort to read one book a week, if I possibly can.  One lady I talked to zipped through one book A DAY.  And these people were well read.  They didn’t just read one sub-genre, though they had favorites.  They read thrillers, suspense, cozies, and PIs.  And they read outside of the mystery genre.

By the second day, I was beginning to feel borderline illiterate.  But then one of the attendees generously told me, “You’re spending your time writing instead of reading.”  What a kind woman!  Many people I met encouraged me to come back next year.  I sure enjoyed myself, but things have been so busy in my life for the last two years, I don’t feel confident making plans that far ahead.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed, though.  I wouldn’t mind spending another October at Magna cum Murder.

 

Conference weekend

When you read this, I’ll be in Indianapolis at a mystery conference, Magna cum Murder.  It’s been a LONG time since I’ve attended a conference, so I’m looking forward to it.  And I’m a little nervous.  I’ll be on two panels, and I haven’t done that for a long time either.  The last time I did a workshop was here in Fort Wayne with my writer friends M. L. Rigdon (Julia Donner), Les Edgerton, and Kyra Jacobs.  It’s always fun to talk writing with them.  Heck, it’s always fun to do anything with local authors I know.

I hope to learn a lot and come home energized with all kinds of new ideas swimming in my head.  Swimming is the right word.  After listening to panels for three days, my mind’s so full, it turns to mush for a while.  A few authors from Kensington whom I’ve never met will be there, too, one even has the same editor I have–the wonderful John Scognamiglio.

When I first got serious about writing, I tried to attend one writers’ conference a year.  Published authors pushed me to look at writing from a business angle.  They talked marketing and trends, things I didn’t think about that much when I first decided to try my hand at novels.  I’m constantly surprised by how generous other authors are with their hard-won experience and advice.  Eventually, though, after enough conferences, authors don’t go to learn new things.  They go to promote themselves and their books.  So I’m hoping to get better at that part of writing, too.

Even when I only sold short stories, though, I learned how wonderful readers are.  The very first time I was ever on a panel, readers came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed the stories I had in WomenSleuth anthologies and Alfred Hitchcock magazines.  It’s hard to beat the joy of having readers like what you’ve written.

My first mystery for Kensington, THE BODY IN THE ATTIC, doesn’t come out until November 27, so I’m not expecting many people have read it yet.  Some have from NetGalley and the giveaway on Goodreads, but I doubt many of them will be at Magna cum Murder, so I’ll be pretty much an unknown quantity.  I had postcards made for my book with the cover on one side and an excerpt on the other.  That’s about all I could do this time.  But it’s exciting to get back into the mystery buzz again.

I should be having a good time when you read this.  Hope you have a wonderful weekend, too, and happy writing!

P.S.  I’m starting to post new chapters from a YA novel I wrote and never did anything with on my webpage.  It has a little paranormal element in it, but back then, I’d decided I’d rather write urban fantasy, so tossed it in a drawer.  If you go to my webpage to take a look at it, I hope you like it!

He didn’t!

I went to writers’ group last Wednesday and listened to three of our members, all topnotch authors who volunteered to read.  Les Bock is writing a crime thriller, and some of the scenes he comes up with blow my mind.  I don’t see the twist coming, and it’s usually something I’d never expect from him.  Kathy Palm is working on a middle grade horror book, and she’s read enough, I know that she can go to creepy places that make me squirm.  Ruth Baker, a playwrite, usually visits serious subjects but she read something fun and whimsical.  My point is, if you talked to any of those three people, you’d never guess what they are capable of imagining.  It reminded me of a time a visitor came to Scribes and I read an unusual piece, and she looked at me and said, “But you seem like such a nice person.”

I AM a nice person, but I don’t always WRITE about nice people.  If everyone in a novel was nice, there wouldn’t be a story, no tension, no conflict.  Now an antagonist doesn’t always have to be a bad person.  Two good people can be coming at the same thing from different points of view, for different reasons, and clash.  But a strong antagonist sure makes an already good story even better, whether he’s on the page or behind the scenes.  And a bad antagonist can make readers chew their fingernails.

In Julia Donner’s Western historical AVENUE TO HEAVEN, Annie Corday’s ex-husband made me cringe with fear every time his shadow fell across a page.  When he finally decides to return to Chicago, he has a wooden coffin delivered to her front door to let her know his intentions.  And honestly, after reading about some of the things he’d done, a quick death would probably be better than most of his other options.  He was so obscenely bipolar, smiling and proclaiming his love while he beat her senseless, that he made me queasy.  Villains like that make a reader turn the pages.  They stay with you. (https://www.amazon.com/Avenue-Heaven-Westward-Bound-Book-ebook/dp/B076HVGS98/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1539399302&sr=8-11&keywords=julia+donner+kindle)

If you’ve read any of the posts in the Q & A blogs that I posted from Ilona Andrews, one of the questions reminded me of myself when I was young and first starting to write.  The person asked how she could make her characters distinct, because hers all ended up being a lot the same.  Ilona Andrews’s answer made me smile.  She replied,

I suspect that your ethics keep getting in the way.  You have a strong sense of right and wrong, and when confronting a problem, you, and your characters, are thinking about the best way to resolve it according to your set of values.  Try to look at it from their point of view. 

And that’s the trick, isn’t it?  Each person in a story has his own code of morals and ethics, his own rules that he might bend, his own way to rationalize why he did what he did, whether good or bad.  The trick is for the author to get inside his character’s head when that character walks into a room, to see the world through his eyes, shaped by his experiences, needs, and wants.  And that character might do things we’d never condone, things that horrify or shame us, but our job is to make him and his actions believable.

Julia Donner was an actress and singer at one time.   She performed in many plays and tells me that when she writes, her characters come to her wholly formed, because she studied characters and their motivations for so long on the stage.  It took me a long time to write unlikeable characters, because I could always imagine what my mother would say if she read my story.  And a sex scene?  Heaven forbid!  Then a wonderful, wise woman who edited many of my early stories told me, “Blindfold your mother and gag your old Sunday School teachers. Listen to your characters and write them the way they are and say what they’d say.”  And she was right.  I stopped thinking about my audience and started thinking about my characters, living in their skins.  And then they did all kinds of things that I’d never expected, because I’d freed them to be themselves.

So whatever you’re working on at the moment, I hope your characters are distinct and real.  That doesn’t mean they get to decide where the story will go, because it’s YOUR story.  But it means that when they walk into a scene, they make it come to life, because they’re very much alive in your imagination.  Happy Writing!

 

For Love of Family

It’s my birthday this weekend.  I’ve been in the hospital twice in the last few years–once when I fell off my rocking chair and broke my leg.  (Never use a rocking chair as a stepladder).  And once, in early April, to have my gall bladder out.  My two daughters and two grandsons have suddently decided I’m mortal, even though my younger grandson–when I was on pain meds right after I broke my leg–came in the emergency room, shaking his finger at me and told me that I’m not allowed to die.  I’m pretty sure I can’t make a promise like that, but I’d like to put it off for quite a while yet.  But just in case, everyone decided this was the year that we should celebrate my birthday properly.

My older daughter and grandson live in Indianapolis, and they’re driving up to stay with us for the weekend.  Tyler’s bringing his serious girlfriend.  She’s a sweetie–a real keeper.  My younger daughter is flying up from Florida.  Her husband can’t make it–he’s buried at work.  And my younger grandson wanted to come, but he’s a marine and couldn’t get leave time.  My HH’s (handsome hubby) brother came from Oakland last week for his high school reunion and is staying to celebrate with us this weekend, too.  We’re going to have a house full.  Air mattresses are coming out.  But we’re all looking forward to it.

My daughters and I always said if we got together, we wanted to spend the day in the kitchen and  make bouillabaisse, so this is the year we’re going to do it.  On Sunday, we’re going the manly meat route, and we’re filling the smoker with a brisket, two whole chickens, and three slabs of ribs.  Then we’re inviting my sisters and cousin over, so we’ll add in all the sides–potatoes au gratin, succotash, apple crisp or slab apple pie (haven’t decided yet), and salads.  Then on Monday, everyone has to fly home.  But it will be one heck of a birthday!

In my new mystery series, I wanted Jazzi to have a family like mine.  We might squabble here and there, but we all like each other.  So, I have her hosting her family every week for their Sunday meal.  She cooks lots of food, and they sit around her table and catch up with each other and gab about whatever’s happening in their lives.  Of course, since it’s a mystery, they often talk about clues and suspects.

I know plenty of people who aren’t as lucky as I am, who don’t get along with their family and try to stay away from them.  I wanted to show that with Jazzi’s romantic interest, Ansel.  His family owns a dairy farm in Wisconsin, and they kicked him out the day after he graduated from high school so that the two older sons would make enough money to stay home and help milk the cows.  Ansel has no use for his family and would be happy to put them behind him.  But you know how family is.  Blood is thicker than water, whether you claim your kin or not.

Anyway, I won’t be getting any writing done for a few days–starting when I finish this post.  I’m writing it today and scheduling it for Saturday, so that I’m not even tempted to lose myself in front of my computer for an hour or two.  Hope whatever you’re working on is percolating away, and happy writing!