Money, money, money

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(Lux)

I thought I grew up middle class.  Now I’m not so sure.  Most of our neighbors had less money than we did, and my parents struggled quite a bit until my dad got a better job at the factory he worked at and made better wages.  They felt comfortable by the time my little sister was born, but I was twelve by then.

After I got married, had two daughters, and couldn’t get back into teaching, my husband and I dropped to middle class, too.  I only really think about money when something rears up and worries me, but we’re sure not rolling in it.  And sometimes I wonder what it would be like to NEVER have to think about budgets or bills or saving.  And that’s why I created Lux for my new mysteries.

Lux is filthy rich.  She’s so rich, it bothered my agent when she read my manuscript.  Jazzi and Ansel are well off, but they don’t throw money around.  Hester and Raven have amassed fortunes over their centuries-old lives, but they live in Muddy River with lots of other supernaturals who’ve done the same and try to avoid attention.  Lux is rich and enjoys it.

When I was growing up, I didn’t trust people who had a lot of money.  But then, when I started college, I got a job as a waitress at our local Chamber of Commerce.  And I served a lot of rich people at lunches and parties.  And I liked almost all of them.  Some were awesome and some weren’t, just like everyone else I’d met.  And then our church got a retired minister for a year, who’d grown up in Israel before marrying a rich woman and moving to the U.S.  He preached about enjoying blessings as often as he preached about being the best person you could be.  I loved him so much I asked him to marry hubs and me.  I still remember him fondly.

But he helped me realize that enjoying blessings was as important as facing the challenges thrown at us through life.  And that’s why Lux is so much fun to write.  I think she does both well.  She loves all of the money she has, but it doesn’t determine who she is or what she does or who she spends time with.  And as a reporter, and a protagonist who stumbles on crimes and bodies. she rises to each challenge with intelligence and a lot of compassion. She enjoys her yellow Bentley, her sprawling house, and her hunky chef boyfriend.  But she’s willing to pass out lunches at the community center, too, when Keon’s brother needs a helping hand.

As a writer, I love living vicariously through the characters I create.  And this time, with Lux, I get to experience a lot of things that I never had in real life.

 

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!

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

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.

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 recently finished reading Ilona Andrews’s SAPPHIRE FLAMES.  And when her protagonist, Catalina, was stressed, she cooked.  She made wonderful food for her family–her mother, grandmother, sister, cousins, and whoever else was around.  I really enjoyed those scenes because I often do the same thing in my books.  In the Jazzi series, Jazzi cooks for her family and friends every Sunday, and Ansel helps her.  Her cousin, Jerod, and his family are always the first to arrive.  But by the time Jazzi and Ansel load food on their kitchen island for people to serve themselves, buffet-style, twenty people circle the table.  And usually, Jazzi is knee-deep in a mystery to solve, and they talk about the suspects and witnesses and often come up with a new clue for Jazzi to follow.  Jazzi’s Gran has the gift of “sight” and occasionally “sees” something significant for Jazzi to look into.  And of course, Jerod teases her as often as possible.

To me, meals are a time for people who care about each other to come together.  Just like there’s a difference between cooks and chefs, there’s a difference between people who enjoy food.  Gourmands concentrate on the food itself.  But mostly, in my family, we enjoy the food, but we also enjoy each other.  The food’s just part of the meal.

In my Muddy River series, even though the protagonist is a witch and her mate is a fire demon, the same thing happens.  Hester often invites her coven and their families to her house for meals.  That’s when they catch up with each other and discuss whatever enemy they’re fighting at the moment.  It’s a time to talk strategy and bond together.

In SAPPHIRE FLAMES, Catalina was a sophisticated cook.  She made a dessert I’d never heard of.  It’s kind of fun to glimpse a little more about a character by the food she chooses to serve.  A guy who throws a burger on the grill makes an entirely different impression from Catalina who made roasted lemon chicken, rosemary potatoes, and a shaved Brussel sprouts and kale salad, besides the dessert.  So many little things can be telling about characters.  Food’s just one of them.

Even Better Than I Expected

I stayed up longer than usual to finish reading SAPPHIRE FLAMES by Ilona Andrews.  I hardly ever do that anymore, so it takes a really good book that I can’t put down to keep me up into the wee hours.

When I want a book with wild imagination, lots of action, and even more battles, my go to is Ilona Andrews.  The same can be said for tons of other readers.  She’s a New York Times best-selling author, because she delivers.  When I want shivers but no horror, she delivers that, too.  Time after time, in every book, her protagonists (female and her romantic interest) look like there’s no way they can survive their newest threat.  The odds always seem impossible.  And of course, they somehow manage to scrape through alive.  They face mages who can shred minds, reach into another sphere to pull out monsters, or amass armies.  It’s wonderful fun.

In the first set of three books featuring Catalina’s family–starting with BURN FOR ME–the books revolve around Nevada and Rogan.  Nevada’s the oldest sister in the family, who’s struggling to keep the family’s detective agency solvent after her father dies and to keep food on the table.  When she takes on her latest case, she runs smack into “Mad” Rogan.  She and Rogan got three books before their HEA, and they were great together.

SAPPHIRE FLAMES is the first book in the second part of the series, featuring Nevada’s sister Catalina and her romantic interest, Alessandro.  There are references to the first books in the series, but I think there’s enough information that you could read this set without reading the first.  And this set has a different feel.  I can’t remember reading a more dashing hero than Alessandro.  He’s gorgeous.  He’s sexy.  He’s Italian and a count.  And he’s deadly.  Plus, he really, really wants Catalina.

The especially fun part about Alessandro is that his magic negates anyone else’s magic he’s close enough to.  AND if there’s any kind of weapon close enough, he can have a copy of it in his hand to use.  When he battles, he can go through weapons one after another until he finds the right one to finish his opponent.  My favorite example of this is when he and Catalina are battling a mage who can change into a huge killing beast, and he shoots her over and over again at a building site and finally ends up with a chain saw in his hand while Catalina hacks at her head with a sword.  Nice family fun.

Catalina’s magic struck me as more subtle, but it’s every bit as deadly.  She can wrap her magic around anyone and make them love her to the point that they’ll do anything she asks to make her happy.  She’s VERY careful of her magic and has to hold it in so that it doesn’t affect innocent people.  She uses her magic in really surprising ways, and I enjoyed watching her get out of deadly situations by being so clever.

And when you put Catalina and Alessandro together…sparks fly.  Chemistry explodes.  I knew they wouldn’t get together at the end of the book (since it’s book one in what I assume will be three), but oh, I wanted them together!  I should mention quickly that Catalina’s family and friends are all wonderful in their own ways, as well.  And as you can tell by this long, gushing review, I absolutely loved this book.

Whew! The steam…

I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries, back to back.  Some cozy, some thrillers, some historical, but I was in the mood for something different, and then I read a fun review on Goodreads for a romance:  HOTSHOT DOC, by R.S. Grey.  A grumpy, dedicated-to-his-job surgeon scares away one assistant after another until he meets Bailey, a cute blonde who knows her stuff.  I don’t read romance often, but this sounded like the kind where sparks fly, so I decided to give it a try.  And I really enjoyed it.  The story has a lot of heart.  It also has some steaming  hot sex.  If you’ve recently decided to become celibate, this isn’t the book for you.  It could make you change your mind.

When I choose a book to read, I don’t LOOK for sex, but I sure don’t mind it, either.  I admire good writing when I find it, whether the author’s describing a Regency social gathering, a tense suspense scene, or two bodies that can’t resist being together.  (I can’t handle too much gore or torture, though, even when they’re well done.  I’ve gone soft in my old age).

When I first started writing urban fantasy as Judith Post, I tried to write hot sex scenes, and I was only so-so at it.  They’re hard to write.  It’s not just about body parts fitting together.  It’s about emotion and passion, too.  Desire.  Need.  When I signed a contract to write clean romances and cozies, it was a blessing.  I could focus on my strengths.  Passion seems to be one of my weak points.

A wonderful woman who used to insist on editing my early books told me to get past my hang ups, that sex is a natural thing between two people who love each other.  And then she analyzed my handwriting.  That was a revelation.  When there are no lines on the paper, my words start at one end of a line and go higher by the time I reach the other end–the sign of an optimist.  I cross my t’s higher than usual–I enjoy work.  And my a’s, e’s, and o’s are closed–the sign of a person who likes her privacy.  She said that’s why I didn’t open up when I wrote steamy scenes.  She told me if I’d open my vowels, my writing would follow.  I’ve tried.  I really have.  It hasn’t worked.  What happens behind closed doors, stays behind closed doors.

Whatever.  In HOTSHOT DOC, I sure enjoyed reading it, but it was because the characters were so RIGHT for each other.  And I liked each of them so much.  They fit together in every way, not just in bed.  And now that I’ve kicked up my reading heels a little, I’m ready to go back to murders and clues.  Happy reading and writing to you!

 

Mystery Musings: My Brain’s BioRhythm

I’ve finally made it to my book’s last quarter, and as always, I looked at my plot points, and there weren’t enough to fill enough pages.  That’s a usual.  I think when I’m plotting, my brain can only come up with so many ideas and then it fizzles.  Pfft!  And I always overestimate how many pages I’ll get from each plot point.  WHY can’t descriptions flow for pages for me like some of my friends’ writing can?  Not padding.  All good.  But no, I write tight and can’t seem to expand as much as I’d like to.  So, it’s always back to the drawing board…or my version of an outline.  And I always have to reach the point where I panic before adrenaline makes my TINY gray cells think of a new twist or a little distraction to finish the story.

And just when I’m irritated with my Muse and my brain, it offers me a consolation prize.  Yup, last night, while I was fiddling with a scene, Ta Da!, an idea came for book 7 in my Jazzi series.  Then an idea came for book 8 and another one for book 9.  I scribbled them down and meant to push them away for another day, but book 7 wasn’t finished trying to tempt me.  And bless my subconscious, three different ideas came together in a swoop.  And a new character sprang to life to introduce as a recurring part of Jazzi and Ansel’s lives.

I’m crediting C.S. Boyack for the new character.  He’s been writing a series about the archetypes in stories for Story Empire’s blog, and his last post was about the Trickster.  You can find it here: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/03/23/character-archetypes-the-trickster/

Now, forever ago, I wrote urban fantasy as Judith Post, and I wrote a three book series about a fallen angel.  Enoch was sent to Earth to clean up after his friend Caleb, who meant to join Lucifer’s rebellion, but Enoch tackled him and stopped him, thinking he’d save him from being thrown in the pit with the other rebels.  And he did save him from that, but Caleb was punished anyway.  He was thrown to Earth instead, and had a wonderful time spreading trouble and creating a new race of vampires.  The thing is, it’s hard to hate Caleb.  He’s a self-absorbed, careless Trickster, and I had a wonderful time writing him, so when C.S. Boyack did a post on them, I decided I wanted one in my cozy mysteries.  And bless my mysterious brain, it sent me a fun one to add to Jazzi’s stories.  If I can pull it off.  Tricksters aren’t so easy to write.  But I’m willing to give it a try.

I think every writer’s brain works with different chemical or inspirational impulses, but mine seems to work best when I least expect it.  Or when I panic.  Whatever triggers yours, I hope you find ideas and inspiration.  And happy writing!

Agatha Raisin

I’m a fan of M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth mysteries.  Having a laidback constable who’s happy doing his job and staying where he is, with no pretentions of ambition, even though he’s devilishly clever and always solves a case, is a novel twist.  People often underestimate him, and that  works to his advantage.  It’s refreshing to read about someone who’s perfectly satisfied with his life.  At least, so far.  I’m way behind in the series.

M.C. Beaton also writes the Agatha Raisin mystery series, which can now be seen on Acorn TV.  Way back, when the early books first came out, I bought a couple and tried them.  And Agatha annoyed me so much, I couldn’t make myself read another one of them.  I went right back to my clever, amiable Hamish.  But recently a funny thing’s happened.  I ran out of shows in the Shakespeare and Hathaway series I enjoyed so much.  Ditto for the series Rosemary and Thyme.  The Queens of Mystery was even shorter with its witty narrator and sly humor.  I enjoy Longmire, but HH and I only watch one or two of those shows a week.  So we tried Bosch, but that show’s so depressing, we’re going to finish the first series and swear off it.  That led us to try Agatha Raisin on TV.  And we really enjoy it.

I was younger when I first tried Agatha.  I’m not sure if my sense of humor has changed, or if the TV shows appeal more to me than the books would.  And for me, it doesn’t matter.  I think I’ve found a good balance, watching Agatha and reading Hamish.  It lets me enjoy both sides of M.C. Beaton.

What about you?  Have you read M.C. Beaton?  Do you enjoy Agatha and Hamish, or do you prefer one over the other?