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!

 

 

 

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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!

 

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!

Book Signings

My husband and I went to hear Anna Lee Huber at Barnes & Noble on Thursday night, and as much as I enjoyed it–and I enjoyed it a lot–I think he enjoyed it even more.  He has a thing for World War I and II history, and Anna’s new Verity Kent mystery series takes place right after World War I.   She had information neither of us had ever heard of.  Did you know that Britain recruited aristocratic women to be spies and go behind enemy lines when Germany cut off Belgium and occupied it?  The conditions of that poor country and German-occupied France was deplorable.  Never mind the conditions in the trenches.

Before Anna even started her presentation, she let us chatter with her about writing and publication.  John loves that, too.  He actually likes talking writing and the business end of it as much as I do.  Probably has to out of self-defense.  Anna writes TWO historical mystery series.  Both of them intrigue me.  Her Lady Darby series is set in 1830s England.  Now, as everyone must know by now, I’m a huge fan of Julia Donner’s Regency romances, which take place from about 1810 to 1820 (unless Julia reads this and corrects me).  Anna loves research as much as Julia Donner, but she purposely picked the 1830s because no one had written very much about that time period.  A good writers’ tip.  Find a niche of your own.  The 1830s were between the Regency period and the Victorian years.  A nice pocket to explore.  Too soon for Jack the Ripper–which always intrigues me:)  That series is her Lady Darby series, and I’ve already bought the first book (on sale as I write this) to try.

Her second series is the one John’s excited to start.  It’s the years right after World War I with plenty of flashbacks about the war.  It’s her Verity Kent (she’s a spy for England) series.  The second book in the series recently came out:

The good news is that Anna Lee Huber was interviewed on NPR the morning of her signing.  The sad news is that John and I and ONE other person showed up to hear her, besides her mother.  Fun for us, since we got to ask more questions and interact with her more.  And she’s DELIGHTFUL.  Just saying.  But not so good for her, because she didn’t sell many books.  She took it in her stride.  Book signings are like that.  Sometimes, people show up.  Sometimes, they don’t.  And only the heavens know why.

Talking about people showing up, I’m plugging the reading event (with Kyra Jacobs, Julia Donner, TG Wolff, L.A. Reminicky, and me in Decature on Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. again.  It’s hosted by The Next Page Bookstore and Monster Pizza.  Hope you can make it.

AND, it snowed today.  Just enough to let you know it’s cold outside.  So I hope you’re holed up inside and hitting the keys.  Happy writing!

 

P.S.  If you look up Anna Lee Huber on Goodreads and look at her reading lists, etc., she has a shelf of books she uses for research…in case you’re a history buff like someone I know who writes Regencies.

 

 

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!

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!

For Better or For Worse

My HH (handsome husband) and I celebrated our anniversary in August.  47 years together, and we still like each other.  A few of the couples we get together with have already hit the big 5-0.  When our friends got married, they signed up for the long haul.  It didn’t work out for a couple of them, but it’s not because they didn’t try.

I always say that I’m not an especially romantic person.  HH is.  He loves to buy me flowers, loves it when he finds jewelry he thinks I’ll like.  (I can only wear rings anymore.  Metal makes my skin itch and swell.)  He buys cards that drip with sentimentality.  Me?  I love to cook for him, to see him happy.  But mushy?  It’s not in me.  When I wrote romances, though, it was fun watching two people who were drawn to each other work to get it right.  There were missteps, of course, and false starts, but by the end of the book, they’d worked things out.  And they only had one book to do it in.  Each novel had to end with a happy ever after.

Now that I’m writing a mystery series, I can take more time.  In Body in the Attic, Jazzi and Ansel work with each other.  He has a live-in girlfriend, but when she says Jump, she expects him to ask How high?  Ansel’s an easy-going guy, but he has his limits.  And Emily pushes them.  When she finally pushes him too far, Ansel’s a free man.  And a drop dead gorgeous one, too.  At six-five with white-blond hair and blue eyes, he’s one of Norway’s best exports.  By the end of the book, (and this won’t ruin any great surprise), he and Jazzi move in together.  He wants to get married.  She wants to wait.  She thinks she’s just the rebound girl, and after he licks his wounds for a while, he’ll move on.  But, hey, in the meantime, why not have a little fun?

If you’ve read Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series or Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson novels, you know that it takes a few books for the hero and heroine to finally get it together.  For a lot of readers, once the protagonist and her love interest make it official–one way or another–the stories get even better.  It’s fun to see them working as a couple.  But not for everyone.  For some readers, making the two a couple takes the edge off both of their personalities.  To each, his own.  But for me, endless flirting and misunderstandings get on my nerves.  I get tired of the mating ritual and want them to get it right or move on.  But then, as I said, I’m not a romantic.  And I guess I’m not all that patient either:)  But throwing Jazzi and Ansel together was fun.  And I don’t have to resolve everything in one book.  I have more in the series to go . . .

Happy writing, everyone!

 

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…and all that

Struggles, they say, make you stronger.  It’s true, I know.  When I was young, I didn’t have the experience to write some of the things I do today.  I could empathize with other peoples’ problems, but I’d been raised pretty sheltered with boringly typical growing up angsts.  Life took care of that in one way or another.  Bumps and bruises leave lasting internal marks.  They made me grow, so that the characters I write now have more depth.

I’ve known a few people–only a VERY few–who sailed through life mostly unscathed.  They don’t carry the baggage most of us do.  Now, I’m not glorifyng misery.  If I’d have had a choice, I’d have passed on some of life’s more demanding moments.  I’d have gone to a beach and played in the sand instead.  But that’s not the way Life works.  You get what you get, and some people live through burdens that would flatten me, nightmare childhoods and traumas that scar.  More surprisingly, some people get multi doses of awful and still stay positive and generous.  I don’t think I got that gene.

I know there are times when you’re just emotionally wrung-out, too.  When you don’t have the energy to put words on paper.  All you can do is cope, the most you can manage is to endure.  I’ve watched friends go through grief or illnesses and their stories stop speaking to them.

Struggles with writing make us stronger writers, too.  Not that I’m a fan of rejection, but it comes with the territory, doesn’t it?  When I look back at some of my earlier efforts, I cringe.  What if someone had accepted them, published them?  Would I have tried as hard to improve?  Actually, some of those stories were published, and I shake my head when I read them.  What were the other manuscripts like in that slush pile if mine stood out?  I don’t want to think about it.

Having to change genres has improved my writing, too.  I didn’t think so at the time.  After my kazillionth rejection that said, “Love your writing, but NO ONE’s buying cozies now,” I told myself it was time to give up my dream of becoming my generation’s Agatha Christie and move on.  (I’ve always believed in aiming high and seeing where I ended up.  Sometimes, it’s a long fall:)  After cozies, I tried my hand at writing serial killers, but that market was glutted, too, at the time.  And then an editor asked if I’d try writing urban fantasies.  It took me a minute, but I learned to love writing those.  And they made me think about battles and building tension until the ultimate battle at the end of each book.  Then my agent asked me to try romances, and I reeled.  They seemed impossible to me, but I learned to love them too.  They made me think about smaller missteps that build tension and have an emotional impact.  And finally, my editor at Lyrical Underground asked if I’d like to try a cozy mystery for their line.  And I was back to writing mysteries again.  But I really believe that all the twists and turns have made me think about ALL of the elements that make a strong story, not just plotting.

I doubt that many of you who read this are whistling happy tunes and skipping through the park every day of your lives.  And I hope that when you look back, after the fact, that your trials and disappointments were worth it.  So just in case, hang in there, and happy writing!

It Takes Two

I tried–really hard–to kill only one person in my third mystery.   I wrote plot points for every chapter and scene, had enough suspects and witnesses–I thought–to keep moving the plot.  I had two subplots to add depth.  I was happy with what I had.  The thing is, I got to within fifty pages of the end, and I just wanted more.  I wanted something dramatic, something I didn’t expect, something that would throw all of my carefully placed clues into turmoil.  So I killed someone.  And it just felt . . . right.

Having only one victim would be a challenge for me, I knew–a challenge I wanted to meet.    But I didn’t.  Maybe I wrote urban fantasy one time too many.  I got used to having battles that kept escalating in danger the longer the novel went.  Maybe I missed that adrenaline rush.  I thought about Elizabeth George’s latest mystery, and there was only one body near the beginning of the book.  BUT, there were two crimes, and the second crime felt worse than the first.  It provided the oomph that made the ending pages stronger.

I’m not going to walk around, hanging my head in shame.  True, I tried something and couldn’t quite pull it off this time, but I sure love how this book came together.  It’s been so long since I read Agatha Christie, I can’t remember how many bodies she sprinkled through her mysteries, how she built tension as the clues added up.  I recently watched a TV remake of Ten Little Indians, though, retitled And Then There Were None, and she set a record for body count in that book.  I’m going to think about that with the next mysteries I read.  You can learn so much by studying authors you admire.  And maybe I’ll find something that will make one victim plenty to work with.  Or not.

In any event, I only need to write the big last chapter and then the shorter wrap-up, and THE BODY IN THE DUMP TRUCK is done.  I hope to write The End on Tuesday.  (I’m not even thinking about tonight and tomorrow).  But that’s only the first draft.  So it will only be The End until my critique partners give me their notes.  And then who knows?  I’ll find out what worked and what didn’t.

In the meantime, I wish you happy writing and reading!