Category Archives: mysteries

Weddings

We’re driving to Indy on Friday…again.  This time, it’s to celebrate.  My grandson and his Emily are getting married on Saturday, Nov. 9.  My daughter’s bought a long, navy blue dress to be mother of the groom.  And my second daughter, Robyn, and her husband are flying in from Florida to attend.  DH’s brother is flying back again from Oakland and staying the weekend.  And even the wonderful neighbor girl who grew up across the street from us, and Holly’s BFF, is coming from Detroit with her husband and three boys.  It’s going to be a wonderful time.  So I’m writing this post early, because I’ll be packing tomorrow night.

I have more weddings in my Jazzi series than I ever meant to write.  But my characters are all at that age when boy meets girl and both are ready to settle down.  Jazzi and Ansel get married in book 3, The Body in the Gravel, even though she doesn’t buy the dress until the last minute.  She’s too busy trying to solve a murder.  There’s a double wedding in book 4, The Body in the Apartment.  And since I threw two more people together in that book, there’s another wedding in book 5, The Body in the Past, but it’s an out of town, hurry up and get it done type event.

My wedding to DH was like that.  He’d just gotten out of the army three days before we drove to the minister’s house with a few family members and friends, and made living together legal, because we’d dated long enough.  Tyler and Emily are doing it right–the rehearsal dinner, wedding, and reception with dancing.  She’s wearing a gorgeous gown.  Jazzi and Ansel catered their own reception, cooking the food and tying the knot in their living room.  My second daughter skipped all of that.  She and Scott took off for Vegas and had everyone watch them get married on video, then they had one heck of a good time.

The next step for Jazzi, I guess, is married life and eventually kids.  That’s part of the cycle, too.  Jerod, her cousin, has already started his family, but Jazzi’s not ready for diapers and cribs yet.  I’m not sure when and how I’ll deal with that.  It’s too soon to go there.  Do you have any favorite mysteries dealing with a young mother and kids?  The only one that comes to my mind is Jenna Bennett’s Savannah Martin series.  But until babies wake Jazzi and Ansel in the middle of the night, I have ideas for lots more mysteries for them to solve.

If you’re pounding your way through NaNo, hang in there!  And for every writer out there, happy writing!

High School

I just turned in the manuscript for my fifth Jazzi Zanders mystery–The Body in the Past.  I beat my deadline–Nov. 4–and it feels good.

In this book, Jazzi is trying to find out what happened to a young girl who died in the house she, Ansel, and Jerod are flipping.  Someone pushed her off her family’s balcony at a party to celebrate her being named class valedictorian.

Jazzi learns that people resented Jessica’s successes.  She had four smart, fun best friends, but school wasn’t a happy place for her.  Neither was her home.  She was the class brain, beautiful and talented, good at everything she did, but that only made Lila, Nadia, and others despise her more.  Part way through the book, I have Jazzi say, “Who knew high school kids could be so cruel?”  But then people told me just how cruel they could be.

I was mostly oblivious during high school.  I loved my teachers.  I loved my classes.  I was one of the class brains with my nose in a book–sheltered and self-conscious, not particularly social.  I lived in my own head more often than not.  I had a few good friends, and that was enough to keep me happy.  I avoided boys.  I walked into the girls’ restroom and found girls crying too often because their boyfriends had dumped them to trust the opposite sex.   Maybe if I had a brother, I would have understood boys better, but I had two sisters.  As it was, I listened to guys have burping contests in Latin class and smack talk with each other in Geometry and decided I could live without them.

A couple of people teased me, calling me Beanpole because I just grew taller every year, but I didn’t really care, so they stopped.  Most people were nice to me.  A few popular girls even invited to me parties, but I had no social skills and little interest, so that dwindled.

High school wasn’t the best years of my life, but it wasn’t my worst years either.  And people have told me some horror stories.  Vicious, back-biting girls who teamed up to make a friend’s life miserable.  Boys spread rumors that another friend being “easy” when they didn’t get lucky.  Boys got bullied.  Between hormones and self-esteem, high school was rough for some people.  They didn’t fit in.  They thought they never would.  They didn’t blossom until they graduated and found their place in the larger world, in a place where there were different types of people with wider interests.

In my story, Jessica couldn’t wait to move away and go to college.  But she never got the chance.  Someone gave her a push and she fell to her death before she could spread her wings to fly.

Was high school good to you?  Did you dream about writing even then?  When did the writing bug bite you?  And if you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo this November–this Friday–good luck!  And happy writing.

Carnival Row (spoilers)

I don’t watch a lot of TV.  We have BritBox, so I can watch British mysteries, and my husband loves the Great British Baking Show even more than I do, but when I saw the clips for Carnival Row on Prime, it had all of the elements I like in a story.  A Victorian feel.  A gloomy setting.  Supernaturals and Fae.  And a scary monster that guts people to take their livers.  Yes, the show is dark.  And the humans aren’t depicted as much nicer than the monster.  The way they treat the supernaturals, for me, was gut-wrenching.  (Oops, there’s that word again.  Sorry).

And it made me love this series, it was so complex.  And in my opinion, and this is JUST my opinion, the plotting was brilliant.  I love mysteries, especially puzzles where each little clue becomes important at the end of the story.  Carnival Row was like that.  We start out following a detective who’s determined to stop a killer from beating Fae women with a hammer, killing most of his victims.  I thought, Aha!  The story’s big question.  Hardly.  The other cops who work the area aren’t much concerned about the women’s deaths.  What’s one less Fae?  Good riddance!

We get a glimpse of Philo’s private life, living in a boarding house.  The woman who runs it has fallen for him, and when we see them in an intimate scene, we learn that Philo has scars on his back from the war he fought in.  (If nudity and sex bother you, be warned).  Being a soldier has shaped him, and he  doggedly follows each clue that comes up until he confronts the killer.  And then there’s a twist.  The killer tells him that the Fae haven’t only brought their strange religions and customs to Carnival Row, they’ve brought a dark monster, and the evil has only begun.  Then the killer throws himself off the top of the building, killing himself.

We wonder why Philo cares so much about the Fae when no one else does.  And then we learn, through a flashback, that while fighting the war, he was stationed in a Fae bastion, and he fell in love with a woman there.  She ends up in Carnival Row, too.  And we know the two will meet and the plot’s going to have another twist.  We also learn that the scars on Philo’s back are because his mother was Fae.  She had his wings cut off when he was a baby so that he could pretend to be human growing up and have a better life, and she placed him in an orphanage so that he wouldn’t be associated with her.

When we return to present day in the story, Philo’s now tracking the dark monster that’s stalking the area.  I’ve shared enough spoilers, so I won’t say more except that there are subplots that add more layers to the story, and the twists keep coming, and the story gets more and more complicated.  It’s as much a maze as a mystery with each person’s story  weaving in and out of each other.  The over arcing storyline builds more and more tension with each episode, and the characters were well developed, even minor ones.  Predictions seem like one thing and then morph into another.  There was even decent social commentary if you chose to notice it.

I write cozy mysteries.  Even my Muddy River stories with supernaturals don’t push the envelope too far.  But I think I could learn a thing or two by studying the plotting of Carnival Row.  Writers can learn a lot from movies that inspire them.  How were they put together?  What made them better, more compelling than other movies you’ve watched?  I was impressed with the writing of this eight episode series.

October is almost upon us with days that get shorter and shorter, (at least, where I live).  All Hallow’s Eve will soon arrive with its thinning of the veil.  Enjoy the changing of the leaves, the brisk temperatures, and let’s hope that happy writing is in your future!

 

First comes love–but it’s bumpy– then..???

I’ve been reading more lately.  Some of the books are new series to me.  And most of them, no matter the genre, have a touch of romance in them.  How that plays out is interesting.

With the Jazzi Zanders series, I think I stayed pretty typical.  Jazzi, of course, stumbles across murders, but once she and Ansel met, they were always interested in each other, but the timing was never quite right.  At first, Jazzi was engaged to Chad, who ended up NOT being the one.  By the time she broke up with him, Ansel was living with Emily.  It wasn’t until they broke up that Jazzi and Ansel finally were both single at the same time.  And then things started heating up.

But how fast does an author want things to go?  I recently discovered J.D. Robb, and things got hot pretty fast in book one when Roarke and Eve meet.  They moved in together at the end of that book or the beginning of the next one (I can’t remember which).  And they finally made it official in book three.  Anna Lee Huber followed a similar pattern for Gage and Kiera in her Lady Darby series.  Lots of sparks in book one.  A deeper commitment in book two, and a marriage proposal by book three.  Book four shows Kiera biting her tongue as her sister does her best to make her and Gage’s wedding the talk of the ton, but they don’t finally say their vows until a novella between book four and five.  And then what?

For me, the books only got better as the authors balanced marriage with genre plot lines.  Couples who had solved crimes together before developed even more impressive  teamwork after they said their I do’s.  A civilian joined to a professional balance each other out well.  Jenna Bennett outdid herself in the Savannah Martin series when Savannah and Rafe not only got married but had a baby.  I was curious how Bennett would pull that off.  I mean, how does an amateur sleuth solve crimes, toting a baby carrier everywhere she goes?  But Bennett made it work, and she never made grand gestures of putting the baby in danger.  (That would have bothered me.)  But Savannah always worried about her child’s safety.

I talked to a fellow author who’s putting off having her hero and heroine become a couple because she thinks once the romance is done, the story goes flat.  But I don’t agree, not if the marriage is treated honestly and done well.  Look at the Kate Daniels urban fantasy series.  Once Kate and Curran join forces, they only grow stronger and can face more.

Now, I understand that life and timing can slow couples down.  That’s another matter.  When I first met my future DH, we were in college, and I was determined not to get married until I had my degree.  Unfortunately, DH went to a junior college, and the minute he graduated, he was drafted for the Vietnam war.  He didn’t want to make any promises once he was drafted because he didn’t think he was coming back.  Fortunately, he wasn’t in Vietnam very long.  A sniper shot him through both legs and he ended up in a hospital in Japan, then finished his draft time in Texas.  And he WAS lucky.  The bullet didn’t hit any bone or major blood vessels in either leg.  He came home alive and in one piece.  A lot of his friends didn’t.

But after surviving a bullet, the poor man made the fatal mistake of leaving the army and marrying me three days after he was discharged.  Out of the frying pan into the fire.  But life’s detours meant we’d known each other for four years before we finally tied the knot.  I know it can happen, but in stories, I’d rather it didn’t.  And if has to, I’d rather it was for a good reason, not just because the couple can’t make a commitment.

Regardless, once they take the step to be man and wife, I think the relationships, as well as the plot lines, can get even better.

September 23rd is the equinoz, the first day of Fall.  Enjoy it, and happy writing!

 

Why? For every book?

Some people turn on the spigot and words pour out.  They can reach over 100,000 words, then have to cut.

Not me.  My words are stingy, little boogers that make me work for every single one of them.

As always, for every book I write, when I reach the near end of the second middle (near 54,000 words), I look at my plot points and panic.  I just know I don’t have enough ideas and twists to reach 70,000+ words.  I think that EVERY time.  And guess where I am in Jazzi book 5 now?  Yup.  Almost 54,000 words.  And I’m worried.

I have more plot points, mind you.  More ideas.  More suspects and questions and clues.  But at this point, my writing momentum starts to fizzle.  I always start out strong.  The first fourth of every book is an adventure, introducing new characters, new subplots, a new murder to solve.  And then the middle muddle starts, but my middles are sort of divided in half.  The second fourth of the overall book leads to a new turning point.  And often–sadly–since I write mysteries, I end up with a second dead body at the middle of the book–a victim who changes the direction of the story, makes my protagonist rethink her original opinions.  It’s the third fourth of each book that slows me down.  It feels like pulling teeth to keep the momentum going, to keep interviewing one person after another and keep it interesting and keep subplots chugging along.

I’m almost to the last fourth of the story, and that’s when things start to pick up, when my story gathers speed and clues start coming together.  I’m almost there.  I can feel it.  And then the days of sitting fanny in chair and plodding and sweating will pay off.  By next Monday, I’ll be ready for my fingers to fly over the keyboard again.  Until then, well . . . I have a little more to go.

Wherever you are in your work, keep at it, and happy writing!

Changing Things Up

Years ago, there was a romance writer that I found, and I got a kick out of the blurb for her book, bought it, read it, and loved it.  I went right out and bought the second book in the series.  When I read it, it was still fun, but it was SO much like the first book, it felt like I’d just changed the names and a couple of plot points and everything else was the same.  But I didn’t let that discourage me.  I bought book three.  And…same old, same old.  That was the last book of hers I bought.

But, on the other hand, I had a mystery writer who was an automatic buy for me until–and I’m guessing on the reason here–she decided she didn’t want to write straight mysteries.  She wanted to write something more serious with more angst that tackled bigger subjects, and her characters had to suffer more.  I endured that book and bought the next one, hoping the change was just a fluke, but nope.  The next book tackled subjects that were grimmer than the previous book’s, and I was over it.

I buy certain books to suit my moods.  I like Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap mysteries as much to visit South Cove as to guess who dunnit.  I want to hear the banter between Jill and her sheriff/boyfriend Greg.  I want to know what Jill’s aunt is up to this time.  When I want a warm read to lift my mood, Tourist Trap does the trick.  Another automatic read for me is Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby books.  Her mysteries steep me in Gothic atmosphere.  I enjoy sinking into the world of 1830’s England, Scotland, and Ireland.  I enjoy the growing relationship between Kiera and Gage.  I expect long descriptions, mixed with history, and a moody vibe.

Are there some things that feel repetitious?  Sometimes.  Do I care?  Not that much.  They settle me back into those worlds, the feel of the books.  Can too much repetition drive me nuts?  Only if it feels like every book is a rehash of the one before it.  And what changes that up?  New plots, new characters.  Different questions for the new book to answer.  I want a new story that’s not like the old story every time I visit that author’s world.

I’m new to the J.D. Robb In Death series.  Do I have certain expectations when I start one of her books?  Oh, yeah.  Eve Dallas is tough and gritty.  The murders are visceral and grim.  Roarke is richer than Midas with a lot more connections and a questionable background, and he’d move heaven and earth for Eve.  I’m only now finishing book three, but even though the tone stays consistent for each book so far, the stories keep surprising me.

Can a series book change too much?  It can for me.  When I pick up a book and it doesn’t come close to my expectations, the reason I chose to read it, I’m not a happy fan girl.  So, the trick is to keep each book fresh in a series but to keep the tone and feel of the book similar to the last one I read.  That doesn’t mean one book can’t be more serious or more humorous than the last one, but it can’t feel like some other author usurped my favorite author’s name and tricked me.  Simple, huh?  Hah!  Nothing about writing is easy.  At least not for me.  But think about why you keep buying books in a series.  What keeps you coming back for more?

Whatever you’re working on, happy writing!  And have a great Labor Day weekend.

P.S. I put up a new snippet on Monday for Muddy River and another new snippet on Thursday from The Body in the Gravel, if you’re following either.  And I forgot to pin the Jazzi snippet to my twitter page.  (Shame on me).

Getting excited

I signed up for two conferences this year, both near the end of conference season.  I went to Magna cum Murder in Indy at the end of October last year and decided to go back for their 25th anniversary.  25 years!  And last year, when the hostess asked people to raise their hands who’d come from Day One, a LOT of people raised their hands.  Now that’s a dedicated crowd.  I’m not the type of person who makes instant friends, so I’m looking forward to seeing who’s there again this year and what they’ve done since I saw them last.

Magna cum Murder isn’t aimed for writers.  There were no panels on the state of the industry, poisons, or how to market.  The panels were geared for readers, but oh, were those readers prolific.  They knew their stuff.  I love talking shop with fellow writers, but I love talking to serious readers, too.  And this conference is packed with them.

The second event I’ve signed up for is “CozyClub Mini-Con Midwest.”  My publisher, Kensington, organized it.  It’s on Saturday, September 7–the weekend after Labor Day– from 11 a.m. to 1:00 at Pierogi Mountain (German Village) 739 S 3rd St. in Columbus, Ohio.  Okay, pierogis instantly caught my attention.  But then I read the list of authors who’ve signed up for author signings, and I’m going all fan girl.

I’m sure every author is wonderful, and one might be your favorite, so I’ll list them, but a few of my favorites are going to be there.  Here are the names:  Alex Erickson, Amanda Flower, Anna Lee Huber, C.M. Gleason, Cheryl Hollon, Christin Brecher, Debra H. Goldstein, Ginger Bolton, J.C. Kenney, J.R. Ripley, Julie Ann Lindsay, Lynn Cahoon, Olivia Matthews, Annelise Ryan, Rose Pressey, Sherry Harris, Carlene O’Connor, Kate Dyer-Seeley, Lena Gregory, Winnie Archer, and ME.  At least, that’s the line-up for now.  The book seller is The Book Loft in Columbus, Ohio.

If you read my recommendations on BookBub, you’ll know that I’m hooked on Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series and Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap series.  And J.C. Kenney has written two mysteries, and I liked them both.  https://www.bookbub.com/authors/judi-lynn?list=reviews&review_step=search

I’m dragging my poor husband with me to both conferences (lucky him:), and I have an old friend who lives in Columbus that I hope to meet up with and maybe go out for supper with once the mini-con is over.  And my daughter and grandson both live in Indy, so both conferences are a win/win for me.  Sometimes, I do well at conferences and sound halfway intelligent.  Sometimes, I get nervous and it’s dodgy.  But it’s nice to leave my writing cave once in a while and see what’s out there, to meet fellow writers in the flesh instead of just reading their blogs or twitter posts.

I have writers’ club this Wednesday, and it feels like sitting down with old friends, talking plots, dialogue, pacing, and word choice.  They keep me on my toes.  But it will be nice to meet some new people and see what they have to say.    Whether you’re locked in a little room by yourself, sitting in your gazebo or by your pool with your laptop, or meeting up with fellow writers, all the best.  And happy writing!