Mystery Musings

I’m working on my second Lux mystery, and I’ve finally reached 19,000 words.  I’ve finished the first fourth of the book, and for now, I’m happy with it.   I’ve introduced the book’s big question (who committed the murder since it’s a mystery) and a subplot (The Johnson siblings’ grandmother is moving to Summit City to live with their mom and dad, and no one’s happy about it).  Grandma Johnson is a bitter, outspoken woman, who fell and broke her hip, so she needs care until she’s better, maybe for the rest of her days.  Lux, a freelance writer, is working on an article on aging, so Grandma Johnson ties into the research she’s doing for it.

Lux gets involved in solving the book’s murder because the victim is Cook’s nephew.  Cook worked for Lux’s parents and was always there for her.  She loves Cook so much that she convinces her to move to Summit City, too, along with her oldest sister.  Things get complicated when Cook’s nephew’s body is found in one of Lux’s storage units.  He was murdered while he was stealing things from her.

I always enjoy writing the set-up of a book.  That’s when I try to make my characters come to life as I throw them into the story.  It’s where I try to plant readers in the setting and describe the house, town, and surroundings through action.  And it’s where the important changes happen in my protagonist’s life that make her take action to fix things.

In my first Lux book, I started with more background information than usual.  I felt that the story needed it.  But usually, I tread lightly when sprinkling background into my writing.  I need to know all of that information, but the reader doesn’t necessarily need much of it.  C.S. Boyack wrote a great post on this for Story Empire.  He showed the drip, drip, drip method of feeding readers information.  Writers can go from sparse to a lot more.  I often end up in the middle.  Here’s Craig’s article:

https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/05/27/case-study-the-mandalorian/

I’m now heading into the second fourth of the book.  Lux is ready to dig into finding clues and making things work.  Of course, ten or so chapters from now when I reach the middle of the plot line, there’ll be another twist and she’ll have to shift directions.  Nothing can be that easy for a protagonist.  So she’ll be keeping me busy for a while now.  And that’s the joy of writing.  One fourth of the novel done.  Three-fourths to go.  And so far, the middle muddle hasn’t slowed me down.

Mystery Musings

I just finished reading SCARED STIFF by Annelise Ryan.  Her protagonist is an ex-ER nurse who has to leave the hospital she loved working in when her husband–Dr. David Winston–cheats on her with a fellow RN.  It’s too awkward for Mattie to work with David, and no one’s going to fire a skilled surgeon, so Mattie finds herself working as an assistant to her friend, Izzy, the town’s coroner.

My daughter’s a nurse.  So are a few of my friends.  When they get together, I hear an information overload about diseases, body parts, maladies, and things that can go wrong.  It always makes me hope I stay healthy.  And their humor?  If cops are known for dark humor, nurses might be able to top them.  Some of the situations Mattie finds herself in made me chuckle and cringe at the same time.

After she moves out of her house, her husband wants her back.  But Mattie is thrown together with Hurley, the new homicide detective in town.  And Hurley is delicious.  When she and Hurley are called to examine a dead body, Mattie discovers it’s the nurse her husband was cheating on her with.  Mattie doesn’t want to reconcile, but she doesn’t believe David is capable of murder.  So she starts poking into things.

This series does a great balancing act of mixing medical facts, humor, and clues, along with romance.  It makes for an entertaining mix.

Mystery Musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Another New Book

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

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

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

 

Mystery Musings

I read a twitter post that made me happy.  Lynn Cahoon is coming out with a new series, The Kitchen Witch.  I’m a fan of her Tourist Trap mysteries.  Add a witch to her whodunnits, and I’m in.  I have a soft spot for nice witches and magic.

Way, way back when I wrote urban fantasies as Judith Post, I wrote a lot of Babet & Prosper short reads.  Babet was a witch, and Prosper was a bear shifter and a detective for supernatural crimes.  They lived in a city with a feel a bit like New Orleans.  I wrote them mostly for fun, like I write Muddy River now as Judi Lynn.  When I signed with Kensington to write romances, though, I left all of my urban fantasy behind.

After I wrote six Mill Pond romances, my editor let me try writing a cozy mystery, and that’s how the Jazzi Zanders mysteries came to be.  But I missed the world of magic, and I noticed there were a lot of witch and wizard mysteries making their way onto Amazon.  I bought and enjoyed quite a few of them–witches who worked in chocolate shops, in bakeries, in small towns.  A lot of them had art for covers instead of models.  Paintings of witches with black, pointy hats and black dresses.  A lot of them were fun, light-hearted mysteries, and I enjoy them.

That’s not what I wrote when I started Muddy River, though.  And that’s probably a marketing mistake, but I don’t have a lot of confidence in my ability to write humor.  I used it in my first romance–COOKING UP TROUBLE, because I didn’t have much confidence that I could write romance either:)  I’m still not sure either is my strong point.  Mae Clair, who wrote the Hode’s Hill suspense series that I love, turned to humor for her short read, IN SEARCH OF McDOOGLE, and she nailed it.  McDoogle was the perfect read for the end of a long, tiring day.

I like humor.  Sometimes, I’m even funny.  I’m just not a natural at it.  But I’ve noticed that it works really well with good witches.  And when Lynn Cahoon’s book comes out late August, I’m looking forward to see what her witch is up to.

 

Jazzi & Ansel

In THE BODY FROM THE PAST, available on NetGalley and due out in September, https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/191452   Jazzi finds a girl’s treasure chest when she, Ansel, and Jerod are clearing a house to fix up.  The girl died shortly before high school graduation.  Jerod calls her family but they don’t want it.  Jazzi doesn’t feel right, throwing away all of Jessica’s memories, so she wants to take the chest home to look through it.  Ansel’s not so thrilled about that, and here’s why:

Ansel closeup

*********************************************************************************

Ansel pinched off a small bite of his sandwich to share with George, who’d come to beg. “I don’t want to get involved in whatever happened. It couldn’t have been good if the family had to run from it.”

“I can’t throw away her treasure chest.” Jazzi raised her chin, digging in. “I’m taking it home with us and looking through it.”

Ansel closed his eyes and counted to ten. “And what if someone murdered her? What then?”

“They’re probably in prison, and I won’t visit them.”

He sighed. “And you’ll leave it alone? Even if the case wasn’t solved?”

“I don’t know Jessica. I’ll feel sorry for her, but we’re not involved with her past. It’s not as if it’s one of our friends or family.”

His shoulders relaxed and he fed George another pinch of food. “I’m going to hold you to that.”

“Fine. But it will drive me nuts if I don’t dig around inside that chest.”

He nodded, and Jerod shook his head. “I was a witness to this whole conversation. Ansel can use me as backup, cuz.”

“First of all, you’re my cousin, and I’m the one who cooks for you. But if you want to be like that, you two can be bosom buddies and do your thing.”

Jerod rolled his eyes. “I’m not choosing Ansel over you. But the man has a point. You don’t need to get involved in every murder that falls into your lap.”

Pressing her lips tight, she raised an eyebrow at him. “Fine.”

“When women say fine, it’s always a red flag.” Jerod stood to throw away his paper plate. “If it comes to sticking up for you, Ansel, or choosing Jazzi’s minestrone soup, she wins.”

Ansel let out a puff of aggravation.

#19

I just finished Jenna Bennett’s latest mystery, Collateral Damage:  A Savannah Martin Mystery.  I love this series.  It started out as equal parts romance, equal parts mystery, but it’s evolved into a strong family and marriage.  I was curious how the author would handle having Savannah solve crimes and care for a baby, but it works.  Admittedly, I had one fussy baby who cried more than she cooed and one easy-going baby, but even then, I don’t know anyone whose baby is as good as Savannah’s.  Still, it works.

I particularly liked this book because it felt like Rafe and Savannah were a married team, with both of them showing their strengths and supporting each other.  For a long time, they loved each other but they each did their own thing.  Now, they work together.  The thing that keeps surprising me is that this is the NINETEENTH book, and I still look forward to the next one.  The stories haven’t grown stale because the characters keep growing–all of them.  Savannah’s mother, who was a spoiled southern belle at the beginning of the series, has changed a lot book by book.

I’m turning in my 6th Jazzi Zanders mystery this weekend, and I’ve worried about keeping each book fresh, not falling into a pattern, a rut, but Jenna Bennett proves it’s possible.  I think COLLATERAL DAMAGE is one of her best.  I’ve followed some authors for a long time, and some of my favorites hit a point where their books sagged.  It felt like they were just tired of them.  And I worried that that might be a common pitfall, something that was hard to avoid.  Eventually, they pulled out of it, and their books flexed their muscles again.  But so far, for me, that hasn’t happened with this series.  And I’m glad.  It gives me hope.

Mystery Musings

I just finished reading PAINT IT BLACK by PJ Parrish.  I’ve just started the series, so as usual, I’m behind everyone else.  This is the second full book, and I really liked the first one, but I loved this one.  I loved it so much, I decided to do more than a review and to write about it here.

It’s gritty, but for me, it never went too far.  It’s violent, but we hear the violent acts but don’t have to watch them.  I can only take so much these days.  When I was young, bring on the horror and gory!  Show me a new serial killer.  But those days are behind me.  Which is odd.  Because I can write about them with more ease than I can read them.  Maybe because I put myself in the killer’s mind and what he’s doing feels like what he would really do?  Not sure.  But hinting at things off screen works better for me these days.

The Louis Kincaid stories are thrillers, and this one revolves around a serial killer.  His psychology fascinated me.  And the farther I read, the more I knew that eventually, Louis Kincaid would be high on his list of victims.  That made for great tension.  To the point, (and, sorry, because this might be a spoiler that ruins some of the tension when it happens). that he kidnaps one person but doesn’t kill her because she doesn’t fit his profile.  It’s such an insight into the killer’s motives, I thought it was brilliant.

Besides the mystery and motives, I enjoyed how the characters in this book were fleshed out.  And it was all done in such an understated way with so few words and deep conversations, I was impressed.  Each character is mindful and respectful of each other’s space.  They all have past histories, and some of those histories are painful, so they tiptoe around them, never prying, never pushing too hard.  That made it so that when I learned a little about them, a peek into what happened that they avoid, it made it all the more meaningful.

The end was a fight to the finish.  Well done.  The protagonist didn’t just walk into an obvious trap, even though I do think he could have figured out who the last victim was sooner.  But that aside, the end delivered a strong, emotional impact.  It worked.  And the wrap-up wasn’t exactly what I expected but realistic, so actually better in its way.

This book had complex, private characters; a great villain; strong teamwork between the good guys; and plenty of tension for a thriller.  It’s going high on my list of favorite reads.

WHY?

You know, when our kids were growing up, each of them went through a phase when they kept asking, “Why?”  And you’d give them one answer, then another, then another, and then you never wanted to hear that word ever again, because an answer just led to another question.  I sometimes feel that way when I try to seriously think about books I’ve read.

When I finish a book, HH always asks, “How did you like it?  Was it good?”  And then we have a great discussion about books and writing.  But every once in a while, I frustrate him, and I really frustrate me, because I say, “Everything in the book was great, but I just couldn’t get into it for some reason.”  And, in all honesty, that drives me a little crazy.  Because then, the next logical question is “Why?”, and I don’t always have an answer.

When I finish reading a book, I want to know what in it worked for me and what didn’t.  I learn a lot from that.  So when I say, “It had a great plot, great characters, lots of twists and turns, and a solid mystery,” and then I add, “but it didn’t hold my interest.”  I mean, I have to ask myself, What else is there?  What was missing?  Why did I like the last book in the series but had to work to finish this one?  And I’ve had that happen to me a few times lately.  And it’s annoying.  Mostly, because I’ve picked up a few books that were only written sort of haphazardly–not the best word choices or character arcs or spelling–and they kept me entertained from start to finish.  So what’s the deal?

I finally figured it out this morning.  I can forgive the occasional sag in a plot, the occasional lackluster description.  But when the protagonist is as clueless about where the plot’s going as I feel, and I can’t see where the clues or events are headed, I know I’m in trouble.  Now, some authors I trust enough that I know eventually they’ll find their way.  But my reading enthusiasm gets mired in the meantime.

This inspiration was good for me, because I’ve always wondered why I’m not a fan of P.I. fiction.  So many of my friends go on and on about how wonderful a certain P.I. is, and I read the same novel and make myself turn the pages until the end.  Because it’s just not my thing.  When I read a P.I., I feel like I’m just following a person around until he irritates enough people that he’ll get beat up, and once he’s licking his wounds, he might find the one right person who can give him the answer he needs.  He solves the case mostly because he’s so stubborn and through dumb luck and elimination of other possible suspects.  Okay, I’m not going to win over any P.I. fans with that description, but a gumshoe doesn’t feel like he has the same finesse as a Hercule Poirot who relies on his little grey cells.

I feel the same way about a protagonist in a series I like when she comes up against a case where she doesn’t seem to know which end’s up.  She feels lost, trying to solve the case, and so do I.  And I don’t like it.  I much prefer when the clues just stack up, one on top of the other, and they feel like they’re moving in the right direction.  I might not be able to point to the criminal and say, “Aha!”, but I feel like I’m getting closer.  Knowing that, I understand why the two books I struggled with bothered me so much.  The heroines couldn’t make sense of any of the clues.  When they added them up, they didn’t mean anything.  And I was frustrated.

Of course, the fine balance in a mystery is to give enough clues to keep the reader involved, but not so many clues that he solves the case too early.  That being said, though, I often know who committed the crime and I still enjoy the story.  I want to see how the protagonist catches the villain.  That, in itself, is satisfying to me.

What about you?  What slows you down when you read an author you like, but the book falls short?  Do you have any pet peeves?  Happy reading…and writing!

 

 

The End

I just finished the first draft of my 6th Jazzi Zanders mystery.  I pushed pretty hard to give myself plenty of time to send it to my critique partners so I can work on their feedback before my May 4 deadline.  I’m excited about this one.  The fifth book comes out September 22, so this one won’t come out until spring 2021.  That’s close enough to Easter that I’m ending it with Jazzi’s Easter meal for her family at her house.

Writing about an amateur sleuth means that I need to have a good reason for Jazzi to be involved in each murder case.  For this book, I planted a dead body in her sister’s shampoo chair in the salon Olivia and her mom co-own.  Worse yet, the killer used Olivia’s favorite, expensive scissors to stab the new hairdresser she’d hired.  And since the shop hadn’t opened yet, and it was Olivia’s scissors jammed in Misty’s chest, she’s the prime suspect.

My daughter was a hairdresser before she went back to school to become a nurse.  And she swears that being a beautician made her a better RN.  She learned to handle any kind of client that sat in her salon chair, just as she now needs to handle every patient who ends up in one of the beds she has to cover.

For this book, though, besides Jazzi’s sister, I wanted to pull in another character, someone from her past–her ex-fiancée.  Chad has married since they broke up, and he and Ginger have been happy until she tells him that she can’t have kids.  He was honest when they met and told her his big dream was to be a father.  When she confesses that will never happen, he feels tricked, cheated, and he’s not nice about it, but when Ginger disappears, he regrets how he treated her and wants her back.  Unfortunately, after the police start searching for her, they find her body close to the town where she grew up.  And…of course, Chad is the prime suspect because spouses always are.

No one in Jazzi’s family has anything good to say about Chad, and Ansel’s only heard how horrible he treated her.  So when Chad asks for Jazzi’s help, he’s not keen on it.  I liked the interplay between them while Jazzi tries to convince him that Chad needs her.  He’s not jealous of Chad.  He just doesn’t like him, but he finally reluctantly agrees.

And for the first time in the series, I have Gaff and Jazzi respectfully disagree on where the clues lead.  That was interesting to write, too.

There was enough going on in this book, I had to be more careful than usual trying to pull all the threads together before the last chapter.  I’d planted clues, introduced characters, and they all needed to be there for a reason.  My fear was that I might have forgotten one of them.  I don’t think I did, but my critique partners will notice if I messed up.  There were more twists than usual near the end of the book, and I worked harder to make them land at the right places.  All in all, when I wrote the last scene, it felt good that everything added up and came out the way I hoped it would.  At least, it feels like it did.  Like I said, if it didn’t, my CPs will use more red ink than usual:)