When I first thought of asking authors I admire to join me in an anthology, I asked a few of my close writing friends if they’d try to write a mystery for me.  And I got blank stares.  Okay.  Totally fair.  Because not one of them has ever written a mystery.  I got it.  But I really wanted them to write a story for me.  So I thought of an idea.

“What if we use the game Clue to inspire us?”

The game itself is copyrighted.  But I didn’t really want to base it on the game or movie.  I just wanted to help my friends get ideas for mysteries.

“What if we each choose a room?  A weapon?  And a color?  And use those in our stories somehow.”

I ended up picking Miss Peacock with a wrench in the kitchen as loose inspiration for my story.  Miss Peacock became Earnestine Peabody, a nosy busybody who’s trying to dig up dirt on the volunteer decorators who are working on a grand, old house in River Bluffs to sell so that the profits go to charities.  Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod sign up to renovate the kitchen, dining room, and half bath to help support the food banks in their town.  And as it happened, Earnestine was killed in the kitchen but stuffed in a hall closet, but that’s all right, because the game was only supposed to inspire us, not to be taken too seriously.

Which was a good thing.  Because my fellow writers went in all kinds of directions with the stories they wrote.  Mr. Plum evolved into a plum room in an attic, haunted by two ghosts, when Kathleen Palm sent me her psychological horror mystery.  I can’t say much more without giving away the plot.  Julia Donner, not content with one murder weapon, chose two for her humorous Regency mystery.  The poor victim had a bell pull wrapped around his neck and then he was whacked with a candlestick to finish the job.  And C.S. Boyack couldn’t find a weapon to his liking, so chose his own.  Had to.  A knife, revolver, wrench, rope, candlestick, or lead pipe wouldn’t harm Jason Fogg when he transformed. Mae Clair chose the hall, but put that hall in a castle for her medieval whodunnit.  And Rachel Sherwood Roberts made the conservatory the pivot point of her literary mystery.  D.P. Reisig decided against the regular weapons, too, and introduced one I’ve never heard of, a slung-shot, but it definitely sounded deadly.

So, even though we used Clue to get our little grey cells working,–and really, that’s all we needed it for–we all went in our own directions once it sparked ideas.  It served its purpose.  So from this day on, I’ll enjoy it as a game, a movie, and now as inspiration.



Mystery Musings

Humor.  It’s such a great antidote.  That’s why I was so happy that C.S. Boyack and Julia Donner wrote two humorous mysteries for the anthology I put together.  When I read Craig’s Jason Fogg story, I smiled all the way through it.  The premise of a detective who can dissolve into…yup, you guessed it…fog…was so much fun.  And his delivery…well, if you’ve read any of his books, it was fun, too.  Here’s a short blurb of his mystery From the Files of Jason Fogg:

They probably don’t even recognize me in the building, because I usually skipped the lobby and went for my upstairs window. I always left myself a way inside and squeezing through a tiny crack was a piece of cake. The back room was perfect for reforming because there are no windows. No sense in flashing the neighbors across the street. After making myself presentable, I checked the mail. Nothing but bills. Maybe Riley was right about this job.

My bus pass was in the top drawer, and I grabbed some business cards for good measure. “Jason Fogg Detective Agency.” Has a nice ring to it. On the way out, I scooped up a garbage bag with a change of clothes. Jeans and red flannel, it’s practically the uniform of Seattle.

People on the bus commented about the lovely weather. Honestly, I prefer a good downpour but simply agreed with them.

Craig’s a natural at writing with humor, but I think it’s a tricky voice to accomplish.  He seems to manage it with ease.  So does Julia Donner in the Regency mystery she sent for the collection.  The minute I saw her scene titles, I knew I was in for a treat.

Murder at a Garden Party

or The Unpleasantness in the Study

West London

May 1818

Scene 1

Wherein Suspects Are Introduced

See?  No “Body in the Study.”  Regencies are all about good manners.  A corpse is merely an “Unpleasantness.”  I loved it!  I loved the entire story.  Here’s a little to tease you:

Under the pavilion’s roof, guests more interested in the topic of the murder than in the balloon spectacle huddled in groups, whispering while striving to contain offended sensibilities. Understandably, the brutal slaying of Lord Mainspout would deign Lady Brilliant’s assembly either a social coup or a doomed disgrace.

Peregrine lifted his hand to tap away a yawn with the backs of his fingers. “It is indeed astonishing what a lady will get up to when it comes to making herself the most talked about hostess in London. I had thought a balloon ascension a rather desperate measure. A dead body is truly above and beyond.”

“One shouldn’t have to contrive to this extent.”

“But they lack your intelligence and style, m’dear. Patience, Lizzie. Sir Hector and Lady Brilliant have better ton than to allow themselves to get caught up in a vulgar controversy. Do you think the butler did it?”

“Oh, do be serious. If we must loiter about waiting for the magistrate and his tedious questions, tell me about the guests to keep me occupied. I know all of them superficially. Guessing who is responsible for the unpleasantness in the study will pass the time.”

He chuckled and discretely tickled the inside of her left wrist. “You are deliciously heartless today, Lady Asterly. And speculation would present a method for keeping extreme boredom at bay whilst we wait. I must warn you that other than this lovely house and park on the veritable edge of town, Sir Hector and Lady Brilliant are a crashingly boring pair.”

“There is no such word as crashingly.”

“If the shoe fits.”

I’ve loved Peregrine and Elizabeth since I first read about them in The Heiress and the Spy.

It was lovely to see them in a short story.

But there you have it.  Two mysteries.  Both filled with humor.  And yet so different.  That’s what makes writing so wonderful.  We each come to it with our own voice, our own styles.  I hope these two samples of stories catch your interest so that you take a peek at Murder They Wrote.  It includes 7 different authors and 7 different approaches to murder:)

Just For Fun–sharing a short story

I’m working on plot points while I’m between books.  I think of a few ideas, then draw a blank.  Think of a few more, etc.  So it’s start and stop, brood for a while, then think of something else.  And that’s when story ideas whisper in my ear to tempt me.  And why not let them when I’m between books?  So I wrote this one.  It’s stalling so that I can have fun instead of working on plotting, and I know that, but it’s all right at this point.  So here goes:


I stretched out on the king-size bed–my bed, now—in the huge bedroom on the second floor with a deep balcony. My bedroom, now. In the massive mansion I’d envied since the first time I stepped foot in it.

Jackson Kendricks took everything he had for granted. His wealth. His good looks. His brain and talent. “None of it can take the place of people you love,” he’d often told me. He’d lost his parents when we were sophomores in college. A car accident when they were driving up to visit him at the university.

His mom and dad had invited me to come home with him many times, always welcomed me. They were glad their son had made a friend. Like he needed any. With money like he had, he could have bought as many as he wanted. But Jackson was painfully shy. I was painfully poor. I wasn’t as smart as he was. Or as talented. But I knew a good thing when it smacked me in the face. The heavens must have been smiling when they made me his roommate. The lady who’d read my palm at the street fair had told me my fortunes were going to change, and she’d been right.

“But you must be wise,” she’d cautioned. “Make the right choices, or you’ll live with regrets.”

She didn’t have to tell me twice. I started to study with him. We got pizza together. We went to football and basketball games together. Where I went, I invited him, and he always picked up the tab. People started calling us the “odd couple.” Me, poor and plain. Him, rich and handsome. But at one of the home games, a girl with long blond hair, deep blue eyes, and dimples to disappear in sat next to him. They began to talk. He invited her to grab burgers with us after the game. And they clicked.

Jackson wouldn’t ditch me. He was too nice, too loyal for that. So the three of us started doing things together, but he hung on her words instead of mine. He’d focus on her with a dazed look. And he invited her and a friend to come home with us for a three-day weekend. He said that the big, old house was too quiet, too lonely without his parents. Poor him, inheriting it all so early in life.

He and I had talked about going into business together when we graduated. He didn’t really need me. I knew that, but he didn’t have anyone else. He wanted a partner, and I didn’t have any money to invest in anything. So I said yes. But the pretty blond might ruin everything. She was graduating in our class, too, and she’d majored in marketing and was on the honor roll.

Jackson and I had an early class on Friday, and we could leave after we finished it. The girls decided to drive up later that night. Jackson had the housekeeper order all kinds of snacks and groceries for pizzas, burgers, and nachos. But the girls didn’t get there in time for supper. We waited. And waited. Until finally, near starving, we ate.

We stayed up and played cards, watched TV. It was almost one in the morning when the knock on the door sounded. The girls’ car had gone through an intersection on a red light and been totaled. Both dead.

It was his parents’ accident that had given me the idea. A brake line leaked, and their brakes didn’t work. Everyone knew girls didn’t take in their cars for checkups when they should.

Jackson lost it for a while. It took everything I could think of to get him back in school to finish the year. After we graduated, he poured all of his energy into setting up our business. We had a strong start, a promising future, so when the street fair came again, I walked into the fortune teller’s tent with a cocky grin.

She raised her dark eyebrows, pulled out her Tarot deck, and dealt a spread. Then she shook her head and pointed to the card The Fool. “That’s you,” she told me. “Don’t be stupid again. There are unseen forces working against you. Do the right thing, or you’ll regret it.”

Regret. Again. I blinked, confused, leaving her tent. How had I been stupid? I’d had a problem, and I took care of it. Now, all was good. I was walking to the Ferris Wheel to meet Jackson when I saw him, leaning to listen as a guy from our finance class talked to him.

When the guy left, I frowned. “What was that all about?”

“That was Mark Lisbon from school. He made an offer on our company, wants us to sell to him. We’d make a decent profit, but I like what we’re doing. I want to stick with it.”

“How much of a profit?”

When he told me, the numbers danced around in my head. We could sell and live comfortably and never work again. But wait! Jackson had never had to work, had he? He wanted to. But I didn’t.

For the next few weeks, I started spreading the rumor that I was worried about Jackson, that he was so depressed, I’d asked him to see a doctor, but he wouldn’t. And then, my friend almost made it easy for me. I walked into his room one afternoon and he was on balcony, bending over the railing, watching something in the distance. All it took was one hard push.

The funeral had been last week, and I think I looked properly shaken up and doleful. The housekeeper bought my act and went out of her way to cheer me up. Steaks and seafood for suppers. But now, I lay in Jackson’s bed in his big room and almost had to pinch myself. All of it was mine.

I was trying to count the crystals in the chandelier when it started to swing. I glanced out the open balcony doors, but there was no wind. The dresser drawers opened and closed. The mirror floated off the wall and hung above me, but it wasn’t my reflection in its glass. A beautiful blond girl was standing beside Jackson, and they were both smiling at me. I stared. That wasn’t possible. And then the mirror crashed. Shards of glass splintered in my skin, and two large shards poised above my neck and slashed down.

I blinked a few times, looking down at my body on the bed. Was that really me? Then what was I now? I held my hands in front of me and could see through them.

“Nice to have all of us together again,” a translucent Jackson said, smiling at me. “Brittany and I thought it only appropriate that you join us.”

“I don’t want to,” I said. “There’s nothing to do here. What happens next? Don’t we go to the light or something?”

Jackson snickered. “Is that really where you think you’ll go?”

“You can’t leave until we do,” Britanny told me. “And we want to stick around to see the transformation.”

“What transformation?”

“Of the house, of course.” Jackson waved his hand to include our surroundings. “My will left everything to you, but if you died, I donated everything to a children’s home. Soon, this old house will be filled with kids’ laughter.”

I cringed. “I don’t like kids.”

Jackson’s grin grew wider. “I remember you telling me that.” He and Brittany joined hands and went out to stand on the balcony when the housekeeper found me. Cops and men with a stretcher came next. I watched them carry my body away, shaking my head. I was so close. I’d almost had everything I’d ever wanted.

Then a voice sounded through the room. “Don’t be stupid. There are unseen forces working against you.”

I shivered. I knew that voice.

Jackson heard it, too, and turned to look at me. “She was trying to tell you to respond to generosity with generosity of your own. We could have all been happy. She tried to warn you.”

“Stupid fortuneteller. Why didn’t she just say what she meant?”

Jackson just shook his head at me and returned his attention to Brittany. They could hardly tear their eyes off each other. I’d say “Get a room,” but we were standing in Jackson’s bedroom, weren’t we?

And me? What of me? I was going to listen to happy children pound up and down the stairs. I’d wish I were dead, but hey, I was, wasn’t I?

No More Webpage

I’ve had a weebly webpage for years.  I used it to put up free chapters of books I wrote and never did anything with.  That sounds odd, I know, but I played around with different genres here and there, and sometimes, I liked them, and sometimes, one YA book or one caterer married to a cop mystery was enough.  I don’t regret writing them.  I enjoyed all of them.  I was never convinced offering free work online was a brilliant idea, (and I’m still not convinced it is), but I enjoyed sharing work I wouldn’t publish with readers.

I still love Verdanta–the island home I created for nymphs and sprites who invited a small group of mortals to stay with them one week a month to let the beauty of the island and the energy of their magic help “fix” them after Life hit them a little too hard.  I still love Chintz and Callum–the caterer and cop–because I wanted to try my hand at a Murder Club mystery, and it was FUN.  And I’ll always have a soft spot for the YA book, THE FAMILIARS, with Zoe–the witch–who could take off her shoes and stand barefoot in a park, then watch lush, green grass grow in all directions where the ground was once dead.

I used the webpage to write free short stories, too, so that I could cling to characters I’d grown too attached to but no longer wrote about in books.  I don’t know how many Babet and Prosper stories ended up there.  A lot.

But the sad truth is, to keep the stories moving so that readers didn’t forget the first chapters before I reached the last, I had to put up chapters or scenes at least two or three times a week.  And I am now officially out of books cast in drawers, and I don’t have time to write that many free short stories any more.  So this Tuesday, I hit the “you can never go back” button and deleted the entire webpage.  It was bittersweet.  All of those stories no longer available.  But they’d have just hovered in cyberspace and gone unnoticed anyway, if I didn’t keep up the page, so it was a good thing.

I still intend to add snippets and the occasional short story on a page I created on this blog, and I hope readers find them and enjoy them.  But deleting my webpage was a turning point for me.  It means I’m serious about staggering two series and still hitting deadlines.  And I’ve experimented enough, I’m ready to settle down to two kinds of mysteries I really enjoy writing.

Whatever you’re working on, I hope it’s going well.  And happy writing!



I haven’t written a short story for a long time.  Short novels?  Yes.  Novellas?  Love ’em.  But a short story?  I haven’t tried any since C.S. Boyack got me in the mood to write a few when he posted his October Macabre Macaroni stories, one a week.  I used that month to post dark stories on my webpage–with mixed results.  Horror and dark fiction have never been my strong point, but that’s exactly why I wanted to try it.  Some people would advise me to do what I do well, or at least better.  But once in a while, I like to push the envelope, to see how far I can stretch.  And I learned that I’m not much better at horror or dark fiction than I was with my earlier stabs at it.  Oh, well.  Can’t win ’em all.

BTW, C.S. Boyack wrote a short story that October I loved.  In case you’d like to try it:

Anyway, I digress.  Sometime last year, I got what seemed like a brilliant idea at the time.  If I could write a Jazzi and Ansel short story and get it into Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine, it would be a great way to promote their series.  To say that I didn’t think this through enough would be an understatement.  But I’ve read quite a few novellas by favorite authors who use shorter fiction (66 – 100 Kindle pages) as teasers to keep readers happy during long pauses between their regular books.  And I’ve enjoyed all of them–Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap holiday novellas, Jenna Bennett’s honeymoon and holiday novellas, and Anna Lee Huber’s pre-wedding novella for Keira and Gage.

I decided that to be successful these stories needed:

  •   The same tone and voice as the books
  •    To establish the characters and their relationships just like the books
  •    Great mysteries to solve like the books
  •    The same feeling/setting as the books

Mind you, each of these things takes a bit of time, some extraneous scenes not found in short stories but possible in novellas.  I tried to accomplish all of the above with a lot less words.  And once I got all of those words written, I sent the story off.

A truth about Alfred Hitchcock magazine:  they only accept online submissions.  Then they give you a code to check your story’s status.  Upfront, they tell you that they’re so bogged down with submissions, you won’t hear back from them for 6 to 7 months.  Make that more like a year, maybe a few days shy of that.  And then you don’t receive an e-mail.  You only know you’ve been rejected when you check your code and see REJECTED next to the story’s title.  Now, I wasn’t heart broken when that happened.  I was a tiny bit ticked that they treat writers so shabbily, but publishing’s changed over the years, so I got over that.  I pretty much knew that the way I’d written the story made its chances  slim.  I used to sell to Alfred Hitchcock, and I had more success with 2,000 to 3,000 word mysteries.  This heavy monstrosity was 8,500 words.  Only an author with a big name can get away with taking up that much magazine space.  But it was a Halloween story, and if no one else wrote one, I might get lucky.  And the story events happen during the events of book 3 in my series, so I had a year to wait anyway.  So why not try?

But once it was rejected, I gave it another look.  And I wasn’t happy with myself.  I’d tried to marry a short story with a novella and ended up with a mess.  A short story needs one, straightforward mystery with hardly any distractions or extras.  A novella has the length to play with different elements, but that’s why it takes more words.  So…

I spent last night and all day today reworking the story.  It’s 7,000 words now.  And I like it.  I’m going to put it up on the blog’s snippet page closer to when The Body in the Gravel comes out September 24th.  My learning curve reinforced something I already knew, but a rule I thought I might be able to bend.  A short story is…a SHORT story.  And I’m up for trying to write another one for Alfred Hitchcock sometime.  But not for a while.  Right now, all of my attention has to focus on writing Jazzi Book 5–The Body in the Past.  (At least, that’s the title for right now).  I’m hoping to write one chapter every weekday I can.

Another lesson I learned?  Failure isn’t the end of the world.  AND, if you want to break into a market, you have to give them what they WANT.  No tinkering with their tried and true playlist.  Ah, well, my short story adventure has to wait for another day.

For now, try to stay cool, and happy writing!




October writing

In case anyone here was following my mystery, A Baker’s Dozen, written chapter by chapter on my webpage, I put up the last chapter today.

Next week, I want to start writing an experimental story a week to put up.  I like to read C. S. Boyack’s blog, and he’s posting a story once a week for October on his blog.  He’s a darned good writer.  So you might want to check them out.

Teri Polen is doing a special October blog, too, Bad Moon Rising, interviewing authors about the supernatural and paranormal.   And yes, ouija boards scare me.   If you scroll down, you’ll see more authors’ answers, including Staci Troilo’s.

But a while ago, Craig (C. S. Boyack) wrote a blog for Story Empire about writing out of your comfort zone, and he asked what authors would write if they decided to let their fingers wander out of their usual writing zone.

I put down short stories I’d like to try:  an alternate history, magic realism (if I can ever nail what I really think it is–but I have an idea), something creepy, and the genre I almost ALWAYS fail at–horror.  I’d like to write the scariest, baddest short story I’ve ever written.  Which might still be too upbeat, knowing me.  Aargh!

Anyway, I hope you have a perfectly wonderful time writing this month.  And if black cats and witches wander onto your pages, so much the better:)


New pages up for Beware the Bogeyman

This short novella came from the Babet & Prosper collection II.  I kept these stories short (trying for around 40 pages each) so that a person could read them over a lunch hour or a commute.  When I was writing urban fantasy, I really enjoyed creating these short pieces.  I hope you enjoy them, too.