I decided not to off Keon’s grandmother.  She’s a pain in the you know what.  Everyone’s lives would be better if she bit the dust.  She’s pushy and mean.  And Lux is a murder mystery, after all.  But I’ve already killed off two other old ladies in this manuscript, and I decided enough is enough.  Especially since she’s family.  After all, family has bonds, even if they don’t like each other.  I had the entire scene plotted out, and it was good.  High drama.  Lots of emotion.  And that’s great for a subplot.  But…  I scratched the scene and went for something else.  Lux still caught the killer–for that crime–and the plot moved forward.

There are things I try not to do in mysteries.  I never kill cats.  I never kill dogs.  But people are fair game.  I mean what’s a murder mystery without a body or two..or more?  And let’s face it.  If the body provides a punch in the storyline, all the better.  But killing Grandma Johnson?  I decided that might be pushing it.  But what do you do with an old woman whom a nursing home won’t even take?

And this probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s read my work, but I added two kittens in the mix.  I like to show the maternal side of my characters.  In the first Lux book, I introduced Ian–a young teen in trouble–and that filled that slot in the story.  A grandmother who’s a pill doesn’t accomplish what I wanted.  So Lux and Keon buy two kittens.  It was Keon’s idea.  The man’s a big marshmallow inside.

I’ve never not had a pet for any length of time.  When my black cat Pywackett had to be put to sleep at twenty years old, I swore I’d never get another cat.  Turned out, a gray cat meowed at our door and chose us.  A chihuahua turned up on our porch and scratched to get in the house, too, and before I knew it, we had two  more pets.  A house feels empty without one furry beast to demand attention.  So they end up in my stories.

My main plot is a tried and true mystery type, so I didn’t need to wrestle with my conscience about it.  Only Grandma.  And Grandma, blast her rotten disposition, won.  She’s going to live to grace another page.  <wince>  That might be good for Grandma, but not so much for the Johnson family.  Oh, well, mysteries have to be a little true to life, right?  And we don’t always love every family member we have to claim.

Happy Writing!






Mystery Musings

I should call these wanderings today instead of musings.  I’m not very focused, just pondering random thoughts.

When I was young, I wrote darker, gloomier stuff.  Not as dark as my daughter’s bleak poetry period when she turned sixteen.  She wore black every day and wrote poems about death.  Worried me for a while until friends told me that was normal.  And it didn’t last.  It was just a phase–one of a few that I was happy to see gone.

The thing is, now that I’ve gotten older, somehow I’ve mellowed  more.  I’ll never write completely cheerful, humorous stuff, but I don’t push the bleak as much as I used to.  And I was in a happy phase of my life when I wrote it.  But life happens to everyone, and I’ve survived more ups and downs than I ever saw coming.  Bleak doesn’t appeal to me like it once did, (and I think bleak is different than dark.  I still like dark once in a while).  It’s made me think that my writing has changed with age, just like I’ve changed with age.

Stephen King has always written horror, hasn’t he?  I know he plays with different things between books, but when he sits down to write a novel, it’s horror, right?  Has his horror changed over time?  I love Alice Hoffman’s PRACTICAL MAGIC, but I read her newer book that was a prequel to that story, and it seemed a lot gloomier than the original story to me.  But she’s survived breast cancer.  Did that change her writing?

I read a title on twitter and was busy so didn’t take the time to read the actual blog.  But the title was about the different stages of a writer’s life.  I wish I would have read it.  Do we all have similar stages?  Or does each person’s life affect his or her fiction?

It’s the Fourth of July as I write this.  Fireworks are bursting up and down our street.  I’ve made three slabs of BBQ ribs to take to Indy tomorrow to see my daughter and to drop off at my grandson’s and his wife’s.  We were all going to get together, but one of Tyler’s friends was exposed to Covid and he doesn’t want to take any chances and give it to us.  So I’m leaving a slab on his doorstep:)  Along with a container of watermelon salad and a small container of panzanella salad.  We’re taking the rest to my daughter’s to eat at her apartment.  She’s providing the dessert!

It’s going to be a nice weekend.  Have I mellowed because life is good?  Or have I mellowed because I’ve learned that I’m strong enough to survive things that I thought would flatten me?  And fingers crossed, I don’t have any major challenges in my future.  I hope the same for you.  But you know the saying…if wishes were cabbages… and all that crap.  If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Snippet from Bad Habits, a Lux mystery

The Escalade in front of me turned right, like I did, and stayed in the turn lane for the strip mall.  I studied its dark, tinted windows.  It was an expensive model.  When it slowly circled the parking lot the long way to reach the back of the buildings, I decided to follow it.  The driver never sped up.  Coming from this direction, it would pass Keon’s with the passenger’s door facing the building.  As we approached Ian and his friend, the restaurant door opened and Keon stepped out, motioning to Ian.  Just then, the car’s side window rolled down, and a hand holding a gun was clearly visible. If I lowered my window and yelled a warning, I’d be too late.  Instead, I laid on the horn.

Keon glanced up, tackled both boys to the ground, and pinned them there as bullets flew over their heads.  The car started to stop and the side door began to open so the shooter could get out and finish his job.  My heart thudded so loud, I could hear it.  An image of Keon with a bloody bullet hole in his head made my flesh go cold.  My car lurched forward before I realized I’d stomped on the gas.  I sped up and rammed my car into the back of the shooter’s.

Their car slammed forward, and a random shot pinged skyward.  Their car door swung, pinning the shooter’s leg between it and the car frame.  He screamed in pain.  The driver sped up, trying to shake me, but I sped up, too.  My Bentley’s so big with so much horsepower, I pushed the car forward into a nearby dumpster and wedged it there.

The driver and the shooter jumped out, and the shooter aimed his gun at me.  I ducked and opened my glove compartment, tugging out my own nine-millimeter.  I opened my heavy door, using it for cover, and shot out the back window of their car.  They took off, running.  I aimed again, but couldn’t make myself fire.  I’m not a true fan of guns.  I only carry mine for self-protection.

Keon was shoving his cell phone in his pants pocket when he reached me, out of breath.  He yanked me to face him.  “What the hell were you thinking?  You could have been killed!”

Keon usually tried not to cuss and only resorted to street language when he was really upset.  “They were going to come for you and the boys.”  I hugged myself to stop my shaking.  “I couldn’t let them do that.”

He stared, fighting for composure.  I glanced at his hands and knees, scraped and bloody.  “Are you okay?  The boys?”

He gave a curt nod

Cats, coffee, and murder….

One of my blog friends is celebrating a book birthday today, so I invited her here for you to meet her.  She’s a cat lover, like I am.  And she’s come up with a fun idea for a new mystery series.  Please welcome Ruth J. Hartman and check out her book!

Thank you, Judy, for inviting me to guest post today! My new cozy mystery, Hairballs and Homicide, is Book #1 in a new series. I’m well under way writing book 2 in the series as well.

When Ellie Warren opens the Kitty Beret Café, her life revolves around finding forever homes for rescued cats and serving lattes. That is, until a woman’s body is discovered behind her shop—the same woman who’d thrown a hissy fit with Ellie in front of lots of witnesses. With Ellie’s cat, Templeton, supplying clues and the help of handsome Detective Simon Dare, she’s on the prowl for the murderer. Will Ellie discover the identity of the culprit before the murderer sinks their claws into her?

As you can see from the cover and probably tell from the title and blurb, my book involves cats. Lots of them. I’ve loved cats forever. We had them growing up – actually that was always what I looked forward to coming home from school every day, a hug from our cat. My husband and I have two, a black female, Roxy, who has the attitude of a princess. She needs a tiara! And a female Calico, Remmie, whose occupation would be thief or spy if she were human.

Hairballs and Homicide takes place in a café that houses rescue cats – either those that have been brought in by someone who can no longer care for them, or by someone dropping off their unwanted pets at the door of the café for Ellie to take care of. But rest assured, every cat that comes to Ellie is totally loved by her until she finds them a forever loving home of their own.

This is something dear to my heart. Helping pets find homes has always been important to me. When my cousin and I were talking one day, she asked if I’d ever been to a cat café, I hadn’t even heard of them since we don’t have one in our town. She then suggested I could write a mystery centered around the café. After some research about them, I was hooked on the idea. What could be better than cats, coffee, zany characters, and murder?

I had so much fun writing this story. My favorite character is one of the cats, Templeton. Because without his feline sneakiness and cunning, they might not have solved the murder! He brings clues to his human, Ellie, to discover the real culprit. As I wrote the book, I could imagine our Calico doing the same. Finding things for me to check out, then giving me a wink when it turned out to be something important.

Another favorite character is Ellie’s grandmother, with her active love life, eclectic wardrobe, and sayings, plus the way she goes out of her way to embarrass Ellie, especially in front of the handsome detective on the murder case, Simon Dare.

But the stars of the show, of course, are the café cats. Each one has a unique personality, as he or she wears cute little outfits and hats hand made by Ellie.

Thanks for spending a little bit of your day with me. I hope you’ll enjoy reading Hairballs and Homicide as much as I did creating it!

Thanks for visiting today, Ruth!  Your book sounds like a fun read!  I hope lots of people give it a chance.


Wolf’s Bane is free until the 22nd, so I thought I’d try to tempt you to try it:

The story made headlines—a naked woman’s corpse found on 29th Street.  There was no mention of an attack, no comment on anything Reece witnessed.  If she witnessed it.  If she wasn’t hallucinating.  Or crazy.  The reporter stated that the woman had not been herself lately.  Friends and loved ones were worried about her.  When police interviewed her husband, he admitted she’d been acting strangely.  She left the house in a hurry that night, telling him if she didn’t come home in the morning, to be happy for her.  Her curse was over.

Reece reread the short, concise article.  Talk about a sanitized version of an event!  She wasn’t about to correct anyone, though.  She felt limp with relief.  Her name wasn’t mentioned anywhere, and that was a blessing.  Being part of a murder investigation wouldn’t be good for business.  Parents might pull their kids from her martial arts studio.  And telling people that werewolves existed would make her a laughing stock.  The last thing she needed.  She was thrilled for the tame version.  It had to have something to do with the phone call the cop got.  Everything changed after that.

Still, seeing is believing.  And she’d seen the werewolf and the winged man.  Hadn’t she?  Her mind said yes.  Her instincts said no.  She hadn’t been drinking that night.  Eugene had.  But was she the one seeing pink elephants and flying men?  She thought of buying silver bullets, but where did you find them?  On the web?  And how would that make her look?  Deranged?

And what about the huge, winged man who killed the beast?  He’d looked like a Michelangelo sculpture brought to life—an angel of retribution.  Reece wasn’t one who indulged in flights of fancy.  Her dad was an engineer, a nuts and bolts type of guy.  A practical man.  She’d taken after him—bought her own studio with her inheritance and invested wisely.  Flying heroes were the stuff of novels.  But which ones?  What was he?  He seemed more a savior than a threat.

She turned what happened over and over again in her mind.  Should she warn people?  Would anyone believe her?  Her gut feeling was the cops already knew there were things that went bump in the night.  They seemed ready to deal with that.  She wasn’t.  Better to shut up and move on.  She still glanced at rooftops, though, looking for someone who might fly from one to another.  And she still tensed when she drove past dark alleys.  But one day rolled into the next.  Her routine fell into place.  She got up mornings, got ready for work, and taught classes.  She had Joseph and Jenny over on weekends.  And eventually, a month passed.  There was another full moon, and she found herself at her mother’s brownstone again, dealing with Eugene.

Not Forgotten

Long, long ago in a land faraway…okay, that’s not true…in the same office I work in now, I wrote urban fantasies as Judith Post.  I really enjoyed them.  They gave me a kind of freedom I don’t have with romances or mysteries.  My characters had powers ordinary people don’t have.  They also had bigger enemies.  And even with magic, they had bad days and worries.

Even back then, I had a fondness for good witches, so I wrote three books featuring Reece Rutherford.  Reece didn’t realize she was a witch until a werewolf attacked her and a gargoyle saved her.  Where the werewolf had pressed his paw against her chest, a blood-red, hexagram tattoo stained her skin, and her powers started to awaken.  Eventually, she joins Damian and his fellow gargoyles to fight the rogue werewolves who are trying to take over their city.

I’ve neglected all of my urban fantasies for a long time, but since I’m writing the Muddy River supernatural mysteries, I thought I’d spotlight them once in a while again.  From Thursday, June 18 to the 22nd, WOLF’S BANE is free on Amazon.

A snippet

This is from BAD HABITS, my first Lux mystery:

Keon drove to the Black Dog Pub a short distance down the street and close to his apartment.  We found a small table in a corner, and a few people waved at him as he passed.  He met a lot of people as a chef.  A few smiled my way, too.  I’d interviewed my share of experts for articles, in and out of town.

A man sitting at the bar got up and walked toward us.

“Speak of the devil,” Keon muttered.

Almost six feet tall and stocky with blond hair and blue eyes, he grinned at me but talked to Keon.  “Hi again.  I talked to one of your brothers tonight.”  His gaze never left my face.

Keon frowned, not hiding he was irked.  “So I heard.”

The man nodded to me.  “Aren’t you going to introduce us?  Offer me a seat?”

With a sigh, Keon motioned to a chair.  “Detective Petersen, this is a longtime friend of mine Lux Millhouse.”

He sank into the chair next to mine.  “You can call me Pete.  Everyone does.”

Keon motioned for three beers, then leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table and hunching his shoulders.  “Any ideas who shot the guy in the parking lot?” he asked Pete.

“Not a clue.  Not much chance of catching him either.  Drive-by shootings and gangs are too random.”  He returned his attention to me.  “What kind of journalist are you?”

The question threw me off balance.  “How did you know I was a journalist?”

“Tyson mentioned it.”

Oh.  “Freelance,” I told him before taking a sip of my beer.  “My next assignment is Drugs in the Midwest.  I might give you a call for information.”

He pulled out a business card and handed it to me.  “Can we trade?”

I dug for one of mine and gave it to him.

“Mind if I call you for a drink sometime?”

“Why not?”  He seemed nice enough.  It never hurt to have another contact I could call.

Keon’s brows drew together in a scowl.  “Are you two done flirting?  I came here to relax.”

Grinning, Pete pushed out of his chair.  “Nice seeing you, chef.  Hope to eat at your place sooner rather than later.”

Keon watched him return to his friends at the bar, then turned to me.  “Do you give your number to anyone who asks?”

His prickly mood caught me by surprise.  “He seemed decent enough.”

“For a cop.”

“You’ve never had any trouble with cops before.”

“Maybe it’s just him.”  He took a sip of his beer.

I laughed at him.  “You’re not in the best mood tonight, but you’ve had a lot on your plate lately.  You’re more worried about Tyson than you admitted, aren’t you?”

“Maybe.  I don’t like it that you’re involved in this.”

“How could I not be?  You guys are like family to me.”

“But we’re not family, are we?  You forget that sometimes.”

I stared, hurt.  His comment felt like a slap in the face.  “Are you telling me to butt out, that this is none of my business?”

“No, I never think that.”  With a sigh, he pinched the bridge of his nose.  “I’m trying to tell you that. . .well, that. . .“ He stumbled to a halt and shut his eyes, frustrated.  When he opened them again, he was calmer.  “Never mind, I’m being stupid.  This is coming out all wrong.  I must be tired.”

I immediately reached out to touch his arm.  “Let’s drop it for tonight and just enjoy our beers.”

He grimaced, still upset, but nodded.  He raised his glass to me.  “Thanks for coming with me tonight.”

We clinked drinks and purposely talked about other things.  After our second beers, he stood.  “Ready to go home?”

On our way out, I glanced at the bar and Pete was gone.  So were his friends.  On the drive to Keon’s apartment, I said, “It’s been a big day.  When we get to your place, it’s straight to bed for me.”

That seemed to frustrate him again, and I frowned, puzzled.  I could usually read Keon really well, we’d known each other so long.  But something was off tonight and I wasn’t sure what it was.



My grandson is in the marines.  He’s served most of his four years and will be out later this year.  For a long time, he was stationed so close to San Diego that he could zip there and order the most wonderful Mexican food he swears he’s ever had.  It’s authentic.  And he’d bug me about making “American” Mexican food, so I bought a cookbook and sometimes went to the bother of making pork shoulders and chuck roasts with seasonings and shredding them, etc. to make my Mexican meals more “real.”   Now, he’s in Pendleton, California, and the food’s okay but nothing to brag about, and he often calls to ask me what I’m making for supper that night.  The last time he came home for leave, he had a list of things he wanted me to cook for him.

My daughter and the two boys spent most of their growing up years living with us so that she could study to be a nurse and survive.  We all liked it, and the boys loved to help me cook.  They liked it so much that they became pretty darned picky about what they liked and didn’t.  To the point, that when they were in fifth grade and their teacher was on a chapter about nutrition, she did a quick Q & A for the kids to recognize different foods.  Our boys were the only ones who knew every single item, even the odd ones most of the other kids couldn’t identify, like bok choy, napa cabbage, artichokes, and anchovies.  Our older grandson would go to the grocery store with me because he liked to pick out the cuts of meat I bought.  He was really serious about chuck roasts.

Both boys are really good cooks today.  So are both of my daughters and the boys’ friend who spent a lot of time at our house.  When he moved in with his girlfriend, he’d e-mail me for recipes.  I still love that kid.

I love to cook so much that it sneaks into every book I write.  And I really DO love to cook.  We only grab takeout or go out to eat once or twice a week, including lunch.  But with Covid, and restaurants closed, I got bored and started making recipes I’ve never tried before.  And nearly all of them have been successes.  Some recipes are more dependable than others:)  For French cooking, I always fall back on Ina Garten’s cookbooks.  I have almost all of hers.  For variety, I love Nigella Lawson.  My daughter bought me her new cookbook for my birthday a couple years ago.  For gatherings, I pull out Pam Anderson, and for healthy (I’m diabetic), I turn to Marlene Koch.  They’re true, trusted cookbooks that have never let me down.  BUT, a girl can never have too many recipes.  So I tear pages from the many food magazines I’ve subscribed to.  I read them for the same reason I attend my writers’ meetings twice a  month.  They recharge my batteries and inspire  me to try something new.

My biggest new fad lately has been recipes for my air fryer.  And one of my favorite cookbooks for that has been Every Day Easy Air Fryer by Urvashi Pitre.  I’ve made shrimp & chorizo tapas, chicken souvlaki, and char sui, Cantonese BBQ pork, from that, among many other things.  Nigella taught me the joy of coconut milk sauces, but this cookbook includes flavors that I’m not familiar with, and that’s fun.  Even after our favorite restaurants open, (and I can’t wait), I’ll still grab this cookbook just because it’s not the usual spices and rubs that I use.  I have more Oriental recipes than anyone needs (because the boys loved them), but these pull more from Morocco, the Middle East, India, and Africa.

Which means, that somewhere in the future, when you grab one of my books (I include recipes in my Jazzi mysteries), you might see spice mixes you’ve never seen from me before.  And you’ll know that they cheered me during our virus scare.  And they just might cheer you, too.

Here’s to happy cooking, happy reading, and lots of happy writing!




Thought I’d share a scene from BAD HABITS.  Hope you like it:

Keon called me before lunch on Monday.

“Mom and Dad are here with Tyson.  Everyone else is busy with something.  Do you have time to look at a few different condos with us?”

“I can be at your place in half an hour.”  I hadn’t taken a shower and was dressed in stretch exercise pants and a T-shirt.  I’d pulled my long, copper hair back in a ponytail, but he’d seen me looking worse.  I was no beauty like Gabbie.  She could go makeup free and still look gorgeous.  Not me.  Even with makeup, I only had a fifty-fifty shot.

“Am I pulling you away from your writing?”  He cared about stuff like that.

“It’ll be here when I get back.  No little fairies are going to come and finish my article for me, but I haven’t seen your parents for months.  Warn them I look a mess.”

His chuckle reverberated over the phone.  “You can’t scare us off that easy.”

“See you soon.”  I ended the conversation, grabbed my purse, and hurried to the garage.  A few minutes later, I was on my way to his apartment.  He lived on the south side of town like I did in an apartment complex close to shops, grocery stores, and his restaurant Seafood and Catfish.

I thought his apartment had an inconvenient layout.  It had two large bedrooms, but he had to climb inside steps to reach his living area.  I’d helped him carry up groceries when he’d volunteered to make me a scallop dinner once, and it was a chore.  He thought the view from his balcony was worth it.  I wasn’t so sure.

“I don’t live on a manmade pond like you do,” he’d told me.  “Our pond is in the distance, and I can only see it from the second floor.”

When I got there and saw his van in the parking lot, I noticed his parents’ Chevy Impala beside it.  It took me a few minutes to find a spot, and then I zipped to knock on his door.  His mom opened it and held out her arms to me.  I stepped into them.

“Look at you!”  She shook her head.  “You ain’t gonna catch no man runnin’ around lookin’ like that.”

I laughed.  “I’m not looking today.  The only people I wanted to see were you and Leroy.”

“What about me?” a voice asked from behind her.  “No love for me?”

I craned my neck to see Tyson.  He was thinner than the last time I’d seen him.  “You’ve lost weight.  It’s a good thing it’ll be Easter soon.  You need to fill up on some good food.”

He winced, and I felt bad.  I was as bad as Terrance.  Words popped out of my mouth before I edited them.  Probably not the best thing to say to an addict trying to get clean.

“Excuse me!”  Cecily put her hands on her hips, a smile curving her lips.  “I seem to remember a skinny little thing eatin’ plenty of my vittles.  Tyson here’s harder to tempt, rarely has an appetite.”

I licked my lips remembering Mrs. Johnson’s fried chicken and collard greens.  Keon served greens with his catfish suppers, probably his mom’s recipe.

“Did I hear little Lux Millhouse?” Leroy Johnson asked, coming toward us with Keon, who grabbed the last suitcase near the foyer and carried it upstairs to the spare bedroom.

“I’m so glad you came,” I told the three of them.

Mr. Johnson’s brows dipped in a frown.  “We gotta talk, girl.  Keon told us that you and our four hellions plan on makin’ up the difference to buy us a condo.  That’s a sweet thought, but ain’t no reason for you to throw your money at us like that.”

I raised my chin, locking gazes with him.  “Growing up, no one bothered to come looking for me when I didn’t come home after school, because they knew I’d be at your place.  You gave me a home, so if I want to chip in on giving you one, I can.”

Laughing, he shook his head.  “Always were a little spitfire.  No wonder you and Keon kept bumping heads.  He’s always been plenty opinionated, too.”

Coming to join us, Keon shook his head.  “Don’t compare me to her.  I was raised better.”  Turning to his mother, he asked, “Anything else to carry in?  Or are you settled?”

“A movin’ van’s bringin’ everything else when we find a place to stay,” she told him.

With a nod, he motioned to the door.  “Then let’s look at some condos.”



Today, I’m visiting Mae Clair’s blog to yak a little about BOUNTY HUNTED.  Mae and I are internet friends.  I always read her blog, and I love her writing.  I can’t say enough about her Hode’s Hill series, I loved it so much.  I hope you stop by to visit me on her site, and while you’re there, you might want to see what she shares: