Modern Love

My husband loves to read the Sunday New York Times. Under Modern Love, he especially enjoys short stories that authors post about personal things that have happened to them. Some of them are romance stories, but one of his favorites was about a much-loved, used sofa, so “love” doesn’t always involve a couple:) Last season, Prime TV made a few of them into wonderful, nuanced shows. We watched and enjoyed every single one of them. They’re not traditional romance. I’d define them as literary, much more character-driven, internal. And very much more realistic and somehow, more emotional.

Season 2 is available now, and we were excited to watch the first episode last night. Minnie Driver had the leading role; and as the story started, it was clear she was deeply in love with her sports car that was too young to be vintage but too old to be dependable. Maintaining it was beginning to be expensive, eating into the family budget. So her husband pressures her to sell it, and he’ll sell his boat so that they can sock more money into their savings. Only he doesn’t understand WHY the car is so important to her. And neither does the viewer until the poignant flashbacks begin.

I don’t want to give away anymore of the story except to say that I was glad I had a box of Kleenex close by. I’m not usually a fan of things that make me cry, but this was a beautiful story filled with beautiful people. And it was told exquisitely. It’s not for someone looking for easy entertainment (which is usually me) or something action-packed or a mystery. But I’m looking forward to the next episode because the stories are told SO WELL.

Off the Radar

HH and I are taking off for a while on vacation, so I’ll be off the grid. If I don’t visit your blogs or read your tweets, it will be because I’m playing:) I’ve scheduled a few blogs for while I’m away, but I won’t see any comments if you leave them. And I wanted to give you a heads-up that I put up SOLSTICE RETRIBUTION on Kindle for 99 cents, but I’m making it FREE from August 24-28.

I’m off to warm beaches and fun!

Setting and Tone Match

I just finished reading MURDER IN CHIANTI. When I first started reading it, it reminded me so much of an older style of writing , I went back to look at when it was published. 2020. So it was new. But the language was more formal than most books I read. So was the dialogue. And the pacing was relaxed for a mystery. And then I realized that instead of matching the tone of the book to a genre, the tone –every part of it–made me feel like I was in Italy, (And I’ve never been there, but it had the same vibe as one of my favorite movies–UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN). Which fits, since the story takes place there.

There’s something enchanting about a mystery where the constables are so polite. The protagonist, Nico Doyle, is an ex-homicide detective from New York, who moved to Italy to be close to his wife’s only remaining family after she dies. The man adored his Rita and tries to cook some of the foods that she cooked for him. He plants a garden. He finds and adopts a stray dog that he names OneWag, because the dog has an abundance of pride and will only wag his tail once when someone is unexpectedly nice to him. It’s new to him, and he doesn’t trust it to last.

At first, it caught me off guard when POVs shifted from one person to another and even to the dog. There’s a poignant scene when the dog digs up a rosebush and Nico tells him, “Out of the garden!” He hangs his head, prepared to run before Nico can kick him or hit him with a branch, and instead Nico picks him up and hugs him to him to stop his trembling.

I grew attached to the characters in the story, even minor ones. Gogol quotes Dante and isn’t always in the real world, but Nico is kind to him. So are many others. The mystery advances along with the backstories of several characters, and the tension is never nail-biting, but it’s leisurely and steady, and that was fine with me. It was a nice change from thrillers and cozies. I’ll visit Tuscany again with Nico when I want a change of pace.

Personal

A while ago, I mentioned that my sister and I were looking for a nursing home for my cousin Jenny. She has cerebral palsy, and doctors predicted that she wouldn’t live long after she turned sixteen. She’s 68 now, and she’s taken strong medicine for years to control seizures and muscle spasms. Her right arm and leg don’t work as well as her left. And the medicine has caused some nerve damage, so she’s beginning to fall more than usual when all of a sudden her right leg won’t hold her. She’s reached the point where she can’t be left alone anymore. But doggone that girl has a positive attitude!

The three of us sat down and talked about her world shrinking, and the fact that she was watching more and more TV and socializing less and less. A nursing home that offered a lot of activities with people available to get her to the ones she’d enjoy looked like the best option. And we found a really good one. My sister and I moved her furniture in last Monday. On Tuesday, we moved Jenny and all of her favorite pictures and knickknacks in and let her decide where she wanted them. We met her roommate–a sweetheart. And at the end of a long day, her room looked really nice and Jenny was settled. It was hard for all three of us when it was time for us to leave.

My sister worried about her all night and went up early the next day. Jenny had already made two new friends and had gone to breakfast and then a daily coffee club where the activity director read the newspaper to whoever came while they talked sipped their coffee. After that, she went to an exercise club. And by the time my sister got there, she had lots of news to share with her, and she was excited. My daughter went to spend a couple of hours with her the next day, and HH and I went on Friday. And Jenny never stopped talking to us for the first half hour, telling us all of the fun she was having.

It will take more time for all of us to adjust to the changes, but it looks like Jenny’s going to thrive at St. Anne’s. The caregivers are warm and wonderful. Jenny gets therapy every day to try to keep her as strong as she can be for as long as she can be, and she’s determined to get even stronger. She won a prize at Bingo. Made a new friend.

I know it’s a hard decision when a loved one needs more care than you can give him or her, and each person has to make whatever decision works best for her and her loved one. Just like writing, one thing doesn’t work for everyone. But this decision looks like it’s going to be a blessing for both Jenny and my sister. Jenny won’t call St. Anne’s a nursing home, just her new home, with her new apartment and her new roommate. And right now, she’s happy.

For a Jazzi and Ansel

I’ve started working on The Body in the Buick, Jazzi and Ansel #8. When I wrote the straight mystery, I concentrated on the Midlife Murderer and his crimes, plus a romance subplot…and trying to keep enough tension in the story. When I work on Jazzi and Ansel, I try to juggle a few more elements.

In each book, I choose a house for them to flip and I renovate rooms as the mystery progresses. This time, Ben, one of Jerod’s friends, buys a round barn that he wants to convert into a home. He gets it for cheap, but the project will be expensive to pull off. I didn’t think about it, but most barns have dirt floors. That means Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod will have to jack up the building to pour a foundation under it. Time for me to do research! The frames of most barns are old and warped, so they’ll have to build a new one, and put on a new roof. Electricity, plumbing, and HVAC are nice to have. And that’s just the basics. They’re going to keep busy.

Jazzi loves her family and friends, so invites them to a Sunday meal every week. I enjoy catching up with them, seeing what her parents, sister, and the others have been doing. But Jazzi’s always in charge of the entrée, so I have to decide what she’s going to make. Which means I need to think about food and recipes for each book. Something I enjoy, since I love to cook.

I like the characters to advance as time passes. And yes, I include George and the two cats in that category. Interests people share at twenty change when they get closer to thirty. In their twenties, they’re dating and getting married. They’re plugged into their careers and buying houses. Closer to thirty, they start thinking about having kids. Do they want them or not? In book 7, Elspeth got pregnant. That made Ansel want a baby even more. At the end of the book, Jazzi threw her birth control pills in the trash and Ansel started taking her temperature every morning.

Then, of course, the main thing I have to think about in each book is the mystery. Jerod’s dad, Eli, is a mechanic and owns a garage that specializes in foreign cars and high-end models. When one of his mechanics is found dead, tossed in the trunk of his antique Buick, Eli asks Jazzi and Ansel to find out what happened to him and who killed him.

You’d think with the four elements for each book, it would be a cinch to avoid a soggy middle, but it’s something I always have to face. But trying to balance all four things sure helps. I didn’t have that luxury in the straight mystery, but I got to kill more people:) That helped, too.

I’m going to be busy for the next few months, pounding the keys and plotting. Hope the rest of your year flies, too, and it’s all smooth sailing. Happy Writing! (Or Reading). (Or whatever you’re up to).

Short Stories

I wrote a blog about noir and got enough comments to read and answer that they made me think. A dangerous thing for me:) At least, that’s what my husband tells me. He says my brain stays switched on way more than normal. LOL. Maybe a common writing complaint? At least for spouses… Anyway, when I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, I had most of a noir type story plotted out in my mind.

I didn’t have time to write it right now. I’m just starting the new Jazzi and Ansel, and I don’t write noir, so I pushed it away. But it kept coming back, so I wrote down all the notes I could remember on Scapple to look at another day. Which I worried would come sooner than I expected because the story’s sort of making a pest of itself. And I was right. This last weekend, I wrote the darn thing just to have some peace.

I like short stories. I enjoy writing them. And at the moment, Staci Troilo is trying to write one a week for an eight week challenge. The site offers a prompt you have to use. You can check Staci’s stories out here: https://stacitroilo.wordpress.com/2021/08/09/bunch-of-bull/#comments

And that made me think that October will be here before we realize it, and October was MADE for short stories. C.S. Boyack wrote a short story once a week for his blog in October one year. Darn good stories, too. Horror, thriller, weird, and dark abound during Halloween month. My friend, Kathleen Palm, has written a story for the Midnight Society every year for 7 years, and she’s going for it again. I love her idea of creepy, but if you think you have a story in you, here’s the information if you want to give it a try. https://www.midnightsocietytales.com/2021/

If you DO write horror, etc., you might want to try out Teri Polen’s October promotions in Bad Moon Rising: https://teripolen.com/2021/08/06/calling-horror-thriller-and-paranormal-indieauthors-for-badmoonrising

And while I’m at it, I might as well do a shout-out for a blog friend of mine, Mary Angela, whose latest cozy is set at Halloween, and a witch is the murder victim:

Come to think of it, my 5th cozy, The Body From the Past, takes place at Halloween, too.
There! I’ve given you an idea of where to send a Halloween story if you write one AND where to find Halloween stories if you want to read some…and I’ve given you plenty of time to get ready.

I have favorite movies I like to watch in October: Hocus Pocus, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with Johnny Depp, The 13th Warrior with Antonio Banderas, and Van Helsing with Hugh Jackson. What about you? Any movies you watch to put you in the mood? Books or short stories? Hope you have plenty of treats and no tricks.
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Scapple

I read about Scapple from one of the writers at Story Empire, (I can’t remember which one), and it sounded like it might be helpful, so I gave it a try. And I like it. I used it when I first started thinking about Jazzi 8, What I like about it is that I can jot down random thoughts. I don’t have to think about cause and effect or the order the story happens in. It’s just a place for me to write down ideas that I might or might not use when I finally get serious about writing my plot points.

Plot points are the key things I want to include in each chapter of the book. I use them to organize my thoughts, so I take time to make them flow and include everything I need to move the story. Scapple is just what-ifs. It’s a place for me to answer the questions I ask myself at the start of each mystery.

  1. Who’s killed and why?
  2. Who’s the killer? How did he do it and how did he hide his tracks?
  3. Who are the suspects and why?
  4. Any witnesses? Will they tell? Will they try to blackmail the killer? Will they try to protect him?
  5. What’s the ending?
  6. Any fake alibis? False accusations? False arrests?
  7. What’s the main subplot?
  8. Can I think of a second, smaller subplot?
  9. Is there an antagonist (someone who gets in the way of the protagonist like a newspaper reporter who pesters him or writes misinformation about him) besides the killer, who’s trying to mislead the protagonist or harm him?
  10. Do I have an interesting enough villain?

These aren’t plot points, just ideas. So they get put on Scapple, along with ideas for setting, holidays, descriptions, pets, anything else to add atmosphere to the story. It’s a place to let my mind wander and be free before I try to fit everything in place.

I wasn’t sure I’d like this new approach, but I do. I can add things over time, whenever inspiration strikes or my mind wanders to that particular story. I can play with more than one book at a time. Is it essential to my writing? No, I could scribble everything in notes, but it’s kind of nice seeing it all in one place. It’s a luxury for me, not a must-have. But I like the freedom it gives me when I’m playing with a book and peopling it with characters who are new to me.

I printed out my Scapple notes today and started a first chapter for The Body in the Buick. I have six plot points. Not much, but a beginning. And once I hear Jazzi, Ansel, and the characters in the book start talking to each other, I’ll make myself write more plot points, but for now, I need to get the feel of the book right. I need to do character wheels to see the people I’m going to live with for the next few months and get to know them better and how they interact with the other people in the book. And then I need to glue my fanny in a chair and write!

What the heck is noir anyway?

First, I can’t pronounce it. Second, I wasn’t even sure exactly what it was, so I had to look it up. Bing explained, (and this is directly from their site):

noir[nwär]NOUNa genre of crime film or fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity.”his film proved that a Brit could do noir as darkly as any American”a film or novel in the noir genre.”he says he’s making a noir”

The reason the word mattered to me is: 1. A friend of mine writes it, Les Edgerton. And his is grim. And #2. I just started reading Our Noir, a collection of short stories that includes a Louis Kincaid novella, by P.J. Parrish. I’ve read the first three stories, and OMG are they good! Dark, but good. The editing is HORRIBLE. More missing words, use of the wrong word, or grammar mistakes than I’ve seen in a long time. And that’s saying something these days. .But the writing is rich and weighty. The characters are complex and well done. So far, I love what I’ve read!

The cover reminds me of the True Crime magazines my grandmother used to read. (She wasn’t a warm, fuzzy person and preferred murder stories to grandchildren. I love them both:) But these stories are a lot more sophisticated than Granny enjoyed.

OUR NOIR: A collection of short stories and the Louis Kincaid novella CLAWBACK by [PJ Parrish]

OUR NOIR: A collection of short stories and the Louis Kincaid novella CLAWBACK – Kindle edition by Parrish, PJ. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

I don’t know if any of you have tried noir, and I’m still trying to decide if the Louis Kincaid novels fit the genre. He seems a little too honorable to me, (not the one that features his romantic interest, the female detective Joe, though). Or maybe it’s the villains who define the genre. Do they have to be a bit depraved? or darker than usual? Do any of you have a favorite noir author? And how do you define them? Just curious.

Solstice Retribution

I finished and loaded the last chapter of my urban fantasy novella. So far, Vella has been a bust for me, and I have no patience (ask my poor HH). I changed the cover and the tags, but I’m tired of waiting for even one reader to find my story there. In case readers are waiting for the entire thing to be available, I scheduled all of the remaining chapters to go live on August 3rd–a meaningful day for me,–my younger daughter’s birthday. But I don’t ;have high hopes that anyone’s going to look at it that day either. Which is fine.

I knew Vella was a high risk venture when I started it, but I didn’t expect it to be a total flop. I have insurance, though. If the novella stays a stillbirth, I’m giving it a few days and then I’m taking it down to self-publish on Amazon–for free. Muddy River is never a huge success, but I enjoy writing it. So I thought this was worth a shot. And visiting Raven and Hester again has been fun.

In the meantime, I polished the first five chapters of POSED IN DEATH and sent them off to my agent with a note that it’s not a cozy. She asked for a short synopsis, so maybe she’ll represent it. My agent is a saint. She’s stuck out the bumps with me. Even if she decides to give it a try, the next step is submitting it to various editors. And the long wait. Remember I said patience isn’t one of my virtues. I’m going to have to try to be virtuous. Ugh. But by then, I’ll be starting to write my next Jazzi and Ansel, and working on a new project helps me push visions of a million rejections out of my mind, especially when I’m working on an old favorite.

So August should be an interesting month for me. Hope it is for you, too–interesting in a good way, that is:)

Finally

I finally finished the first draft of my straight mystery, and my critique partner/friend has already given me back her notes on it. I’m waiting on my daughter, Holly, to give me her feedback, but she’s so swamped right now, she might not get to it. If not, I’ll do rewrites with just Julia Donner/M.L. Rigdon’s red ink suggestions. We trade manuscripts, and we trust each other. We’re also each other’s biggest fans. Not just because we’re friends. Because I think she’s that good. She caught two big trip ups in my story, but they’re both easy fixes. Hopefully, the rewrites will go pretty fast.

Also, I just finished the first draft of the Muddy River novella I’m trying for Vella. It’s going to come in at about 28,000 words. I’ve done a lot of rewrites as I go so that I can put up one chapter at a time. Soon, I should have the entire story available there. And then I’ll see how it does, but so far, nada. Nothing. No luck with Vella.

But now I can get to the wonderful news. Once I polish both manuscripts, I can start work on my 8th Jazzi and Ansel. And it’s going to feel like going home. Like being in the heart of a family, surrounded by people you love. This time, I want to have Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod take an old barn and turn it into a house. When I was in high school, I borrowed my mom’s Grace Livingston Hill novels to read. LOL. I’d read one of those and then Germaine Greer or Betty Friedan and throw in Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, along with Agatha Christie. Quite a contrast, but it was all interesting to me. Anyway, one of Hill’s books was titled The Enchanted Barn. I don’t remember a lot about it except that a girl who was mostly broke got an old barn and made it into her home. That fascinated me. Of course, there was a romance with an HEA involved, too. I’ve seen a few barns in our area get converted into studios or homes. I thought that would be a fun project for my fixer-uppers.

I’m featuring Jerod’s dad, the mechanic, for the mystery part of the story. A few books ago, he hired an ex-con to work for him, and Jarrett’s doing his best to stay clean. But when one of the guys in the shop is found stuffed in a trunk, the cops immediately focus on him, even though Eli insists he’s innocent and Jerod asks Jazzi and Ansel to help prove it.

More added fun, for me, in this book is that Ansel gets good news that makes him a happy man. And I’m guessing many of you can guess what that news is:)

I have part of the book plotted already, but I have more plotting to go. And it’s going to feel good to be back flipping houses and cooking big family meals on Sundays. It usually takes at least three months to finish a first draft of a cozy. It will be three months of being with old friends. I’m so ready.