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.

 

Are you lucky if you have a warrior monk as a mentor?

I’m so happy to invite C. S. Boyack to my blog today. I’ve visited his blog many times: https://www.facebook.com/ColdhandBoyack and consider him a friend, even though we’ve never met. He’s recently released a new novel, SERANG, and I’m halfway through it right now. I loved SERANG in the novel, VOYAGE OF THE LANGERNFISH, a fantasy/pirate/adventure novel, and I’ve been waiting for this prequel that tells her beginning story.

He hasn’t disappointed. The daughter of a fisherman, when her father dies on his ship, her mother can’t support her and takes her to a temple to be raised by warrior monks. If you haven’t read VOYAGE OF THE LANTERNFISH, no problem. This story can easily stand alone.

  1. Welcome, Craig. And now that I have you here, I’m curious. How did you decide on the life lessons Serang must learn to develop into her full potential? And how did you develop a wise tone and philosophy for your various masters?

First of all, thank you for the invitation, and I consider my online connections to be true friends. We may never meet in person, but I have many online friends.

Serang is a child when the story begins, and she’s about to embark upon training that takes a lifetime to master. This isn’t just a physical skill, but emotional and spiritual as well. She comes pre-packaged with her own problems, and a child would dwell upon those issues. I focused upon her issues as a point for her growth.

Serang’s masters are older, more mature versions of herself. They all have a tragic history, but rose above that to find a quality of life beyond the traditional orphan or beggar. Basically, I took a wise man/woman character, then pointed that character at Serang’s problems.

 

  1. I’m enjoying the character of Yong, who eventually becomes her master. Why does he befriend a rat? Is it perhaps because you, like me, were born in a year of the Chinese rat?

Ha! That could be part of it, and I am really focusing on that in a completely different book. It will come out in the Spring sometime. This is about Serang, so I’ll concentrate on her.

Master Yong is a wandering monk. This means he is a complete package, and an older reflection of what Serang is expected to become. In my mind, monks do not hold anything in particular in reverence or disdain. They seek to understand it, and its place in the world.

As a “wandering” monk, the wilderness can be lonely at times. It made sense for Yong to adopt a pet. The rat is portable, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t choose him from the Chinese Zodiac.

 

  1. What gave you the idea for the giant catfish that can kill a person while he/she tries to reel it in for supper?

The goonch catfish is an actual creature swimming in Asian waters today. He has a reputation for taking the occasional child swimmer.

This is a fantasy, and while reality is a good start, I ramped him up a bit.

It’s rather amazing, but this story uses a lot of actual creatures. There are actual orchid mantises, camel spiders, and saiga antelope. In some instances, I used them as they are, in others I powered them up as needed.

 

  1. This is, essentially, a fantasy coming-of-age story. What made you choose to write about a kick-ass female protagonist? (And I have to say, so far, all of the women in this book are intelligent and strong.)

I’ve been told I write good female characters. (I hope I do justice to my male characters, too.) Serang was pure dumb luck, if I’m to be completely honest.

When I wrote Voyage of the Lanternfish, I wanted an international cast to make up my crew. My vision was a grouping of society’s downtrodden people taking the world into their own hands.

Serang walked down the dock and joined the crew. At this time, she was fully formed and came with her own baggage, even a minor addiction to alcohol. Fleshing those things out in small doses, led me to the idea that she deserved her own story.

 

  1. You write a few different genres. What are some of your other ones?

I refer to myself as a writer of speculative fiction. This is a big field, and includes science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, and all the sub-genres of those.

You could find any of those genres in my back-catalog. What I try to do is include that speculative element in all my stories.

Sometimes that element is fairly strong, like in my stories about Lizzie and The Hat. Other times, it’s present, but in a lesser form. Serang kind of fits that style. This isn’t to say there aren’t fantasy creatures and magical elements in this story, but it’s more about her personal growth.

 

  1. On the blog Story Empire and your own blog, you’ve talked about how you develop your novels. You use a storyboard. Can you give a brief idea how that works?

I don’t know how brief I can be, but it’s worth a shot. I like a good challenge.

I use an app, but it’s basically just a cork board. Someone could tape things to the garage wall and do the same thing. I make one index card for the theme, almost like a mission statement. Then I make four columns to divide the three act structure of my story. (Act two gets two columns.) The tops and bottoms are major turning points in a story.

I fill out cards to mark all of those turning points, then give it some time. I add index cards to the board depending on each column, but aiming from the top of the column to the bottom. Think of it like driving from one town to another, but there are several routes to choose from. As long as you get where you’re going it works.

While the turning points keep my acts in order, the entire board keeps my writing in order. I free-write from card to card, and it tends to work for me.

I used to add photos and even checklists with things I want to include. Pinterest has replaced part of this for me, but sticky notes and checklists are part of the equation. As an example, I had a character once who had to go through the stages of grieving. I made a checklist and marked them off as he moved from step to step.

I still prepare a storyboard for each book, but they are getting more minimal with each outing. Maybe that comes from experience. One real advantage is I have half-a-dozen of them going at any given time. It isn’t hard to end one story and dive right into the next one. As ideas pop up, I add a card to that board.

 

Thanks so much for visiting. Before you leave, would you share a short excerpt from your book? And any other information you’d care to share with us?

Hmm, a short excerpt:

“I haven’t seen a single river monster. No crocodiles, gigantic snakes, nothing. I’m supposed to be exercising, so I’m going for a swim. The current is slow and steady here. If it works, you can try it, too.” She stripped off her hat, boots, and leggings, then dove over the side.

By swimming hard, she was able to keep pace with the boat. It had more area for the river to push, so she had to work to keep up. Eventually she fell behind, so she veered toward the rope and kept swimming.

“You’ll have to stop before you run out of rope,” Yong yelled.

“I know… but it feels good… to move lazy muscles,” she puffed between the words.

An extra puff sounded off to her left, and a strong odor of fish drifted over her. Another sounded off to her right. A series of rapid clicks were answered on the opposite side. A large grey fin broke the surface beside her.

Serang redoubled her efforts and gained slightly on the boat. A bulbous grey head broke the surface on her right. It had a long snout with a row of peg-like teeth the size of her little finger. She grabbed the rope and started pulling herself toward the boat. “Help me, Master.”

Yong laughed hysterically. “Hurry, before they eat you.”

How could her master be so cruel? The creature on her left passed underneath to join the other one. The clicking increased. More of the creatures surrounded her until there were a dozen or more. They started jumping, splashing water over her head. It sounded as if they were laughing at her.

Hand over hand, she finally reached the rope. Her muscles burned as she pulled herself above the water then groped for the railing.

Yong caught her wrist, pulled her onto the deck, then dropped her like a wet sack. “Thank you, Master. They could have killed me.”

“No doubt, but they never would.” One of the creatures leaped high above the water and looked at her. “These are river dolphins. They are benevolent creatures. Sometimes they help downing boatmen. They were checking to see if you needed help.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it was too funny.” He pushed his hat toward her. “Take the tiller. My turn.” He dove over the side.

***

Monastic life is all about duty, service, harmony. For Serang, a young girl abandoned at the temple by her mother after the death of her father, that life becomes all she knows. The monks give her purpose, and become her new family.

 

When political upheaval causes chaos throughout the land, Serang again loses everything and everyone she loves. Alone, she struggles to survive. She convinces a wandering monk to take her under his wing and complete her training. Thus begin her adventures through strange lands and her trials to become a confident, capable, independent adult.

 

This is a coming of age story set in a fantasy world. It’s filled with monsters and martial arts, difficulties and dangers. The serious situations preclude the story from the levity of its predecessor, Voyage of the Lanternfish, but it provides a compelling look at the origin of one of the saga’s most fascinating characters.

 

Purchase Link http://mybook.to/Serang

Serang cover

 

Social Media:

C.S. bio & blog

 

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It’s not all about the writing

If you’ve read my blog much, you know that I’m a sucker for writers who can mesmerize me  with their use of language.  I’ve said it before, but Theodore Sturgeon’s The Silken-Swift (a short story in his anthology E Pluribus Unicorn) still stuns me with its lyrical beauty.  I reread it off and on just to remember how beautiful words can be–  (available here: http://www.baen.com/Chapters/9781625791177/9781625791177___2.htm).  Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen feel poetic to me when I read them because of their what-feels-simple-but-isn’t, visual, almost magical quality.  Elizabeth George’s mysteries…well, what can I say?  I idolize her writing.  It makes me work, it has so much depth, so many layers.  She’s NEVER a fast read for me.  I savor her.

All that said, to my shame, I’ve discovered that I can be had with almost any magic and abandon, even if the writing’s just passable.  Sometimes, I just want something FUN.  If word repetition and misplaced commas are only occasional, I go with the characters and the story.  I’m reading The Crystal by Sandra Cox right now and absolutely enjoying it.  Yes, once in a while, commas are in the wrong place.  Do I care?  For about half a second.  I’m too busy trying to keep up with all of the characters’ shenanigans.  And there’s MAGIC.  Kathy Palm would be proud of me.  Her book series, which someday I’ll gladly announce and promote because she belongs to my writers’ club and she’s read us chapters that are AWESOME, is a fantasy series.  She loves magic, but I might love it just as much.  My magic taste runs to fun and games, though, like When Demons Walk by Patricia Briggs and Firelight by Kristen Callihan.  And Sandra Cox delivers plenty of fun.  There’s a crystal ball–that was bespelled–by a fairy.  Gabby Bell buys it before Christopher Saint can steal it, and the mayhem begins.  (I found this book on Mae Clair’s blog:  https://maeclair.net/blog/).   I’d read three romances in a row–all good–but I was ready for something fun and frivolous.  And so far, this book is really delivering.  The writing is solid–(no, it’s not up to Elizabeth George, but neither am I).  The star of the book is the STORY.

Every once in a while, I get so absorbed in word choice, plot, and pacing that I forget to just have fun with my characters.  Yes, every book needs a BIG question that drives the story. It needs tension and pacing.  But some books, every once in a while, have a SPARK.  And that spark can make me stay up past midnight and risk turning into a pumpkin to see what happens next.  It’s just plain FUN.  And inbetween serious books, romances with angst, and characters buried under problems, a little fun is sometimes welcome.  Can’t wait to finish this book!

The Crystal, by Sandra Cox:  https://www.amazon.com/Sandra-Cox/e/B002BM3AKC/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1483562143&sr=1-2-ent

By the way, I put up chapter 3 of VERDANTA on my webpage if you like nymphs, sprites, and mortals.  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

Twitter:  @judypost

Chapter 9’s up

I’m going to start posting chapters faster, or we’ll be into the holidays before we finish this book.  I don’t want to pester you with a message every time a chapter goes up, so I’ll only mention them occasionally.  But if you want to keep up with the story, you might want to check my webpage more often.  For this chapter, Zoey learns the truth.  And it’s ugly.

 

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/