If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

October Interviews
10/2 Debra H. Goldstein, Two Bites To Many
10/10 Connie Berry, A Legacy of Murder
10/17 Lida Sideris, Double Murder or Nothing
10/23 Toni L. P. Kelner writing as Leigh Perry, The Skeleton Stuffs A Stocking
10/30 Jennifer David Hesse, Autumn Alibi

Saturday Guest Bloggers:
10/5 Ang Pompano
10/12 Eyes of Texas Anthology Writers
10/19 Neil Plakcy

WWK Bloggers: 10/26 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Lyrical Press will publish Kaye George's Vintage Sweets mystery series. The first book, Revenge Is Sweet, will be released in March. Look for the interview here on 3/11.

Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!

Susan Van Kirk's A Death At Tippett Pond was released on June 15th. Read E. B. Davis's interview with Susan.

KM Rockwood's "Frozen Daiquiris" appears in The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk. The anthology was released on June 18th.

Fishy Business anthology authors include KM Rockwood, Debra Goldstein, and James M. Jackson. This volume was edited by Linda Rodriguez.

Please read Margaret S. Hamilton and Debra Goldstein's short stories (don't ask about their modus operandi) in a new anthology, Cooked To Death Vol. IV: Cold Cut Files.

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ydaklx8p

Grace Topping's mystery, Staging is Murder was released April 30. It is now also available in audio.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Story Behind a Story

By Margaret S. Hamilton

In June 2015, I found myself living in half a shotgun house behind Magazine Street in New Orleans. A few weeks earlier, my daughter had graduated from college and was recovering from major knee surgery. She spent her days sleeping or watching Netflix in the large sunny room facing the street. I hunkered down at the kitchen table in the rear of the cottage, focused on Stephen D. Rogers’ Sisters in Crime’s Guppy chapter online short story class.

I had written a 2000-word short story, “Double Crust Corpse”, for a contest and was eager to expand and improve it. Rogers encouraged me to preface the murder scene with earlier action. I added a lengthy scene set in a fictional Jericho, Ohio parish hall, introducing my amateur sleuth, Lizzie Christopher, and her intrepid local journalist friend, Colleen. Lizzie’s neighbor, Mary Sparrow, has a spat with Rowena Wentworth about adding vodka to pie crust. Immediately afterwards, Sam Cooper accosts Mary and demands that she sell him heirloom vegetable seeds for his new greenhouse business. All the actors were on the stage.

I kept the core of the original story: Lizzie and Colleen find Mary dead, a small bottle of vodka on her kitchen table next to her freshly-baked apple pies. Lizzie is determined to discover the cause of Mary’s death.

Colleen is an active member of the town garden club. She tells Lizzie that Rowena, in an effort to keep deer, rabbits, and rodents out of her garden, planted her entire yard with toxic plants, including monkshood. Lizzie’s physician husband notes that the symptoms of Mary’s death suggest monkshood poisoning, which is undetectable in a standard blood test.

When we lived in a charming historic town in northeastern Ohio bearing a striking resemblance to Jericho, the annual Ice Cream Social was a major June event. As I baked pies and cakes for the social, I often wondered what Miss Marple, or even Tom Barnaby of Midsomer Murders, would make of it. So many opportunities for poisoning, if not murder. Picture the scene: picnic tables dotted the tree-shaded Town Green, topped with red-checked table cloths and piled high with slices of luscious homemade cakes and seasonal pies. Pie apples were out of season in June, but refrigerated apples were available. Dixie cups of ice cream were served from a refrigerator truck.

Rogers suggested I open the Ice Cream Social scene from a distance and gradually tighten the focus to Lizzie and Colleen. He showed me how to intersperse dialogue with physical action. I added a heated exchange between Lizzie and the would-be cooking school owner, Rowena. Nothing advances the plot like conflict.

On the way home, Lizzie and Colleen witness Mary’s son, Roger, breaking into his mother’s house and stealing her file box of heirloom vegetable seeds.

Instead of Colleen briefing Lizzie about her recent interview with Sam at his greenhouse, Rogers advised show, don’t tell. Lizzie and Colleen sneak through the woods to spy on the greenhouse. They see Roger tending to flats of seedlings before Rowena picks him up. Lizzie connects the dots: Roger works for both Sam and Rowena, Roger probably planted the monkshood in Rowena’s garden and could have supplied Sam with cuttings, Sam wants Mary’s seeds.

Lizzie reports her findings to her police department contact, Officer Bethany Schmidt. After the police obtain a search warrant for Sam’s greenhouse and thoroughly search Mary’s trash, the county prosecutor has enough physical evidence to bring charges against Sam and Roger.

I learn best by revising under a teacher’s supervision. Stephen D. Rogers taught me how to plot a short story, write dialogue, and effectively use a small cast of characters. Four years after I wrote the first version, I noticed my protagonist has more of a Southern voice than she currently does. A bit of New Orleans had crept into my story.

My daughter recovered from her surgery and started her post-college job. I continued to write short stories and a novel about Lizzie’s escapades in Jericho. I’m almost ready to query Curtains for the Corpse, my debut traditional mystery featuring Lizzie Christopher and Officer Bethany Schmidt, who are determined to solve a murder and find a missing college student.

On a trip to Ireland last fall, I was fascinated to find monkshood in bloom in the poison garden at Blarney Castle. Beautiful…and deadly.

Mysterical-E published “Double Crust Corpse” in December, 2016. Rhonda Gilliland contacted me last fall for permission to publish a revised version of the story in her Cooked to Death v.4: Cold Cut Files anthology, published last month.

Readers, do you enjoy a “Midsomer Murders” type of story? Writers, do you think about potential crimes during public gatherings?

WWK blogger Debra Goldstein also has a story in the anthology.


Kait said...

What a fascinating look at your writing process. Thank you for sharing. Stephen is a wonderful teacher. I've taken his class, but hope to find it offered again for a refresher.

KM Rockwood said...

What fun! You combine food and gardens, two major specialties in cozy fiction. And it sounds like you have honed a writing process that works for you. Best of luck (although heaven knows it's mainly hard work and persistence) with your new project.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Kait, I'm with you. I need a short story refresher class, particularly because I start with a visual image and start writing with no idea about the ending.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Thanks Kathleen, my debut novel is a traditional mystery. I discovered writers have to find their own writing process. I've made a loose outline of my next book, but still "pants" my short stories.

carla said...

Fascinating about the poison garden. Didn't know about that plant but love it as a murder weapon.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Carla, in Ireland and England, poison gardens are marked but not fenced off (except at Blarney Castle, American poison ivy and marijuana were covered by cast iron beehive cages). The Cincinnati Zoo Botanical Garden has a propagation program for monkshood, but it's not available to the public.

Gloria Alden said...

I enjoy all kinds of mysteries. I'm curious to know where in Northeast Ohio you lived because I
live in Northeast Ohio, too.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Hudson, which had a mid-June historic home tour, antiques show, and Friday night ice cream social on the town green.

Jim Jackson said...

Congratulations on the double publication of your story, Margaret. Expert editors can bring the best out in our works.

Kaye George said...

Chiming in late to also congratulate you on the publications! And am so glad your daughter came through this, too.