Monday, February 28, 2022

In Which I Expand My Reading Repertoire by Nancy L. Eady

I grew up as a Navy brat. Until I was 16, my family moved at least every two or three years. One reason I like mysteries is that no matter where we moved, the library would always have some Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen, and Agatha Christie. Because of that, I could count on finding familiar friends no matter where we ended up. But I never once tried any of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason books. 

This past week, I corrected that omission. I started with book 1, The Case of the Velvet Claws and am now reading book 6, The Case of the Counterfeit Eye. I am particular about series; I want to start with book one rather then start in the middle.

These books are not terribly long (and I read very quickly.) But I am having a blast with them. The book Perry is much more fun than the series Perry. I enjoyed Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason as much as the next person, but the Perry Mason in the books is more active, takes chances and comes up with wild ideas that protect a client only in fiction. 

A fair warning if you want to try these books—the first books were written in 1933, 1934, and 1935. Several of them began as serial publications over months before the story was compiled into a book. The books are true to the era they were written. They are not, by any stretch of the imagination, politically correct. Characters (not Perry, of course) use certain ethnic names that are not acceptable now and the status of women is beyond unrecognizable. In the 1930s, and in the hard-boiled style of Gardner’s writing, women are “Janes” if the speaker doesn’t know who the woman is, and quite often called “girls.” So, in one scene, Perry calls Della Street, his fanatically loyal secretary, “good girl” when she does something particularly clever. The idea of men hitting on women in the workplace or elsewhere (again, never Perry) is not wrong but expected.

That being said, and if you remember when they were written, the books are terrific romps and a lot of fun. I am curious to see how their tone changes as the series advances. The last Erle Stanley Gardner Perry Mason books were published posthumously in the 1970s.  A lot changed in the almost 40 years that Gardner kept the series going.

What series have you meant to try but haven’t reached yet? Why not try them and see what happens? 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Surviving the Ice Age by Annette Dashofy

Having grown up in a farming family (“make hay while the sun shines”), it’s second nature for me to keep an eye on the weather forecast. Earlier this month, the meteorologists started posting maps showing my location solidly in the pink range (meaning freezing rain) of an upcoming storm, so I had to take action. I always keep bottled drinking water (our well water isn’t fit for consumption), but I also started filling the empty jugs from the tap. I moved stuff from our refrigerator’s freezer section to the chest freezer in the basement. My husband made sure our generator was in good working order. I frantically completed several writing projects that were almost due and sent them off. I also worked feverishly on my tax prep and printed out my spreadsheets. I made sure all of my electronics were fully charged. 

My husband even took a vacation day on Friday in case the roads were impassible. 

I rescheduled a workshop I was supposed to teach Saturday on Zoom. Just in case. 

The rain started Wednesday.

By lunchtime on Thursday I noticed ice collecting on the shrub by my front porch. The roads at that point were clear. My husband made it home from work with no problems Thursday evening. 

About 7:00 p.m. the power went out. But it came right back on. I hurried to brush my teeth, wash my face, and get into my jammies. 

At 8:00 the house fell dark and silent. I called on my cell to report it and was told by an automated voice that power would be restored by 11:00 p.m. that night. I knew they were lying. 

Our house is all electric. ALL electric. So when the power goes out, we have nothing. No heat. No water. No stove. No phone. We went to bed. By 3 a.m. it started getting cold. Kensi Kitty wrapped herself around my head like a feline cap. I didn’t complain. 

Overnight the rain turned to snow. 

Friday morning Hubby set up our Big Buddy propane heater in the middle of our living room. It quickly took the chill off. He also fired up the generator, ran a heavy-duty extension cord through the hole he’d long ago drilled in the floor of one of our kitchen cabinets. I connected a surge protector into which I plugged the fridge, our phone chargers, and my laptop. He ran a second power cord to the freezer in the basement. We sat around the heater and proclaimed we were camping. 

We used to love to go camping. 

It’s not the same. 

Kensi fell in love with the Big Buddy heater. Cats love warmth and Big Buddy was definitely warm. But Kensi’s not the brightest bulb in the box where an open flame is concerned. She would edge too close. I would snatch her away before her whiskers singed. We set her kitty cave close, but not too close, to the heater. She liked that. 

Friday night I slept on the daybed next to Big Buddy. Kensi slept with me until about 3 a.m. when even Big Buddy couldn’t completely battle the chill (8 degrees outside). She plopped herself about six inches from the flame. From then until daylight, I had to keep removing her from the warmest spot in the house. She didn’t appreciate it. 

I did not get much sleep. 

On Saturday Hubby drove to town for more propane and gasoline and returned with reports of trees and lines down EVERYWHERE. A neighbor texted me that the power company estimated our service would be restored by 11 p.m. on SUNDAY. I sent out texts to let folks know I would not be participating in two other Zoom meetings. 

The hours ticked by. Hubby set up shop at the kitchen table and tied flies in anticipation of spring and fishing. I read. And I started writing a new book. 

Saturday night was a repeat of Friday where Kensi and Big Buddy were concerned. Again, I didn’t get much sleep. 

By Sunday we were feeling pretty grungy. We’d been brushing our teeth, but outright bathing wasn’t an option. 

I figured the extra layer of dirt might help keep me warm. 

But Hubby had to go back to work on Monday, and they frown upon having their employees look and smell like a vagrant. We drove to my mother-in-law’s house to get hot baths. On the way, we passed SEVEN out-of-state power crew trucks working on our line! 

On our way home, we picked up sandwiches at Subway and again passed the repair crews. 

I should mention the conditions. They were working in a thicket of ice-encrusted overgrown brush and storm-flattened trees. Electric poles had snapped. Lines were down. It was COLD outside. I refuse to gripe about the time we had to “camp” in our living room. Well, at least the gripes aren’t aimed at the power company. It was a freakin’ disaster out there. 

Sunday evening my neighbor texted me. The power company had robo-called her to announce repairs had been made and our power should have been restored. It hadn’t been. She let them know. Then she let me know. I may have cried a little. 

About an hour later, a check of the power company’s website stated our power should be back on by Monday, noon. Another neighbor who lives near the aforementioned thicket texted us that the crew was back at work. At least we hadn’t gone back to the bottom of the list. 

But we endured a fourth night with Big Buddy. A fourth night of minimal and very light sleep as I kept a close watch on Kensi. 

Monday 4:00 a.m. every light in our house came on, my printers chirped to life in my office, our security system started talking to us. And the furnace started running. 

I don’t think I’ve ever before jumped out of bed at that hour and started dancing. 

We survived. I got a good start on my next Zoe Chambers mystery. And I have a renewed appreciation for the 21st Century. 

Have you ever been stuck without power for an extended period of time? If so, what did you do to make it through the outage?



Saturday, February 26, 2022

Finding Headspace by Kait Carson

In the not so distant past, I held a job where I worked twelve-hour days. It was hectic. I regularly juggled a twenty-five client case load. Much of the work was litigation. All of the work had deadlines. Some tighter than others. I lived in fear of missing deadlines, which in my world, the legal world, could result in our team receiving a default. In other words, miss the deadline, the other side wins. No contest, no appearance. The consequences were real.


Learning to cope in that environment was an artform. I organized my days with the precision of a general planning a battle. There was no room for error. It took a toll. I longed for the days when my time would be my own, but knew that day was far off. For Christmas, my husband gave me a gift of a year of an app named Headspace.


Headspace is a meditation app. There is no more grounded person on the face of this earth than my husband. For him to gift me with something that smacked of “New Age” was a revelation. No, he hadn’t tried it, but he’d read up on it, researched it, and thought I would find it useful. I’d meditated in college and on and off afterwards, but the thought of meditating for stress reduction never crossed my mind.


I tried it, I liked it, I used it for a while, and it helped. At some point, my schedule got so crazy that I couldn’t fit meditation time into it. I cancelled the membership and that was that. I thought.


In July of 2020 COVID happened and my very demanding day job went away. We moved to Maine and I celebrated. Finally, I thought, I’d have time for myself. And I did. All twenty-four hours of the day spread before me in all their glory. I could use them as I saw fit. Bwa haa ha. Or as the fates said, “Yeah. Right.” There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I had all those hours, I had huge plans for all those hours, I let all those hours distract me.


I need organization. I crave it. I make lists. I make outlines. I check the boxes. I get in my own way. I needed to shut down the noise and use the time I had. In an attempt to gain time, I went back to my library of books on the Law of Attraction. This is a simple concept that essentially says be careful what you think, it’s coming. It’s an effective process made more effective through meditation. Easy peasy. Nope.


Using the techniques in Sarah Hertz’s book The Universe Always Delivers Twice I made some headway, but not enough. I decided to add in a dedicated meditation period and I rejoined Headspace. Now I greet the morning with a meditation period during which I solidify the plans and desires for the day. It’s made me more peaceful and productive. If I find myself going astray, or getting in my own way, a simple five-minute meditation break helps me focus. At the end of the day, I find most of the items on my to-do list are accomplished and I’m refreshed and ready to spend time with family and friends.


Do you have an unorthodox practice to help you organize and get through your day? Tell us about it.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Conflict, Stakes and Character in Writing Mystery Fiction by Warren Bull


Image from GR stocks on upsplash

Conflict, Stakes and Character Growth in Writing Mystery Fiction by Warren Bull

Many writing teachers say you need all three to write good mystery fiction. In a critique group, one of my current efforts garnered the comment, “What is at stake?” Are they necessary? As Sportin’ Life sings in Porgy and Bess, “it ain’t necessarily so.” That is, there are occasions when one or more of these elements may not be evident at first glance. One of my personality flaws is my dislike of ironclad rules. When told in college that I would probably get a C at best in a class about a subject I had no background in, I got the highest grade and the professor said I explained something in the field he had never before understood.

 How did Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, or Nero Wolfe manifest change or growth in their stories? Attempts by their authors to introduce new elements did not always completely succeed. Rex Stout’s Death of a Dude, in my opinion, while quite readable, is not one of his better efforts. I admit this is sort of like describing someone as an average Olympic Gold Medalist. I truly respect Rex Stout as a writer. My point is, it is quite possible to have a fascinating main character who does not change.

Conflict and stakes can be more implied than stated. I remember a memorable short story that was a shopping list. That’s all. No characters, dialog, or action. Words on paper. Because I am highly allergic to spoilers, I will not add any more. 

I am willing to describe spoilers in some of my stories to make my case. One well-received and published story was described by a reviewer as “Just two men standing on a porch and talking.” That is absolutely accurate, albeit incomplete. One man was a redneck lifelong criminal who on occasion would accept jobs that involved killing people. The other was a deputy sheriff born and bred in the area. The deputy waited on the porch for the other man to appear, which was respectful behavior. The criminal had boobytrapped the door with a shotgun, which would have gone off if someone had tried to open the door. They discuss a recent murder which both men know the criminal committed. The Deputy told the criminal that he will be arrested and convicted using the criminal’s black and white moral code. 

The story is, to the best of my knowledge and experience, congruent with that very specific time, place and social environment. Think of the television series Justified. Elmore Leonard could have written it. 

In another short story, which the publisher told me he was happy to get, I wrote about an undescribed man listening to an answering machine. The plot advances message to message. There is only one character. He listens. In the end he speaks aloud to someone unseen.  Only then does the reader learn who he is and why he is listening. The tension builds message by message. A kidnapping is presented bit by bit. Then problems appear for the kidnapper one at a time. The resolution is, I believe, unexpected but believable.  This one I set in New Zealand, using New Zealand slang to add color and interest. 

Both stories use unusual settings and utilized information I gathered over months or years of personal experience. I have not yet managed to write a story with no characters or where a character is doing less than listening. Dreaming maybe? If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Up The Cairngorms by Connie berry

Who remembers the British TV comedy Are You Being Served?

 In one of the delightfully silly episodes, Mrs. Slocombe, head of the Ladies' Department at Grace Brothers Department Store, holds up a pair of wooly undergarments, perfect when you're traveling "up the Cairngorms."

 For those who don't know, the Cairngorms are a mountain range in the eastern Highlands of Scotland.

A Cairngorm is also a semi-precious stone mined in the Cairngorm Mountains, varying in color from honey yellow to clove brown. Silver brooches with Cairngorms and other semi-precious stones became hugely popular during the reign of Queen Victoria. The diminutive queen loved spending time at Balmoral, her Scottish castle; and with her patronage, interest in all things Scottish exploded.

Since my debut mystery, A Dream of Death, takes place in Scotland, and since my protagonist, Kate Hamilton, is an antiques dealer, I thought I'd share my personal collection of Cairngorm brooches. I think they are beautiful, and they remind me of my own Scottish heritage.

This brooch was manufactured in the late nineteenth century. The Cairngorm, incorporated into a thistle, a symbol of Scotland, is a dark honey color. The stones around it are carnelian and deep green agate, set into a chased sterling frame.


This one is a classic shield shape with a large central Cairngorm and finely worked slices of agate and carnelian in various colors.


This Cairngorm brooch is one of my favorites, also Victorian with a light gold Cairngorm and agates in gray and white. Three are missing. I'm thinking about getting them replaced if I can find someone to do it.


This brooch was made by the Ward Brothers in Edinburgh, sometime in the 1950s, specifically for the tourist trade. The metal is sterling, but the "Cairngorms," set into a thistle, are glass. I still love it!


This large leaf brooch isn't strictly a Cairngorm, but it is the prize of my collection. The marks on the back tell me it was manufactured in December of 1864. I love how it looks when paired with a couple of the other Cairngorms on a jacket.

Finally, this Cairngorm and silver brooch isn't mine. It's part of the Royal Collection. Prince Albert purchased it for Queen Victoria  in 1847/48. Queen Elizabeth wore it to the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

If you see a Cairngorm brooch in an antique store, I hope you appreciate it. And if you're ever in Scotland, don't forget to go "up the Cairngorms!"

What do you collect? We'd love to see a photo!

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

An Interview with Edith Maxwell by Kait Carson

In South Lick, Indiana, fine foods and classic cookware can be found at Robbie Jordan’s Pans ’N Pancakes. Unfortunately, her country store also seems to stock up on murder . . .

In Batter Off Dead, Robbie and her new husband Abe O’Neill are enjoying a summer evening in the park with fellow townsfolk excited for some Friday night fireworks. In attendance are senior residents from Jupiter Springs Assisted Living including Roy Bird, father to South Lick’s very own Police Lieutenant Buck Bird. Despite his blindness, Roy is a member of his group home’s knitting circle, spending quality time with some lovely ladies.

But when the lightshow ends, one of the knitters who sat with Roy is found dead, a puncture wound in her neck. The poor woman’s death echoes that of Buck’s mother and Roy’s wife—an unsolved homicide. To help find the killer, Robbie’s going to have to untangle the knotty relationships deep in the victim’s past . . .


Thank you for joining us at Writers Who Kill. As a past president of PAWS Animal Welfare Society, Inc. I would also like to thank you for your support of no-kill shelters. You mention in your acknowledgement that Adrienne Linnell benefited the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society Fur Ball with a winning bid to name a character in this novel. She opted to name her late mother-in-law, and for an additional donation, her late mother-in-law’s sister. Well done. Do you feature a donation character(s) in each of your books?


Thanks so much for inviting me back to this fabulous blog! Many of my recent books do feature names chosen by charity auction high bidders. Donors to the cat rescue society or our local organization that helps families in need with housing, food, and school backpacks love the idea so much. It’s free and easy for me to work a name into my manuscript, and sometimes the donated-name character surprises me! Adrienne’s Joan and Edna turned out to be great characters in Batter Off Dead, with one of them mentioning a possible clue to Robbie.


You are so prolific. How many series are you currently writing? What’s your typical writing day?


Thank you, Kait. I am currently writing the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Both have been renewed for several books ahead. My Kensington editor has also asked me to write a new cozy series set in California. I’m super delighted to stage stories in my home state, but … sshh. Don’t tell anybody - I haven’t signed the contract yet! In addition, I have a new historical book in the works, which takes place in Boston in 1926. It’s out with an independent editor now. Fingers crossed that it sells.


I am always writing by seven in the morning. I naturally wake up early. I need about an hour of catching up with the world before I open the work in progress at seven. I check in with Ramona’s Sprint Club (feel free to ask offline) and start making things up (or polishing that first draft). I work until about eleven. By then my creative brain is all done. I go for my power walk, often plotting as I go, then eat lunch and spend the afternoons doing other authorly things like writing guest blog posts.


You excel at short stories as well as novels. Is your writing process different for each? Do you start with plot or character, title or story? Are your short stories all mysteries or do you use the different formats to branch out to other genres?


Thanks for those kind words. All my short fiction has been crime stories except the first two stories back in the 1990s (well, and “Viking Girl,” published when I was nine in the Pasadena Star News). 



I love mixing things up in the short form. Often the narrator is the bad guy - or gal, more accurately. Sometimes she gets away with it, sometimes she doesn’t. Where I start varies with the idea. I might envision a particular character and ask Suppose? And What if? Or maybe I recently heard of a new poison and want to use that. Or I write to a theme, as in the Mystery Writers of America pandemic-year anthology, which had a theme of Home. MWA rejected “Bye-Bye, Jojo” – but Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine took it instead. It came out last week in the March/April issue.


My novels also vary as to what sparks the story idea. My brain might conjure up a particular bad guy. I could start with a curious news story I heard of, or an intriguing murder method. I’d say it’s different every time.


I’ve read that you’ve been a mechanic, a tech writer, an organic farmer, have your PhD in linguistics, and taught English in Japan. Have you ever worked in or run a restaurant?


Ha! No. I talk to people who have. I visit diners and watch their short-order cooks. One of my sons worked for a small breakfast and lunch restaurant. And I imagine stuff. So far, no readers have criticized how Robbie Jordan runs Pans ’N Pancakes, so I guess I’m mostly on track.


You bravely tackle the topic of the pandemic with the reference to Samuel and Adele skipping a year of travel and later an elbow bumping reference. Have you decided to tackle the years of living isolated in the Country Store mysteries? Did you get any pushback from your editor about that?


I mostly heard from fans who said they weren’t ready to read stories set during the pandemic.  As we are not yet out of danger, I certainly didn’t want to write one and still don’t. But I also didn’t want to completely ignore this awful period we’ve all been going through. My editor didn’t blink as I set this book in a vaguely post pandemic time.


Is South Lick, Indiana a real place? As a California girl, how did you come to select Indiana as your setting?


Ah, great question. South Lick is not real, but Brown County, Indiana, absolutely is. I hit on the name when I was out visiting and saw South Lick Road and South Lick Creek in the vicinity of Beanblossom. The larger and real town of French Lick is about an hour south, so I knew that kind of name wasn’t unheard of in the area.


I spent five years earning a doctorate in Bloomington, a university town in the next county to the west. My great-great-great grandfather founded Indiana University. My grandfather was captain of the basketball team in 1916. My father was an undergrad until he was drafted into WWII. There’s a Maxwell Hall on campus, a Maxwell Street and a Maxwell Lane.


 How could I not want to get my graduate degree there? This Californian absolutely fell in love with the region, and when my editor agreed that a Country Store series sounded good, I ran with the idea.


South Lick seems like a sleepy small town, but it has attracted a diverse group of people. Is southern Indiana as cosmopolitan as it sounds?


I always try to reflect the spectrum of humanity in my books, whether it’s shades of skin colors, various preferences and faiths, or ages. The university in Bloomington certainly has people from everywhere, and I think there is spillover into Brown County. The county has a reputation for being artsy and also fiercely independent. I’ve drawn on my imagination, of course, in creating the characters. But they are all plausible residents of South Lick and surrounds.


In Batter Off Dead, the mystery unfolds over decades with the past intruding on the present. Was it difficult to write and keep the murders and clues for each murder straight?


Not really. I’m not much of a plotter, as many people know, and I was pleasantly surprised at the connections my characters revealed to me.


Lt. Buck Bird’s family has become tantalizingly close in this offering. We meet his dad, his grandmother, learn about his mother’s murder, and his immediate family. Will we get to see more of these delightful (and in some cases mysterious) folks in future works?


I’d better bring back his grandmother, Simone, while she’s still alive. Yes, she’s still a pistol at one hundred years old, and I expect she’ll make a showing in book twelve. (I missed the chance in Four Leaf Cleaver, to release next March.) I also really like Roy, and Buck’s sweet nephew, Nathan. We’ve still never met Buck’s wife or his children, and I hope they’ll decide to stroll onto the page, too.


Speaking of Buck, how did the very inquisitive Robbie get herself to give Buck a pass when he mentioned his mother’s murder?


I honestly have no idea. Sorry!


Robbie tells Corinne Beedle that she tempers her gazpacho – are Indianans spice-adverse as a general rule?


I wouldn’t want to make a blanket pronouncement about Hoosiers, but I think many Midwestern Americans wouldn’t appreciate the level of hot peppers I and others loved in southern California.


Corinne and others use phrases and expressions that one would expect to hear in the deep south, for example, “I’d love me some spicy soup.” Later in the story Robbie remarks on Buck’s aw-shucks grammar. Are southern turns of phrase hallmarks of southern Indiana?


They can be. It’s pretty close to Kentucky. My older sister lives in Indiana a little farther north, and she passes along things she hears. An IU linguist has helped a bit, too. I might have stretched the regionalisms a bit, but I don’t think readers mind.


The name of the craft club, Stitch and Bitch, made me laugh. Did you receive any pushback on the name? Does it have a history? It sounds like it could easily exist.


My mother, who never swore in her lifetime, was in a quilting group called Stitch and Bitch after she retired. (When Mommy said “Damnation” to me once in high school, I knew I was in big, big trouble. And that I deserved it…) My editor didn’t care at all.


When Vi Perkell is killed, Robbie decides to get involved and do a little digging. The murder affects her friends, but not Robbie personally. What makes her decide to get involved?


Part of Robbie’s involvement is that Buck’s father is so distressed, and Robbie cares a lot for Buck. She’s also naturally curious and likes to solve puzzles. This turns out to be a double one.


When Robbie is stumped as to how to move her investigation forward, she constructs crosswords to help her untangle the knots. Do you create crosswords as plotting techniques? Sounds like a fun way to do it.


I don’t, but I like that Robbie does. My partner and I do New York Times Sunday crosswords constantly.
He does all he can and passes it to me, on a clipboard. I do all I can without strategic cheats and hand it back. And so forth. The only crossword I’ve ever created – I mean, that Robbie finished creating in a book – was one I made for Grilled for Murder.


While Robbie is a young woman, your Country Store mysteries include plenty of people of a “certain age,” including Adele and Samuel and often entire tour groups. In Batter Off Dead, you’ve upped the ante by including Buck’s grandmother and his father. There’s not a cliché in sight. Have you had a lot of seniors in your life?


I’m glad I cleared the cliché hurdle. As an adult, I have had close friends who are and were older, particularly in my Society of Friends (Quaker) worship community. Several have passed away, and others remain. I recently ran out to San Francisco to visit my last-remaining uncle, author Richard Reinhardt, whom I adore. He’ll be ninety-five next month and is holding up remarkably well, still living in his own row house. I think including our elders in stories brings so much richness. Pretty soon I’ll be one of them, for better and worse.


Robbie drives though the Knobstone Escarpment on her way to visit Buck’s grandmother. Is this a real place? Has Robbie ever biked it?


It is a real place. As far as I know, she’s never taken her bike out there. But she might!


Robbie and Buck’s grandmother discuss Stone Head? Does it exist and was the head robbed? Sounds like a frat prank!


Stone Head is amazing. It does exist, where Bellsville Pike comes into Route 135 at a sharp elbow south of Nashville (Indiana). The first time I went out to do research for the series, a Hoosier friend here (one of those elders) told me I had to look for Stone Head. The Mona Lisa smile and crossed hands with mile markers is really something to behold. The head has been robbed more than once. I’m not sure of the status right now.


Abe instructs Robbie in how to cheat at cards. Does he have a checkered past we haven’t discovered?


I have no idea! Stay tuned for future books.


One of the many things I love about this series is that Robbie and her setting are 100% believable. Yes, she runs a business, yes, she solves crimes, but first and foremost, she’s a woman, a newlywed, and now planning a family. It makes for a great character arc. How far in the future have you plotted the series, and can we expect to see a mini-Robbie or Abe?


I so appreciate that you find Robbie a believable person, Kait. I have a contract through book #13 – yay! – although I haven’t yet plotted even #12. And I’m not handing out any spoilers. The couple certainly wants to have children.


What’s next?


As I mentioned, Four Leaf Cleaver will release a year from now. Yes, it’s set at Saint Patrick’s Day, with a cooking competition in the store. Also in the Country Store series, my novella “Scarfed Down” comes out in late September in Christmas Scarf Murder, a three-novella collection with Carlene O’Connor and Peggy Ehrhart. That book releases the same day as Murder in a Cape Cottage, the fourth book in my Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries.


















I won’t give away the ending, but it brought tears to my eyes.


I’m so pleased, Kait. Thank you for these wonderful – and challenging – interview questions!


Readers: Where is your favorite diner or country store restaurant? Raise your hand if you have Midwestern roots! I’d love to send one lucky commenter a signed copy of the book.


Maddie Day pens the Country Store Mysteries and Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. As Agatha Award-winning author Edith Maxwell, she writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Local Foods Mysteries, and short crime fiction. Day/Maxwell lives with her beau north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook. Find her at,, Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, and on social media:





Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Crazy 8's, Guardian Angels, and the Magic of Numerology by Martha Reed

Part of the fun in being an author is being able to exercise my imagination in a direction I would normally reject in my day-to-day life. For instance, I’ve never seriously played the daily numbers lotto because I’ve studied statistics. For me, the winning lotto odds don’t outweigh the risk or justify the expense. Friends who do religiously play the daily lottery numbers say, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” True enough, and I might agree with their logic and change my mind if I ever saw any of them actually win.

That said, while I scoff, my character Aunt Babette, a mediumistic NOLA voodoo queen, truly believes in numerology which is, according to Wikipedia, “a pseudoscientific belief in a divine or mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events,” including “the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names, and ideas.” On Friday the 13th, Aunt Babette won’t comb her hair or leave the house until the calendar flips to the next date after midnight. The only reason she tolerates her niece Leslie’s husband Ken is because Ken’s name has three letters in it, a holy trinity number that makes Ken lucky. She believes he carries that luck into their house.

This belief (or superstition) is a two-edged sword. I’ve researched the so-called “Baskerville Effect,” named for the classically brilliant Sherlock Holmes’ story where doomed Sir Charles Baskerville gets chased to his death by a giant black hound. The effect is an allegedly self-fulfilling prophecy with the victims suffering fatal heart failure brought on by the psychological stress over what they see as an unlucky day like Friday the 13th or after being pursued across a moonlit moor by a hellish-looking hound.

I’m also fascinated by the opposite belief like the Chinese obsession with the number “8,” believed to be the luckiest number in China because eight is pronounced “ba” which sounds like “fa” which means “well-off” or “becoming rich in a short time.” This is serious stuff. In Hong Kong, vehicle license plates are offered at public auctions. In 2016 someone coughed up $2.3 million dollars for a plate with the number “28,” which in Cantonese sounds like the phrase for “easy money.”

Hey, wait a second. I may be on to something. Maybe I should play the lottery number, “ba”?

What does this mean for today’s blog? Well, today’s date is 2/22/2022, the last of the three “222” days we’ll see in this century (e.g., 2/02/2022, 2/20/2022, and 2/22/2022). Aunt Babette would be all over today’s date because she believes that the 222 numeric sequence is an “Angel Number,” a universal sign of positivity, good luck, and joy used by guardian angels to communicate a reminder that we’re all on the right path and we’re doing the right things in our lives.

We won’t see the 222 numeric sequence again until 2222. Statistically speaking, I’m willing to bet I won’t be around to see that date roll up on a calendar again. Any takers?

Monday, February 21, 2022

Different Shades of a Minute of Your Time

Different Shades of a Minute of Your Time by Debra H. Goldstein

Did you ever realize that Chopin’s Minute Waltz is actually longer than a minute? Piano versions run about one minute and fifty-one seconds while Barbra Streisand’s lyrical rendition, which made it up to #23 on the Billboard charts, clocks in at two minutes. Chopin - Minute Waltz (Op. 64 No. 1) - YouTube and STREISAND "THE MINUTE WALTZ" - COLOR ME BARBRA - YouTube.

According to Wikipedia, the Minute Waltz, which is also referred to as Valse du petit chien (French for "Waltz of the puppy") was dedicated by Chopin to Countess Delfina Potocka. Somehow, I don’t think either the Countess or Chopin envisioned his lively tune being given lyrics and made into a pop number.

Is it a matter of What’s in a Name? Revision? or It’s all in the Eye of the Beholder? I’m not sure, but I know I enjoy the classical version for the clarity of its notes and Streisand’s for her comedic spin.

The written word in books, poems, and plays can also be interpreted in an analogous manner. We all grew up hearing fairy tales read by parents or teachers, but for many of us, these were sanitized versions of the original. The gore of the original tales of the Brothers Grimm was stripped for our sensitivities. Later, if you were a fan of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, you may have become addicted to Fractured Fairytales. Like Streisand’s song, Fractured Fairytales took the original bones of stories and hyped them in a deliciously funny way. In some instances, the subtle humor was more like the original Grimm stories.

Can you imagine if the rewrite of the Minute Waltz had instead emphasized a puppy related theme? Why don’t you try your hand in the comments at a few lines of how the song might have gone?

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Challenges of a Critique Group by Tammy Euliano

When I first decided to start writing, I joined my local Writers’ Alliance and was placed in an existing critique group. This was pre-Covid and we met in person at the library. The group was…eclectic, including a 70+ year old former University professor writing a memoir, a woman of similar vintage writing cozy short stories (or at least she apparently had in the past, she wasn’t currently writing), a retired English teacher who had a thing for punctuation and Oxford commas, a 40s year old man writing a sci-fi superhero robot fantasy, and a 20 year old kid writing something within a videogame. The latter insisted on naming people with unpronounceable words that included numbers and other keyboard characters – they would make great passwords, but not much else. None of us was published. Very much the blind leading the blind. Blinder still because of the mish-mash of genres and the fact that I came in in the middle of their manuscripts and no one had anything resembling a synopsis…or knew the word synopsis (including me).

Soon after I joined, the two oldest members dropped out (I’m calling that a coincidence). Then the English teacher and video-game-dude started taking umbrage with each other’s critiques (guess which of them called it umbrage). A couple meetings later, threats were exchanged. I missed the next meeting and soon after received an email asking whether I was comfortable with our youngest member remaining in the group after he went over the table to physically attack the comma policeman. Needless to say, I dropped out of that critique group.

I tried a few on-line groups that lasted anywhere from weeks to months. We didn’t meet, or even Zoom back then, just emailed critiques back and forth. Not bad, but nothing really clicked for me. I tried another group but they were mostly literary and wrote stories where I kept suggesting that something needed to happen. They kicked me out. I tried Savvy Authors' critique partner speed-dating, and swapping chapters and whole manuscripts with people I met at meetings, but nothing lasted more than a few swaps.

Then two things happened: ITW (International Thriller Writers) decided to start a critique group system and I volunteered to be one of the founding members and facilitators, and Mystery Writers of America had room in a new critique group. I decided to do both.

My MWA group is all Florida-based mystery writers led by very successful cozy author, Cheryl Hollon, and includes the author of the Sin City Investigations series, JD Allen, as well as two unpublished but not inexperienced authors who are writing mysteries. We submit 2500 words, critique each other’s submission with Track Changes in Word, then meet by zoom every other week to review the critiques. Four of us met in person once and are planning another weekend retreat next month.

Meanwhile, our ITW critique groups got off the ground after a very formal system was developed and approved (our leader is an attorney). The monthly group I facilitate is composed of all published thriller authors in various sub-genres from around the country (and Canada).

At last I’ve found the critique groups that are helping me become a better writer and that hopefully will stick together. The input I’m receiving is so insightful and is improving my manuscripts as I write. I’m also learning from reading these other authors’ words critically. So what’s different this time? I’m more experienced of course, so I know what I need from my partners; and my manuscripts start off a bit cleaner; and I lucked into great people. But I also find value in the fact we’re writing in and knowledgeable about the same genre.

No question there are benefits to reading widely. And writers of other genres have valuable input. Even readers or very early career writers, can provide useful insight. But for me, at the early stage of a new novel, having authors who know the genre and can advise about pacing and tropes and expectations, and put their comments in actionable terms is immensely powerful and helpful.

How about you? Any great critique group stories/warnings/successes?

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? by Nancy Raven Smith

Where do you get your ideas? This is a question most authors are asked sometime in their careers. Here’s bit about how mine evolve.

For my stories, I find my ideas come from combinations of things. It usually starts with something that catches my interest enough that I want to learn more about it. My hope is, that if the idea or place interests me, maybe it may interest others as well. What catches my attention is anything that is unusual or out of the norm. Situations or things that are unknown, quirky, funny, or odd.


For crime, I’m very attracted to frauds and cons. I enjoy giving unaware readers a heads-up. I also like heroes and heroines that are proactive and intelligent. All of those things went into the first book in my Land Sharks series, A Swindle in Sumatra.


What came first was an article I noticed while researching identity theft for a screenplay I wrote several years ago. The article mentioned the “golden triangle” as the world’s biggest area for credit card counterfeiting. In fact, it was a cottage industry there. Unsure of what that was about, I saved the article in my story ideas file to check out later.


When I finally searched for the golden triangle a few years ago, I discovered it included Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. And they were no longer the credit card counterfeiting center. They had progressed and were now the leading thieves and counterfeiters of international passport and identity papers. Anyone who visits that area needs to keep their personal identity under a tight guard.


In A Swindle in Sumatra, Lexi, the protagonist for my Land Sharks Cozy Mystery Adventure series, is an accomplished bank fraud investigator from Beverly Hills. I chose that career for her because she would constantly be dealing with white collar crime. She’s in her mid thirties and is sent to Sumatra to locate a young runaway heiress, who has disappeared with her latest mysterious boyfriend. In order to save the heiress, Lexi tangles with criminals pursuing this counterfeiting fraud.


For my second book in the series, Bushwhacked in the Outback, my inspiration came from closer to home. My husband teaches metal arts and jewelry making. Listening to him talk with his friends from Australia who are opal miners and dealers fascinated me. I learned that opals come from two major areas in Australia - Lightening Ridge and Coober Pedy. And opals can be more valuable per carat than diamonds.


When I looked up Coober Pedy, I found it is near the center of the country in the outback. The discovery that the name Coober Pedy is translated from the Aborigine language and means “White man in a hole,” made me laugh so hard, I had to write about the area.


Soon, Lexi, heads for Coober Pedy in a search for money embezzled from one of the bank’s customers. Only things in Coober Pedy aren’t what she anticipated. She quickly learns that opals aren’t the only things buried in mines.


Bushwhacked in the Outback 

“If you can’t follow the money, follow the body.”

Lexi loves her job as a Beverly Hills bank fraud investigator. It lets her pursue scam artists and con men - known in the business as land sharks.

Sadly, one crook left her with a broken heart and a destroyed reputation. And the bank’s president is looking for any excuse to fire her.

Yet she risks everything when she follows a dead embezzler's casket to Coober Pedy in the Australian outback. She knows it’s a gamble, but it’s her last hope to recover the bank’s stolen money. Unfortunately, she's persona non grata in that country. She needs to get in, find the money, and get out before the Australian police discover her presence. But will the unexpected appearance of an ex-lover make her linger too long?

If you like cozy mysteries in exotic locations with deadly secrets and touches of humor, then you’ll enjoy the multi-award winning Land Sharks Cozy Mystery series.

Available on


About the Author

Nancy Raven Smith grew up in Virginia, where she ran and participated in horse sport events. On their farm, she rescued horses, dogs, and cats and is an advocate for animal rescue. Later in California, she traded her event experience for film work. Her screenplays and novels have won numerous major awards. When not writing, Raven Smith enjoys her family and friends, travel, art, movies, and white-water rafting. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Women in Film. Visit her at