Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Farmhouse Ghost by E. B. Davis

On Sunday, we shared our favorite mysteries and spooktacular books. Today we present a true story. One that happened to our own E.B. Davis. This blog originally appeared in 2010 and is still true today. Truth is stranger than fiction.

The paranormal events occurred in JD’s rented farmhouse located in the countryside of York County, PA. We were in our mid-twenties, and I was in graduate school at the time at George Washington University, located about two hours away in Washington, D. C. I’d often stay at the house for the weekend, and then we’d get up early on Monday morning. JD went to work, and I drove back to school. As months passed, I started to feel watched while in the farmhouse. The first time I remember being aware of this sensation, I was in the bathroom looking into the mirror. My image was the only one I saw, but unease washed over me.

After that initial experience, I started feeling a presence. Lying in bed before sleep overcame me, I felt movement running up and down the exposed side of my body, like a chilly breeze exerting the slight pressure of a roller. I didn’t say anything to my future spouse. Like anyone experiencing strange phenomena, I assumed my experience was singular. But then, things changed.

One Monday morning while we still lay in bed, the front door slammed. That particular door stuck, which forced everyone to slam it shut or the lock wouldn’t catch. At first, I assumed my boyfriend’s roommate was coming home early to get ready for work after his weekend stay at his girlfriend’s place. After hearing the door slam, I heard no other sounds, such as his moving about the house, climbing the stairs to his bedroom or the running shower. I still didn’t say anything. But, after a few mornings of hearing the door slam around six a.m. without the roommate appearing, I asked JD about the door. He didn’t say much, but later, away from the house, he explained and described that he too felt watched, felt cold hands running over his body when in bed, and that he avoided the bathroom except when absolutely necessary. We didn’t come to any conclusions then.

One day I arrived at the house before JD got off work. I let myself in, sat on the couch, and started to read. Nothing outwardly happened, but I felt very unwelcome, hastened off the couch, and escaped out the door. I waited outside until JD arrived home. He asked why I hadn’t waited inside, and I explained my feelings, which he understood without question.

We were sitting on that same couch when JD asked me to marry him. We became engaged in May and married in September, when he moved from the house to our rented townhouse in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D. C. All that summer while preparing to marry and move, we felt significant changes in whatever spirit lingered there. A feeling of remorse and loneliness persisted, as if the ghost regretted haunting us and wished that we would stay.

We later learned that the house had been built by a farming family in the early twentieth century. After the husband died and the children moved, the widow lived and died in the house alone. I can only assume that she was showing her displeasure at our immorality, but once we became engaged, her judgmental attitude changed, too late, for we were already gone.

What JD didn’t tell me until years later (like 20): He'd met the former owner’s son while he lived in the house before our marriage. The son admitted his mother was a very unhappy/perhaps mentally unbalanced person. She committed suicide in the upstairs bathroom of the house. Glad I didn’t know at the time.

Monday, October 30, 2023

I Love October by Gloria Alden

(Here's a memory blog by former WWK blogger Gloria Alden--enjoy!)
I Love October
The month is amber
gold and brown
blue ghosts of smoke
float through the town.
Great Vs of geese
honk over head
and maples turn
a fiery red.
Frost bites the lawn
the stars are slits
in a black cat’s eye
before she spits.
At last small witches, goblins, hags
and pirates armed with paper bags,
their costumes hinged on safety pins.
go haunt a night of pumpkin grins.
                      - John Updike

Every three or four weeks while teaching third grade, I posted a poem pertaining to the season or some unit we were studying for my students to memorize. The above poem was one of their and my favorites.

In spite of the fact that my eighteen-year-old son and my six-year-old granddaughter both died in October, I still love October in N.E. Ohio. It makes me think of the Dylan Thomas poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Yes, Dylan wrote it during the final illness of his father, but I see October as making a last brave stand against the closing of the year by going out in a blaze of glory. At least that’s true here in the north.

Everywhere I look this time of the year the colors are rich and vibrant. At the beginning of the month the fields were filled with goldenrod and purple asters. Soon the leaves started to turn to orange, red, amber, gold, purple and burnt umber. Orange pumpkins like round globes appeared at roadside stands, farmers’ markets, and in stores. Corn stalks are gathered for decorations. Even the sky seems a more vivid blue.

Maggie likes the cooler days, too.

I love the crisp autumn days with cold nights and cool mornings often warming up later in the day. And then there’s Indian summer giving me that last bit of time when I can try to finish up all those chores that should have been done by now, but I didn’t quite get around to. Now I can’t procrastinate any longer. My time is running out. Not only do I need to finish planting the rest of my exuberant purchases at my favorite garden centers from last spring, but there are large clumps of daylilies that should be divided and replanted, and daffodil bulbs I dug up last spring when they were done blooming because I needed room for something else. Of course, before that can be done, I need to prepare a place for those plants to go. All the cannas and dahlias need to be dug up, stalks and leaves removed, and the roots and rhizomes cleaned, dried and packed in dried leaves or wood chips and taken to the basement for the winter. The vegetable garden needs to be stripped of dying vegetation and bedded down for the winter.

My great-granddaughter playing in the leaves. 
Fortunately I like to rake leaves even though it does get tiring when you have as many as I do. The armfuls of leaves I fill my wheelbarrow with are fluffy light reminding me of those long ago days of jumping in piles of them. What fun that was. Now I’m too old. It would take a very big pile to cushion my fall. I consider raking leaves my workout since I don’t go to a gym, nor do I have any exercise equipment in my home. When the leaves have dried enough, I’ll mow through them to chop them up, and then use them to mulch my gardens. I also have a lot of pine needles in some areas. Those I save to mulch my blueberry patch or woodland gardens.
Maggie is waiting for me at one of her treat stops. 
One of my favorite activities in the fall is my morning walk through the woods with Maggie. I enjoy the rustling sound of leaves as I walk through them, and the smell that’s unique to fallen leaves, a mixture of a pungent earthy scent with a touch of sweetness, too. A question that I always have in the fall is how did Native Americans move silently through the woods when hunting? I can even hear my soft pawed dog moving. When I was still teaching, I gathered leaves on that walk and dried them between the pages of books to prepare them for art projects for my students. I’m still tempted to do that because the forest floor is a mosaic of jewel like leaves that all too soon will lose their colors and turn brown.

October also brings Halloween. It’s a fun holiday where kids and adults can dress up, play games and get treats, too. It’s a time of ghosts, skeletons, ghouls and other things that go bump in the night, but also princesses, football players, scarecrows and less fearsome trick or treaters.  I enjoy seeing the Halloween decorations many people decorate their homes or yards with. Some people believe Halloween promotes witchcraft and evil. I don’t think that’s any truer than mystery writers, readers or movie viewers are more prone to murder. Halloween dispels fear of the boogey man. Once a child dons a costume and sees other children doing the same, no matter how gruesome the costume, the child begins to put many fears aside. Back before Halloween parties and parades were discontinued in schools, my students, fellow teachers and I had so much fun on that day and in the preparations that led up to it. I think Halloween is a fitting end for October.

What do you like about the month of October?
How do you feel about Halloween?

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Spooktacular Books by Writers Who Kill

Do you have a favorite spooky book? It doesn’t need ghosts, goblins, or vampires. The things that scare us may go bump in the night, but they often have plebian origins. Here’s our take on books that keep us up late at night, scary, mysterious, or true, it all makes for a great read. Especially around Halloween.

Heather Weidner
: I have loved cozy mysteries since my whodunit habit started with Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. Some of my recent humorous Halloween favorites include Ellen Byron’s Bayou Boneyard and Libby Klein’s Mischief Nights are Murder. Both of these boast amateur sleuths who get themselves in and out of all kinds of sticky situations. Bree Baker’s Closely Harbored Secrets and Maya Corrigan’s Crypt Suzette are also great Halloween reads with a food flair. Baker’s series is set in a southern tea restaurant, and Corrigan’s sleuth creates recipes with five ingredients and solves murders with the help of her grandfather.

And our own Marilyn Levinson/Allison Brook’s Haunted Library series is another of my favorites. What’s not to love year-round –  books, a ghost, and mysteries.  

All of the books in each of these series are worth the read. Add them to your fall and winter reading lists.

Lori Roberts Herbst
: I highly recommend The Once and Future Witches, by Alix E. Harrow. Published in 2020, it's a riveting character study and exploration of societal norms and expectations. The tension is high, but the best quality is the characters' self-growth, insight, and the bond the sisters form. What are they willing to do to save each other, themselves, and women in general?

Grace Topping
: One of my favorite ghost stories is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. It’s the story of a seafaring captain who haunts the home of a widow and the affection that develops between them. Most people who are familiar with the movie and the television series may not realize they were based on the book by R. A. Dick.

Connie Berry
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James: Psychologists tell us human beings are the only creatures who enjoy frightening themselves. That’s strange, is it not? And true. We love scary stories, especially told on a dark night before a blazing fire.

As an English Lit major, The Turn of the Screw was always one of my favorites—the lurking presence of evil, the mounting horror, the ambiguity. So, you can imagine my interest when in 2019 one of my favorite authors, Ruth Ware, published what NPR called “a clever and elegant update to James’s story.”

The Turn of the Key
by Ruth Ware begins with a young woman, Rowan Caine, about to stand trial for the murder of a child in her care. She writes to her lawyer from prison, proclaiming her innocence. But is she telling the truth? She isn’t exactly innocent as it turns out, but is she guilty of murder?

K.M. Rockwood
: Chesapeake Crimes: Magic is Murder. (Wildside Press, 2022) Amazon says: Mystery and magic collide in this thrilling, all-new collection of short stories by some of the top talents in the crime-writing field. Tales of fantasy worlds and stage illusion, of magic-users and magic-abusers, fill these pages with a heady, deadly mix! An anthology of sixteen short stories.

Molly MacRae: There are too many great mystery stories and novels with ghosts, witches, black cats, Halloween, and bumps-in-the-night written for adults for me to choose favorites – even if I limit the field to those by my Writers Who Kill blog-mates. But I don’t mind reverting to my library background in the children’s department at the public library where I had the pleasure of tending (haunting?) the children’s mystery section.

My favorite is . . . Dying to Meet You, Book #1 in the 43 Old Cemetery Road graphic epistolary mystery series for intermediate readers (ages 8-11), a collaborative effort by sisters Kate Klise (story) and M. Sarah Klise (illustrations).

The set-up: Cantankerous children’s mystery writer Ignatius B. Grumply moves into a Victorian mansion (complete with cupola) at 43 Old Cemetery Road hoping to have the peace and quiet he needs to crack a case of writer's block that’s been haunting him for far too long. But the house is already occupied by eleven-year-old Seymour Hope (who’s been abandoned by his parents), Seymour’s cat, Shadow, and Olive C. Spence, the irritable ghost of a never-published children’s mystery writer. No one is happy. To say the least. Then Seymour’s parents return with a dastardly plan to sell the mansion.


Told through letters, newspaper articles, a work-in-progress manuscript, and the occasional tombstone engraving, this book (the whole series) is the kind of kids’ mystery that grownups get a kick out of, too.


Readers – What’s your favorite bump in the night book?

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Happy National William Day by Kait Carson

Writers get inspiration from various sources. When I was casting around for a blog topic this month, I hit the dreaded idea block. Writer’s block is bad enough, but idea block…that’s when you look inside your mind and find—nothing. Not an idea in sight. Gulp. Now what? Rather than bask in fear and pretend I forgot my blog day, I pulled out my handy dandy calendar of holidays. Every day is devoted to at least one holiday, and often more than one. October 28th is no different. In fact, two dear-to-my-heart holidays are celebrated today. The first is National William Day; the second, National Chocolate Day. How to choose? Hum. I’ll think about it while I down a triangle of Toblerone.

 First, a word from our sponsor. Do you love Toblerone? Bet you’ve been eating it all wrong. Chocolate connoisseurs insist that the proper way to munch a bar is to push two triangles together, not pull them apart. Frankly, I don’t care. It tastes great no matter how you get your fix. Oh, and one other thing, by the end of this year, Toblerone is set to be made not in Switzerland but Slovakia, which explains the missing Alp on the package.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog. National William Day. I didn’t know the name William had a national day, but I’m quite pleased that it does. Last year my husband and I visited the Central Aroostook Humane Society. Hubs was looking for a dog. I wandered into the cat room. That’s where I found an alleged sixteen-year-old ginger tuxedo cat named William. I fell in love. Wee Willie came home with us that day.

The poor guy turned out to be very ill. The shelter workers thought it was a vaccine reaction. Instead, it was a serious infection, possibly congenital, that may have been triggered by the stress of finding himself in a shelter. With the help of our vet, he fought his way back from the brink and became the most loving cat who has ever owned me. William turned out to be an estimated six, not sixteen, years. He is my muse, my shadow, and my evening back warmer.

There’s more to William than merely being a survivor. Critters play a role in all of my stories, as they do in my life. Hayden Kent’s cat, Tiger, is based on Hutch. Catherine Swope’s cat, Paddy Whack, is based on Starlight. Catherine’s dog, Bullet, is aspirational. He’s the German shepherd I always wanted. Sassy Romano’s cat, Jellyroll, is based on Cub.

Critters in stories do more than imitate life. They humanize the characters and provide a touchstone for readers. You can rest assured that William will make an appearance in one of my books. Be on the lookout for a red and white tuxedo with a white splotch on his back that resembles a stylized Holt Howard cat.

 Happy National William Day, William!

Friday, October 27, 2023

Waiting by Nancy L. Eady

 Normally, these last two weeks in October, at least until the day of Halloween, is a time when I get to take a deep breath and relax before the insanity of the holiday season, which for me starts on Halloween and ends January 2. Alas, not so this year.

 I am not naturally organized. My husband swears there is no such thing as an organization gene, but I disagree. I put things down in random places, collect important papers in piles I mean to sort through some day and place multiple craft supplies, writing utensils and my computer out in the open within easy reach in case I get a yen to work with any of them. I need at least one cache of disorganization somewhere in my house to feel comfortable.  

 As of today, October 27, my house has been on the market for 21 days. The problem with having your house for sale is that it must stay in show-worthy condition. Open pockets of disorganization are frowned upon by real estate agents. The sheer neatness is driving me crazy.

 Every time someone looks at the house, we are supposed to move the dog beds and carriers out of the house into the garage in advance, on the theory that some people don’t like pets in the house and if they see accoutrements relating to pets, they will decide not to like the house. I’m thinking the big plastic bin of dog food in the kitchen might be a dead give-away, regardless of the dog beds, but maybe not.

 My daughter has the least enviable job. When a showing is imminent, her job is to load all three dogs in her car and drive around with them until the showing is over. It wouldn’t be such a bad job except that our oldest dog, Daisy, tends to get car sick on twisty backroads and my daughter loves driving on twisty backroads.

 I try to remind myself of all the the blessings to be thankful for while we go through this process—my husband has a new job, we have a house to sell, my firm will work with me once we move so I can continue to be employed by it, and we will buy a house in our new location once this house sells. That helps, as does my constant reminder to myself that I am selling a home, not a museum, so minor imperfections are okay. Meanwhile, I’ll console myself for the state of uncommon organization in my household with thoughts of the glorious chaos that will exist after we sell this house and move into the next one. Three weeks into that process, I expect I’ll look fondly back on this oasis of organization as a Golden Age.  

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Scams, Scoundrels, and Suckers by Connie Berry

"There's a sucker born every minute." P.T. Barnum is said to have coined the phrase, although there's no evidence he actually said it. Nevertheless, the statement is accurate. Human beings are prone to believe what they wish to be true.

Anyone old enough to remember the ad for Sea-Monkeys on the inside back cover of comic books? For a mere $1.25 (cash, check, or money order), you could own "a bowlfull [sic] of happiness." The ad featured human-like pink creatures with friendly smiles, tri-crowned head, and fish tails.

"Just ADD WATER!" we were promised. "In ONE SECOND your AMAZING Sea-Monkeys come to LIFE! Yes, they hatch instantly, right before your eyes! SO EAGER TO PLEASE, THEY CAN EVEN BE TRAINED." 

What kid could resist that? Not me. I sent off my five quarters in an envelope, and two weeks later, I received a packet of creepy flagellating organisms, in reality a form of miniscule brine shrimp, observable only through a magnifying glass. Not only were the critters strangely resistant to my training [deciding what I actually wanted them to do was my first problem], but they also promptly perished.

Harold von Braunhut, the entrepreneur who passed off brine shrimp as trainable pets, also patented X-Ray Spectacles; Amazing Hair-Raising Monsters, a card with a printed monster that would sprout hair-like mineral crystals when you added water; and Invisible Goldfish, imaginary fish guaranteed to remain permanently invisible (that one worked). 

The world of publishing has its Harold von Braunhuts as well, and they target aspiring writers. These scam artists promise to read your book, publish it, and sell it on Amazon, where it is sure to become the next best-seller. All for a fee, of course. Now to be clear, I am not talking about the reasonable fees charged by legitimate editors and reputable self-publishers who offer solid advice and provide quality services. I am talking about scammers and scoundrels who prey on naïve people who don't understand how publishing really works.

Several years ago, AARP The Magazine featured an article on vanity-publishing scams: "Five Self-Publishing Scams to Watch For." Their five warning signs are worth noting:


You know the kind of thing: "Share your story with the world! You could be the next break-out best seller!" Well, maybe you could, but if so, you don't need them.


"Your book will appear in every bookstore in America." Ha! What they mean is your book may be listed on a book distributor database, available only if requested. That's not the same thing as actually selling the book into stores. HUFFPOST (7/29/17) said, "Although results are not guaranteed, and will never in fact be realized, vanity presses imply:

            * That your book has the potential to find itself on a bestseller's list (($1,999 fee)

            * That Julia Roberts could one day play you in a movie ($3,999 fee)

            * That you could get exposure from major media outlets ($5,999 fee)." 


All-inclusive packages include editing, proofreading, printing, binding, distribution, publicity, and shipping. For an extra fee, they'll write a press release and email it to thousands of media outlets, where it will be promptly shunted into spam filters. The vanity publisher doesn't care. Their profit comes not from book sales but from the author. They can make as much money from a flop as a success.


Scam publishers typically sneak in clauses that sound good but actually deliver little and put all the risk on the author. For example, they may promise to deliver the books "in a timely manner," and yet they are not responsible for "circumstances beyond their control." Often the author is required to purchase a bunch of books in advance. Never sign a contract until you've taken legal advice. 


While an ISBN number (International Standard Book Number) is easy to purchase ($125 from the U.S. ISBN Agency at Bowker), and an author in the U.S. automatically owns the copyright to his or her work, scam artists try to convince you that you need them to navigate this "tricky and expensive process"—which proves to be expensive because you end up paying the real fee plus their often-extravagant "administrative costs."  

Other scams include fake "agents," who charge a reading and/or an editing fee, and fake writing contests that charge exorbitant entry fees and may require the "winners" to pay for their slab of acrylic and chicken dinner at the so-called "winners' banquet." 

Thankfully, there are websites out there to help writers spot scam artists. Here are a few good ones: Writer Beware, Predators & Editors, Publishing Central. 

Have you ever been targeted by a publishing scam? What cautions would you pass along to aspiring writers?

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

An Interview with Heather Weidner By E. B. Davis

Christmas has come to Fern Valley, and the town’s decked out with enough glitter and sparkle for a month’s worth of celebrations, each more over-the-top than the previous one. The idyllic setting, filled with laughter, carols, and sweet treats, is shattered, along with some of the decorations, when the current wife and the ex-wife of a big-cat showman have a knock-down, drag-out fight in the center of town. Jules Keene, owner of the Fern Valley Glamping Resort, tries to keep peace among her guests and with the town council, but it turns into a catastrophe when Tabbi Morris, winds up dead in one of her ex-husband’s tiger cages.

And if the murder wasn’t enough, Jules discovers that some of the big cats are missing, but the owner and his family insists that nothing is wrong.

Curiosity gets the best of her, and she has to solve the murder and figure out if the owner of Cal’s Cats is pussy-footing around or whether it’s something more sinister before it ruins the holiday season and her business.


The setting in Christmas Lights and Cat Fights by Heather Weidner plays a big role in bringing the season into the story. Main character Jules Keene’s camping resort of vintage trailers and little houses is dwarfed by evergreens in the Blue Ridge Mountain region of Western Virginia. Periodic snowfalls provide an element of cozy as do the seasonal meals and beverages.

Two unpleasant women vendors dominate the Christmas festival headed up by Jules. They are also guests at the campground and share a man, one, an ex, the other, the current wife. A fatal stabbing results in one becoming the victim and the other, the perpetrator, if only Jules could buy off on the logical and convenient explanation. But of course, she doesn’t.

Please welcome our own Heather Weidner to the flip side of WWK.                                                                                                                                                                    E. B. Davis

Jules was previously married to the “Idiot.” When did that occur? How old is Jules? Jules is in her mid-thirties. She married the Idiot right out of college and realized that he wasn’t the prince charming she thought he was. He’s a good-looking smooth talker who is always looking for a get-rich quick scheme. He shows up at the resort in one of the later books (much to Jules’s chagrin).

Forgive me for backtracking, Heather. This is the third book in your series, but the first book that I’ve read. How did Jules come to own the camping resort? Her parents owned a traditional campground that they bought in the 70s before she was born. After her divorce, she moved back home and put her interior design skills to good use and helped her father save vintage trailers from the dump. She turned them into luxurious accommodations, and it was just in time for the glamping craze.

Jules is the president of the town’s business council. Jules characterized her lead festival-committee person, Elaine James, another business owner, as a little prickly. And yet, it seems to me that Jules has delegated just about everything to Elaine. Jules provides oversight and an occasional hand. When it comes to organizational contact of placing vendors in the correct place, Jules lets Elaine take the lead, which leads to trouble. Wouldn’t Jules have had the same issues with the vendors if she had taken a more active role? I think so. That bunch of vendors was quite unique and opinionated. Conflict was destined to happen. In the earlier books, Jules took on most of the tasks, and her day job and volunteer work were wearing her out. By this story, she’s finally learned to delegate and supervise the great team of town volunteers.

Shouldn’t the cops have been called when the women had a physical fight? Probably, but it’s a small town, and Jules wasn’t sure if the two combatants would have waited for the sheriff or his deputies to arrive.

Does Jules’s boyfriend Jake Evans work for her? How long have they been together? Jake has worked at the campground since his teen years, so they’ve known each other for quite a while. He returned home to Fern Valley from two tours of duty, and it coincided with Jules’s divorce and return to town. He is the maintenance/security guy for the property, and he lives in one of the smaller cabins.

Jules’s aunt Roxanne is actually a wealthy woman. Why does she work at the resort? Her husband has passed away, and her son lives on the west coast. I think she likes the company. Working with Jules gives her something to do, and it helps her keep her finger on the pulse of what’s going on in Fern Valley. She is also protective of Jules, and she tries to help her with the business as much as she can.

Does the resort have a lodge with a restaurant? Jules actually has quite a few employees, doesn’t she? There is a lodge that’s Jules’s multi-purpose room for the resort. The mother and daughter duo of Mel and Crystal cater the breakfasts for guests. They also clean the campers and tiny houses. Jake is the maintenance/security guy, and Lester Branch is the landscaper who keeps the property in order. And of course, Bijou is her little Jack Russell Terrier who is the resort’s greeter and chief squirrel chaser.

How did the wild cats become part of the Christmas festival? Was Jules aware that animal rights activists could show up to protest? This was a head scratcher. How did the wild animals end up in the town’s holiday festival? When the call went out for vendors and parade participants, the owner of Cal’s Cats signed up. They didn’t quite fit the theme of the event, but their animals were a hit with the guests. (And they brought a lot of drama to Fern Valley.) I don’t think it ever occurred to Jules that animal rights groups would show up in town to protest, and it added one more thing for Elaine and her team to worry about.

Why do all of Jules’s trailers and little houses have themes? My husband rebuilds classic cars, and we watch a lot of the refurb shows on TV. I found one a few years back where a couple restored vintage trailers. After watching the show, I went online and looked through all the photos of how people decorated them. Many were done to match the era when they were originally manufactured. I thought it would be fun to theme each one on Jules’s property for something in pop culture. There’s an alien Area 51 one, an Elvis one, and a Lucy and Desi one. Then, when Jules and Jake started to add tiny houses to the results, I had her theme each one of them for an author and his or her works.

Who was L. Frank Baum? I am such a Wizard of Oz fan that I had to decorate one of the tiny houses for the writer. (And it plays prominently in the second book, Film Crews and Rendezvous.) He wrote the original children’s fantasy series. I saw the 1939 version of the movie and became an instant fan. It wasn’t until years later that I found the books.

Why is J. P. Gross Jules’s archrival on the council? He is the town’s grumpy Gus who wants to complain or foil anything the council does. In the first book, he runs against Jules for town council, and he’s still miffed that he didn’t win the election.

Two tiger cubs go missing, and Jules suspects that the cubs’ owner sold them. She finds evidence of the sale on her security tapes. What does Jules do? The owner of the big cats tries to gaslight her when she asks about the missing cubs. He pretends that she is mistaken when she knows she has photos of the four fluff balls. Upset at his insistence that she is wrong, she pokes around on her security tapes and finds proof that something hinky is going on.

Bijou is a Jack Russell terrier. Does she have a rough, broken or smooth coat? Smooth. She’s based on my little JRT, Disney. Disney and her brother Riley (from the same litter) rule our house and torment the hordes of chipmunks and squirrels in our yard. They are such a fun breed with such energy!

What’s next for Jules and Bijou? I just signed a contract with Level Best Books for books four through six, so I’m so excited that Jules, Jake, and Bijou will have more adventures in Deadlines and Valentines, Teddy Bears and Ghostly Lairs, and Dangerous Links and Hijinks.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Refresh Your Storytelling Using the Y Factor by Martha Reed

(But first, congratulations to Katherine who is our winner of Edith Maxwell's Murder Uncorked from Sunday's giveaway! Katherine, please check your email!)

Mid-October I had the very great pleasure of attending a Writer’s Retreat in Somerset, Pennsylvania with members of the Mary Roberts Rinehart Pittsburgh Sisters in Crime.

The Laurel Highlands was ablaze with fall color. Since I was a carpool passenger, I was able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the rolling back road country view. The AirBnB log cabin we rented was way up ‘back of beyond,’ with no near neighbors. We nicknamed the cabin “Cracker Barrel” for an obvious reason, but you couldn’t beat the scenery from one of the many comfortable rockers on the porch.

During the retreat I shared a presentation using the attendees as test subjects (e.g., captive audience guinea pigs.) Since their response was positive, I’ve decided to share my premise with the Writers Who Kill.

Story Construction Using the Y Factor

I believe telling tales is as old as humanity. Storytelling reaches out from our prehistoric past before evolving into familiar myths, legends, and epics. Some stories – like the Great Flood are so ancient we hear echoes of them from multiple and unrelated cultural sources.

[Sidebar: As we learn more about the other human family branches we shared our prehistory with, I also wonder if the cross-cultural tales of Bigfoot (Neanderthals/Denisovans) or the Fairies/Little People (Hobbits) have some basis in truth, but I digress.]

Our human brains are hard-wired to consider and react to unseen possibilities as a survival mechanism. Imagine a group of early humans sitting around a fire on the savannah when they hear a rustling in the brush. Is it a harmless gazelle settling in for the night or a prowling lion? Is it something we can safely ignore, or should we grab the kids and flee? Nowadays, we use our creative imaginations to develop modern life problem-solving solutions. The result may not be as exciting as being the entrée on the lion’s dinner menu, but our ancient hard-wired brain function is still active and in place.

And I believe this pre-existing hard-wired brain function is why we continue to be fascinated by and involved in solving mysteries.

Exploring the Y Factor

The human brain is a super-computer composed of many parts.

  • The left side takes hard data and thinks linearly – step by logical step to a solution. Think deduction, like Mr. Spock or Sherlock Holmes.
  • The right side is used for imaginative thinking. The Y factor is housed here. Right-side thinking imagines a solution ahead of solid data. It makes an intuitive leap to a solution like Lord Peter Wimsey.
  • Both sides are active and connected.
  • The frontal lobe is our conscious personality. It interacts with reality and our day-to-day events. To engage our active imagination, we need to still this voice. The frontal lobe is the reason Virginia Wolfe and Stephen King said writers need a room with a door.
  • The sub-cortex is the active subconscious that never sleeps. This is where the Y Factor magic happens. Have you ever gone to sleep facing a problem, and woke up with the right solution? Your sub-cortex kept working on it while you slept.
  • By working on your novel for at least one hour a day, you can train your sub-cortex to stay actively engaged with your story and in calculating a long-term solution. Your sub-cortex will know what the solution is, and then use your imagination to guide you to it as you write. (Trust the process).

Why Using Both Sides of Your Brain Works Best

  • A Plotter uses the left side of the brain to analyze the current existing situation to determine a solution.
  • A Pantser uses the right side of the brain to imagine a solution.
  • Alternating between linear structure and imaginative play will keep you engaged and your story lively.
  • I believe this may be an especially effective tool for authors who may have fallen into a habit of only using one type of storytelling due to publishing deadlines or series constraints.

Ready to Test the Y Factor?

Take 2 minutes and outline two new characters.

  • Imagine a conflict between your two characters.
  • How does your protagonist response to the conflict? Do you naturally follow a linear or imaginative glide path?
  • Now, instead of going with that initial response, pause and re-consider an alterative left brain/right brain suggestion. Even consider the opposite reaction.

Example: At a class reunion, your protagonist tenses up when she sees her old high school bully approaching.

Y Factor: Your protagonist was the high school bully.

Does your Y Factor alternative open new story possibilities and seem fresher?

As you draft your tale, pause, and consider using the Y Factor alternative at each key plot point. If you go with the new Y Factor suggestion, your sub-cortex will automatically recalculate the next plot point and the end solution. Surprising your readers with ongoing non-linear alternatives will refresh your imagination as the writer and hook your readers. It’s win-win.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Dictionaries by Nancy L. Eady

 Last week, I was writing a brief and wanted to use the definition of a particular word to prove a point. I don't quote from a dictionary with most briefs.  Judges give more weight to binding precedent, such as opinions from the appellate courts over them, than to definitions from a dictionary, even one as venerated as Black's Legal Dictionary But some words are so basic or have so many meanings that only a legal dictionary will do. If I’m lucky, the definition I want will be either the first or second definition. 

In my non-professional life, I use a regular dictionary.  While I have an extensive vocabulary, I still can encounter unfamiliar words. A few years ago, I looked up “crepuscular,” which occurs a few times in the Pern science fiction series written by Anne McCaffrey. It is an adjective, meaning “resembling or relating to twilight.” Soanes, Catherine & Stevenson, Angus, Oxford Dictionary of English, 2d Edition Revised (Oxford University Press, 2009). The sentence I read included the phrase “in the crepuscular light of dawn,” so it made sense.

I never really thought about the history of dictionaries. If asked, I had the vague idea that Noah Webster invented them, and most dictionaries in existence today, at least in America, are descended from his. I was wrong. According to Wikipedia—what, you expected me to do some type of serious research? — the first known dictionaries were written around 2300 B.C. on cuneiform tablets and were a sort of “Sumerian-Akkadian” word list, kind of like we might use an English-Spanish dictionary today. These word lists did not contain definitions, per se, but just showed the corresponding words in Sumerian and Akkadian, like listing “cat” next to “gato” on an English-Spanish word list.

Of course, that world view of dictionaries did not fit in well with the existence of the Oxford English Dictionary, an ongoing massive effort to provide the “meaning, history and usage of over 500,000 words and phrases across the English-speaking world.”   https://www.oed.com/?tl=true.  For a few years, I received emails with the OED “word of the day,” which was a great tool for expanding my vocabulary, but for some reason, I stopped getting them.  If you need to use the OED, many libraries have a subscription. If you are a really motivated lexicographer, you can buy your own subscription.  As of today, a personal annual subscription to the OED is $ 29.95 a month, or $100 a year. 

People who write dictionaries are called “lexicographers.” They have their work cut out for them. Can you imagine trying to describe the definition of such everyday words as “go,” “at” or “the”? In my limited experience, the longer the word, the more descriptive it is, such as “crepuscular” versus “dim light,” but the more likely it is that the reader won’t know the word, either, which pulls them out of the story. Tracing the history (“etymology”) of a word takes a lot of work, too. Again according to Wikipedia, Noah Webster learned 26 languages, among them Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Old English, and Arabic, to help him evaluate words’ etymologies.

So, while we authors play with our words, let’s give a shout out to the lexicographers of the English language who accomplish the arduous task of defining the words with which we play.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Guest Post with Edith Maxwell

 Poison? Coming Right Up 

Thanks so much, Annette, for inviting me back to Writers Who Kill. That’s truly the best blog name for a group of mayhem-minded murder mavens. 

I’m so excited about Tuesday’s launch of Murder Uncorked, which is Cece Barton’s first full-length adventure. She’s managing a wine bar in the town where her twin sister and twin nephews live. Cece has bought herself a cottage, established a garden, and made friends with gardener and wise old man Richard next door (who is inspired by my favorite and still-thriving uncle Dick Reinhardt, now age 97).

But then a guy Cece has had unpleasant dealings with turns up dead, apparently not from natural causes.

Cece had already helped solve a murder in “Murderous Mittens,” my novella in the Christmas Mittens Murder collection. 

A quiet Christmas in Colinas, California, at her twin sister’s charming B&B is exactly what Cece Barton needs during the holiday hustle of Los Angeles. But the morning after a lovely evening at the local wine bar, Cece learns that the bar’s proprietor, who sells mittens in her spare time, has been found dead. With her horrified twin one of the main suspects, can Cece unmask the merry murderer before this becomes a holiday from hell? 

And then, well, the job of wine bar manager is open. Allie asks Cece, “Don’t you want to apply for the job and live in the same town as we do?” Cece adores her nephews and is close to Allie and her husband. It doesn’t take much to say “Yes.” 

The murder weapon in the novella had to have something to do with mittens, which was mandated by my editor. For the book, it was my choice how to kill the victim. 

I keep a running list of murder weapons I’ve used in previous books and stories. Garroting? Check. Same with sharpened knitting needles, malnourished pigs, a push off a cliff, giving someone, who is deathly allergic to seafood, broth made from…seafood. I’m writing my thirty-seventh novel and am weirdly proud to say I’ve never (fictionally) shot anyone. 

Still, poisons are my weapon of choice. But how to pick one? As I often do, I hauled out my collection of poison books.

I consulted my notes from several talks by the Poison Lady, aka Texas pharmacologist Luci Zahray. Many are the choices. Luci has lectured on commonly available drugs – Tylenol and alcohol are a deadly combo, for example. Tropical botanical toxins can come from plants or frogs. 

This book takes place north of San Francisco. I started thinking of poison plants that might grow in the area. Because I’m a native Californian, I remembered several plants native to the Golden State that can be deadly if ingested. I dug a little deeper and made my decision.

If you recognize those seed pods, keep it to yourself! No spoilers, please. 

Readers: What’s your experience with wine bars? Northern California? I’d love to send one US reader a signed copy of Murder Uncorked (ebook to commenters outside the US). 

As the manager of Vino y Vida Wine Bar in Colinas, Cecelia “Cece” Barton’s first Alexander Valley harvest is a whirlwind of activity. Her twin sister, Allie Halstead, who owns a nearby Victorian bed & breakfast, is accustomed to the hustle and bustle of peak tourist season. But Cece barely has a moment to enjoy her new home while juggling her responsibilities at the bar and navigating the sticky politics of the local wine association. Just when it seems things can’t grow any more intense, Colinas is rocked by a murder within the wine community . . . and Cece is identified as a possible suspect.

With her reputation and her livelihood on the line—and the Sonoma County deputy sheriff breathing down her neck—Cece has no choice but to uncork her own murder investigation. Tensions are already high in the valley, as a massive wildfire creeps toward Colinas, threatening homes, vineyards, and the vital tourist trade. And now, with a murderer on the loose, and Cece’s sleuthing exposing the valley’s bitterest old rivalries and secret new alliances, Colinas feels ready to pop. But with Allie’s help, Cece is determined to catch the killer and clear her name before everything she’s worked so hard for goes up in flames.


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