Sunday, June 23, 2024

Taking the Stage by Annette Dashofy

As writers, we spend most of our time in solitude, our characters’ words bouncing inside our heads and (if we’re lucky) pouring from our fingers onto the page. Occasionally, we may gather for writing group meetings in person or on Zoom. And we have social media and blogs to get an idea of what each other is writing. Rarely do we stand in front of an audience to read our stories out loud (unless we’re lucky enough to have a book released and are invited to speak at a bookstore or library). 

Even more rare are the opportunities to join with a group of fellow authors and not only read to them but also get to listen to them read to us. 

Last weekend, my Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime held what has become an annual event. It started as a reading salon several years ago. Then the pandemic hit and…well…you know. 

A year ago, we decided to revive the salon. Other cities held similar events and called them Noir at the Bar held, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, at a bar. Let’s try that, I thought. Susan Thibadeau, an award-winning short story author and a good friend, took up the challenge. The problem came when we couldn’t find a local bar that was suitable. They either weren’t interested (fools) or charged too much (have they not heard the term “struggling artist?”) or the setting was too noisy. We ended up in the meeting room of a large library and called it Noir NOT at the Bar. It was fun, but not quite what we envisioned. 


This year, we tried again. Martha Reed had returned to the Burgh and graciously agreed to work with Susan on the project as well as be our emcee. They chose the Word Cellar at City of Asylum’s Alphabet City as our venue. Although a previous salon had been held there, I wasn’t able to attend that one, so it was a new and wonderful location to me. With a small dining area on the main floor (we were in the basement, hence Word Cellar) that served adult beverages, we dubbed our program Noir Under the Bar. 

Award-winning Pittsburgh author
Kathleen George shares from new book

We had fourteen authors ranging from multi-published to pre-published give eight-to-ten-minute readings from their works. There was poetry, short stories, samples from works-in-progress, and scenes from already published novels. There were spy thrillers, suspense, police procedurals, detectives, historicals, young adult, and cozies. And a few that defy pigeon-holes. 

As one of those who took the stage, I can attest just how scary it can be to put yourself and your story on display like that. Ordinarily, we put our words out into the world for readers to sit quietly and absorb. But here, we had to speak! We had to choke back our nerves and give voice to our characters and stories.

Emcee Martha Reed gives a fun
reading from Up Jumped the Devil

As a member of the audience as well, I have to tell you, there is some serious talent in Pittsburgh.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s reading salon (no matter what we call it). And I have to recommend that you attend a Noir at the Bar if one comes to your town. 

Have you ever participated in or attended a group reading? If you have, share a little about your experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Writing Aids and Other Mythical Objects by Kait Carson

 First, an announcement. The second draft edits for No Return are complete. It is entirely possible that this book may see the light of day in 2024. I know. You’re right to be skeptical. But an author can hope. I wanted to share that bit of information with you since you’ve been through the strum und drang of the past year or more of writing woes with me. We now return to our regularly scheduled blog.

Over the past year, I’ve realized that writing is like exercising. If you don’t continually use and challenge the muscles, they get flabby and weak. I’ve had sentences like that. And I may have just written one. Never mind. Bear with me. That’s part of the reason why this book has taken so long to write. I was out of practice. The second reason is simpler. I was afraid I had forgotten how to write. To accommodate that fear, I spent a lot of time casting around looking for systems and aids. Foolish? Maybe. And if you think most of them are bogus, I wouldn’t contradict you. There are some, however, that worked for me, and one debuted this morning. I’m looking forward to making use of it.

I won’t discuss the mythical objects. That wouldn’t be fair, as what works for one is not necessarily effective for others. There were, however, two programs that I fell in love with:

Fictionary. Yes, it uses AI. I refuse to use any AI program to generate words, but to help point out structural flaws. I’m all over it. Let me confess, I am a visual learner. Give me pictures, charts, or my very favorite thing, lists, and I’m happy. Fictionary has these and more. When I began writing, I learned the value of a spreadsheet for keeping track of details. The program offers that in a sidebar next to each chapter. It also asks plot and flow questions and generates charts with the information you provide. Wonderful stuff for a pantser like myself who writes out of sequence.

The newest arrow in the Fictionary quiver is the tension and conflict report. This is an AI analysis of the scene that studies the scene goal, the consequences of failure, and whether the tension and conflict support the goal. When it came to editing, it was a game changer. There were times I disagreed with the results, and times it was flat out wrong, but there were also times it brought a weakness in the scene to my attention. There’s an adage in writing. Kill your darlings. The weaknesses I found were often my darlings. Tears were shed, but the story improved.


ProWritingAid. ProWritingAid has long been in my personal arsenal. It’s an AI based program that suggests editorial improvements. I especially appreciate its comma suggestion capability because high school comma classes apparently put me in an unresponsive coma and I now have a terminal mental block about correct usage. Today ProWritingAid unveiled a new feature. The program integrates with other programs, including Scrivener. In the past, my habit has been to write a scene and run it through ProWritingAid. It worked well, but it was time consuming. With the new integration, ProWritingAid suggestions are available in Scrivener. I have full control over when or if I see them. It’s a fabulous timesaver. Write once, edit, move on.

Neither of these programs will write your story for you. Nor will they take away the creative edge. Fictionary was developed by a writer who codified the system that she used and that other writers had found valuable. They also offer excellent customer service, so you are never writing alone. Between Fictionary and ProWritingAid, I’ve found a system that works for me.

Kait Carson writes the Hayden Kent Mysteries set in the Fabulous Florida Keys and is at work on a new mystery set in her adopted state of Maine. She is a former President of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime and currently serves as a Member at Large. Visit her website at www.kaitcarson.com. While you’re there, sign up for her newsletter. 

Friday, June 21, 2024

Bibliophilic Friday: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Review by Nancy L. Eady)

 A Study in Scarlet was published on December 1, 1887, and was the first appearance on the literary scene of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. James Watson.  Originally, the book was off to a slow start, but it experienced increasing popularity once the Sherlock Holmes/James Watson short stories in the Strand magazine became wildly popular in 1891 and 1892 on both sides of the Atlantic.  

The book, narrated by Dr. Watson, has two halves.  In the first half of the book, the reader learns how Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes became acquainted and then became co-residents at 221 B Baker Street.  +While they are getting to know each other, Dr. Watson learns that Sherlock Holmes is a genius at deductions and is the world’s first consulting detective.  As part of this initiation into Holmes’ life, he travels with Holmes to the scene of the murder.  Two Scotland Yard inspectors, Gregson and LeStrade, are working on the case.  The reader then follows Holmes’ through his investigation of the murder, which leads to the capture of the killer at the end of the first half of the book.  The second half of the book begins decades earlier in Utah and tells the story of John and Lucy Ferrier.  It is not until midway through the second half of the book that the reader realizes that the story being told is the story of the murderer and of his motivation for the murder.  It is only after the murderer is taken to jail that Holmes explains to Watson how he deduced the murderer’s identity.  Watson also decides, upon learning that the two Scotland Yard Inspectors have taken full credit for the arrest, to begin chronicling Holmes adventures so they can be published, and Holmes receive the full credit he deserves. 

The Sherlock Holmes stories, both novels and short stories, are great favorites of mine, and I enjoyed this first novel as much as I have enjoyed the others.  The only jarring moment in the novel is the opening of the second half, where I was left wondering the first time I read the book how on earth we got from London to Utah and what had happened to Watson and Holmes.  It was not, however, jarring enough to stop my reading.  

I would caution you that if you are sensitive to how Mormonism is portrayed as a religion, parts of this book will offend you.  Other than that, though, if you haven’t yet tried the Sherlock Holmes stories, give this book a try (or any of the others, for that matter.)  

Interesting fact:  This book was banned from the 6th grade required reading list by the Albemarle County School Board in Virginia in August 2011 because parents and students complained that the book was derogatory towards Mormons.  Albemarle County instead moved the book to the tenth grade reading list.  It also left the book in its school media centers for all grades.    


Thursday, June 20, 2024

Writing More than One Series At a Time by Marilyn Levinson

For years I marveled at how so many authors I know managed to write more than one series at a time. I have friends who write three cozy series. How? I wondered. Don't you get your plots mixed up? Call your characters by the wrong name? A few told me they finished one book, then wrote another. But some, because of their contracts, ended up writing at least two books simultaneously. How did they do it?

Eventually, I found out when I was in a similar situation. My agent, now deceased, got me a four-book deal for a middle-grade series. The first book had been published; the second book was written and about to be released when the publisher went kaput. I'd even written two-thirds of the third book, Rufus and the Dark Side of Magic, so I hadn't much farther to go.

Meanwhile, I'd been writing an 80,000 plus word cozy mystery every year. This year I was writing the first book in a brand-new series that required a good deal of planning. I had to finish Rufus and the Dark Side of Magic. Now I had two books due within a few months of each other. I felt a surge of panic. What to do? What to do?

First off, I went over my Rufus book, made sure it was in good shape, and plotted out the final third which includes a lot of conflict. Then I concentrated on Death on Dickens Island, my first Dickens Island mystery, and its complications. I told myself I'd try to write a little more than I had been each day. But as the due date for my Rufus book was fast approaching, I now had to write pages for both books. I wasn't sure if I could manage this.

I reminded myself that I read and listened to several books at the same time. I'd been doing this for years and never got the stories mixed up. Hopefully, this ability would work when I wrote my books as well. I discovered that going over the pages I'd written the day before helped get me into my work In progress. When I was writing my cozy, I was in the head of a thirty-eight year old divorcée who often didn't know how to deal with her teenaged son because she'd left him in the care of her parents for twelve years. Next, I was writing about ten-year-old Rufus who'd been lured to the dark side of magic by his evil uncle. Because the books are so different, I had no trouble going from one manuscript to the other.

I am managing to write two series simultaneously, though there are days I only write pages for one of my WIPs. The truth is I prefer writing one book at a time because other writerly "homework" always crops up in the form of edits for a previously-written book, blogs, newsletters, and answering interview questions. 

If you are a writer, are you comfortable writing more than one book at a time?


Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Creativity Beyond Writing


 Creativity Beyond Writing

Artistic types, like writers, often don’t limit their talents to one form of art. We thought it would be interesting to tell you how else we let your creativity play or simply let off steam.

K.M. Rockwood - I’m afraid I’m not particularly creative. When my fingers were more nimble, I liked to design & stick embroidery projects, but I don’t any more. I let off steam with aquatics exercise classes and walks on wooded trails near where I live.

E.B. Davis - I cook, imagining the end result and then creating dishes from scratch.

Kait Carson - Crochet, throw pottery, and one of these days, I’ll get back to drawing.

Martha Reed - I’ve tried my hand at painting. To let off steam I go for an hour walk every day while I listen to disco music on my earbuds. I’ve been seen busting some moves down the sidewalk but the neighbors know I’m a writer so they cut me some slack. 

Lisa Malice - I am a virtuoso whistler. Sometimes, while in the shower, I whistle up my own tunes, melodies with a style that seem to reflect my love of movie musicals. 

Nancy Eady - I like to knit, cross-stitch, draw and paint when I can.  A lot of days I decompress by playing match-3 games on the computer like Candy Crush.  Probably I do that too much. 

Shari Randall - I spend a lot of time wishing I was as talented as many of my friends in the fiber arts (looking at Linda Rodriguez and Ellen Byron) but my hands just won't cooperate! My main hobby right now is Pilates and yoga, which are also great for letting off steam. I adore dance, but my hubby's too busy for ballroom dance classes right now. Maybe someday I'll get to take that tango class I've dreamed of.

James M. Jackson - I'm a decent wildlife photographer (particularly birds), and I've composed choral music.

Connie Berry - I love intricate craft projects like sewing and knitting. Wish I had time to indulge. I let off steam by reading (spending time in another time and place).

Sarah Burr - I loved designing digital art, which has come in super handy as an author. I design all my promotional materials; nothing is more therapeutic than diving into Canva and creating images for my books. It helps me unwind, but it also helps me think about my characters and the world they inhabit. I also love to play video games to turn off my mind completely.

Molly MacRae - Cooking and making handmade books, but never cooking my or anyone else’s books.

Grace Topping - Like my home staging character, I enjoy home decorating and helping friends stage their homes. To let off steam, I listen to audiobooks, especially at night when I can’t sleep. 

Debra H. Goldstein – Reading always. Seeing Broadway musicals whenever I can.

Lori Roberts Herbst - Cross stitch is a favorite hobby of mine. I also enjoy passive forms art, such as attending plays, musicals, and movies. Letting off steam involves a long walk or immersing myself in my reading.

Annette Dashofy - I used to quilt, but I can’t see well enough up close anymore to make those little stitches. For letting off steam and for cardio, I like to dance. I’m really bad at it, but I only do it when no one else is home.

Heather Weidner - I used to be a rapid scrapbooker, but times and technologies have changed. I create most of my photo albums online now and have them printed. I do like to try different craft projects. I love making holiday ornaments. I dabble mostly. I don’t really have a go-to medium. But I do have a craft room full of all kinds of supplies for whatever project is next. During the Pandemic, book blogger Kristopher Zgorski turned me onto diamond dot painting. It was so much fun, and it reminded me of the old paint-by-numbers with tiny beads. 

Korina Moss - I like word games, logic puzzles, and jigsaw puzzles. It’s satisfying to solve any kind of riddle. 

Marilyn Levinson - I knit, often creating my own patterns; I'm a good cook. I relax by doing Sudoku puzzles.

Margaret Hamilton - I find creativity in garden photography. I do my best plotting walking the dogs, weeding, and swimming laps.










 




Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Benefit of a Second View

 by Paula Gail Benson

I enjoyed watching The Devil Wears Prada when it was released in 2006. I even used the title for a Halloween party ensemble: my suit from work with a devil horn headband and a small, extremely low priced ($25) Prada bag (likely a knock off) I found at a consignment store. The Prada emblem was so small I had to explain my costume to everyone all evening.


A week ago, I had the opportunity to view the movie again. I was impressed by how quickly the story opened at the precise moment the protagonist (Andy) begins her journey. She’s just graduated from college and needs a job. No paper has offered her employment as a writer, so she becomes an intern for Runway, a sleek, high-brow fashion magazine—a subject about which she knows little.


I admired the pacing as the story unfolded: Andy’s path is strewn with pitfalls. She doesn’t understand the industry or the relevance of certain decisions. She is belittled and insulted by her demanding boss and insufferable co-worker. She finds a mentor, of sorts, in the magazine’s art director, who helps her find appropriate clothes.


Then, rather than letting all the negativity defeat her, Andy does what any admirable underdog heroine would do: she becomes determined to play the game as well or better than her opponents think her capable. She will win, despite the odds, and appear capable and carefree in getting there.


A great deal of the charm of the movie is watching Andy navigate the obstacles as she becomes more fashion savvy. Of course, her new knowledge and single-mindedness to prove herself as worthy to the magazine’s fiendish editor ends up ostracizing her from her boyfriend and social circle. Ultimately, as she sees her mentor’s loyalty to the editor repaid by deception and betrayal, she realizes that she needs to reevaluate her priorities.


In the end, she leaves Runwayreconciles with her boyfriend, and has a successful interview for a new job. Her future employer receives a recommendation from Runway’s editor describing Andy as “her biggest disappointment” but saying the employer would be an idiot not to hire Andy.


The story still captivates me, not only for its message, but also its structure. I want to read Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 debut novel upon which it was based to see how closely the book was followed and what changes were made in the screenplay.


I also want to watch the movie again, to learn more about how it crafted and sustained the seemingly effortless pace. I hope that’s a skill I can apply to my own work.


Has the second viewing of a movie or reading of a book ever made you want to understand more about how it was structured? Has studying a favorite movie or book led you to greater insight about writing?

Monday, June 17, 2024

I'm Not a Magician!

I’m Not a Magician! by Debra H. Goldstein



Recently, I shared a phone conversation with a fellow author who was upset because a reader had left a bad one-star review on Goodreads. The review faulted her cover, the beginning of the story, and the fact that there wasn’t a murder in the first chapter. There was a death in the second chapter, but this reader closed the book before reaching that chapter. My friend acknowledged that the reader’s failure to go beyond the first chapter, but willingness to leave a negative review, had my friend dismayed at having failed her reader and having her star count impacted. 

A few hours after the phone call, I went to get a haircut. While there, I noticed a sign posted in the next hairdresser’s station. It read: “I’m a Beautician, not a Magician.” It made me chuckle.

Later, I thought about that sign in reference to being an author. It might be rewritten as “I’m a Writer, not a Magician.” As a writer, I weave words together to create a plot and characters that I hope will engage readers. I try to write the most cohesive and enjoyable book that I can. My goal is for readers to have fun while escaping into a new world from the one they normally live in. Based upon reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and in periodicals, I usually succeed; however, there are exceptions. When the few negative reviews are posted, I can be lost in the weeds for days and weeks like my friend, or I can remember, “I’m a Writer, not a Magician.” 

Authors do you agree? Readers, do you cut us slack or do we need to be magicians?


Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Cozy Father Figure by Sarah E. Burr

Hello, dear readers. Happy Father’s Day! I’m here again with my dad-themed post for the year. Since joining Writers Who Kill, I’ve shared with you memories of my dad reading me stories at bedtime, as well as my favorite literary fathers. For this year’s post, I wanted to examine the presence of dads in my own books.

I’ll never forget how jokingly dismayed my mom and dad were when I killed off Duchess Jacqueline's parents in my debut work, The Ducal Detective. However, just because they are not physically with Jax doesn’t mean Duke Richard and Duchess Amarilys don’t play a huge role in their daughter’s development. Specifically, Duke Richard; he was Jax’s predecessor as ruling sovereign. Throughout the Court of Mystery series, readers have learned about Duke Richard’s kindness and compassion, but they’ve also seen Jax come to terms with the fact that her father wasn’t an infallible leader. Yet, she uses the lessons her father taught her about protecting their people to guide her homeland toward a better future, showing how lasting Duke Richard’s legacy is.

In the Trending Topic Mysteries, influencer and entrepreneur Coco Cline enjoys a wonderful relationship with her father. I think about all the support my dad has given me over the years, and similarly, Coco’s dad, Simon Cline, is always cheering her on (even though he has no idea what a “social media influencer” really is). He’s always there to lend an ear or let Coco pick his brain about the goings-on around town. And while he isn’t thrilled his daughter keeps putting herself in danger, he’s wise enough to know he can’t stop Coco from being Coco.

In contrast, Winnie Lark, the protagonist of my Book Blogger Mysteries, has the most complicated father-daughter relationship among my leading ladies. Winnie grew up idolizing her father, children’s book author Lyle Lark. However, due to her twin brother becoming a Hollywood superstar, Winnie has always felt a bit invisible within her family. She yearns for her father’s approval and respect, yet she’s too afraid to reveal she’s the person behind the famous book blog, What Spine is Yours. Thus, she resents how her father makes her feel less important than her brother despite the fact she still deeply loves him.

And lastly, there is candlemaker Hazel Wickbury of the Glenmyre Whim Mysteries. Poor Hazel has never even known her father. Leopold Wickbury is a mysterious figure in the series, and with Flying Off the Candle being released this past Tuesday, I figured I’d share an excerpt with you that enlightens readers about Hazel’s dad. Enjoy!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Flying Off the Candle, Book Three in the Glenmyre Whim Mysteries

(Excerpt from Chapter 11)

 

With my coworkers gone for the day and no clients to tend to, time continued to drag on. I loved making all kinds of candles for my customers to enjoy, but manning the sales floor was my least favorite part of being a small business owner.

I decided to use this downtime to do more online research about Marjorie. I scoured her social media for any signs of her mystery visitor but found nothing. Like Lauren had alluded to, Marjorie hadn’t posted anything new in several weeks. She’d reposted content from other authors, but that was it.

“Bummer.” I cast another desperate look toward the clock. Why wouldn’t it move?

The fancy, Victorian pendulum clock may have looked a bit out of place in my shop, but it was the one piece of my dad I had left. My father, Leopold Wickbury, was a mystery I had yet to solve.

Leo and my mom, Iris Glenmyre, had fallen madly in love when he’d come to Crucible to conduct research. Researching what, Mom never knew. He always teased her that it was “top secret.” Yet, during their whirlwind romance, Leo came across something requiring further investigation and told Mom that he needed to leave town to check it out. He promised he’d return to begin the life they’d planned together, so Mom simply waited. And waited. By the time Mom realized she was pregnant with me, Leopold Wickbury had all but vanished into thin air.

I stared at my dad’s clock, the one possession he’d left behind, my mind a sudden storm of mixed emotions. Despite the anger I harbored over Leo deserting Mom without a word, I liked to believe that by hanging the clock on my store’s wall, my dad was somehow watching over me. I had no idea if he had abandoned Mom out of malice or cowardice, or whether he’d been met with some horrible fate. Even with the wonders of technology, I’d found no trace of him. It was as if Leopold Wickbury had never existed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So, as you can see, there’s a mystery within Hazel’s own past that she’s yet to solve. What are some father-child relationships you’ve enjoyed in literature?

 

Ready to read more? Flying Off the Candle is available in eBook, audiobook, and paperback.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Gathering around a Campfire of Writers

The difference between aloneness and loneliness

From Brownie to Senior First Class, my years as a Girl Scout enriched my life and helped me grow in so many ways. I loved our sense of camaraderie as we sat around a campfire sharing spooky stories. Laughing with new friends, learning new skills, teaching others mine, Girl Scouts expanded my world.

As ‘grown-ups’ working at home on our latest manuscripts, we need to be alone. We ponder, we stare out a window, we write a scene, then sneak off to toss another load of laundry into the dryer. Writing encourages us to hide away, to be alone.

When I Googled the word ‘aloneness’, the word ‘loneliness’ popped up next to it. Aloneness is defined as a good thing. It means you choose to be alone and enjoy it. Often we feel happy and panicked about our writing at the same time.

In my journey to getting my first book in the Chesapeake Bay Mystery Series written, an agent obtained, a publisher’s contract signed, loneliness crept in. I was cautious about telling corporate coworkers my aspirations. It was easy to fall into the loneliness trap. Loneliness is rarely a good feeling. Loneliness is the feeling most of us have when we want to connect with someone and no one is around to connect with. I always enjoy meeting people and I know interactions in different settings helps my writing. Opportunities to observe new settings and types of people adds depth and interest to my books. After all, mysteries are about internal and external thoughts, differences, and conflicts.

About five years ago, I joined my local Chesapeake ‘Chessie’ Chapter of Sisters in Crime. A year later, I joined the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Oh, how I wish I’d met these organizations sooner!

Our Chessie Chapter holds a Zoom meeting an hour each day. Faces change from one day to another because of other commitments. It’s flexible and helps us get to know other authors, discuss projects, webinars, successes and failures.

Writing groups remind me of the smell of a campfire, the burned tongue from smores, the laughter from silly jokes. They remind me to recognize the difference between aloneness and loneliness.

Do you have your own campfire blazing? I’d love to hear how it helps you write. 

Judy L Murray is the award-winning author of the Chesapeake Bay Mystery Series. Find her at www.judylmurraymysteries.com

Friday, June 14, 2024

 

Amateur Sleuths and Their Jobs by Heather Weidner

I write cozy mysteries where the protagonists are amateur sleuths. These everyday people have jobs and lives, and somehow, they get entangled in a mystery. When I started my series, I had to find a job for each of my characters. I needed positions that gave them the freedom to investigate. They couldn’t be tied to a desk job without the ability to sneak away to do some research. In each case, I made my sleuths business owners who had help running their organizations. This gave them the freedom to leave at odd hours to pursue clues and killers. I also needed them to have jobs where they would be exposed to a lot of people to ensure a large enough pool of suspects for each mystery.

Giving them unique jobs, offered me the opportunity to research interesting careers and to search for ways to fit them into my fictional towns. In the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries, the protagonist owns a camping resort where she has restored vintage trailers for glamping (glamorous camping) experiences for her guests. In the Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries, Jade Hicks owns a Christmas store in a quaint beach town. In the Pearly Girls Mysteries, Cassidy Jamison is an event planner who owns a property with a serenity garden, amphitheater, a converted barn, and a cave in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I polled my Writers Who Kill friends, and here are some of the jobs their sleuths hold.

James M. Jackson: Seamus McCree, from the Seamus McCree series, is a financial crimes consultant.

Sarah E. Burr: Coco Cline, from the Trending Topic Series, is a social media influencer and online marketing consultant. Winnie Lark, from the Book Blogger Mysteries, is a book blogger and web designer. Hazel Wickbury, from the Whim Mysteries, is a candlemaker and shop owner.

Grace Topping: Laura Bishop, from the Laura Bishop Mystery series, is a professional home stager.

Marilyn Levinson (Allison Brook): Carrie Singleton, of the Haunted Library series, is the Head of Programs and Events of the Clover Ridge Library.

Kait Carson: Hayden Kent is the protagonist of the Hayden Kent Mysteries, and she’s a Florida paralegal and insurance investigator in training. Sassy Romano is the protagonist of the Maine Lodge Mysteries, and she’s the owner/operator of a Maine lodge/artist colony. 

Judy L. Murray: Helen Morrisey in the Chesapeake Bay Mystery series is a real estate broker.

Lori Roberts Herbst: In the Callie Cassidy Mysteries, Callie is a former investigative photojournalist and a current photo gallery owner.

Nancy Eady: In the Webster County Mysteries, Penny Davis and Boyd Firth, are attorneys at the same firm.  

Connie Berry: In the Kate Hamilton Mysteries, set in the UK, my amateur sleuth is an antiques dealer and appraiser.

Debra H. Goldstein: In the Sarah Blair mystery series, Sarah is a law firm receptionist/secretary.

Margaret Hamilton: In the Jericho Mysteries, Lizzie Christopher is a design shop manager, Lavender Cottage Interiors and project manager, and Jericho College faculty housing renovator.

Shari Randall (Meri Allen): Meri Allen's Ice Cream Shop series has Riley Rhodes, manager of an ice cream shop called Udderly Delicious. In Shari Randall's Lobster Shack series, Allegra "Allie" Larkin is an injured ballerina who works at her aunt's Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack.

Susan Van Kirk: The sleuth in the Art Center Mysteries is Jill Madison, executive director of an art center named for her sculptor mother. In the Endurance series, Grace Kimball is a retired high school English teacher and now proprietor of a bed-and-breakfast.

K. M. Rockwood: In the Jesse Damon crime novel series, Jesse, who is on parole after a murder conviction, is a laborer/forklift driver on the overnight shift at a steel fabrication factory.

Molly MacRae: In the Haunted Shell Shop Mysteries, Maureen Nash is a malacologist and storyteller. In the Highland Bookshop Mysteries (a sleuthing team of four) Janet Marsh is a retired librarian, Christine Robinson is a retired school social worker, Tallie Marsh is a former lawyer, and Summer Jacobs is a former newspaperwoman. All four now own and run a bookshop and café. In the Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries, Kath Rutledge is a textile preservation specialist who now owns and runs a fiber and fabric shop.

We have an eclectic mix of interesting careers with skills and access to information that are a must for amateur detectives.

What type of job would you like to see a sleuth hold?

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Ellen Crosby's Dodge and Burn

 

By Margaret S. Hamilton

 


‘There’s one I especially remember,’ I said. ‘It was exquisite, the Virgin of Vladimir. * The frame was gold and silver—beautiful, intricate carving—encrusted with rubies and sapphires and emeralds…Maybe twelve by sixteen inches’…

 

 ‘It came from a small Orthodox church outside Kiev,’ he said. ‘It’s been missing since the beginning of the war. The icon probably dates to the thirteenth century. It was a gift to the church from Peter the Great, though originally it came from Constantinople. Not long after it was installed in the church, people who came to pray before it started believing the Virgin and Child were responsible for certain miracles. People were healed from life-threatening illnesses, wounds were cured, a cancer diagnosis suddenly went away.’ (p.97)

 



Modern reproduction of the Virgin of Vladimir

Ellen Crosby’s intrepid photojournalist sleuth, Sophie Medina, has returned in Dodge and Burn, the fourth book in the series. Sophie spots the famous icon hidden in a vault of a photography client’s home and tells her newly discovered half-brother Danny. She later discovers her client dead and the icon missing.

 

The police consider Sophie a person of interest. Sophie wonders if her half-brother is involved in either the theft or the murder. The victim was a well-known art collector and benefactor. Danny works for an organization locating stolen works of art and “facilitating” a return to their rightful owners.

 

In Dodge and Burn, Sophie teeters on a tightrope of legal and ethical dilemmas. The Virgin of Vladimir was stolen from a Ukrainian church and should be repatriated. But not while the war continues. The murder victim had a sizeable art collection of dubious provenances. Had the art collector knowingly purchased stolen works of art? Would loaning them to public museums for display justify the collector’s actions? Would it provide authentication for artwork of unknown origin?

 

As Sophie plunges deeper into a morass of lies and deceptions, some of her closest friends come to her aid—several journalists and her Jesuit confidant, Father Jack O’Hara. Other friends help her identify the murderer and with police assistance, arrest him.

 


The plot was a bit jumbled, but I enjoyed Crosby’s well-researched settings during the Washington, D.C. cherry blossom season, especially the restaurants. In this book, we learn more about Sophie’s mother and her first marriage to Sophie’s late father, a Real Madrid soccer player. Sophie consults a fictionalized version of a database listing stolen art worldwide, seeking information about Ukrainian icons stolen during the 2022 Russian invasion. **

 


Sophie Media is approaching forty, widowed, with sufficient means to support her photography for outreach projects in DC. I’m curious where her next escapade will take her—art, photography, gardens, architecture, or even horse-breeding. As Sophie continues to zoom around DC on her mint green Vespa, I’m sure it will be an entertaining topic, relevant to present-day politics and world affairs.

 


Readers and writers, do you enjoy reading about art theft and the stolen art market?

 

*The original Virgin of Vladimir icon is in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

**In 2023, sixteen rare Ukrainian icons were secretly transported from a museum in Kiev to Paris. Five are currently on display at the Louvre, the others awaiting conservation at a Louvre facility outside of Paris.


cherry blossom photos: Lizzie Albers

 

 

 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Getting Caught in World Events by E. B. Davis

 Susan Van Kirk recently published a blog about the historical research she’d completed for one of her book series. The year she researched was 1981. The events she mentioned brought back several memories, but one in particular I thought I’d share.

 

I was in graduate school at George Washington University (GWU) that year. GWU is located a few blocks away from the White House in Washington, D. C. Every day, I’d drive in from Bethesda, MD, where my apartment was located, and park in the school’s elevated garage, which was about five stories tall. On this particular day, I had trouble finding a parking spot. Around in circles I drove up to the top floor. Weirdly, I’d never had to do so before. I got out of my car. The top floor was open to the sky with concrete barrier-walls keeping people safe from the five-story drop. Annoyed at having to park that high up, I took the stairs all the way down to the bottom. I was late getting to my job at the graduate school office.

 

* Source named below
We often had the TV on in the office where I worked doing odd jobs, everything from making copies to answering the phones, which sometimes included reporters, mainly from The Washington Post, who wanted the director of our program’s opinions. He was a physicist by training and an expert on NASA policies. (If he wasn’t in to take the call, reporters would try to get you to agree with their statements so they could publish them as, “According to his staff….” They were difficult and tedious to deal with.) In the midst of office life, this day, March 30, 1981, we watched coverage of a conference at the D. C. Hilton. President Reagan and his entourage were targets of a shooting outside the hotel, resulting in Press Secretary James Brady becoming permanently disabled.

 

We watched most of the afternoon, and I finished my office stint. Dismayed by the attempted assassination, I attended my classes. Because GWU caters to professionals, most of our graduate school classes were held at night. The first night classes started at 6 pm, the second, ended around 9:30—10 pm. I had back-to-back classes that night so it was late and dark by the time I found myself climbing those stairs in the parking garage to the top. When I finally attained the top floor, I opened the steel door to get to my car and found—automatic weapons from every direction pointed at me.

 

I know my jaw dropped. My forward motion stopped. Lights illuminated the concrete barrier-wall perimeters where men in black suits were lined up aiming at me. In the blink of an eye, they reversed their position to cover the GWU Medical Center across the street where the wounded President and his staff had been brought for medical treatment. When I thought about it afterward, I was almost insulted by their instantaneous conclusion, labeling me “fluffy” and turning their backs. After all, I can be “bad!” But, evidently, not that bad.

 

Having grown up in southern Pennsylvania, I was used to watching world events from afar. Perhaps I was conditioned by those outside events being “out there,” not next door. Nothing on TV had actually impacted me. Until that day.

 

Have you ever been caught in a national or world event that may have impacted your life?

 

Later that year, on October 6, in the same office, on the same TV, we watched the successful assassination of Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt. It was another day of dismay and sadness.    

 

*https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/permanent-exhibits/assassination-attempt

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The Case of the Short Story Spreadsheet by Judy Penz Sheluk

Something you might not know about me is that I worked in the corporate world for several years, initially specializing in credit and
collections, and later, in sales and marketing, analyzing sales data and the profitability of product lines. That work, while well paid, was far removed from the creative process, creativity being largely frowned upon in the accounting field. So, you might think that the skills and knowledge acquired there wouldn’t be of much use to an author/editor. But you’d be wrong.

It turns out that having lived years of continually being on deadline (in accounting, it’s always month end, quarter end, or year-end) taught me to set target dates and streamline processes, all with a view of meeting the next critical date. As an author and editor, I do both. But while being deadline driven is now a part of my DNA, the one skill that I am most grateful for when I’m working on a multi-author anthology is my knowledge of Excel. That’s right. Spreadsheets.
Let me explain. During the submission period, I log every story received by title, author name, pen name, email, word count, and, after reading, a quick comment to remind me what the story is about (e.g., for ‘The Constellation Necklace’ by KM Rockwood I wrote: best friends: rich girl, poor girl, necklace). I also add a No/Maybe column. Roughly half of the stories will get a Maybe, the rest a No. The Maybes become my “long list.” The Nos are notified. A new tab on my spreadsheet is created for the Maybes, this time with a Yes/No column. I’ll read those stories over a few more times, and I’ll ask for a second opinion. In the case of my latest anthology, Larceny & Last Chances, that second opinion was provided by Andrea Adair-Tippins, a librarian at the Whitby Public Library in Ontario. Once the final selections are made and the contracts are signed, it’s time to determine the best order. I always include my own story last, and work back from there, but it means…you guessed it…another tab on the spreadsheet. This time I include a column for WHO is telling the story (M=Male F=Female, Y=Young, N=Narrator), author name, title, and word count. Then I start sorting, first by who, then by word count. Ideally, there’s a nice flow of alternating voices and alternating word counts. I’ve included a screenshot of my final selection for Larceny & Last Chances.

My spreadsheet also has tabs for Promotion (radio shows, blog hosts, and topic); ARCs sent/reviews received; and Author payments and preferences (method, address for paperback copy, digital preference: EPUB or PDF). It’s not magic, but it does keep things organized. And when it comes to publishing an anthology, organization is the key to completion.

About the book:

Larceny & Last Chances: 22 Stories of Mystery & Suspense
Edited by Judy Penz Sheluk
Publication Date: June 18, 2024

Sometimes it’s about doing the right thing. Sometimes it’s about getting even. Sometimes it’s about taking what you think you deserve. And sometimes, it’s your last, best, hope. Edited by Judy Penz Sheluk and featuring stories by Christina Boufis, John Bukowski, Brenda Chapman, Susan Daly, Wil A. Emerson, Tracy Falenwolfe, Kate Fellowes, Molly Wills Fraser, Gina X. Grant, Karen Grose, Wendy Harrison, Julie Hastrup, Larry M. Keeton, Charlie Kondek, Edward Lodi, Bethany Maines, Gregory Meece, Cate Moyle, Judy Penz Sheluk, KM Rockwood, Kevin R. Tipple, and Robert Weibezahl.

Pre-order from your favorite e-tailer at: www.books2read.com/larceny

About the editor: Judy Penz Sheluk is a former journalist and magazine editor and the bestselling author of Finding Your Path to Publication and Self-publishing: The Ins & Outs of Going Indie, as well as two mystery series: the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and Marketville Mysteries. In addition to the Superior Shores Anthologies, which she also edited, her short crime fiction appears in several collections. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she served on the Board of Directors for five years, the final two as Chair. Find Judy at www.judypenzsheluk.com.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Don't Create Your Own Roadblocks

by Shari Randall


This past Saturday I treated myself. I bought a virtual pass to CrimeConn 2024, a crime writing conference sponsored by Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and hosted at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut. I spoke there a couple of years ago and enjoyed their creative combination of author panels and workshops. If you have a chance to attend, go (or watch)!

 

This year there was a stellar group of presenters on the topic "History, Headlines, and Heroes," which delved into historical mysteries, true crime stories, and how thrillers have evolved over the years. The speakers included bestselling TV writer Megan Abbott, a real life Medicolegal Death Investigator, historical fiction stars, TV producers, and many award-winning authors. 

 

One of the highlights for me was the workshop led by Reed Farrel Coleman. A fine writer and former professor, he brings a humorous and no-nonsense approach to writing.  The workshop focused on how to blend fact and fiction in a successful novel. At the end of the workshop, Reed offered some of his hard-earned writing tips. Two stood out to me: “Don’t create your own roadblocks” and “Only writing is writing. Research isn’t writing, thinking isn’t writing, reading isn’t writing.”

 

Don’t create your own roadblocks. I hadn’t thought of my distractions and bad writing habits as of my own making, but they are. I choose to work at home most days when I know I’ll be distracted by that pile of laundry, or the weeding that must be done, or the dinner that has to be started. I know that I’m most productive when I’m in a quiet library staring at a cinderblock wall. Who wouldn’t be? There’s nothing else to do but write.

 

Only writing is writing. I’ll confess. I enjoy editing, so I’ll often noodle about in the previous day’s work and an hour later realize I hadn’t done any actual writing. Research is another very enjoyable roadblock, and with the internet it’s too easy to go down that tempting side street.

 

I didn’t know this blog was going to turn into true confessions! Do you have a writing roadblock? How do you get around it? Feel free to get it off your chest in the comments.

 

Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series and, as Meri Allen, pens the Ice Cream Shop Mystery series. Starting today, you’ll find her hard at work at the public library.