Wicked Wednesday: Endurance Tests

The Boston Marathon is over. Twenty-six and two-tenths of a mile. Training for such a run takes endurance, and finishing it does, too, especially this year when finishers imagine (or remember) the bombs that two young men allegedly set at the final yards of the race a year ago.

The Wickeds are talking about our own endurance challenges over the years (and some might have lasted years).

Edith: I actually ran the Boston Marathon in 1998 (for the first and last time). I trained and IMG_3675trained and trained. After a certain level of fitness, running is almost more of a mental challenge. Yes, I can run two more miles. No, I’m won’t stop and walk, not untiI I reach the top of the hill. Sort of like writing a book. Yes, I can write another scene today. No, I will not stop to check Facebook or put in a load of laundry until I’ve met my 1000-word goal.

I trained and ran the marathon with a good friend, which made all the difference, but the farthest we had run in our training was twenty miles. Harold and I pulled and pushed each other along the route on Marathon Monday, and during the last mile we got through it by counting out loud in Japanese, startling more than one bystander. But we crossed that fabulous finish line in five hours, sixteen minutes, with smiles on our face.

IMG_4539_2Sherry: I’m a walker not a runner. My most challenging walk was when we were stationed in Monterey, California. At the time there was a walk in association with the Big Sur International Marathon. Once a year, for the marathon, they close one lane of the Pacific Coast Highway. One of the most beautiful drives in America. My friend, Stacey, convinced me to do the walk with her. We did some training — our longest walks around five miles on the hills of the Naval Post Graduate School housing area, La Mesa.

IMG_4545The morning of the walk we got up at four and Bob dropped us off in Carmel. From there we took a bus to the starting area. The morning was cool and a bit foggy when we started. There were musicians all over the course. Driving PCH is spectacular but walking it was breathtaking. A soap opera star ran by us — his rugged good looks intact. We did the two additional spurs of the walk for a total of 11and 1/2 miles. Just when I thought I couldn’t make it some drummers and dancers spurred us on. It’s one of my fondest memories among many from living in Monterey.

Jessie: I think one of my proudest endurance challenges is parenting. With four kids, each spaced four years apart, I have been actively parenting for a lot of years. It is a venture that never ceases to challenge and amaze me and although the responsibilities change over time, they never really end, for which I am very grateful.

Julie: I did a half marathon a few years back. I will never forget driving with my sister right before my first long run (10 miles). It was 10 miles to the next exit, so we agreed to see how long that was. We were driving for a long time, and she leaned over and said “this was a mistake, wasn’t it?” I did finish the training, and did the run. A big accomplishment I never plan on repeating. Occasional 10Ks maybe, but I am awed by long distance runners.

My other endurance test? Getting my first novel finished. 7 years. It is in a drawer. Another blog post for another day.

Barb: It seems like I’ve spent half my life saying to people, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” I’ve said it about building businesses, I’ve said it about writing books, getting books published, supporting books. Raising children is a good one, Jessie. Life. If you’re lucky, it’s a marathon.

me and julieLiz: I’m no marathoner, Edith, but I did complete two 5K obstacle course races last year. I’m usually not a runner, but I felt like I needed to do these. And they were great! One was with Julie :) Another one coming up this year. And like Julie, my latest novel has been a huge test of endurance. Oy.

Readers: What’s been your most difficult, or most successful, endurance challenge?

Authors Alley at Malice

By Sherry Harris

barbgoffman1Barb Goffman, Malice Domestic Program Chair, visits us today to talk about the Authors Alleys at Malice. Barb is the author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Even, a Macavity Award winner and nominated again (twice!) this year for the Agatha Award for best mystery short story published in 2013. Her nominated stories are “Evil Little Girl” and “Nightmare“.

Barb, I was so happy to see that the Authors Alley were brought back last year. What made you bring them back?

The Malice Domestic board doesn’t guarantee registered authors a spot in the program, but in practice, at least over the past several years, we’ve prided ourselves on finding a spot for every eligible author who registers before the panel assignments are made. In the past couple of years, meeting that goal had become difficult as more and more authors registered. By resurrecting Authors Alley, we could make room for about 25 more authors in the program.

What is your vision for the Authors Alleys?

Barbara Ross at Authors Alley 2013.

Barbara Ross at Authors Alley 2013.

In Authors Alley, authors have an audience devoted to them for fifteen minutes, rather than having to share the spotlight on a panel with three other authors. The Authors Alley sessions begin on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. and run through 12:15 p.m. on Sunday. These sessions allow authors the chance to whet readers’ appetites for their characters or setting or voice. It’s the time to help the readers decide they need more of the author and his or her fabulous plots. I encourage authors to try to think of unique ways to make themselves and their books stand out in Authors Alley so after their session, readers will go to the Dealers Room and buy their books.

Why should people attend the Authors Alleys?

Readers come to Malice to meet their favorite authors, as well as to learn about new authors and books they might like. But getting one-on-one time with an author can be difficult. Should you corner Earlene Fowler in the bathroom and tell her you love her? Or Parnell Hall in the elevator? You might get a few seconds to chat with your favorite author that way (though I recommend letting people use the bathroom in peace), but if you attend an Authors Alley session, you’ll get to listen to, and chat with, authors for fifteen minutes — with no bathroom door blocking your way. It’s a win-win for the author and the reader. (And yes, you’ll find Earlene and Parnell in Authors Alley this year.)

What are some of the authors planning to do this year in Authors Alley?

We have lots of fun things scheduled. Kathryn Leigh Scott of Dark Shadows fame plans to talk about her transition from actress to author. Lisa Fernow will discuss her tango mystery and share what it’s really like to dance the tango in Buenos Aires. Rochelle Staab will talk about adventures in researching the supernatural and maybe do some one-card Tarot readings. John Billheimer will address the rationale and roadblocks in starting a new series. Liz Lipperman will discuss why she’s naughty and nice. And Parnell Hall will, in his own words, “whine about his sales figures and beg people to buy his books.” You don’t want to miss out on these — and all the other — Authors Alley sessions. What are all the Authors Alley authors planning? You can read about them right here: http://www.malicedomestic.org/2014_program.html Click on the link and scroll to the bottom of the page.

If any readers attended one or more Authors Alley sessions last year, I’d love it if you’d comment on what you most enjoyed about them. And maybe we can encourage some of this year’s Authors Alley participants to join in the conversation, too. In the meanwhile, I’m looking forward to seeing folks at Malice Domestic next week. Bethesda or bust!

A Terrible Anniversary

By Julie Hennrikus

IMG_3360I live in Somerville, which is just outside Boston, next to Cambridge. I live on an MBTA route, and walk, train, and bus everywhere. I work in Boston–both at StageSource (a service organization for the New England theater community), and at Emerson College, where I teach classes in arts management. I went to Boston University, graduated almost 30 years ago, and have made my home, and my life, here.

IMG_1025I love my city.

Though the date anniversaries were last week, for me the emotional anniversaries of the Boston Marathon bombings are today. For today they are going to run the Boston Marathon again. I can’t help but forget that day, and that week, a year ago. I remember reading a book, falling asleep, and all of a sudden my phone ringing, buzzing, and beeping with texts, alerts, and phone calls from friends and family checking in. Yes, I was fine, I kept saying, catching up on the news. Horrified, but fine.

But that next Wednesday, when I taught my class at Emerson, I realized that the effect of the bombings were going to ripple. Emerson is two blocks away from the finish line. Some students were there, hit by shrapnel. Other students were forced to shelter in place for hours, some in the midst of rehearsals, others studying, some student teaching. Emails were flying about support options for students, staff, and faculty. I wasn’t sure how to handle the rest of the semester, but knew when I went to class that Wednesday that it couldn’t be business as usual. Especially when I saw the twenty-five faces looking for me to help us all process what had happened. Or let them process it with me. I decided to scramble the rest of the semester classes, not add to their stress by giving a final. I let them go early, encouraging them to go outside, reclaim the city, get an ice cream. I would see them on Friday.

But I didn’t see them on Friday. Because that Friday morning, I was again woken up by buzzing, ringing, and beeping alerts. The city was in lockdown. I was catching up on the news, fielding phone calls, assuring my father that the street the bombers lived on wasn’t my street, it was a couple of blocks away.

“It looks like your street on the news,” he said.

And then the BANG, BANG, BANG on my door. I opened it, and there was a huge man dressed in a SWAT uniform, telling me that I had to leave my home. Immediately. He stood there, waiting for me to follow. I asked for a minute to get dressed, and he moved on to the next door. The rest of that Friday is a long story of having to leave my home because I lived close to the bombers. Too close.

We all know how that story ended. But as this anniversary week has come and gone, capped by today in many ways, I have specific memories, thoughts, and feelings.

IMG_3736Pride. I am proud of my city, and the way we handled this event. I am proud of the teams of people who took care of each other on that day, and during that week. And I am proud, very proud, to know Patrick TowleLaurie Andersen, and John Andersen.

Connectedness. Throughout that week social media became a lifeline. But especially that Friday, I felt very connected and supported, especially through Facebook. I have many friends in Watertown, and will never forget the posts of people hearing gun shots after the shelter in place had been lifted. One friend reported that she, her husband, and their dog were hiding in a closet, so afraid. The virtual community was there with them.

Kindness. My friend who came to my rescue, and took care of me that Friday. Jessie Crockett and her husband offering their house in OOB to me, if I didn’t feel comfortable being home. My students sending me emails, asking how I was doing. Being at a crowded event for work, and having a friend come over, squeeze my arm, and tell me to leave–she would tell anyone who asked that I had gone to the ladies’ room. The hugs from friends. The list is long, and will never be forgotten.

Questioning. I write mysteries. Though cozy, they are about a world being unsettled, and needing to find order again. My amateur sleuth is drawn into the story because of a connection to the victim. One year and two weeks ago, I would have written that differently. Now, today, I understand that we get beyond traumatic events, but they are a part of us. As a writer, empathy is part of my toolbox. But that empathy can get in the way of the work, at least for the short term. I know it did for me.

Long term? The traditional mystery took root after World War I. It was a way to deal with the chaos of that war. For me, reading and writing cozies does the same thing. Terrible events told as a story that brings order from chaos. In an interesting way, the construct of the genre brings comfort.

And a word of thanks to my Wicked Cozy sisters. Jessie, Edith, Liz, Sherry, and Barb–you helped me get through.

IMG_3836Boston is strong, I am not. But I am very, very blessed.

Stick with the Wickeds Contest!

We are so excited that this year all of the Wickeds will be able to attend the

Malice 2013, with Liz on a stick.

Malice 2013, with Liz on a stick.

Malice Domestic Conference in Bethesda, MD. At many conferences one of us is missing and we console ourselves by bringing her along on a stick.


Liz and Edith with a grand dame of New England cozy mystery, Katherine Hall Page, and Sherry on a stick at Bouchercon 2013.

To celebrate 100% attendance we have decided to run a contest to take one reader along with us — on a stick. Maybe you’d like to have as much fun as Barb Goffman did at Crime Bake last November.

If so,  just leave a comment on anything we post on the blog between Friday, April 18 (today) and Tuesday, April 22. We will announce the randomly selected winner on Wednesday, April 23.

Barb starts the morning with a cup of coffee.

Barb starts the morning with a cup of coffee.

All we will need from the winner is their photo emailed to us by Saturday, April 26 along with a list of favorite authors attending Malice. We will introduce your stick figure self to as many of them as possible and ask for them to autograph your back.

But you can’t win if you don’t enter so why don’t you leave a comment below telling us which famous author you’d love to meet?


Opening Lines – Patriot’s Day

In honor of Patriot’s Day write an opening line for this picture taken at Minute Man National Historic Park in Lincoln, Massachusetts. IMG_3552 Edith: I told him if he went into the woods with that strumpet one more time, I’d blast him all the way to the frontier.

Sherry: They thought since my husband was off fighting with the Regulars that they could come on my property. I changed their minds.

Jessie: Waiting around for someone else to bring home dinner had never been Martha’s style.

Barb: You could see them in the woods because of their bright red coats.

Liz: I thought I heard a noise out in the woods. I fired a warning shot or two just in case.

Julie: Damn squirrels. Rats with nice tails. Not even good eating.

What is a Cozy?

We are sure the debate over what is a cozy will never end.

FebBooksSherry: Edith and I recently attended Left Coast Crime in Monterey, California. During one of the panels there was a discussion about what defines a cozy mystery and what makes it different than a traditional mystery. I was surprised when one author said the most important thing in a cozy is the setting. Another author said that cozies have a “precious” factor.

I found both of these statements interesting and inaccurate when thinking about my upcoming novel Tagged for Death (coming in December 2014 from Kensington — I know, I know shameless self promotion alert). While I love the setting I created — the fictional town of Ellington, Massachusetts and a fictional Air Force Base, Fitch AFB — without the characters and action no one would give a fig about them. I like to think my characters and storyline are real and plausible. What do you think Wickeds?

IMG_3160Edith: I have a little set piece I bring out when people ask what a cozy mystery is. To summarize: village setting, amateur sleuth, a lighter tone, with sex, violence, and obscenities all off the page. But as Cleo Coyle does so well, a village can be a neighborhood in a big city. And mild swearing sometimes creeps onto the page. And sometimes the romance gets a little hot. Breaking the rules is allowed. But maybe others have different rules. At LCC one panel invented the term “cozy noir.” How’s that for a crossover?

maplemayhemJessie: I think cozies provide a puzzle in a place readers would like to visit over and over, peopled with characters that come to feel like old friends. For me, cozies are about communities a sleuth cares enough about to try to return things to normal after the unthinkable happens

Julie: This is such a great question, and I’ve thought a lot about it. I wrote a post on my other blog (Live to Write/Write to Live) about being a cozy reader/writer. I really love the genre, and look back to the Golden Age of detective fiction (between the world wars) for inspiration for my definition of a modern cozy. A cozy is in a small community/controlled space, has interesting characters, a good puzzle, lacks gore, sex is off screen, and it restores order and/or provides justice. The last is important–cozies help people feel better about the chaos of life. Ironically, it is done via a murder (usually), but that dichotomy is for another post.

Boiled Over front coverBarb: I think about this a lot, too. For me, as others have suggested, in a cozy mystery the world is an orderly and just place and the sleuth’s journey (usually, but not always an amateur) is to restore order and serve justice by solving the crime. In noir, the world is a chaotic and unjust place and the sleuth’s journey only proves how chaotic and unjust the world is and always will be. Which is why I’m not sure about “cozy noir.” I think “cozy” is a bigger tent than people credit it, and cozy readers are similarly more diverse and eclectic than you might expect. (At least the ones I hear from.) Though cozies are often considered to be written by women, for women (and we should talk about the impact of that at some future time), I’ve been astonished by how many men have read and enjoyed Clammed Up.

Readers: What do you think?


The Detective’s Daughter — Woman in White

Kim'spolicehatBy Kim Gray

In Baltimore (are you kidding me it might snow tomorrow) City

“Where do people go when they die?” I asked my Pop-Pop (grandfather) on the walk home from school.

“Everyone around here goes to McCully’s,” he said.

I’d been to McCully’s Funeral Home nearly everyday after school since I was in the first grade. An entire year later I’d never seen one dead person there. Mrs. McCully sat at her desk each afternoon munching on pretzels and chatting with me while Pop-Pop used the little boy’s room. She must have had the dead stashed away behind the large white double doors.

I was very concerned about the dead on that particular day. In the morning I’d found a gold-framed photograph wrapped in a tablecloth at the bottom of our dining room hutch. I can’t remember now why I’d been in there, but I was always snooping around our house. I was convinced it held secrets and I wanted to discover clues like Dad did.

Proment.aspxI pulled off the cloth, thrilled at first, thinking I’d found a wedding photo of my parents. I soon discovered it wasn’t my mom wearing the white dress, but some other woman. My joy turned to shock. Had Dad been married to someone else?

“Be careful what you wish for,” Nana had drilled in my head. I always hoped to find some mystery I could cleverly solve like Emma Peel in The Avengers. But now I couldn’t shove that gold-framed picture back in the drawer quick enough. Her smiling face was burned onto my brain. Who was she?

A few weeks ago I’d been the flower girl in my godmother’s wedding. I knew all about wedding attire. This woman in the photo wore a white gown and only brides wore white gowns.

KimWhiteDresscaspxSister Angela Marie, my second grade teacher, explained to me at recess if one person died, the other could remarry in the church. You could not remarry in church if you were divorced. I knew my parents had married in Holy Cross Church, so  that meant Dad’s first wife must have died. Why had I never been told about her?

I took a small notebook off the kitchen counter. Everyone knows a detective needs a notebook. I drew a rough sketch of our dining room with arrows pointing to the drawer where the evidence was found. I asked Pop-Pop to take a picture of the hutch, which he did and never even asked why. I also knew to get answers, you needed to ask questions. Dad did this every night, he was full of questions. “Why isn’t dinner ready?” “Where’s the paper?” “Who’s on the phone?” ” Why do we have Spaghetti-O’s every night?”

Tonight I would be asking the questions.
“Who lived here before you did?” I asked Mom.
“Your father and Nana and Pop-Pop.”
“And who else?” I wanted to know.
“I think Aunt Betty and Aunt Shirley when they were little. Is this something you need for school?” She opened a can of Spaghetti-O’s.  This can had sliced hotdogs in it. Dad would be thrilled. I tried to write everything down.

When Dad sat down at the table, before he could ask about dinner, I pulled out my pad.
“What was the name of your other wife?” I watched him closely. Dad said people sweat and have shifty eyes when they lie.

“My other wife?” He looked at Mom. She shrugged. No one was sweating.
“In the picture.” I said. “That woman in the white fluffy dress. The bride.”
“Show me this picture,” dad said. He followed me to the dining room. I opened the drawer and took the photograph from its hiding place. I started to cry, realizing too late that I didn’t want to know about her.

Couldn’t we go back in the kitchen and eat our orange spaghetti and canned green beans?  Dad took the photo from my hands.
“This is your mystery wife, is it?” Mom stood in the doorway trying to see what he was holding.

“She’s not wearing a bridal gown. That was her prom dress. Her name is Sharon and we went to high school together. I took her to our senior prom.” Mom laughed, but Dad didn’t. He put the framed photo on the buffet. I thought I might be in trouble for snooping, but Dad only asked to see my notes.

Years later I met Sharon at the A&P.  She asked me if I was Charlie’s daughter.
“I could’ve been your mother.” Sharon said and laughed.