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.

Learning, Working, Planning, Playing

The Wickeds are all coming down from another great retreat in Old Orchard Beach. We wrote, talked, had a fabulous photo shoot, and planned the rest of the year’s blog. We came up with new ideas and cemented our friendships that are both professional and personal. Here are each of our highlights.

Photo by Meg Manion Silliker, www.megmanionphotography.com

Photo by Meg Manion Silliker, http://www.megmanionphotography.com

IMG_3582Sherry: I am happy to report that I met and exceeded all my goals. I did laugh until my cheeks hurt, I wrote 2000 words, I drank some wine, I edited and enjoyed spending time with each of my wicked cozy sisters. Jessie goes out of her way to make sure we all have a fabulous time. Thanks for transporting me back and forth to the airport, Jessie!

Jessie:I look forward to this weekend all year. Everyone laughs and learns from each other and stays up too late. We talk about the business of writing and art of living and how those things intersect. Truly, I feel blessed to spend time with all these amazing women! Sherry, seeing your smiling face at the airport was the best start to the weekend! I’ll pick you up anytime!

IMG_4519IMG_4516AWe decorated scarves.

IMG_4491We went to the beach.

IMG_4515Liz is smiling but she was in book jail because of her deadline.

 IMG_4511Edith fixed us a fabulous fish stew. IMG_4508Jessie made her famous fondue and vegetarian chili. The rest of us were slackers and bought food.

IMG_3580Edith: What they said! It was a real treat to get away. Liz and I shared the bunkhouse, and thank goodness she consented to take the upper bunk. When we weren’t consulting, consorting, cavorting, or consuming, I used the solitary little desk to crank out some word count.

And then Meg Manion Silliker IMG_3584drove up from Newburyport to take our natural-light group photo, as well as individual head shots. She is responsible for the best photographs of me ever known to the universe, at least in the last decade. She set us all at ease and I know when we see the results, we’re going to love them.

Barb: Pretty much mission accomplished. Jessie is the hostess with the mostest and Edith and Jessie are great cooks. (The rest of us, regardless of our cooking skill level, proved ourselves adept at buying food. And wine.) Last year it was all writing, writing, writing. This year it was mostly marketing, marketing, marketing. The journey continues.

Liz: I cannot say enough how grateful I am to be part of this group (even when they put me in book jail). We are a true community of support and friendship and yes, even tough love. Jessie, as everyone else said, thank you for opening your house for us. Our pictures are fabulous, our scarves are fabulous, and thanks to Sherry, I am steaming forward to my deadline with a little more wind in my sails. Learned a lot and had a lot of fun, as usual. Love these girls!

Julie: My writing goals were not met, but I feel restored in so many ways. Such a great group of women. LOVE sharing our dreams and goals, and then group thinking about how to make them happen. Lots of planning for the year ahead, including our Malice trip coming up in a couple of weeks. My advice to any writer–find your group. It makes the journey a lot more fun.

Fun with a Purpose

Today begins the Wickeds’ Third Annual Writing Retreat! We are all delighted to be attending and each have some things we hope to accomplish over the weekend. All of us are enthusiastic goal setters or are trying to be and a writing retreat is perfect time to challenge ourselves and each other. So Wickeds, what do you have planned for our time together?

 Jessie: I am planning to write 10,000 new words. And I am looking forward to talking about the business of writing with all of you in the evenings.

beach house bunkhouseSherry: Just for the record I wanted to do an Opening Lines post today because I’m not good at setting goals. These women are trying to make me a goal setter — go figure. Here goes: my goals include writing some words, drinking some wine, laughing until my cheeks hurt, and climbing down from the bunk bed without breaking my neck.

Julie: Oh Sherry, I should be a good woman and say I’ll take the top bunk again, but . . .My goals are to relax (which hasn’t happened in a while), add at least 5000 words (though I have high hopes for more), sleep, nap, and celebrate being around these wicked cozy dames.

Sherry: I told you last year, I’d take it this year, Julie!

Barb:

Friday

  1. Write
  2. Imbibe adult beverages
  3. Discuss book marketing
  4. Imbibe adult beverages
  5. Solve problems of publishing industry
  6. Imbibe adult beverages
  7. Solve problems of known universe

Saturday

Repeat 1 through 7.

Sunday.

Repeat 1 through 6. Leaving in the afternoon, so any remaining problems of known universe will unfortunately have to stay unsolved.

Edith: We should make Liz take the top bunk – she’s the youngest in the group! My scarvesgoals are: 1) to write a bunch of new words on my historical, or maybe plot out the fourth Local Foods mystery. And 2) to eat, talk, and drink with my best writing buds. We do have an actual agenda this time beyond writing (and drinking). It includes a group photo shoot, scarf decoration and tying lessons, setting up the blog calendar, talking book marketing, and more. We might be stuffing goody bags for Malice Domestic. We might be walking on the beach. We’ll surely be exchanging tips and advice and experience six ways round.

Liz: Mine are pretty simple – finish Icing on the Corpse!

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Edith, high on a small bit of fame north of Boston.

When I was farming twenty-one years ago, a woman in Marblehead, Massachusetts contacted me. A small group there wanted organic produce, and they were willing to drive north for an hour to West Newbury to get it. Of course I said yes. Sarah-Lincoln Harrison joined my small CSA and one of the group picked up several bags of the weekly share every Friday.

That small group grew into the Marblehead Eco-Farm CSA with twenty-two families farmdirectcooplogothe next year, and my small farm was unable to meet their needs. Another farmer nearby could, though. Now the CSA has grown into a very large Farm Direct Coop with three pickup sites north of Boston, a couple of dozen supplying farms, and over 750 member families. SarahLincolHarrison

Sarah and her husband have acquired a farm of their own in Maine, True North Farms, where they stay from April until well into the fall growing their own organic produce.

Last Sunday the coop invited me to their annual meeting potluck in Marblehead to talk about my history with them, and to let them in on how that led to my writing a Local Foods mystery series. What an honor! I brought a dish for the potluck, some books to sell, and my smile.

rob-meghan-at-riverland-farmIt was a busy meeting with children running around and lots of delicious dishes. The members were friendly and devoted to local foods. Their primary farmers, Rob Lynch and Meghan Arquin (and their two darling little children) were there, and Rob spoke about what a boon the coop’s business is for their certified-organic Riverland Farm in Sunderland, Massachusetts.

After I spoke, I sold several books and enjoyed talking with members as well as some of the hard-working staff. It was worth the drive.

Readers: Share your moment of fame. Has some small thing you did in the past come back to you as an honor?

 

#GoAskMalice–Crowdsourcing the Agatha Best Contemporary Panel Questions

by Barb
As of this writing STILL waiting for spring.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHi all. We’re trying something experimental for Simply the Best, the Malice Domestic panel for the Agatha Best Contemporary nominees. (Friday at 3:00 in Waterford/Lalique. Mark your calendars.) We’re crowd-sourcing the questions!

So, fellow Wickeds, and commenters, is there anything you’ve always wanted to ask G. M. Malliet (Pagan Spring), Hank Phillippi Ryan (The Wrong Girl). Julia Spencer-Fleming (Through the Evil Days) or moi (Clammed Up)? Louise Penny (How the Light Gets In) is sadly unable to attend Malice this year–but maybe we can catch her in writing somewhere. Shawn Reillly Simmons is moderating, so you know she’ll be able to handle your toughest questions.

Jessie: I’d love to know from each of the nominees what was the original germ of the idea for their novels? Was it a character? A place? A situation? Was the title the first thing? And also, was this similar to other novels they have written? For example, does character generally come first or was this novel unusual?jessicafletcher

Edith: As you proceed through your series, is it getting easier to come up with a new story or harder? How do you cope with Cabot Cove Syndrome: killing off way too many members of the village?

Sherry: If you can do it without too many spoilers, when was the moment in your writing you knew your Agatha nominated book was going to work?

Liz: Talk about character development in your books. Is it easy to see their growth in each book, or is that harder than coming up with the new plot?

Julie: What is your “I wish I knew then what I know now” tip for writers? And hindsight brilliance you would like to share? Anything you’d like a “redo” on?

 

 

So, readers, ask away!