There’s More than One Cowboy at the Crime Bake Rodeo

IMG_1149By Sherry Harris

Craig Johnson is the guest of honor at Crime Bake this year. Reading his books and watching Longmire has made me reminisce about the six years I lived in Cheyenne. I might not have lived on a ranch but I’ve been to more than one. I might not have roped a cow but I’ve been to the rodeo. I know about jackalope, buckle bunnies, and chinook winds. I’ve been to Chugwater and heard their band.

Traffic Jam Wyoming Style

Traffic Jam Wyoming Style

Through a series of life events I ended up living in Cheyenne. Elevation: 6062 feet (higher than the Mile High City – Denver) Population: 50,000 or thereabouts when I lived there. To an Iowa girl it was a lot of shades of brown, antelope, tumbleweeds and yes cowboys. I learned to two-step at the Cheyenne Club. I threw myself into the Frontier Days activities the last full week of July every year. You might be a city slicker but you can’t help but find a little bit of cowboy in you when you live in Wyoming.

Wyoming isn’t for the weak of heart. The wind blows hard across the state and grit often ends up in your mouth. I learned to hang on to the car door when I opened it because the wind might have ideas about what it wants to do with it. My mom called me one morning when the windchill was 70 below — she lived in Florida. “Do you have to go to work?” she asked. The answer was yes. I worked for a financial planning company and the market was open. Life in Wyoming goes on windchill or not.

Jackson Hole, WY

Jackson Hole, WY

I missed trees and made friends. I worked my way up the corporate ladder. I wore suits not boots. I traveled around the state Rock Springs, Pinedale, Jackson Hole, Sheridan, Buffalo, Casper. All so different so beautiful in their own way. I met and married my husband in Cheyenne.

You can't let a little snow stop you from grilling.

You can’t let a little snow stop you from grilling.

It snowed mid May one year, it snowed mid September. I don’t remember a Halloween while I lived there that it didn’t snow. Trick or Treat at the mall was a big deal because kids could take their snowsuits off and show off their costumes.

IMG_1157One snow storm was particularly bad. My husband and I had been visiting his parent’s in Idaho. The storm chased us all the way across the state, big flakes flew by as we kept the dark, rolling clouds in the rearview mirror. Gates closed behind us on Interstate 80 as they shut it down. We made it home, barely, before the storm hit. The next three days Bob drove his old International Harvester four-wheel drive around town picking up my coworkers as the town dug out.IMG_1156

IMG_1163I’ve been through whiteouts, a tornado, a 100 year flood in Wyoming. And hail. Cheyenne is the start of a section of the country known as “Hail Alley”. But the sun shines almost every day. It warmed my car so much in the winter I’d have to take my winter coat off before I got in or I’d fry. The skies are large, vast.

I was very active in the community: served on boards, ran marketing campaigns for various causes, I even taught an adult learning class at the community college. You might be thinking this hardly makes me a cowboy. But a few days before we left Cheyenne to move to Los Angeles I received this certificate from then Governor Mike Sullivan saying I’m a bona fide Cowboy.IMG_1128

Readers: Do you have a little bit of cowboy in you?

Ask the Expert: Sheila Lowe

Edith, frantically trying not to drop any balls

We’re welcoming another expert to the blog today. I’ve known Sheila Lowe online sheila4through Sisters in Crime for several years (we’re fellow Californians), and have read all but the latest in her smart, suspenseful Claudia Rose mysteries. One of my college roommates long, long ago studied handwriting analysis, and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since.

Like her fictional character Claudia Rose in the award-winning Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series, Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert. She holds a Master of Science in psychology and is the author of the internationally acclaimed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, as well as the Handwriting Analyzer software. Her standalone novel of suspense, What She Saw, has nearly 200 five-star reviews. Sheila’s analyses of celebrity handwritings are often seen in the media.

Share your expertise with us, Sheila!

Name: Sheila Lowe

Area of Expertise: Court-qualified forensic handwriting examiner and handwriting analyst. This means I handle cases of handwriting authentication to determine possible forgery, and I also sometimes prepare behavioral profiles based on handwriting. The latter is used in areas such as pre-employment screening, mental health therapy, child custody issues, etc.

How did you become a handwriting expert?

We have to go back more than 45 years to answer that question. I first became interested as a senior in high school—1967. My boyfriend’s mother had read a book on handwriting analysis and she wrote two pages analyzing my handwriting, which I found completely fascinating—somebody understood me (very attractive to a 17 year-old girl)! I studied on my own for about ten years, then finally started taking courses with handwriting professionals. In 1981 I was certified by the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation (I’m currently the president), and in 1985 my testimony was first accepted in the court system as an expert witness.

What are 3 things we should know about your area of expertise?

Most handwriting analysts are not psychic. It’s not an inherited or inborn ability; it’s a learned skill.

“I should let you see my handwriting” is a common response when someone learns what I do. This is akin to meeting a doctor and immediately opening your mouth to say “Ahhhh.” Like any consulting business, this one should be taken seriously.

The biggest problem in my field is the lack of licensing in the U.S. Anyone can create a website and go into business with little or no training (and they do). I recommend that if you want your handwriting analyzed, you contact the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation and make sure the analyst you are interested in using has a good education and is professionally certified, with no ethics violations.

What do people usually get wrong when writing about handwriting analysts?

MaxWriting

A page from Edith’s sprint journal (no, she didn’t ask Sheila what it meant!)

Some writers who don’t understand that handwriting analysis has a scientific basis treat it like crystal ball reading. Handwriting cannot predict the future, but is a lot like a picture of the writer’s psyche. It reveals he thinks, how he is socially and sexually, the state of his ego, and other aspects of personality. It’s not “woo woo” or magic. Interpretation of the spatial arrangement on the page, the writing style, and other aspects such as writing rhythm, speed, pressure, etc., paints an accurate personality portrait based on common sense. It’s not just about how you dot your i or cross your t. There are thousands of variables to consider in every handwriting.

Is there a great idea you’d love to share?

These days, public schools in most states are not required to teach handwriting. In fact, many of the younger teachers don’t know how to write in cursive. There are many reasons why it’s important for schools to keep cursive in the curriculum, not the least of which is brain development in young children. Current research indicates that, unlike hand printing or keyboarding, cursive writing helps kids to learn faster, remember more detailed information (written and spoken), and even spell better. My organization, AHAF, is looking for people to work with us in getting legislators to recognize and understand that while technology is important, so is handwriting: www.cursiveiscool.com

Inkslingers Ball Cover_smallWhat are you working on?

The fifth book in my series, Inkslingers Ball, was just released last July. I’ve just begun work on Unholy Writ, which involves ecoterrorism and geocaching, and will take my main character, Claudia Rose, to England.

Do you use your expert knowledge in your writing?

Yes. Claudia Rose’s practice mirrors my own. Readers say they learn something about handwriting analysis from my fiction (and hopefully, interested people will check out my nonfiction books, too). Claudia does not solve crimes using handwriting analysis—she’s not a PI. She uses her special knowledge to understand the people she’s dealing with, and also consults for the police department, sometimes with her lover, LAPD detective Joel Jovanic.

Readers: Questions for Sheila? Do you still write letters, and make sure your kids and grandkids know how to write cursive? Does this post give you ideas for writing characters?

Stick with the Wickeds Contest

 Late-breaking news: Christi King is the winner of Linda Reilly’s Some Enchanted Murder. She’ll be contacting you, Christi. Let us know if you don’t hear, and congrats!

Barb starts the morning with a cup of coffee.

Barb starts the morning with a cup of coffee.

Jessie: At home amidst heartbreakingly beautiful autumnal color.

Once again, The New England Crime Bake is almost here. Since all the Wickeds are going to be able to attend, we are once again running a contest to take one of our readers with along with us, well, sort of.

Last year we took Barb Goffman along with us on a stick. She reported having a wonderful time lingering over coffee with authors and fans and attending the banquet. This year’s Guest of Honor is Craig Johnson of Longmire fame so you know it will be a lot of fun. If you would like to have the opportunity to have as much fun as Barb did, then this is the contest for you! Here’s how it works:

Just leave a comment on any of the blog posts scheduled between today and Friday, October, 24 to be entered into the drawing. If you are chosen as the winner all we’ll need from you is your photo in jpeg format and a list of five authors attending this year’s Crime Bake whose autograph you would like us to ask for on your behalf.

We’ll announce the winner on October 29. Best of luck to you all!

Barb with some of the banquet attendess.

Liz holding Barb Goffman (second from left in front), with the Wickeds, our agent, and some of our friends at the 2013 banquet.

Wicked Wednesday: Dark Days are Here Again

This is the season that ends in darkness, especially in northern climes like New Red_autumn_leaves_branch_darkEngland. Wickeds, how do these dark days affect your writing? Do you need mood lights just to keep you going, or do the short ever colder days inspire you to write better tales of deceit and murder? Or both?

Liz: Without the light and long days of the summer months, I’m more inclined to become a hermit – which makes me more apt to chain myself to my desk and get work done. The colder and darker it is, the more I want to wrap up in hotapplecidera favorite blanket, turn on some nice lamps and music, and cook up murder and mayhem with some hot apple cider or tea.

Jessie: I find it absolutely easier to get desk work done at this time of year. The beach isn’t calling as loudly and schedules are more fixed with my kids back in school. I also like how at the beginning and end of each day my office feels cocooned in darkness and I have a sense of being even more inside the world of my stories.

Barb: I, too, love this time of year, even the cold and rainy days. I always have a bit of a bump when the time changes, but after a week or so of dislocation, I’m fine. By early December, I’ll be happy to see the Christmas lights twinkling outside, warding off the dark. And then we’re over the hump and the days are getting longer.

ApplePie2Edith: Once I get over grieving the end of fresh produce, except the kind I don’t care for –  beets, rutabagas, watermelon radishes – and the last few heads of lettuce, I love fall. I can layer on clothes and pretend I didn’t layer on pounds over the summer. I love cooking stews and roasts and apple pies. And like my blogmates here, when it’s dark and the world is in senescence (I learned that word from an essay by Annie Proulx on autumn), it’s so much easier to write about people’s dark sides.

IMG_3864Sherry: I love fall but I do miss the longer daylight hours of spring and summer. I combat it by turning on more lights. And I start turning on the “party” lights I leave up on the bannister all year long. They add a cheerful note. I don’t think the season change my writing or schedule — probably because I don’t have a schedule.

Julie: My life is very seasonal. I teach a class during the school year, and also my job heats up. Summer there are fewer demands on my time. Interestingly, I do get a lot done this time of year, because time is so precious I don’t waste it. But I would trade it all in for longer days, and I will truly miss not having to wear 5 layers every day.

Readers: What’s your experience of fall? Love it or hate it? Are you able to be creative, or do you want to curl up alone and just read? (Authors don’t mind that, of course!)

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

By Liz, in foliage-filled eastern Connecticut, looking forward to Halloween!

Tweetie and batsIt’s officially my favorite time of the year: Halloween season. My decorations went up this past weekend. I’m late to the party this year. Usually the halls are decked with witches, ghosts, goblins, cats and bats by the end of September.

I am the quintessential Halloween junkie. It’s a natural fit, given my long-time love of all things creepy and scary. As a kid, I always begged my parents to let me watch the scary movies – then kept them up all Halloween catnight because I was scared to death. Like the first time I watched Halloween and imagined Michael Meyers in my closet. But I still wanted to watch more. As a teenager, I had posters of Freddy Krueger on my wall, which really made my parents shake their heads (whose kid is she, anyway??). I dressed up like Freddy for a Halloween or two, complete with the glove. I even practiced the “Freddy voice” to entertain my friends in the halls. Yep, I was the quirky kid.

Dark ManorMy quest for haunted things brought me to haunted theme parks like Spooky World, where crazed killers chased your hay ride with axes and bloody figures popped up from corn fields. I was always the one begging my friends to go to haunted houses or ghost tours. I couldn’t get enough.

I chose Salem, Mass. as my college destination, partly for the English program and partly for the witchy experience. I was in heaven the entire month of October during Haunted Happenings – it was a constant costume party. Zombies, Disney characters and other interesting faces mingled with the college students most nights. The metaphysical Me-Shaggy-BizBazbookstores were packed. Laurie Cabot, Salem’s official witch, attracted followers at her store for readings and signings. There were witches’ balls, haunted tours, candlelit walks through history, visits to the site of the long-ago hangings. I loved every minute of it. To this day, I try to visit Salem at least once during its busy season. The dogs love to go too – they get to dress up.

Halloween season has been even better the pastDogs in Salem few years with American Horror Story on the air. The creepy-cool show starts in October and adds to the overall feeling of the season. This year, I’m also scoping out haunted houses in my neck of New England. I may visit Dark Manor again – Connecticut’s scariest haunted house. Also on my list to check out – the Wallingford Trail of Terror. Sounds just like my kind of mayhem.

Of course, the rest of the time I’ll be holed up at home, surrounded by Halloween decos, watching scary movie marathons. And turning all the lights on.

Readers, what’s your favorite time of year? Do you love Halloween as much as I do?

Wicked Guest: Linda Reilly

Edith, writing up a storm north of Boston

I’m pleased to have fellow New England author Linda Reilly visit today. She and I had SOME ENCHANTED MURDER - Linda S Reilly - resized Author Photobeen online friends, and I was delighted that she drove all the way to Salem, New Hampshire this summer when I was signing at the Barnes and Noble there, just to meet me in person. Take it away, Linda! (Oh, and she’s giving away a copy of her debut mystery, Some Enchanted Murder, to a commenter.)

Writing what I know . . .

First, I’d like to thank Edith Maxwell for inviting me to guest blog with the Wicked Cozy Authors! I live in New Hampshire, but I’m an old Massachusetts gal from way back, so I feel right at home here with everyone.

As a lover of psychological suspense, I’d never pictured myself writing a cozy. For years I’d been devouring the books of authors such as Carlene Thompson, Wendy Corsi Staub, and Joy Fielding. Their heart-stopping novels kept me glued to the pages, so why would I want to write anything else? On my part, it was very short-sighted.

I first discovered that I wanted to write a cozy when I landed on a charming mystery many cozy lovers are familiar with, about a New Hampshire town in which everything is designed around books. The main character owns a mystery book store, and is surrounded by quirky characters in a delightful little village. By the time she solved the murder and wrapped up all the loose ends, I was completely and irrevocably hooked. I wanted to read cozies! More important, I wanted to write cozies. Thinking back to my teen years, I really shouldn’t have been surprised. Back when paperback mysteries cost seventy-five cents, Agatha Christie had been a huge favorite of mine. She evoked such enchanting visions of quaint English villages that I longed to travel to England, a dream I later fulfilled.

Okay, so now I wanted to write a cozy. Ah, but what to write about? We’ve all heard the old saw write what you know, but was it really the best advice? Well I wasn’t sure, since I’d read opposing views, but writing what I was familiar with sounded awfully good to me.

To write what I know, I had to rely on my job. In my day gig I work as a paralegal/title examiner for a title insurance company. Wait . . . don’t nod off yet. Examining titles in the Registries of Deeds, where evidence of land ownership is recorded, is a huge part of my job. So my main character would be a paralegal, I decided, and an expert at examining titles. Except that she would work for a tiny law office, not a big company; and she would live in a fictional town called Hazleton, New Hampshire. And because she needed a sidekick, I gave her a sixty-something aunt—a Realtor who tools around in her dead husband’s old gas guzzler and played Beatles music almost aDeedsround the clock.

It was the concept of creating the perfect clue that intrigued me the most. Once I’d latched onto the idea that the secret to the killer’s identity had to be hidden in the weighty volumes of the Registry of Deeds, I couldn’t let it go. The Rockingham County Registry worked perfectly for me. I needed my clue to date back to the early 1950s, and the Rockingham County indices stretch back to 1629.

SomeEnchantedMurderFrontI still wasn’t sure I could make any of it work, but after a lot of false starts the mystery finally came together. A detailed rejection from one insightful editor set me on the path to a better story. I was grateful that I’d taken the advice to write what I know, because late in 2011 Five Star Publishing accepted Some Enchanted Murder for publication. The mystery debuted in March of 2013, and was a finalist for the 2014 Silver Falchion Award in the category “Best First Novel: Cozy, Traditional and Historical.”

I’m currently writing a cozy series for Berkley Prime Crime called Deep Fried Mysteries. My main character is restaurateur Talia Marby, whose recently acquired fish and chips shop in the Berkshires morphs into a “deep fried” eatery. Talia and I are both new at the job, so together we’re experimenting with tasty recipes . . . all while solving murders, of course. The first book in the series, Fillet of Murder, will debut in May 2015.

Anyone who leaves a comment will be entered in a drawing for a hardcover copy of Some Enchanted Murder.

Readers – Questions for Linda about examining titles or deep fried food? Or anything else?

Armed with a degree in Criminal Justice, Linda Reilly once contemplated a career in law enforcement. But life took a twist, and instead she found her niche in real estate closings and title examination, where the dusty tomes in the Registry of Deeds enticed her into solving mysteries of a different sort. Her dream of one day having a story published happened in 1995 when a national magazine published her short mystery Out of Luck. Since then, she’s had over forty short stories published in Woman’s World magazine. Linda lives in southern New Hampshire with her husband, where she is currently working on her new Deep Fried cozy mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. You can find her at www.lindasreilly.com

Welcome Susan O’Brien

We are so happy to have Susan O’Brien with us today. Thanks for joining us!

FINDING_SKY_front_under_2mb-2My first mystery, Finding Sky, was published this week, and I’m especially thrilled to celebrate with the Wicked Cozy Authors. That’s because although Finding Sky is set in the D.C. area, I plan to write in—and about—the most beautiful place I’ve ever been: the Damariscotta River in Maine. Side note: Maine is the first place I heard the word “wicked” used in a positive way. I was in elementary school, and since I’m a “word person,” it was unforgettable!

I’ve always wanted to be an author, and plenty of dreaming about it was done on childhood trips to my grandparents’ Maine property—a coastal paradise with its own beach, blueberry bushes, and soft, pine-needle walking paths. I adored gazing at the water, notebook and pen in hand, feeling inspired. It’s one of the few places I’ve ever written poetry.

Damariscotta_River_Susan_OBrienOnce, a writer visited while we were there, and he took my passion for the craft so seriously that I can still picture him on the beach, chewing “spruce gum”—which he cut from a nearby tree and shared—treating me as an equal. What a gift.
I hesitate to reveal too much, because someday, my protagonist Nicki Valentine will explore the same treasured location with her children. Seeing it through her eyes—with her sense of humor and romantic challenges—will be quite an adventure. (Although I did have a massive, totally unrequited crush on my hunky sailing instructor one summer. Hmmm. That could provide some inspiration!)

Walking_path_Susan_OBrienI can’t wait to escape to Maine with Nicki and her family—literally. I’ve spent countless hours looking at real estate online, envisioning what it would be like to plot on a dock, clear my mind in a kayak, and make a riverside deck my “home office.” (During the winter, I plan to live in Florida, which involves a whole other real estate plan and imaginary budget.)

In reality, I may have to rely on a research trip, Google, and the memories I’m lucky to have. And that’s plenty. The peace I felt in small-town Maine is enough to last a lifetime.
I’m curious, do you dream of writing in a special location? Which settings do you find most inspirational and why? Do you long to share a certain spot with your characters and readers? And as a reader, do you enjoy visiting new locales with protagonists? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Happy travels!

Susan_OBrien_Web_PhotoSusan O’Brien has been passionate about reading and writing since childhood, when she started a neighborhood newspaper and escaped tween stress with mysteries. Since covering her first big story (the birth of gerbils next door), she has worked with USA TODAY, PI Magazine, The Parent Institute and others. Susan has an M.A. in forensic psychology and is a registered private investigator in Virginia. Among her diverse interests are photography, gardening, loud R&B music, healing prayer and reality TV. She lives with her husband and children in the D.C. suburbs and donates part of her earnings to missing children’s organizations.
Visit Susan on her website, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.