The Evolution of a Title

By Sherry Harris, enjoying lovely fall weather in northern Virginia

Jessie recently talked about What’s in a Name and her joy in naming characters. Some of my characters seem to show up with names. With others I have a much harder time finding the right name. I just finished the second Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery. I had one character named Blank and one named Place until the month before I turned in the manuscript. They became Olivia and Gennie. It isn’t only naming characters that gives me trouble but also titles.

I love all the cleverly named books that are plays on words. Edith’s book A Tine to Live A Tine to Die was named as one of the punniest cozy mystery titles of the year by RT Book Reviews. You can read their picks of clever titles here: The Punniest Cozy Mystery Titles. Liz has Kneading to Die, Barb, Clammed Up and Jessie, Drizzled with Death. Julie — we’ll find hers out soon enough. It seems like there are plenty of clever things Julie will be able do with a theme of time.

Tagged for Death mech.inddThe title for the first book in the series, Tagged for Death, came to me easily. It references tag sales (a New England term for garage sales), the tags on yard sale items, and the person who is targeted to die. In my proposal the second book was titled “Marred Sale Madness”. I thought marred was a decent rhyme with yard. As I started talking about the book and telling people the title they always said, “What?” Some people thought I was saying “March,” others just didn’t understand. Then I’d have to carefully enunciate the word, M-a-r-r-ed. I don’t know if it’s my Midwest nasal tones or it’s just that hard to say, but I decided a new title was in order.

At the Wicked Cozy retreat last April I told the Wickeds that I needed a new title but was drawing a blank. Barb came up with Deal or Die. I liked it and wrote my editor asking if that was okay. He agreed it was. But as time approached to turn the second book in my editor decided to go another direction and titled the book “The Longest Yard Sale”. It’s cute and fun. I double checked on Amazon to see if there were any other books with a similar names. I found: The Longest Yard Sale by Sherry Harris available for pre-order! It comes out June 30, 2015.

The third book’s working title is: Murder As Is. I have a feeling that might change too.

Readers: Does the name of a book influence your decision to read it? How do you come up with titles? Do you have a favorite?


Ask The Expert — Private Investigator John Nardizzi

We met John last year at Crime Bake. Thanks so much for joining us today, John.

johnnauthName: John Nardizzi

Area of Expertise: I’m a private investigator who handles criminal defense and civil cases. Interviewing witnesses and background research are the main tasks I undertake.

How did you become a private investigator?

I didn’t know the profession really existed. I was in law school and went to a seminar on different careers for law school graduates. There was a private investigator on the panel and he described a career that offered a mixture of investigative reporting and legal work. For a small group of us, the discussion was enthralling. He bashed the legal profession over and over, poking fun at the narrow intelligence of many lawyers. For a year, I called the agency every few weeks, talking to the receptionist, asking to meet with him. I never got a single response. But I just kept calling. One afternoon I got a call from the receptionist who told me the boss was talking about me: I was either too dumb or too stubborn to take a hint, but he liked my persistence. Eventually they needed an Italian guy to talk to another Italian guy. I fit the profile.

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

When people hear you work as a private investigator, they always say, “I would be a great PI, I can talk to anyone!” They are mistaken: they would make a great witness. The PI in the room is the guy–or woman–who is quietly getting everyone else to talk.

Witness is a word with both religious and legal connotations, which gives you a sense of the importance of witness testimony in our legal system. This is true in criminal cases especially. Forensics impacts so many cases we handle now. But witnesses make the case.

PI work is a strange little corner of the legal world and attracts some very smart people—but also some of the wackiest. I know PIs who were investigative reporters, college professors. But the middle class is very small. One of the preeminent PIs on the West Coast, Hal Lipset, said, “In the detective business, you’re either a hero or a bum.” That’s why a creative amateur can do quite well. If you get results, no one asks where you went to college.

What do people usually get wrong when writing about private investigators?

At the Left Coast Crime conference, someone raised a topic: is the private detective novel being replaced by lawyers/legal thrillers? One writer said the detective novel is passe because because modern PIs just sit behind a desk doing research. Dead wrong. PIs are out there interviewing witnesses on major cases all over the world—fraud, civil rights cases, criminal defense. Many lawyers outside the courtroom come off as very stiff with witnesses, and they are not usually the most creative personalities. So all these bestsellers where the lawyer is doing the investigation? Might be a secret dream, but in real life, it doesn’t happen that way.

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

A good investigator, whether professional or amateur, can watch and listen to you speak and get a sense about whether you are lying. But there is no one foolproof method to do this. So while the art of reading people is a real skill, most crime novels oversimplify the process.

What are you working on?

My second crime novel is based on a case I worked on in Boston involving a man who spent decades in prison for a crime he did not commit. My detective, Ray Infantino lowers the boom on police informants and corrupt cops. He also roams into some cafes and restaurants too, of course. This is true of both real and fictional sleuths: we eat out a lot.

john-nardizzi-book-cover-640x1024Do you use your expert knowledge in your writing?

Yes, I try to use insights gleaned from years of interviewing people to craft scenes that have some psychological layers. The PI and witness verbally jabbing and feinting. Things that are said, things that are left out. I’ve worked in 26 states and met people I would never have had a chance to meet otherwise—men who were wrongfully convicted, Native Americans on reservations, con men, women who fall in love with con men. During the interviews, you learn what you need for the case. But as a writer, you always see something–a phrase, a gesture, a little story–that is just for you.

Readers: John will be stopping in to answer questions as his schedule allows. What did you always want to know about being a private investigator?

John Nardizzi is an investigator, lawyer, and writer. His writings have appeared in numerous professional and literary journals, including San Diego Writers Monthly, Oxygen, Liberty Hill Poetry Review, Lawyers Weekly USA, and PI Magazine. His fictional detective, Ray Infantino, first appeared in print in the spring 2007 edition of Austin Layman’s Crimestalker Casebook. Telegraph Hill is the first crime novel featuring Infantino.

In May 2003, John founded Nardizzi & Associates, Inc., an investigations firm that has garnered a national reputation for excellence in investigating business fraud and trial work. His investigations on behalf of people wrongfully convicted of crimes led to several million dollar settlements for clients like Dennis Maher, Scott Hornoff and Kenneth Waters, whose story was featured in the 2010 film Conviction.


Jessie: In NH watching for the first frost of the season

For the last few weeks I’ve been poking around and working on a new book in a new series. I’ve been brewing up plot and summoning up characters. I’ve been thinking about places and dreaming up spaces and enjoying all the possibilities the story could mean and be.

I’m enthralled. I’m also exhausted. Every possible choice twinkles and sparkles with its very own sort of allure. But not all choices stand up to scrutiny and many don’t play well with others. Every decision I make requires other decisions but it also eliminates many other possibilities.


Trusty pen and notebook

This will be my fifth novel and this time I am determined to do the better part of this sort of thrashing and handwringing before I begin to write. I always start out a new project with a fresh notebook and a gel pen. I begin by writing question after question in the notebook and answering them in a variety of ways. When I hit on an answer I like, I circle it. The answer invariably leads to more questions and before long I have a huge array of possibilities.

After a while, as the story sorts itself into order in my mind I get an itch to begin. This seems to happen when I have about a third of the scenes for the story in mind. When it gets to the point I have to scratch, I write out individual scenes with the goals I have in mind for each on index cards. When I am happy with those I transfer the information to color-coded sticky notes and start arranging them on my office wall. I rearrange them until I like what I see and then I set up a new file in Scrivener and  begin the actual writing.

Usually, by the time I’ve gotten to the end of that first third of the story I’ve been back to my notebook and have come up with the next third. The process gets repeated once more and finally, I reach the end. It works for me but it also requires me to make plotting decisions right along with all the word and pacing choices. Sometimes the possibilities blur the road before me and I just wish I had a map and a flashlight.


Hardest working spot in my office.

So rather than wishing, this time I’m building the whole road and the map. I’ve slathered myself with mental Calamine lotion and have ignored any itching. I’m still using my notebook and my wall of stickies but I’m finding it is easier for me to discard an idea that is no more than a single line on a yellow square than it is to slash and burn dozens of fully fleshed scenes.  I’m using a goal of finishing a sticky note outline by the last day of September to keep the urge to actually write at bay. I think it just might work so long as the local office supply store doesn’t run out of sticky notes.

Readers: Do you have decisions that overwhelm you? Writers: Do you have a favorite way to develop your own stories?



Wicked Wednesday: Back to School Memories

Early September brings memories of going back to school, although nowadays it seems all the schools start in August. Wickeds and readers, what’s your favorite memory of early fall? Did you like going back to school? Did you dread all the newness? Or as a parent, did you cherish sending your kids back to school so the house would quiet down?disney-school-lunchbox

Edith: I loved going back to school. New shoes. A new lunchbox (my brother had that very one). The smell of pears, and a peanut-butter-lettuce sandwich. The excitement of a new teacher, running around the playground with my friends (and ending up with permanently skinned knees), riding my bike or walking the two miles to school. I wasn’t known for being particularly conscientious about rules or conventions. One time my gathered petticoat was just too hot, so I took it off and wore it home on top of my dress, to my mother’s chagrin. As a parent, it was always fun to take a picture of my sons waiting for the bus on the first day of school, although somehow they weren’t as excited about what they were going to wear on the first day of school as I was.

Liz: I wasn’t a huge fan of school, at least until college. After 6th grade, I didn’t get to do fun back to school clothes shopping because I went to Catholic school and wore a lovely polyester uniform (and we can’t forget the knee socks!) I loved the start of a new college semester, though. And later, when I was in grad school, I had a lovely neighbor who did the sweetest thing for me on my first day of class. It was the same day her kids went back to school and she packed me a lunch just like she did for them. I’ll always remember that sweet gesture – and it was a yummy lunch, too!

Julie: I love summer so much, that back to school is always a little sad for me. But once it starts, I love it. Since I teach a class at Emerson College every semester, I feel like I am on a continuous wheel of back to schools. I always have a “back to school” outfit. But NOTHING as fabulous as the Sears long vest, plaid tunic, wide leg pant combo I had when I went to 4th grade. Bless the 70’s.

Sherryback to school7864_nSherry: I don’t remember dreading going back to school. But I’m guessing there was some reluctance because I loved summers: swimming, reading, running around outside. However, new clothes, new and old friends, lots of activities to participate in — I loved all of that. The picture is of my friend Betty and me. We were probably heading out to a junior high school football game. Sweaters, plaid wool shorts, and knee-high socks were must haves.

Edith: Sherry, that picture is priceless! (Somewhere I have a similar one of me at a Thanksgiving picnic in California…)

Jessie: I feel like such a downer compared to the rest of you! While I’ve always loved learning new things, I absolutely hated school. Going to it made me feel physically ill. I was an excruciatingly shy child and we moved a lot when I was in elementary school. The combination of being so shy and being the new kid was a nightmare. I loved vacations though!

katefirstdayBarb: I’m long enough out of school that for me, back to school memories involve my kids. I can’t speak for them, but I always loved it. The shopping trip for supplies and new jackets. The first day photos, on the lawn, with the neighbor kids. This year is a little different, because for the first time in a decade, both my kids are back in school. My son Rob is studying to be a veterinary technician. My daughter Kate is in the third year of her MFA in Creative Writing program and for the first time is teaching her own class. I made her send me a “first day” photo.

Readers: School memories? Good or bad?

Pawsitively Fabulous News

Hey everyone, Liz here with some happy news to share with you all. I’m delighted to announce that my Pawsitively Organic Mystery Series, featuring Stan, Nutty, Scruffy and their friends in Frog Ledge, was extended for three more books!

Kneading to DieThe series began with Kneading to Die, when Stan’s corporate life ended in a haze of scandal and she moved to tiny Frog Ledge to lay low for a while. Instead she found a potential romance, a new career, and a dead body. When I started this series, I had no idea what to expect. I just knew it sounded like great fun to write about gourmet pet food and animals. The worries ran through my head daily: Would anyone buy it? If they did buy it, would they like it? Would the dog and cat treats be a bust?

I certainly didn’t expect an Agatha nomination, but thanks to all the amazing readers out there, Kneading was nominated for Best First Novel. I was over the moon. A Biscuit, A casket.indd

The second book, A Biscuit, A Casket, came out earlier this year and it’s been such fun to reconnect with readers and hear their thoughts on Stan’s evolution and her new adventures in Frog Ledge. It’s also been lots of fun to spend more time with her new friends in town and get to know them – and see where her romance with Jake may be headed!

I’m looking forward to next April, when the third installment, The Icing on the Corpse, will be released (but it’s already available for preorder!). This one has dead bodies AND ghosts, and I’m excited for it to hit the shelves.

The Icing on the CorpseAnd now, I’m working on book four, which is tentatively titled Crimes of Pastry. I’m so excited that Kensington decided to continue this series, because I have so many more ideas for Stan and friends. In Crimes, we’re leaving Frog Ledge on a foodie adventure – one that, of course, ends in murder. The book will take place mostly in Newport, Rhode Island, with the potential of some mayhem in New York City along the way.

So, I’m super thrilled about this, and so thankful to my Wicked Cozies, without whom I couldn’t have done ANY of this, and for all the fabulous readers and animal lovers out there who’ve supported the books. You all rock!


Welcome Kendel Lynn!

Hey everyone! Liz here and today I’m thrilled to welcome Kendel Lynn, author, publisherKendelLynn and overall delightful person. Kendel writes the Elliott Lisbon Mystery Series – the first book, Board Stiff, was Agatha-nominated – and is the managing editor of Henery Press. Henery Press publishes the Eilliott series, and it’s also publishing the Sisters in Crime collaboration, Writes of Passage, an awesome book of essays about the journey that is a writing career. So thanks for that, Kendel! Now, let’s talk Elli.

Here’s a summary of Whack Job, book two in the series:
Elliott Lisbon blends her directorship of the Ballantyne Foundation with her PI-in-Training status by planning parties and performing discreet inquiries for charitable patrons. But when the annual Wonderland Tea Party makes everyone go mad as a hatter, Elli gets pulled into a shooting, a swindle, and the hunt for a Faberge egg.

From seedy pawn parlors to creepy antique shops, Sea Pine Island’s other half prove to be as wacky as the wealthy. As Elli falls farther down the rabbit hole, she finds a scheming salesman, a possessive paramour, a dead donor–in fact, the only thing missing is a bottle labeled “Drink Me.” As events evolve from curious to crazy, Elli gets lost in the maze and finds herself trapped in a house of cards with a killer.

Tell our readers a bit about your series and how Elliott Lisbon came to be.
I was living on Hilton Head Island when I started to plot the series. The interesting dynamic between locals and visitors, between country club living and trailer parks, and between flip-flops by day and fine dining at night —  it struck me as the perfect place to plop quirky characters with nefarious undersides.

Your books are hilarious, and Elli has been compared to Stephanie Plum. That’s pretty cool! Was Stephanie/Janet Evanovich an influence? Who else?
Thank you for saying that! Evanovich created the cornerstone for humorous mysteries with Stephanie Plum. She blended slapstick humor into deadly situations and she’s still cranking those suckers out (I do not know how she does it, I’m on book three and she just released twenty-one, and I’m exhausted!). But an even bigger influence for me was Lawrence Sanders and his Archibald McNally series. I love Archy! He’s a Palm Beach almost PI who martinis with his parents at sundown and sports a puce beret just for the fun of it. And of course, he always nabs the bad guys.

Whack JobSea Pine Island, SC sounds delightful (and the food sounds delicious!) You lived “in paradise” down south for a while. Was it like Sea Pine?
Sea Pine Island is the fictional version of Hilton Head Island, right down to its palm tree-covered shoe-shape. I decided to fictionalize it so I could put things where I wanted. Like a fancy prep school near the lighthouse and a lovely ocean view restaurant on the beach. The restaurants are plentiful with amazing cuisine. I actually found my favorite side dish while I lived there: homemade potato chips. Nearly every restaurant had their own version — I could eat them every day. Especially the ones covered in bleu cheese with parmesan cream sauce. 

You’re living a dual life as writer/publisher. Tell us about Henery Press and what you love most about it.
I love Henery! My partner and I started it nearly three years ago. We wanted a fresh approach to mystery publishing: flexible, entertaining, and approachable. I serve as Managing Editor, and I absolutely love finding new projects. It’s a thrill to call an author and offer a contract. As a writer, I know that feeling – from the waiting and agonizing and soul-crushing rejection – so it’s fantastic to be able to help bring these excellent books into the world. I also love working on the cover art. I’m kind of addicted to fonts.

What’s next for Elliott?
SWAN DIVE! When a ballerina goes toes up during a performance ofThe Nutcracker on Sea Pine Island, Elliott takes the case and much investigating (and hijinx) ensues. I’m almost done with the first draft (hallelujah) and it hits bookshelves April 2015.

Liz, it was an honor to be an Agatha nominee alongside you for Best First Novel this past May. You’re not just a fellow Guppy, you’re absolutely adorable! Thank you for spending time with me today. I look forward to seeing you soon!

Aww, thanks, Kendel! Readers, any questions for Kendel?

Cover Story

by Barbara Ross

I’ve gotten such great feedback on the covers for my Maine Clambake Mystery series I thought some you might be interested in how these covers come about.

Clammed Up

CLAMMED_UPI signed the contract for three Maine Clambake Mysteries in March of 2012. The first book Clammed Up was due December 1, 2012. In August 2012, I got an e-mail from my editor at Kensington, John Scognamiglio.

Hi, Barbara!
Quick request.
Can you email me by next Monday any/all cover ideas you might have for the first mystery?

And I e-mailed back–

Hi John

The central image in the book is the empty Gilded Age mansion that belonged to the protagonist’s ancestors. It sits on a hill on the Maine island where the clambakes are held and is described as four stories high with dormers, made of stone with a slate roof. Size-wise I sort of modeled it on Edith Wharton’s The Mount.

The victim, the best man at a wedding, is found hanging from its elaborate staircase.

All that being said, people who know better than I say the best way to market all things Maine is with “lighthouses and lobsters.”

I’ve developed some Pinterest boards your people may find helpful as they work.

So happy to be asked for ideas!

As you can see, they went the “lighthouses and lobsters” route. That in itself is a bit of a story. Paul Doiron is both the author of the absolutely fabulous Mike Bowditch mysteries about a Maine Game Warden (and if you haven’t read them you should) and the former editor of Down East Magazine. He once said, rather cynically, “You can do focus group after focus group, but no one wants to see anything of Maine but lobsters and lighthouses.” He meant rather despairingly, I think, that no one cares about the poverty or the vast North Woods or the cities or lakes or mountains. But when I, a new author with a new series a no reputation, was asked for cover input, all I could think was, perhaps even more cynically, “Why would I swim against that tide?”

When I got the cover for Clammed Up, I was a little taken aback. Why were there crabs and bread at a Maine clambake? Which shows what I know, because the book went on to be a B&N in-store Mass Market paperback best-seller for five weeks. I get constant compliments about the cover.

Boiled Over

Boiled Over front coverI handed in Clammed Up on December 1, 2012 and started in on Boiled Over, due September 1, 2013. The request for cover ideas came in April. here’s what I wrote.

Hi John
If Clammed Up was a book about the island, Boiled Over is a book about the town. Therefore, I’d love it if the cover of Boiled Over could include an iconic Maine harbor town.
I’ve created a Pinterest board I hope can provide some inspiration. (Note: Though I’ve included photos from every season, Boiled Over takes place at the height of the summer season.)
Also, I don’t know if you’ll have the same illustrator, but I also think it would be cool to have something that was a bit of a motif from cover to cover.  The lobster boat on the cover of Clammed Up is a possibility. Or, the platter with the lobster, corn and clams from the bottom left corner of the Clammed Up cover.
As always, you guys are the experts. Thanks so much for asking.

And got this reply.

Thanks for sending!

What kind of food plays into this book?
I’m not sure if Sales is going to want to carry the food theme over. If they do, my worry is having the cover of book two looking identical to book one.  Even though the titles are different, trust me, readers sometimes get confused.
So, are there any desserts featured in this new book? Types of fruit? Different types of seafood?  Clams? Any sort of summer drink (lemonade?) or cocktail?
Best, John
P.S.  Yes, it will be the same illustrator.

To which I thought–argh, argh, argh–because I didn’t have the recipes nailed down yet. But I did know there was a picnic at the beginning of the book, so I wrote back

Still working on the food for Boiled Over, but there definitely is a picnic, overlooking the harbor, so perfect for the harbor town scene (and fireworks–just saying–I know this is sounding overly complex). Deviled eggs, which I think this illustrator would be great at. The other foods are lobster salad and potato salad which don’t seem particularly pretty and blueberry pie which does. It’s blueberry season and they feature prominently in the book.

eggpeepsAs you can see from the cover, I got exactly what I wanted. I think you can even see the influence of the Pinterest board. The little deviled egg chicks were a surprise, but everyone remarks on them. Boiled Over was also a B&N in-store mmpb bestseller, so by now I was really feeling in good hands.

Musseled Out

MusseledOutFrontcoverI handed in Boiled Over, and started work on Musseled Out. The request for cover input again came in April, which makes sense because Musseled Out will be published a year after Boiled Over.

I was ready by this point. Here’s what I wrote.

Thanks so much for asking me about cover thoughts for Musseled Out, Book 3 in the Maine Clambake Mystery series.

Musseled Out takes place in the fall. For an image, I am picturing one or two empty adirondack chairs on a beach or dock, looking across a body of water to the hills on the other side which are decked out in a riot of fall foliage colors. It would be great if we could have a lobster boat floating in the water as we have had on the last two covers, as that is part of the story.

I have put together a Pinterest board with cover ideas/inspirations.

For food, this book includes a bowl of mussels (of course). The lobster recipes are scampi and also hot lobster dip. The dessert is pumpkin whoopie pies (state snack of Maine). Other appropriate food would include apples, apple pie, squash, pumpkin and a baguette.

Let me know if you need anything else. Will it be the same artist? I get such great feedback on the covers so far.

This time, as you can see, I got everything I dreamed of.  You can strongly see the influence of the Pinterest board.

I finally asked John about the identity of my cover artist. He’s never credited in the books, but I wanted to put him in the acknowledgments of Musseled Out. He is Ben Perini, a fabulous fine artist/illustrator whose portfolio is worth looking at here. I wrote him a fan letter through his website, but so far haven’t heard back.

So thanks to all of you who hung in during this rather long post. What do you think of the covers? Do covers in general influence your decision to buy?