Thinking Thoughts

By Julie, hoping spring will spring soon in Somerville

Crime thoughtsEarlier this year I went to a book event for The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, a terrific book by Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman. In my day job, I run a small in size but large in scope nonprofit, so the topic was (is) of great interest to me. One of the steps I have taken since is to meditate for a few minutes every day, a practice that had been recommended for years. Thanks to the Calm app, it has been a very interesting process. I am much more aware–of my feelings, of the weather, of the taste of food, of whether or not I am hungry, of my thoughts in general.

I am a bit alarmed by how often my mind wanders to crime.

I am working on two books this year, and need to keep characters, settings, and crimes separate. I am committed to the cozy genre, so I am looking for crimes off the page, but that leave an impression. I’ve also subscribed to Acorn TV, and am inspired by  British, Australian, and New Zealand “cozy” characters and mysteries. Midsomer Murders, while fitting the genre, is over the top in the crimes (and the acting). I love the heightened reality of that show, Rosemary and Thyme, Mr. & Mrs. Murder, Agatha Raisin, and The Brokenwood Mysteries and other series in that vein.

The wonderful characters, inventive murders, and close knit community settings are my go to these days. But all of these are set in small villages, and I live in a city. I am very much a city girl. But meditation has cleared some of the muddle of my mind, and helped me look at my city with fresh eyes. It has also, as I mentioned, made me aware of where my mind drifts.  I see the small pockets of village life in Somerville, and my imagination kicks in gear. A block of eclectic shops in Union Square, some of which have been there for years, many of which are undergoing facelifts. What stories will those walls tell?  gather here, a place that encourages knitting, sewing, and other crafts. Crafters, as we all know, are a treasure trove of instruments that can be employed in devious ways,  and strong personalities.  Davis Square, the the movie/concert hall in the center of a bastion of wonderful restaurants. Date night gone wrong? The bike path, a lovely place to walk, run, or ride your bike all the way to Bedford. So many mysterious places to explore.

My imagination has been in overdrive. My mind wanders to crime, no matter who I am with. It does make it a bit dicey when folks don’t know I am a mystery writer, and likely puts some folks off. Granted, meditation probably shouldn’t heighten awareness of mysterious pursuits, but it has been a side effect of my new practice. I’m sure I’m not the only person constantly plotting dastardly deeds.

Am I?

Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery 2017

Edith here. Last week we hosted the Agatha nominees for Best Short Story and Best First Novel. Today we’re lucky enough to have the nominees for Best Historical Mystery! Jessica Estevao (otherwise known as Jessie Crockett) and I, also nominees, are delighted to welcome D.E.Ireland (also known as Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta), Catriona McPherson, and Victoria Thompson to the Wicked Cozys. Here are (imagine me wearing my Oscar Ceremony gown here) the nominated books, in author-alphabetical order:

  • Jessica Estevao: Whispers Beyond the Veil
  • D.E. Ireland: Get Me to the Grave on Time
  • Edith Maxwell: Delivering the Truth
  • Catriona McPherson: The Reek of Red Herrings
  • Victoria Thompson: Murder in Morningside Heights

First, Jessica asks: In which time period do you set your books and how did you come to choose that era?

WhispersbeyondtheveilJessica:A few years ago my family purchased a vacation home in Old Orchard Beach Maine. By the end of our first summer there I knew I wanted to start a mystery series set in that town. The biggest question was when it should take place. After all, in a town as steeped in fascinating history as Old Orchard, a writer is spoilt for choice!  are So, I decided to begin at what was the beginning of the town’s real fame, 1898 when the original pier was built.  Between the cultural shifts, the technological developments and the architecture it proved to be a fertile time period to explore!

DE: Our Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins series features the main characters from Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, and begins mere weeks after the action of the play concludes. We couldn’t have chosen a better historical setting than 1913 London. Although the Edwardian era technically ended when King Edward VI died in 1910, the four years between his death and the outbreak of war is a fascinating mélange of old world traditions coming up against an upheaval in politics, culture and technology. In other words, a perfect time in history for an iconoclastic phonetics teacher to partner with a former Cockney flower girl turned lady. But a lady who demands to be regarded as an equal.

Of course, Eliza Doolittle may have learned to speak and act like a lady in the earlier Victorian era, but her prospects for respectable employment would have been limited. But 1913 is a perfect time for Eliza to become a teacher like Higgins, allowing her to help others to better themselves as she has done. While Shaw made Higgins something of a careless misogynist, we’ve let readers occasionally glimpse a warmer side to the arrogant professor – all thanks to a newly independent, modern Eliza. We are also far less inclined to rush Eliza into marriage with her ardent suitor Freddy, as Shaw intended. Instead, we decided our characters need to take full advantage of these tumultuous and exciting years before the war. It is a new, uncertain century, one suited for a pair as rebellious and resourceful as Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins.

Edith: My choice of era came about accidentally. I had moved to Amesbury , Massaschusetts in 2012, having bought a modest home built for the textile mill workers in 1880, but I had been in the area and a member of Amesbury Friends Meeting (Quaker) since 1989. In April of 2013 I read a local newspaper article about the Great Fire of 1888, which burned down many of the factories which made Amesbury’s world-famous carriages. A few days later I was walking to worship on Sunday morning, as Friends have over the centuries in Amesbury, and a story popped into my head about a 17-year-old Quaker mill girl who solved the mystery of the arson. (Historically it wasn’t arson, but hey, I write fiction.) After the short story was published in a juried anthology, the characters and setting refused to go away, so I invented the mill girl’s aunt Rose, an independent midwife.

As it turns out , 1888 is a really interesting time to write about! So much is in flux – electricity and telephones are starting to come in but aren’t widespread, midwives still predominate but physicians are starting to edge into the birthing world, and even women’s clothing is changing with the new emphasis on bicycling and physical fitness, leading to looser garments and fewer corsets.

Catriona: I don’t really set mine in a real historical era. Dandy Gilver lives in a corner of our culture that’s half the 1920s (eek – except I’m up to 1934 now!) and half the Golden Age of British detective fiction, where gently-born amateur sleuths solved murders. It’s never happened in real life, but in between the wars in the UK it seems normal.

MorningsideVictoria: The Gaslight Mysteries are set in turn-of-the-century New York City.  The series starts in 1896 and the most recent, MURDER IN MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, is set in 1899. Oddly enough, the original concept was generated by Berkley.  They did that a lot in the early days at Berkley Prime Crime.  My agent called me one day to tell me she’d just had lunch with a Prime Crime editor who was looking for someone to write a series set in turn-of-the-century New York  City where the heroine was a midwife.  My agent thought of me, since I’d recently written a book set in that time period and I had been putting mystery subplots in my historical romances for a while.  They sent me their ideas for the series.  I liked some of them and threw out a few others.  Then I realized that my midwife, Sarah, would need a male cohort, preferably someone who would logically be solving murder mysteries, so I created Police Detective Frank Malloy. Berkley had suggested that Sarah be a poor relation of a rich family, but I made her the rebellious daughter of a rich family, which would give her entré into all levels of society.

My new series, The Counterfeit Lady Series which launches in November, starts in 1917.  I purposely chose this era because so much was happening in the world at that time.  Women were demonstrating for the right to vote, which finally came in 1920.  The US had just entered World War I.  The flu epidemic that killed millions is looming on the horizon.  Most importantly, for both my series, the issues people were concerned about then are the same issues we are concerned about today, which makes these books a lot of fun to write.

Great answers! Now, how about this one from me (Edith):

What’s the most fun thing you’ve ever done as research for your series? How about the hardest or most risky?

Jessica: This past summer I spent several days in Lily Dale, NY which is the world’s largest Spiritualist enclave. It dates to the Victorian era and was a delightful place to work and to conduct research. I atttended open air platform readings by a wide variety of mediums. I attended talks, visited the library and booked a private consultation with a medium. All in all it was a fascinating trip and it taught me a lot about what it would be like to live and work in the fictional world I have created for my characters to inhabit.

FinalGetMeToGraveFullCoverDE: Although learning about the Edwardian era is always fun, neither of us have done anything hard or risky regarding research for this particular series. However research was responsible for the plot of the first book in our series, Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, where a Hungarian linguist blackmails his students. In the process of researching Pygmalion, we discovered Shaw later wrote updated versions of the play, including screenplays and revisions to the 1912 text. One of the revised versions of Pygmalion contains a scene between Higgins and this Hungarian language expert, who boasts that he makes all his students pay, “and not just for lessons.” Voila! Researching Shaw’s revisions gave us our first murderer, with a motive already provided.

A similar serendipitous moment occurred in our second book, Move Your Blooming Corpse. Because the novel opens at Royal Ascot in 1913, we knew the real life Harold Hewitt would run onto the racetrack and be trampled by horses – in a copycat of Emily Davison at the Derby. While creating a colorful cast of suspects who would attend this deadly Ascot race, we learned Harold Hewitt survived being trampled and was sent to a mental hospital. Soon after, Hewitt escaped and was never captured. This true event allowed us to make Hewitt one of our murder suspects. We’ve never been happier to discover how correct Mark Twain was when he wrote, “truth is stranger than fiction.” All it took was a little research to prove it.

Edith: The most fun has to be riding in a real carriage (buggy, actually) drawn by a real horse on real outdoor trails. I wore my long linen skirt and hung on tight. The side of the carriage are low, there are no seat belts, and it’s bumpy! I fully understood what women as old as me and with knees as creaky as mine went through to relieve themselves in the middle of the night back then.

Called to JusticeIn one of my past lives as a childbirth educator and doula, I did attend a number of births, first as an observer and then as a support person (but not a midwife – I never wanted the responsibility a midwife carries). I know firsthand the risks of any birth, as well as the normal, healthy process that it is in the absence of risk factors. It wasn’t dangerous to me personally to be part of the miracle of these births, but I was present at more than one where things went seriously wrong due to no fault of the caregivers or the birthing mother. Those experiences have enriched my fictional descriptions of childbirth, both easy and otherwise.

 

Catriona: I’ve never put myself in danger. But fun, now? The way I do research it’s a 7b98a5ff-fdcb-478d-b41c-62517b4f7e22stretch to call it working. I go to castles, palaces, manor houses and various other stately piles in Scotland and I ask awkward questions until one of the docents demands to know why. Then I reveal that I’m writing a book (and produce an earlier one to prove it). And without fail, at that point they fetch an enormous bunch of keys and take me to my favourite place – “round the back”, aka the attics and dungeons where the public don’t get to go.  Bliss for a nosey parker!

 

Victoria: Funny you should ask. I did one thing, completely inadvertently, that really helped with my Gaslight research into what a midwife does.  I arrived at my daughter’s house for the birth of grandchild #3 to discover that, after two C-sections, she intended to have a natural home birth with a midwife and a doula. My duties included a trip to the hardware store for an adapter so we could fill the inflatable tub for a water birth (which didn’t happen) and keeping the two older boys, ages 6 and not-quite 2, occupied during her labor.

We were all present when Keira Jane made her dramatic entrance into the world and when she didn’t realize she was supposed to start breathing right away. A little oxygen and an unnecessary visit from the fire department paramedics set her on the right path, though, and I got way more information than I needed about how a midwife works.  I even got to see a placenta up close and personal (while the midwife explained its function to my oldest grandson and the younger paramedic) and watch as my oldest grandson cut the cord. Was it fun?  Oh, yes, when it was all over.  Was it hard?  Let’s just say explaining the situation to the 911 operator while my newborn granddaughter turned blue was pretty difficult.  Was it risky? Not for me, since I didn’t actually have heart failure and it all turned out fine. Keira is now 7 and just as feisty as you’d expect. I’ll never forget the 911 operator asking me if she was breathing, and when I looked over the midwife’s shoulder to see, Keira was staring up at me, all pink, as if to say, “What’s all the fuss about?”

Thanks, ladies. See you all in Bethesda at the end of April! Below, left to right: Catriona McPherson, Victoria Thompson, Sharon Pisacreta, Meg Mims. You can find Jessica and Edith in the Wicked Cozy banner.

Readers: What era do you like your fiction set in? What risks would you take – or not take – in the name of research?

Wicked New England: Spring Outings

Okay, gang, Spring has officially arrived. We all know it takes its sweet time here in New England. But when the weather does finally warm and the last ice is melted, where are your favorite places to wander about and catch glimpses of new life? Where do you like to spy early daffodils and carpets of tulips? See birds building nests? Hear choruses of spring peepers? Smell garden or farm soil being turned to warm in the lengthening days? Finally walk without being totally bundled up in scarves, boots, and ear warmers? Dish about your favorite early spring outing.

Jessie: I love to head for Old Orchard Beach. As soon as I possibly can stand it I peel off my shoes and socks and roll up my pant cuffs in order to walk barefooted along the sand. There is something so wonderful about feeling the sand between your toes after a long, cold winter!

Liz: The beach – any beach! Like Jessie, I feel completely at home with my toes in the sand, and I look so forward to the first visit each year when it’s warm enough to peel off some layers. This really is my happy place.

IMG_3754Edith: I head out to my garden and watch my garlic come up. Not much of an outing, I know, but it’s a marvel every spring to see the crop I planted in the fall pop its green shoots through the hay mulch and start to reach skyward. Getting the rest of the garden ready for planting is a treat, too. We also like to take walks on streets where there are lots of bulbs blooming.

Barb: For the last several years, spring has meant the ritual of opening our house in Maine. Checking out which restaurants and businesses survived the winter, what new places are popping up. Putting out the porch furniture, inspecting the basement and attic for signs of winter “guests.” That’s spring for me.

Sherry: When I lived in Massachusetts I always loved to drive up to Rockport, Massachusetts. It’s an old historic town with lots of shops and stunning scenery! I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves!

Julie: Chalk up another beach goer as soon as I can get there. I also LOVE walking through the Public Gardens in Boston, and watching the morph from winter to spring. As Edith said, it comes late here in New England, but it is greatly cherished by us all.

Readers: What are your favorite spring outings, wherever you live?

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Wicked Wednesday: Marching in SinC

Edith here, on March Wednesday number four. All the Wickeds are members of Sisters in Crime, and among us we have three past presidents of the New England chapter (Sheila, Barb,and Julie) and a current president (Edith).  In addition, Sherry is President of the Chesapeake chapter where Kim is also a member, Julie serves on the National board, Jane and Jessie are current board members of the New England chapter, and Liz is a former board member.

National is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and the New England chapter is hosting a gala luncheon this Saturday, with many of our chapter luminaries attending. We are so fortunate to have an active, thriving advocacy organization supporting us, pushing for a more equitable distribution of reviews, award nominations and publishing contracts, and spreading information on all aspects of writing and making it as an author.

bookssogooditsacrime

So let’s talk about what Sisters in Crime has meant to you over the years, both when you were getting started and now.

Liz: Sisters in Crime is the reason I’m published, plain and simple. If I hadn’t had that network and made those connections, I wouldn’t have been part of the group who received the opportunity to write a proposal for our now-agent, John Talbot – the proposal that became the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries. And that’s just one part of it. The members of Sisters in Crime are truly my tribe, and I’m grateful to know them all.

The Wickeds all met through Sisters in Crime!

Edith: Same here, Liz. Not only from the connections I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned through our fabulous New England chapter, but I also wouldn’t be published if not for National. I’m a long-time member of the Guppies (Great Unpublished) online chapter. I learned so much about the publishing field, about writing a query letter, about finding a small press, and about supporting each other. I stayed on even after I was published because it’s still a source of much shared knowledge. National also puts out an invaluable monthly compilation of links to articles about the field and of contract announcements from members, and does yearly initiatives to further our mission.

Sherry: The night I met Julie at the Malice banquet in 2005 she told me “you have to join Sisters in Crime and the New England chapter when you move to Massachusetts.” A couple of months later we moved and I joined both. Those two actions have been like the stone dropped in the middle of the lake that keeps rippling out in widening circles of friends and opportunities. By joining I found my tribe — people who understand the weird stories swirling in my head. I  wholeheartedly believe that it’s the only reason I’m published. When we moved back to Virginia I joined the Chesapeake Chapter and I’m honored to now serve as their president. Who knew that chance meeting would be so life changing? Thank you to those who started SinC and those who keep it going. I’m forever indebted.

Nancy Parra, Leslie Budewitz, Jessie Crockett, Sheila Connolly, and Julie Hennrikus at the fabulous SinC Hollywood conference last April.

Barb: I first joined the New England chapter back in the 90s, when I was the newsletter editor. (Back when the newsletter had to be laid out in Quark, printed, folded, put in an envelope, and stamped.) I took a long hiatus when I wasn’t writing, then finally produced a short story that got an honorable mention that was presented at Crime Bake, where I sat at a table across from Julie, and…the rest is history. Novel writing is a difficult skill to master, and the publishing business is inscrutable, so between the two, becoming a published mystery author is a difficult hill to climb. I couldn’t have done it without the classes and support I found at SinCNE.

Jessie: I agree with everyone else about how much SinC has helped to make a writing career possible. If it weren’t for the Guppies I would not have heard about the publisher who published my first mystery, Live Free or Die. If it weren’t for SinCNE I would not have had the opportunity to work with my agent. If it weren’t for the mentorship and education provided by SinC I would not have had the skills or the savvy to take advantage of either opportunity. I am deeply indebted to this organization and cannot recommend it enough to other writers.

Julie: I echo my friends raves about Sisters in Crime, especially the New England chapter. I went to my first Malice in 2001 or 2002, and my friend stood in line to send her books back. She started chatting up Dana Cameron, who was then the Vice President of SinCNE. Dana said “you must join”, so Regina came back and informed me that we had to join. So we did. My first meeting was at Hallie Ephron’s house. I was a wreck, but she was very nice, as was everyone else. We grew out of house meetings a few years later. Not only would I not be published, I would not have my wonderful community if I had not joined this organization. I was pleased to serve on the board of SinCNE for a number of years, and to be serving on the national board. It is an amazing group, and highly recommended for folks at any stage of their crime writing life.

Friends, are you a member of Sisters in Crime? What does the organization mean to you?

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The Detective’s Daughter — Slither!

Kim in Baltimore watching the snow melt on the first day of spring.

I don’t like snakes, never have. Growing up in the city amongst concrete and black top, I’d really no reason to come across one, but it didn’t stop me from checking under the toilet seat or searching under my bed before I went to sleep.

Most children are afraid of the dark, afraid of some inanimate object eerily coming to life in their room, or of a monster lurking under their bed or in their closet. My fear was something I could name, a reptile I could visit in the zoo or, worse yet, at the circus my mom and Nana insisted on dragging me to every March. The circus train would pass our house each spring on its way to Penn Station. On many occasions it would stop just outside our back doorstep, waiting for what I was never sure. It was in these moments, as the train sat silently, I worried the most.

Suppose one of those slithering creatures escaped? I was never concerned about the lions or tigers, they’d be missed immediately. But how long would it take to notice a lone missing snake?

It was Thanksgiving morning. I was fourteen years old. We had just begun to prepare the relish trays, I was in charge of the pickles and my sister took care of the olives. The sirens from a radio car and fire engine broke the calm order of our holiday. We were good neighbors, so we shuffled outside, coffee mugs in hand, to stand with the rest of our block. We did our duty and showed our concern by standing on the pavement and gawking at the house where the emergency vehicles were parked.

“Kitchen fire,” said one neighbor.

“Heart attack,” said another. But there was no ambulance. Seconds later Animal Control pulled up. One man carried a large stick, the other man held what looked like a laundry bag.

“Snake,” Dad said.

The poor woman in that house had found an eight-foot python behind her stove. A young man several blocks away had been in search of his pet python, Serena was her name, all morning. Fortunately, Serena had been well fed and cared for by her owner and the woman or her Toy Poodle had not been on the python’s Thanksgiving menu.

I learned two things that day; snakes seek out warmth, and that my fear was not as unfounded as my parents led me to believe. There’s more than one benefit to sleeping in a cool room, I thought.

When I was twenty-five years old I taught preschool. A local nature center came to give a presentation one afternoon. The center was known for their care and rehabilitation of wild animals. I arranged for this program because I wanted my inner-city students to see these animals up close and to learn how to respect nature. The director of the center brought along with her quite a few animals that included an opossum, a barn owl, a hawk, and, of course, a snake.

“I need a volunteer,” she said to the crowd. My principal pushed me forward. “This was your idea, after all,” she  reminded me.

My job was to hold the snake. I thought I was going to faint. I could actually hear my heart beat in my ears along with great swooshing noises. I swallowed my fear and held out my hand for the small yellow and brown corn snake. Her name was Lipstick and her skin felt soft as silk material, not like slime or leather as I’d feared. She gently moved her body around my wrist and up my arm flicking her tongue in and out. It was the only time I’ve ever held a snake.

My dad was sixty-one years old when he came to live with me and my family after his house  burned down. As the months passed, it became apparent he was not well. It was hard for him to put sentences together or to walk very far. We turned our family room on the first floor into a bedroom for him where he’d have easy access to the bathroom and the back porch where he could go to smoke.

By year’s end he began to have mini strokes and was now unable to move around on his own. I took him all his meals and sat with him drinking endless cups of coffee while watching game and talk shows.

One evening, after everyone was asleep and  I was up reading, I began hearing odd sounds. I checked the children, but they were sleeping soundly. The dogs were curled by the fireplace. After checking each room without discovering the source of the shuffling sound, I decided to check on Dad. He had been asleep for hours. I opened the door at the top of the stairs and saw a brown pattern move on the steps. I screamed and flipped on the lights. There was Dad slithering up towards me, his tongue twitched from side to side as he slid on his belly maneuvering his way up the stairs.

“Did I scare you?” he asked and rolled over on his back. I could barely breathe. My body shook so hard I had to sit down on the floor. I reached down and touched his shoulder to reassure myself it was only my dad. His face was covered in sweat from exertion.

“I want that brown stuff in a mug,” he said.

“Coffee?” I asked. “I will bring you your coffee.” But I still couldn’t move.

“I scared you,” he said again and began to laugh.

He laughed so hard for so long he sent himself into a coughing fit. It took the fire department to get him off the steps and back in bed. He continued to tell the story and laugh about it for days afterward. I believe it was the last hearty laugh he enjoyed.

In my childhood I was not afraid of ghost or the dark, but of something slithering near me. My dad has been gone from this world for eleven years now, but there has not been one time since that evening that I have not been leery of opening that door and just a bit terrified I might find him slithering up towards me.

A Dress Dilemma

Jessie: In NH where there is a foot of snow still on the ground. 

calligraphy-678690_1280Next month all the Wickeds, along with hundreds of mystery readers and writers will descend on Bethesda, MD for the Malice Domestic Conference. One of the highlights of the conference every year is the banquet where the Agatha Award winners are announced. This year, for the first time, one of my books has been nominated. The first thing I did when I received the call informing me that Whispers Beyond the Veil had been nominated was to jump up and down and to scream like a game show contestant. Once I had calmed down enough to remember to breathe, I realised I would need to think about what to wear.

Almost every time I attend a banquet I wear the same thing. I have a serviceable, unwrinklable black dress which I wear with a chiffon bolero jacket and whichever jewelry strikes my fancy. And red lipstick. I always wear red lipstick. But I found myself wondering if I ought to shop for something new in honor of the occasion. I decided I really should make an extra effort so I started looking around. Distressingly, nothing whatsoever has caught my fancy.

Everything is either too short, too long, too flouncy, too lacy or worst of all, sleeveless. Why are almost all cocktail dresses sleeveless? I have not noticed such an abundance of strikingly beautiful upper arms to warrant the near extinction of sleeves. Could sleeves make such a difference in profit margins? How much time and extra fabric do they really require?  I can only conclude there some sort of conspiracy between dressmakers and the diet industry.

It makes me wish, just for a moment to find myself back in the Victorian era, when Whispers Beyond the Veil is set. I would likely have had a dressmaker to assist me or even have had sufficient skills of my own to make a gown  myself. Then I remind myself how lucky I am to be alive in a time when I can wear something other than a floor length dress.  Which makes me ask myself if I am overthinking it all. Do I really need something new? Does anyone ever remember what anyone else wears? Especially if what one keeps wearing is a simple black dress?

So, dear readers, what do you advise? Stick with what I own already? Keep looking? And if you advise continuing to shop, do you have a suggestion for a store that sells dresses with sleeves?

Agatha Best Short Stories 2017

Edith here, super delighted to welcome my fellow nominees for this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story!

Greenteapots

Let’s have a Hip-Hip-Hooray for:

  • Gretchen Archer for “Jinx” (Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story)
  • Barb Goffman for “The Best-Laid Plans” (Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional)
  • Edith Maxwell (that’s me!) for “The Mayor and the Midwife” (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016)
  • BK Stevens for “The Last Blue Glass” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
  • Art Taylor for “Parallel Play” (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning)

Because it’s also St. Patrick’s Day today, let’s dish on an Irish connection in your story.

Gretchen: In my Agatha nominated short story “Double Jinx,” the luck of the Irish is with July Jackson, Holiday Host at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, as she tries to locate the missing body of a previously undead zombie, foils a thief trying to make off with three million of the casino’s dollars, and meets the man of her dreams.

“Double Jinx,” is a Halloween story, complete with Asylum, the Musical playing to a sold-out audience in the theater, a Spooky Rich slot tournament in full swing, and a Black and Orange Ball after a Biohazard Buffet. Chances are if we could visit with July today, she’d be hosting the casino’s Lucky Leprechaun poker extravaganza, where her players would be shamrocked from too many Four Leaf Clover martinis, and the pot of gold at the end of the tournament rainbow has gone missing.

What a great idea! I’m off to write it. Read “Double Jinx” here: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/uQrJO

BK Stevens: Around the end of the sixteenth century, Spanish conquistadores came home from South America with plundered Incan gold and also with a strange new vegetable—the potato. In Ireland, potatoes soon became the staple crop, star ingredients in dishes ranging from colcannon to stew. But when the 1840s brought the potato famine, over a million Irish people died, and a million and a half more had to leave their homes, mostly for the United States. Apparently, some Irish-Americans still observe the tradition of defying the weather to plant potatoes in their gardens on Saint Patrick’s Day. So, in good times and bad, potatoes have played a role in Irish history. They also play a role in my Agatha-nominated story, “The Last Blue Glass.” Until Edith challenged us to link our stories to Ireland, I didn’t really realize that —I’d never thought of my characters as having any particular ethnicity, and I’d definitely never thought of potatoes as symbols. But they do crop up (horrible pun) at crucial points in the story.

“The Last Blue Glass” is framed by two dinner parties. At the first, newlyweds Cathy and Frank entertain four guests. A novice cook, Cathy has to call her mother long-distance for advice on how to keep peeled potatoes from turning brown—and to endure her mother-in-law’s snide remarks when the potatoes are underdone. Cathy becomes a far more skilled cook after Frank suddenly decides to ditch his insurance job and buy a bar. She labors to create a bar snack called Spud Balls—scooped-out spheres of potato browned in butter and carefully spiced, designed to draw in customers and support Frank’s dream. It’s a labor-intensive dish, reflecting Cathy’s devotion to her charming, impulsive husband. But their marriage is undermined by Frank’s weaknesses and by the manipulations and betrayals of people he trusts. At the end of the story, the newly widowed Cathy invites the same four people to dinner again. As she cooks up a final batch of Spud Balls, she thinks about the revenge she’s planning to take on one of her guests, the one she sees as most responsible for Frank’s death. You can read “The Last Blue Glass” at http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/book/the-last-blue-glass/ ; and if you’d like to try the recipe for Spud Balls, you can find it at http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/recipes-from-the-stories/.

Barb: “May the luck of the Irish be with you.” That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But it’s debatable whether the sentiment truly is. Some say the phrase stems from the Irish people being lucky—having overcome so much adversity. But others think it’s a sarcastic saying—something you’d say to someone you don’t like. My main character in “The Best-Laid Plans,” Eloise Nickel, would run with the latter meaning when it came to her nemesis, Kimberly Siger.

Both Eloise and Kim are mystery authors, and both are about to be honored at this year’s Malice International convention, Eloise as the lifetime achievement honoree and Kim as guest of honor. They once were friends, but Kim long ago moved on to friendships with more useful authors. Now, with the convention looming, Kim has been rude to Eloise in a big magazine article. Eloise vows revenge—a series of mishaps to occur at the convention to poor down-on-her-luck Kim. But to her dismay, it seems the luck of the Irish might really be with Eloise.

We mystery authors like to make our characters suffer. It keeps things interesting, and boy does Eloise suffer during the convention. Yet she soldiers on despite multiple setbacks. As she does, the reader gets a good glimpse into her psyche and even, at times, her humanity. But is the luck of the Irish with her or not? You’ll have to read the story to find out. It’s available at http://www.barbgoffman.com/The_Best_Laid_Plans.html. Happy reading and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Art: When my dad reached the question about ancestry in the 1980 U.S. Census, he read me the list of suggested answers, and when one or the other of us said, “Irish. Let’s be Irish,” he marked it down and made it official. The odds are good that we do indeed have Irish background; North Carolina is rich with Scotch-Irish heritage, and one of the earliest Scotch-Irish communities in the state was founded in the same small county where my parents were born some two hundred years later. Plus, given that my birthday is the day before St. Patrick’s Day (yesterday as you’re reading this!), I’ve always felt an additional kinship here—always on the lookout for any potential Irish ties, whether they’re really there or not.

Given the question on the blog today, I’ve found myself in a similar situation—since there’s nothing Irish in my story “Parallel Play,” which follows a young mother and her son through a perilous afternoon in Northern Virginia. It was pointed out to me that there’s lots of rain in my story, since folks often think of Ireland’s rainy weather, and in one scene, that young mother and the father of another child in the same play group share a pot of tea, which I could probably call Irish Breakfast (one of my own favorite flavors) except for the fact that I already called it Lapsang Souchong in a post on the story at Mystery Playground a few weeks back.

So I was basically at a loss here… until circling back to that image of my father and me tackling the census: the two of us teasing through, at some fundamental level, who we were, our family, our larger connections—not just by birth but literally, in our case, by choice. To a degree, that’s what “Parallel Play” is about: what it means to be a family, the choices you make for your family, and in my story at least, the consequences too. That’s a loose connection to something Irish, I know—but it’s the one for me that stands out most. “Parallel Play” is linked here: http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/books/6715-2/

Edith: First – happy birthday, Art! But I now realize what a silly idea this was, to ask my fellow nominees to link their stories to something – anything – Irish. I am hard-pressed to do so with my own story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” No, I’ve got it! Amesbury Detective Kevin Donovan is definitely Irish. When the mayor of New Orleans comes to the northeast corner of Massachusetts in 1888 to visit his pregnant daughter, he meets Quaker midwife Rose. He tells her he had also arranged a meeting with the town’s bigwigs – but none of them would have a drink with him. Rose takes him to meet Irish Kevin, who she is quite sure would be happy to discuss crime-fighting with the mayor over a tankard of ale. But when the mayor’s son-in-law is murdered, he and Kevin – and Rose – end up working a lot more closely to solve the crime. You can read the story here: https://edithmaxwell.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/the-mayor-and-the-midwife.pdf

Who we are:

DOUBLEJINXfrontGretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, ran off and left her. She’s the bestselling author of the Davis Way Crime Caper series by Henery Press. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, her son, and a Yorkie named Bently.

Malice 11 front cover proof 2 - FINALBarb Goffman edits mysteries by day and writes them by night. She’s won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she’s been a finalist for national crime-writing awards nineteen times. Her newest story, “Whose Wine Is It Anyway,” appears in the mystery anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, which was published earlier this week. When not writing, Barb runs a freelance editing and proofreading service. She blogs every third Tuesday at www.SleuthSayers.org. In her spare time, she reads, reads, reads and plays with her dog.

cover-herren-blood-on-the-bayou-200x300pxNational best-selling author Edith Maxwell is a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery Delivering the Truth and her short story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” She writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to served as President of Sisters in Crime New England. Maxwell writes, cooks, gardens, and wastes time as a Facebook addict north of Boston where she lives with her beau and three cats. She blogs here at WickedCozyAuthors.com, at Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors.

last-blue-glass-hitchcock

B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens is the author of Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books), a traditional whodunit offering insights into deaf culture, and Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen Press), a martial arts mystery for young adults. She’s also published over fifty short stories, most of them in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Eleven of her stories are collected in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime (Wildside Press).

CC_StormWarning_FINALArt Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has also won two Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.

Readers: What’s your favorite short story of all time? Do you prefer reading short or long crime fiction?