Go West, Young Woman — Guest Annette Dashofy

nowayhome-cover-front-sm-518x800I met Annette when we were both nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. One might think we’d be bitter rivals but instead became good friends (along with all the other nominees). We welcome Annette back to talk about her fifth book in the Zoe Chambers mystery series!

I grew up with a steady diet of westerns. My dad and I watched them all. Bonanza, The Virginian, Gunsmoke, Big Valley. Later I fell in love with Alias Smith and Jones. Much of my reading material was authored by Zane Grey. My cousin and I used to play cowboys on our horses. In my vivid imagination, our farm buildings were livery stables, saloons, hotels, and the sheriff’s office. The green valleys of Pennsylvania became the rocky canyons of Wyoming in our world.

annettehorseI never lost that love of the Old West. The TV shows faded into obscurity, and I’d almost forgotten them until one day I turned on a retro television network and spotted Hannibal Heyes. The next week, I randomly tuned into the same station and re-discovered Trampas. That long dormant passion flamed back to life.

However, in spite of my romance with the mountains and deserts of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico, the farthest west I’d ever been was eastern Indiana.

At some point, I decided, dadgum it, I was going out there. Call it the top of my bucket list or whatever, but it became my mission in life. And it finally happened.

That trip in the summer of 2013 was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime dream vacation. Not only was I going out West, I was going to finally meet several friends I’d known online but never face-to-face.

In his best “let me get this right” voice, my darling husband said, “We’re going to fly to Colorado and stay with someone you don’t know?”

I said, “I know her.”

Hubby is something of Luddite and distrusts the internet. Distrusted it even more back then. “But you’ve never met her.”

I shrugged.

He went on, “And then we’re going to drive for hours to stay with someone else you don’t know???”

I didn’t see the point in arguing with him.

But that’s exactly what we did. We flew in to the Colorado Springs Airport and jumped into a vehicle with my longtime critique buddy Donnell Bell and her husband, Les. It felt more gardenridelike a wonderful reunion than a first-time meeting.

Almost a week later, we bid a tearful goodbye, and Hubby and I loaded our gear into a rental SUV for a long drive southwest to Aztec, New Mexico, where we “met” my dear friend Leta Burns. There was much schoolgirlish squealing and hugging. Hubby stood back, certain we were all insane. But at least he was finally convinced that my online friends were neither imaginary, nor ax murderers luring hapless victims from across the country with promises of horseback rides and ghost towns.

Anyhow, besides meeting old/new friends, the trip was amazing. I remember looking out of the window of the airplane as it came in for our Colorado landing and crying at my first sight of real mountains. I exclaimed, “Wow!” at every new vista. That drive from Colorado Springs to Aztec took us from snow capped peaks to flat prairies to mesas. We drove through Wolf Creek Pass.

Wow.

After our visit in Aztec, Leta, Hubby, and I drove south nine hours through even more diverse scenery to Silver City. We saw a gazillion prairie dogs and a few elk.

garden-of-the-gods-trail-ride-001-800x612On that once-in-a-lifetime trip, I rode a horse through the Garden of the Gods, I shopped the streets of Durango and ate at the haunted Strater Hotel. We wandered through a ghost town and toured the cabin where Billy the Kid lived…at least in the movie The Missing.

And oh so much more.

What I didn’t realize until I returned to the green rolling hills of Pennsylvania was that the once-in-a-lifetime trip wasn’t once in a lifetime. Like the lyrics from one of my favorite songs, I’d come home to a place I’d never been before. And those online friends had become family. I’ve been back every year.

I also didn’t realize right away that a seed of a story had been sewn. Heck, at that time, Circle of Influence didn’t yet have a publisher. I didn’t know there would be a Zoe Chambers mystery series.

But there is, and by the second book in it, I knew at some point, Zoe would be taking a trip to New Mexico. My exclamations of “Wow!” would come from her lips as well. A Pennsylvania fish out of water in the badlands of the four corners.

No Way Home is the fifth in that series and it does indeed take Zoe someplace she’s never been before.

dashofy-1559-534x800Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel of 2014 and BRIDGES BURNED was nominated for the 2015 Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel. NO WAY HOME, the fifth in the series, hits bookstores March 14.

Readers: Have you ever visited some place that unexpectedly felt like home?

 

 

 

Romantic Gestures — What Does Your Protagonist Think?

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We are having a “We Love Our Readers” giveaway every Wednesday in February. Leave a comment for a chance to win no later than midnight the Thursday after the post. This week one reader has a chance to win a book from Liz and Edith.

Last week we talked about romance in cozies and this week we focus on how it impacts our protagonist. Is your protagonist a romantic? Is there someone special in her life who is? Has your protagonist created a romantic moment or has the love in her life? Was it a big thing or a little thing? How did it impact them?

Edith: What great questions! How our protagonists react to things like romance is just as called-to-justiceimportant as what she carries in her handbag and what’s in her fridge. I will focus on my midwife Rose Carroll. I built the romance into book one. Despite being a practical independent midwife, she’s a romantic, too, but she’s conflicted about committing to David Dodge because of a painful (highly abusive, actually) experience when she was a teenager. There’s a very romantic scene in Called to Justice (out April 8!) where David takes her in his buggy out to the wide Merrimack River on a full moon night. (“The full moon splashed a silver path from the distant bank across to ours.”) You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens.

custombakedmurderLiz: Stan Connor came to Frog Ledge with a token boyfriend. She’d totally forgotten what it was like to really feel in love or even romance. In fact, she snickered at all the sappy love stories or songs when she heard them and chalked it up to unrealistic people who would eventually find their bubble burst. Then she met Jake McGee. Once she’d lost the loser boyfriend, it took them a couple of books to get things right, but Stan has now turned into one of those people who sighs over love songs, delights in sappy movies, and generally thinks her life is better because of Jake.

Sherry: Sarah has had a rocky romantic life since she is A good Day to BuyCoverrecently divorced in the first book Tagged for Death. In the third book, All Murders Final!, she does go on one romantic date with Seth Anderson to the historic Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. And Sarah does like to be wooed. It was fun to go to the Wayside Inn with the Wickeds in December after our Books and Bagels event in Sudbury. The pictures below are from the Wayside Inn. The one on the left is the tavern.

IcedunderfrontcoverBarb: My amateur sleuth, Julia Snowden, is the product of a great romance–the marriage of a lonely girl who spent her summers on a private island and a local boy who delivered groceries in his skiff. Julia thinks her mother is the romantic and she is the pragmatist. I’m not so sure. Certainly Julia fell into the arms of Chris Durand when he appeared on her family’s tour boat to clear up some misunderstandings and confess his interest in her.

Jessie: There is at least a touch of romance in each of my series. That being said, none of my protagonists are romantics. They are all independent women with a lot WhispersBeyond_Fixgoing on in their lives whether or not they have a romantic partner. None of them are looking for romance; in fact, Gwen Fifield from Live Free or Die and Dani Greene from the Sugar Grove series are more interested in dodging matchmaking efforts by their friends and families.

Julie: Ruth Clagan is recently divorced in Clock Shop Mystery series, so she isn’t looking for romance. That said, Ben the handsome barber from next door is a dish, so there’s that. Her feelings for Ben throw her off a bit. She takes it slow, and finds it hard to trust. But did I mention that he’s handsome? Think Robert Redford in the early 70’s. That handsome. More chimeimportantly, he’s a good guy. That makes all the difference for her.

Readers: Do you have a favorite romantic moment from a book?

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The Detective’s Daughter — Wanting to be Moore

kimspolicehatKim in Baltimore enjoying the warm weather. Wait…it’s still February, right?

I was ten years old and had my future mapped out fairly well for a fifth grader. I knew I wanted to move to Minneapolis on my eighteenth birthday and live in a second floor apartment in an old Victorian house on a snow-covered side street. Pop-Pop gave me a glass jar so I could begin saving for my dream. I tried to convince my best friend at the time, Denise Hampton, to go with me. She could live upstairs from me and wear a long vest and a scarf on her head. She did move, but without me and before we had even made it to middle school.

I had every detail set up perfectly in my mind. A magazine or television station would hire me and I’d have a gruff but kind-hearted boss who would guide my career. I knew this could happen, I had watched this life unfold every Saturday evening.

“You know, Mary Tyler Moore doesn’t really live in Minneapolis, don’t you?” Mom asked one morning as she filled my bowl with Cap’n Crunch cereal.

“Of course I do,” I said, hoping that in real life she lived with Dick Van Dyke in New Rochelle.

kim-auntsEvery weekday afternoon I would walk a half block from Saint Mary Star of the Sea School to my Aunt Madeleine’s house for lunch. Aunt Madeleine lived with her daughter whom the family called “Little Madeleine” despite the fact she stood nearly six-feet tall, a good foot over her mother. I was in high school before I realized that the title “little” referred to her age not her size.

Auntie would fix me what she called a “tuna plate” which consisted of a scoop of tuna salad on an ice burg lettuce leaf, carrot sticks, potato chips, and a dill pickle spear.

We sat at the counter in the kitchen watching reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show on a black and white portable television. It was there I first fell in love with Mary Tyler Moore.

However much I adored Laura Petrie and her perfect hair and fabulous wardrobe, it was Mary Richards I aspired to be. I did not want a house in the suburbs, I wanted to be a writer. It was a career woman’s life I intended to emulate.

For ten years I was that woman, I even had an apartment in an old Victorian, but it was in a dodgy side of town rather than on a picturesque snowy road. My life seemed to reflect Bridget Jones more than Mary Richards!

Through the years as I changed from career woman to suburban mom, I followed Miss Moore’s  career and shared her movies and shows with my own children. I began to admire her more for her personal achievements than for her television accomplishments, especially her work in searching for a cure for diabetes.

This past November at Crime Bake as we celebrated the fabulous William Kent Krueger at dinner, all the attendants were given a task to write a little something that would include bits about Minnesota where Krueger’s series take place. I sat at a table with the Wicked Cozy Authors and together we created quite a lively and funny piece. Julie Hennrikus represented our table and read our creation to the audience. Sherry Harris threw a cap in the air at the final sentence mimicking the MTM show opening. Our table won for being the most creative.

kimmtmIn January I was crushed when I learned of Miss Moore’s death. I remembered being a young child and seeing Nana crying at the kitchen table. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “Our Judy died.” At the time, I didn’t understand her affection for Judy Garland, but now I’m sure I feel quite the same as she did on that day. Someone beloved had been lost to us.

Our idols, people we admire, shape our dreams and our goals. I’ve been across this country four times and have yet to visit Minneapolis. I’m determined not to let another year go by without making the trip. Mary Tyler Moore, her spunk and determination, gave me courage to reach for my dreams and to constantly remind myself that I’m going to make it after all.

Readers: What famous individual has had an influence on your life?

Self-induced Stress

Jessie: In New Hampshire, looking out over  the snowdrifts.

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As much as I might hate to admit such a thing, the truth is, I’m a binge watcher. I love Netflix, Hulu, and Acorn TV.  When I find a program that I love it is hard to stop watching after just one episode. The interest builds, the connection to the characters deepens, and conflict ratchets up.

That’s where the problem comes in. I get stressed out. Really stressed out. So stressed out I have to stop watching. Invariably, three episodes or maybe four, into a series something happens that makes me hit pause. It might make me hit stop. It sends me scrambling for something on the lighter end of the tension spectrum.

It might be trouble in a family. It could be a legal difficulty. It might just be that zombies are getting too close. Whatever it is, I find myself watching a few scenes through half-closed eyes or from behind my hands.  Sometimes, if I’m watching the show with someone else, I will find an excuse to leave the room. I hover outside the doorway listening, rather than watching, as if that will make it all easier to endure somehow.

Sometimes it  is just that I’ve had a hard day and don’t have room for anymore difficulties. Often if that is the case I’m eager to continue the show the next time the desire for programming strikes me. Other times the stressors are ones that always bothered me and I either end up watching the shows in five or ten minute bites. Or I stop watching a series entirely.

The thing is, I almost never have that happen with well written books. When difficult things happen I trust the author to make the emotional roller coaster worth the ride. Even when loves remain lost, diseases turn out to be terminal and dreams turn to dust,  books seem to have conclusions that make me glad I persisted.

I might draw in a quick breath or avert my eyes momentarily from the page but generally, I continue to the end without requiring an emotional health break. When I get to the end I feel enriched rather than drained.  Perhaps that’s why my dream job is working with the publishing houses rather than the movie houses!

Readers, do you find television programming stressful? Do you stop watching mid-program? Do you have a different experience with books? 

 

Guest: Mary Feliz

Wednesday’s contest winner is diannekc! Please email your contact information to sherryharrisauthor@gmail.com

Edith here. Author Mary Feliz is a fellow Guppie and a Californian, and when I heard she feliz-scheduled-to-death-coverhas a new book out in her Maggie MacDonald Professional Organizer mystery series, I had to invite her onto the blog. Wouldn’t we all love a professional organizer to come into our houses and, well, get us organized? I know I would! I read book one, Address to Die for, and loved the tale of intrigue, family, and murder in the Silicon Valley area. Now Scheduled to Death is out, too. I’ll let Mary take it from here!

Local Tour

Thanks so much to the Wickeds for inviting me and my main character, Maggie McDonald, to hang out with the cool kids today.

Several of my local friends and fans have told me they’ve taken visiting family on the “Maggie McDonald” tour of Silicon Valley, pointing out locations that appear in the books.

I thfelizphoto1ought you all might like the armchair traveler’s version of that tour.

First up is the McDonald’s house, a Craftsman-style residence built in 1901. Their home was inspired by the Griffin family home which stands on what is now the Foothill College campus in Los Altos Hills, CA. It’s a beloved edifice, but interest in raising funds to restore it waned in the recent economic downturn. Each year it looks increasingly like a haunted house.

Next is a look at downtown “Orchard View” which is a mash-up of Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Mountain View. The downtown and ethos of Orchard View most closely resemble that of Los Altos, although all the characters and most of the locations are fictional.felizphoto2

One real thing in the books is the presence of Google, one of the area’s largest employers. Google bikes, the company’s Android dessert sculpture garden, and engineers testing self-driving cars all appear in one book or another.

The McDonald’s house backs onto lands belonging to the MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District, which describes its land as places “where the din of urban life gives way to the soft sounds of nature. It is the serene, unbuilt, unspoiled earth that awakens all our senses and makes us whole again … it is room to breathe.” The first properties of Open Space District land were preserved by a voter initiative in 1972.

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Edith: Thanks, Mary! That view of my home state is typical of my favorite parts of California – the golden rolling hills where nobody is. And I can’t wait to read Scheduled to Death.

Readers: Which tours have you taken of places you’ve read about in books? Would you  ever take a vacation based on a book you’ve read?

feliz-book-1-coverMaggie McDonald organizes life between solving murders in Orchard View, California, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Find her adventures documented in the Maggie McDonald Mysteries published by Kensington’s Lyrical Press and available in paperback and all ebook formats. The series begins with Address to Die For and continues with Scheduled to Death (January 2017) and Dead Storage (July 2017). Organizing tips are in every feliz-jpg-smallchapter.

Mary records Maggie’s adventures and organizing advice. She’s worked for Fortune 500 firms and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character’s stead, but Maggie’s skills leave her in the dust. She lives in Northern California. To keep up with the Maggie McDonald Mystery Series, sign up for Mary’s newsletter at http://www.maryfeliz.com/newsletter, or shoot her an email at maryfeliz@maryfeliz.com.

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J.A. Hennrikus News!

I have told the story about the Clock Shop series and how I came to write it a number of times. I was and am thrilled that Berkley gave me that opportunity, and can’t wait for all of you to read Chime and Punishment in August.

christmas-perilBut like most of us on this blog, my first published novel was not the first novel I wrote. Not by a long shot. My first novel, never finished, was before I realized I should be writing mysteries. It is a not very good book that will never see the light of day. But it taught me to write a book.

My second and third books morphed into a single entity at some point, changed point of view, went through reading groups, critique groups, and was pitched a few times at Crime Bake. I tweaked, reworked, polished, and tried to find an agent for it. Then I got my contract for the Clock Shop series, and filed it away. But I never lost faith that I would hold it in my hand at some point.

So it is with great joy that I share some really wonderful news with all of you. Midnight Ink has bought that book, and two more in addition. In even better news, it was fast tracked into their fall catalog.

The Theater Cop series is about Edwina “Sully” Sullivan. Sully was forced to retire from the police force, and decides if she can’t wear the badge she isn’t going to do the job and become a PI. So she moves back to her hometown on the north shore of Massachusetts, divorces her philandering husband, and is hired to run a theater company. For a few years she throws herself into her new life. But then, her best friend’s father is killed, and he is on the suspect list.

The theater company is doing a production of A Chrismas Carol, and Sully is trying to keep the TV actor they hired sober while dealing with other production issues. At the same time, she tries to figure out who killed Peter Whitehall. What she doesn’t plan on is her ex-husband being part of her investigation.A Christmas Peril is a traditional/cozy book. I can’t wait for you to read it when it comes out this fall.

P.S. Don’t you LOVE the cover?

Wicked Wednesday — Adding Romance in Mysteries

we-love-our-readersfebruary-giveaway-1We are having a “We Love Our Readers” giveaway every Wednesday in February. Leave a comment for a chance to win no later than midnight the Thursday after the post. This week one reader has a chance to win a book from Jane and one from Sheila.

All of our books have at least some romantic elements. When thinking about your series, did you have a plan in mind for what kind of relationship your protagonist would have? Has it been an integral  part of your series or a subplot? Has anything surprised you about the relationship? Any other thoughts about the role of romance in mysteries?

Liz: I didn’t really have a plan for Stan (ha, I love saying that) other than I knew she was dating a jerk when the series opened, and I knew she needed to find a “really great guy” somewhere along the way in Frog Ledge. I had a vague idea of Jake and the pub, but as I got into the stories, he and his family became a major part of the story. Stan works with one of his sisters and the other is the resident state trooper, so she’s been thrust into another set of family dynamics to navigate as her romance moves along. It’s been fun to write. As far as the role of romance in mysteries, I do like having a romantic subplot, but I don’t like when they overshadow the mysteries themselves. I mean, dead bodies are why we’re here, right?

Jessie: All of my books have featured romance so I know it’s in my subconscious but it isn’t at the top of my mind. That being said, I’m always delighted when I see how it unfolds. I think the relationships between characters are what makes readers return to a series over and over again. It certainly can’t be less true for the romantic storyline than those involving friendship or family. Some of my favorite scenes in all of my books have been surprising doses of romance. I agree with Liz however, that when writing mysteries the romance should not be the most important part.

DeathOfAmbitiousWomanFrontBarb: Someone once said, “Most mystery authors would rather have their protagonist kill someone than kiss someone.” That may be an exaggeration, in cozies our amateur sleuths rarely blow people away, but for me, just barely. The main character in my first mystery, The Death of an Ambitious Woman, was happily married–and that was the point. Unlike so many professional sleuths with tortured personal lives, I wanted to show a happy home life as my idol Ruth Rendell had done in her Wexford series. But I realized in the writing that did cut off many sources of tension and I looked forward in the Maine Clambake Mysteries to writing a main character who was younger and single. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want a triangle, because I get impatient with those when they go on too long. And I didn’t want every man she met to fall for Julia, because that really drives me crazy. Now I’m to the point where Julia and her boyfriend Chris need to move forward or move on. Don’t know yet which it will be!

Sherry: I think I have a romance writer lurking in me. I think I’d rather kiss than kill and I adore a good love triangle. That said I had no intention of writing one when I set out to write the Sarah Winston books. What I did want to do was look at complicated relationships. In Tagged For Death, Sarah is put in a position that she has to help her ex-husband clear his name when he’s accused of murder. She thinks he’s a schmuck, but she knows him well enough to know he wouldn’t kill someone. After Sarah had a one night stand I wondered how to further complicate her life and that happened by having the one night stand be the DA that would be prosecuting her ex. It all just took off from there and a triangle was born.

Julie: I love romance in my mysteries. Writing the Clock Shop series I knew that I’d want Ben to be a potential for Ruth. I also knew that Moira and the Chief liked each other. But how to add the romantic tension, without going stale, or speeding up Ruth’s journey back to Orchard? She was, after all, recently divorced. I’m having fun adding the romance. That said, I suspect a future protagonist will be single and not speed into anything.

when-the-grits-hit-the-fanEdith: A pattern developed in the first two books in both my Local Foods Mysteries and Maddie Day’s (my) Country Store Mysteries, where the guy I had set up to be the romantic interest just wasn’t working out and he wrote himself out of the books. Luckily, another prospect strolled in in each case, the state police detective in the farming books and a hunky local electrician in the Indiana series. I didn’t plan on either of these, but they seem to be working out. My 1888 Quaker midwife Rose Carroll starts out with a handsome doctor and she’s sticking to him – but other tensions present themselves, both from the clash in their faiths and from his high-society mother who frowns on Rose for a number of reasons. I do like romance in my mysteries. Almost all of us have or have had romance in our lives – it’s just part of the human condition. And if cozy/traditional mysteries don’t reveal the human condition, what do they do?

Readers: What do you think about romance in mysteries?

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