The Detective’s Daughter -The Final Countdown.

The commercials on television are trying to tell me this is the most wonderful time of the year – back to school – but I’m not feeling so wonderful about it. You see, this September marks my youngest child’s last year of college. He’s ecstatic; me…well, not so much. I enjoy school supply shopping and look forward to it every year. There is no better smell than that of a new notebook filled with clean pages. I love searching for just the right pens, book bags and lunch boxes. And don’t get me started on magic markers, I must have twenty sets in every color and style you can imagine!FullSizeRender (8)

This year’s shopping was much different. My boy will be living in his first apartment. Instead of folders, pens and calculators, we bought vacuums, fans and rugs. Whenever I tried to direct him to the office supply aisle, I was reminded that he either had those things or could get them on his own.  I immediately went home and wrote out my own list. I mean, really, who couldn’t use some new pens and loose-leaf paper?

In one week we will pack up his clothes, books, computers and housewares [I still can’t believe he needs such things!] and drive him back up to school. The first year he was away, I cried each time I had to leave him, much as I had the year he was in pre-school. I have a sneaking suspicion there will be a lot of that this year, too.

As much as I miss the little boy who was so insistent on having a Scooby-Doo lunch box, I am so very proud of the man he is becoming.  I may not be able to be with him every school day as I was in the past, but I can still send him off with the same encouragement and love. FullSizeRender (7)

Dear reader, what are your favorite back to school memories?

End of the Season

Jessie: On the coast of Maine feeling the school year bearing down upon my family in a most unwelcome way.

kite-1159538_1920I am not sure exactly when it happened but a few years after my eldest started school there was a change to the academic calendar that decreed school would begin before Labor Day. I know that some families welcomed the change as it made navigating lives with childcare challenges and clashing personalities far easier. For me it was a discouraging turn of events.

By the time my kids have made up all the inevitable snow days every June it seems as though it is almost the Fourth of July by the time it feels like summer is well and truly underway. With the next year starting in the middle of the last week of August I always feel like the time goes by too fast.sparkler-839831_1920

As I consider the few remaining days we have at the seaside this year I have come up with a list of simple summer pleasures we have yet to enjoy this season. In no particular order they are:

  • Taking a blanket, a book of matches, a box of sparklers and a gaggle of children to the beach after dark for a squealing, whirling romp across the sand twirling a glittering wand of light in each hand.
  • Pulling out the bocce set and heading to the beach at low tide for a spirited game. It is best played with a flexible sense of the rules and creative integration of the myriad of sandcastles, tide pools and seagulls sharing the stretch of shoreline.
  • Plucking fistfuls of basil, thyme and my favorite, rosemary, from the pots in the yard and making up batches of herbed salts to preserve the flavors of the growing season. Several years ago I bought a wooden board with a dimple in it and a corresponding demi-lune, two-handled knife to mince up the herbs into a pile of sea salt. There is nothing like the scent and the flavor of the salts to bring back the sense of summer even in the depths of a New England winter.
  • Grabbing a kite from the mudroom and heading for the beach, once again at low tide. Even on a day too cool to swim a kite provides great fun at the beach. I never have had good luck with the flat ones but after heeding the advice of a local toy merchant my kids and I have all found success with the box variety. An added bonus is that they fold up into a small drawstring bag and tuck into a pocket or tote for the journey to and fro.
  • Spending the entire day given over to the pleasure of reading, especially stretched out on a porch in the path of a sweet and refreshing breeze. Bonus points if the book is a mystery novel by a beloved author that somehow you have missed.

Readers, do you have a few things you’d like to do before the end of the summer arrives? Do you enjoy any of the activities on my list?

 

Writing About Fear — Welcome Back Lori Rader-Day

Sherry here and I’m so delighted to welcome back Lori Rader-Day. Our first books came out in 2014 so we were on a new authors panel together that year at Left Coast Crime. Her latest book, Under A Dark Sky, released on August 7th. Here’s a bit about the book:

Only in the dark can she find the truth . . .Since her husband died, Eden Wallace’s life has diminished down to a tiny pinprick, like a far-off star in the night sky. She doesn’t work, has given up on her love of photography, and is so plagued by night terrors that she can’t sleep without the lights on. Everyone, including her family, has grown weary of her grief. So when she finds paperwork in her husband’s effects indicating that he reserved a week at a dark sky park, she goes. She’s ready to shed her fear and return to the living, even if it means facing her paralyzing phobia of the dark.

But when she arrives at the park, the guest suite she thought was a private retreat is teeming with a group of twenty-somethings, all stuck in the orbit of their old college friendships. Horrified that her get-away has been taken over, Eden decides to head home the next day. But then a scream wakes the house in the middle of the night. One of the friends has been murdered. Now everyone—including Eden—is a suspect.

Everyone is keeping secrets, but only one is a murderer. As mishaps continue to befall the group, Eden must make sense of the chaos and lies to evade a ruthless killer—and she’ll have to do it before dark falls…

What are you afraid of? No, really. We use the word “fear” a lot, for things we face every day (especially, let’s face it, lately) and for things we’ll never have to deal with in real life. I mean, my stepfather won’t watch any movie that promises to show him a giant spider—it’s a surprisingly large oeuvre, the car-sized spider film—but he’s not likely to meet one in real life. There’s such a thing as an irrational fear, but that must mean we’re allowed the other kind: rational fear. Where’s the line?

In my latest mystery, Under a Dark Sky, a thirty-something woman reeling from the loss of her husband fights through her fear of the dark to visit a dark sky park, a spot set aside for visitors to see the night sky the way nature intended, without light pollution from artificial light. I am not personally afraid of the dark. (I could be talked into it, if I were, say, expecting to step on something spidery while the lights were off.  The regular-sized type of spidery is enough.) A fear of the dark is an irrational fear. But the book is about my own biggest fear, too: being widowed.

When I was deciding what this book would be about, at first all I had was the location. I had never started from location before—a wide-open canvas! A dark sky park, as far as I knew, had never been used as the location of a novel, and it was a slam dunk for a murder mystery: isolated, quiet, no manufactured light to keep things civilized. But who would wander, Bambi-like, into its darkness?

You’re supposed to write about the things that scare you, right? So: a widow before her time, facing the rest of her life alone. But if the character I’d be writing about had already suffered my own biggest fear, what was left? Four hundred pages about someone still in deep mourning is by definition not a thriller. I decided she would be afraid of the dark, wholly and irrationally, and have to fight herself out of that (forgive me) dark place.

Writer to writer? Eden’s fear of the dark only made the book more difficult to write. I had to keep an eye on the clock at all times, because she was a reverse vampire, unable to be outside by the last rays of dusk. I had chosen the dark sky park for the darkness—and then cheated myself out of it.

At another time in my writing career, I might have turned back, too daunted to try and write the book I had conceived. In my lifetime of writing, not writing, publishing, and not publishing, I have been afraid of a lot of things. Failure, of course, the first hurdle. Then success, because if I successfully write and publish this personal thing, someone is bound to read it—Oh no! And then imposter syndrome, the fear that someone will find me out for the grasping hack I am. That’s the Writer’s Triad of Irrational Fears, probably, that any direction you turn will lead to one of those quicksand pits we were all so afraid of in the ’80s.

We’re not afraid of quicksand anymore. We’ve been told that there’s no such thing. No problem. There are enough real worries. We don’t need to borrow any from Gilligan’s Island reruns.

Sometimes when the news day is bad—and it is very bad, the day I’m writing this—I wonder if writing little escapist murder mysteries does any good in the world (and of course if you’ve read them, are they escapist? If they cover topics like campus shootings and domestic violence? These are real concerns I have encountered, not Mini Cooper-sized spiders). Whenever I start to doubt, I remember that humans developed storytelling skills before they developed farming. Stories before food. Stories as a tool for survival. And I remember the way all my bookish friends rally around each other and strangers, too, in times of crisis. I remember the way I felt seeing the Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Louvre, like the history of the world was collapsed, accordion-like, and small, but also how amazing it was to be a part of it. I remember that when I am stressed, the one thing I still want to do is pick up a book and read, for that same expansive feeling, that same connection. I suspect I’m not alone.

These days I have a whole new set of fears than I used to, most of them exceedingly rational. Writing through them is the only strategy I can come up with. It isn’t escapist, most days. It is only a mirror, reflecting the hard light of real life. But a reflection of light is still light, isn’t it? And maybe when I manage to find the words and share them, reading what I write is a strategy that helps you escape from your fears, too. No giant spiders, I promise.

Readers: What is your irrational fear?

Bio: Lori Rader-Day is a three-time Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee, winning the award in 2016 for her second novel, Little Pretty Things. She is the author of Under a Dark Sky, and of The Black Hour, winner of the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, The Day I Died, a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark, Thriller, Anthony, and Barry Awards. She lives in Chicago, where she is active in Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and co-chairs the mystery conference Murder and Mayhem in Chicago.

 

THE MAGIC IS REAL

by Julie, enjoying summer

THE CALLThis pass weekend I read The Artist’s Journey: The Wake of the Hero’s Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning by Steven Pressfield. I’m still thinking about the book, and wrestling with some of the ideas Pressfield talks about. Ideas around inspiration, the other worldliness of the artist’s journey, about answering the call to be an artist, and about forces of resistance (internal and external) to that call. I came to these ideas at a perfect time in my life, a time when I was open to the magic.

These past few months have been a professional whirlwind. It started in January, when I had a twelve hour brunch with my friend Courtney. I encouraged her to take a leap and apply for a job she really wanted. She encouraged me to figure out how to create more space in my life for my writing, and to embrace the artist within. So, two weeks ago, I took a leap. I’m working on opening an online arts administration school built for artists in September. I’ve called it Your Ladders, and I’m creating the classes now. The plan is that this will give me more time to focus on my writing.

At my going away party, I talked to an actor who is my age. She looked great, and I told her so. She said that she was, surprisingly. She told me that she’d grown tired of hustling for a job that she took for the paycheck, rather than the work itself. She’d lost the connection to her artist self, and decided to take a break from acting. She’d taken a “real” job, in an office. I asked if the break was temporary or permanent. She told me she wasn’t sure. She isn’t the first artist I’ve met who is taking a creative break because they’ve lost the connection to their artist within. It’s always hard to hear, and scary.

In between January and August, Liz Mugavero and I took two online classes. One was a business course called B-School, taught by Marie Forleo. The other class was Gabby Bernestein’s Spirit Junkie Masterclass. Marie’s class gave me a  new set of business skills. Gabby’s class helped with aligning with a higher purpose in my work. Both helped give me the courage to take my professional leap into an online business.

Liz and I are also going to be doing a masterclass at the New England Crime Bake, and we’ve been talking about what we’re going to cover in “Creating Your Author Life”. The description is about making the leap from writer to published author, and what that means. We have the experience to talk about that. But we both agree that it needs to be about more than that. Liz has been thinking about the “more” for a long time. In February she wrote a great blog reminding herself (and folks like me) that writing is our soul work. I’ve been thinking about my actor friend who lost the connection to her artist self coupled with Pressfield’s book, and realize that we have to dive deeper in this masterclass. We need to talk about the magic of the work.

As a writer, I acknowledge that I’ve answered a call. I also have a deep knowing that I need to stay connected to that call. The work of being a published author, and staying published, can get in the way of remembering that sometimes. But my new path has to be about remembering that, and honoring it.

There’s magic in the call, and in the doing of the work. That’s what Liz and I need to talk about in our masterclass. The magic.

Wicked Wednesday – Character Surprises, Part II

Welcome back, readers. This is part two of our question from last week. We talked about whether our characters can surprise us, or if we should know them well enough that they don’t. So if any of your characters have surprised you, Wickeds, tell us who and how! Did it help the overall story line? Give you a new subplot? Add a new twist? And do you wish you’d reigned him or her back in? Go!

Edith/Maddie: In the first book of my Country Store Mysteries, Robbie starts getting to know local electrical lineman Abe O’Neil. In book two they are dating, and my fingers typed a sentence with (divorced) Abe telling Robbie he had to pick up his son. What? I didn’t know he had a son before that! But I loved it. Having Abe parent 13-year-old Sean makes Abe a richer character and adds some possible conflict and tension to the future of Abe and Robbie’s relationship. Rose Carroll, plucky but usually pious and teetotaling 1889 Quaker, totally surprised me by getting drunk with her friend Bertie (not a Quaker) one night in book five. It didn’t change the overall plot but showed her displaying a human weakness that I think makes her a fuller person.

Liz: When my character Stan came to Frog Ledge, she met Resident State Trooper Jessie Pasquale in a pretty charged manner – Jessie was accusing her of murder. At the time, I knew the basics about her, namely that she was Stan’s future love interest’s sister, which I figured would be ripe for conflict. What I didn’t anticipate was the relationship between Stan and Jessie developing to the point where they actually became grudging friends – while still having enough opportunities for conflict to make it interesting!

Sherry: Seth Anderson surprised me in Tagged for Death. He was supposed to be a nameless, faceless character with a passing mention. But he kept coming back. I wrote a blog post about it on Jungle Red Writers which you can read here. This is what makes writing so much fun — finding things out like how Sarah met CJ and why someone killed someone. It keeps me going!!!

Julie: I have characters surprise me all the time. In my Theater Cop series, I am enjoying seeing how Sully is evolving, and how she and Emma are becoming friends. In my new series, I’ve set it up with one primary protagonist, but three of her friends share the Garden Squad badge. I am working on book two, and I’m uncovering a ton of secrets. It makes it so much more fun for me as the writer to not know.

Jessie: All the recurring characters in my Beryl and Edwina series keep surprising me again and again. With each book in the series I write surprises about the characters back stories or  preferences keep popping up with startling regularity.  Beryl is not a fan of subterranean spaces, Edwina has a  weakness for western novels, Simpkins has a rascal of a brother-in-law. I love discovering more and more about each of them!

Barb: Since the third book in the Maine Clambake Mysteries Julia’s been aware that her boyfriend Chris loves being a part of her family. He has said often, “My family is not like yours.” It’s come out that his parents are in Florida, his sister on the west coast–as far from one another as they can be in the continental U.S. But what happened? I knew some of it, but not much, until it all came out in this December’s Steamed Open.

Readers, do you like when a character does something unexpected? Or do you prefer feeling like you know your favorites so well that you can always anticipate their every move? Tell us below.

Guest: Liz Milliron on Importance of Place

News Flash: Celia Fowler is Liz’s winner. Congratulations, Celia! Check your email.

Edith here, loving me some August. I’m delighted to welcome my friend Liz Milliron to the blog today. Her debut adult novel, Root of All Evil, releases today! It’s her first Laurel Highlands Mystery, although she’s has several compelling short stories in juried anthologies recently. I’ve been following her progress toward today and am so pleased her book made it into the hands of the reading public. We’re also fellow sprint buddies over on Ramona DeFelice Long’s page every morning. Here’s what Amazon says about the book:Root-Front-Cover-Web

Rumors of a meth operation in rustic Fayette County catch the attention of Pennsylvania State Trooper Jim Duncan. When he learns that Aaron Trafford, a man who recently dodged a drug conviction, has returned to the county, the conclusion seems obvious. Trafford has set up a new operation.

Meanwhile, assistant public defender Sally Castle’s colleague, Colin Rafferty, has become uncharacteristically nervous and secretive. Her suspicion that he’s hiding something serious is confirmed when she learns of a threatening visitor and discovers a note on his desk stating, “You’d better fix this.” Colin’s subsequent murder is the first frayed thread in a complex web of deceit. Jim fears Sally’s stubborn determination to get justice for her friend will put her in a killer’s crosshairs, but Sally won’t rest until she finds answers–even if it costs her everything.

Take it away, Liz! Oh, and she’s giving away a signed copy of the book to one US commenter here today.

Thanks so much to the Wickeds for having me! Place is incredibly important to a good mystery – to any good book, in my opinion. The best stories transport you to a place. Who wouldn’t swear that Three Pines was real, or glory in visiting Paris through Aimee LeDuc or Hugo Marston?

When an author decides to pick a place for her story, she has two options. The first is to make one up, either inspired by a real town or out of whole cloth. Many cozies, including a lot of books from the Wickeds, go this route.

street signsBig advantage: You have total control over your town. Even if it’s inspired by one of your favorite small towns in Massachusetts, you can decide where to put roads, buildings, what kind of businesses populate Main Street, the works. Sure, you need to keep track of these things because six books in you need to know where the post office is in relation to the police station. You can’t simply change things willy-nilly!

However, if you made Walnut Street one-way in book one, and now in book three you need it to go both ways, it’s not impossible to fix. Reference a fictional town meeting that changed the traffic flow on Walnut and your problem is (probably) solved. Bonus points: make it a contentious town meeting that ties into your story.

When I sat down to write The Laurel Highlands Mysteries, I went the opposite route.courthouse Fayette County, Confluence, Uniontown, and the Laurel Highlands are all very real. That meant I spent a lot of time with maps: paper, Google Maps/Earth (thank you to whoever invented Google Earth!), and taking trips for research. The Fayette County courthouse is on East Main Street in Uniontown and the street is one way. No matter how much I might want to, I can’t change that. I’ve looked at intersections to get street names correct, and the type of neighborhoods to make sure I don’t drop houses in the middle of the business district.

Before you start thinking this is all terribly constricting, it’s really not. I’ve only written one story (“The Far End of Nowhere” in Fish Out of Water) that used a made up town. Sure, you have to be careful not to mess too much with the landmarks and topography, but using a real location means you can take advantage of what the area has to offer. For example, the Laurel Highlands is full of historic landmarks, as well as locations such as resorts or Frank Lloyd Wright houses. Rich fodder for a storyteller.

There are, however, a few “rules” I have for myself:

1 – Crimes, or other nefarious doings, do not happen in real businesses/places. Unless they are public spaces. I don’t want to impugn someone’s workplace.

2 – I make up businesses as I need them. You won’t find Dex’s in Uniontown; its amazing Reuben only exists in my imagination. (The Lucky Dog Café does exist. I needed a place for Jim and Sally to grab a bite; I thought I made up the Lucky Dog, but I must have seen it on one of my trips and the name sunk into my back-brain.)

lucky dog

3 – Specific house numbers are fictional. It feels like too much of a violation of privacy to use someone’s real address (I may have used their house for inspiration).

I hope I’ve done justice to the wonderful locations in the Laurel Highlands. But one thing’s for sure: real or made up, place is of supreme importance for your story!

ohiopyle falls

Ohiopyle Falls

Readers: Do you prefer real places, made up locations, a mix, or don’t you care? One (Us-only) commenter will win a signed copy of Root of All Evil.

LizMillironLiz Milliron is the author of the Laurel Highlands mystery series, featuring a Pennsylvania State Trooper and a Fayette County public defender in the scenic Laurel Highlands of southwest Pennsylvania. The first in the series, ROOT OF ALL EVIL, was released in August 2018. Liz’s short fiction includes stories with the same characters in Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales and The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos, as well as stories in Mystery Most Historical, Fish out of Water, and Blood on the Bayou. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime and is a member of Pennwriters. Liz and her husband live near Pittsburgh with their two children. (Headshot by www.erinmclainstudio.com). Find her at http://www.lizmilliron.com/, https://www.facebook.com/LizMilliron/, and https://www.instagram.com/lizmilliron/

The Perils of Writing a “Real” Book by Lucy Burdette

Hi. Barb here. Friend of the Blog, Lucy Burdette has a new book out and I was lucky enough to score an advance read. You are going to love Death on the Menu. Here’s Lucy, using her new work as context, asking a timely question that has been much debated on Facebook of late. Plus, she is giving away a copy of Death on the Menu to one lucky commenter below. Take it away, Lucy!

Last winter, I was struck by one of the questions from the audience at Barbara Ross’s talk for the Friends of the Key West Library: “Are you ever going to write a real book?” We think she meant a novel, but a non-mystery. Barbara answered graciously, explaining that mysteries can tackle big issues, and still remain entertaining (i.e., not boring or slight.) We all know that stakes can hardly be larger than murder, and that sorting through what might make a person go to that extreme is challenging indeed.

But we cozy writers seem to be perched on the horns of a dilemma—how real can we be? A couple weeks ago, I followed a discussion that had been stimulated by a question from Sheila Connolly on Facebook. Would you like a little edginess or real life in your cozies? 50% of the people seem to say no absolutely not, we read to get away from real life and its problems. And 50% agreed they would like a little reality. I remember after publishing the fourth book in my Key West series, Murder with Ganache, that I mentioned to my wonderful editor Sandy Harding that this book seemed a little darker and more realistic than some of the others. She told me it was perfectly normal to experience some fluctuation in level of emotional intensity over the course of the series.

My new book, Death on the Menu, has a strong theme about the immigration of Cuban refugees to the US, particularly Key West. This is definitely taken from real life, as we frequently have heard about or even have seen refugees washing ashore on the island. And naturally there is a lot of angst associated with the history of Cuba and its politics. I did not try to jam all that into the book, but it does play into the mystery. I am finding that some people appreciate the depth this brings to the story and others are finding it flat, disappointing, and too political. Probably either perspective is fair, depending on what the reader brings to the book.

So that’s my question for today on the Wickeds. Readers and writers: Should cozy and traditional mysteries attempt to tackle real life issues? Do we write real books? Comment below, or just say hi to be entered for a chance to wim.

About the book: Lucy Burdette, Death on the Menu

Food critic Hayley Snow is thrilled to be working at a three-day international conference at the Harry S. Truman Little White House. But things get off to a bad start when Hemingway’s Nobel prize gold medal (which belongs to Cuba and is on display for this weekend only) disappears. And they only get worse when a body is discovered in the storeroom. Hayley must spring into action before the killer adds another victim to his menu.

“There’s a lot to love about this series—deft plotting, likeable characters, and an ending that always satisfies. But one of the things I love the best is how the author transports her readers to Key West with every page, describing real landmarks and restaurants with such realism that I feel I’m actually there. Magical and delicious fun!”—Suspense Magazine

“Tightly plotted, with plenty of island-style red herrings and mouth-watering food-prep descriptions, DEATH ON THE MENU is also full of friends helping friends, and the sweetness of love.” –Kingdom Books 

Clinical psychologist Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib) has published 16 mysteries, including the latest in the Key West food critic series, DEATH ON THE MENU (Crooked Lane Books, August 2018.) Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime. She blogs at JungleRedWriters.com and shares her love for food with the culinary writers at MysteryLoversKitchen.com. She lives in Madison CT and Key West FL. Read more at www.lucyburdette.com.

Lucy’s links:

Crooked Lane Books: http://www.crookedlanebooks.com/titles/death-on-the-menu/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/lucyburdette
Instagram: www.instagram.com/lucyburdette
Twitter: www.twitter.com/lucyburdette   @lucyburdette
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/robertaisleib
Website: http://www.lucyburdette.com
Jungle Red Writers: www.jungleredwriters.com
Mystery Lovers Kitchen: www.mysteryloverskitchen.com