Welcome Guest Lynn McPherson!

I had the great luck to all to briefly meet Lynn McPherson at Bouchercon this year. Please join me in welcoming Lynn to the blog!

I have to start out by saying a big thank you to Sherry Harris for inviting me and including me in the Cozy Wicked Authors site. It is such a privilege to be here.

I am a Canadian who writes about New England. I thought it might be fun to explain the process of how and why I chose this specific location for my books. It was certainly no accident.

The setting where my stories take place is a small, wealthy, town located along the shores of Connecticut, not far from New York City. As the readers likely know, this description could only fit a few actual locations. However, I chose to create a fictional town based on a mishmash of where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, and things I’ve researched. The result is the beautiful, idyllic, and cozy town of Twin Oaks. I wanted to incorporate some of my favourite experiences of New England into my stories so I felt the best way to do this was to create a place where this could happen as opposed to trying to work a way around factual locations in already established communities.

As a lifelong lover of mysteries and storytelling, New England was a very natural place for me to base my own series. One of my earliest influences and inspirations was a TV show I watched weekly growing up. While most of the kids in my class loved Growing Pains or Who’s the Boss, I couldn’t wait for my hero, Jessica Fletcher, best-selling author and super sleuth, to grace the prime-time screen and solve whatever crime she was somehow tangled up in. Not long after Murder, She Wrote ended I discovered Steven King. Between Salem’s Lot and It, I became a lifelong fan. There could be no going back after that. I won’t even venture into my love of Gilmore Girls. Needless to say, New England was it for me.

When I finally got to New England in person, it was phenomenal. I took a road trip with a friend who had gone to school there. We entered through Vermont and right away were introduced to a winter wonderland. The natural beauty of untouched snow on a brilliant, sunny day is easy to appreciate. From there we continued on down to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where I went tobogganing on a classic red wood sled. Another big highlight happened a few days later, when I was lucky enough to get a tour of a picturesque school named Kent, in Kent, Connecticut, since my friend was lucky enough to be an alma mater at the prestigious institution. Walking through the hallways I wondered if Robin Williams was going to walk around the corner at any given moment and convince me to run into a classroom to recite Walt Whitman or Shakespeare.

The rest of the trip was full of other fun activities such as learning how to make s’mores at a rustic inn, feeding carrots to horses on a farm, and watching the Patriots win a big game among a crowd of very enthusiastic fans at a small tavern. I went from having never watched an entire football game to becoming an expert, confident in instructing the players what they should be doing next, shouting excitedly along with my newfound friends at the large screen TV we were all glued to.

Every time I’ve gone to New England since, it has been a pleasure. I’ve yet to come across anything to complain about and I hope to keep it that way. While I know that I am experiencing a place from a rather fantastical point of view—never having to do chores or worry about getting to work on time, it has allowed me to keep the idyllic point of view that I incorporate into my stories.

The Girls Weekend Murder is the first book in The Izzy Walsh Mystery Series. The next one, The Girls Whispered Murder, will be out in the fall of 2018.

Lynn McPherson grew up in various parts of Canada, from the Canadian Rockies to the big city of Toronto. She is a debut author who has channelled her lifelong love of adventure and history into her writing, where she is free to go anywhere, anytime. Having a particular love of New England, possibly stemming from a snowy winter’s night spent at a cozy inn, Lynn knew this is where her mystery series must take place. She is a member of Crime Writers Of Canada, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters In Crime. Her cozy mystery, The Girls’ Weekend Murder, is the first book in The Izzy Walsh Mystery Series.

Readers: If you were going to create a fictional town based on a real one, what town would you choose?

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol by Any Other Name

by Julie, decking the halls in Somerville

In 2010 I spent the month of December discussing versions of A Christmas Carol every day. (You can see the posts here.) As you know, my book A Christmas Peril is about a theater company deep in the weeds of a production of A Christmas Carol. One of my nieces mentioned looking forward to A Christmas Carol binge watching over Christmas break. She then asked me which version was my favorite.

I couldn’t answer her. But I can, sort of, narrow it down a bit. Here is a list of my “will watch in the next ten days” list of Christmas Carols in no particular order:

scroogeScrooge, 1970
I saw this movie on a field trip (maybe with the Girl Scouts), and the hell scene scared the heck out of me. As an adult, it is easily on my top five. It is a musical, Albert Finney is wonderful, and is fairly true to the story. It isn’t Christmas unless my family breaks into a “Thank You Very Much” chorus.

1984 Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol, 1984
George C. Scott was a sublime Scrooge. The scene where he jumps on the bed makes my heart burst. The story is dark, and sad, in many ways, and this version is that.

MuppetThe Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992
This is SUCH a great version. Michael Caine is wonderful. Having Dickens tell the story is great. It stays true to the story, and keeps most of the important parts in the movie. Kermit is a perfect Bob Cratchit,  and Fozzie as Fezziwig? Could there be more perfect casting?

scroogedScrooged, 1988
All right, part of the reason I love this version is that it is such a pop culture time capsule. The TV version of A Christmas Carol they are working on is chock full of 80’s stars that have to be explained to kids, but add another layer of humor to the show. It is also very faithful to the theme of the story, though it does take liberties. Also, Bill Murray chews the scenery, and is so much fun to watch.

PS recordingPatrick Stewart’s VersionsPS filmI love Patrick Stewart, and have been fortunate enough to see him do his one man version of A Christmas Carol twice. It is because of that experience that his filmed version falls a little short for me, though it is very good. The CD of him reading the book is much closer to his stage version, and I can’t recommend it enough.

diva ccA Diva’s Christmas Carol, 2000
Do you remember the “Behind the Music” shows on VH1? In this Christmas Carol, Vanessa Williams plays Ebony Scrooge, a singer who left her girl group in the dust, and is a nightmare to work for. A ton of fun.

magooMister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, 1962
This is not at all accurate (the ghosts are out of order), but it has a lot of charm. The songs are terrific–I’m surprised there hasn’t been a stage version of this using the songs. Or maybe there has been?

simA Christmas Carol, 1951
This Alistair Sim version is a favorite of many, so I include it on the list. I like it, but am also fond of the 1938 Reginald Owen version.

There are dozens of other versions, with Scrooge being played by Cicely Tyson, Henry Winkler, Barbie, Fred Flintsone, Mickey Mouse, and others. I discussed those, and others, on my blog 8 years ago. I’m a little surprised I don’t have a more recent version to critique. The story resonates right now in so many ways.

Friends, what is your favorite version of A Christmas Carol?

Wicked Wednesday — A Gift of Advice

She generally gave very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it). Lewis Carroll

Good advice is always certain to be ignored, but that’s no reason not to give it. Agatha Christie

Advice gets a lot of bad press. What is the best gift of advice you’ve received? How old were you when you got it? Did you pass it on to anyone else?

PoppaNitter

My grandfather, whom we called Poppa, about thirty years earlier in his late 30s. He looked exactly the same except for white hair!

Edith: When I was starting ninth grade, and young for my class (that is, still half teen, half kid), one day after school I’d been trying to fly a kite in front of our house. I was sitting on the curb with a hopelessly tangled ball of string. My father’s father, Allan Sr.,  was living with us at the time for about nine months (until he died suddenly) – and I loved having him with us. He was coming back from his constitutional, as he called his walk and saw my plight. I probably said I was just going to cut it all off and give up. He said, “If you start something, Edie, finish it.” I took it to heart, untangled the string, and have carried that lesson with me ever since. And yes, I tried to pass it on to my sons.

 

Jessie: Like most writers, there was a point on my road to being published when I was querying agents. Like most other writers, I discovered it was a pretty miserable experience. By the time I had received my seventh rejection letter in six days I was starting to feel a bit discouraged. My husband called me to ask how things were going and I confessed it was starting to be a pretty hard slog. He said something to me I remind myself every time I start to lose heart “Chin up, pen down”. If I ever get a tattoo that will probably be what I choose. There is even an app to try out a tattoo before you commit to anything permanent!

Barb: The day I turned thirty a group of women from work, including Nancy Fohl and Kathy Schiff, took me out to lunch. I have no idea what was going on in my life that day, but I do know as a young mother I often felt completely discombobulated. I’d just get a project at work under control and then my kid would get an ear infection. Or my kid would sleep through the night but then the car wouldn’t start. And so on. It was always something. Anyway, I told my lunchmates this, and said something like, “I just wish things would settle down for awhile.” Nancy Fohl said, “It’s never going to settle down. What you’re describing is life. Now that you’re thirty, it’s time for you to know the truth.” And then Kathy said, “It’s only because you’re a WASP that you ever believed things could be under control in the first place. You need to get over that now.” I admit there are still times when I crave routine, no surprises, everything under control, but now I remind myself life doesn’t work that way for anyone and it gives me what I need to keep going.

Liz: When I was a still pretty young, probably a teenager, someone (I don’t even remember who at this point) told me that you can never please everyone and you shouldn’t waste time trying. That the only person you really needed to make happy is yourself. At the time I thought that was ridiculous, because you know, as a teenager I wanted everyone to like me, be proud of me, etc. I wish I had listened back then. Instead I had to learn it the hard way over the past few years. I think this is probably the most important piece of advice ever.

Sherry: I was in 9th grade and getting ready to enter high school. My mom sat me down and told me if I really wanted to enjoy high school I should participate in a lot of activities. I took that advice to heart and did as much as I could. The two most valuable experiences were being involved in school plays and the yearbook. Plays gave me confidence and the yearbook taught me how to work with a group and how to be organized. I’ve carried that advice about being involved throughout my life and because of that have met many wonderful people. So here is my senior picture and the list of activities that went along with it.

I confess I’m pretty stunned to see intramurals in there because I was not athletic. Someone must have forced me to do something!

Julie: Best piece of advice I’ve gotten? One of them is from Hank Phillippi Ryan, when my first book was about to be published. “Enjoy every step of this. Enjoy every moment.” That’s good life advice too, as it turns out.

Readers: Please share the one piece of good advice that has stuck with you.

Of Family and Holidays and Inspiration — Welcome Sparkle Abbey!

First off, we are thrilled to be here at Wicked Cozy Authors today. Thanks so much to Sherry Harris for inviting us.

This time of year there are so many online photos of picture perfect family get-togethers. You’ve seen them, right? The matching china, the colorful centerpiece, the happily chatting family and friends gathered around the sumptuous feast. Is that what it’s like at your house?

We have to confess that’s not quite what it’s like for us. And frankly, though sometimes we long for that magazine-cover-worthy gathering, most of the time we’re thrilled to be a part of the not-always-perfect celebrations.

You see as mystery writers, our novels are ultimately about motives and what makes people tick. So those festive parties or holiday family dinners are the perfect opportunity to observe. Like most writers, we’re fascinated with people and what makes them do the things they do. Some of the best drama can be found during a family holiday gathering.

Like who thought it was a good idea to bring six extra people to Thanksgiving? And is that guy with your brother’s daughter a boyfriend or just a friend? And does your uncle really think no one sees him packing up all that food to take home for later?

The truth is we always have way more food than we need, so the six extras really didn’t matter. and no one cared that Uncle Martin was packaging food for later. We just would have liked for him to wait until after we’d eaten. And, of course, your extremely blunt sister will find a way to ask niece Maggie about the boyfriend status. (Names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

Family dynamics play a big part in our stories. Our two amateur sleuths, Caro and Mel, are cousins and there’s a feud over a family heirloom of sorts. As a result, they’re not speaking to each other. It’s partly a misunderstanding and partly just good old-fashioned stubbornness. In Caro and Mel’s case, their feud causes them to make some occasional bad decisions and things get a bit complicated. Dare we say, a bit of family drama?

Now because we write mysteries, there are also some others who make bad choices with much more serious consequences. And ultimately to unravel the whodunit, Caro and Mel have to figure out what makes the potential suspects tick. What makes people do the things they do.

Back to those holiday dinners. No murders in our respective families. And everyone is on speaking terms with each other, for now anyway. It’s true, our china doesn’t always match, and sometimes the centerpieces are homemade (and look it), but at the end of the day, the food is always tasty, the conversations energetic, and there’s plenty of love to go around. And if there’s drama? Well, friends and family beware. You just might end up in our next book!

What about your family get-togethers?  Are they more the picture perfect kind of gatherings? Or are yours more like ours, imperfectly perfect in their own way?

Readers: We’d love to hear your stories. What was your best or most disastrous family gathering?

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series set in Laguna Beach. Their series features former Texas beauty queen cousins, Caro, a pet therapist and, Melinda, a pet boutique owner. The most recent installment (book nine) is Barking with the Stars and The Dogfather (book ten) is in the works.

They love to hear from readers and would love to connect with you via their website at: sparkleabbey.com or you can also find them on: Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

 

Ode to Trash Cookies

The winner of A Passport To Murder by Mary Angela is Cozynookbks! Please send your contact information to maryangelabooks@gmail.com

by Barb, who’s finished her Christmas holiday baking

In the 1960s, my mother had a challenge. Her annual Christmas cookie baking resulted in ten unused egg whites. Unwilling to throw them away, she searched for a recipe that would use them up. The first year she made actual coconut macaroons, shaped like wreaths with red food coloring bows and green leaves. I thought they were beautiful and delicious (I still love macaroons) but in a couple of days they were hard as rocks. Since my mother did her Christmas cookie baking in a flurry in one day (as I do), then stored the cookies in tins and doled them out for gatherings and parties all month, that wasn’t going to work.

Then she found a recipe for “marangoons.” These tasty concoctions were pure 1960s cooking. (Even the Google won’t find a recipe for me now.) The egg whites are beat with confectioners sugar, and then cornflakes, shredded coconut, and chocolate chips are folded in. The resulting mess is dropped by spoon onto cookie sheets and baked.

That was the recipe that stuck. My mother called them “trash cookies.” They were meant to use up the egg whites and to maybe help fill out a plate full of cookies, but other than that her disdain for them was total. They were the very poor relations of the more refined rolled and cut cookies, the butter cookies and the hazelnut wreaths, which were tons more work, required more expensive ingredients, and most important, a more discerning palate to appreciate their subtle flavors.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, always declared the marangoons her favorites. She seemed to believe her love of the cheapest cookies somehow made her a more virtuous person. Just as my mother’s snobbishness about the marangoons tells you something about her personality, my mother-in-law’s vocal embrace of them tells you something about her.

The cognitive dissonance was a little much for me, but I rolled my eyes at both of them and went on.

The truth is, the marangoons don’t last all that long or travel well. Nonetheless, when I became the primary cookie maker in the family, I would ship a tin full of all the different kinds of cookies to my parents. “I don’t know why you even include the marangoons,” my mother would say every year. “They’re stale when they get here.” But I continued to include a few, which tells you something about my personality.

My husband, in keeping with his personality, has tried to upscale the trash cookies. Really good chocolate chips do make a difference, but fancy coconut was terrible and the organic free-range cornflakes he bought at Whole Foods turned into a sodden mass. Better to stay with Kelloggs. I told you it was a 1960s recipe.

I lost the actual recipe a few years back, and by then what I was doing bore only a passing resemblance to the original directions.

I made half the usual amount this year, because I’m doing some of my cookie baking with my granddaughter in Virginia later in the month. Here is how I made the marangoons.

Ingredients

5 egg whites
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 12-ounce bag of chocolate chips
1 7-ounce bag of shredded, sweetened coconut
1/2 the contents of a 12-ounce box of cornflakes.

Instructions

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites, adding the confectioners sugar gradually until it is a gooey mess. Fold in the cornflakes, then the chocolate chips, then the coconut, mix thoroughly.

Drop by the spoonful onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake at 350 degrees for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Readers: Do you have a recipe that is like a poor relation that came to stay?

The Element of Surprise — Welcome Guest Mary Angela

Welcome, Mary Angela! Mary writes the Professor Prather cozy mystery series. Passport to Murder is the second book in the series. She is giving away a copy to a commenter! Join us in welcoming Mary!

You know the holidays are coming when you buy a new outfit for your Elf on the Shelf. Recently, I purchased one for our elf and her friendly reindeer because “Come on, Mom. They’re a team!” my girls argued. ’Tis the season for waffling mothers, and if there’s one month my kids can talk me into anything, it’s December. They could ask for a chimpanzee right now, and I’d wonder if the zoo was offering a rebate.

Even if you don’t have little kids at home, you’ve probably heard of the Elf on the Shelf. Pinterest has entire boards devoted to this miniature menace: he writes messages, hides in weird places, and often gets trapped. Thankfully, our elf, Cheery Cherry, isn’t nearly as crafty. Sometimes she’s downright lazy after a long day of being creative. Still, she’s a big fan of board games and candy canes and, of course, reindeer. Actually, now that I think about it, the elf and I have a lot in common. First of all, we both fly around the house during the holidays making people happy. Second, we devote much of our time to leaving surprises.

It’s one of the best things I get to hear my readers say: the ending surprised me. I had no idea. I thought it was insert-the-name-of-a-would-be-murderer. It’s like unwrapping a gift every time I hear those words. Human beings are creatures of habit. We get up, we go to work or school, and we go to bed. Rarely does anything shake our routine. It’s no wonder my kids race down the stairs, even on school days, to see what that crazy elf has done. It’s the same reason they race down the stairs on Christmas morning and the same reason we race to the end of a novel: it’s fun to be surprised.

Mysteries should be anything but predictable, and like the elf, I work very hard at creating the element of surprise. It’s the feature of the mystery genre I enjoy most. After teaching English for many years, I love writing a good plot, an afterthought in some of the literary works I teach. My novels are filled with viable suspects and, much to the chagrin of elves everywhere, no tricks. Although I enjoy surprising plots (the Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie is my absolute favorite example of this), I always play fair with my endings. I know readers enjoy being surprised, not cheated, by a plot twist. A lump of coal might describe an ending that disappoints. As a reader, I’ve been there. Expecting a sweet treat, you find yourself frustrated by a character who hasn’t been mentioned in the last twenty-six chapters. Oh Christmas miracle! Where did this person come from? Maybe an elf made merry with the pages.

This time of year should be filled with mystery, magic, and happy surprises, like being invited by the Wicked Cozy Authors to guest post on their blog. Thank you so much for having me today, ladies, and thank you readers. It’s a gift to be in your company.

Readers: Do you like surprises? Do you have a favorite?

© Julie Prairie Photography 2016

Mary Angela is the author of the Professor Prather cozy mystery series, which has been called “enjoyable” and “clever” by Publishers Weekly. She is also an educator and has taught English and humanities at South Dakota’s public and private universities for over ten years. When Mary isn’t writing or teaching, she enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family. For more information about Mary or the series, go to MaryAngelaBooks.com.

 

It’s a Smelly Business

The winner of Murder on the Toy Town Express is Kay Garrett. Barbara Early has your email and will be in touch!

By Sherry who is enjoying the Christmas lights around the neighborhood

Barb Goffman recently gave me a gift. The box says on it: No place like home. What could this be?

I opened the box and found a candle. One that purports to smell like Iowa, my home state. And I thought what the heck does Iowa smell like?

My first thoughts were a little dark: the Oscar Myer and Purina plants in my hometown, pig farms, fertilizer, the Mississippi River on a hot summer day.

But as I thought more about it other smells came to me: lilacs, the smell of ozone before a summer storm, laundry drying on the line outside, the scent of musty books and wood in the old library before they tore it down, lumber from a new house being built, mud in early spring, a pile of leaves.

It make me think about the tie between memory and scent. Every time I get a whiff of Brut aftershave (which isn’t often anymore) it’s like time traveling back to high school and remembering a boy I liked. A few years ago I bought a tube of Revlon lipstick. When I got home and opened it I thought, Mom. Who knew my mom smelled like Revlon lipstick when I was growing up?

Writers are always told to use the five senses when writing. The candle was a great reminder of the power of smell. Each of us have our own response to smell. I hear people talking about the lovely scent of just cut grass. All I think is, achoo because I’m allergic to grass. I don’t like the smell of coffee brewing either (I know, I know – it’s some kind of character flaw). But ah, a cup of Earl Grey tea – heaven.

Using the sense of smell can connect readers to a character. It can tell us something about their personality. If they hate the smell of bread baking, maybe it’s because of a bad relationship with the baker. If they love the smell of roses, maybe it’s because their grandmother who provided a safe haven for them. On the contrary if they hate the smell of roses maybe they had an abusive partner that gave them roses after abuse.

But back to the candle. I’ve had a cold ever since Barb gave me the candle so until yesterday I didn’t light it. The candle came with a card that said this: There’s no place like home. From agriculture and the Holliwell Bridge to John Wayne and the world’s largest wooden nickel. Our Iowa scented candle will have you feeling right at home with the scents of the Iowa State Fair, including the sweet butter cow. The Hawkeye State! Iowa sweet Iowa.

I had to look up the Holliwell Bridge. It was used in the filming of The Bridges of Madison County. I’d never heard of those bridges until the book came out in 1992 and I’d long since moved from Iowa by then. I also hadn’t heard of the world’s largest wooden nickel. It was erected in 2006 as a protest against county officials’ decision to raise speed limits in the area. Iowa resident Jim Glasgow spent more than six months creating the giant sixteen foot wooden nickel, which weighs about 4,000 pounds. (In my research I also discovered that San Antonio claims to also have the world’s largest wooden nickel. But theirs is smaller. Go Iowa!) And I confess I’ve only been to the Iowa State Fair once, to see the group Chicago, when I was in college. I’m not sure butter cows and sculptures were even a thing back then. (If you want to know more about the butter cows watch the movie Butter. It’s a hoot.)

So…what does the candle smell like. I lit it and waited, hoping my nose wouldn’t fail me. And now drum roll please…it smells like butter cream frosting. It’s a lovely scent which I will enjoy even if it doesn’t smell exactly like Iowa to me. Now I’m curious what candles from other states I’ve lived in smell like. Here’s the link in case you want a candle of your own. https://www.etsy.com/search?q=no%20place%20like%20home%20candles

Readers: Is there some scent that takes you back to a pleasant memory? One that you don’t like?