About Sherry Harris

Sherry Harris started bargain hunting in second grade at her best friend’s yard sale. She honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry uses her love of garage sales, her life as a military spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series. Tagged for Death, first in the series, will be out in December 2014.

The Detective’s Daughter — Lost Language

Kim in Baltimore enjoying the last days of summer.

“What’s black and white with a cherry on top?” This was my dad’s favorite joke. “A radio car,” he’d say before anyone could answer and he’d laugh as if it were the funniest thing he’d ever heard. A radio car.

A few nights ago two police officers came to have a talk with a man who lives down the street with his girlfriend. She’d been on the porch yelling at him right before they showed up.

“What’s going on?” my daughter asked.

“Not much, just a radio car stopped down the street,” I answered.

“A what?”

“A radio car,” I said again. She stared at me, a blank expression on her face. “A patrol car, you know, the police.”

This exchange left me wondering. Does anyone still say radio car? What other pre-historic phrases am I using that baffles my family and friends?

Have you noticed people seldom say telephone anymore? It’s either landline or cell. I’ve even had to describe to my kids about  phone booths.

I think back to my own childhood and the phrases my grandmother would use. When she said, “I’m going to lay across the bed,” that meant she was going to take a nap. And that was exactly what she would do, lay across her bed and not on the pillow or under the covers. I still say this, but it means I’ll be napping upstairs and not on the couch.

One of my favorites was the word “jackpot”. And no, it didn’t mean a big prize, in fact quite the opposite. If you were in the jackpot it meant you were in a great deal of trouble, not a winner.

For years we said things such as icebox and hanky because that’s what my grandparents said.

Why is it that some expressions hang on while others disappear? Is it because times change or is it that we move farther from our families these days and the old terms fade away with our distance from them?

My daughter is never going to use the term radio car, or say she’s in a jackpot, but hopefully some of my “old” sayings will be passed along for future generations to wonder over.

Readers: What phrases or words do you remember your parents using that are no longer in fashion?

Welcome Guest Roger Johns!

By Sherry — I’m so delighted to introduce you to Roger Johns!

Roger’s debut book Dark River Rising released on August 29 from Minotaur Books! Here’s a bit about the book: Dark River Rising is a tense and expertly-plotted mystery set against the bayous of Louisiana, from debut author Roger Johns.

Baton Rouge Police Detective Wallace Hartman has had better days. With her long-time partner and mentor on medical leave and a personal life in shambles, she’s called to the scene of a particularly gruesome murder: the body of a known criminal has been found in a deserted warehouse, a snake sewn into his belly. Obvious signs of torture point to a cunning and cold-blooded killer who will stop at nothing to find what he’s looking for.

When Federal Agent Mason Cunningham arrives on the scene, Wallace expects a hostile takeover of the case. But when a scientist with ties to the victim goes missing from a government lab, she needs Mason’s federal connections as much as he needs her local insight, and the two form an uneasy partnership to solve a case that grows more complicated—and dangerous—by the minute.

Meanwhile, the killer lurks in the shadows with an agenda no one saw coming, and when Wallace and Mason threaten to get in the way they risk losing everything they hold dear. Including their lives.

Thanks for joining us today, Roger!

Thank you, to the fantastic Wicked Cozy Authors for having me on the blog today. Full disclosure: I am most certainly a cozy reader, but I am (gulp!) not a cozy writer. Gritty, hard-boiled, and neo-Noir would be pretty good descriptors for the category I belong in. Contemporary writers like Karin Slaughter, Michael Connelly, Craig Johnson, and Tess Gerritsen would be good shelf-mates. And, if you look back a few years, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels would also be kindred spirits. So, at least the ‘wicked’ aspect of the blog title is probably apropos.

That said, I’m absolutely thrilled to be in the company of the Wicked Cozy Authors and their readers, today. Trust me, every first-time mystery writer longs for a chance in a spotlight this big and bright. And . . . there’s a little bit of a story behind how this happened. It falls into what my wife and I call the “You just never know ____________” category. There are the usual ways we would all fill in that blank, such as “You just never know . . .

* what you’re gonna find if you stop at that garage sale,” or

* what kind of meal you’re going to have when you try that new Ethiopian restaurant,” or

* whether you’re going to feel guilty for buying that budget-busting sport coat/pair of shoes/Maserati until after you’ve brought it home.”

And, today’s blank can be filled in with another of the old standards: “You just never know . . .

* who you’re gonna meet when you share a taxi from the hotel to the airport at the end of a mystery readers and writers convention in New Orleans . . . in October . . . of last year.”
The convention–Bouchercon 2016, by the way–was a great deal of fun. A year earlier, I had never even heard of, much less been to Bouchercon. But as I got deeper into the business of being an author I started learning about all these cool goings-on in the mystery reader-writer world. Maybe it was a blessing that I hadn’t known before, because I can see myself having dropped a ton of cash on it over the years. In any event, there I was, in the Crescent City, mingling with all these writers whose books I’d spent a lifetime reading, and meeting new writers and fellow readers. I didn’t have a book in play at the time–that was still about ten months away– so, in a sense, I was pressing my nose to the glass, but what a fine time it was.

Oh, and about that taxi ride, I tried hard not to eavesdrop (yeah, right!), but from a foot away, inside a van, afflicted with a congenitally nosey streak, it’s impossible not to overhear what your fellow riders are talking about. Mysteries, of course. Well, one thing led to another, and eventually I was invited into the conversation and eventually (and very nervously, I must add) I told my travel companions that I was in the early stages of being a mystery writer myself. My fellow riders–Sherry Harris (yes, that Sherry Harris) and Julianne Holmes (yes, that Julianne Holmes)–were so kind and so generous with their advice and in the recounting of their early experiences in the writing biz. I wish I had a video of the conversation to put up with this blog post.

There’s something exceptional about the reading-writing community, in general, and about the mystery-reading and writing community, in specific. Given that murder and mayhem are our stock in trade, it really is a remarkably good-natured slice of humanity (pun intended). In this ultra-competitive, too-often ill-mannered world we live in, it’s refreshing and affirming to be so readily embraced by the people who are already making the writing world go around. In my earlier incarnations, I met plenty of unpleasant people, but I have yet to encounter a single one in the reader-writer community. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has been so thoughtful and helpful and friendly, and so much fun to be around. We people of the book are a special tribe, and we should take a great deal of pride in this.

Author Bio: Roger is a former corporate lawyer and retired college professor, with law degrees from LSU and Boston University. Before, during, and after those endeavors, and before turning to mystery writing, he also worked as a script reader, drapery hanger, waiter, book seller, tuxedo rental clerk, ranch hand, television-commercial agent’s assistant, and party photographer–among other things. His debut novel–Dark River Rising–was released in August of this year by Minotaur Books-St. Martin’s Press.

 

Readers: What “you just never know” moments have you had?

That Was A Close One!

By Sherry — feeling fortunate

A couple of weeks ago I helped author Donna Andrews with a yard sale. It gave me a chance to put my money (or Donna’s in this case) where my protagonist Sarah Winston’s mouth is. Garage sales are a lot of work and in this case Donna had things from her grandparents and parents along with things of her own to sale. The picture below is while we were setting up. You can read Donna’s take on the event here!

What do you want to accomplish? The first thing I asked was what was more important, making money or getting rid of stuff. Donna was more interested in getting rid of things than making money. The reason to ask that is for pricing and bargaining the day of the sale.

We got together a few days before the sale to price. Donna had already arranged a lot of like items together in her garage. There was so much stuff we decided not to individually price things (even though Sarah usually does). Donna made signs for things like albums $1.00, glassware $2.00, etc.

Vintage Jewelry Donna also had a lot of vintage jewelry. We used box lids with towels in them to arrange the jewelry. A friend of Donna’s who sells jewelry had been over to take a look at things to make sure nothing was too valuable. As we arranged the jewelry I would flip it over to look for signatures. Also to see if there was backing on the jewelry – that is usually a sign there aren’t gemstones set in the piece. I took some of the pieces home to check prices on eBay. Below is an example of the backing from a brooch I bought last spring at a sale:

Open! The weather the day of the sale was perfect, not too hot and a gentle breeze – almost unbelievable for August. Garage sales make for interesting people watching and become a study in human nature. Yes, we had early birds. The starting time was 9:00 but by 8:15 we were open for business. Donna did scare one woman off at 7:45 when she told her she could look around as long as she helped carry out a few boxes.

Patterns Donna had stacks of patterns from the forties, fifties, and sixties. I’d looked up prices on eBay and thought she’d probably have more luck selling them there. But we stuck them out anyway. We sold one. However, so many people stopped by to look at them. And it was lovely how many people told me stories of their moms or grandmothers making clothes. It was one of the best parts of the sale for me.

Hipsters Two young men came by who were interested in the albums Donna had for sale. She had nine boxes with everything from rock to Irish folk music to classical in them. The hipsters were interesting to watch because first they sorted through the albums in the garage setting asides ones they were interested in. Then they brought them out into the light and took the album out of its cover to look for scratches. After that they made their final decisions about which ones they wanted. At $1.00 a piece they were a great bargain. One of the guys said he loved Irish music because he could jig around the house to it. The image of this bearded hipster doing a jig still makes me laugh.

Culture clash Northern Virginia is a very diverse area but twice now I’ve seen how cultures can clash at a yard sale. A woman was looking a jewelry and had made a little stack to one side. Two other women swooped in and tried to crowd her out. They immediately went to her little stack. I intervened and explained that was spoken for. Then I bagged it up for the first woman. Since she was still shopping I took the jewelry, put it in a box with some other things she wanted, set the box to the side and covered it.

About fifteen minutes later one of the women brought me a couple of bags full of costume jewelry and asked me how much. I was holding one of the bags and flipping it back and forth to see what all was it in. All of the sudden the woman blurted out, “It’s her bag” and points at the first woman. Then she said, “I took it from there” and points at the box where I’d set it. A confession – if only Sarah could get information so easily! I rolled my eyes and took the bag back over to its spot.

Oh, boy. So here is my confession – Sarah would be so upset – it’s the big one that almost got by me. A woman was looking at the jewelry as I was hovering nearby. She holds a necklace up and says, “This is a Victorian mourning necklace.” I take it from her, flip it over, and sure enough there is this amazing woven hair. My first (and continuing thought) is how the heck did I miss that when I was looking through the jewelry?!!!!

I told her I’d have to look up a price. On eBay similar pieces were selling from $50 to $600! And those pieces only had a swirl of hair nothing like the intricate piece I was holding. Plus I wasn’t sure Donna would even want to sell it. When Donna finished up with the person she was talking to, I took it over to her and explained the situation. Of course she didn’t want to sell it! Fortunately, the woman understood. If I hadn’t been standing right there or if she hadn’t said anything it would have been gone for a couple of dollars. Ugh, I’m still upset!

All of us go to garage sales to find a treasure for next to nothing. But that was a close one!

The End By the end of the sale, Donna had made some money and gotten rid of some things. What didn’t sale was sorted into piles to give away or sell on eBay. Garage sales are a lot of work, but you can also learn something unexpected.

Readers: What in your life has taught you something unexpected?

The Detective’s Daughter

Kim in Baltimore protecting my eyes from the eclipse.

Nat King Cole sang about those lazy, hazy days of summer as Nana cooked in the kitchen. I could hear the music as I played in the yard. The windows were wide open despite the muggy heat of a Baltimore summer and the fact that Nana had a brand new air conditioner. She refused to turn it on no matter how hot the temperature.

I lounged in a tiny pool that Pop-Pop used a bicycle pump to inflate. Nana had put several throw rugs and an old comforter to protect the bottom of the pool and to cushion my feet from the hot cement.

Sometimes my friend Valerie from down the street would come over to sit in the cool water with me, but most often it was my dog Rikki who kept me company. He stayed in the shade under our picnic table watching over me as Pop-Pop sat dozing in his lawn chair with a transistor radio to his ear listening to the Oriole game.

This is how I remember the summer days of my youth. Baseball games, steamed crabs on Sundays, snowballs at night. I can close my eyes and conjure up the smell of Nana’s rose garden after an afternoon storm and hear the whistle of the trains passing the house and smell the tar of the street that was too hot to walk across in bare feet.

I tried to recreate those summers for my own children; the freezer stocked with juice pops, a wading pool in the yard, a gentle dog to keep watch. I have an air conditioner in the window I rarely use. When we first moved to the house we only had a few fans. In the morning I’d strip the beds and load all our sheets in the freezer for the day. At bedtime we’d grab them out and run as if the devil chased us up the stairs, throwing ourselves onto the sheets not even bothering to smooth them out or tuck them in. We just wanted to enjoy those few moments on the icy bed.

The coolness of the sheets was as brief as those summers that we remember not so much for the warmth of the days, but the happiness of being together.

Readers: What are your favorite childhood summer memories?

 

 

Ask The Expert — Retired Detective Sergeant Bruce Coffin

Today we welcome back Bruce Coffin who is celebrating the release of his second novel in his Detective Byron Mystery series, Beneath The Depths. I really enjoyed the first book in the series Among the Shadows.

Bruce recent helped me get my police procedure details right as I was writing my sixth book. He is here today to answer more questions. Thanks so much, Bruce!

Did you always want to be a police officer? 

Not initially. I had actually planned to become a writer and attended college with that goal in mind. It wasn’t until I had a less than positive experience with a creative writing professor that I changed career direction.

What was the process for you to become a police officer?

I took the test for several of the local police departments before being offered a job with the Portland PD. Candidates are required to pass a number of things before they are sent to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Two written tests, polygraph test, psychological test, background check, credit check, criminal check, driver’s license check, several interviews (including the captain’s boards), a physical exam performed by a doctor, and a physical assessment. I’m still wondering how I ever passed the psychological (twice). Maybe they graded on a curve.

Has the process for becoming an officer changed since you joined the force?

Not all that much. The process itself has remained the same. The biggest difference today is the number of people turning out to take the exams. When I tested to become an officer literally hundreds of people would take the test. Many local departments have trouble getting even thirty people to show up. This shortage of candidates has resulted in many officers transferring laterally from other agencies.

What are three things we should know about being a police officer?

It can be the toughest of jobs when things go wrong. It can be the most rewarding of careers when everything is going well. And policing is a front row seat to the greatest show on earth, the human condition. I don’t regret a single day of my twenty-eight years on the job.

What was your favorite part of the job? Any interesting experiences you can share? 

Ha! There are too many to list. As for interesting experiences, you’ll have to read my novels.

If I get pulled over what should I do? 

Do what I do when I’m pulled over. Shut the car off. Keep your hands where the officer can see them. Stay in the car. Be polite. Traffic stops are one of the most dangerous things an officer can do, especially at night when visibility is bad. Don’t add to the officer’s stress level by acting out or arguing. Court is the place to make your case, not on the side of the road. Treat the officer like you would want to be treated. Remember they have no idea who you are or what else you may have recently been doing when they approach you. I know an officer who pulled over a driver for failing to dim their vehicle’s high beams. That particular driver was returning home immediately after raping a murdering a woman.

What do people get wrong when they are writing a character who is a police officer?

I get asked this question a lot. If I had to sum it up quickly I’d tell you to write a real character first. After you’ve created a believable character turn his or her world upside down by making them a cop. All writers are readers first, just as all cops are people.

How do you use your expertise in your books? 

The plots for my novels are fictional but I use as much of my own experiences as I can to make the stories as realistic as I can for the reader. Obviously I have to take a few liberties for the benefit the reader. In real life murder investigations sometimes go unsolved, but if I were to write my novels that way no one would want to read them. I make it a point to delve into the human and ethical struggles that police officers must confront every day. My novels are a way for those with no police experience to jump into the car with John Byron and Diane Joyner and race toward trouble from the safety of your couch.

How are you alike and different from your protagonist John Byron? 

I constructed John Byron by throwing myself into a blender along with some of the officers who trained me when I was starting out and a few of the officers I worked with over the years. The traits John and I share are that we tend to look at things the way many veteran detectives do and we both have an irreverent streak especially when it comes to interference in our investigations. As for our differences, John is struggling with alcohol addiction and his failed marriage. I am blessed with a supportive and understanding wife. And the fact that she has put up with me and my craziness for more than thirty-five years makes me one lucky guy.

What are you working on now? 

At the moment I’m hard at work on the manuscript for the third Detective Byron mystery, tentatively titled Beyond the Truth. I am almost three quarters of the way through first draft. Oh, and for those of you wondering, I have already begun plotting Byron number four…

Readers: Do you have a question you’d like to ask about being on the police force or about Bruce’s great series?

Bruce Robert Coffin is a former detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement. At the time of his retirement, from the Portland, Maine police department, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11th, Bruce spent four years working counter-terrorism with the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest honor a non-agent can receive.
Bruce is the bestselling author of the Detective Byron Mysteries from HarperCollins. The debut novel in the series, Among the Shadows, was released to rave reviews, appearing in several Amazon bestseller lists and topping the paperback fiction list in the Maine Sunday Telegram. His short stories have been featured in several anthologies including the 2016 Best American Mystery Stories.

 

Cliffhangers — A Love Hate Relationship

By Sherry enjoying unusually nice summer days for August in Northern Virginia

Almost everyone my age will remember the summer of “Who Shot JR” from the TV show Dallas. JR (a nasty, manipulative man) is shot, but the audience doesn’t see the killer and had to wait until the fall to find the answer. I don’t even remember who the killer was, but I do remember all the speculation.

The first cliffhanger I remember in fiction was in a Janet Evanovich novel High Five. At the end of the book Stephanie Plum calls a man and asks him to come over. He shows up, but we don’t know if it’s Joe or Ranger. I remember getting to the end and having mixed emotions about having to wait a year to find out. You can bet I bought the next book in the series as soon as it was published.

Shows from Game of Thrones to The Walking Dead to Friends to Downton Abbey have ended seasons with cliffhangers. And authors such as Susan Collins (Hunger Games series), Stephan King (Dark Tower series — readers had to wait six years for the next book), and J.K. Rowling have all ended books at a suspenseful moment.

There is some disagreement about what a cliffhanger is. Some people think it’s any ending that leaves an unanswered question which means books like Gone with the Wind, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Gone Girl are books with cliffhanger endings. To me those endings seemed more ambiguous than cliffhanger. While researching cliffhangers I came across a Pub Crawl blog by Erin Bowman. You can read the full blog here. She makes a distinction between hooks and cliffhangers. It resonated with me.

One of the reasons cliffhangers are on my mind is because of how my fourth book, A Good Day to Buy, ends. The reaction to the ending has been interesting. People either enjoyed it or hated it – there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground. I wrapped up the crime, but I didn’t wrap up Sarah’s relationship woes. When I started writing the book it wasn’t with the idea of ending it with a hook big or small. It just came about naturally as I wrote the book. Sarah has a big life decision to make. I didn’t have room for another 20,000 words to resolve it. And I’m not sure seeing every little details of her though process/angst would make for interesting reading.

People are passionate about the topic. If you search “cliffhangers” you find lists of books and TV shows. One list on Goodreads is: Ending That Make You Want To Scream.

Novelist Charles Reade said, “Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait.”

Readers: How do you feel about cliffhangers or hooks at the end of a book? Have you ever used one in your writing? How did readers react?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Cats and Cafés

Dianne Mossor you are the winner of the books and tote bag! Watch for an email — Julie and Liz will need your contact information!

Today we are wicked happy to continue celebrating the release of Chime and Punishment by Julianne Holmes, aka Julie Hennrikus and Cat About Town by Cate Conte, aka Liz Mugavero. If you leave a comment you have a chance to Win a copy of Chime and Punishment, Cat About Town, and a cute cat bag!

Chime and Punishment is the third book in the Clock Shop Mystery series. Here’s a little about the book: Years ago, the serenity of picturesque Orchard, Massachusetts, was shattered by a fire that destroyed the town’s beloved clock tower. Ruth inherited the dream of repairing it from her late grandfather. Now that she’s returned home to run his clock shop, the Cog & Sprocket, she’s determined to make it happen, despite wrenches that are being thrown into the works by her least favorite person, town manager Kim Gray.

A crowd of residents and visitors are excited to see the progress of the tower at a fund-raiser for the campaign, until Kim is found crushed under the tower’s bell, putting an end to all the fun. The list of suspects is so long it could be read around the clock, and it includes some of Ruth’s nearest and dearest. Time’s a-wastin’ as Ruth tries to solve another murder in her beloved Orchard while keeping the gears clicking on her dream project.

A Cat About Town is the first novel in the Cat Cafe Mystery series. Here’s a little about the debut: Maddie James has arrived in Daybreak Island, just off the coast of Massachusetts, eager to settle down and start her own business—and maybe even fall in love. When a stray orange tabby pounces into her life, she’s inspired to open a cat café. But little does Maddie know that she’s in for something a lot more catastrophic when her new furry companion finds the dead body of the town bully. Now all eyes are on Maddie: Who is this crazy cat-whisperer lady who’s come to town? If pet-hair-maintenance and crime-fighting weren’t keeping her busy enough, Maddie now has not one but two eligible bachelors who think she’s the cat’s pajamas . . . and will do anything to win her heart. But how can she even think about happily-ever-after while a killer remains on the loose—and on her path?

Both series have cafés and cats in them! So Wickeds, do you have a favorite café and/or a favorite cat?

PrestonChristobel

Christabel behind Preston at Christmas. They often array themselves in matching poses.

Edith: I can’t wait to read both these new books! I don’t go to cafés much, but we have two lovely ones here in Amesbury: Ovedia and Market Square Bakehouse, and I’ve met people at both for coffee and conversation. Ovedia has the added attraction of making their own very fine chocolates! As for cats, well, my sweet Birdy shed his earthly shell in June, alas. Now we have two cats, and I couldn’t possibly play favorites between Christabel (the kitchen cat in the Quaker Midwife Mysteries) and Preston (the farm cat in the Local Foods Mysteries).

Barb: One of the things I’m sorry to leave on my last day in Somerville, Massachusetts, (today!) Is the Diesel Cafe. I wrote many of my first drafts there, particularly of my short stories, but also some of the novels. The funniest thing about the Diesel is that at certain times of day, everyone who is there is writing a book. The Diesel is included in the dedications and acknowledgements of many novels. As for cats, I have to admit I am endlessly amused by my son’s cat, Monkey, who has been trying to murder my son’s wife, Sunny, for almost a decade. Monkey does things like spreading shampoo all over the bathroom floor in the middle of the night and then gently nudging Sunny awake. I find it hilarious. I’m not sure Sunny does.

JJLiz: I love Diesel, Barb! I’m still searching for my favorite cafe in my new neighborhood, but in my old one there was a great coffee shop called Grounded. It’s owned by really great younger people and offers high end coffee drinks in a neighborhood that, a couple years ago, would’ve laughed it right off the street. I have great admiration for them. As for cats, it IS like picking a favorite child! The cat in the book, JJ, is based on my real life cat JJ. Isn’t he handsome?

Julie: I need to go to more cafes just to hang and drink coffee. I don’t do that enough, but will start! There are a good number to choose from–including 1369, Cafe Neros all over town, and the Thinking Cup to name a few. As for favorite cats–how can I choose? I’ve had five in my adult life, the most recent of which are Fred and Ginger. They are rescues who finally are settling into life in my condo. I’m not going to let them read Liz’s book–I worry that they’ll want to start walking me through Somerville.

Jessie: I don’t live near enough to any cafes to have a neighborhood favorite although I have enjoyed plenty of them whilst traveling. On a recent trip to Edinburg I had the pleasure of visiting The Elephant Cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote much of the first Harry Potter book. It was a magical experience, especially the bathroom where fans have covered the walls with messages to Harry’s creator.

Sherry: My favorite cafe is Helen’s in Concord. They have delicious breakfasts. Oh, now I want to fly up to Massachusetts! I’ve had two cats in my life, Snoopy, a Persian and Lucy, a beautiful gray and white. I would love to hang out in the town of Orchard and on Daybreak Island with their cats and cafes!

Readers: Do you have a favorite cafe or cat? Fictional or real?