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.

Welcome Guest Julie Mulhern!

I’m so delighted to welcome Julie Mulhern to the Wicked Cozy Authors! Julie is celebrating the release of her fifth book, Watching The Detectives, in her Country Club Murders series. This fun series is set in the 1970s and if you aren’t friends with her on Facebook you should be her posts of 70s ads are a hoot. I’m never quite sure whether to laugh or cringe. Julie is giving an ebook of the first in the series The Deep End to one of our commenters! Welcome, Julie!

I remember the first time.

My hands shook.

Tears filled my eyes.

My heart seemed too big for my chest.

The first time. It was pure magic.

The fifth time was no less magical.

I’m talking about the arrival of books on my front porch. My books. Delivered by UPS in a brown cardboard box that barely contains the happiness within.

In the past two-and-a-half years, five of Ellison Russell’s adventures have made it into the world.

Five Country Club Murders.

Five release days.

When The Deep End released, I waited for a confetti cannon to go off, showering me with glitter, confetti, and massive sales.

I don’t wait for that cannon anymore. If I want confetti or glitter (frankly I’m not big on either—it gets in the carpets and I have to vacuum), I need to provide them myself.

This release day, I was a guest on a Kansas City morning show (much more fun than waiting for non-existent cannons) then I went out to lunch with my oldest daughter, visited with some of my favorite readers on social media, and went out for wine with a friend then dinner with my husband.

Did I leave out the part about checking my numbers on an hourly basis? Oops!

I did that too. Because sales matter.

Most cozy readers know about the discontinuation of beloved series. It’s painful. For devoted readers. For the publisher who wields the axe. And—most of all—for the writer.

Sales matter. Maybe not to the reader, but I can guarantee the publisher and the writer care. A lot.

Thank heavens, writers aren’t like used car salesmen. We don’t corner readers, put our books into their hands, and tell them they’ll regret it if they don’t buy. We might want to. We don’t. Except that one…never mind.

I am so thrilled to be with the Wicked Cozy Authors today. I have purchased and loved books by each of them. I buy their books new. From Amazon or Barnes & Noble or my local bookstore. I hope you have too.

Because sales matter.

Readers: Do you have a favorite fashion memory from the 70’s?

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders. She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean–and she’s got an active imagination. Truth is–she’s an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions.

 

 

Welcome Back Cindy Brown — A Gunfight Gone Wrong, Marauding Chihuahuas, & the Real Annie Oakley

Congratulations, Avis! you won an ebook! Cindy will be in touch!

I hope you all have the chance to meet Cindy in person some day. Her smile lights up any room she’s in. Here is are three things that inspired some of Cindy’s latest book Ivy Get Your Gun! Cindy is going to give away an ebook to one person who leaves a comment. Thanks, Cindy!

A Gunfight Gone Wrong, Marauding Chihuahuas, & the Real Annie Oakley

Ivy Get Your Gun may be fiction, but three real-life events inspired the book. The first two were news events in Arizona. When my mom sent me the following clipping, I knew I had the opening to my new book:

Actor Shot During Tombstone, Arizona, ‘Old West’ Gunfight Re-enactment Play

An “Old West” gunfight re-enactment in Arizona ended with real casualties                          Sunday when one of the actors fired five live rounds from his gun instead of                        blanks, injuring another actor and a bystander.

Yep, Ivy’s going undercover at Gold Bug Gulch, a Western theme town a little like Tombstone. She’s also been hired to solve a problem inspired by the following real-life incident:

Stray Chihuahuas Terrorize Arizona Town, Chase Children, Run Wild

Ay, Chihuahua! An Arizona town is overrun with tiny pooches that are terrorizing children    and defecating anywhere they want — and animal control officials can’t get a leash on the problem.  Large packs of the small dogs in Maryvale chase children as they head off to school, and the number of strays has swelled beyond control, officials and residents said.

The third incident was not nearly as dramatic, but a lot closer to home. Ivy is a part-time detective and an actor, so her escapades take place in the theater. In Ivy Get Your Gun, she performs in a melodrama at Gold Bug Gulch, but I also wanted a connection with the show Annie Get Your Gun. I had a difficult time getting hold of the script and the video, so I began by researching Annie Oakley. I’d always been a fan, but I had no idea what a truly amazing woman she was.

She survived a nightmare childhood to single-handedly raise her family out of poverty (when she was still a young teen) and then went on to become the most famous woman in the world, all while maintaining an uncommon degree of integrity. I was smitten. Finally, I received the script in the mail (had to order it off eBay from New Zealand), and was able to get the movie from the library, and…wow. All I had remembered was the wonderful music and some cowboy-type shenanigans. I didn’t remember how stupid they made her look or the makeover she had to endure, and I certainly didn’t know they had changed the real-life ending of Annie’s shooting match with Frank Butler, making her lose on purpose so that she wouldn’t upstage her man. UGH.

But what to do now?  I had the rest of the book in my head and a lot of it on paper. I decided to have Ivy channel me. In addition to acting in the melodrama, she’s auditioning for Annie Get Your Gun. Like me, she has a tough time finding the script in the video and researches Annie Oakley while she waits.  And when she sees what they did to Annie’s legacy, she gets as ticked off as I did and decides to do something about it.

I love how these three real events melded into the book: the gunfight became the mystery, the Chihuahuas became the comic relief, and Annie Oakley became the soul of the book. I hope I did her proud.

Readers: What strong woman do you admire?

Cindy Brown has been a theater geek (musician, actor, director, producer, and playwright) since her first professional gig at age 14. Now a full-time writer, she’s the author of the Agatha-nominated Ivy Meadows series, madcap mysteries set in the off, off, OFF Broadway world of theater. Cindy and her husband live in Portland, Oregon, though she made her home in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than 25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities.

She’d love to connect with readers at cindybrownwriter.com (where they can sign up for her Slightly Silly Newsletter) or on Facebook or Twitter.

 

 

 

 

The Detective’s Daughter — The Emerald

Kim in Baltimore soaking up the sun…finally!

I’m sure every woman has heard the cheesy line “what’s your sign?” at least once in their life, but how about “what’s your birthstone?” No, really, I’m asking. What is your birthstone? As you’ve probably guessed from the title, mine is an emerald. That’s right, I’m a May baby and on the last day of this month I’ll be…well, it’s only a number, right?

I’ve been told a girl’s first piece of “real” jewelry is her birthstone. That was true for me. On my tenth birthday Nana and Pop-Pop gave me my first ring, an emerald. I wore it everyday for years and still do on special occasions. They bought it at Earkes’ Jewelry store on Light Street, the same place Dad bought presents for Mom.

You can only imagine how grown-up I felt with my emerald ring. I’d always admired my grandmother’s rings. Nana had been married twice. On the ring finger of her left hand she wore the wedding set  Pop-Pop had given her and on her right hand she wore a large square diamond which had been the rings given to her by her first husband, John. After his death, Nana had the set combined to make one large ring. Though her diamonds were sparkly and beautiful, and maybe even a girl’s best friend, they were not as lovely as my small emerald.

The first year I taught school I did a really stupid thing. Well, I probably did a lot of stupid things, but this one landed me in the emergency room with my fingers stuck in a plastic toy. It was one of those boxes where you hammer in a shape. The shape was stuck and I thought it would be easy enough to stick my finger in and push it out. The problem was my ring…the emerald… got caught on an edge. After a few teachers prodded and pulled at my hand, my finger swelled. I was in tears by the time they got me to the hospital, but not because I was in any pain, I was terrified my ring would be destroyed. Fortunately, my ring survived, the toy wasn’t as lucky.

The emerald is the symbol of rebirth, fertility, and love. It is believed the owner of an emerald will have foresight, good fortune and youth. It may even cure stomach problems and ward off panic, keeping the wearer relaxed and serene. I’m not so sure about that, relaxed and serene are not two words anyone would use to describe me!

My grandparents have been gone many years and I now have Nana’s rings. Every Mother’s Day I wear them to honor her. Gemstones may have healing powers, but this emerald holds the power of keeping the memory of my grandparents alive for me.

Readers: Do you wear your birthstone? Have you investigated the history and meaning of your stone?

Better

By Sherry — wishing you all a lovely day

I’m still thinking about the release of A Good Day To Buy which came out last week. With every book that comes out I think, “the next book has to be better.” Most writers (at least I hope it isn’t only me) have a tiny voice in their heads telling us we are frauds, fakes, and phonies. It’s the voice I have to shove aside or I’d never write another word. Every time a book comes out I’m afraid I’ll see a comment that says, “It wasn’t as good as the last one.” Or everyone will be thinking, “well she had a good run.” Yes, my head can be a very scary place to live some days.

To counteract those voices I’ve been reading two books on writing. The first one is Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of The Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers by James W. Hall. Barbara Ross knew I was a Hall fan. She saw him speak in Key West, told him I was now published, and had him sign a copy for me.

Between 2000 and 2003 I lived in the panhandle of Florida. At the time Florida International University was running a fabulous writing conference there every fall. One year Hall (who writers thrillers) was one of the teachers and he was working on this book.

One of the things I’ve never forgotten was when he talked about what does make a book last through the years. He said people want to learn something and thought perhaps this might go back to our puritanical work ethic. Fast forward to the present and it’s made me wonder if that is one of the reason cozy mysteries are so popular. Not only do readers get to go an adventure and try to solve the mystery, but they learn something. It might be a new recipe, yard sale tip, knitting pattern, or craft – the variety is endless.

In Hit Lit, Hall says, “The fierce loyalty readers feel for a certain characters grows out of a shared connection with the character’s emotional journey.” That resonates with me, the books I love be they mysteries, thrillers, romances, or literary, are all about the characters. Everything else is icing on the cake.

The second book is The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write Beneath the Surface by Donald Maass. Author Leslie Budewitz mentioned it on Facebook – thank you, Leslie! Maass says, “What shapes us and gives our lives meaning are not the things that happen to us but their significance.” Down a few paragraphs he says, “We are stories. Plot happens outside but story happens inside. Readers won’t get the true story, though, unless you put it on the page—both the big meaning of small events and the overlooked implications of large plot turns.”

I work with Barb Goffman who is an independent editor. After I’ve written the first draft I send it off to her. The first book we worked together on was The Longest Yard Sale – there were many notes in that one that said, “What is Sarah thinking?” or “Let us see how Sarah reacts.” I’ve had less of those comments as time has passed but it’s a valuable lesson in developing characters. It’s something I easily see in manuscripts when I edit but not always in my own.

It’s interesting that both Hall and Maass use some of the same authors as examples in their books like Stephen King and Harper Lee. I have hard copies of both books so I can mark them up, put in tabs, and refer back to passages. I’m only about a quarter of the way through each book, but I already know that they will make my writing better.

Readers: Is there an emotionally significant event in a book that has stuck with you? Please try to avoid spoilers — maybe mention a title or character that affected you. Writers: Do you have a favorite writing conference? I’d love to go to another great writing conference!

Dreams Do Come True — Thank You Kensington Publishing

Breaking news! Here are the winners of the books from yesterday’s drawing. It was such a great response that I drew a third winner! Keep an eye out for future giveaways! The winners are: Jill @Bonnjill, Sharon Forrest, and Stephanie Clark! Thanks to all of you who entered!

I’m so excited that my fourth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series, A Good Day to Buy, releases today. One of the themes in A Good Day to Buy is about who is a hero and what makes one.

I still have to pinch myself when I think about being published — that I’m writing book six as you read this. It makes me reflect on how it all happened and why. That story starts with Kensington Publishing. Here’s a little about them from their website:

Founded in 1974, Kensington Publishing Corp. is located in New York City and is known as “America’s Independent Publisher.” It remains a multi-generational family business, with Steven Zacharius succeeding his father as President and CEO, and Adam Zacharius as General Manager. From the time its very first book (Appointment in Dallas by Hugh McDonald), became a bestseller, Kensington has been known as an astute and determined David-vs.-Goliath publisher of titles in the full spectrum of categories, from fiction and romance to health and nonfiction. You can read more about Kensington on their website.

Gary goofing off at Bouchercon New Orleans 2016

Some of you have heard this story, but here is my tale of how the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series came to be. Once upon a time a heroic editor, Gary Goldstein, from the land of Kensington, came up with the idea for a cozy series with a garage sale theme. At the time Gary only had thriller and western authors in his castle and yet he went out seeking adventure in the world of cozies. His quest led him to an agent (John of Talbot), the agent went to Lady Barbara of Ross, and Barbara thought, “Sherry loves garage sales.” So it came to pass that the fair maiden Sherry (too much?) okay, just plain old Sherry wrote a proclamation (it was only a proposal but all of this still seems very fairy tale like to me) and Gary of Kensington said yes. Trumpets sounded (in my head), people danced with joy (well I did) and to this very day Sherry is Gary of Kensington’s only cozy writer.

But an editor and a writer do not a book make. There are legions of people working behind the scenes at Kensington. The unsung heroes who make it all happen. I’ve only met a few of them and some only through email. Gary’s assistant Liz alerts me when my books are on sale or there are good reviews among many other things. Karen and Morgan in marketing send out ARCs, set up blog tours, get ads placed, set up events, and probably do a whole heck of a lot more that I don’t even know about.

I love the covers of my books. The Art Department took my idea of having an old fashioned looking tag on the cover and ran with it. They created something better than I could have imagined! There is always something on each cover that I wished I owned.

Someone writes the back cover copy and they are able to sum up my books in a few short words better than I ever could. Here’s the back cover copy of A Good Day To Buy:

HER BROTHER IS NO BARGAIN
When Sarah Winston’s estranged brother Luke shows up on her doorstep, asking her not to tell anyone he’s in town—especially her ex, the chief of police—the timing is strange, to say the least. Hours earlier, Sarah’s latest garage sale was taped off as a crime scene following the discovery of a murdered Vietnam vet and his gravely injured wife—her clients, the Spencers.
 
BUT IS HE A KILLER?
All Luke will tell Sarah is that he’s undercover, investigating a story. Before she can learn more, he vanishes as suddenly as he appeared. Rummaging through his things for a clue to his whereabouts, Sarah comes upon a list of veterans and realizes that to find her brother, she’ll have to figure out who killed Mr. Spencer. And all without telling her ex . . .

Then there are the copy editors who notice if Sarah hates broccoli on page 22 but is asking for a second helping on page 156. They push me to write a better book. There are typesetters, and people who send the proof pages – the last chance to find mistakes before the book is printed.

There are people in Sales and Sub Rights – there are probably departments I don’t even know about who all work hard to get my books out.

So thank you to everyone at Kensington – from top to bottom – who do your jobs, who helped make my dream come true.

To celebrate the release of A Good Day To Buy I’ll Give Away two books to someone who leaves a comment!

Readers: What dream has come true for you?

Why I’m a Standalone Writer — Guest Lori Rader-Day

I am happy to welcome back Lori Rader-Day. We met at Left Coast Crime in 2014 when we were both debut authors. Our first books weren’t even out yet. Lori’s third book, The Day I Diedreleased on April 11th!

Lori:

[Movie trailer voice] IN A WORLD where the mystery genre is built upon series characters, Lori Rader-Day is a serial author of—standalones.

Hi, I’m Lori, and I write… standalones.

[Everyone chines in.] Hi, Lori.

[A voice from the back of the room] You’re safe here, Lori.

Am I? Am I really? I’m looking around and everyone else—wow, this is hard. Everyone else has a series. Some of them have two or three series. It’s easy to feel as though I’m not doing something right, you know? Like I am not a real mystery author, because I haven’t written a series yet.

Face it. Mystery readers love series. They are always going on about Miss Fisher and Vera and Dexter and Sookie and Longmire. I get it. There’s something great about knowing that the thing you like and have read or, since series books are sometimes turned into television, watched—there’s more! There’s more of this thing I really enjoyed! It’s all good news!

Publishers also love series titles. You know why? Because the marketing does its dang self when it comes to series books. Launch once, write into infinity, and your happy readers from the first book are likely to keep picking up later titles, as long as you let them know they are available. If new readers discover you later into the series, that’s also good news for your backlist sales. Again: all good news.

Wow, you guys are really turning me around on this—

[Voice from the back of the room] Stay strong, Lori.

[Deep breath] OK, right. There’s a reason I write standalones, even so. And the reason is—me. I like standalones. I like to read them. I like knowing that the book I’m picking up is the whole story, that I’m not missing three books prior to this one and hence a lot of backstory. I’m a little OCD on this. If I find a series book that I want to read, I can’t just pick up that new book. I have to go back into the backlist and find the first book. Why? Because I want the origin story. How did this character become an amateur sleuth? Why did they become a bounty hunter instead of a lingerie salesperson (Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum) or a private investigator instead of a lady of leisure (Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver)? I’m not going to skip THAT story of all stories they have to tell. That’s the best one!

So there’s my own reading practices to blame. I will take a good standalone over anything, any day of the week. A fully realized story and character, where everything is left on the page and nothing “saved” for a future book is my kind of book.

Though I do like series books. When I find a character who has the potential to carry an ongoing story of growth and change, of course I’ll read that—

[Voice from the second row] She’s wavering. Do something.

But the real reason that I write standalones has nothing to do with my reading habits and everything to do with my own attention span.

When I was writing my first two published novels, I was working a day job. A demanding one. To get my writing done, I had to use my lunch hour almost every day of the week. I was turning down lunch invitations with real friends to go spend time with these fake friends I was making up. I had to make myself want to be at the blank page, or I wouldn’t show up there. There were just so many other things to do. Life easily gets in the way.

So I had to keep things interesting in what I was writing—giving myself fun assignments like two first-person narrators or a really fun character with bad behavior—but I also had to keep myself engaged with the next thing. As in, when I finish THIS manuscript, I get to write something completely different. I get to write The Brand New Shiny Idea!

The Brand New Shiny Idea cannot be a second book with the same character, you see. That’s not Brand New or Shiny enough.

I guess you can say I use the next book, the next standalone by definition, as the carrot at the end of the stick of writing my current project.

[Mumble from somewhere in row four] Heavy-handed metaphor alert.

There are just so many story ideas out there to be written, and the ones that occur to me have me hopping from one character to another, from one setting to another. For now. Someday I hope one of the characters I write gives me another idea—and then another one—for what she wants to do. I will welcome that turn of events. But until then…

[Murmurs from among the group.]

[Voice from the back] You can do it!

I am a standalone writer. Thank you for your support.

Readers: Do you read standalones? Have you thought about writing one?

Lori Rader-Day, author of The Day I Died, The Black Hour, and Little Pretty Things, is the recipient of the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Lori’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches mystery writing at StoryStudio Chicago and is the president of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter.

The Detective’s Daughter — Seeking Fortune

By Kim in Baltimore where April is living up to its shower promises.

On Mulberry Street, a mile or two from where I grew up, sits an abandoned shop that once housed my family’s favorite Chinese restaurant. It was called The White Rice Inn. When Nana didn’t feel like cooking her traditional Sunday feast, or I had a good report card, or some family tragedy had befallen us, we visited The White Rice Inn.

It was an exotic place for a little Irish girl who was use to white potatoes for dinner. I loved it all – lo mein, chow mein, fried rice, chop suey – but none of that compared to what was served afterwards.

At the end of each meal, along with the check, fortune cookies were delivered. There was one for each of us. First you ate the cookie, then everyone had a turn reading aloud what was written on their paper. You had to choose your own cookie, no one could hand it to you.

Through the years I have eaten hundreds – really, I’m not exaggerating – hundreds of fortune cookies, and I have saved nearly every single fortune paper that was tucked inside. I have boxes of fortunes, tiny papers stuffed in drawers, hung on bulletin boards, taped on my laptop, pressed between the pages of books and bursting from my wallet.

In 2004 my family and I took our first cross-country trip to San Francisco on the Amtrak. With such beautiful sites as the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower and Lombard Street to see, I chose the most spectacular of all for our initial tour…The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.

Opened in 1962 and family owned, the factory is located at 56 Ross Alley in China Town. We headed down the alleyway unsure that our directions were correct and finding the sign, stepped into the small establishment. In a cramped room an older woman sat at a table pressing snips of paper between the edges of warm cookies. The aroma of vanilla was heavenly. I held my camera up to snap a photo, but the woman put out her hand towards me.

“No, no. One dollar,” she said. I gladly unfolded the dollar bill from my purse and gave it to her. She shoved it on a shelf where a wad of crumpled bills overflowed from a cigar box. I would have given her ten dollars for the photo had she asked.

I bought so many bags of fortune cookies – who knew they came in chocolate! – and worried they would be eaten or crushed in our suitcases before we returned home. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is always the top item on my itinerary anytime I visit San Francisco.

Did you know that fortune cookies originated here in the USA and that they were not available in China until 1993? In China the cookies are advertised as “Genuine American Fortune Cookies.” I tried my hand at baking these several years ago for Chinese New Year. The cookies tasted good, but they hardened so quickly I couldn’t get the fortunes inside. Instead I had my guests take a cookie then choose a fortune from a bowl.

Last week I went away on a retreat with my good, good friend, Ramona. About twenty-five writers attended and we were each asked to bring a dessert to share. No, I didn’t bring fortune cookies, but someone else did. A lovely lady named Teresa had baked them herself and they were delicious. Maybe even better than the factory cookies! Inside she had tucked sweet messages such as “eat a brownie” or “what would Dr. Phil say?” Most of them, though, had messages related to writing or being mindful which was good considering we were participating in the Mindful Writers Retreat. Teresa was kind enough to share the recipe with me and gave me permission to share it with you. I haven’t attempted this recipe yet, but it’s on my to-do list.

The night I arrived home from my retreat I was tired from driving and didn’t feel like cooking. We ordered Chinese food. After dinner I went in search of the cookies only to discover someone (I’m not going to mention any names, but if you’re a wife you have one of these!) threw away the take-out bag before removing the cookies. This will never happen again.

Here is the recipe:

FORTUNE COOKIES

5 tablespoons butter, melted*

1 cup sugar

1 pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

4 large egg whites

1 cup all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons milk

Plug in fortune cookie maker and preheat for 5 minutes (until ready light is on.)  Combine egg whites and sugar in a bowl and mix until frothy and well blended.  Sift flour and salt into egg white mixture and stir until fully incorporated and lump free.  Add melted butter, milk and extracts  and blend until the batter is thick and smooth.  Coat top and bottom of fortune cookie maker with melted butter and apply a tablespoon of the batter into the center of each plate.  Close cover.  Cook for 2 minutes, until lightly golden brown, then remove cookie.  Working quickly, place fortune in center of cookie and use the folding tools to shape.  Fold as directed.

*  Let the butter cool after melting, it should be lukewarm when you mix it into the batter.

NOTE:  The amount of sugar in the batter determines how dark the fortune cookie gets with baking.  Add less sugar to make lighter color fortune cookies.

Kim, this Fortune Cookie Maker comes with a ladle, a fork-shaped thing to lift the cookies off the griddle, two little plastic pieces to hold either end of the cookies to help close them and the top of the plastic box they come in has two indentations to help keep the curved shape.  When I need room for the next two, I use a cupcake pan to completely cool them.

I hope you enjoy them!

Readers: has your love of a certain food inspired you to take a trip? Do you keep your fortunes? Do you have a favorite?