Mary Feliz: Making a Memorable Entrance

News Flash: Celia Fowler is Mary’s winner. Celia, please check your email, and congratulations!

Edith here, enjoying summer north of Boston! I’m happy to welcome friend Mary FelizFELIZ BLOG #1 Disorderly Conduct (4) to the Wickeds today. Her latest book in the Maggie McDonald Mysteries just came out. I love this series about a professional organizer and can’t wait to read Disorderly Conduct. Here’s the blurb:

Professional organizer Maggie McDonald balances a fastidious career with friends, family, and a spunky Golden Retriever. But add a fiery murder mystery to the mix, and Maggie wonders if she’s found a mess even she can’t tidy up . . .

With a devastating wildfire spreading to Silicon Valley, Maggie preps her family for evacuation. The heat rises when firefighters discover a dead body belonging to the husband of Maggie’s best friend Tess Olmos. Tess becomes the prime suspect in what’s shaping up to become a double murder case. Determined to set the record straight, Maggie sorts through clues in an investigation more dangerous than the flames approaching her home. When her own loved ones are threatened, can she catch the meticulous killer before everything falls apart?

Mary will give a paper copy of Disorderly Conduct to one US commenter, and if you’re selected and are outside the United States, she’ll send a download for the e-reader of your choice!

Secondary Characters

Secondary characters nearly always threaten to take over a book, and a savvy writer  reins them in a bit to avoid overshadowing other important story elements.

But no two side-kicks have been harder to stifle than Tess and Patrick Olmos, who play a big role in my Maggie McDonald mystery series, particularly in the recently released Disorderly Conduct. While their backstory isn’t included in any of the books, I wanted to share it here, with the Wickeds who share some of the couple’s madcap, over-the-top originality.

Tess and Patrick’s unique relationship began the day Patrick ran his car off the road, into Tess’s family’s living room, and into her heart. With a flair for the dramatic herself, Tess was immediately charmed by the poise with which Patrick handled his entrance. His first words upon exiting his vehicle were, in order, Sorry, Ta Da!, and “Would you like to go to prom with me? I have insurance.” When she glanced at the car and found his dog behind the wheel, Tess asked who’d been driving. Patrick took responsibility. Even at sixteen, he was too much of a man to lay blame on his innocent retriever.

Golden Retriever Puppy Driving Car

Tess didn’t immediately agree to the prom invitation, but Patrick kept her laughing while they helped her building contractor father shore up the roof and nail plywood over the hole where the front window had been. Her father insisted Patrick cough up his deductible before the dance. Patrick’s family grounded him until he meet his increased insurance premiums and replace the car’s tires and brakes.

By the time the teen had paid off his debts, the couple decided to forgo the prom in favor of a more frugal day at the beach followed by dinner grabbed from an artisan food truck. Ten of their friends joined them, wisely betting that Tess and Patrick’s lively company would prove more fun than a stuffy urban hotel ballroom.

Years later, contemplating marriage, Tess insisted that their home be animal friendly, with a pet-free dressing room in which she could exchange her normal Uggs and sweatpants wardrobe for her sharp black and red fashionista work wardrobe. Patrick, on the other hand, was careless in his everyday appearance, but wanted all his possessions stowed with naval precision. The couple struggled through this arrangement for several months before realizing they’d be happier and stay married longer if they created separate domiciles, each with room for the other.

Tess is at home in Patrick’s ship-shape and austere urban loft near the transit hub where he catches the train for San Francisco. Patrick is a frequent visitor at her suburban ranch across the street from the school attended by their son Teddy, who moves seamlessly from one home to the other. It wasn’t until he was in third grade that he realized his family set up was atypical. At first, though his parents had never contemplated divorce, Teddy feared their living arrangement meant their partnership was on the rocks. As Tess explained when comforting her son, “We’re odd. You’re just going to have to face that. But we love each other and you very much. That’s the most important thing in any family.”

Outwardly, Tess and her best friend (my main character, professional organizer and declutterer Maggie McDonald) are polar opposites, but they share a belief in the importance of love, family, justice and friends. They invite you to join them in all their Orchard View adventures including Address to Die For (A Kirkus Best Book of 2017), Scheduled to Death, Dead Storage, and Disorderly Conduct (released July 10, 2018) Additional books are planned.

Readers: In Disorderly Conduct, Maggie and her family are packing to flee a wild-fire. What kinds of natural disasters plague your area? Are there any that scare you so much you’d choose not to live in an area where those conditions were likely to occur? Have you had any close calls? Remember, Mary is giving away a copy of the book to one commenter!

FELIZ BLOG #1 Author HeadshotMary Feliz writes the Maggie McDonald Mysteries featuring a Silicon Valley professional organizer and her sidekick golden retriever. She’s worked for Fortune 500 firms and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character’s stead, but Maggie’s skills leave her in the dust. Address to Die For, the first book in the series, was named a Best Book of 2017 by Kirkus Reviews. All of her books have spent time on the Amazon best seller list.

Alex Erickson: When the Not So Cozy Gets Cozy

News Flash: Diana Wunning is Alex’s randomly selected winner. Congrats, Diana! Please check your email. Alex will be contacting you.

Edith here, loving full summer north of Boston. Today I welcome a new guest, fellow Kensington Publishing cozy author Alex Erickson. He and I are going to have Christmas novellas published together in 2019 (along with Carlene O’Connor), so I thought I’d invite him over so we can all get to know him. He writes the Bookstore Cafe Mysteries, and his latest book is Death by Espresso. Don’t you love the cover?

EspressoBookstore-café owner Krissy Hancock has plenty to keep her occupied outside business hours, like preparing for her best friend’s wedding and solving a murder.

Krissy is meeting Vicki’s parents at the Pine Hills, Ohio, airport—it’s the least she can do as maid of honor, even if her relationship with Mr. and Mrs. Patterson is a bit strained. Besides, her own dad is coming in on the same flight. But there are a few additional arrivals, too. Her father’s brought a date—and the Pattersons, both actors, seem to have an entire entourage trailing behind them.

Uninvited guests are a headache—especially when one turns out to be, allegedly at least, the most important wedding planner in all the world. Though Vicki and Krissy have already made arrangements for a small, simple party, Vicki’s snobby drama queen mother has her own ideas. Cathy the wedding planner is raring to go, possibly energized by the chocolate-covered espresso beans she compulsively munches. But while the caffeine keeps her awake, it doesn’t keep her alive—and after Cathy chokes on an espresso bean after being hit in the head, Krissy has to find out who ended her supposedly stellar career . . .

Alex is giving away a copy of the new book to one lucky commenter here today, too (US and Canada only)! Take it away, Alex.

“You’re the wrong sex!”

I’ve heard it more times than I can count. Nearly every event I go to, someone comments on the fact that I’m a man writing cozy mysteries. While it’s not unheard of, some say cozies and men simply don’t go together.

I get it. You look up and down the aisle of authors signing their books, you do find a lot of women. I stand out. And when you sit back and look at my interests, I fit in even less.

BooksI grew up on Stephen King. That’s not exactly cozy reading. I also love my sci-fi and fantasy, both in book form and television. While I watch a lot of mystery and detective shows, many of them are of a darker, bloodier sort. Shows like The Killing. Shows like Dexter. These are not cozy.

And then there’s what I do for fun and to relax (when I’m not reading, of course.) I own a Playstation 4, an Xbox One (two in fact,) a Switch, a gaming PC, and most of them get used every single day. Even my work laptop can run most PC games at max settings. When I’m not reading or writing, I’m often found with a controller in my hands, talking to my friends through a headset.Board Games

While I also like board games, which could fit in with certain cozies, my games are quite a bit different than Monopoly.

Don’t even get me started on my music tastes. Let’s just say it isn’t very cozy.

So, how did someone who is more likely to be found at a Moonspell concert, or who spends hours playing Overwatch, or who watches shows depicting gruesome murders, end up writing cozy mysteries?

Pops

“Pops” mostly from Overwatch

Easy. I love telling stories. I enjoy making people laugh. When so much of what I do resides in the darker realm of entertainment, it’s good to get out and write something that doesn’t dwell on darkness. Sure, there’s murder, but it’s what I like to think of as “light” murder. Happy murder!

And sure, writing a female lead as a man has its challenges. Voice is important to the story. When I write, I focus on what the character would do, not what I would do in any given situation. That helps. I also subscribe to the idea that I don’t make this stuff up on my own; I’m transcribing for my characters.

While I might not spend a lot of time with traditional cozy hobbies, I am an animal person. And when it comes to cozies, sometimes, the animals are all that matters.

Alex_Erickson_8x10_BWReaders: Do you have any hobbies or interests that would surprise the cozy community? Are there any odd hobbies or themes you’d like to see in a cozy? Remember, Alex is giving a copy of Death by Espresso!

Alex Erickson has always wanted to write, even at a young, impressionable age. He’s always had an interest in the motive behind murder, which has led him down his current path. He’s always ready with a witty—at least in his opinion—quip, and tries to keep every conversation light and friendly. Alex lives in Ohio with his family and resident felines, who provide endless amounts of inspiration.

Widening Our Circles

News Flash: Sheryl Sens is the lucky winner of the Biscuits and Slashed Browns audiobook. Check your email, Sheryl, and congratulations! I wish I had a copy for everyone.

Edith here, just home from most of a week in a Pennsylvania convent retreat house with two fellow authors, one being Wicked Accomplice Kim Gray (and the other a great friend of the Wickeds, Ramona DeFelice Long). I have many new words under my belt, a tired driver’s butt, and evening after evening of laughs in the bank.

I’ve been thinking about how to widen the circles of people who know about my books.

WideningCircles

Yes, I’m wearing the slightly uncomfortable Self-Promotion hat. But we all have to do it. We authors never want to tell people, Read my book! Buy my book! But … in fact, we want people to read our books. Buy them, ask their library to buy them, tell their friends what a great read they are. Because this is how I and most of my fellow Wickeds make our living.

Christine Green, a savvy digital strategy friend (she made my fabulous new web site), says marketing is letting people know what you have. So how do we let people know what we have to offer without losing readers?

FriendsJournalMaxwell2Earlier this month a few of you might have seen my link to an article I wrote. When I heard the national Quaker magazine, Friends Journal, was having an Arts issue, I wrote an essay about how being a Friend governs how I write and market my crime fiction. My premise was that Quaker values of peace and integrity might be seen as conflicting with a career of writing about murder, deceit, betrayal.

The journal published my piece on how I reconcile those conflicts and how my faith and values guide all my writing. Within forty-eight hours the article had been shared hundreds of times. My Quaker Midwife series now has a far wider potential audience than it did, and readers know about my contemporary series, too.

This spring I heard from multi-published mystery author Kaye George that Wildside Press is publishing trilogies of short stories – which don’t have to be original submissions. I got word while I was on retreat that my proposal for a trilogy of three Quaker Midwife short crime stories has been accepted! Two of the stories were nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Short Story. I’m thrilled to widen my circles of readers for these stories – and possibly for the books, too. Stay tuned for news on title and release date.

Authors Mollie Cox Bryan, Lynn Cahoon, and Peg Cochran recently started a Facebook group for writers of farm-based mysteries. When they asked me to join, I initially hesitated. They all have new books coming out, but my publisher didn’t renew the Local Foods Mysteries beyond Mulch Ado About Murder, the fifth in the series. That said, my organic farm books are a perfect fit with that group, so I agreed.

Down on the Farm Writers

I’ve had great reception to my weekly Wednesday posts over at Down on the Farm Mystery Writers and I think it’s bringing new life (and sales) to these books I worked so hard on. You should join the group! It’s open to all, we just have to approve new members.Death Over Easy

My Country Store Mysteries? I’m not quite sure how, but they seem to sell themselves. I don’t want them to languish, though. I love sharing recipes here and there and talking about topics like vintage cookware, bicycling, and home renovation on various blogs where I’m lucky to be invited as guest. I’m super excited to have Death Over Easy, book five, releasing at the end of July!

Another market-widening opportunity presented itself a couple of years ago. Kurt Anthony Krug writes articles for college alumni magazines and I met him at a literary fair in Michigan. He interviewed me, but I never saw the article. Three weeks ago a friend sent a photograph of the page in the Indiana University Alumni Association Magazine where I am featured. The magazine has a huge reach, in paper and digitally, and I’m delighted to have a presence there. And of course Indiana is where the Country Store Mysteries are set. Read the interview here.

IUAlumniMagArticle

As always – and I’m sure I share this with my fellow Wickeds – I could be doing more. Should I be creating and posting memes? Doing more on Instagram? Paying to boost ads? Then again, I have the next book to write. And the next and the next. And if I don’t write the best book I can, the whole career is down the drain!

AudioCoverAmazonReaders: How do you like to learn about new authors and about new books from your favorite writers? When does promotion flip over to turning you off?

Share in the comments and I’ll send one of you (US only) my last audiobook of Biscuits and Slashed Browns, the just previous Country Store mystery.

Murder on Cape Cod Cover Reveal!

News Flash: Sheila Golding is the randomly selected winner of the author apron! Congratulations. Sheila, please send your mailing address to edith at edithmaxwell dot com and I’ll get the apron out to you.

Maddie Day here, otherwise known as Edith, at Barb’s Boothbay Harbor home with all the other main Wickeds on our annual retreat, and boy, is it ever lovely.

I’m using one of our occasional Saturday posts to share some exciting news. The preorder page for Murder on Cape Cod, complete with a special exclusive edition cover, is finally ready over at Barnes & Noble. This is book one in the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries, due out December 18, and I’ve been waiting to show you all this cover for a while. I’ll celebrate by sending one commenter a special author apron!

Here’s a little about the series, but you’ll be hearing more about it in coming months.

The series is set in the quaint fictional Cape Cod village of Westham, which is replete with a salt-water taffy shop, craft distillery, gourmet ice cream store, fudge shop, nautical-themed gift shoppe, bakery and cafe, sushi restaurant, lobster shack, and indy bookstore. The shops are bookended on each end by churches, with the town hall, library, and police and fire stations in the middle. Many of the proprietors are members of the Cozy Capers book group – a group that reads and meets to discuss one cozy mystery every week – as are the almost-due-to-retire police chief, the head librarian, and the town clerk. Unfortunately, murder starts popping up in and around the town’s shops.

Mac Almeida is our protagonist, a wiry thirty-six year old with short black curls, who owns and operates Mac’s Bikes, a bicycle repair and rental shop serving locals and tourists alike.  She lives in a tiny house behind the store. Her parents reside in the UU rectory, her half-brother and his little daughter live in a local lighthouse, and her baker boyfriend is just down the road, too. I’ve loved setting up these new characters and this fictional town.

So are you ready for the cover? Ta-da!

MURDER ON CAPE COD with sticker 1.5

I love it! As you can see, Murder on Cape Cod is an exclusive deal with Barnes & Noble for the first year, but after that Kensington Publishing will re-release it on all platforms. My agent and my editor were both excited about the unusual arrangement, and who was aprontenpercentI to say no? The books will have seaside-based recipes and lots of intrigue. Oh, and murder – on the bike trail in this book!

Readers: Who has been to Cape Cod and what do you love about it? If you haven’t, what’s your favorite waterside place to visit (or live)? I’ll send one of you an author apron!

#NormalizeKindness

Edith here, in the busy second half of a busy month. And I’ve been thinking about kindness.  This is a card someone was handing out at Quaker Meeting recently.

kindessmatters.jpg

We’ve all been witnessing way too many unkind, malicious, and violent acts, whether on the news or in person, of late. Horrifying events. Disgusting acts. Cowardice and rudeness.

Can kindness counter what seems like a tidal wave of really bad behavior? Can it be contagious? Think of how you feel when somebody you don’t even know does you a favor. Smiles, prepays your coffee, or writes and email out of the blue to say how much they loved your book. Kind of makes you want to return the gesture, doesn’t it?20180520_152736_HDR

Saturday I woke up earlier than usual, put on my tiara, grabbed a scone I had baked the day before (I left the bubbly for later, since it was only five thirty in the morning), and headed for the television. I didn’t care that Hugh looked at me like I was a lunatic. I didn’t care about all the zillion dollars a royal wedding costs.

I wanted to feast on love and kindness and the beauty of a fellow Californian breaking a bunch of barriers. I was oddly especially touched by Prince Charles accompanying Meghan partway up the aisle, and by his warm – and kind – courtesy to her mother Doria Ragland after the ceremony.

DoriaCahrles

Photo by Owen Humphreys

Later in the day I happened across a Facebook post by Alexia Gordon, a talented mystery author whom we have had as a guest right here on the Wickeds. Here’s what she wrote, after listing some of the horrors in the news during the last week alone:

“Then this morning I saw a man look at the woman he was about to marry as if she was more important to him than air, light, and water. I heard the first African-American leader of the Episcopal Church buck 1000 years of British tradition and remind a bunch of stuffed shirts that slavery happened, that genuine Christianity is about love and justice, that love will save the world if we have the courage to act in love.AlexiaGordon

“I heard a Black cellist perform classical music and a Black choir sing Black music–slave music–in a White church. And I remembered that THIS is normal. All that garbage I exposed my brain to yesterday is not normal. That stuff is sin, it’s evil, and it should be treated as such. It shouldn’t get all the airtime. Real normal–love and justice and inclusivity and hope–should get equal press coverage, if not more. A constant diet of hate makes you believe hate is the only option.

#normalizejustice #normalizelove

Thank you, Alexia. Let’s all normalize kindness, justice, and love, shall we? Let’s have a constant diet of kindness. The back of the Kindness Matters card gives a bunch of examples of what we can do.

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Who’s with me? Will you share with a stranger that you love her glasses? Tell a tired mom with a screaming child that you know it’s hard? Let someone into traffic ahead of you? Offer to blurb a debut author’s novel or read a beginner’s short story?

Readers, share your favorite kind thing to do.  And Alexia, thank you for putting into words what so many of us have been feeling.

 

Writing Real Stuff

Edith here, north of Boston, and packing for Malice Domestic!

We Wickeds are fiction writers. We make stuff up. We are goddesses of our story worlds. Don’t like that guy? Knock him off. Discover the hint of a new romance between two characters? Make it blossom.

ACM

One of my series, the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, is set here in my Massachusetts town of Amesbury, which sits on the New Hampshire border one town in from the coast. So I use a real setting – but the action takes place back in the late 1880s. We have a thriving Amesbury Carriage Museum, which has been focusing in recent years on all of Amesbury’s industrial history.350thsquare

This year is Amesbury’s 350th birthday and the ACM is sponsoring a series of lectures about various aspects of the past.

JohnMayerThe ACM’s dynamic director, John Mayer, asked me this winter if I would give a talk on the lives of Amesbury’s women in the past. I didn’t have to think long to respond, “You know, John, the historical woman I know best is FICTIONAL.” He laughed and assured me that was okay. I gulped and said yes. I really like what John is doing for our town and wanted to contribute. We decided I would focus on the twenty years surrounding 1900. But write about real people instead of made-up ones? I had my work cut out for me.

For a couple of months I’ve been interviewing our town’s elders, sharp-minded women in their late eighties and nineties, plus some of their children. I’ve poured over old diaries of farm women, learned about the lives of more well-known women, heard stories about immigrant families, traced the charitable activities of the wives of the factory and mill owners. Every bit of it was fascinating.

And what hit me in the face again and again? Women are absent from the history books, even the three local histories written by women! The ladies were working behind the scenes just as hard as – or harder than – the men. Their stories deserve to be told, even though they didn’t end up with their names on buildings or in the town reports.

I presented my talk last week to a standing room only crowd.

EdithTremblays

I had a slide show, extensive notes, the privilege of seating some of my primary sources in the front row – and more nerves than I’ve had in a while.

EdithChairs

How a mystery author saves front-row seats for her honored guests. Photo by Christine Green

In one of my first slides, I made sure everybody knew I am an amateur historian. That I love delving into the past, but have no professional credentials to back me up other than an award-winning historical mystery series. Nobody seemed to care.

Here are some of the women I interviewed. Clockwise from top left, Betty Goodwin, Jodie Rundlett Perkins, Pam Bailey Johnson Fenner, and Sally Blake Lavery, treasures all.

And here are some the strong, hardworking women from all economic classes I showcased – the women absent from the history books.

Blake Family

Josephine Blake at left, Jessie Blake at right, whose detailed memoir of her childhood I drew on.

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Mina and Florence Blanchard. Mina became a teacher, Florence a nurse.

Lydia D Crowell copy

Lydia Crowell Bailey, very much of the well-off class, who nevertheless lost two young children. (Blemishes on the photo, not her skin.)

MaryJewelLittle

Mary Jewell Little, left, and Annie Little Woodsom, far right

MarieRosanna

Marie Tremblay, French-Canadian immigrant, and daughter Rosanna. Neither ever spoke English.

The evening was fun. The audience seemed to love it. Our local cable TV filmed it and I’ll post a link in a couple of weeks to the video on the ACM cable channel. And I sold a lot of books afterwards. For now? I’m glad to get back to making stuff up!

Readers: Who are your local or family elders you hear stories from? Which of their and your own stories have you shared with the next generations?

Bringing History to Life

NEWS FLASH: Melinda is the randomly selected winner! Please send your snail mail address to me at edith at edithmaxwell.com. Congratulations!

Edith here, delighted that Turning the Tide came out from Midnight Ink yesterday!

This is my third Quaker Midwife mystery, and my fourteenth published novel, in which Rose Carroll, midwife, becomes involved in murder once again. I’m so grateful for my editors at Midnight Ink for believing in my stories and making them better: Amy Glaser, Terri Bischoff, and Nicole Nugent. And to talented cover artist Greg Newbold for rocking cover number three.

In celebration, I’m most pleased to give away a signed copy of the book to one commenter here today.

Turning the Tide.jpg

The story has a background theme, as every book in the series does. In book time the season was rolling around to the fall, so I decided to explore issues of women’s suffrage in 1888. The Amesbury Woman Suffrage Association (fictional as far as I know, but it could have existed) turns out in force across from the polling place on Election Day to protest not having the vote. Here’s one of the placards I found online, and it’s my favorite. WomenbringallvotersIn a book featuring a midwife, you can see why I love this sign.

I read that proponents of women’s suffrage wore sunflower yellow sashes, to represent hope. Quaker women were in the forefront of the movement for decades, both before and after this book takes place. Rose’s mother is an ardent suffragist, and in Turning the Tide she comes to town to support the protest.

I love slipping bits of my own family history into the books. Rose’s mother Dorothy Henderson Carroll is named after my paternal grandmother, Dorothy Henderson Maxwell. We called her Momma Dot, and Rose’s nieces and nephews call the fictional Dorothy Granny Dot. My grandmother was the first woman to drive an automobile halfway across the United States in 1918, and I imagine she didn’t hesitate to vote the following year.

I decided to bring Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Amesbury, too. Historically I don’t know if she did, but she might have, and writing fiction gives me permission to portray her rallying the women, with her white curls and comfortable, corset-free figure.

Elizabeth-Cady-Stanton

Stanton was a real intellectual. In the book I took the liberty of paraphrasing a few sentences from her essay, “The Solitude of Self,” which was not published until 1892, for her to speak in person in this book (at Rose’s friends’ salon gathering). I couched it as Stanton developing her thoughts on the topic, and I trust her departed soul will approve.

So, dear readers, who is your favorite suffragist? Any family stories about your feminist foremothers, or the first time you yourself voted?