Oh, The Places I’ve Lived

By Sherry in Northern Virginia where it’s spring, summer, winter, summer, spring, winter depending on the day and/or hour

I’m looking forward to the release of A Good Day To Buy on April 25th! One of the subplots involves Stella Wild (Sarah’s opera singing landlady and friend) trying to rent out the apartment next to Sarah’s. It means Sarah and Stella run into some interesting characters and it reminded me of some of the places I’ve lived and the landlords I’ve had.

The first place I lived when I left home was a college dorm room at Truman State College in Kirksville, Missouri. Brewer Hall was old and now that I reflect set the tone for a lot of the places I’ve lived! The rooms were small and had old radiators that creaked, groaned, and banged at unexpected times. The saving grace was a bathroom between each two rooms. I never wanted to have to traipse down a hall to shower. And we had so much fun that it wiped out any negatives.

I lived a bunch of different places during my years in Kirksville. One was in the basement of a house owned by an 80 year old woman. Every time my roommate and I left the old woman would go down and poke around. We would pile stacks of sodas, paper towels, and other things against her entrance to try to keep her out. But we’d come home and the stuff would all be knocked over. We didn’t last long there.

One of my roommates

One summer a group of friends and I rented a house owned by a fraternity that was right next to their main house. We had a mushroom grow up through the tile in the bathroom one night. We kept track of who killed the most cockroaches and slugs. It was disgusting, but again a lot of fun.

I also rented a small three bedroom Craftsman style house with four friends. It had leaded glass windows and a window seat. The fact that it was two doors down from the fraternity house didn’t hurt either. But the basement flooded and it was full of things we didn’t have room for in our tiny rooms.

The first house I rented on my own was in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was an adorable little house owned by a guy in his thirties. It was heated by what he called a floor furnace which was a tiny little box of a thing. That didn’t concern me when I rented the house on a lovely summer day. The house was cute, in a neighborhood I loved called “The Avenues”, and close to work — although in Cheyenne no place was too far from work. But then winter hit. It was so cold in that house that the windows frosted over on the inside. I ended up hanging quilts over the windows to try to keep it warm.

Readers: Where was the first place you lived after leaving home? Have you ever lived any place memorable or had a landlord who drove you crazy?

 

 

What’s Next?

News Flash: The winner of Leslie Karst’s book is Sarah H – Sarah, please contact Leslie at ljkarst at gmail dot com. Congratulations!

By Sherry feeling rested in Northern Virginia

Monday afternoon around 4:30 I sent off I Know What You Bid Last Summer to my editor at Kensington. It is the fifth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series. Usually this is cause for much celebration around the house, but this time I was just plain old tired. Barbara Ross generously had a margarita in celebration for me down in Key West (thanks for taking one for the team)! But I sat on the couch wondering what was next. This was the last book I was under contract for so Tuesday was going to be a blank page for me for the first time since 2013. I stayed up late – late enough to watch the late night shows and then read for a while.img_2704-1

I slept in Tuesday morning – until 9:22! I felt happy, excited even, when I woke up. I walked into the kitchen and found my daughter had gone to Starbucks and left me a cup of chai on the counter. A little bit later she made me breakfast too. Thank you, Elizabeth!

I started doing things I’d been putting off. I made a hair appointment, sorted the laundry, and tackled the piles in my office. It was so warm out I opened the window in my office. I decided to pull out the manuscript for the gemology mystery series I’d worked on for years (YEARS!) but hadn’t ever sold. I sent the first three chapters off to independent editor Barb Goffman. Why you ask? I’m so close to them – even after not looking at them for a long time — that I knew they needed another set of eyes. I started thinking about all the other book ideas swirling through my head and tried to figure out which one to tackle first.

My daughter and I watched part of the Patriot’s Super Bowl parade on TV. I walked our dog Lily. Maybe it was the warm weather or maybe it was the unknown ahead of me but everything seemed to kind of glow. Oh, heck maybe it was sleeping in after working intensely for the last few weeks. (Confession: I never did get any laundry done.)

img_2710Around three the phone rang. It was my agent, John Talbot. He had news! Good news! Kensington wants two more Sarah books. A couple of weeks ago I shared several ideas for the series with my editor. However, with the publishing industry in a bit of upheaval you just never know what will happen. After I finished dancing around and shrieking, my husband called on his way home from work. I told him we were going out to celebrate.

We stopped by Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, Virginia and did a wine tasting.

 

Then we had dinner at an Italian restaurant which seemed appropriate given Sarah’s love for DiNapoli’s and Italian food. Today it’s back to plotting (good heavens did I just say the “p” word? Has the pantster in me been converted?)! I have a concept for the next book (one I love) but I have to figure out who dies and why. Oh, joy!

Readers: What do you do after you finish a big project?

Touring Your Own Town

By Sherry — Winter is returning to Northern Virginia

img_2427I had a lovely start to the New Year with two great friends visiting — Liz Mugavero and Christine Hillman Keyes. I met them (along with so many other people) at a writers conference called Seascape and we ended up rooming together. You can read more about that here.

Christine is from Australia and so we decided to do a little touring. It was a rainy, chilly day but hey, nothing can stop an Aussie or her intrepid friends. Our first stop was dropping Liz off at Union Station in Washington, DC (boo-hoo)! I’d been in the building once before but they were renovating and had netting up all over the place. The station opened in 1907 and the building is beautiful.

Here are more pictures:

The outside is amazing too!

img_2468After we left Union Station we drove along the National Mall. Here’s a picture of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. One of these days I’ll make it inside!

Next we headed to Arlington Cemetery. I’ve been there several times and it always so moving. This is the first time I’ve visited during Christmas when all the wreaths are out on the graves.

Christine and I decided to brave the rain and take a walk. The first picture is on our way to visit John F. Kennedy’s grave and the second is a view of the Lincoln Memorial from JFK’s grave.

 

iceskatingWe headed to Georgetown next taking a route by the Kennedy Center and Watergate Hotel. Of course we got a bit lost on the way to the restaurant and lapped the Kennedy Center a couple of times. We pointed out Georgetown University and drove by some lovely old homes.

At lunch we had a view of an ice skating rink and the Potomac. After lunch we decided to head to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home. It has been a really long time since I’d been there. They have an amazing new visitors center and museum. The good thing about touring on rainy days is the lines are short and the tour groups small!

You aren’t allowed to take photos inside the house so here are a few of the outside.

There’s nothing like touching the banister that George Washington did. It was a lovely way to spend the first day of 2017!

Readers: Do you have a favorite place to take your guests?

In The Middle

By Sherry — another rainy day in Northern Virginia

Marci Konecny is the winner of the Sarah Winston books! Thanks to all of you who stopped by! I used Random.org to draw the winner.

Usually no one wants to be in the middle, but I am and here is why I’m so happy to be.

Tagged for Death mech.inddThe second anniversary of the release of Tagged For Death was last Friday, December 2nd (look for the celebratory giveaway at the bottom of the post). And this anniversary made me reflect on where I’ve been, where am, and where I’m going. I started thinking about all of the people who helped me along the way – too many to list here but I do want to mention some pivotal moments.

My first writers conference run by the Cambria Writers Workshop was in Monterey, California where I received gentle criticism and lots of encouragement.

I also attended the now defunct Seaside Writers Conference run by the faculty of the Florida International University’s creative writing department. I learned so much about structure and passion for writing. Plus I met some wonderful local writers.

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You meet the nicest people at Malice. Here I’m with Dru Ann Love, Aimee Hix, Shari Randall, and Kathryn O’Sullivan

Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland was life changing in so many ways. (I gave them a shout out in the acknowledgements of Tagged For Death.) I also made a lot of friends there and met Julie Hennrikus who told me about the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime and Crime Bake and of course became my dear, dear friend.

When I joined the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crimes Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), and Hank Phillippi Ryan were the head honchos of the chapter. They are all amazingly generous to me and so many other writers.

Crime Bake gave me a chance to meet authors, agents (lots of rejections), and pre-published friends.

seascapeSeacape run by Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib, and S.W. Hubbard (the year I attended). Never has so much learning and opportunity been packed into less than forty-eight hours. But even more important were the friendships that were formed. I met Edith Maxwell, Liz Mugavero, Barbara Ross, and Kim Gray that weekend – Wicked Cozy Authors wasn’t even a twinkle in our eye then. I also met Ramona DeFelice Long, and Christine Hillman who is from Australia – both are amazing women and writers.

Then of course there’s Barbara Ross who thought of me when agent John Talbot asked her if she knew anyone who could write a series about garage sales.

wcatough

Photo by Meg Manion Silliker

And there are my dear Wickeds. What would I do without all of you?!

When I moved back to Virginia I joined the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime and found another group of people who encourage and support me in so many ways.

I’m also very grateful to so many friends, readers, bloggers, and reviewers who are with me on this journey.

So with all this talk of the past why did I title the post “In The Middle”? I realized I get to help other writers now. It is so much fun! And I have had such gracious examples of how to do that from people who have helped me in the past and continue to help me now.

There are so many ways to help other writers. Sometimes it’s reading a manuscript and making suggestions. Or it’s saying to someone my agent is looking for someone to write a series. It could be an introduction, just an encouraging word, writing a blurb for someone, or telling people to join Sisters in Crime.

A few weeks ago I did a panel on getting published with Maya Corrigan and Kathryn O’Sullivan at the Barnes and Noble in Fairfax, VA. We had a small but enthusiastic crowd. We ended up talking to a man for quite a while after the panel and encouraged him to join Sisters in Crime.

Photo by Eleanor Carwood Jones who took the selfie!

Photo by Eleanor Carwood Jones who took the selfie!

Last weekend was the Chesapeake Chapter Mystery Extravaganza where chapter members who’ve published a book or short story during the year get a couple of minutes to talk about their work. While I was up at the podium talking I spotted someone in the crowd and thought that guy looks familiar. I started racking my brain to figure out why (I think I kept talking while that was going on).

Then I realized it was the man from the Barnes and Noble panel. I had a chance to speak with him after the event was over. His eyes lit up and he said he’d written eight chapters since the panel. That he’d put off grading papers (he’s a high school psychology teacher) and doing things around the house to write. Seeing his enthusiasm warmed my heart.

Being in the middle is a wonderful place to be.

threebooksReaders: Who have you given a hand up to?

I’m giving away a set of all three Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries to one reader. Leave a comment for a chance to win.

 

 

 

A Sarah Winston Tour

By Sherry enjoying a rainy late fall day in Northern Virginia

thankful-for-our-readers-giveaway-3

 

I’m happy to do another give away today! You can choose a copy of one of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries. I will also give away either a vintage Christmas or birthday postcard.

 

 

I was delighted when Robin Templeton asked me if I would take her on a tour of Sarah Winston sites before the writers conference, Crime Bake, started. And was equally delighted when we found out Eleanor (Ellie) Carwood Jones could also join us. These are all places Sarah visits or mentions in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series.

Photo by Ellie

It was the perfect fall afternoon. There were so many places I wanted to take them and I knew we couldn’t do it all. Plus by the time we drove from Dedham, Massachusetts to Concord we’d only have about two and a half hours of daylight. I had to pick wisely. (And yes I ducked down to fit in the picture — we were trying to capture some of the fall foliage!)

The Minute Man National Historic Park which spans Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord, MA is one of my favorite places. It follow the path that of the opening battle of the Revolutionary War. I decided we’d stop at the Paul Revere capture

Photo by Ellie

Photo by Ellie

site. I was fascinated with the true story of what happened the night Paul Revere road from Boston.

I’d always believe the poem by Longfellow that Revere was the only rider and that he made it to Concord to alert them that the Redcoats were coming. Boy was I wrong.

Our next stop was at The Wayside the home of three very famous authors: Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Harriet Lothrop (Margaret Sidney — she wrote The Five Little Peppers books). The stories that take place in Little Women happened at this house.

img_1547 I pointed them to the left and said, “There’s Orchard House where Lousia Mae Alcott wrote Little Women.”  I wish you all could have seen how excited Robin and Ellie were. It made me so happy to show them around!

I think Louisa’s room is on the upper right. I wish we would have time to taken the tour because it is fantastic.

img_1557Our next stop took us through the town of Concord to the North Bridge of “the shot heard round the world” fame. However, before we walked to the bridge we stopped at the Old Manse near the bridge. Ralph Waldo Emerson lived here. He let Nathanial Hawthorne and his wife Sophia honeymoon here (for three years). Thoreau was their gardener.

The North Bridge is where the militiamen first fired on the Redcoats. The fight had the militiamen chasing the Redcoats all the way back to Boston. The bridge is a reproduction of the original which was taken down in 1788. There is something so special about this spot — you can just feel the spirit of freedom here.

photo by Robin

photo by Robin

 

Across the bridge is a statue of a Minute Man to honor those who fought. The statue was sculpted by Daniel Chester French who had his first art lessons with May Alcott. His best known work is the Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

 

 

 

 

Photo by Ellie

Photo by Ellie

Our next stop was at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord. (Sarah goes there at the end of Tagged For Death). This is not the Sleepy Hollow of headless horseman fame — that cemetery is in New York. But it is famous for its Author Ridge where Thoreau, Hawthorne, Alcott, and Emerson (along with their families) are buried.

It’s a beautiful space and it’s amazing to think that all these great authors, who knew each other in life, are buried so close together.

 

 

Here are some other images from the cemetery:

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By this time we’d worked up an appetite. I suggested a couple of places to eat but we ended up at one of my favorites The Colonial Inn. It’s supposed to be haunted. Ellie took these photos and the food shots:

And then there’s our food chicken pot pie, cod with crab stuffing, and Yankee pot roast:

After dinner it was on to Bedford which I’ve fictionalized for my books and re-named Ellington. We stopped at the town common and parked across the street from “Sarah’s” house. I’ve added a covered porch to the house and it sits a bit farther back from the street. This is the church that Sarah sees out her window.

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This is a picture of Sarah’s house (I took these on another trip) although I’ve added a porch and set it back from the street just a bit. The second picture is of DiNapoli’s Roast Beef and Pizza if you were standing in front of Sarah’s house. It’s the green building. Paint and Wine would be to the right.

We ended our tour at Bedford Farms Ice Cream. We managed to save a little room after our dinner. Sarah often goes to get a kiddie cup of ice cream. Believe it or not the picture below is the kiddie cup. Sarah’s favorite is in the middle — Almond Joy. Yum!

 

It was such a fun day for me to show Robin and Ellie some of my favorite places and Sarah’s too. Next time I hope I can take them on base, spend more time at the Minute Man National Historic Park, and tour Orchard House. And then of course have ice cream.

Readers: Do you have a favorite small town?

Theme as Character

By Sherry where summer in NoVA is heating back up and I’m hoping it preps me for New Orleans next week

themeascharacterI’ve thought a lot about themes in cozies and what part they play in a book. I’m making a late addition to the post — in this case when I say theme I’m talking about what could also be called the hook of the series and sometimes the occupation of the character.  I realized that theme should be like a character. Before you throw your hands up and think, “The people who think setting is a character are nuts, so this girl has gone completely crazy”, bear with me.

What does a character do in a story? If it’s the protagonist they drive the story, if it’s a minor character they help move the story along, the antagonist impedes the story. Revelations come about and the protagonist’s personality comes through her interactions with the other characters. Is she kind, cranky, suspicious? How she interacts with the theme also reveals character to us.

In my books Sarah goes to and organizes yard sales. She meets lots of different types of people and we find out she’s kind, but stands up for herself. She’s thoughtful but spontaneous. The theme lets us see she loves a bargain, she’s clever, and after a difficult divorce in book one, resourceful. It’s a good way to use that old adage, show versus tell.

what-if-there-wasnt-a-theme_Characters and their voice is what makes us fall in love with a book, it’s what makes us stay with a series, it’s why we root, or get mad, or cry, or laugh. A well integrated theme will do all of those things too. It’s a hook but if it’s done right it’s such an integral part of the the story that it doesn’t stand out as theme but blends as character. It should be important enough to the story that if it was gone, it would feel like a character died. The reader would miss it.

So far Sarah has gone to yard sales, set up New England’s largest yard sale, organized a February Blues yard sale on an Air Force base, and organized smaller yard sales for clients. In All Murders Final she starts a virtual yard sale. Each one of these types of yard sales plays out in a different way. Like a character who is difficult as opposed to one who is overly helpful.

As with any character you have to make sure not to go over the top with your theme. I’ve had a lot of people ask me if Sarah finds clues at the yard sales she goes to. So far the answer has been no — for two reasons. First, it would be a huge coincidence if Sarah did find a clue at a yard sale she went to. Writers have to be very careful with coincidence or readers wouldn’t find the story plausible. Sarah did overhear a conversation at a yard sale in Tagged for Death, but without other things happening the conversation wouldn’t have been important. Second, I want to make things hard for Sarah, just like when she questions someones and they lie or just don’t answer. A yard sale that yields too much would make her life too easy. Some day Sarah might find a clue at a sale but it will have to be carefully integrated.

So readers what do you think? Do you have a favorite theme?

Cover Reveal – A Good Day To Buy (Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery 4)

By Sherry — I’m excited to share my newest cover with you!

A good Day to BuyCover

It’s always so exciting to see the cover of my next book. And I have to say I’ve loved all my covers.

When my editor at Kensington, Gary Goldstein, first asked for my ideas for the cover of Tagged for Death, I told him I wanted to have an old-fashion tag on the cover. I love how they’ve incorporated the tag on each of the books.

Here’s the back cover copy:

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 . . .

Readers: Do the covers of books influence your decision to buy it? What appeals to you on a cover?

JULIE HERE: First of all, I love the new cover! Secondly, Woofmew won the drawing for CLOCK AND DAGGER.

I’ve contacted her.