A Wicked Welcome to Bruce Coffin

image2Bruce Coffin doesn’t write cozy novels, but is a FOTW (Friend of the Wickeds) whose first book, Among the Shadows, debuted this fall. He is also a wonderful short story writer, and is sharing one with us today. It is a lovely story–a perfect balm for this time of year. Thank you Bruce for visiting the Wicked Cozy Authors today!

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Several years ago, I penned a holiday tale titled Saint Nicholas. I know that many, many folks find the holidays a bit overwhelming. My goal in writing this short seasonal story was to remind all of us what is truly important and to provide an emotional lift to those in need. If I’ve done my job well, this story will put a smile on your face and some warmth in your hearts. Feel free to share if you think it might mean something to others. Here’s wishing you and yours a safe and happy holiday season.

–Bruce

 

Saint Nicholas

I’ve always believed that it’s part of the human condition to focus on the negative. Maybe it has something to do with our upbringing, although upon reflection we are all raised very differently so perhaps not. Whatever it is, it definitely exists in each of us. How else can we explain the age old news reporting axiom “if it bleeds it leads?” Police officers are even more inclined to focus on the negative. Being exposed to it day in and day out tends to make one jaded. But, I’m getting way ahead of myself. I should probably begin by telling you a little bit about me before I tell you my story.

My name is Crispin Mallory and, in case you haven’t already guessed, I am a police officer. I’ve been with the same department for thirty years, pushing a cruiser around,  investigating motor vehicle accidents, breaking up domestics, chasing down criminals, and writing the occasional traffic citation.

One day, several years back, I was working a double shift. Cops aren’t paid all that well and when an overtime opportunity presents itself most of us on the job are quick to say yes. It was December twenty-fourth and I just finished my first tour. I’d returned to the station to attend roll call before heading back out for another eight hours. I was tired and not in a particularly festive mood, mostly due to the fact that I had to work on Christmas, which meant my wife and two children would be celebrating without me. Another holiday missed. Such is the life of a cop. Anyway, the sergeant held me back after the briefing, said he had a task for me. I was instructed to return some valuables to a local home for the aged. Apparently one of the nursing staff had confessed to stealing jewelry from some of the residents at the home, to support her drug habit. See what I mean? All negative. The sergeant provided me with the name of the medical administrator and asked me to deliver the items to him.

After checking out a squad car and loading my gear, I got on the radio and requested that the dispatcher show me ten-six (busy) on assignment. I drove toward the nursing home grabbing a drive through coffee along the way.

I parked in the lot and made my way inside. The receptionist was talking to one of the orderlies and they both turned as I entered.

“Hello officer,” she said. “Merry Christmas.”

I returned the greeting.

“What can I do for you?”

“I’m looking for Mr. Ashby,” I said. “I’m supposed to deliver something to him.”

“I’ll try his extension.”

I wandered around the lobby as she tried to locate Ashby. Everything was brightly painted and decorated for the season. On the counter stood a small lit Christmas tree. I wondered if the employees were still allowed to call it a Christmas tree.

“Officer?”

“Yes.”

“He’ll be right out.”

I thanked her and continued to look around. Ashby walked up to me and introduced himself as the facility’s head administrator. I explained my purpose for being there and he led me back to his office so we could talk in private.

Once we were seated, I handed him the package and an evidence slip explaining that he needed to sign for the items.

“I am so pleased that your detectives were able to recover so many of the things that our former employee took. I’m sure you can imagine how much these items mean to the residents here. Some of these pieces of jewelry aren’t all that valuable, but they represent gifts from and memories of loved ones. Some things are worth far more than money.”

I agreed. After going through each of the items he signed for them and returned the evidence sheet to me. I stood, preparing to leave, when he stopped me.

“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to do me one small favor, would you officer?”

I wondered why I would need to do another favor for him. After all, I’d just returned a number of stolen items. Shouldn’t that have been sufficient? “I really need to get back on the road, Mr. Ashby.”

“You’re right. I shouldn’t impose. You’ve got places to go I imagine.”

Now verbally he was letting me off the hook but his tone and facial expression told another story. I knew he was attempting reverse psychology on me. Something my wife and I did to our kids everyday. “What do you need?” I asked.

“It will only take a second, I promise. But it will mean so much to her.”

Ashby proceeded to tell me about an eighty-year-old patient named Ruth Perkins. Mrs. Perkins was suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“She’s all alone now,” Ashby said. “Her husband passed last year. They had one son, Nicholas, and he was a police officer. Nicholas was killed in a shootout many years ago. Apparently he would visit her every Christmas, whether he was working or not and it meant the world to her. Her Alzheimer’s is advanced but she still manages to put several good days together each month. I have no idea how she does it but she does.”

I sat down again as he continued.

“Every month since the death of her husband, just prior to the twenty-fifth, she gets it into her head that Christmas is approaching. She gets so excited and makes a point to tell all of the staff that her son is coming to visit. She even has a ceramic tree that she makes us put up in her room. Of course when the twenty-fifth passes and Nicholas doesn’t show up her condition quickly worsens and she reverts back to her former state. It’s really quite sad.”

“What do you want me to do?,” I asked. “I’m not her son.”

“I know that, but I thought it might cheer her up just to get a visit from an officer in uniform. Just stop by and wish her a Merry Christmas.”

I only wanted to get back to my comfort zone. Back to my cruiser. I really wasn’t enjoying the idea of popping in on an already confused old woman, possibly making her situation worse. But Ashby’s reverse psychology must have worked because I found myself saying okay.

He said he’d introduce me, then he led me down the hall to her room. I followed, amid the stares and whispers of the other residents. Each of them probably wondering what the cop was doing there. At last he stopped and entered a room. The sign on the door said R. Perkins and a white ceramic tree stood on the table under the window. As I rounded the corner I saw her sitting up in bed, wearing a festive green robe over a red sweater. She was wearing makeup and it looked like she had just paid a visit to the hair dresser. She looked dignified and radiant, like someone waiting to be called upon, not at all what I had expected.

“Mrs. Perkins,” he said. “I’ve brought you a visitor.”

She turned towards us and her blue eyes lit up instantly. “Nicholas,” she cried out. “My Saint Nicholas, I knew you’d come. Didn’t I say he would come? Oh, this is the best Christmas ever.”

She held her arms out to me as I approached the bed. I bent down toward her and she hugged me tightly, even kissing me on the cheek. “Merry Christmas,” I said.

“I should leave the two of you alone now,” Ashby said, as he left.

I sat down in the chair beside the bed and she began asking me all sorts of questions. I was afraid that I might say the wrong thing, but as time passed it became obvious that nothing I said would lessen her faith that I was her son. We talked for close to an hour. I told her all about my family and about my work. She asked if I remembered this thing or that and of course I told her I did. The smile never left her face.

I stayed with her until she began to tire. All the excitement had worn her out. She hugged me again and made me promise to return the following day. Christmas Day. I promised that I would and kissed her on the cheek. I returned to my cruiser and radioed that I was back in service. My heart was full and I was happier than I’d been in a long while. It was clear that my visit to Ruth Perkins had done something positive to both of us. I no longer cared that I’d be missing this Christmas with my own family. Don’t get me wrong, I still wanted to be with them but after visiting a lonely old woman I realized I had no right to complain. There would be other Christmases to spend with my family. Mrs. Perkins’ family was gone leaving her only memories.

I returned to work the following day. Christmas Day turned out to be busier than any of us had imagined. A light snowfall had left the roads slick resulting in many accidents. The calls for service were already backing up by the time I hit the street.

It was nearly one in the afternoon before I was finally able to take a lunch break. I grabbed a sandwich and a couple of eggnogs at the local market before heading to see Mrs. Perkins. I was excited about being able to keep my promise to her and looking forward to seeing her face light up at the sight of me.

I parked in the nearly vacant lot and headed inside. The receptionist was a different girl than the one I’d spoken to the previous day. Holiday help I assumed. She asked if she could help me and I politely declined. “Thank you but I’m all set. Just visiting someone.”

I walked down the corridor to her room, stopping as I reached her door. The room was empty. Her belongings were gone and the nameplate was missing from the door. I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me.

“Can I help you officer?” a soft female voice asked from behind me.

I turned and saw a young orderly. “I’m looking for Mrs. Perkins. Ruth Perkins. Has she been moved?”

“Are you a relative?”

I pondered her question before answering. “Sort of. I just visited her yesterday.”

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Mrs. Perkins passed away last night.”

 

Many years have passed since that Christmas. I’m still a police officer with the same department. Heck, I’ve been on so long now that I get every Christmas off. I’ve never forgotten Ruth Perkins or her gift to me. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. That it was I who gave her one last visit with her son. But I think of it differently. I believe she’s the one who gave a great gift to me. You see, Mrs. Perkins restored my faith in humanity, helped me appreciate what I have. Her belief that I was her son was so strong and so real that I couldn’t help but feel the same love for her in return. Her faith and her love changed me forever. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

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image1Bruce 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 author of the Detective Byron Mysteries from HarperCollins. The debut novel in the series, Among the Shadows, was recently 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.
He lives and writes in Maine.

It’s the Great Cozy Pumpkin, Wicked Friends

Susannah/Sadie/Jane here, studiously avoiding the piles of New England leaves that await raking…

It’s October, Wicked Friends, and who doesn’t love this time of year? Costumes. Scary Movies. Candy. And of course, the Great Pumpkin.

EdgarLast January, on Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday, Wickeds Barb Ross, Sherry Harris, and Edith Maxwell, and Accomplices Sheila Connolly and Yours Truly released a collection of short stories based on some of Poe’s work: Edgar Allan Cozy. We had such fun coming up with our own twists on the classics.

Now, of course the Wicked Cozy Authors have the Most Sincere Blog around. And because you’ve all been extra good (not wicked at all), the Great Cozy Pumpkin has a gift for you, but only for a few days.

From today through October 31, just like trick-or-treat candy, Edgar Allan Cozy is free. So please, download your copy from Amazon, tell all your friends, read and enjoy. And if you’re inclined to leave a review, we’d appreciate it.

Let us know what you think, and thanks for reading!

Readers: What’s your favorite Poe story or poem? How old were you when you first read him?

 

Level Best Books Open For Submission!

Kim in Baltimore still wearing winter clothes.

While you may be planning for the camps your children are attending this summer or where to take your family vacation, I’m thinking about November. That’s right, and I don’t mean turkey either. I’m talking about the next anthology published by Level Best Books. Every year in November at Crime Bake in New England, Level Best Books debuts a new anthology. This year’s short story anthology, Windward, will be the first by the new editors and publishers, The Dames of Detection, of which I am one.

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We are actively seeking stories by both established and previously unpublished authors that are in the mystery, thriller, suspense, caper or horror genre.

The stories should not exceed 5,000 words and must be either set in New England or be written by a New England author. Up to two stories will be accepted for review from all authors until May 31,2016.

For full details and guidelines please check our Level Best Books or The Dames of Detection websites.
Level Best Books was founded in 2003 and has now published thirteen anthologies. Stories in these books have won the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and Derringer awards as well as the Robert L. Fish award for Best First Short Story which is presented at the Edgars.
Before you sign your child up for summer camp or plan that Memorial Day cookout, send your short story to Level Best Books. Don’t dally, May will be over before you know it. Even if we are still wearing parkas!

Welcome Sharon Daynard!

We are thrilled that Sharon Daynard stopped by to talk about her writing career, short stories v. novels, and Sisters in Crime.

Wicked Cozy Authors (WCA): Sharon, you have two anthologies with your short stories that came out this fall. It is hard to pinpoint a specific genre for your work. They are funny, twisted, dark. Sometimes all three! Is there a specific genre you are drawn to?

Sharon Daynard (SD): A friend once referred to my writing as “bipolar.”

Maybe she was right. One side of me likes to write cute crime capers featuring fuzzy little cottontail bunnies, while the other side is just dying to feed them through a wood chipper. But seriously, the best thing about writing short stories is that I’m not pinned down to any one specific genre.

When I start a short story, I never know what direction it will take. About all I know is how it starts and how it ends. Everything in between is a surprise for me. “Cheese It, The Cops” is a humorous story while “Malarkey” is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

It’s the “never knowing” part that keeps writing fun for me.

WCA: Give us the background of the two stories this fall. How did you come up with the idea for your story in Level Best Books’ Stone Cold?

STONESD: I really didn’t have a particular idea or theme in mind when I sat down to write “Malarkey.” I wanted it to be a fun story about two sweet old ladies with a secret knack for hitting the lottery. I knew the names of my two main characters, elderly sisters Cadelia and Lila Malarkey, and to a very small extent what their secret was.

When I started the story, it quickly became apparent that “Malarkey” was going to be dark. The more I wrote, the darker it got. It wasn’t until the end of the story that Cadelia and Lila gave up their secrets to me.

Even though “Malarkey” is dark, it has a line here and there that makes me laugh.

WCA: And how about “Cheese It, The Cops” in The Killer Wore Cranberry: Room for Thirds?

CRANBERRYSD: I originally wrote the story a few years ago as “Cletus Harper and the Great Mouse Heist.” Told though an unreliable narrator the truth is hidden in the lies of a squabbling elderly couple, Cletus and Flo Harper. It had always been one of my favorite short stories, but I’d never found a publication for it until a member of my critique group, Ruth McCarty, told me about the Untreed Reads call for submissions. The story had to be humorous, feature a typical Thanksgiving dish as a vital part of the story and have a great mystery or crime at the heart of the story.

Cletus Harper immediately came to mind. It was humorous, involved a crime and cheese—lots of cheese. All I had to do was figure out how to work that cheese into a Thanksgiving dish. I settled on a broccoli and cheese casserole, tacked on few words to work in the Thanksgiving holiday and ta-da! “Cletus Harper and the Great Mouse Heist” became “Cheese It, The Cops.”

WCA: Do you write novels? Is that similiar or different? Do you have a preference?

SD: I’ve completed a few manuscripts. Much like my short stories, they run the gambit from quirky cozy to dark suspense.

I prefer writing novel length fiction, but short stories offer a welcomed break from the time- consuming research that goes into writing crime fiction.

The manuscript I’m currently working on is dark—very dark, but a few chuckles still manage to creep into it every so often.

WCA: We know each other via Sisters in Crime. What does that organization mean to you?

SD: I joined Sisters in Crime in September of 2001. The first meeting I attended was on the weekend after 9/11. I remember during the long ride from New Hampshire to Leominster, MA, thinking I should turn around and go home, that having a few short stories published didn’t make me a “real” writer, and I was just going to embarrass myself there. For whatever reason, I kept driving.

Any doubts I had about myself or my writing vanished the minute I walked into the meeting. I can’t tell you how welcome the Sisters made me feel.

The speaker for that day was stranded at the airport in Paris, unable to find a flight to the US. So instead, the group held an informal meeting over coffee, introducing themselves to me and discussing what they were currently working on.

I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to be surrounded by people just like me. People who didn’t snicker or roll their eyes when I said I’d just finished the first draft of a novel. They actually clapped for me. They asked what the novel was about. They asked about my characters. They asked about me and my hopes and dreams for that manuscript. And they inspired me.

Twelve years ago, I never envisioned I’d someday be vice-president of the Chapter. And everyday, I’m grateful that I didn’t give in to the naysayers in my head, and head home on the way to that first meeting.

WCA: And so are we! Thanks for coming by Sharon.

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Sharon Daynard

Sharon Daynard

Sharon Daynard has crossed paths with a serial killer, testified before grand juries, and taken lie detector tests. She’s been scrutinized in bank fraud and county retirement fund scandals, labeled “a person of interest” in a major drug find, and offered the services of a professional hit man. Her short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies in both the US and Canada. Her 51-word flash, “Widow’s Peak”, received a Derringer nomination for Best Flash of 2004 and has been used to teach minimalist writing in college classrooms. She is a member of the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

 

Thanks to Level Best. . .

As we discussed earlier this week, Crime Bake has been part of our writing lives for a long time. In fact, I’ve been to every Crime Bake save the first one. So I have been there when the Level Best anthologies have had their debuts. That first year I was there with my friend Regina, who bought a copy and ran around, having everyone sign it. We were both at the beginning of our journey as writers, and decided that a Level Best story was a goal.

That was in 2003. The next year Regina was in the hospital, fighting the cancer that took her life in 2005. I stopped by on my way home from Crime Bake, catching her up on stories, and telling her about my pitch (which she had made me promise I would do). I think I bought her a copy of the Level Best anthology, but I can’t remember. I hope that I did.

After Regina died, I was inspired to write a short story about a part of her life. I submitted it to the Al Blanchard contest, and won an honorable mention. It was rejected by Level Best, but I still remember the nice note I got from Ruth McCarty. I thought maybe I was done with short stories, and went back to toiling on my novel

Then I heard the voice. A woman was telling me her story, about the husband who wouldn’t friend her on Facebook. And her fake profile. And his death. I wrote it down, in first person. I worked on it, and got it down to 1000 words, submitting it to Level Best. This story was accepted, and “Tag, You’re Dead” was published 2010’s Thin Ice.

The next year I pulled out the story I had written about Regina, and edited it again. I renamed it “Her Wish” and submitted it. This time it was accepted, and it appeared in 2011’s Dead Calm. And, again, I went back to the novel. The same novel.

In 2012 a serial killing stage manager appeared in my subconscious. I was tempted to add her to the novel, but instead I wrote a short story, introducing her to the world. Again, it came in at under 1000 words, and the world met Adele Lane in “The Pendulum Swings Until It Doesn’t” in Blood Moon last fall.

I cannot tell you what a thrill it is when you are first published. And being included in a Level Best Anthology adds layers to the thrill. You are in the company of wonderful writers, signing at Crime Bake. Your holiday shopping is done (everyone gets a book), and when people ask how it is going with your writing, you can honestly say “well”.

Barb is one of the current editors of Level Best Books. I honestly don’t know how she, Mark Ammons, Kat Fast and Leslie Wheeler do it. But I am so grateful they do. They have given many people the joy of publication, and countless readers hours of enjoyment. Though not in Stone Cold, I am thrilled for my friends who are (including Barb and Edith), and I can’t wait to dive in.