Guest- Kay Finch

News Flash: Dianne KC is our winner from yesterday. Congratulations, Dianne! Check your Inbox for an email from Alyssa.

Jessie: In NH where the weather is feeling like summer!

Several years ago I met the lovely and gracious Kay Finch where I have met so many fellow mystery writers over the years: Malice Domestic. We were seated at the same table at the Berkley Prime Crime dinner and she was a charming dinner companion. It is with great pleasure that I welcome her to the Wickeds today! Take it away, Kay!

Untitled-3My Split Personality

I recently enjoyed signing my third Bad Luck Cat mystery, The Black Cat Sees His Shadow, at Murder by the Book, Houston’s wonderful mystery bookstore. We had a fabulous turnout, and I signed dozens of books. Great day for a writer, right? I had fun, but I also have to admit that I enjoy being in the audience at a book signing more than I enjoy being in the spotlight. The truth is – a writer needs to have a split personality.

You might think the hardest part of writing a novel is the writing itself. Yes, the writing is a huge and time consuming and seemingly never-ending project. When someone tells me they want to write a book, these thoughts cross my mind: “Don’t start. Writing is like an addiction. You won’t be able to stop. You won’t have any free time. It’s much easier and more fun to spend your time reading.” But as hard as writing the book is, as far as I’m concerned that isn’t the hardest part of being an author.

When my first mystery was about to come out, I wished I could hire someone to stand in for me. A person who enjoys sitting alone in a room and writing a book is not the same person who relishes the marketing aspect of writing. I naturally choose to do things that keep me from being noticed. My natural instinct to remain anonymous began when I was a little girl. In the privacy of my bedroom, I wrote short mystery stories. No one knew about them except me. For fear someone might see the stories one day and read them, I decided to burn the pages. Today, that sounds ridiculous and embarrassing. To little me, it made sense.

I might sound like a semi-recluse, but I’m not. I work full-time as a family law paralegal and deal with many people who have more quirks than I do. I enjoy meeting people at book signings and other events once I get there. My personality is seriously split. I’m not only an author, I’m also speaker, paralegal, wife, grandma, sister, daughter, aunt, and friend. And don’t forget – I’m a little piece of each of my protagonists, too.

Readers: I’m happy to give away a copy of The Black Cat Sees His Shadow. To enter the contest, leave a comment about your favorite childhood pet and I’ll pick a random winner at noon tomorrow. Good luck!

Kay Finch

Kay Finch

Kay Finch is the National Best-Selling Author of the Bad Luck Cat Mysteries, Black Cat Crossing, The Black Cat Knocks on Wood, and The Black Cat Sees His Shadow. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division. Kay lives with her husband and their rescue pets in a Houston suburb. Visit the author at kayfinch.com.

Guest: Alyssa Maxwell

Edith here, who can’t quite believe it’s almost July! I’m delighted to welcome my friend, name-mate, and fellow historical mystery author, Alyssa Maxwell (no relation) to the blog today! I love her Gilded Newport series, and you will, too. One lucky winner today will win a signed hardcover of the fifth book in the series, Murder at Chateau Sur Mer, which will be out in a month. (I wish I could win!) A bonus for me is that one characters is named Edith.

gildednewport

Here’s the book blurb: Covering a polo match for the Observer, society reporter Emma Cross’s job is to take note of the real players off the field—Newport’s well-bred elite. But the fashionable façade is breached when a woman in gaudy clothing creates a scene demanding to speak to the wife of Senator George Wetmore—until she is escorted off the grounds by the police.  The next morning, police detective Jesse Whyte asks Emma to meet him at the Wetmores’ Bellevue Avenue home, Chateau sur Mer, where the senator’s wife, Edith, has mysteriously asked to see her. Upon entering the mansion, Emma is confronted with a crime scene—the intruder from the polo match lies dead at the foot of a grand staircase.

To avoid scandal, Edith Wetmore implores Emma, a less well-heeled cousin to the illustrious Vanderbilts, to use her reporter skills and her discretion to investigate. When Emma learns the victim was a prostitute—and pregnant—she wonders if the senator was being blackmailed. As Emma peels back layers of deception and family secrets, she may have met her match in a desperate killer who will trample anyone who gets in the way…

I love it! Take it away, Alyssa.

Intertwined Histories

I’m going to tell you a secret, if you promise not to tell anyone. When I decided to write my Newport series, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know if I could pull off writing a mystery, and although I knew modern day Newport pretty well, I had tons to learn about the city in the Gilded Age.

I was positive about one thing: I didn’t want to fictionalize everything. I didn’t want to write about a city based on Newport, and I didn’t want to write about Newport itself but with fictionalized houses and families. If I couldn’t name actual people and places, what fun would it be?

You see, I felt I had a responsibility to everyone who lives there, and even to everyone who has ever visited Newport. I had to get it right, and I had to be so vivid that readers would say yes, I’ve been there; I swam there, walked there, explored there, etc. Because I understand the kind of hold Newport places on people; I know exactly how it reaches into your heart and makes you part of it. Newport of today is a very international place—at least during the summer tourist season—but the city’s history makes it so essentially and vitally American that Newport belongs to all of us, and those who have lived there or have visited for even a short time, feel a fierce and loving ownership of this very special place. (pictured: Clarke Cook House on Bannister’s Wharf)

ClarkeCookHouse

What do I mean by that? For one thing, there isn’t a period of American history that hasn’t left its indelible mark on Newport. And we literally see that history in its architecture as we move through town—colonial, federal, Civil War, shingle style, the palaces of the Gilded Age, and so on up to current times.

What makes Newport different from many other places is that as times and tastes changed, the old didn’t disappear but remained in use—to this day. It’s true living history, not replicated but alive and vital and constantly changing with each wave of people who pass through. In a way, there’s a bit of all of us in Newport. (Pictured: The Waves, built in the 1920s, now a condominium)

the waves

Then there’s my husband’s family, Newporters for generations back. For them, if for no one else, I wanted to capture the spirit of Newport, especially in my sleuth, Emma Cross—who is independent, determined, proud, hardworking, and gets her strength from the bedrock of Aquidneck Island.

Last summer, we were contacted by a Newport resident who, during renovations of his newly purchased house, came upon two large, framed photographs of my husband’s great great grandparents hidden away behind a wall in his attic. What made this even more exciting was that this house had been built by my husband’s great grandfather’s company, The Manuel Brothers, using materials, such as flooring and woodwork, reclaimed from Bellevue Avenue mansions the company had been hired to demolish. At about the same time, in the 1920s, the Manuel Bros. also demolished a mansion owned by Reggie Vanderbilt, who is a character in the series. What’s more, we believe my husband’s great grandmother, Honora Taylor Whyte, worked as a maid in one of the great houses when she first came to this country from Ireland. My father-in-law and my husband grew up in the same house in the harbor-side Point neighborhood, on same the street where I have set Emma’s childhood home.

manuel brothers

These are just a few examples, but you can see that Newport’s history and my husband’s history is intricately entwined. There could be no fictionalizing the city, or, for me and I think for many readers, the meaning would have been lost.

Readers: Join me for a visit to Newport! Is there a place you’re passionate about? Tell us about it in the Comments and enter for a chance to win a signed, hardcover copy of the 5th Gilded Newport Mystery, MURDER AT CHATEAU SUR MER!

amaxwellpinkAlyssa Maxwell is the author of The Gilded Newport Mysteries and A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mysteries. She has worked in publishing as a reference book editor, ghost writer, and fiction editor, but knew from an early age that she wanted to be a novelist. Growing up in New England and traveling to Great Britain and Ireland fueled a passion for history, while a love of puzzles of all kinds drew her to the mystery genre. She and her husband make their home in South Florida. She is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the Florida Romance Writers, Sisters in Crime, and Novelists Inc. You can learn more about Alyssa and her books, and find her social media links, at www.alyssamaxwell.com.

 

 

The Detective’s Daughter Goes on Retreat

Edith here. Our Accomplice, Kim Gray,who usually writes the Detective’s Daughter posts, can’t be here today, so I’m jumping in to share her virtual report of going on a writers’ retreat.

Kim, Annette Dashofy, Martha Reed, and I were invited by Ramona DeFelice Long to go on a week-long retreat at Clare House, a convent retreat house in Pennsylavania. None of us had any problem with jumping at the opportunity. I’d gone with Ramona and Kim last year and loved it. After we returned last week, Kim put up a few pictures and commentary on her Facebook page, so I’m drawing it together in a blog post for her!

The gathering spot for the animals’ breakfast.

AnimalBreakfast

Time for reflection.

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Our doorbell.

OurDoorbell

The front entrance of my home away from home.

Front

A good spot to sit and think.

SitandThink

My companion on my walks these past seven days.

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A great place to relax and write.

clarehouse

(Edith: The “Hermitages” referenced in the sign are five tiny cottages also on the grounds that one can rent. I haven’t been inside, but the web site says they are 17′ x 17′ and have all the essentials, including a mini-kitchen. Wow.)

Hermitage01enhanced

Our last dinner table set.

dinner

Edith: And a couple of mine, this one just before Ramona, Kim, and Martha set out to explore the Amish farmers’ market. It wasn’t all work!

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And my “office” in the room designated as the chapel.

Edith's desk

We all had a highly productive week interspersed by laughter, wine, meals, and of course, storytelling. And we Wickeds look forward to having Kim back next month with another tale of the Detective’s Daughter.

Readers: Where do you go to recharge, to think, to reflect, to get away from your usual setting?

 

 

 

 

Summertime! …and the Writing Is Easy?

Liz here, and so happy to welcome our wicked cool friend, Art Taylor back to the blog! He’s talking about our favorite subject – writing – and how all the work gets done. Take it away, Art!

My former teacher Alan Cheuse felt very strongly that writers needed to write every day and that they needed to focus on one project at a time.

The former bit of advice there got a boost in a recent Daily Beast essay by novelist and critic Stephen Hunter—and earned a flurry of controversy in the process, with other writers objecting to his arrogant tone and arguing against the all-or-nothing message right there in the headline: “Write Every Day or Quit Now.” Is that truly the only way to success?

Amidst some of that controversy, I have a confession: I’m a firm believer that writing every day makes you a better writer. Even checking in briefly on my own works-in-progress somehow keeps the machinery in my head moving throughout the day, whether I’m pen in hand or fingers to the keyboard or not.

But here’s another confession: Despite these best intentions, I don’t actually write every day.

And I can break Alan Cheuse’s second bit of advice too: Even when I do keep up a steady series of writing days, I’m not always working on the same project one day to the next.

How bad can my flitting from project to project get? Earlier this year (Friday, January 13, in fact, checking back over the Word doc), I woke up with the idea for a story, wrote a couple of pages, sketched out some key plot points, even figured out the final images, all before 9:03 a.m. (again checking the properties on that Word doc)…and then I immediately, entirely forgot about the whole thing. I cannot emphasize how complete my forgetfulness was here. It was only a couple of months later, looking through my computer, that I found a file I didn’t remember, opened it, and—surprise! Where the heck did that come from?

It’s easy to blame any number of factors for why my focus gets frazzled and why I don’t get more writing done, especially during the semester when my teaching schedule demands priority. Lesson prep for the class tomorrow can’t wait til the day after. Grading needs to be done quickly because the students are waiting for it (and often emailing about it). Meanwhile, since I’m not under contract anywhere, no one—sadly—is waiting so eagerly for my next bit of fiction.

I’m not alone. Many writers struggle to juggle day jobs, family responsibilities, and more. Best ambitions or intentions aside, we often end up writing when we can, even if that’s not every day. Does that mean we should quit?

As with many writers who teach, summer offers a different schedule for me—a chance to focus on my own work first.

I came out of this past semester’s classes with specific goals for summer break—among them finishing the drafts of several short stories in various stages of completion. So far, I’ve done well to stay focused, and late May/early June brought two acceptance emails—nice payoffs in the midst of this recent creative burst. Over the last week, an idea came to me for another anthology I’ve been invited to contribute to, and though I’ve been making slow progress, that beats no progress. I’m always a slow writer, but circling back to that earlier, contentious point: While there are many different approaches to creativity, even the smallest steps forward day by day will ultimately get you where you need to go.

But here’s the other issue: While I’m working on this story, it’s the other one—that one I’d briefly forgotten about—that I really intended to finish first (an earlier deadline!). Even more troubling, I really need to get both of them out of my head so I can turn attention to the novel idea that’s also banging around in there. After all, it’s coming up on two years now since my debut book, On the Road with Del & Louise, came out—and there’s no next novel even dimly on the horizon—so shouldn’t that take priority?

That was Alan Cheuse’s other bit of advice: One project at a time. And with a glance at my “small steps” metaphor two paragraphs back, a contrary perspective: how will you get where you need to go if you’re moving in different directions one day to the next?

In her essay “A Writing Habit” (from the excellent anthology Rule of Thumb), Lydia Davis takes a more optimistic view of all this, championing the benefits of having multiple projects underway at one time. Hit a stumbling block with one draft? Move to another where you might have fresher energy or fresher perspectives—especially if you’ve previously set this other project aside and can now see it more objectively. Have a sudden burst of inspiration for a third draft you’d put on a back burner? Bring it to the front! Make the most of that inspiration while it’s there.

Davis admits that this approach is chaotic and messy—words which speak to my own approach. But the key to navigating that chaos and mess is “patience”—patience to let stories develop in their own time, yes, but also patience in sticking with each of these projects in the long run, not simply moving on from those various drafts and never looking back. That’s where failure comes.

Some of my stories have come more easily than others. A few very urgent bits ofinspiration and a clear vision for where the story was going helped me to stay on track with writing “Parallel Play,” which was published in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning; it recently won the Agatha Award and is currently up for both the Anthony Award and the Thriller Award for Best Short Story as well. But then there’s “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants,” an earlier story that also earned some award attention…. The first draft of that story was finished in late April 2007—and then put aside for several years before I came back to it with any idea of what it needed and how to fix the many (many) problems with that first draft. It didn’t see print until 2013.

Chesapeake Crimes

Patience, yes. Persistence, yes. But did I work every day of that six-year interval on “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants”? Not hardly. Truth be told, on some of those days over those years, I didn’t write a word at all.

Somehow, though, in the long run, I still seem to be getting things done.

Many writers out there, of course, and maybe an equally diverse number of writing processes—and I’m curious: Which piece of seemingly tried-and-true writing advice have you found least useful to your own work? Or to put a more positive spin on that question: Where have you gone your own way—against conventional wisdom—with successful results?

"Art Taylor"

Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He also edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University, and he contributes frequently to the Washington Post, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and Mystery Scene Magazine.

Turning Five

Edith here, luxuriating in the rebirth of life (finally!) north of Boston – salad greens, flowering shrubs, fresh eggs, book ideas, and so much more. Make sure you read to the end for a special giveaway.

Mulch Ado About Murder releases today! I am delighted that the Local Foods Mysteries has continued through book five. I originally conceived of organic farmer Cameron Flaherty way, way back in 1994. At the time I operated and co-owned the smallest certified organic farm in my county tucked away up here in the northeast corner of Massachusetts.

mulch-ado-about-murder

When A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die finally came out in 2013, it introduced Cam, her great-uncle Albert, the town of Westbury, and the cast of regular characters who have kept Cam company throughout the series. The book opens on June 1, the first day her CSA customers are coming to pick up their shares of the produce she harvested that morning: herbs, greens, asparagus, and more.

A Tine To Live A Tine To Die PB COVER

In Tine we meet the cast of continuing characters: Lucinda, the devoted Brazilian locavore. Felicity, a committed volunteer with a long gray braid and an infallibly cheery manner. Albert, of course, who gave Cam his farm. A younger volunteer, Alexandra, and the even younger girl scout Ellie who loves helping out. Plus State police detective Pete Pappas, who is back in every book but takes on an additional role in book two.

The books release once a year at the end of May, but book time is different. Til Dirt Do Us Part, the second book, takes place in early October.

Til Dirt do us Part Cover

One of Cam’s more difficult shareholders is murdered the day after a farm-to-table dinner and her stepson Bobby is wanted for questioning. Cam doesn’t think the hunky carpenter who rebuilt her barn is involved – but is he?

Farmed and Dangerous is the winter story, with a blizzard, someone murdered in Albert’s assisted living residence, Cam under suspicion because she provided the produce that was poisoned, and an apparent attack on Cam herself.

FarmedandDan

I was delighted Cam’s farm cat Preston finally appeared on a cover. He’s our senior cat here at home and he deserves his moments of fame.

Book four, Murder Most Fowl, was a fun one. I got to set a couple of scenes in a New England town meeting very much like the one I used to attend in West Newbury, which Westbury is closed modeled on.

Murder Most Fowl

The wasn’t fun for the murdered poultry farmer, of course, but I loved that Cam acquired chicks, and I learned about foxes, too. I got the murder weapon from a talk the Poison Lady (Luci Zahray) gave, and the book just came out in paperback.

And now we’re up to Mulch Ado About Murderbook five, where Cam’s peripatetic parents come to visit. Both of them are immersed in a good deal of trouble, and Cam gets to know them more intimately. Over the course of the series Cam has grown to know herself better, too. This nerdy introvert, a former software engineer, had no idea when she acquired the farm that growing and selling food would involve hanging out with people, not just vegetables. What blossomed in her is a realization that she likes it.

The story takes place right now, so the series has come around the full cycle of the farming year. I decided to celebrate by throwing a fifth birthday party on June 1!

LOCAl Foods birthday party

Come on over to the Facebook event page between 6:30 and 9:30 PM eastern time. Twelve authors, including many of the Wickeds, are going to pop in every fifteen minutes and each will have a giveaway to a commenter during that period. I have a slew of items I’ll give away, too.

prizes

And the grand prize is a signed set of all five books in hardcover. We’ll have virtual cake – carrot, of course – and bubbly, too.

But for today, let’s celebrate Mulched‘s release by me giving away one of my author aprons to a commenter here!

Memorial Day Moments

It’s Memorial Day – summer is kicking off, it’s a long weekend (for us day-jobbers, anyway) and hopefully the weather is beautiful where you are! We’re talking today about our favorite things to do on this day – traditions, trips, and more. So Wickeds, what’s the plan for today?

Jessie: I will be in the U.K. over the holiday weekend. One of my kids is planning the trip and is keeping everything a surprise so I have no idea what my plans are yet. It should be fun!

Julie: Jessie, have a wonderful trip! I love Memorial Day weekend. It is a time of reflection (the reason for the holiday). It also marks the end of winter, and the kick off to summer. Summer in New England is a marvel, and I relish it. I always toast the ocean (or a body of water), and paint my toenails. Not at the same time.

Barb: Julie, I love the idea of painting your toenails. I always welcome barefoot weather, the best months of the year. I’ve wracked my brain, but I can’t think of any Memorial Day traditions. Patriot’s Day (mid-April), yes. Fourth of July, for sure. But in New England Memorial Day is as apt to be cold and gray as sunny and warm, so it’s hard to make plans and I got nothin’.

Sherry: We don’t have any big traditions for Memorial Day either. Growing up we didn’t live close to any family so there was no visiting graves. This Memorial Day will find me writing as I try to meet a self-imposed deadline. Wish me luck!

Edith: It’s time for me to start a new book, Sherry, so I’ll be writing, too, until we go to some friends for a cookout or maybe a cook-in, because, as Barb said, this year the day is forecast to be rainy and chilly.

ellenrogersmemorial

Artist Ellen Rogers with the banners. Photo by Bryan Eaton, Newburyport Daily News.

But I’ll also walk across town to visit an amazing memorial a local artist has created this year. She filled a field across from her house with 7000 white banners. Each has the name of an American service person who died in Irag and Afganhistan, and each includes the number of dead on that date. Sobering.

Readers: What’s your plan for today? Traditions?