What Did I Do With It?

by Sheila Connolly

I recently came back from a trip to Ireland (yeah, yeah, I know—you’ve heard it from me everywhere. Yes, I do have a life on this side of the Atlantic, but the glow from Ireland hasn’t worn off yet.). I spent two weeks patching and filling and painting my cottage (and I hung my curtains! They fit!), with brief interruptions to get food and look for a few more pieces of furniture and do some minimal sightseeing and talk to friends. It was lovely—and it felt more like “normal life” than like a vacation.

Grass and hedge to come shortly!

I’ve lived in my current Massachusetts house for fourteen years. I lived in a house in Swarthmore for fifteen years before we moved. So the past thirty years have been pretty stable. I haven’t acquired a lot of new stuff like furniture, and the things I have bought or inherited came along one or a few at a time. Each more or less had its own place.

Then I bought the Irish cottage last year. Fifteen hundred square feet (four rooms plus small kitchen and bath), plus half an acre of land, in a different country. It was a blank canvas, and I got to make all the decisions about it.

by Avril McDermott of Union Hall–a view of the County Cork town Eyries

What I discovered about myself surprised me. The first thing I bought was a water-color painting from a local artist (who I learned about from a Facebook friend). Then I started adding furniture, piece by piece, from a variety of sources, mostly second-hand. What I ended up with was nothing like anything I had bought in the past. An Art Deco drinks cupboard? I fell in love with it (and it makes great storage, for more than drinks). A set of figural lamps, the likes of which I had never seen anywhere else? One of them has a windmill that turns, and is supposed to include running water to turn the mill (I haven’t dared tried that yet).

I outfitted the kitchen first—not hard, since it’s about the size of a closet—and its dominant color is red, which I’ve never used in a house before.

The whole process was very liberating. You think you know yourself, know your own tastes, right? Nope. There was someone else lurking inside me, just waiting to be let out. And apparently she likes Art Deco and the color red.

But another thing I noticed when I was staying there was that I kept misplacing things. How do you do that in a place that has only four rooms and little furniture, and nowhere to hide things? I don’t know, but I did. I would put down the hammer somewhere, and then spend five minutes looking for it. The same thing with my endless shopping list. What does that mean? That I’m losing my mind? My short-term memory? Or that the pathways in my brains have been scrambled, and I’m still in the process of rebuilding them to fit a new place, in a new set of circumstances.

And then there are so many things that those of us who have been settled for a while just assume are there when we need them, like tape and paper clips and pencils. Oops, not yet (I can’t explain to you how thrilled I was when I opened a drawer and found I had pencils!). I was starting from scratch, and I haven’t quite filled in everything yet. And yet, all the big pieces are in place. I’ve simplified!

I figure it’s good for me. It helps to shake ourselves up now and then. Like in writing. We Wicked Cozies know we can write books, and do it regularly. But what if you want to try something different? Without worrying whether it will sell or not? Sometimes you have to clear your mind and try something new—and if you’re lucky, it will give you a new vision, a new perspective. And something unexpected. Recharge the batteries, rotate your perspective ninety degrees, Change is a good thing! And it can be a lot of fun.

Have you tried any significant resets in your life (by choice)? How did they work out?

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Opening Lines

Dianne Mossor you are the winner of the books and tote bag from the Of Cats and Cafes blog! Watch for an email — Julie and Liz will need your contact information!

It’s opening lines day! Add your opening line about this picture in the comments below.

OL Photo Aug

Edith: Meh. No guns, no schmuns. How was I supposed to enforce the No Smoking rule without my trusty Colt?

Barb: You can never underestimate the ire of an addict deprived of nicotine.

Liz: Since I couldn’t bring my gun inside, I waited right at the door for those unsuspecting smokers to step outside with their cancer sticks. I mean, who were they to kill me with their nasty habit? I had to beat them to it.

Julie: She walked into the store, looked right at the security camera, took out a cigarette and put it in her mouth. She took a small gun out of her purse, pointed it at the camera, and pulled the trigger. Poof, a flame shot out of the end, and she lit her cigarette with it. She blew out a smoke ring, and kept staring at the camera, daring her wimp of a boyfriend to come out and confront her.

Jessie: Bernice looked with frustration at the sign before her. Upon reflection she supposed she should have been prepared for something like that when she signed up for the International Assassins Conference. Still, she thought they might have included some mention of the NO GUNS policy on the registration form.

Sherry: I looked over my shoulder and saw my date standing outside so I motioned for him to come in. He shook his head no and showed me his Glock. It was love at first sight.

Wicked New England – Outdoor Festivals

Don’t you just love summer and all the outdoor activities? Aside from the beach,   we’re so lucky here in New England to have so many cool outdoor festivals. There really is something for everyone – jazz, seafood, cars, art, lobster, the list goes on. So Wickeds, what kind of festival will you fight the crowds and the heat to attend?

Edith: We went to the Lowell International Folk Festival last Saturday, as we do

The Seamus Egan Project playing Irish

every year. All of downtown Lowell is closed to vehicle traffic. Musical groups from all over the world fill five venues, and dancing is encouraged. International food is served hot, smelling delectable, from Filipino to Cambodian to Portuguese to Greek. And this year it wasn’t 95 degrees, but a comfortable 75. The festival is free!

Julie: Does going to outdoor theater count? I saw Romeo and Juliet on the Boston Common last week. It is Commonwealth Shakespeare’s 22nd show on the Common. Free, and runs through this weekend (Aug 6). I went with friends, my sister, and the nieces. It is a wonderful production, and I was more than happy to be part of a crowd experiencing the show.

Jessie: I don’t really attend festivals usually but I do love Illumination Night in Ocean Park, Maine. It occurs of the first Saturday of August every year and most of the houses in the community are decked out with twinkling lights. It is a magical experience to wander through the pokey little lanes peeping at all the displays and mingling with the crowds.

Liz: I love art festivals. There was one in town a few weeks back, and in addition to the lovely art, there’s always such cool jewelry! You meet such great people, and dogs are welcome so that’s even better. And this weekend, there’s another art festival right on my street, which will be so fun.

Barb: Our town of Boothbay Harbor, Maine has lots of celebrations and festivals. Windjammer Days is the last week in June, when old wooden schooners make a stately appearance in the harbor. The Claw Down in September is a lobster cooking competition and related fun activities. And the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens festival of lights called Gardens Aglow runs through the entire holiday season. We stay pretty busy here.

Windjammer Days, Boothbay Harbor, Maine
Photo by Bill Carito

Sherry: Wow, now I want to go to all of these festivals and activities! And I love the photograph, Barb! Bedford used to have an Apple Festival on the town common that was fun to attend. One year I met the town historian there and he was fascinating! I also love to go to flea markets like the one below!

Readers: Do you have a favorite festival?

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Of Cats and Cafés

Dianne Mossor you are the winner of the books and tote bag! Watch for an email — Julie and Liz will need your contact information!

Today we are wicked happy to continue celebrating the release of Chime and Punishment by Julianne Holmes, aka Julie Hennrikus and Cat About Town by Cate Conte, aka Liz Mugavero. If you leave a comment you have a chance to Win a copy of Chime and Punishment, Cat About Town, and a cute cat bag!

Chime and Punishment is the third book in the Clock Shop Mystery series. Here’s a little about the book: Years ago, the serenity of picturesque Orchard, Massachusetts, was shattered by a fire that destroyed the town’s beloved clock tower. Ruth inherited the dream of repairing it from her late grandfather. Now that she’s returned home to run his clock shop, the Cog & Sprocket, she’s determined to make it happen, despite wrenches that are being thrown into the works by her least favorite person, town manager Kim Gray.

A crowd of residents and visitors are excited to see the progress of the tower at a fund-raiser for the campaign, until Kim is found crushed under the tower’s bell, putting an end to all the fun. The list of suspects is so long it could be read around the clock, and it includes some of Ruth’s nearest and dearest. Time’s a-wastin’ as Ruth tries to solve another murder in her beloved Orchard while keeping the gears clicking on her dream project.

A Cat About Town is the first novel in the Cat Cafe Mystery series. Here’s a little about the debut: Maddie James has arrived in Daybreak Island, just off the coast of Massachusetts, eager to settle down and start her own business—and maybe even fall in love. When a stray orange tabby pounces into her life, she’s inspired to open a cat café. But little does Maddie know that she’s in for something a lot more catastrophic when her new furry companion finds the dead body of the town bully. Now all eyes are on Maddie: Who is this crazy cat-whisperer lady who’s come to town? If pet-hair-maintenance and crime-fighting weren’t keeping her busy enough, Maddie now has not one but two eligible bachelors who think she’s the cat’s pajamas . . . and will do anything to win her heart. But how can she even think about happily-ever-after while a killer remains on the loose—and on her path?

Both series have cafés and cats in them! So Wickeds, do you have a favorite café and/or a favorite cat?

PrestonChristobel

Christabel behind Preston at Christmas. They often array themselves in matching poses.

Edith: I can’t wait to read both these new books! I don’t go to cafés much, but we have two lovely ones here in Amesbury: Ovedia and Market Square Bakehouse, and I’ve met people at both for coffee and conversation. Ovedia has the added attraction of making their own very fine chocolates! As for cats, well, my sweet Birdy shed his earthly shell in June, alas. Now we have two cats, and I couldn’t possibly play favorites between Christabel (the kitchen cat in the Quaker Midwife Mysteries) and Preston (the farm cat in the Local Foods Mysteries).

Barb: One of the things I’m sorry to leave on my last day in Somerville, Massachusetts, (today!) Is the Diesel Cafe. I wrote many of my first drafts there, particularly of my short stories, but also some of the novels. The funniest thing about the Diesel is that at certain times of day, everyone who is there is writing a book. The Diesel is included in the dedications and acknowledgements of many novels. As for cats, I have to admit I am endlessly amused by my son’s cat, Monkey, who has been trying to murder my son’s wife, Sunny, for almost a decade. Monkey does things like spreading shampoo all over the bathroom floor in the middle of the night and then gently nudging Sunny awake. I find it hilarious. I’m not sure Sunny does.

JJLiz: I love Diesel, Barb! I’m still searching for my favorite cafe in my new neighborhood, but in my old one there was a great coffee shop called Grounded. It’s owned by really great younger people and offers high end coffee drinks in a neighborhood that, a couple years ago, would’ve laughed it right off the street. I have great admiration for them. As for cats, it IS like picking a favorite child! The cat in the book, JJ, is based on my real life cat JJ. Isn’t he handsome?

Julie: I need to go to more cafes just to hang and drink coffee. I don’t do that enough, but will start! There are a good number to choose from–including 1369, Cafe Neros all over town, and the Thinking Cup to name a few. As for favorite cats–how can I choose? I’ve had five in my adult life, the most recent of which are Fred and Ginger. They are rescues who finally are settling into life in my condo. I’m not going to let them read Liz’s book–I worry that they’ll want to start walking me through Somerville.

Jessie: I don’t live near enough to any cafes to have a neighborhood favorite although I have enjoyed plenty of them whilst traveling. On a recent trip to Edinburg I had the pleasure of visiting The Elephant Cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote much of the first Harry Potter book. It was a magical experience, especially the bathroom where fans have covered the walls with messages to Harry’s creator.

Sherry: My favorite cafe is Helen’s in Concord. They have delicious breakfasts. Oh, now I want to fly up to Massachusetts! I’ve had two cats in my life, Snoopy, a Persian and Lucy, a beautiful gray and white. I would love to hang out in the town of Orchard and on Daybreak Island with their cats and cafes!

Readers: Do you have a favorite cafe or cat? Fictional or real?

 

Happy Double Launch Day!

By Liz/Cate and Julie/Julianne

Woo hoo! We have lots to celebrate today! It’s launch day for Chime and Punishment, the third in  Julianne Holmes’ Clock Shop Mystery Series, and Cat About Town, the first in Cate Conte’s Cat Cafe Mystery Series!

Picture of Cate Conte's CAT ABOUT TOWN and Julianne Holmes's CHIME AND PUNISHMENT with the caption DOUBLE LAUNCH DAY

To commemorate this huge day, Julie and I are going to discuss a few of our favorite topics: Cats, writing, and maybe even cafes and clocks. So let’s start with the nitty gritty writing stuff – Julie, what was it like to write the third book in this awesome series?

Liz, it was wonderful to revisit Orchard, Massachusetts and talk more about the adventures of Ruth Clagan as she works on getting the clock tower in the Town Hall. It was important to me that folks could read this as a stand-alone, but that folks who have read Just Killing Time and Clock and Dagger could revisit with familiar characters and see what happened on some arcing stories.

Liz, what was it like for you to create a new series? Was it easier or more fun this time around?

You know, I wouldn’t say easy…it’s harder to start from scratch, I think. The Pawsitively books have a cast of characters I’m so familiar with at this point, it’s easier to imagine them in their little town, going about their business. But there’s something to be said for jumping into a whole new world and a new character’s head. I wrote this book in first person instead of third, which was different, and it actually seemed a bit easier, which was surprising to me. But I really did slip right into Maddie James’s head, and found her voice right away. And I loved writing about her cat rescue antics!

So Julie, speaking of cats…what’s your fictional furry friend up to? Does Bezel have a big part in the book?

Bezel always has a role in these books, though Ruth spends most of this book out of the shop, and Bezel is an indoor cat. The importance of Bezel is the love she and Ruth have established. Bezel grounds Ruth. Speaking of cats, tell me about the cat on the cover your new book!

The infamous Junkyard Johnny! The cat on the cover happens to be the fictional version of my real life cat of the same name, JJ for short. In the book, Maddie finds JJ in the cemetery, but she figures he could very well have lived in the junkyard, so it works. In the real JJ’s case, he was living in a junkyard in New Hampshire when he was rescued. An interesting fact about the real JJ – he’s on Prozac because of his hatred for fluffy cats!  Poor Tuffy, who’s the inspiration for Nutty in the Pawsitively series, would get beat up all the time. So JJ had to get some help for his behavior.

And last question for you Julie – you must’ve visited a few clock shops when researching this series. Tell us about your favorite, and why!

The Clockfolk of New England have been my go to clockmakers. Last year, David Roberts took me up to a clock tower to help me really understand how they work, and what it feels like to be in the tower. I have also visited the American Clock and Watch Museum in Bristol CT. WONDERFUL place to be inspired by clocks.

Your last question Liz, tell us about the business Maddie James runs. We’re all going to be spending a lot of time there–give us the inside scoop! Is it based on a real place?

So, cat cafes are real things, but mine is going to be very different from the ones you’d find on an urban streetcorner, which is where they usually live. The way the cafe comes to life plays out during the first book, so I don’t want to give too much away just yet. But I hope you love it!

Julie, this was so much fun! So happy to be sharing launch day with you. Readers, are you looking forward to these two books? We hope so!!

Guest: Alexia Gordon

Edith here, loving the smells of summer, and delighted to welcome mystery author Alexia Gordon as our guest today! Her second Gethsemane Brown mystery released this month. I read Murder in G Major, the first Gethsemane Brown mystery (nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel, I might add), and loved it. I can’t wait to read the new one. Here’s what Death in D Minor is about:

DeathInDMinor front

Gethsemane Brown, an African-American classical musician a living in an Irish village, scrambles to call her vanished spectral roomie back from beyond and find a way to save her cottage from being sold. When her visiting brother-in-law is accused of stealing a valuable antique, Gethsemane strikes a deal with a garda investigator to go undercover as a musician at a charity ball and snoop for evidence linking antiques to a forgery/theft ring in exchange for the investigator’s help clearing her brother-in-law. At the party, she accidentally conjures the ghost of an eighteenth-century sea captain, then ends up the prime suspect in the party host’s murder. With the captain’s help, she races to untangle a web of phony art and stolen antiques to exonerate herself and her brother-in-law – until the killer targets her. Will she bring a thief and murderer to justice, or will her encore investigation become her swan song?

Doesn’t that just sound delicious? And Alexia is giving away the audio book (on CDs) of Death in D Minor to one lucky commenter here today.

A Method To My Madness

I’m used to doing things without giving much conscious thought to the steps involved in execution. I’m like Nike, I “just do it”. I have a process, of course, and it’s a logical process but it’s an unconscious one, like those programs always running in the background on your laptop. I think it’s hereditary. I never learned to cook from my mother because she’s a “some-bit cook”. I’d watch her in the kitchen, far enough away to not be underfoot, and ask how much of a particular ingredient she added to the pot. “Some,” she’d answer, or, “A bit.” I’ve had to become more aware of those processes since becoming a published author, however, because one of the questions I’m often asked is, “What is your writing process?” I’m forced to come up with a better answer than, “Um.”

I go through several phases as I write a book: brainstorming (a.k.a. daydreaming), researching, plotting, outlining, developing characters, writing, rewriting. Not necessarily in that order. Definitely, not in a linear order. Multi-phase execution occurs simultaneously. I may develop characters while I research. I flip back and forth between outlining and writing.

Brainstorming and research are two of my favorite phases. I love to play the “What if?” game. I read the recent article about a company offering to implant a microchip in employees’ hands to allow them the convenience of unlocking doors and turning on the copy machine with a key card. Instead of thinking, “Wow, that would be convenient, what a great idea,” I thought, “What if?” What if someone wanted to access a secured building? Would they cut off someone’s hand to get the chip? Kidnap the chipped employee and force them to do the dirty work so only their fingerprints were left at the scene? And what if a chipped employee quit? How far would the company go to retrieve it’s data? All sorts of criminal possibilities flooded my brain.

I also love to people watch (and to eavesdrop), all in the name of research. Several days ago I needed a model for a character. I won’t say which one. I went out to eat and kept my eyes and ears open. Before I finished my coffee, I spotted diners at a nearby table who exhibited behavior that begged to be fictionalized. This week, I’m at a conference related to my day job. I attend the sessions and listen to the speakers to get the information I need for work but a tiny part of my brain stays alert for some tidbit that could work its way into fiction someday, like a robotic vehicle that recovers casualties from a building in midtown Manhattan that’s under attack by aliens. (None of the speakers mentioned aliens. I made that up.)

So, there’s a partial answer, my attempt to quantify “a bit”. I’ll keep “just doing it” because that’s how my brain works. But I’ll be more mindful of the how. Because “Um” isn’t a good answer.

Readers: Do you map your processes? Or do you just do it and sort out how later? Remember, your comment could win you the audio book (on CDs) of Death in D Minor!

AlexiaGordonA writer since childhood, Alexia Gordon continued writing through college but put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. Her medical career established, she returned to writing fiction. She completed SMU’s Writer’s Path program in Dallas, Texas. Henery Press published her first novel, Murder in G Major, book one of the Gethsemane Brown mysteries, in September 2016. Book two, Death in D Minor, premiered July 2017. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Writers’ League of Texas. She listens to classical music, drinks whiskey, and blogs at http://www.missdemeanors.com.

The Tell-Tale Title — Guest Maya Corrigan

Thank you, Sherry, for hosting me on the Wicked Cozy Author blog. Though my Five-Ingredient Mysteries are set in a historic town along the Chesapeake Bay, the most recent one has a New England connection. Its title derives from a story about a murder, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” by Edgar Allan Poe, who was born in Boston and whose first book was published there. More about that book at the end of this post, but first I want to explain how the title, The Tell-Tale Tarte, was born and how it affected the tale.

For a work of literary fiction, you can choose any title you want. For a culinary mystery, your choices are constrained. Ideally, the title incorporates food and the suggestion of wrongdoing, crime, menace, or death. Puns are also common, though not essential, in culinary mystery titles.

With all those parameters, I obsess about titles. My extended family also gets involved. At Christmas Eve dinner a few years ago, they vied with each other to name my next book. Some good puns came out of the exercise but, alas, nothing that belonged on the cover of a culinary mystery. Many of their suggestions had the pun and the food but no hint of a crime: The Lambshank Redemption, The Merchant of Venison. In others, the element of violence was too strong for a cozy mystery: Chili Con Carnage.

I go through bouts of title brainstorming and keep a list of possible titles. I also have a list of subjects I want to explore in the series. After I’ve decided on a subject, I check my title list, hoping to find one that will match the book’s topic. As an example, for the second book in my series, I wanted to write about frauds against retirees, which matched well with the title, Scam Chowder. Then, of course, I had to make bowl of clam chowder an integral part of the plot.

The subject I planned to explore in my latest book was the possible exploitation of an aging famous author by those in the publishing industry who make money off him. The The Tell-Tale Tarte ended up touching on that situation, but another subject overshadowed it as I outlined the book. With its title, the book had to have something to do with Poe. He was a good fit for a mystery related to publishing. He struggled to get his work published and to earn enough from his writing to fend off starvation. The irony is that his first book, “Tamerlane and Other Poems By A Bostonian,” has become the Holy Grail of American book collecting, the most expensive rare book by an American author ever sold at auction. That book is mentioned on the plaque commemorating Poe’s birthplace in Boston. There are only a dozen known copies of it, and one of them figures in the plot of The Tell-Tale Tarte.

The event that embroils my sleuth, Val, and her grandfather in the search for a murderer occurs at a book club dinner party, when Val serves the French dessert, tarte Tatin. The book’s title didn’t affect just one scene or one plot point. The cast is made up of people inspired by Poe two hundred years after his death: the aging writer whose riffs on Poe’s stories are bestsellers; the author’s entourage, including his publicist and his writing protégé; an actor with a one-man Poe show; and a Poe scholar.

Coming up with a title that integrates well with a story is part of the publishing journey, and sometimes the title turns the story in an unexpected direction.

Readers: Have you ever picked up a book because the title grabbed you? Do you have a favorite title? Writers: is titling a book a challenge for you?

Maya (Mary Ann) Corrigan writes the Five-Ingredient Mysteries, By Cook or by Crook, Scam Chowder, and Final Fondue. In the 4th book of the series, The Tell-Tale Tarte, the search for the murderer of a Poe performer takes a café manager and her grandfather to a local “House of Usher” and to the graveyard where Poe is buried. Each book includes five suspects, five clues, and Granddad’s five-ingredient recipes. Before taking up a life of crime on the page, Maya taught university courses in writing, American literature, and detective fiction.