A Wicked Welcome to Joyce Tremel

by Julie, thrilled to welcome Joyce Tremel to the blog today.

Joyce and I both had our debut novels come out in 2015, three months apart. We’ve kept up the schedule ever since, and her third novel, A Room With A Brew, was released on October 3. If you haven’t “met” Max O’Hara and visited Pittsburgh in these books, you’re in for a treat.

THE TOP FIVE THINGS I’VE LEARNED WRITING A COZY SERIES

By Joyce Tremel

ARoomWithABrew5. It’s not as easy as it looks. Believe it or not, there are readers out there who think that cozy mysteries are inferior to other mysteries. Obviously, they’ve never tried to write one. I’ve found it takes quite a bit of skill to kill someone and not gross out the reader. The cozy writer has to get the horror of the murder across without showing much in the way of blood, guts, and the like. You have to describe what happened without actually describing what happened. This also applies to any sexy scenes. I’m perfectly content with not having to write those kinds of scenes. Banter, innuendo, and an occasional kiss that leaves the character’s knees weak is enough for me. I like to leave the rest up to imagination.

4. It’s sometimes hard to find adequate substitutes for swear words. I worked as a police secretary for ten years. Believe me, cops swear. Most of their words start with F and end with K. I learned a whole new vocabulary when I worked for the police department. When you have officers talking in a cozy, you can’t very well have them use what must be their favorite word in the whole world because they say it three times in every sentence. And you can’t have them say gosh, darn, or golly either. Only Andy Griffith could get away with that. My protagonist’s dad is a homicide detective and in one scene I have Max say something like, “My dad rarely swore but I could tell he held back a string of words that would have turned the air blue.” I do throw in an occasional damn or hell, and have used the letters S.O.B. Sometimes I’ll interrupt the dialogue just before the swear word would be uttered. So far, it works. At least I hope it does.

3. There’s a fine line between educating the reader on the character’s craft or occupation and boring them to death. No one wants to read page after page of how your character does something. My protagonist Max is a craft brewer and there’s a lot of chemistry involved in brewing beer. If I started rambling on about how to calculate the specific gravity of a certain brew in order to calculate the alcohol by volume, I don’ t think readers would be too happy. In the best case scenario, they’d skip those pages; in the worst case, they’d throw the book against the wall. It’s a mystery novel, not a textbook. Information like that must be sprinkled in lightly.

2. Recipes are hard to come up with. I’m usually thinking more about the plot and what the characters are doing than about what they’re eating or cooking. I’ve had to train myself to actually stop and describe certain foods and then search for a recipe to include. That’s probably why the first book, To Brew or Not to Brew only had two recipes. I did a little better with books two and three. Tangled Up in Brew had four and this year’s A Room With a Brew has five, including the ever popular Pittsburgh Pretzel Salad.

1. Write everything down. When I was about halfway through writing the first book, I realized I was NOT going to remember which character had blue eyes, who had brown eyes, how tall a certain someone was, etc. I started what we call a Character Bible. I jotted down each character, what they looked like, and anything else I thought might be important. I did the same with each shop and location in the series. I even drew a little map so I’d remember which store/shop/restaurant was where. And thank goodness I did. I refer to it constantly. Between that and the style sheet (which has even more detailed info on it) from my copy editor, I’ve saved hours that would have been spent searching through previous manuscripts for one tiny tidbit of information. All because I couldn’t remember something I thought I would.

These are the top five things I’ve learned writing a cozy series. Readers, what have you learned reading one?

As a bonus, here’s the recipe for the Pittsburgh Pretzel Salad I mentioned above. It is delicious!

Pittsburgh Pretzel Salad
Bottom layer:
2 cups crushed pretzels
3/4 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
Mix crushed pretzels, melted butter, and sugar, and press into 9×13″ pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes. Cool.

Filling (middle layer):
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 – 8 ounce container of whipped topping
1 cup sugar
Beat cream cheese and sugar until creamy. Fold in whipped topping. Spread over cooled pretzel mixture. Chill.

Top layer:
2 – 3 ounce boxes strawberry Jello
2 cups boiling water
2 cups sliced strawberries

Combine Jello with 2 cups boiling water. Stir until dissolved, about two minutes. Add strawberries. Chill until partially thickened, then spread over top of cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate overnight or until firm.

Top with additional whipped topping and sprinkle with crushed or broken pretzel pieces.

*****************************

JT headshot 2Joyce Tremel was a police secretary for ten years and more than once envisioned the demise of certain co-workers, but settled on writing as a way to keep herself out of jail. She is the author of the BREWING TROUBLE mystery series set in Pittsburgh, featuring brewmaster and pub owner, Maxine “Max” O’Hara. Her debut novel, TO BREW OR NOT TO BREW, was nominated for a 2015 Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Amateur Sleuth. The second book in the series, TANGLED UP IN BREW, was the winner of the 2016 Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Amateur Sleuth. A ROOM WITH A BREW, the third book in the series was released on October 3, 2017.

The End or Is It?

NEWSFLASH: CozyNookBks is the randomly selected winner of Linda Lovely’s book! Check your email – she’ll be contacting you. And congrats!

By Sherry where summer temperatures have returned even after Barb warned me if I put socks on last weekend it was the end of summer.

I see posts on Facebook all the time where an author happily announces that they just typed “The End” for their latest book. I have a confession. I’ve never typed it myself. I’ve obviously finished books, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to type those two little words.

Maybe I’m superstitious about it for some reason. I remember hearing author John Dufresne say at readings he won’t tell people what page he’s reading from because he might change the wording to make a sentence better as he goes along. And I always wonder when in the process other authors are typing “The End”. After the first draft? The sixth? The twelfth? Right before they turn it into the publisher?

I know my first draft isn’t the last one so it doesn’t feel like the end. It might be because even after I send it off to my editor at Kensington I know I’m going to get the copy edits which gives me another chance to polish the manuscript. And boy is there a lot to polish every time I get them back even though I feel like I’ve turned in a clean manuscript.

Even after the copy edits there’s that one final chance when the page proof comes. At this point the book has been type set and along with the page proof comes a warning to change only what is absolutely necessary. And that if you make too many changes you may have to pay for it. Gulp. At this point I’m pretty much making sure the punctuation is correct and words are spelled correctly. I might clean a bit here or there, but I always worry that I’ll do too much.

Maybe I don’t type “The End “because I don’t want it to be over or I think there’s more I could have done. Trust me, the minute I sent in the copy edits for I Know What You Bid Last Summer on Tuesday, I wished I had them back to read through them one more time.

I think in the end (pun intended) that typing “The End” is to final for me. Instead of a satisfying triumph it’s more about questioning if I did enough. Maybe it’s that insecurity that so many writers carry around with them that someone is going to point and yell “fraud”. Or maybe it’s like telling someone I love goodbye when I don’t want to. It could be part of the whole letting the story go out into the world where it will be judged, loved, hated, remarked on, or ignored.

I imagine typing “The End” sometimes. I’d do it with a bit of a flourish like when you finish playing something stirring on the piano and lift your hands from the keys. It would be in a great font. And then I’d delete it because I’m superstitious.

Readers: Do you type “The End”? When do you type it? And if you aren’t a writer do you ever have a hard time knowing when a project is finished?

Guest Linda Lovely

Edith here, writing from north of Boston, where fall has finally hit. Our guest today is the multi-published Linda Lovely.  Bones to Pick, the first mystery in herFINALBonesToPickfrontCover new Brie Hooker Mysteries series, releases in a few weeks! To celebrate, she’ll give away a signed ARC now or an ebook after the book comes out to one commenter here today. Take it away, Linda.

Wicked Research for Wicked Villains

This blog’s Wicked Cozy Authors title echoes my belief that the best cozy mysteries have plenty of wicked seasoning. Just because a novel eschews profanity, graphic violence and sex doesn’t mean the heroine (or hero) won’t confront a multitude of deadly dangers engineered by wicked, ingenious villains

A mystery’s heroine is most memorable—and heroic—when she faces scary villains. This requires some wicked research. The Writers’ Police Academy (WPA), held each August at a real police academy, offers hands-on experiences that writers can use to create haunting villains and plausible plots. WPA instructors are the same ones who train police in everything from firearms and non-lethal weapons to drones and crime scene investigation. Outside experts also explore subjects like bioweapons, forensic psychology, gangs, and private investigation techniques.

Full disclosure: I’m a five-year member of the Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) “family.” I handle registrations, coordinate the Golden Donut Short Story contest, and help with varied organizational details. I volunteer because the program affords me—and fellow crime writers—invaluable opportunities to pick the brains of experts and get the details right.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESOver the years, the WPA has given me the chance to fire a Glock and an AR-15…feel the tension of making a split-second, shoot-don’t-shoot decision…learn to free myself from a larger assailant…ride in an ambulance with a paramedic…handcuff a suspect…join a SWAT team in clearing a building…wear a duty belt…swing a baton. And the list goes on.

Once I’m home, these experiences weave their way into my cozy mysteries. In Bones To Pick, the first novel in my Brie Hooker Mystery series, Brie’s recall of her dad’s story about gangbangers hiding  weapons saves her life. (Though Brie’s dad is a horticultural professor, he’s also an aspiring crime novelist who attends the WPA each summer.)

In the second Brie Hooker Mystery, which I recently turned into my editor at Henery Press, the heroine flies a drone to gain key information. While Brie doesn’t pack heat, the villains she faces do. So I tap weapons’ knowledge gained at WPA to describe their firearms. Insights into police procedures, CSI techniques, autopsies, poisons and criminal proceedings also figure in how Brie interacts with law enforcement and the legal system.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

In the real world, amateur sleuths seldom prove the innocence of a loved one, solve a cold murder case, uncover fraud, or thwart a radical group’s attempt to rig an election. However, authors can make any of these plots more plausible by weaving in accurate criminal behavior and crime-fighting details.

Writers who can’t attend a WPA can look to information sources in their own backyards Options include ride-alongs with local police and online and in-person programs hosted by Sisters in Crime. Speakers at my Upstate South Carolina SinC chapter’s meetings have included K-9 officers, DAs, judges, detectives, US Marshalls, FBI agents, crime scene investigators, ATF officers, paramedics, bank fraud investigators, and even psychics.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe best part? I’ve yet to meet an expert who wasn’t willing to answer my questions. I’ve gained insights into experiences well outside my day-to-day existence. It’s also allowed me to make friends with people from many walks of life. Yes, research improves books, but it also enriches the researcher’s life.

Linda Lovely finds writing pure fiction isn’t a huge stretch given the years she’s spent penning PR and advertising copy. Her blend of mystery and humor lets her chuckle as she plots to “disappear” the types of characters who most annoy her. Quite satisfying plus there’s no need to pester relatives for bail. Her new Brie Hooker Mystery series offers good-natured salutes to both her vegan family doctor and her cheese-addicted kin. While her new series may be cozy, she weaves in plenty of adrenaline-packed scenes to keep readers flipping pages. LindaHeadshot

She served as president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter for five years and also belongs to International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. She’s the award-winning author of five prior mystery/suspense/thriller novels. To learn more, visit her website: www.lindalovely.com  

Readers: Which expert has helped you in some area of your life? Writers: Who is the quirkiest expert you’ve called on in the name of research? Remember, she’s giving away a signed ARC now or an ebook after the book comes out to one commenter here today.

Wicked Wednesday

Jessie: In New Hampshire, where the leaves have started to turn.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been keeping my head down in order to complete a book that was due to my editor in October. Every time I have a looming deadline lots of other things in my life take a backseat, most notably, any real standard of housekeeping. As soon as I turn in a manuscript I cast my bleary eyes over my home in despair. So what I’m wondering today Wickeds is which household chore is your very least favorite of all?

Sherry: All of them? Okay, I’ll winnow that down. Probably mopping the floor — the water, the wringing, ugh! I don’t mind sweeping or vacuuming, but I will put mopping off as long as possible.

DustingEdith: Dusting. Especially when a shelf has a lot of knickknacks or pictures on it. You have to pick up each one and dust it and under it. By the time I’m done I’m sneezing so hard I quit, even though there are four more bookshelves to clean. And the person I live with (who is an exemplary vacuumer, by the way) doesn’t even SEE dust.

Barb: Does grocery shopping count? That is my very least favorite, bar none. Basically, I love project-y type tasks–spring cleaning, fall cleaning, decorating for holidays. I hate the repetitive stuff-where you do it and then you just do it again.

Liz: Love my furries, but litter box scooping…ugh. I wish I could teach them to do it themselves!

Jessie: I hate scrubbing the bathtub door track. I don’t mind cleaning the tub itself or even the shower surround but the track of the door never seems to get clean no matter what I do to it.

Julie: Litter box scooping is not my favorite, but I do love my cats, so I do it. I’m with Barb on the repetition. I am so, so, sick of dusting and vacuuming. But I persist.

Readers: Your least favorite chore?

Yea or Nay-Pumpkin Spice

autumn-1947782_1920

Jessie: In New Hampshire, shivering under a wool blanket and hoping the furnace is fixed sooner rather than later!

Autumn is well and truly in the air and in the past few years that has come to mean Pumpkin Spice everything. From coffee to air freshners pumpkin spice is the belle of the season.

So, Wickeds, I wondered how each of you feel about it? Do you swoon to see the signs proclaiming it to be available at the local Dunkin Donuts or do you just find it all baffling?

Liz: Next to summer, fall is my absolute favorite season, and it’s mostly because of the pumpkin spice craze. Beginning October 1, I make it my mission to have as many pumpkin-flavored anythings as possible. Although I much prefer Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes over Dunkin Donuts any day….

Sherry: I’m not a fan and don’t rush out to buy everything from M&Ms to Oreos flavored with pumpkin spice. That said I do make an excellent pumpkin spice cake that I’ve been making for about ten years (that predates the craze, right?). It’s so easy — two ingredients a spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin. You mix the two together and bake it at 350 for 25 minutes. It’s low calorie and full of fiber. It doesn’t need frosting because it is so moist.

Jessie: I really dislike tinkering when it comes to my coffee. I like it black and very strong, with no sugar so the idea of gussying it up with dessert flavors just leaves me cold. I guess I don’t really get the whole pumpkin thing unless we happen to be talking about pumpkin squares with cream cheese frosting. Or jack-o-lanterns. But I think I will try baking Sherry’s cake! That sounds intriguing.

Barb: When I rule the world, (not that anyone has asked me to), everything will have a season. In North America, that will mean cider in September and October, pumpkin spice in November, and peppermint hot chocolate in December. No overlapping or rushing the seasons! I do treat myself to a pumpkin spice coffee (or maybe two) and a peppermint hot chocolate, but only in the appropriate month (as decreed by me). (They’ll be a lot more changes when I rule the world, btw.)

Julie: One of my favorite parts of the pumpkin spice craze is how much Liz loves it. Because, seriously, she’s a wicked healthy eater. And yet, she stands in line for her pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks, which have never seen a real pumpkin. But I digress. I love pumpkin pie, and was surprised that the craze doesn’t taste like that. I can take it or leave it. But eggnog latte season? THAT is my favorite.

Edith: Only in pies! Never in coffee! But I think I’ll try Sherry’s cake, too – except maybe I’ll make the spice cake from scratch and use canned pumpkin for the butter and eggs part.

How about you, dear readers? Fans of the pumpkin spice, or not?

The Devil is in the Detail

by Sheila Connolly

One of my earliest memories is of my father instructing me on how to remove Japanese beetles from rose bushes and kill them (in a glass jar of soapy water). I had the right qualifications: I was the same height as the rose bushes, so I was eye-to-eye with the beetles. I was three.

A couple of years later, he showed me how to putty a loose pane on the cellar window. (This is a skill I have put to good use in later years.)

My sister was born when I was four, and I have no recollection of her—not my parents bringing her home, or installing her in her new room, not my precious first sight of my only sibling. In fact, my memories of her don’t kick in until she was about one and started walking. (You might guess that I wasn’t happy about having a sibling, but I don’t now how I could have erased all memories of her.)

My sister was three here. The photographer came to our home to take the pictures. That I remember!

Why do our brains save some memories and not others? In hindsight, it appears that for most of my life my mind has been making decisions about what to keep and what to toss, without consulting me.

Recently I had scheduled medical check-up, and I had a long wait in the exam room. Of course I had a book with me, but I decided to try an experiment. Most of us who write or read mysteries might wonder how good a witness we’d make, expecially if we’ve seen a violent crime or accident, so I decided I would pretend I was going to be interviewed by the police and I had to provide as many details of the room as possible. So I started looking at the room I was in and paying attention to small things.

So far I have managed to remember: Of the room’s four walls, three were painted white, and the fourth was painted a darkish teal blue. There were three boxes of latex exam gloves, in sized S, M, and L. But the small size gloves were a different color. (Think this will solve any crimes?)

I have a strong memory for visual details, which is certainly useful to a writer. Writing that down reminded me of another memory, from when I was five and starting kindergarten. Since I was new to the school, a teacher tested me to see where I should be placed. One of the tests involved looking at a picture of a house and trees on a windy day. The teacher asked, “what’s wrong with this picture?” I looked at it and told her quickly that the smoke from the chimney was blowing in one direction, and the trees were bending in the opposite direction. I have no idea why I remember that particular event. (Maybe I should have guessed then and there that I’d be a mystery writer.)

As writers we need to use details to make our characters and their settings come alive to readers by tapping into our shared memories. We need not only descriptions of what is seen, but also of sound and smell and temperature. And actions too: writers need to recall, consciously or subconsciously, people’s expressions, the gestures they make under different conditions, how they move. All these details may not seem important in themselves, but put them all together and you create a fictional character and setting that readers can identify with.

But it’s also a balancing act: how much detail do you need to include, as a writer? Do you need to know that Cordelia put on a sweater? A pink sweater? Or her favorite sweater, the one that had once been a vivid magenta but which had faded to a kind of Pepto-Bismol pink, but she had kept it for years because she loved its matching pink socks with sheep on them? A writer has to make choices like that on almost every page. Leave out the details and you end up with a flat story; put in too many and readers lose sight of the story.

What details do you think are important in describing a character or a place? And how how much is too much when you’re reading?

A Wicked Welcome to Nikki Woolfolk!

Julie here, sweating in Somerville (where’s fall?)

I have met Nikki Woolfolk a couple of times, but know her best through Facebook. I love reading about her work as a Chocolatier, love of steam punk, and writing career. When I found out that her book, MISE EN DEATH, was coming out on October 15, I invited her to the blog so you would all get to know her as well. Welcome, Nikki!

3 Ways to Create Captivating Characters Without Bogging Down Your Plot

by Nikki Woolfolk

digital-cover-ingram (2)A tale of whodunit is what makes us pick up a novel, but what make us devour a story are the characters.

Creating engaging characters is similar to being given juicy gossip minus the risk to reputation. In mystery novels, our guilty pleasure of peeking into another life and sharing their worries is rewarded. The author invites us into the sleuth’s world through the relationships between secondary characters, setting, and their career. Those relationships act as a mirror for our main character and sometimes the reader themselves.

Secondary characters

The old adage of how a person treats the wait staff at a restaurant tells you all you need to know about them runs true for fictional characters. Whether it has two legs or four paws, readers learn about the main character by how they communicate with those around them. Instead of info dumping an author can use dialogue between the sleuth and secondary characters to show who they are while moving the plot forward.

Setting

Setting goes beyond a weather forecast. Setting is a time or a place that helps to set a mood for your readers as your characters navigate in the world they live, the cultural atmosphere and historical setting.

Growing up in the West coast, with a father born in the South and a mother born up North gave me a unique perspective. A perspective I was not aware of until I recently gave ARCs of my newest mystery, MISE EN DEATH, a historical culinary cozy.

I did mention the Louisiana summer humidity in the fictional coastal town of Honfleur, but to help immerse readers into the world I used Southern nuances. One way was in a name. Mister Jones. Mister Jones is a fellow student at the school, but his peers are called by their given name without a title.

A few of my New England readers pointed it out believing it an error. My Southern readers or those raised by Southern family did not give it a second thought and continued reading. In Mister Jones I am telling the reader the race of Mister Jones, sharing the cultural dynamics and hinting at the alternative historical universe I’ve created.

Speaking of alternative history…

While attending college I wanted to follow in one of my uncles footsteps and become a psychologist. My studies brought me to see motivation, patterns, behaviors and other factors come into play with people. In the end I chose a different career path, but I kept the “what if” aspect of my psyche when developing characters. The largest what if I chose to explore was the Civil War.

What if the Civil War never had happened?

How would this affect our society? Would women have further advances in career and their place in leadership rolls?

The world I’ve created is not filled with endless gadgets or the window dressing per se. This society and its culture, reflect the positive psychological outcomes made due to the women’s movement, Nat Turner’s revolt succeeding, and the promotion of equal education for all in the States.

Where MISE EN DEATH begins is decades later and the people still have the same fears and joys that connect readers. Cozy mysteries can be set anywhere but are always about the people living and working within the town.

Career

Often times readers are either wanting to live vicariously through the sleuth’s career. The reader trusts the author to draw them into the story, not just read it.

Writing my sleuthing heroine as a chocolatier working at a culinary school was my way to share what few are privy to. Enough people watch cooking shows and read recipes, but in MISE EN DEATH the reader gets to walk in sleuthing chef’s shoes, observe her relationship with her students and see students find their place in the world of cuisine.

In MISE EN DEATH solving the murder of the millionaire Madam Brookmeyer is of great importance to our sleuthing chef, but knowing why it matters lies in the heart of the school and its importance to the students and employees.

Characters are what a mystery story is about, but living in their world as they solve the crime is what keeps us turning the pages.

********************************

ABOUT MISE EN DEATH: 
Alex LeBeau, Chocolatier and chef instructor, wants nothing more than to give her almost grown son a quiet life and a place to call home. Settling in Honfleur, Louisiana, Alex can distance herself from her chaotic romantic past and association with the clandestine group Bellicose Solanum (BelSol).

Things might be looking up for her when she takes a job at a promising cooking school. Her contentment is short-lived when a famous millionaire of Honfleur is murdered during the school’s catering event on an airship.

As the body count begins to rise in an eccentric series of mishaps, all evidence points to one of her most beloved culinary students—her son.

If word gets out about the murder, the culinary school’s reputation is ruined, but most importantly Alex cannot let her son be found guilty for a crime he didn’t commit.

With the help of Josephine, the school potager and voice of reason, Alex hesitantly rallies up old friends from her checkered past to help clear her son’s name.

Armed with the fortune that might (or might not) favor the brave, Alex and Josephine race to find the killer before those nearest to Alex become the latest victims.

********************************

BIO: Nikki Woolfolk is a Professional Chocolatier, Author and active member of Sister in Crime, Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America. Nikki enjoys pulling readers into a humor-filled into a spectacular cogged and geared world.

While sought after for her informative Chocolate Tasting sessions at conventions, Nikki also uses her polymath talents to pen articles on the craft of writing, apply her computer science training to her New Adult Blerd Grrl series (Now That Your Joystick’s Broke), and her culinary and aviation knowledge to create a sleuth chef that cooks up Steampunk adventures under a digirible filled sky. (Mise en Death– a Bittersweet Mysteries series, RIVETED: a Collection of Steampunk Tall-Tales).

Get the scoop on upcoming books, chocolate and appearances. Add your email to our BOOKS & CHOCOLATE monthly newsletter NikkiWoolfolk .com.

Get answers. Get chocolate. Get hooked!