All the Marys: Marian Stanley

BURED TROUBLES COVER.2Breaking News: Lisa Q. Matthews is the winner of Buried Troubles! Congratulations, Lisa. Watch your email for one from Marian.

Edith here, on my older son’s 32nd birthday (and the day I become a mother for reals) – happy day, Allan! I’m always delighted to welcome good friend Marian Stanley to the blog. I read the manuscript of her new book, Buried Troubles, and you’re going to love it! And she’s going to send a copy of Buried Troubles to a selected commentator.

In the book, Rosaria O’Reilly finds herself in grave danger from those who won’t let go of the past in this thrilling sequel to The Immaculate.

Still recovering from injuries sustained during her last effort in solving a murder, Rosaria is dragged into a new case with ties to the Irish community on both sides of the Atlantic. The victim is an Irish journalism student working on a research paper in Boston. His aunt, a friend of Rosaria’s, reaches out to her for help in solving the case. This does not go over well with Rosaria’s significant other, Boston Police Detective Solly Belkin, who wants Rosaria to leave the case in his capable hands. Instead, Rosaria travels to Ireland and is caught up in a dark web of ancient grievances, old crimes, and secrets that powerful people are determined to keep hidden forever.

Can Rosaria unearth these buried troubles and solve the murder before the killer buries her instead?

Take it away, Marian!

BURIED TROUBLES.COTTAGEMaybe someday I’ll write in a cottage in Western Ireland like Sheila Connolly’s. Like this one in Ballyconneely, Connemara—my grandmother’s home village, and that of the murder victim in Buried Troubles, a Rosaria O’Reilly mystery set in Boston and Western Ireland.

NANAEarly in the last century, my Gaelic-speaking grandmother, Mary Agnes Burke, left this remote village as a teenager—coming to a tightknit Irish enclave in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston. She got a job as a housekeeper in the rectory of (what else?) Saint Mary’s church, married James O’Leary, and moved to Malden where they raised six children. Not an uncommon immigrant story.

Charlestown, like some other Boston neighborhoods, was a waystation for many of these young people. It wasn’t Ireland, but almost—the customs, the music, the Church, the insular prejudices. And the history. Old memories and grievances from a small, poor island with one great and powerful oppressor never really went away. Buried Troubles is the story of some caught in the long reach of that history.

BURIED TROUBLES.OLD CHARLESTOWN

Old Charlestown

A successful rebellion created an independent republic in the south of Ireland, but the British kept six northern counties as part of the deal. That part of the deal and longstanding Catholic civil rights issues in the north resulted in a decades-long, savage war in Northern Ireland given the curiously genteel name of The Troubles. Stubborn pockets of Irish republican support for the insurgency flourished in certain American cities, including Boston. For some, the fervor for a unified Ireland excused much more than it should have.

Over time, most of the immigrants of my grandmother’s generation were too busy working and raising children to go to the hall for the ceili or dance. No one spoke Gaelic here. When homesick immigrants went home to Ireland for visits, they found it poor. They missed the comforts of their new country. (“Imagine,” my grandmother said, “We still had to start the fire for a little pot of tea.”) So, gradually, most of them moved on to new lives, a new history.

But some couldn’t. My paternal grandfather, Patrick McMahon, never spoke again to his youngest daughter (another Mary, of course) when she married a Charlestown man from a family said to have informed for the British. This was the worst sin—to be a “tout”, a snitch, an informer. Sadly, this particular Mary died in childbirth and we know little about her.

BURIED TROUBLES.CHARLESTOWNToday, Charlestown is a hip neighborhood, home to many young professionals with small children and dogs. Our own daughter Mary (what else?) lives not too far from old Saint Mary’s church where her great-grandmother was a housekeeper. Every day, she travels the same streets where Mary Agnes, James O’Leary, and my ill-fated Aunt Mary lived as young immigrants.

Our Mary is too young, too sensible, and far too busy to feel the presence of ghosts in this old neighborhood. For my part, I feel the spirits. I see the two Marys—my grandmother and the aunt I never knew—everywhere. I see new versions of them in young Hispanic immigrants in Chelsea and Everett. All in a new home, but carrying so much history.

Readers: If your family had a coming-to-America experience (not everyone’s was voluntary and some people were already here), what memories did they bring with them to America? What’s your own story of traveling to a distant land? I’m happy to send a copy of Buried Troubles to a selected commentator.

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Marian McMahon Stanley is the author of two Rosaria O’Reilly mysteries from Barking Rain Press – The Immaculate (May 2016) and Buried Troubles (June 2018) as well as a recent short story “Career Transitions” in the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.  Marian enjoyed a long international corporate career and, most recently, a senior position at an urban university. A dual citizen of the United States and Ireland, she writes in a small town outside Boston, where she lives with her husband Bill and a Westie named Archie. She is now working on the next in the Rosaria series The Mariposa Circle. www.marianmcmahonstanley.com

 

Guest: Judy Penz Sheluk

Edith here, writing from my last morning on Cape Cod. The talented Judy Penz Sheluk has a new mystery out and I’m delighted to host her on the blog again.

Golf and Writing: Not So Different As You Might Think

AHoleinOneWhen I was in my late twenties, my mother bought me a set of inexpensive golf clubs for my birthday, hoping that I’d take up the game and play with her. Or maybe she hoped I’d meet a nice guy at the golf club, since I was still single (much to her chagrin).

Whatever the reason, I tried golf a handful of times, but with no natural ability, no money for lessons, and no eligible bachelors on the horizon, the clubs soon found their way into the back of my closet.

Fast-forward about ten years, I’m married (mother greatly relieved), living in a small town an hour+ north of Toronto with a lengthy commute to my job as Credit Manager, and seriously in need of a hobby and some local friends. As luck would have it, Silver Lakes Golf and Country Club was located a couple of miles from my house, and they had a Monday evening Ladies League geared to “women of all ages and abilities.” I dusted off my pink golf bag, wiped down my irons and woods, and signed up.Opening Day

Fortunately, the head pro put me with a threesome in need of a fourth player. In addition to being respectable golfers they were extremely patient— I was truly terrible that first year. But I took lessons, went to the practice range a couple of times a week, watched golf on TV, and gradually improved from dismal to not-quite-as-dismal. The following year, I won “Most Improved Golfer” — don’t get too impressed. When you’re routinely scoring “double par” (72 for nine holes; 72 is typically par for 18 holes), and find your way down to the low 60s, it’s easy to gain the title of Most Improved. But I’ve been encouraged by less.

Looking back at my golf and writing journey, I have to tell you that they have a lot in common. I started writing in high school (longer ago than I care to admit), fell away from it, and went back to it in 2002 when I signed up for a Creative Writing workshop. A couple of short stories published in 2003 encouraged me to take additional courses, including a Certificate program in Fiction Writing. But writing, like golf, is a lot more than lessons. It’s putting in the hours, trying different techniques and sometimes failing, but sometimes, succeeding, too. When I signed the contract for my first book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, with Barking Rain Press in July 2014, I felt as if I’d just been awarded Most Improved Writer.

My mother always told me to “never forget where I came from.” And so, I leave you with the opening paragraph of the Acknowledgements page in A Hole in One, my latest release, and the sequel to The Hanged Man’s Noose:

Hole 3The idea for A Hole In One first came to me while I was golfing. As a longtime ladies league member of the Silver Lakes Golf & Conference Centre in Holland Landing, Ontario (the inspiration for Lount’s Landing), it seemed only fitting to design the third hole of the Miakoda Falls Golf & Country Club based on the third hole at Silver Lakes (although I promise you, there are no dead bodies in their woods, nor does a trail run directly behind it).

So yeah. Golf and writing. Not so different as you might think.

Readers: Any golfers out there? Where is your favorite place to play? If not golf, what do you like to do for your dose of fresh air?

An Amazon international bestselling author, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE and A HOLE IN ONE) and The Marketville Mysteries (SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC). Her short crime fiction appears is included in several collejudy-penz-shelukers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario. Find Judy on her website/blog at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews and showcases the works of other authors and blogs about the writing life. Find Judy’s books at all the usual suspects, including Amazon and Barking Rain Press.

Guest: Judy Penz Sheluk

Edith here, who can’t believe it’s December already. I’m delighted to have Canadian judy-penz-shelukmystery author Judy Penz Sheluk as our guest today to kick off the last month of 2016. Judy and I each had our debut novels published by Barking Rain Press, and we’ve both spread our wings and flown farther afield since. I recently read her latest, Skeletons in the Attic, and loved it. Take it away, Judy!

Regional Authors

When fellow Sister in Crime Edith Maxwell invited me to post on Wicked Cozy Authors, my first thought was, “but I’m not a regional author. I’m not from New England.”

That led me to think…what exactly is a regional author? While I personally don’t think someone has to be born and bred in a particular area to write about it—especially in our Internet world where we can travel virtually—it is vital to get the details right. Readers will be quick to point out any inaccuracies. That said, the setting in a novel should be treated as another (important) character. As writers, it is our responsibility to create a world that readers can believe in. A good book is like a passport to another place— not just the major landmarks, but also the tucked away places only the locals know about.

It’s also important to layer in regional idiosyncrasies. For example, a visitor to Toronto, Canada, will call it TOE-RON-TOE, each syllable clearly defined. A native Torontonian will call it TORAWNNO (spoken quickly; Torontonians speak really, really fast; there’s no southern drawl north of the border!). Those same visitors will also find a myriad of Tim Horton’s coffee shops. Canadians love their “Timmy’s.”

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Toronto’s Lake Ontario skyline

Agatha Christie was the master of creating atmosphere and place, whether she was at the English seaside, or solving a murder in Mesopotamia. I’ve never been to Minnesota, but when I sit down to read the latest John Sandford novel, I feel as if I’m returning to familiar territory. Tana French has helped me discover Dublin. And anyone who’s read Louise Penny has visited Three Pines, even though it’s a fictional town in Quebec.

The following shot is Newmarket’s historic Main Street. Marketville, the town in Skeletons in the Attic, is loosely based on Newmarket. The historic Main Street in Judy’s book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, is also loosely based on this street.

historic_main_street_newmarket

But what about me, and my novels? If I’m talking to a fellow Canadian, I’ll say, “My books are set in fictional towns north of Toronto,” whereas if I’m speaking to an American, I’ll say they take place in fictional towns in Canada. That’s probably because, if I am talking to someone in the U.S., they will invariably say, “Oh, I love Canada. I was there last year.” It may be they were in Vancouver, British Columbia (about 3,000 miles away from Toronto), or Montreal, Quebec (about 350 miles away), but it’s all Canada! Whereas, a Canadian will never say, “I was in the U.S. last year.” They’ll say, “I was in Chicago,” (or Dallas or Boston.)

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Above is Judy’s one-year-old Golden Retriever, Leroy Jethro “Gibbs” at her cottage (sometimes called a camp) on Lake Superior, near Sault Ste. Marie, in Northern Ontario. A regional difference: the US/Michigan side of the area is known as the Upper Peninsula.

I find it an amusing distinction…but it’s also much more than that. When I’m writing, I need to be ever diligent when it comes to introducing my readers to the world that I’ve created. Then again, the same came be said for any “regional” author…whether they’re in Canada, California, or New England.

Readers: Do you have a favorite regional author or region you like to read about?

skeletons-in-the-attic-front-coverSKELETONS IN THE ATTIC

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

Skeletons in the Attic is on a .99 promotional sale from December 1 through 15 on Amazon Kindle. It is also available on Kindle Unlimited and in trade paperback at all the usual suspects. Paperback: http://www.imajinbooks.com/skeletons-in-the-attic 
Amazon: http://getbook.at/SkeletonsintheAttic

An Amazon International Bestselling Author, Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016. Judy’s short crime fiction appears in several anthologies. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find Judy on her website/blog at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.

 

Guest: Marian Stanley

Edith here, freshly back from Malice! I’m delighted to interview Marian Stanley on the Immaculate. meblog today. She’s a fellow New Englander and her brand-new debut mystery is out from Barking Rain Press. The Immaculate is a mystery about the murder of Sister Mary Aurelius, an elderly Boston nun so tough that she was secretly nicknamed Spike by her students, and the determined search for answers by a former student whom the nun had mentored throughout her life.

I read the book and happily endorsed it: “You’ll be a faithful fan of Stanley’s work when you finish this tale of ambitions and betrayals, powerful figures with something to hide, and enduring childhood friendships – a story which grows more compelling page by page.” Marian is giving away a copy of the book to one commenter here today!

Immaculate bookmarksE: Marian, The Immaculate is your first mystery to be published and it’s a stunner. Do you have a number of books in the drawer or is this really your first book?

M: Very kind of you, Edith. No books in the drawer, though plenty of early drafts of The Immaculate all over the place!

E: When did you know you wanted to write crime fiction, and how did you get to today – release day?

M: When I was a kid, one of the things I did was to keep my father supplied with mysteries from the Winchester, Massachusetts Public Library. He’d sit in his recliner after work and go through those books like potato chips, so I would sweep seven or eight at a time off the library shelves and bring them home in bags. His tastes ran to hard-boiled mysteries – private eyes, smoking guns, luscious babes and broads, racetracks and fast cars. Not my thing, but the mystery and crime fiction part stuck.

I enjoyed two long careers, one in corporate and one at a university. When I was semi-retired from Northeastern University, I threw myself into various writing classes and workshops for two or three years. Every exercise that I submitted for class critique was related in some way to what would become The Immaculate. I’m getting on in years, and I figured that if I was going to get this thing done, I had better focus pretty tightly!

When I felt The Immaculate was ready and I looking for a good home for the story, I sent the manuscript to Barking Rain Press during its open submission period. Happily, publisher Sheri Gormley was enthusiastic, assigned me a fabulous editor in Melissa Eskue Ousley and we were off to the races!

I have to say that along the way the support and camaraderie of the New England Sisters in Crime organization and the Guppies group was immensely valuable, especially since I was pretty sure I had no idea what I was doing. Of course, some of the best things in my life happen when I’m pretty sure I have no idea what I’m doing.

E: You seem to know the dark side of the culture of nuns and the Catholic Church quite immaculate pix.3well. Is this your church, or the result of research, or both?

M: While I think there is a dark side to every hierarchy and organization – indeed to all of us, some situations are darker and deeper than others. Yes, I was raised as a Catholic and had a largely Catholic education. For my first two years at the small Catholic college I attended in upstate New York, I lived in Saint Elizabeth’s convent where, for their sins, a group of long-suffering Franciscan nuns had responsibility for fifty lively young women. In graduate school at Boston College, I worked in the office of the Dean of Graduate Arts and Sciences, who had just returned from leading the Jesuit university in Baghdad, and I was grad assistant to a Jesuit English prof and civil rights activist, a veteran of the Selma march. For a brief time later, I was the only lay teacher among a staff of teaching nuns at a Catholic school in Cambridge. So, yes, I feel comfortable talking about that world and I remember that time with great fondness.

Now that I’m a Unitarian – though I guess I’ll always be a Boston Irish Catholic at heart – someone asked me when I was going to start writing about the dark side of First Parish in my little town. I told him that I’m not sure that I have enough to work with – yet.

E: Your protagonist, Rosaria O’Reilly – love the name, by the way – is a single woman with some kind of high-power job. Tell us a bit more about her, and if there’s anything in your background that resembles her.

M: Oh, Rosaria is gutsier and smarter than I will ever be – and she probably has better hair. Her name – glad you like it – is similar to that of an old friend from Boston College I lost touch with over the years. Perhaps that other Rosie will read the book some day and be startled to find her name on the lead character in a mystery novel.

Like Rosaria, I worked internationally for a large company – in her case, high-end athletic shoes (see thread to Converse Rubber company below). In my case it was cameras and Polaroid. My territory for a long time was what was then called Emerging Markets – China, Vietnam, India, South Africa, Turkey and what we termed the “Stans” – the former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. So, what we see of Rosaria’s life in that respect is my own. As the story rolls out, we see Rosaria growing increasingly restless with her corporate life and feeling the pull of the old town she desperately longed to escape as a young woman.

Immaculate 2Rosaria married a man of some repute, though her mentor Sister Aurelius didn’t think much of him. Rosaria’s husband was content with this bright spunky girl from a factory town until she started to show some independence and have some achievements of her own which might even eclipse his – then perhaps not so much. So, they ended up parting.  A common story – though happily not mine. In The Immaculate Rosaria finds an unlikely, but better fit for herself.

Converse Rubber factory on the malden River

Converse Rubber factory on the Malden River

Rosaria grew up in a factory town, and I did too to some extent. Every summer, like Rosaria, I worked on the floor of the Converse Rubber sneaker factory on the Malden River, packing Chuck Taylors and enormous All Star basketball shoes. I did not have a lifelong mentor like the indomitable Sister Mary Aurelius, but she is an amalgam of various well-loved nuns, teachers, and priests in my life – including one called Spike.

Rosaria and I both enjoy the company and affections of a small West Highland White Immaculate.ArchieTerrier named Archie, who appears in The Immaculate. Finally, Rosaria’s close friend and fellow sleuth Nuncie, who is dying of cancer in the book, is modeled after my own friend Anna who didn’t make it either.

E: I felt like Malford was really Malden, Massachusetts – or maybe Medford. Is it a fictionalized version of one of those (full disclosure: I used to live in Medford and my older son was born in Malden), and if so, why did you disguise the town?

M: How nice that you are so familiar with the area, Edith. Yes, Malford is much like Malden with some of neighboring Medford thrown in there. To be honest, I gave the town a thinly disguised name so that I could take liberties with the description of its character, the street names, landmarks and geography. In that sense, Malford is indeed a fiction. Also, in the back of my mind, maybe Malford could be translated into “bad or dangerous crossing” – giving a little more meaning and weight to the name. I was born in Malden Hospital and spent my early childhood in Medford.

E: Tell us something surprising about yourself nobody would have heard.

M: Goodness, I’m an open book. Let’s see. Between Polaroid and Northeastern University, as I was nearing sixty, I did the AIDS bike ride from Boston to New York City. I’m not sure that I was the last rider to pull in over the finish line, but I could have been.  I do remember enthusiastic New York City police officers and shoppers on the sidewalk cheering me on at the end – “Come on, lady. You can do it!”  Afterwards, I went to the apartment of an old friend (from Saint Elizabeth’s) in SoHo and collapsed in a heap. Who knew there were that many #%$&*! hills in Connecticut? Oops – sorry, forgot this was a cozy blog and we don’t use those words!

E: What’s next in your writing life? Will we see more of Rosaria, or is The Immaculate a standalone?

Buried Troubles is my current WIP, set in Boston and Ireland. Rosaria is once again the protagonist. This time, she is caught up in the legacy of old grievances and secrets in Ireland that cross the Atlantic with its immigrants – leading to the murder of a young Irish student in Boston. Some of the characters in The Immaculate make an appearance in the new story, and I think there will be at least one more Rosaria mystery after Buried, perhaps more. Rosaria has a flair for adventure– I’m just along for the ride!

E: Oh, goodie! I’m so glad Rosaria will be back.

M: Now, my turn to pose a couple of questions to dear readers. A free copy of The Immaculate goes to one randomly selected commentator! (E: So make sure we know how to reach you.)

The Immaculate went through some heavy-duty and beneficial critiquing in all those writing classes, workshops and manuscript critiques that I took while the book was being formed. I appreciated and used much of the advice I received. Some advice, for better or worse, I didn’t heed. I’d appreciate your thoughts on two of those points that I considered and left behind.

  • I deliberately kept Rosaria’s age ambiguous, though she is clearly older. I got advice several times that the female protagonist in a mystery generally should be no older than her early forties. What are your thoughts on that advice?
  • Similarly, Rosaria does have a high-powered job, as Edith points out – though that changes in the course of the story. I was advised that this career or job was not a good fit for a female protagonist in this genre. Do you have an opinion on that, and would the suitability of the career – like age – be different if the protagonist were male?

Many thanks for your thoughts and to Edith for the opportunity to guest blog. It was fun!

Marian Stanley writes in a small town outside of Boston where she lives with her husband Bill and a Westie named Archie. She was fortunate in two long previous careers – the first in an international Fortune 500 company and, more recently, at a large, urban university. Marian attended Saint Bonaventure University, the University of Exeter UK, Boston College and the MIT Sloan School Executive programs. A dual citizen of the United States and Ireland, she is the proud mother of four adult children and a small pack of adorable grandchildren.

 

Guest: Jim Jackson and Left Coast Crime

Edith here, in surgery in Newburyport, but I posted this in advance! 

I’m so delighted to have James Montgomery Jackson (otherwise know as Jim), my fellow james-m-jackson (1)Barking Rain Press author, here as our guest today. I love his crime fiction and his protagonist Seamus McCree, and was more than pleased to blurb Cabin Fever for him. He just got back from attending Crimelandia, this years Left Coast Crime, in Portland, Oregon, and he’s treating us to his reflections, since none of the Wickeds were able to make it this year. Take it away, Jim.

Why I Went to Left Coast Crime

Before I get to my post, I want everyone reading this to look at the masthead. Do the Wicked Cozy Authors look like they are having fun, or what? I’ve been tempted to take up writing cozies just in the hope they’d be willing to add a guy to the group. I love hanging out with them online and at conferences. Alas, I write medium-boiled financial crime novels, and although my protagonist Seamus McCree hails from Boston, much of his story occurs outside New England. I guess I’m stuck being a wannabe. Thanks for having me as a guest. [Edith: Thanks! We do have fun…]

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When I was a rookie novelist, I signed up for multiple conferences and sweated bullets over panel assignments. Sometimes I received good ones; more often, as an unknown, my assignments were either the first panel in the morning after the awards banquet or the last panel of the conference when many people were already on their way home.

First Thoughts About Conferences

Initially, I went to conferences because common wisdom told me they were important for debut novelists. Eventually, my finance background kicked in and I contemplated the economic value of conferences for writers.

Left Coast Crime (LCC to its devotees) is a fan conference (as contrasted to craft conferences, which are primarily designed to help authors improve their writing). It’s not a pure split. At least a third of the attendees at LCC were authors and a number of the panels were directed toward them (how to use social media, what agents do, etc.).

The Economics of a Conference

I had to fly from the East Coast, stay at a hotel, buy restaurant meals, etc. To attend the three and a half day conference conservatively set me back $1,500. [Jan (my much better half) and I also did some vacationing around the trip, so I can’t provide an accurate number. Her costs aren’t included in my $1,500.]

No author is going to earn anything near that from book sales at the conference. My own “profit” from LCC book sales was in the very low two digits. So, having your books for sale at the conference can’t justify the expense of attending this conference—or any for that matter.

In this age of ebooks I notice a bit of a bump in ebook sales after I attend a conference. The additional royalties may be enough to pay for one overpriced hotel coffee (or soda, in my case).

It should be clear by now that expecting a positive economic present value is NOT a reason to attend a conference. Common advice suggests that authors get their first 1,000 readers one-by-one. On a per reader basis, attending a conference is a very expensive approach.

Why Authors Should Go

Economics should not drive your decision to attend a fan conference. The main reason to attend is because you are a fan of mysteries and the mystery community. (As a working author you have the added benefit that, assuming your tax advisor agrees, you can write off the adventure as a business expense!)

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The paper books Jim and Jan brought home from LCC. Not shown are the Kindle books!

Last year Jan and I enjoyed a two-week train trip surrounding our first LCC, which was in Monterey, CA. We had the pleasure of hearing Sue Grafton talk about her road to publication. Let me tell you, Sue does not pull punches. We also heard Tim Hallinan on a panel and chatted with him later on. Once home, Jan binge-read all of the books in his two current series, and since Tim was the guest of honor at this year’s LCC, she lobbied to come back. (Plus she had a childhood friend in Portland we could visit.) She won one of Tim’s books during his guest-of-honor interview, but since she’d already read all of them, he is sending her a pdf of his next as soon as he finishes the edits. She’s delighted. She could have bought the book when it comes out for a fraction of the conference price, but her conversations with Tim were priceless.

What about panels? Authors may pick up a tidbit or two of useful information at a fan conference. LCC included a panel of five FBI agents that was fascinating, and the Sisters in Crime sponsored a breakfast with three invited local police representatives who provided insight into their world as cops. There are always panels with doctors and lawyers where they ridicule how TV shows portray their work. You may even find a new favorite author, as Jan did with Tim Hallinan.

It all adds to your engagement with the larger mystery community. That’s the reason to spend money to attend a convention like LCC. You can meet favorite authors, learn of new authors, and visit with friends in the mystery community. You can make connections.

For example, at last year’s LCC “New Authors Breakfast” (where I did my one-minute spiel as a newbie) we met and enjoyed the company of Anne Cleeland. Anne and I have kept in touch and this year shared table-hosting duties at the LCC awards banquet, which was a lot of fun (but cost money for the ego trip.)

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From left: Jim, Tina Whittle, Christine Kling, Glen Erik Hamilton, and Lynne Raimondo

Oh sure, you may be dynamite on a panel or as a moderator. (Of the conferences I’ve attended, LCC’s panels stand out for me because moderators and panelists follow well-considered guidelines, and organizers set panel assignments sufficiently in advance of the conference to allow participants time to prepare well.) I am an excellent moderator (so-so as a panelist). I know a few people have noticed my moderating skills and bought a book or put me on a “want to read list.”

But I don’t kid myself that the exposure is worth the cost. There’s an endorphin boost to being selected for a panel. When my first novel was published, it was a time of great (and deserved) celebration. Being included in the “newbie” festivities was part of that fun.

So when you are considering whether or not to attend a fan convention, ‘fess up that it’s a money loser. Once you consciously make that recognition, you can attend for the good times, and the connections, and to recharge your spirit. And maybe even sell a few books.

Best of all, you too can kick up your heels and laugh and smile—just like the Wicked Cozy Authors!

Readers: Do you go to conferences? Authors – find it worth the cost? And what else would you like to know about Jim and his superb novels? Did you know his new novel, Ant Farm was chosen for the very competitive Kindle Scout program? Ask away – he’ll Ant Farm Coverpop in to answer questions throughout the day.

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. ANT FARM (Spring 2015), a prequel to BAD POLICY (2013) and CABIN FEVER (2014), recently won a Kindle Scout nomination. (Ebook published by Kindle Press; print from Wolf’s Echo Press). BAD POLICY won the Evan Marshall Fiction Makeover Contest whose criteria were the freshness and commerciality of the story and quality of the writing. Jim has published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, ONE TRICK AT A TIME: How to Start Winning at Bridge (Master Point Press 2012), as well as numerous short stories and essays. His website is http://jamesmjackson.com.

ANT FARM is a prequel to the Seamus McCree Mystery series. In it, financial crimes consultant Seamus McCree combats the evil behind the botulism murders of thirty-eight retirees at their picnic outside Chillicothe, OH. He also worms his way into the Cincinnati murder investigation of a church friend’s fiancé and finds police speculate the killing may have been the mistake of a dyslexic hit man. Seamus uncovers disturbing information of financial chicanery and in the process makes himself and his son targets of those who have already killed to keep their secrets.
Jackson’s crisp plotting keeps the story rolling, and his complex characters feel as real as next door. Get to know Seamus, one of crime fiction’s most intriguing sleuths, and plan to stay up late turning the pages. -Tina Whittle, Author of the Tai Randolph Mysteries

On Silence

Edith, on the frigid North Shore

As we head into busy, noisy holidays, my thoughts turn to silence.

Meetinghouseinside

Photograph of Amesbury Friends Meeting worship room by Edward Garrish Mair.

I am accustomed to silence. I have been a Quaker for twenty years. We sit joined in silence on Sundays, only occasionally broken by a message someone among us feels moved to share. Not everyone is comfortable with this form of worship. At one time I brought someone to Meeting who fidgeted his way through the hour. He’d been raised a high Episcopalian, and church for him meant somebody else creating an hour full of sound and activity.

At home, we hold hands before meals for a moment of silence, which for me is always filled with blessing and gratitude, and which I usually want to continue for longer than my hungry partner does.

When I walk, I don’t listen to music or news through earbuds and I rarely walk and talk with others. While it’s not exactly silent, I have the birds and rustling leaves to cushion rivewalkfallwhatever thoughts might arise out of the quiet solitude; sometimes those thoughts are plot inspiration, which only happens when I’m out alone. I treasure my long walks up Powow Hill or out along the Powow River on the rail trail.

Silence is perhaps most valuable when I’m writing, though. I live with someone who is fond of playing music from his large and eclectic CD collection pretty much all the time. We also both like to listen to NPR news and talk shows.

But I find that I have to turn it all off (and ask him to turn the music volume down) when I want to write fiction. I need to hear the characters’ voices, to be able to heed their thoughts and intentions. For this, it has to be quiet. Preferably I’m alone in the house, but living with IMG_2925a self-employed person, that doesn’t happen very often. I’m fortunate to have a lovely office of my own with a door that closes tight, though. And I use it!

Oddly, I am able to write in coffee shops. Maybe it’s so much bustle that it turns into white noise.

(A version of this post appeared on my first blog in 2010.)

Readers: What about you? Do you need quiet for your creative endeavors? Do you prefer a bustling noisy surround? Or a mix tape?

Inspiration

Edith: Delighted to have a new book out! Giveaway to a commenter today, too.

Thanks for all the congratulations, friends. It’s a huge thrill to have the second Lauren Rousseau6x9-speak-murder book out, at last. Speaking of Murder, the first book, was my first completed mystery novel, and it will always have a special place in my heart.

I loved writing what I knew: I have a PhD in linguistics and remember the academic world well. I’ve been a Quaker for a long time, and was intrigued by how I could work that aspect into Lauren’s life without letting it take over the story. And her boyfriend Zach is a video forensics expert, using software that I used to write the manuals for.

With book two, Bluffing is Murder, Lauren  is on summer vacation at home in a fictionalized version of Ipswich, Massachusetts, where I lived when I wrote most of this book and all of the first. It’s a lovely place to be, with salt marshes, quirky characters, and one of the most beautiful beaches in the state. Lauren’s academic life doesn’t play as big a role in this book, but her facility with languages definitely does.

CraneBeachSeveral critical scenes in the book are set either on a fictionalized Crane Beach or at the Crane Estate, called Holt in the book. The Crane mansion, built in 1924, is a magnificent building now used for tours and weddings.

Richard Crane was a plumbing magnate who spared no costs to build a summer retreat away from the oppressive midwestern heat of Chicago. Parts of the building and its decor remindCraneMansion me of the opulence of Hearst Castle on the opposite coast. The fancy shower heads and sinks could fit into any modern house and all the toilets still work ninety years later.

I had the good fortune to go on the “Hot and Cold” tour a couple of years ago, which takes place in the back halls and stairways of the mansion, the realm of the maids and butlers. It was fascinating. We explored the pantries, the trunk room, the furnace area (hot), the rooftop, the ventilation system (cold), and much more. We traversed a hidden spiral staircase. We peeked into the old lift used to bring wood upstairs for fireplaces and checked out the dumbwaiter in a pantry the size of a small apartment.

Boy, did I come away with ideas. What if a body was stuffed in a trunk in the cellar? How about if Lauren was lured into the safe, a green-felt lined room used to store the considerable silver collection? Once the heavy door swung shut and the combination twirled, she’d have no way to call for help.

The antique elevator looked intriguing and dangerous with its door that resembled a jail cell door. That wood lift, with its pulleys, ropes, and rotting infrastructure. And the slanted concrete slab that coal slid down? Oooh.

So you’ll have to read the new book to see out how the mansion plays a role. I’ll give away a copy of Bluffing is Murder to a lucky commenter today! And did you know you can order it from Barking Rain Press for thirty-five percent off? Use this code at checkout: 96DA2F590CD7

Readers: What’s your favorite academic mystery? Mystery set on a coast? Ever read about a body stuffed in a trunk or locked in a silver safe?