That Was A Close One!

By Sherry — feeling fortunate

A couple of weeks ago I helped author Donna Andrews with a yard sale. It gave me a chance to put my money (or Donna’s in this case) where my protagonist Sarah Winston’s mouth is. Garage sales are a lot of work and in this case Donna had things from her grandparents and parents along with things of her own to sale. The picture below is while we were setting up. You can read Donna’s take on the event here!

What do you want to accomplish? The first thing I asked was what was more important, making money or getting rid of stuff. Donna was more interested in getting rid of things than making money. The reason to ask that is for pricing and bargaining the day of the sale.

We got together a few days before the sale to price. Donna had already arranged a lot of like items together in her garage. There was so much stuff we decided not to individually price things (even though Sarah usually does). Donna made signs for things like albums $1.00, glassware $2.00, etc.

Vintage Jewelry Donna also had a lot of vintage jewelry. We used box lids with towels in them to arrange the jewelry. A friend of Donna’s who sells jewelry had been over to take a look at things to make sure nothing was too valuable. As we arranged the jewelry I would flip it over to look for signatures. Also to see if there was backing on the jewelry – that is usually a sign there aren’t gemstones set in the piece. I took some of the pieces home to check prices on eBay. Below is an example of the backing from a brooch I bought last spring at a sale:

Open! The weather the day of the sale was perfect, not too hot and a gentle breeze – almost unbelievable for August. Garage sales make for interesting people watching and become a study in human nature. Yes, we had early birds. The starting time was 9:00 but by 8:15 we were open for business. Donna did scare one woman off at 7:45 when she told her she could look around as long as she helped carry out a few boxes.

Patterns Donna had stacks of patterns from the forties, fifties, and sixties. I’d looked up prices on eBay and thought she’d probably have more luck selling them there. But we stuck them out anyway. We sold one. However, so many people stopped by to look at them. And it was lovely how many people told me stories of their moms or grandmothers making clothes. It was one of the best parts of the sale for me.

Hipsters Two young men came by who were interested in the albums Donna had for sale. She had nine boxes with everything from rock to Irish folk music to classical in them. The hipsters were interesting to watch because first they sorted through the albums in the garage setting asides ones they were interested in. Then they brought them out into the light and took the album out of its cover to look for scratches. After that they made their final decisions about which ones they wanted. At $1.00 a piece they were a great bargain. One of the guys said he loved Irish music because he could jig around the house to it. The image of this bearded hipster doing a jig still makes me laugh.

Culture clash Northern Virginia is a very diverse area but twice now I’ve seen how cultures can clash at a yard sale. A woman was looking a jewelry and had made a little stack to one side. Two other women swooped in and tried to crowd her out. They immediately went to her little stack. I intervened and explained that was spoken for. Then I bagged it up for the first woman. Since she was still shopping I took the jewelry, put it in a box with some other things she wanted, set the box to the side and covered it.

About fifteen minutes later one of the women brought me a couple of bags full of costume jewelry and asked me how much. I was holding one of the bags and flipping it back and forth to see what all was it in. All of the sudden the woman blurted out, “It’s her bag” and points at the first woman. Then she said, “I took it from there” and points at the box where I’d set it. A confession – if only Sarah could get information so easily! I rolled my eyes and took the bag back over to its spot.

Oh, boy. So here is my confession – Sarah would be so upset – it’s the big one that almost got by me. A woman was looking at the jewelry as I was hovering nearby. She holds a necklace up and says, “This is a Victorian mourning necklace.” I take it from her, flip it over, and sure enough there is this amazing woven hair. My first (and continuing thought) is how the heck did I miss that when I was looking through the jewelry?!!!!

I told her I’d have to look up a price. On eBay similar pieces were selling from $50 to $600! And those pieces only had a swirl of hair nothing like the intricate piece I was holding. Plus I wasn’t sure Donna would even want to sell it. When Donna finished up with the person she was talking to, I took it over to her and explained the situation. Of course she didn’t want to sell it! Fortunately, the woman understood. If I hadn’t been standing right there or if she hadn’t said anything it would have been gone for a couple of dollars. Ugh, I’m still upset!

All of us go to garage sales to find a treasure for next to nothing. But that was a close one!

The End By the end of the sale, Donna had made some money and gotten rid of some things. What didn’t sale was sorted into piles to give away or sell on eBay. Garage sales are a lot of work, but you can also learn something unexpected.

Readers: What in your life has taught you something unexpected?

Wicked Wednesday: Cars, Cars, Cars

Every sleuth must have a vehicle, from Nancy Drew’s blue roadster to Lord Peter Wimsey’s Daimler. (You can take a quiz to match famous sleuths to their cars here.) Stephanie Plum, as we know, can’t hold onto a method of transport. During the series her vehicles, both owned and borrowed, have been stolen, burned, exploded, repossessed, lost, crashed, and defiled by animals more than thirty times.

Wickeds, when it came time to choose a vehicle for your sleuth, what did you pick and how did you choose?

Edith: My farmer Cam Flaherty has an old Ford pickup truck she inherited from her great-Fordpickupuncle Albert. She’s a farmer, she has to have a truck! Robbie Jordan in southern Indiana has an old Econoline panel van. I have no idea how that popped into the series, unless it’s because she wanted something she could easily put her bicycle into, but that’s what she drives. Maybe it’ll break down in the next book and she can get a Mini-Cooper like Jessie’s (yes, I do covet that car) or a little Prius C with a bike rack. Rose Carroll in 1888 doesn’t own a buggy or a carriage, but she rides a bicycle around town, and her beau David drives a lovely Bailey buggy.


Jessie: Dani Green is tiny and she drives an MG Midget that ends up being attacked by some exotic wildlife in Drizzled with Death.

My sleuth in Live Free or Die, Gwen Fifield,drives a Mini like I do. Truth be told, she got hers first because I had always wanted one but still had too many children at home to fit them all into one.

In my book that will be releasing in September, Whispers Beyond the Veil, protagonist Ruby Proulx has more experience of carriages, carts and bicycles than automobiles since the story is set in 1898.

Liz: Stan’s got an Audi left over from her corporate days. Although many of her former colleagues purchased cars that would look good to whoever saw them, she genuinely likes the Audi brand. However, she doesn’t drive as much as she used to, since most everything she does is within a three-mile radius. She’s become accustomed to walking or biking around, especially since she has to work off all the pastries from Izzy’s gourmet sweet shop. Or driving around with Jake in his truck. She’s thinking about getting a new ride, though, and wants something that can easily fit their growing furry family and deal with winter. She’s got her eye on a Subaru Crosstrek.

Barb: Julia didn’t have a vehicle in the first two Maine Clambake Mysteries. She’d come from Manhattan and was taking the family tour boat to work everyday, so she borrowed her mother’s car when necessary. However, after she cracked up Mom’s car twice (once her fault and once not), her mom told Julia to get her own transportation. Thus, they both followed a time-honored Maine tradition and bought “winter beaters,” old cars intended to be disposed of as soon as an expensive repair becomes necessary. Julia’s Caprice barely works. The heat is intermittent and it can’t be driven very far, so I think there may be a new vehicle in her future.

scionJulie: Ruth Clagan drives the same car I do–a 2004 Scion xB. Green. I love my car, which has less that 50,000 miles on it. It is perfect for a clock maker, since you can haul a lot. When I bought my car, my family made fun of me, until they sat in it. The headroom is amazing. Ben, the handsome barber next door, drives a Volkswagen bug from the 70’s named Betty, which also echos a car from my past–one that my college roommate owned. You couldn’t turn the heat off, so in the summer I’d stick my feet out the windows when we took rides down to the beach. Ah, memories.

suburbanSherry: Sarah Winston needs something big to haul around all of her garage sale finds. When I had to decide what kind of vehicle to give her, I thought about all the fun trips my friend Nancy and I had going to garage sales in her white Suburban. So that’s what Sarah has. Hers is about ten years old but it’s taken her on some exciting adventures.

Readers: Do you have a favorite fictional car?



By Sherry who is so happy to see blooms on the hydrangeas this year!

I confess, writing book three in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries was more like wrestling a greased pig, than writing a novel. I’ve tried to figure out why and boiled it down to three things.

1. Major change in the plot. When I wrote the proposal for the series the synopsis for book three was this:

Winter in New England means no more yard sales and Sarah Winston had to find a way to keep her fledgling business afloat. Sarah decides to expand her business to include estate sales but her lack of experience makes finding jobs tough. Sarah has to team up with Lexington antique dealer Barney Hightown because competition is stiff. But not as stiff as Barney Hightown’s body when Sarah stumbles over it in a remote barn when she’s bidding on a project. Sarah must find the killer before he finds her.

IMG_3569When it came time to start writing All Murders Final last fall, I felt like there were other books out there about estate sales and wanted to try something different. Two years ago my friend’s daughter, Amanda, told me about a virtual garage sale in her town. It was a site for re-selling high-end clothing that was in good condition. Amanda told me when people posted clothes that weren’t nice enough, comments got catty. That intrigued me. Around the same time a new neighbor, Ashley, moved in across the street from me. She is the administrator of a local virtual garage sale site that has 6,000 members. Her stories went beyond catty to actual threats. Be still my fiction writing heart.

So I wrote a new synopsis. Sarah still has the same problem with what to do in a New England winter but this time her solution is a virtual garage sale site. Problem solved, right? No, of course not (otherwise there wouldn’t be three things on the list.)

2. Book launch. Several authors, including Jan Burke and Ellen Crosby, told me: You are only a new author once. I pondered what they meant but didn’t really understand until recently. The weeks leading up to a launch are filled with emotional ups and downs. I couldn’t wait to see Tagged for Death on the shelves, but I also dreaded being reviewed. In a panicked moment I wondered if it was possible for me to buy every copy and keep them for myself. It almost felt like I was taking my beautiful baby out in public for the first time and complete strangers could come up and criticize her: that nose is really big, why doesn’t she have more hair, that outfit is awful. You get the picture.


Tagged for Death book launch.

And in the midst of all that anxiety and joy, you have blog posts to write, appearances, and books to sale. Fortunately, all the good things: the book is on shelves across the country! People showed up to the launch party! Strangers bought my books at signings! Tagged was nominated for an Agatha! outweighed the stupid anxieties. But all of it takes time away from writing especially if you are a pantster with procrastination tendencies like I am. (I don’t know what I’d do if I had a day job like Liz and Julie do!)

3. Is this it? syndrome. My contract is for three books. Of course I hope my contract will be extended but I won’t know until after book three is done and turned in. So just in case the contract isn’t extended, this book, book three, has to be the best book I’ve ever written (not that I wouldn’t want it to be even if I knew I was writing ten more). It has to wrap up the story arc but at the same time it has to leave room for future stories. There are relationship decisions to be made. There are people to kill and mysteries to solve. There’s the launch of the second book and the continuing promotion of the first. No pressure. (Wickeds and other authors out there with more than one series, I don’t know how you do it.)

Before and after  Barb Goffman's editing!

Before and after Barb Goffman’s editing!

Last Friday morning around 11:02 the wrestling match with book three was over and I won — with a ton of help from freelance editor Barb Goffman. Oh, it still needs to be read through by my beta readers and polished so Sarah isn’t shuddering or shivering every other sentence. But I finally felt like I wrapped my arms around that greased pig and lifted her triumphantly into the air. I spent Friday afternoon reading for pleasure. I had dinner with a couple of friends, went to a book signing for Kathryn O’Sullivan, and did a Skype meeting with a book club in Illinois. And all I can think today is I am one lucky lady!

Readers: Have you ever had a hard time with a project that you thought might be easier the third time around?

Wicked Wednesday: Themes in Cozies

It’s Wicked Wednesday, when we all weigh in on a topic. This month, we’re talking about themes in cozies. The underlying, harder-to-talk-about themes, over and above the fun stuff like food, pets, farming, and the like. So Wickeds, what are your series really about?

Til Dirt do us Part CoverEdith: I hate questions like this, but I’ll go first and give it a stab (uh … figuratively). The Local Foods Mysteries are about a woman having the courage to change her life and herself. Cam Flaherty is a geek who uses her smarts to figure out farming, but when she realizes she has to connect not only with plants but with the people who eat them, she goes deep. Even though it doesn’t come easy to her, she gradually figures out how to care for her fellow humans, one customer at a time. Is that a theme?

Boiled Over front coverBarb: I love this topic. I remember a New England Crime Bake where Dennis Lehane said, “There are hours and hours  of police procedurals on TV. Every plot that can ever exist has been done. So if you’re going to spend a year writing a book, make sure it’s about something.” All of my Maine Clambake mysteries have examined themes of insider and outsiderness, of feeling a part of something and feeling excluded. I think the small town setting that is common in cozies really lends itself to that.

maplemayhemJessie: Mine are about family and the complexities of those relationships. I write about finding ways to grow into the sort of person you want to be while keeping and deepening life’s most important relationships.

Tagged for Death mech.inddSherry: I love the Lehane quote, Barb! One theme in the Garage Sale series is finding your way and who you are after a life-changing event, in the case of Sarah, a divorce. She has to figure out who she is after being a military wife for nineteen years. The series is partially set on a military base and it looks at what life on a base is like.

Liz: The Pawsitively Organic Mysteries tackle one of my favorite subjects: animal A Biscuit, A casket.inddwelfare. While good animal nutrition is the main theme, I also write about animal rescue in the books. It’s a topic that I feel very passionate about, and it’s fabulous to be able to translate that into mysteries.

Julie: The ClockShop series that will be coming out next year is about the importance of community. Like all cozies, there is a disruptive event that attracts that world, and the protagonist rights it. But she is also going to be building up the community over the entire series.

A Box Full of Memories

By Sherry Harris

In Northern VirginiaIMG_3954

I have a box of things I’ve gathered over the years. It’s not a pretty box and I’ve changed it out for a bigger one occasionally but it holds an odd assortment of things I love. I’ve carried it with me over all our military IMG_3962moves — anyone from the military will recognize the packing tape on the box. It includes:  a scarf my mother-in-law gave me, a collapsible cup from a fourth grade trip to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, a strand of “pearls” in a blue felt case — a gift as we left sixth grade, my sister’s bubble-head Barbie, and a box I decoupaged with a card I loved.

IMG_3959The crooked “M” came from our Rambler. We were on a car trip between my fifth and sixth grade year. We left Davenport, Iowa went to Niagara Falls, New York City, Washington DC, Williamsburg and Jamestown, Virginia. On the way home we were in a car accident in Louisville, Kentucky. The “M” ended up in the street.

IMG_3957The yarn dolls are from the Amana Colonies in Iowa. I’m not sure how they came to live in an old matchbox but they’ve been there for years.

IMG_3960I made this box when I was four at a family church camp on a lake somewhere in Iowa. Inside is a cap gun, a pin from the United Nations, my Brownie pins, an enamel necklace I made in fourth or fifth grade art class, a bracelet that always pinched and other assorted things.

My memory box made me wonder what my character Sarah Winston would have in her memory box. She grew up in Pacific Grove, California next to Monterey. Sarah has a bag of sea glass she picked up on walks along the Pacific Ocean and an old salt shaker full of IMG_3964sand from the beach there.

IMG_3965Sarah went to her first yard sale when she was in second grade and bought this little toy trolley.

IMG_3966She also has an album that was her great-grandmother’s.

IMG_3967These are other things Sarah bought at yard sales or picked up on her travels.

What do you have in your memory box? What does your character keep?