Co-Writing a Mystery by Karen Shughart

If anyone had told me I’d someday be co-writing a mystery with 21 others, I’m not sure I would have believed them. Writing a book with so many authors seems like it would be an impossible endeavor. But that’s just what happened when some of us who are affiliated with Cozy Cat Press agreed to take on the project. It wasn’t the first time Cozy Cat has done this. A couple years ago they published Chasing the Codex, but that was before my time.

Wheel of Death cover

Since this was a first experience for me, I requested to take a chapter in the middle of the book. I wanted to read what the others had written before it was my turn, so I chose an early October date. As it turned out, I was assigned to write Chapter 13. Good omen? Bad omen? Who knew. We had a week to write our chapters, and I must admit that my initial excitement turned to fear as I contemplated the task before me.

When I told some friends about the project, one of them asked if we, as a group, had met to discuss the plot and characters. We hadn’t, we live throughout the US and Canada, so even a conference call would have been a challenge.

One of our most experienced authors volunteered to write the first chapter, and what a chapter it was! Glory Lockhart, the widow of a slain police chief, meets Tom Rankin on a blind date at a county fair and after winning her a large stuffed bear at the shooting gallery, he invites her to ride the Ferris wheel. At the end of the ride Tom is slumped over dead, shot in the back.  Thus, the beginning of Wheel of Death.

By the time it was my turn a lot had happened to Glory and with the investigation into Tom’s murder, and I was increasingly anxious about how I was going to follow in the footsteps of the 12 talented authors whose chapters preceded mine. Then, I took a deep breath and told myself that if they could do it so could I. One morning I awoke with an inspiration. As a teaser I’ll tell you it has something to do with Ludwig Bemelmans’ book, Madeline, you know, “In and old house in Paris…. In the middle of the night Miss Clavel turned on the light and said something is not right.” I wove that into my chapter and completed it in just a few days.

Despite differing styles, we managed to create an exciting full-length mystery. Our publisher, Patricia Rockwell, pulled it together by writing the last chapter and editing it, and the finished product is a charming Cozy with lots of plot twists, interesting characters and a great ending. As I look back, the project was a lot of fun, and, as it turns out, Chapter 13 was a good omen and just the right chapter for me.

 

 

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Ooooh, Shiny!

by Janis Patterson

I’ll admit it. I have a short attention span. I’m all too ready to be distracted by something new and different. Which, incidentally, is why I don’t particularly like series – either writing or reading. I want something new.

I never realized that this failing of mine extended to my own books. Several years ago I was fortunate enough to have two romantic/gothic/mysteries published by the incredible Vinspire Publishing. I was delighted to be with them, as both books are really rather special stories to me and Vinspire is indeed a gem among publishers. Although they are more than half mysteries, they were brought out under my Janis Susan May name instead of the Janis Patterson I now use for mysteries.

Both are set in the mid-to-late 1960s. DARK MUSIC is about a romance writers’ conference (yes, there were such things before RWA was begun in 1980) set in a Canadian resort hotel. Then there’s a freak blizzard trapping the conferees, including the heroine and her ex-husband; then someone starts to murder the romance writers one by one. It was a fun book.

The second book is ECHOES IN THE DARK, about a photographer with a broken leg who gets taken – reluctantly – by her ex-husband to an aged resort hotel in the Arkansas wilderness to join an archaeological dig he is spearheading. The heroine also has a head injury and is prone to hallucinations. When she sees a ghost that isn’t an hallucination, her troubles really start.

Before you ask, when I wrote these two books I was in the throes of a painful breakup of a long-time romance that had gone sour. Writing was cheaper than analysis, and sometimes killing people in pixels is excellent therapy!

These are both good books. I like them and enjoyed writing them. I didn’t realize how I had pretty much forgotten about them. Then Vinspire started bundling their books and asked what we were doing to PR them. I was ashamed to admit even to myself that I had done nothing in the longest time. I had put so much time and energy on writing new books (isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?) that these two little gems had simply faded into the background, a spot they really didn’t deserve.

So now I’m really doing a lot of publicity for them, but it’s making me think about how my – or anyone’s – career should be prioritized. I only have so much time. I have to write. I have to publish. I have a family and a life and other obligations.

What has to give?

What indeed.

 

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Filling the Stockings by Paty Jager

2017 headshot newI don’t know about other mystery writers, but Christmas for me is like plotting a great caper.

Nothing thrills me more than finding the perfect gift for a family member of friend. Then there comes the wrapping. It had to be as fabulous as the gift I purchased.  I want the person receiving the gift to know by how it’s wrapped with love and excitement that this is something they are going to like.

And don’t get me started on finding all the little items that will fit in each family member’s stocking… I think about their favorite colors, animals, hobbies, and all the things I know about them and slowly accumulate my bag of goodies.  Everyone gets the usual things like some chocolate and candy canes. I mean really, that’s a given in the stocking.  Males get slightly different items than the females. As the holiday grows closer, I put each person’s stocking items in separate bags to make it easier to help Santa out while filling the stockings. 😉

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When I was young, I’d shake and weigh every package under the tree that had my name on it. I’d sit for hours pondering what could be in the box. Part of the rush was hoping for things, you know you wouldn’t get, but could dream about.

At one point in my life, I was a horrible snoop. I’d unwrap my packages and others I couldn’t figure out and then wrap them back up. My mom became wise to that and started using a code so we didn’t know who the packages belonged to!

The anticipation of Christmas and what could be in the presents is what helped develop my love of a mystery. That and receiving the whole Nancy Drew collection of books.

If you celebrated Christmas with presents were you a snoop or someone who waited patiently for the time to arrive to unwrap your gifts? If you don’t celebrate Christmas with presents, what is something in your life that you waited for with great anticipation?

Whatever you celebrate this month, I wish you all a wonderful celebration and happy healthy New Year!

 

My latest audio book, Yuletide Slaying, book 7 in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series, is a perfect listen for this time of year.  You can find it at these audio book vendors or ask your local library to order a copy.

Yuletide Slaying

Yuletide Slaying AudioFamily, Revenge, Murder

When Shandra Higheagle’s dog brings her a dead body in a sleigh full of presents, her world is turned upside down. The man is a John Doe and within twenty-four hours another body is found.

Detective Ryan Greer receives a call that has them both looking over their shoulders. A vengeful brother of a gang member who died in a gang war is out for Ryan’s blood. Shandra’s dreams and Ryan’s fellow officers may not be enough to keep them alive to share Christmas.

Audio Links:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/audiobook/yuletide-slaying-shandra-higheagle-mystery-book-7-unabridged/id1441592155?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Nook: https://www.nookaudiobooks.com/audiobook/251575/yuletide-slaying

Audiobooks.com: https://www.audiobooks.com/audiobook/yuletide-slaying/356808

Scribd: https://www.scribd.com/audiobook/389993251/Yuletide-Slaying

Playster: https://play.playster.com/audiobooks/1001800000000251575/yuletide-slaying-paty-jager

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Yuletide-Slaying-Shandra-Higheagle-Mystery/dp/B07JP1L8QD

Audible: https://www.audible.com/pd/Yuletide-Slaying-Audiobook/B07JNKQNPC

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Who IS this person?

If you’re asking yourself that question, I’d like to answer it for you. I am brand new to The Ladies of Mystery Blog.

My name is Pat Wood. My pen name is Patricia Smith Wood, and I write the Harrie McKinsey cozy mystery series. Cozies have always been my favorite mysteries, so that’s what I wanted to write. As it happens, it took me only thirty years from the time I found my story idea to actually write the first book and be published. Obviously, I’m a bit of a late bloomer. So let me tell you (briefly, I hope) how it came about.

I was a small child during World War II. The 1940s were ablaze with fantastic radio dramas every night. I spent most of my evenings listening to these radio programs with my extended family. I could see it all in my mind as I snuggled up to the radio and heard the exciting stories acted out by talented actors. I became enthralled, and the writing seed was planted.

Right after the war, my dad became a Fort Worth police officer. Then in late 1950, he became an FBI agent, and we moved from Fort Worth to San Diego for his first assignment. By that time television was getting pretty big—especially in California. Now you could see the dramas unfold—mostly through old movies. Then in June 1951, we were transferred to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Wow. Talk about a change in scenery and culture. Albuquerque was just emerging from being a sleepy little town and waking up to the post-war boom. Television was a joke in New Mexico. We had one station in Albuquerque, and it was only on from 6 pm until 10:30 pm.

That’s when I became hooked on reading mysteries. I discovered the Judy Bolton mystery series written by Margaret Sutton. I started a collection of them and raced to the bookstore each time a new one became available. I decided someday I would write books like these.

I didn’t actually start on my first book until around 1978. I tried three different sets of characters and approaches before I got my inspiration. Then one day it dawned on me what I wanted to write about.

In 1949 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, there was an eighteen-year-old cocktail waitress who kept company with a lot of politicians from around New Mexico. Her name was Cricket Coogler. In the early morning hours of March 31, 1949, Cricket had been wandering around downtown Las Cruces for hours, having drinks with first one guy, then another. The last time anyone confirmed seeing her was around 3:00 am. She disappeared for 16 days. Then on Saturday before Easter, four young men went rabbit hunting in the desert outside Las Cruces. They stumbled upon the partially buried body of Cricket Coogler, and a chain of events was set in motion that destroyed the careers of many politicians. The rampant illegal gambling in New Mexico came to a halt. It also stopped organized crime from establishing their gambling mecca in New Mexico. Instead, they hightailed it out of here and went to Las Vegas, Nevada. All of this because of one young, headstrong girl.

One man was tried for the murder but exonerated. The FBI became involved when three law enforcement officers were accused of violating the civil rights of one of the early suspects in the case. They were tried, convicted, and sent to federal prison at La Tuna, Texas for a year. All three were released early.

Yet, Cricket’s murder was never solved. My dad used to talk about the case occasionally. I met people over the years who either knew Cricket or had lived in Las Cruces around the time of the murder. One of those people was a newspaper reporter who had lots of information from various people in the area. We talked about it often, and it stayed with me.

In 1975, my parents moved back to Albuquerque from Washington, DC. My dad had retired from the FBI in 1974, and he quickly joined the local Albuquerque chapter of the Society of Former FBI Agents. In the summer of 1978, my parents planned to attend the annual picnic the agents enjoyed. I was recently divorced, and they invited me to accompany them. It turned out to be one of those serendipitous events. I’ve been to many of those picnics since that one in 1978, but I’ve never again seen such a large collection of former agents. Many of them had firsthand investigative knowledge of the Coogler murder. I had the opportunity to interview them, and by the time I returned home that night, I was fired up. I had the theme. But I still didn’t know how to begin.

Over the next 23 years, I worked on it sporadically. I became frustrated and confused about the process. I needed help, but where does one who is approaching 60 find a teacher? Then, at just the right moment, I joined SouthWest Writers. That began my late-in-life writing education. I attended dozens of classes and seminars. I went to conferences. One writer critique group then another invited me to join them. Surrounding yourself with writers helps you become one—provided you pay attention to all they have to teach.

In 2008 I had the book half finished. I attended a conference where they announced a competition for best first mystery. The prize was $10,000 and a contract with St. Martin’s Press. I decided to finish the book and enter. I had four months before the deadline, and I wrote like a person possessed. But finish it, I did.

Edit it, I didn’t. You won’t be surprised to learn I didn’t win. But somehow, just finishing the book was a win for me. From 2008 until 2012, I edited. And I edited the editing. I snared people to help me edit, and after the 28thedit was finished, a remarkable thing happened. I was offered a contract to have The Easter Egg Murder published by Aakenbaaken & Kent.

And now you know a little bit about me—the new girl on the block.

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What a character!

by Sally Carpenter

I recently began rewatching an old favorite TV show from the 1970s, “Alias Smith and Jones,” about two bank robbers in the Old West who decide to go straight. This time around I noticed that much of the show—and its appeal—was based less on traditional western action (gunfights, brawls, horse chases) than on character development.

Some of the stories were complex and required close attention, but the focus was on the two charming, good-hearted protagonists and the fascinating characters they encounter each week. We have many long scenes of just two people talking—and it’s interesting.

TV shows of the 1970s were loaded with gimmicks and catch phrases (“Aaayyyy!” “Oooooo, Mr. Kotter!” “Who loves ya, baby?” “There ya go!”). Baretta had his cockatoo. Cannon was obese. Kojak was bald and ate lollipops. McCloud wore a cowboy hat and boots in Manhattan. Ironside was in a wheelchair. Charlie’s Angels was jiggle. Even people who never watched the shows recognized these characters, but does anyone remember the stories?

Columbo (my favorite TV detective) had his raincoat, rumbled suit, cigar, old car, lazy dog, unseen wife and loads of relatives. At one point Peter Falk complained that his show was overloaded with gimmicks. Yet “Columbo” stands out not only for the subtle clues and sharp dialogue but because Falk expanded the character beyond the artifices into a captivating person that viewers wanted to bring home to dinner.

Back to “Alias Smith and Jones.” The protagonists, Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, had no gimmicks, tics or catch phrases. Kid was a fast draw. Heyes possessed a silver tongue that could charm the skin off a snake, and was often the brain behind their schemes. But that’s as far as it went. Ben Murphy and Peter Duel (later Roger Davis) developed their characters through their actions and dialogue—as any good actor should do.

What does all this have to do with mystery writing?

Mysteries have a reputation of sacrificing character for plot. The emphasis is on solving the mystery/puzzle. Too often the characters are caricatures or stereotypes (the hard-bitten PI, the femme fatal, the overweight rural sheriff, the klutzy/ditzy female cozy sleuth who falls in love with the police chief) whose sole purpose is to serve the plot. Character depth or development often gave way for clues and plot complications.

Readers may spend time once with a book to solve the crime. But if the characters don’t grab them, they’ll never give the story a second read.

The appeal of cozies is in the character more than the crime. Each cozy series strives to create a loveable cast that the reader gets to know more with each new book. Readers watch a protagonist go through romance, courtship, marriage and maybe children. Young characters grow up and older ones may decline. Many cozies have the “goofy relatives” (which are often stock characters) who provide conflict for the protagonist.

A criticism of cozies is that they are more about the characters than the plot. I’ve seen cozies in which the body appears on page one and then disappears until the murderer, for no reason, blurts out a confession to the protagonist in the last chapter. Not what I call a mystery.

So the challenge in mystery writing is to balance both character and plot—that the crime carries through the entire story and is solved by the protagonist through fair play and sensible clues, and that the characters are fully developed personalities, unique but realistic.

All this with a minimum of gimmicks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What we are Thankful for.

Several of the Ladies of Mystery authors sent paragraphs about what they are thankful for to be put on this 5th Thursday of the month post.

~Marilyn Meredith~

Me at Caruthers Library 2

My family is at the top of the list. I have so many grands, great-grands and after Christmas, it’ll be 4 great-great grands, that I’ve quit trying to count them all.

They truly give me great joy—those I don’t get to see all the time keep in touch by email or Facebook. Three live in our home with us. They make us smile and laugh a lot.

Of course I’m thankful for having a comfortable home and living in America. And I’m thankful for the pleasure that being an author has given me.

Marilyn Meredith aka F.M. Meredith

Latest books:

A Cold Death, a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery

Tangled Webs, a Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery

Visit me at http://fictionforyou.com/

Blog: https://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/

~Amber Foxx~

standing twist better

I am grateful for New Mexico, for its open spaces and unique culture. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. I have good friends in a community that thrives on art, eccentricity, diversity, and creativity. I’m in excellent health, for which I am more and more grateful as I get older. My network of supportive fellow writers and my readers who appreciate my unusual take on the mystery genre are reasons to give thanks. Also, I’m grateful to the authors of every book I’ve ever enjoyed, but especially Born to Run, which changed my running life dramatically for the better as well as being a true story well told. And I’m grateful to the teachers who taught me how to teach yoga and who still teach and inspire me, and to the students who honor me by taking my classes. The more I list, the longer the list wants to become. I’m grateful for my fingers as they type and for the invention of word-processing software. Grateful for this moment. For this breath. For you, the person reading this. Namaste.

Latest book: Mae Martin Mysteries Box Set Books 1-3 

Visit me at: https://amberfoxxmysteries.com

~Paty Jager~

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I am thankful for a husband who early in our marriage understood my need to write. Children and family who also take my writing as seriously as I do. I am also grateful to be able to live in a rural area and still be connected to my writer friends and readers through social media even though it gives me fits quite often.  I enjoy our simple life, writing, reading, being with family and friends and sharing my imagination with others.

Latest book: Dangerous Dance: A Shandra Higheagle Mystery

Visit me at: http://www.patyjager.net

Blog: http://www.patyjager. blogspot.com 

 

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Why Blog?

Some folks say blogging is a thing of the past. Is it? Supposedly, places like Instagram have taken over.

Though I’m not sure blogging is the best promotion tool, I must admit that I love blogging. Many years ago, when I was a teen, I kept a diary right up until the time I started dating that cute sailor I met on a blind date. Though my life had certainly become more interesting, I no longer wrote in my diary. To me, blogging is like writing in a diary and sharing it with many others.

I not only write a post for this blog once a month, I’m a twice a month person on https://makeminemyster.blogspot and I have my own blog, https://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com where I post when I have something to share, and host other writers.

My biggest motivation for doing this is that I like to write. Yes, I write mysteries, and love doing that, but I also like to tell what’s going on in my writing life—and sometimes just life itself. On my own blog I can check and see how many people have taken a look at my posts, and I always respond to anyone who has taken the time to leave a comment.

I have used blog tours (I set them up myself) as promotion when I have a new book. And yes, there is always an uptick in sales. Not sure the sales balance against the time spent planning and writing all the blog posts—but I’ll probably keep doing it as long as I have new books.

Reading other people’s posts on various blogs is also something I enjoy—though I don’t have as much free time to do that as I once did. It’s amazing to me the great ideas different writers come up with to expound upon. Often I learn something, or pick up an idea I’d never thought of beforeSo what is your feeling about blogs? If you are reading this one, what motivated you to stop by?

And of course my most recent blog tour was all about my latest Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery, Tangled Webs. https://www.amazon.com/Tangled-Rocky-Bluff-Police-Department/dp/1938436601/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 Written as F.M. Meredith—who of course is me, Marilyn Meredith

tangled web front cover jpeg

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