Bad Actors

Mysteries, even the lighter ones, touch on the darker side of human nature. There is a wrong to be righted, not just a puzzle to solve. Since I don’t write about murder, I alternate between what I think of crimes of the spirit and actual crimes. The antagonist is usually based on someone who made me angry, created a sense of outrage, or gave me the creeps. In The Calling, Mae Martin encounters a professor who appears to be unethical in his relationships with female students and colleagues, and there’s a dark spiritual power around him as well. Shaman’s Blues starts with missing people, one who may be connected with a ghost, and one who claims to read auras and gives strange advice. She was inspired by someone I met many years ago in Santa Fe and never forgot—because people seemed to believe her, despite the dubious nature of her guidance. The exploitation of others’ spiritual longings and desire for healing is a theme I explore often. Living in New Mexico, where alternative medicine and spiritual seekers are a big part of the scene, I’ll never run out of material. There are many excellent practitioners here, but there are some questionable ones as well.

Because of the hot springs, the land where my home town, Truth or Consequences, is situated was a healing place for the Apaches long before Europeans arrived. Visitors come here now for retreats and to recover their health and peace of mind. I set my most recent book, Death Omen, here, for that reason. Some of it takes place in Santa Fe and on the road, but much of the third act takes place in one of Truth or Consequences’ hot springs spas. The antagonist claims to be a healer and a visionary who can see past incarnations. If she’s not what she says she is, her followers may be risking their lives.

*****

Shaman’s Blues, book two in the Mae Martin series, is currently on sale for 99 cents.

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Who Saw That?

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Julia Kaminski, sister to the hero of the Adam Kaminski mystery series, is a photographer. A good one. She’s still figuring out how to make a living in her chosen profession. In an ideal world, she’d earn her money by showing and selling her photographs at galleries. But until that happens, she’s getting by by taking on gigs as a photographer at wedding or parties. And still holding out for her big break.

Julia’s photographs take on new meaning in book 5 in the series, A Pale Reflection. Julia finally gets a leading role, after appearing as a side character in the first four books, and jumps into the chance to use her photographic skills to help her brother Adam figure out whodunnit.

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The thing about photographs is they capture more than you might realize. You, the tourist, for example, sees a beautiful scene and snap a shot. It may only be later, as you go back to look through the photographs, that you notice someone or something in the picture you hadn’t previously realized was there. Or someone watching when you thought you were alone.

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In my family, my husband is the photographer. We just had the amazing opportunity to spend a glorious week in Rome. (Will Adam Kaminski be solving a murder in Rome in the near future? Stay tuned!).

Chuck, my husband, takes spectacular photographs of traditional scenes — statues, artwork, natural beauty and urban beauty. But he also finds joy in surprising details. For example, catching an unexpected eye.

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For us, it’s fun. We use these photographs to share our experiences with friends and family and to refresh our own memories of the time we spent there. And if we were trying to catch a killer, the “mouth of truth” pictured here would be a huge help!

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Of course, we’re not trying to solve a murder. For Julia and Adam, a photograph can mean so much more. Even the difference between life and death.

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Learn more about Jane Gorman and the Adam Kaminski mystery series at janegorman.com or follow her on Facebook. For some great photographs of Rome and her other travels, check out her Instagram page!

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Writing is My Life or My Life is My Writing by Paty Jager

Artful Murder 5x8There’s not a writer out there who hasn’t brought something from their life into their writing. Writing whether for pleasure or for money, deals with everyday life experiences. It has to. One can’t bring the full flavor of life into a story without allowing something they have experienced to come into the writing.

Everyday happenings: the pungent aroma of coffee brewing, the dampness of mist walking on the beach, the blinding glare of light from an oncoming vehicle at night, the sweet and sour tingle on the tongue while eating candy.  All of these everyday things are used when writing. The senses and what we see and feel around us are used to show the characters in the same or comparable settings.

When I started planning Artful Murder, book 10 in the Shandra Higheagle mystery series and my March release, I had to draw on past experiences. Far back experiences. LOL In Artful Murder, Shandra volunteers in a high school art department.

While figuring out who the murder victim would be and lining up suspects, I went back to memories of high school and found the one teacher who the boys made fun of and the girls found creepy.  He became my murder victim.

I made the victim worse than the real life teacher. And I gave the principal a reason for ignoring the complaints of the other teachers and students. Which, of course, added more suspects and widened the net of suspects to parents and significant others of the female teachers.

Students are more savvy to what is going on in their schools than teachers think. I used this and a person with a grudge to add even more fuel to the ffire that was about to explode at the school.

I can honestly say that I have more fun fleshing out my mystery books than I do the other genre I write. There is something therapeutic about putting the people or events that I’ve come across through my life into books and find my own justice.

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Constructing Clues

by Janis Patterson

I think we all agree that when creating a mystery we should play fair with our readers. Mixed in amongst our red herrings there should be some genuine clues that – with an astute reader and a little bit of luck – can be used to solve the case.

Playing fair, however, does not always involve playing nice. For example, what if it is determined that the killer is left handed, and there are two left-handed people in the suspect pool. Pretty much makes it a slam-dunk, doesn’t it? Or does it? What if our sleuth finds that one of the suspect pool is ambidextrous? Ah, now that complicates things.

I believe that until pretty much the end of the book there should be at least two rational, provable solutions to the case. Nothing is more boring than knowing by the third chapter who the criminal is and wondering why the sleuth cannot see it. Once that almost-the-end-of-the-book point is reached, however, there should be a clue or event that makes it clear to the fictional sleuth and the mystery is solved. Whether the author cares to make it obvious to the reader or not before the sleuth reveals all depends on the story and the voice of the author. In a truly great mystery, the reader will go ‘Ah! Of course!’ and suddenly the entire action of the crime is painfully obvious to the reader, step by step. All the clues are there, in plain sight, but the reader has not put them together.

I never said it would be easy.

As for realistic villains… First, there can only be one villain… or not. One of the best mysteries I ever read had two villains, working in concert while seemingly disconnected on the surface. Each had an alibi for at least half the incidents so neither could be considered suspects and the two had no obvious connection to each other. Only two small clues linked them together, and one was a red herring, but the real one was out there in the open and available to all. I had to read the book twice, making a special effort to note the clues the sleuth had pointed out before I could admit that it really was so simple… and so obvious.

Another thing about clues is that they should be reasonably accessible to the modern reader. I remember an early Ellery Queen (whom I adore) where the clue that solved the mystery was tied to a knowledge of the Phoenician alphabet. I mean – really? The Phoenician alphabet?? Who knows the Phoenician alphabet? If one did, the clue was fairly obvious, but really…

One thing that makes me wild – and which makes me throw a book against the wall and never buy anything from that author again is the clue (or solution) that appears suddenly without warning or reason from far left field. A character never seen or heard of before wanders in and announces the one fact that solves the mystery. That ranks right up there in the list of unacceptable endings with the convenient never-before-heard-of wandering homicidal maniac. Both ‘solutions’ are cheats that deny the reader the chance of solving the mystery himself. Even if the reader doesn’t want to work at solving the mystery, only to read a good story, it isn’t fair to pull the old ‘deus ex machina’ card. It’s cheating, and authors – good authors – should be above such shenanigans.

If you’re going to commit a crime, do it honestly.

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Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, Indiana

by Sally Carpenter

In finding a setting for my new series, I wanted to use a small town, as is typical in most cozies. But I didn’t want a generic town or the same city as every other cozy. What could I do that was unique enough to stand out?

 I recalled a town I’d visited as a kid: Santa Claus, Indiana. Being a Christmas junkie myself, it just made sense to model my fictitious cozy town after this one.

 The tiny burg of about 1,000 residents sits among the rolling, wooded hills of south central Indiana, just a few miles north of the Ohio River, the state’s southern border. The town was settled as early as 1846.

 According to local legend, in 1852 the good townsfolk were gathered around a potbelly stove after the Christmas Eve service to try and pick a name for their burg. A wind blew open the church door and revealed a charming scene of falling snowflakes and the sound of sleigh bells. The children ran to the door shouting, “Santa Claus!”

Industrialist Louis J. Koch, who had retired from his business in the nearby big city of Evansville, decided to take advantage of the town’s name. He set up the world’s first theme park—even older than Disneyland. Santa Claus Land opened its gates in 1946.

The park had wooden roller coasters, kiddie rides, live reindeer, a doll museum, artists making glassware, magic and puppet shows, performing animals (this was long before PETA), the Christmas Room restaurant, and a live, year-round Santa Claus, played for many years by Jim Yellig.

Over the years the theme park expanded into the current Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari water park. The park added sections related to other holidays: Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and a non-scary Halloween. Despite the growth, the park is still owned and operated by the Koch family, giving it a non-commercial, hometown appeal.

But the Christmas spirit doesn’t stop with the park. A giant Santa Claus statue stands at the town’s border. The streets have such names as Elf Lane, Fir Tree Circle, Jingle Bell Lane, Madonna Drive, Mistletoe Drive, Ornament Circle and Rudolph Lane.

The local Catholic parish is, of course, St. Nicolas Church.

Each year the town post office receives thousands of letters addressed to Santa. Many people send their Christmas cards through the post office just to receive a special postmark.

As a kid, I was familiar the town, about an hour’s drive from my home, because of the Santa Claus Campground where I attended the summer church camp (the camp is still in operation today with the same buildings). One year, mom picked me up at the end of camp and we visited Santa Claus Land. Unfortunately, we didn’t take any photos nd I don’t remember much about the park.

For my book I recreated my own theme park, the Country Christmas Family Fun Park, where my heroine performs in one of the musical shows. I’ve borrowed a few features from the real Santa Claus Land, but also added new elements of my own. I also had a blast thinking up such establishments for the town as the North Pole Café (a restaurant) and Lollipop Lanes bowling alley.

Many years ago I met a man named Noel. He was born on Dec. 25. I though that was a great name, so naturally I named my heroine Noelle, using the French spelling that I think looks more feminine.

I’m hoping readers will find Yuletide, Indiana as much fun to visit as the real-life Santa Claus, Ind.

 

 

 

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Small Change, Big Change

When I started improvising my current work in progress, I had a seed for a plot in mind, but it changed directions because of one small thing. My first-round chapter-by-chapter critique partner told me that the name I was using for a character’s business, Minerva Press, is a real publishing house. No big deal, I thought. It would be simple to change it. She would name her small press after a lesser-known goddess. Having already established that this character was part Finnish, I picked Loviatar, a Finnish goddess, from the pantheon of my search results, though I had no idea why anyone would name a business after her. She’s a dark goddess, the blind daughter of death, the bringer of scourges into the world.

Rather than reject this goddess, I kept reading about her. Something told me to stick with her.

One article mentioned that that Loviatar is popular with black metal musicians. What, I wondered, is black metal? At the time, I didn’t know the difference between black metal, heavy metal, death metal, thrash metal, melodic death metal and Viking metal, or that most of these genres even existed. The next thing I knew, I was watching such bands on YouTube and digging into Nordic black metal and the world view of that culture, finding some unexpected connections with (not kidding) the Romantic Movement and Shelley’s views on Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost. My character is a poet, and faculty advisor to a poetry club. With the name of her small press, her backstory changed. Her situation of danger changed. The motives of her enemies changed. The only thing that didn’t change is my taste in music; I didn’t become a fan of black metal when she did.

I may have a title for the story that’s evolving: Dark Goddess.

Strangely, many of the plot elements fit better into the new version of the story than the old one. Clues that I’d planted, puzzling myself, fell into place. If I’d finished the first draft before sharing chapters, it would be a different story. Maybe I still would have liked it, but it would have been lighter, less complicated, and more predictable. And I don’t ever want to be predictable. Even to myself!

 

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How My Rocky Bluff P.D. Series Has Changed

Because the entire Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series is now being re-published by a new house, I’ve been re-editing each book. In the process I’ve found some interesting tidbits and errors, besides the usual typos and repeated words.

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(My new publisher’s logo)

The overuse of ellipses: I could have been called the Queen of ellipses. Why one of many editors didn’t call me on this I have no idea.

Because the first book, Final Respects, was written long ago, most of police officer characters sport mustaches. They don’t come off until about the 5th book in the series. In the first two books, there’s a lot of smoking, even in the police department. In California, is it no longer legal to smoke in a public building. My new publisher wants this to stay as is.

One big error I found was that in No Sanctuary one of the lead female character is made a Vice-Detective, which she still is in the next book—but not in the one after that or any of the later ones. I figured out how to correct it.

I’ve found that I’ve changed the hair color of at least one of the characters—but that will be an easy fix.

Actually, though I am making changes along the way, I’m pleased with the writing and the plots.

One big thing that influenced how I wrote these books was having my cop son-in-law tell me that the police never work on one case at a time. Because of that, there are many things going on in every book..

I’m sure as I continue to work my way through the editing of the rest of the novels, I’ll find other errors. This has been an interesting process.

Though the first book, Final Respects, has the same cover used when it was first published, the subsequent books will have a new look.

Final Respects. best

And yes, I’ve written this series under the name F. M. Meredith. Why I used that is a whole other story.

If you’ve never read this series, once it’s all available once again, I hope some of you will try it.

Marilyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

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