Life and Other Troubles

by Janis Patterson

I almost forgot this blog post. Then when I remembered it was due I almost blew it off. Almost. Such an action was tempting but having been trained in professional journalist ethics by my father totally impossible. One simply does not do something like that – he would have risen from his grave and gibbered at me. I was taught early (like around nine or ten, when I first started working in the family agency) that there was just one acceptable excuse for missing a deadline. Death. Yours.

I’ve probably told you that before, and since it is such an integral part of my blood, bone and genetics, will probably tell you again in the future.

However, that does not mean life does not get in the way. After returning from a very intense conference held across the country from us, wrestling with the Book That Will Not Die (and which is due 1 September), working to get my new newsletter set up, working with my producer to get new episodes in the can and revivify my unfortunately moribund YouTube channel (which will probably debut in late October), dealing with the most exhausting illness a wife can have to deal with in her husband (the dreaded Man Cold), trying to get at least half a dozen books ready for release/re-release (yes, I’ve been disgracefully lazy) and prepping for a Very Big Trip it’s small wonder that this column is somewhat disjointed.

I would really rather talk about our Very Big Trip, but for various reasons can’t at the moment. Suffice it to say that it is a working trip for me (research for a new book, and probably more than one), multi-continental and probably very physically taxing. Sadly, I am now of an age when physically taxing is much more of a problem than it was in previous decades.

So even though I can’t tell you about our Very Big Trip now, I will be making detailed notes every day (even got a new travel computer – a used MacAir – to take with me just for that purpose) and promise to tell all in the first edition of my new newsletter. You can subscribe either by going to my website or by going to https://bit.ly/jsmnews – either way I’ll give you your choice of a mystery short story or a short romance novella – and you’ll get the entire story of our Very Big Trip as well as a schedule for new releases.

So now I must either return to the fray with The Book That Will Not Die or keep going through my closet to see if I can assemble a wardrobe suitable for the trip without having to go shopping. Unfortunately, I do have to go look for good hiking boots. My old ones are sadly indestructible, but too heavy for all-day comfortable wear. I did order some pink ones, but while they are cute I’m beginning to think they just aren’t right for the trip. Decisions, decisions…

I have decided that for the moment I will work on The Book That Will Not Die. The characters are behaving very badly and not doing anything I tell them. I can deal with a sick husband, and an upcoming Very Big Trip, and a superannuated dishwasher which is on the cusp of having a breakdown (if it doesn’t give me one first!), but my father’s child cannot take the insult of misbehaving characters. Authority must be maintained!

I will let you know what happens.

Titles- where do they come from?

Ask any writer and they will each give you a different answer to where they get the title for a story, book, or article. Most will even say they come up with the title differently for each story, book, or article.

So how does that tell you where titles come from…it doesn’t. From talking to other writers and reading the struggles they go through to find titles, I can tell you there is no set way a writer comes up with the words that are on the front of their book or draws a reader to their story or article.

If the writer is published with a traditional publisher, they have no say over the title. The publishing company decides what title will go on the book based on past book sales. Not sales by that author but by all the authors in their house and what titles readers were drawn to.

A self-published author can give their book a title and it will stay with the book. We don’t have the algorithms that the traditional publishing houses have. But we can google the title, see if there are any others like it. Then we can see if the words in the titles are used in top selling books. And so on. If you are a writer who tries to piggyback off the top selling books.

For me, the title either comes as I am “stewing and brewing” the story –this is where I’ve come up with a premise, or the means of murder, or a unique idea I plan to incorporate into the story. If that doesn’t bring about a catchy title that matches other titles in the series, then I start writing. Adn at a point while I’m putting the story down in words, a few will string together and a lightbulb comes on and I realize that is the title of the book. This has happened to me, mostly with the first book of a series. Then after that the rest of the series has to have similar titles.

As for my Shandra Higheagle mystery series, the titles all come from either the way someone was killed or how they came to be killed.

With the Gabriel Hawke series, since he is a Fish and Wildlife officer (game warden) I wanted to have animals in the titles of the books and on the covers.

The Spotted Pony Casino mystery series, I chose to use gambling terms for the titles of the books. I found a dozen terms that I liked and have been slowly incorporating which ever title I pick into the murder mystery that I write. This has actually been the easiest way to come up with a title. I have the list and just have to decide which term works with the premise I come up with for the book.

Currently, I have started book 10 in the Gabriel Hawke series. When I first came up with the idea for the story and formulated the premise of the murder, I had called the book Fleeing Swan. But after researching the area and getting a great photo of a bear while traversing the wilderness where one of the characters will be hiding, I decided I wanted that photo on the cover and have changed the title to Bear Stalker. While the character who I was referring to as swan in the original title swims away from a threat, I decided to give her the Cayuse name of Small Bear (kskɨ́s yáka). Since she is being stalked by the killer- I came up with the title Bear Stalker. And now that I have my title and my story, my fingers are flying across the keyboard telling Small Bear’s story.

I haven’t decided what the next title will be in the Spotted Pony Casino series. I have an inkling of what the story will be about, at least the secondary plot since I left it hanging in the last book, but I want the title to reflect the main plot of murder in the book and not the secondary plot that will be left hanging in the next few books. I don’t want that little time bomb to go off just yet. 😉 But until I get a clear picture of what the next book will be about, I’m not sure what the title will be other than one from my list of gambling terms. 😉

Does a title of a book draw you to discover more about the book or is it the cover image that draws you to the book? Especially if it is an author you have never read before.

Guest Blogger ~ Peggy Rothschild

EMBRACING THE COZY

Until our home burned down during the Thomas Fire in 2017, I had focused on writing both traditional and coming-of-age mysteries. Sometime during the aftermath of the fire, my agent suggested I try writing a cozy. Having never written one, I wasn’t sure if I could, but decided I might as well try. I read dozens of books to study the genre (and made a list of “acceptable” oaths along the way!).

The next important piece of the puzzle came when I watched a friend compete at an agility trial. I met handlers and their dogs and had a wonderful day—all the while scribbling away in my notebook. Once the idea for a mystery began to take shape, I contacted my agent. I told her I’d been reading to better familiarize myself with the genre and had an idea for a story but was worried there were already a lot of cozies featuring dogs. Her answer: You can never have too many dogs! So I began to write.

It was a lot of fun. Diving into the cozy genre was just what I needed—something light, but still involved, featuring interesting characters, and someone hiding a motive for murder. And, as an added bonus: The research was fascinating. Those middle-of-the-night periods where I pondered “what happens next?” still occurred, but the various directions the story beckoned were exciting to grapple with.

A DEADLY BONE TO PICK straddles the line between cozy and traditional mystery and features two wonderful dogs, Harlow and Noodle—as well as my heroine, Molly Madison. Molly’s dog, Harlow, was easy to “cast” and is based on the dog my husband had when we first met. A sunny, smart, lovable golden retriever, she greeted (almost) everyone with enthusiasm. Casting Noodle took a bit more research. I wanted the story to feature a dog who wasn’t necessarily easy but was smart and had a terrific tracking nose. After much research, I landed on a Saint Berdoodle. They combine the amazing noses of poodles and Saint Bernards and—in Noodle’s case—added in a prodigious drool factor. Weighing in at 180 pounds, training him becomes a necessity for Molly soon after they meet.

When writing Molly, I wanted her to have law enforcement experience so she would be a credible protagonist who understands how an investigation works. I gave her a slightly murky past because life isn’t always simple and straightforward. And I gave her a sense of humor because that’s what helps people handle the twists and turns life can hand out.

Here’s a brief blurb about the story from Penguin Random House:

ABOUT A DEADLY BONE TO PICK

When Molly Madison, dog-wrangler extraordinaire, stumbles upon a murder in her new hometown, she must track down a killer to save the day.

Ex-police officer and former P.I. Molly Madison is starting over. After the death of her husband, she and her golden retriever, Harlow, move cross-country to California. But as charming and peaceful as the beachside town seems, she soon learns its tranquil tides hold dark secrets.

On her first day in the new house, a large, slobbering Saint Berdoodle wanders in. Molly winds up taking on the responsibility of training Noodle since his owner is too busy to do the job. On one of their daily beachside walks, Noodle digs up a severed hand. Once Molly alerts the police and they run a background check on her, an incident from her past makes her an immediate suspect—after all, Noddle’s testimony to clear her name won’t hold much water in court.

To prove her innocence, Molly must rely on instincts keener than a canine’s to sniff out the real killer. But when Molly’s life is put in danger, will her two very loyal pups be able to rescue her?

A Deadly Bone to Pick by Peggy Rothschild: 9780593437087 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Amazon.com: A Deadly Bone to Pick: 9780593437087: Rothschild, Peggy: Books

A Deadly Bone to Pick by Peggy Rothschild, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)

A Deadly Bone to Pick by Peggy Rothschild (booksamillion.com)

A Deadly Bone to Pick a book by Peggy Rothschild (bookshop.org)

A Deadly Bone to Pick | IndieBound.org

A Deadly Bone to Pick: Peggy Rothschild: Hardcover: 9780593437087: Powell’s Books (powells.com)

9780593437087 – Walmart.com

AUTHOR BIO

Peggy Rothschild and her husband now live in the beach community of Los Osos—where there are enough trails to keep her out of trouble for years. Peggy’s coming-of-age mystery/adventure, PUNISHMENT SUMMER, was published by Evernight Teen in 2015 and her short stories have been included in The Best Laid Plans, Heartbreaks and Half-Truths, and Avenging Angelenos anthologies. She also illustrated the children’s book Angie’s Great Big Beautiful Life: Tales of a Rescue Cat.
Peggy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the SLONight Writers, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Her newly released mystery, A DEADLY BONE TO PICK, is the first book in the Molly Madison Dog Wrangler series. Book two, PLAYING DEAD, will be out in February 2023.

You can connect with her at:

https://peggyrothschildauthor.com

@PegRothschild

https://instagram.com/peggyrothschild6

Ants in the Tequila by Heather Haven

I lead a very small life. I get up in the morning, have coffee, stumble around, and try to wake up. I kiss my husband and pet the cat, or maybe the reverse. I can’t always remember. Most days, I sit down and write. Unfortunately, sometimes I have an appointment, errand, or chore that has been relegated to the morning, which is never my idea, but you can’t always control the world. I would rather sit down and write in the morning. Hence, mornings are predictably boring, followed by afternoons and evenings of…well…nothing much.

It’s possible my saving grace as a writer is my vivid and unpredictable imagination. I never know where my mind is going to go, taking me and my five senses along. If I witness something or hear a conversation between people or even animals, I am likely to concoct an entire scenario around that. No, I am not a dog, cat, or horse whisperer. It’s not just the words I pay attention to, anyway, but the emotions behind them. Plainly put, the world and its inhabitants are grist for my mill even though I have no mill and I’m not completely sure what a grist is. But I do love the phrase. And the sentiment.

Regarding the ants in the tequila, it was not about calling Orkin or Terminix. Our condo is ground level, in the midst of many gardens. I am surrounded by all sorts of living creatures that do not bother to knock and wait to be asked in. I am used to uninvited guests. However, I have never encountered ants in any of our booze before, let alone the tequila. Yet there they were, floating around, dead drunk, not a suicide note to be found. My writer’s mind clicked in. Where to go with this?

My instinct said this incident might be an article, blog, or flash fiction. It wasn’t novel material. For where was the story? And characterizations? Would I make one of the floaters my protagonist? Would I name him Harry? Or, as the ratio of female to male ants in a typical colony is three to one, Henrietta, Frieda, or Penelope? A lonely guy/gal, having left the nest, out on the town, only to find a pool of tequila too irresistible to ignore? No, no. No novel here.

In the meantime, we threw the bottle of nearly full tequila out, ants and all. Never mind that alcohol is a natural antiseptic, purifying anything it touches. I read that’s how the early Romans made such headway in Europe. The legions traveled on their stomachs, with a canteen of watered down wine by their sides to drink, as opposed to the local water. No local water, no dysentery. An inebriated, but hale and hearty group of marauders. That’s the Romans.

But back to my tequila and those marauding ants. My margarita days were at an end. I didn’t care if all the bacteria had been killed by the alcohol. Do not talk logic to me now, oh mighty Caesar. The sight of those small beasties drifting face down in the Don Julio, happy though they may have been at the end, did me in. I moved on to rum. Then I pondered on how to write about this incident.

Which is how the tale came to be right here, right now. All is grist for the mill, donchaknow, even though I’m still not completely sure what a grist is.

The Social Media Conundrum

Facebook. I first heard about it maybe 15 years ago. I was about to be laid off from an administrative job at the University of California and part of the deal was a bunch of classes offered by UC on how best to look for a job. In addition to tips on writing resumes and interviewing, one suggestion was to create a Facebook account. Supposedly that was to get the word out that I was looking for employment.

In the long run, I found LinkedIn more useful for the job search. I tried Twitter because an author at a book event said that one had to be on Twitter. I thought and still do, that Twitter is absolutely useless and I don’t get it. Talk about a waste of time. I’ve posted things on Pinterest, but not lately. As for the rest of the social-media-de-jour, Instagram, TikTok, or whatever else is out there or might be next week—not interested.

But Facebook had a certain appeal and still does. I like posting photos of my kitties, the roses blooming in my garden and that peach pie I baked (For me! All for me!). Posts with news from friends and acquaintances. Posts that alert me to an article or a video that might be interesting.

But I’m at the point where I’m thinking seriously of leaving Facebook.

Thinking. Not quite there, though getting closer. Adorable kitty pictures aside, it’s a real time-waster. The political stuff—well, we’ve all been inundated with that over the past few years.

And I’m really tired of all those ads. I have only to think about buying something and I swear, my Facebook feed is full of ads for the very same. More ads than anything else these days.

So yes, thinking of leaving Facebook. But— ???? Is Facebook useful to me as an author? As a way to connect with readers? I don’t know.

I have a personal Facebook page that is limited to “friends” and an author Facebook page which is visible to everyone. On the author page, I post announcements—news of a new book that I’ve written, alerts about a deal for one of my books. Links to one of my blog posts here at Ladies of Mystery. Information on a forthcoming newsletter or a favorable review. In the pre-pandemic days, I would let people know that I would be speaking at this library or that bookstore. Or announcing the title of my panel at one of the mystery conventions.

I do that as well on my “friends” page, but I limit it. The “buy my book” stuff gets old, I know. Maybe the kitty pictures do, too.

So, what’s the solution? Or is there one?

I can certainly address the time-waster issue. Right now I’m on a Facebook diet, limiting my daily exposure. And if I leave the platform, what next? Do I post kitty pictures on LinkedIn? It’s not really that sort of platform.

I’m interested in hearing suggestions, so put your thoughts in the Comments section.