Zooming with Heather Haven

Heather cartoon-smallest copy

If anyone had said to me six-months ago a large part of being an author in today’s world would be virtual, I would have laughed in his or her face. So much for reading the future. Before the pandemic, I did my share of in-the-flesh panel discussions, book signings, writers’ meetings, board meetings i.e., the basic tools of the trade. They were enough of a trial. Back in the day, the Bay Area traffic was so bad it would take hours to travel anywhere that wasn’t your local filling station. But here I am, forced into the unlikely reality of Zoom.Zoom

First off, I had no idea how to Zoom. What do you mean, I need a camera? And a mic? Am I going to have to push a bunch of buttons? But soon I realized it was time to come kicking and screaming into 2020. This old Poodle needed to learn a few new tricks. Bow-wow.

So I took a free Zoom online class offered to those like me to learn the rudiments. For the next forty minutes, we rushed through everything that makes Zoom a gift to the virtual world. I watched the clicking of the teacher’s mouse going from here to there and back again while trying to remember what went where. After my class, I asked my heart sister to let me practice on her with a Zoom meeting. She was the ideal person because whatever I did or didn’t do, she would be all-forgiving. I managed to set up the Zoom meeting and it went great. Was this one-on-one Zoom stuff really this easy to do?

Not quite.

To attain a more professional look, I needed an interesting backdrop behind me instead of the basket of laundry sitting on the dining room table waiting to be folded. Or hubby walking by in nothing but his boxers, grateful as I was for him at least wearing those. Then I remembered my class. The look of a real background could be solved by using a virtual one. Virtuality saves the day?

Not quite.

IMG_3460Unfortunately, one has to have a fairly new computer to support this enhancement. I don’t. But wait! I could buy a green screen plus its stand to place behind me. Then a multitude of backgrounds could be superimposed on the green screen.  Once I got that, they said, I could virtually be wherever I wanted to be: the Roman Coliseum, Waikiki beach, or even outer space (which seemed pretty good at the time). Problem solved?

Not quite.

Bela LugosiThe lighting has to be just so, they warned, or you will look like Bela Lugosi. Or in my case, his mom. And the virtual background on its little green backdrop won’t work so well, either. It shouldn’t have too much or too little light, but something just right. Goldilocks aside, now I’m a lighting director?

Not on your tintype.

This all seemed a little too sophisticated for me, so I axed the virtual background thing. But after a bit more research, I did buy a ring light on a mini-tripod that sits behind the laptop. I have to admit, the lighting does smooth out some of the wrinkles in my face…ah…dress.

I’m still looking for that perfect writerly background. I’ve been prowling around the house, laptop and ring light in tow. The only acceptable background I’ve found so far is the bookcase in the bedroom directly across from the bed.  So I set the laptop and ring light on a box on top of the bed because I’ve learned the camera needs to be elevated. This is so my double chins don’t show as much. One hopes. Then I brought in a chair and sat down between the bed and the bookcase trying to look writerly. Not so comfortable and the cat was totally confused. Just who did I think I was dumping all this junk on her bed and interrupting her mid-afternoon nap?

Okay, so I’m still trying to work out the bugs of this new media stuff. I am beginning to appreciate the idea of the green screen. But I am really beginning to appreciate the idea of radio.

 

My Mentor

Reading Susan Oleksiw’s post about writing mentors made me know I had to write about mine–Willma Gore.

I met Willma when I moved to Springville and joined a Porterville writing group. (I’ve belonged to this same group since 1981 though the members have changed through the years.) Willma had many articles published in West Ways magazine, Guideposts, farm journals and many other publications.

During our critique group meetings , she pointed out many ways for each of us not so well-published writers to make what we were working on better. New people joined the group, others dropped out, but Willma and I remained. I learned so much from her such as how to better handle point-of-view, making the setting real, creating believable characters, dialogue that moved the plot along and revealed character, using sounds, smells, taste, touch as well as what things and people looked like, and so much more.

We became good friends and traveling companions as we attended various writing conferences. She eventually moved to the coast where I visited her when I attended various conferences there. Time passed, we both grew older, and she once again moved, this time to be near a son in Sedona Arizona. I was able to visit her several times and sat in on a couple of her regular writing classes where she was continuing to teach writing skills to other aspiring authors.

Willma is now in her late nineties and living in an assisted living facility, where she still holds weekly writing classes. We still keep in touch via email and she’s one of my biggest fans, always reading my latest book.

I owe so much to Willma, not only for what she taught me, but also for a wonderful and long friendship.

Marilyn

Writers and Our Mentors

Over the last few weeks I’ve come across more than one article on writers and their influences. Every writer has one person we consider a mentor whether we acknowledge them as such or not. We usually think about mentors as the person who stands over us, and guides us in negotiating the world as it appears to a beginner. But in writing, the influence is both more subtle and more complicated.

James Crumley, like many others, thinks of Raymond Chandler as his lamp on the highway of narration, and William Zinsser thinks of E. B. White and his light tone before he begins work. R. V. Raman grew up reading Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and other writers of the Golden Age, which spurred his longing to write a traditional mystery set in India. Dorothea Brande talks about influences in more specific terms.

After warning the writer against imitating others in Becoming a Writer, she suggests the beginner analyze her work for its weaknesses and then seek out those who have the skills she lacks. If your dialogue is wooden or uninteresting, pick up a book by a writer known for riveting, revealing dialogue, and discover that no two people speak exactly alike. The distinction is more than the occasional vocabulary item, and a good dialogue will challenge the reader. I thought about her advice when I began working on Below the Tree Line: A Pioneer Mystery, which is set in a rural area quite different from where I live though I know it fairly well. My love of the traditional mystery, by writers such as Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and others, should be obvious. But others also played a role.

Although many writers spend time setting a scene in the mountains or along the ocean, few use it as a character as well as a now-forgotten English writer, P.M. Hubbard. Published in the 1960s and 1970s, he often set his stories in a natural world of both beauty and danger. His final scenes of The Quiet River have stayed with me over the years, a reminder of how powerful nature can be not only in shaping a story by challenging characters but also by undermining their civilized veneer, and washing away illusions of control and safety.

No story or novel is written today without influence from other fiction even if the story line is based on a true story. When I think of The Scarlet Letter, I wonder if Hawthorne was thinking of Edgar Allan Poe, whose crime tales and other work he admired. This classic novel reads to me as an early crime novel, with Chillingworth, the outraged husband, appearing as a secret sleuth out for revenge. He investigates, zeroes in on a suspicious situation, and moves closer to a suspect, driving this man further into despair. I’m not the first one to have entertained this idea. I just like the sense of writers working in conversation with others, learning from each other and engaging in a dialogue with our predecessors in our narratives.

The Art of Watching and Listening

Early on, two things shaped me and, I suspect, destined me to write. One was my birth, and the second the mumps.

Where I learned to watch!

Watching and remembering. So—birth. It was a dark, stormy day from all accounts—lightning everywhere on the Illinois plain. I was breach and blue. The doctors told my parents to watch my early development, concerned about brain damage. For sixteen months, I proceeded to scare my parents witless. Until one day, bored and thirsty, I stood up, walked into the kitchen, and asked for a drink of water, as in spoke in a sentence—all firsts. My mother dropped the glass in her hand. I watched it fall and shatter.

I had sixteen whole months to loll around and observe. Sixteen months to make sure when I stood, I was ready to speak up for myself. Yes, I sat wherever I was set. But I had fun, kept my own counsel, didn’t look stupid crawling around on the floor making silly slurpy, meaningless sounds. As a result, my memories begin well before my first birthday. When I was six months old, I watched my sister run away from home, her belongings strapped to the back of her tricycle. Frankly, I was glad to see her go. She teased me—a lot.

Since then, I have never stopped studying people, animals, trees, the sky, and….

Listening and hearing. The mumps. I lost the hearing in one ear. It never bothered me. I think because I was so young. It’s a U-shaped loss, so I can hear dog-whistles and stealthy sounds in that ear, just not anything anyone says. It’s handy when you’re in a house full of snorers. Trust me.

Hearing in a crowded room is easy for other people because they don’t have to sift a voice from the background jabber. They can look around the room, check to see if any other conversations are as lively. But they may miss the raised eyebrows, pursed lips, quick smiles, or rolled eyes that are the reveal. To hear, I cock my good ear towards the speaker and lean into a conversation. I listen to cadence, tone, emotion, hesitations. Sound is precious to me.

Employing them. So, the ability to sit quietly, listen, and watch undistracted has to be an asset for a writer. At least, I keep telling myself that. For instance, I’m sure we’ve all imagined something sinister afloat while relaxing at a favorite place. If not, I highly recommend it.

You’re at the beach. A man scrunching through the squeaky sand catches your eye. He is rushing toward a flight of stairs, his pant legs flapping against his shins, his hair ruffling in the onshore breeze. Overhead, clouds bunch, dark in their bellies, readying to rain. Water thunders against rocks, spuming into the air. A kestrel screeches as it rides the thermals. Its beady-eyes locked on the rocks below. Floating in kelp, an otter wonders—just wonders, like they do, and watches a body rocking, cradled in a tidal pool.

You’re in the mountains.My book Saving Calypso takes place in the High Sierra, a place I adore:

A redwood, a hundred and fifty feet of emotion, tossed its head. A hawk flew. A rabbit beat-feet across the pasture toward the newly turned dirt for this year’s vegetable garden. A shadow cruised at the edge of the timber then cut across the open field. Rafe Bolt slapped a brace of rabbits on the porch boards at Jessie’s feet. She put her hands behind her head and sighed at life’s perfection.

Words as motion, sound, feeling, life

Next time something unusual catches your eye, stop, watch, and listen as though you’re half-deaf and were a bit slow to stand, walk, and talk. It will be time well spent.

October by Karen Shughart

The leaves have turned, some fallen, and walking through the village our feet trample upon a carpet of brilliant colors. Stacks of pumpkins: pale green, yellow, orange, and white, are artfully arranged on steps leading up to front porches or peek out among decaying flowers. Wreaths rimmed with leaves of every shape and color, small green and white gourds, slender wheat stalks and delicate twigs adorn doorways, some homemade; others purchased at local craft shows.    Artfully placed wicker or galvanized metal baskets filled with pinecones are redolent with cinnamon and cloves.

On a cool morning, just after the rising of the sun, small herds of deer congregate in yards, nibbling away at their morning libations, white-tipped tails pointed straight up, in case of danger. But in our village there’s no need to fret;  instead early walkers pull out cell-phone cameras to capture the moment and the deer, with their soulful eyes alert, continue their task once they realize they are safe.

A block away our neighbors turn their yard into a ghoulish graveyard with tombstones covered in spidery cobwebs indicating those who are buried there:  Barry DaLive; Emma Goner; Ima Rotten, Ben Better, Anita Moore-Tishan, Berry D. Hatchet. Here and there, skeletons sway from the ghoulish branches of trees, some with limbs now barren, and you’ll see hay bales made to look like Minions, courtesy of the Neighborhood Association.

The screech owls, quiet during most of the summer and through September, now make their presence known. Their eerie sounds, terrifying at best, can be heard after most have of us have gone to bed, reminding us that something, soon, will be afoot. It’s called Halloween.

Halloween, here in our village on the south shore of Lake Ontario, when the nights are cold and an occasional early snowfall adds to the mood, is really a season. You can feel and see its presence starting not too long after Labor Day. Everyone is excited about Halloween: the children, most of all, and their parents who help them with their costumes, but also adults whose children have grown. There used to be house parties, and parties at restaurants and pubs, a time to let loose, enjoy the season, some folks in costume; others, not. This year will be different.

Here the celebration of Halloween is a throwback to earlier and safer times. Parents accompany the younger ones, who knock on our door yelling “trick or treat”, then reach out with their plastic pumpkins, open at the top, for the treats. It’s safe enough for the older ones to travel by themselves in groups. In our village, we all look after them. Well-trained in niceties, they remember to say “thank-you”, tiny ones urged on by their elders lest they forget. People in this village understand the concept of gratitude.

October is a time of transition. With its deep brilliancy it reminds us that slowly creeping stealthily in behind it is winter, a time of white silence and shadows.

Guest Author – Jacqueline Seewald

I’ve been asked how I came up with the main character in my mystery series.  I originally got my inspiration to write a mystery novel with an academic librarian as amateur sleuth during the time of my library studies at Rutgers University. Completing my MLS degree, I was required to attend symposiums. One speaker was a Princeton University librarian who spoke on the subject of inferno collections. His lecture was so fascinating and vivid that I was inspired to do further research. I became convinced the concept of inferno collections would be an excellent frame for a mystery novel and that no one else had written anything similar. (Briefly, inferno collections are banned books considered inappropriate for general public display and reading. Often these were books deemed salacious and kept separate or hidden in libraries under lock and key).

My novel THE INFERNO COLLECTION was the first in the Kim Reynolds series.

It was published in hardcover by Five Star/Gale, who published two more of the novels in the days when they did mystery fiction. All three of the books received fine reviews. They were also picked up by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery for paperback editions and distribution.

Kim Reynolds isn’t me. She’s a creation of my imagination, as are the other characters in the series. There are now five mystery novels with Kim as the main protagonist. The fifth novel, BLOOD FAMILY, was recently released by Encircle and has also garnered excellent reviews.

Blood Family

A Kim Reynolds Mystery

Blood Family is Jacqueline Seewald’s fifth Kim Reynolds Mystery. Kim, an academic  librarian, is intent on finding her biological father. Unfortunately after locating him, James Shaw dies unexpectedly. It is up to Kim to connect with the family she has never known. In doing so, she discovers a half-sister who is in need of her emotional support. Kim is concerned that Claire Shaw is being exploited and wants to help her. Kim also learns that Claire’s stepmother died under mysterious circumstances and her stepbrother disappeared. When Kim becomes involved, her life is placed in danger. Kim’s fiancé, Lieutenant Mike Gardner, Wilson Township homicide detective, investigates along with Sergeant Bert St. Croix.

Amzon but link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1645990435

Encircled buy link: http://encirclepub.com/product/bloodfamily/

Multiple award-winning author, Jacqueline Seewald, has taught creative, expository and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Twenty of her books of fiction have been published to critical praise including books for adults, teens and children. Her most recent mystery novels are DEATH PROMISE and BLOOD FAMILY. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications and numerous anthologies such as: THE WRITER, L.A. TIMES, READER’S DIGEST, PEDESTAL, SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE, OVER MY DEAD BODY!, GUMSHOE REVIEW, LIBRARY JOURNAL, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR. She enjoys painting landscapes and singing along to all kinds of music. Her writer’s blog can be found at: http://jacquelineseewald.blogspot.com

Push the Limits by Paty Jager

I have written two mystery series with Native American characters, while I am not Native American. I’ve read books by Native American authors, have a friend who lives on the Colville Reservation with her Native American husband, and I have lived in an area that has so much Native American history I feel it seeps into you.

But I am facing my biggest challenge as a writer, now, when it is more politically correct to be of the same heritage as the characters you write.

I started slowly, with my heroine, Shandra Higheagle being only half Native American so I could have her raised without that influence and have her discover it as I did writing her story.

Paiute Dancer photo by me

But I felt the area where I grew up, needed more exposure about the people who lived and were stewards of the land before if was favored as lush feed for cattle. And that was how my character, Gabriel Hawke, came to be. He is of Nez Perce and Cayuse heritage. He is working as a State Trooper with the Fish and Wildlife Division in Wallowa County, the land where his ancestors summered and winter. While he hasn’t lived on the reservation since graduating high school, I feel I can pull off his loyalty to his ancestors and still have him respect his culture but not be fully immersed in it.

Now, as I am writing the last Shandra book and moving onto a new character, I have to tame the lump in my gut and start contacting people on the Umatilla Reservation. My next character will be living and working on the reservation. I will need first hand knowledge to make this character ring true and to make her not only show the life of someone trying to end the cycle of prejudice and move on, but also someone who values her people’s culture.

That my writer and reader friends is what I will be trying to achieve the next few months. Connecting with people who are willing to allow me into their world and to show a life that I am not a part of but believe in.

Wish me luck! And let me know if you have anyone on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation who would be willing to help me. I’m sending out feelers this week.

Dabble, Scribbler, & A Dash of Ampersand

Hi, Ladies of Mystery bloggers, LoM readers, and the general public! Has it been another month already? Good grief! Two more to go before we hit Level 12 of Jumanji how this dumpster fire of a year’s turned out to be. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t wait to put 2020 in my rear windshield.

So . . . as the title indicaes, I’ve found some Easter egg writing-related goodies to keep my untreated ADHD mind happy as my imagination marinates on WIPs. These are fairly inexpensive and lots of fun if you’re bored of your typical writing routine, or are in the market of shaking up your writing arsenal. In either case, I hope you’ll have as much fun as I’m having.

DABBLE


Dabble is a monthly subscription writing platform and a fantastic alternative to Scrivner or Microsoft Word if these software programs aren’t optional. This platform’s more user-friendly for the visually impaired or needing low vision assistance than Scrivner is, and has its own cloud service to store only your WIPs. Unlike Reedsy Editor, Dabble is laid out as Word is. But unlike Reedsy Editor, more font selections are available on Dabble, users can switch the screen to dark mode when writing during the day, and Dabble’s left side menu offers sections to organize scenes, world-building artifacts, a place to blueprint your plot, a built-in dictionary and spell-check, a trash bin to cut what isn’t working, and a progress and goal tracker for daily word counts and days spent on your project. It reminds me of digital 4×6 tacked, corkboarded note cards to keep your story on task. Depending on which best fits your pocketbook for a monthly or annual package, you’ll have access to live-time support assistance if you aren’t tech savvy to ough some of this service’s features. I happened to find Dabble during 2019’s NaNoWriMo when the company offered a discount for completing the month-long marathon. I’m especially impressed with the tech team making this platform possible, and especially love the CS’s team’s patience with my seemingly endless questions of the platform’s bells and whistles, levelheadedness, and courteousness. On a deeper personal note, with what’s been recently disocvered about the Chinese virus, I’m thrilled to use a service or two with zero political skin in the game on the world’s stage. I’m especially happy both Reedsy Editor and Dabble make it possible to end my monthly dimes going into that nasty MS Word creator’s unethical, worldly pockets.

SCRIBBLER

Thrown over my social feed’s news and ads transom, Scribber is a monthly box subscription created by two authors with seventeen published books between them. Created by writers for writers, the Scribbler service has a private social group for support and advice, offers critiques from scenes to full MSs (pricing reflecting), and sells other writer merch. Each box comes with goodies like a Writer Passport deep-diving a specific craft area (pacing, setting, tension, humor, and so on.); a book by the author the passport’s based on; and a pamphlet called Publishing Process Inside Look! also authored by month’s featured novelist. My September box had Opium & Absinthe by Lydia Kang in the goodies–which opened one drawback in this service: The purchaser doesn’t get to select the box’s title book. Past boxes, unless you’re part of the social group’s sister book club to find previous titles, aren’t accessible unless you contact support for this information. Although I found the writer tchotchkes a trememdous help–one’s a yellow “Eureka!” lightbulb stress ball squeezie-thingy with “Bust Writers Block!” printed on its side, and super-adorable—the book itself after reading a few pages in, not so much. It’s in 3rd POV set in 1899 about a possible homicide under the cover of a vampire attack and a possible connection with Jack the Ripper. This subgenre is out of my preferential and craft wheelhouse; I don’t do vampires, zombies, werewolves, Satanic worship, demons, Godzillas, anything involving dark magic and worse. If that makes me a shitty writer for not reading this stuff someone else slaved over, so be it–but I do congratulate them in getting it done (#IAintSorry #GetOverIt). Sidenote: if any LoM ladies are interested in my September tale, inbox me this week only for details. Otherwise it’ll just be donated to a new forever home like my August title was.



Overall, both products look to be the hands-on tools needed for my craft. Both services are set up to cancel at any time (before your next charge hits, that is). The box exposes you to an author happy you’re reading his story and sweet swag getting you jazzed for the next box or inspired to write on. They even hold a monthly contest on a Scribbler postcard based on the theme to win a prize. Dabble is the Little Engine That Could as a writing software program. Both companies are open for future changes, product implements, and offer stellar CS. That’s rare in this otherwise brutally lonely and huckster-happy industry, so research these gems and kick the tires whenever you have a moment before taking the plunge.

&

No, you read right. This heading’s an ampersand. It’s intentional. Got your attention, though, like a good headline should do.

She’s real gone, you’re telling yourself. Old news, says I, but that dun bother me none–we both know darn well you secretly love it. **smirk**

Okay . . . back to our story.

This particular symbol of the English languange charaters has an interesting history. If you’re old enough to remember when you learned the alphabet, you recited “and per se and”–& this said as such–after Z. In time, and per se and merged into the word ampersand you know today. While on the topic of mashing words together from a string of them said either too fast, said or accented incorrectly, misheard, or misused, ampersand became part of the mondergreen crowd. Explains why you thought the mondergreen, “You are caught up in me” from the chorus of Elton John’s “Daniel” is really “You were older than me.”

Ampersand, the & symbol, originally combined the capital letters of E and T. When everyone way back when wrote in gorgeous penmanship, E and T, especially next to one another in cursive, sure looked an awful lot like the &. Over time, and with differeing fonts, the two merged to become the punctuation we know.

And of course, what would our peek into the writing life be without this symbol helping others used to replace foul language? Cartoonists and comic strip artists from the 1920s to as late as the 1970s, while syndicated with national and global newspaper chains, had to find a workaround to express salty language without overtly using it. Hello, &%*$#@! Ingenuity! Excelsior! Rather than be cited for cultural impropriety, or tired of just plain getting the business over such use, comic strip and editorial cartoonists used these to skirt, and maybe flaut a little, censorship rules. So for you cozy mystery creators where sewer talk isn’t allowed, this #%*&$@! is perfect to show over tell–zing!–the preferred stronger word(s). Think of it as a visual version of cartoon starbursts, comets, squiggles and whorls when one of the Looney Tunes cast actually sees–as does JERSEY DOGS narrator Casper McGuinness–after getting his noodle clonked for doing something stupid. This could be a delightful change for your readers no other cozy writers are doing, much to your surprise.

Another lovely reading ride comes to a close. I’d wish you an early Happy Halloween, but with the spooktacular clusterf*ck this year’s been, you hardly need my OK to get your Jolly Rancher, candy corn, & dark chocolate Snickers bites freak on like it’s Donkey Knng. Now let me git before I share what next month’s punctuation cornucopia’ll be–the almighty asterick that turned a Roger Maris record into Babe Ruth’s baseball side chick.

Nope–I’ve a fantastic post in store you may enjoy more, but it ain’t that. Gotcha again. **smirk**

& with that, God’s will, and your faithful readership . . . until next month, my friends.

~ Missye

Seeing the Bones

By Janis Patterson

No, this isn’t a forensic column, at least not in the physical way. No bones, no blood, no autopsies, no dead bodies. Instead I’m talking about the skeleton (again a bone reference, sorry -) of your story.

Not long ago a dear writer friend of mine and I were talking (while sitting out under a leafy tree, eating ice cream – lovely!) about writing technique. She was telling about a conversation she had had with another writer about the skills needed to construct a good, sound, readable story. She used a story she had read for an example. It was a good story (I had read it too) but it lacked something. There was a ‘mechanical-ness’ about it. You could almost hear the writer thinking, “Have I put enough emotion here?” “I should put more description here.” “Got to watch my beats and pacing.” “What is the proportion of dialogue to narrative?”

It was, she said, like looking at a hand performing a graceful motion, but instead of seeing the skin, you saw the working of the bones through the skin.

And I don’t care how carefully the story is crafted, that is bad writing.

A story (short, novella or full novel) should take the reader away, give them a different reality that is totally believable within its own framework – not a look at how the story is created. It would be like being taken for a ride in a luxurious car, but with every action a mechanical voice announces “turning steering wheel 90 degrees to the right, now turning steering wheel 90 degrees to the left to get back to straight progress” or “applying 10% brakes to slow down for approaching crosswalk” or some such nonsense. It would take all the pleasure out of the drive.

Every action and reaction in a book should happen because it is dictated by the needs of the story – the action and the characters – not because of some esoteric road map of plot shape, beats, pacing, dialogue/narration proportions and other underlying necessities of construction. Readers should see the story as a cohesive whole, unbothered by the mechanics.

The reader should see only the gesture, not the bones beneath.

The Mystery of Movies

I grew up at the movies. Really, I did.

My mother’s family was in what they called the picture business. I’m not talking about the kind of pictures you put in frames. I’m talking about the picture show.

Way back in the silent years, before talkies became the rage, they owned movie theaters, in small rural towns, mostly in Oklahoma, but also in Nebraska and Arkansas.

Mom grew up in Purcell, Oklahoma. The family theaters had names that evoke Hollywood’s Golden Age—the Ritz, the Metro, and the McClain, because it was McClain County.

My uncles ran the projectors. Mom and her sisters sold tickets, candy, and popcorn. In fact, Mom was selling tickets one evening during World War II when she met Dad, a young sailor from a nearby Navy training center. Mom’s older sister Flo met her husband the same way, at another movie theater in nearby Norman.

Years later, my Uncle Levi built a theater called the Canadian, because Purcell is located on the Canadian River. He also had a drive-in, the Sky Vue, south of town. The Canadian is the movie theater that’s imprinted on my childhood. When I was young, my family lived in Oklahoma City, some 45 miles north. On Sundays, after church, we’d drive to Grandma’s house in Purcell, for dinner with the family. Various aunts, uncles, and cousins would be there, but not Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Levi, because they were at the show.

The Canadian Theater in 1959, Purcell, Oklahoma

After dinner, the grownups would settle into Grandma’s living room and talk. The kids walked the the few blocks to downtown Purcell, where we were allowed to take tickets from movie patrons and work in what Aunt Dorothy always called the Sweet Shoppe. And we saw movies, lots of them.

Every now and then, I was allowed into the projection room at the Canadian or the Sky Vue. None of this digital stuff that they have now. This was back in the 1950s.

One of my clearest memories is of Uncle Levi, sweating in a sleeveless undershirt in that hot projection room, as he hoisted huge rolls of film onto the projector. Years later, when I saw Cinema Paradiso, I thought of my uncle.

The Canadian closed a long time ago, turned into first an antique mall and later an event center. These days, I’m more likely to stream a movie. But I still like seeing movies in a theater. Especially in the 1930s Art Deco gem in downtown Alameda.

Alameda Theatre, Alameda, California, built 1932

As a mystery writer, I’ve mixed movies into my plots. My latest California Zephyr book, Death Above the Line, takes my sleuth Jill McLeod off the train and onto a set, playing a Zephyrette in a film noir. In Bit Player, private eye Jeri Howard investigates what happened long ago when her grandmother worked in 1940s Hollywood.

Check them out, and I’ll see you at the movies!

Guest Author – Tara Lush

Write What You Know (And always listen to your best friend)

By Tara Lush

When I first started writing fiction six years ago, I turned to romance. It was a genre that I’d read and loved — along with mystery and true crime, of course. When I told my oldest friend about my plan to write a steamy novel, she scrunched up her face.

“Why aren’t you writing crime fiction?”

It was an excellent question. I’ve been a newspaper and wire service journalist in Florida for two decades, with many of those years devoted to the weird, the horrific, and the criminal. I’ve covered many of the state’s biggest crime stories. High-profile ones such as Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin. Lesser-known murderers who had abducted children and those who attacked fellow citizens in a drug-induced haze. I’ve also covered eleven mass shootings (including Parkland and Pulse) and witnessed thirteen executions in Florida’s death chamber.

“Pfft. Why would I write crime fiction?” I asked my friend. “It’s too depressing. Too much like my day job. I want to do something different. My muse is telling me to write about sex.”

And yet, my muse told me to write a romantic suspense for my first novel. I moved on from there, writing contemporary romance and erotic romance. And while I had some measure of success — a RITA finalist book in 2018 — it never felt a hundred percent right, either.

In 2019, I was on a trip to Vermont and sitting around my best friend’s house. I was musing aloud about my next steps for my fiction career. Self-publishing contemporary romance was increasingly difficult and competitive, I told her, and writing the happy-ever-after between the couple wasn’t as satisfying as it had been in previous years. I wanted to tell a story about justice, but with humor and nuance.

I’d recently finished a series about couples in a quirky Florida town, and let’s just say the eccentricities of the characters weren’t resonating with romance readers. I was frustrated.

“What about a mystery novel?” my friend asked.

I mulled this over for the entire month of August while I was on a monthlong vacation. I’d been reading Kathy Reichs’ Deja Dead, and although I loved it, I couldn’t imagine myself writing something so dark. There was the matter of the day job trauma, after all. But what if I could write something softer, something with a little romance and a twisty murder… something gentle.

A cozy mystery, perhaps?

While sitting in a café in Quebec City and drinking the best espresso I’d ever had, I sketched an outline for my cozy. I used my experience as a crime reporter to plot the murder. First I chose a victim. Then I chose a murderer. I worked backwards with the details and clues, thinking about all the police reports I’d read over the years, all the news conferences I’d been to, and all the cops I’d chatted up. Suddenly everything made sense.

You know those wooden puzzle boxes, the ones that seem so hard to open? That’s what my brain felt like. Each clue, each detail, unlocked something inside my creative soul in a way that romance didn’t. I was able to blend my quirky characters and my love of a Florida setting with a murder and a romantic subplot. Justice as an HEA was more alluring than a fictional marriage proposal.

What was this sorcery?

That fall, I wrote my cozy mystery and in March of this year, sold it to Crooked Lane Books.

The lesson here is to always listen to your best friend. And perhaps, listen to what your muse is whispering.

Barista Lana Lewis’s sleuthing may land her in a latte trouble as Tara Lush launches her debut mystery series.

When Lana Lewis’ best — and most difficult — employee abruptly quits and goes to work for the competition just days before the Sunshine State Barista Championship, her café’s chances of winning the contest are creamed. In front of a gossipy crowd in the small Florida town of Devil’s Beach, Lana’s normally calm demeanor heats to a boil when she runs into the arrogant java slinger. Of course, Fabrizio “Fab” Bellucci has a slick explanation for jumping ship. But when he’s found dead the next morning under a palm tree in the alley behind Lana’s café, she becomes the prime suspect.

Even the island’s handsome police chief isn’t quite certain of her innocence. But Lana isn’t the only one in town who was angry with Fabrizio. Jilted lovers, a shrimp boat captain, and a surfer with ties to the mob are all suspects as trouble brews on the beach.

With her stoned, hippie dad, a Shih Tzu named Stanley, and a new, curious barista sporting a punk rock aesthetic at her side, Lana’s prepared to turn up the heat to catch the real killer. After all, she is a former award-winning reporter. As scandal hangs over her beachside café, can Lana clear her name and win the championship — or will she come to a bitter end?

Preorder here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/667052/grounds-for-murder-by-tara-lush/9781643856186/

Tara Lush is a journalist with The Associated Press. Her debut cozy mystery, GROUNDS FOR MURDER, will be published Dec. 8. learn more about her and her books here: