Hi . . . Missye K. Clarke, Newly-Realized Synesthete

**The title is solely from the author’s imagination, and is not looking to do disservice to those with this neurological condition or for ones familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous.**

Live Streaming from The Saturday Show on WQXR’s app: John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Great song if you want an explosion of colors bouncing in your mind’s eye like blown dandelion puffs on a breeze like I have now.

Allow me to share a funny, true story. And thanks for the “Hi, Missye!” hellos for being part of this incredible platform, by the way.

My youngest son devours chocolate milk, especially if it’s a lovely blend of soft-serve and imported dark chocolate of Michelin Star grade. I found a great little seafood place in Lancaster PA called Mr. Bill’s (est. 1974), and took the last of their blueberry, strawberry, and orange cremes in stock after remembering the picture he’d showed me from online. One orange creme I snagged was his. Past tries of blueberry and strawberry milk left me gun-shy for another go; the sugar content may as well have been akin to rocket fuel-boosters for the Apollo 11 mission.

Our drinks deliciously cold hours later, I left my orange cremes be. He insisted I sip his strawberry and blueberry after saying, “It’s a liquid form of a great blueberry muffin–seriously.”

I looked at him dubiously.

“No, Mom, it’s not the sugar version of Thurgood Stubbs’ salt addiction. You’ll like it,” he pressed.

He made me laugh; I got the joke, took his container. Well . . . if Sam-I-Am liked green eggs and ham . . .

I dared a taste.

And delightfully found it to be exactly what pastel purple would taste like!

We sipped the milks again, but I barely contained my excitement.

My son: “Totally a liquid blueberry muffin. Yeah!”

Me: “I see that. But it’s what pastel purple taste like if more people could taste colors.”

He, looking at me like I’m bats (which is often): “Mom . . . are you saying you’re tasting a color?”

Me: “Well, I see musical notes in colors, too, so . . . yeah, I guess I am.”

And later that night, the orange creme, breathtakingly delicious, I tasted a lovely dream.

You’re A . . .Who?!?

A synesthete (pronounced sin-UHSS-theet, or sin-ESS-theet). It’s the medical term for one having sensory pathways crossed, which is synesthesia (from the Greek syn, meaning “together,” and thesia or thaesia for “sensation.”). According to dictionary.com, it’s an “involuntary neurological condition where the individual activates a second sensory pathway when the first is stimulated.” Apparently there’s more than 60 ways to either instigate or innately have synesthesia–one way to be part of this is to drop acid, but that’s not surprising (Sidenote: I’ve never in life dropped acid, nor will I, research or no. I’m taking zero chances of lasting side-effects, I’m scared I’ll become addicted to the substance, and/or what it’ll do to me during and after consumption. I know me–if I’d’ve had a positive, lovely trip, I’d want to do it again to get that back. If I’d’ve had a bad, negative trip, I’d be tormented for hours like I am in one of my asleep-dream nightmares. Best that door stays welded closed and moved on from altogether). There’s no real statistics in how many have this condition, because baseline science is only just putting the call out to those with such exceptions to how the senses are so crossed to be double-blind studied, or done so objectively.

In my mind’s eye since I was young, I’ve always seen musical notes in colors; the blueberry milk episode, obviously external, only recently. Until now, I thought everyone heard music this way. For others affected with this still-understudied condition, it manifests externally and has a strong run in families. Synesthetes can also become such from a stroke, blindness, or another health anomaly. In one extreme case, a British woman, according to a special about her documented on NatGeo in 2011, had to get rid of her television; any time food, cologne, or laundry advertisements aired, she could literally, just by hearing the ad described, “taste” the human and pet foods; laundry detergent, soap washes, and dish liquid; colognes and perfumes, too. But the times she found her synesthesia pleasant was during certain weather days. Sunny days, she’s reported, the sunshine tasted of lemons, pineapples, or bananas. On rainy days, she heard the raindrops in random musical notes the way wind chimes sounded on blustery days, and saw the raindrops on her patio table in sprays of colors. When she used the products she could “taste” by hearing them on ads, when actually using then, she didn’t have this sensation.

Weird, right?

I remember asking my mother could she taste the color blue when I was about four. Trying not to laugh, she said, no, honey, blue’s a color. I told her I could taste it. She asked–amusing me, probably–what did it taste like? Like ice. Or snow. Or ridonkulously really cold water, I said, and does today. As for my musical notes in colors–they range in dark blues and greens, with pops of distant bright white and silver for the A major chords. C majors are royal blues, shamrocks, bold reds, deep golds. F majors: red, bright yellows, bright whites . . . and pretty much so on.

Inspired by the NatGeo doc, my experiences and its scientific term, a character in MccGuinness/Pedregon Casebook #3 has this condition. Gregory Street is afflicted with synesthesia and a key component in helping the crew solve why former top five music competitors are homicide targets. Unfortunately, he’ll make the killer’s crosshairs in his main goal of murdering my narrator, but I wanted a way to fold in this condition with solving this crime. I just hope I do Street’s death justice not only in believability, but showing his condition with grace and dignity in the honest portrayal I’m offering. Moreover, it’s my biggest hope neurological science not only finds a way to explore, deep diagnose, and explain why this occurs, but shows its daily impact on affected individuals. Do they “taste” fire like they see the flames, hear them roar, feel its heat? Do they “hear” mud, or dirt as they feel, smell, or see it? Can they “see” petrichor–the way a geographical landscape looks and smells after a hard, fast, and intense rain? Can they “touch” sounds the way we can feel the differences in sandpaper, or petting an animal, or holding an ice cube?

Have you known someone, or maybe you yourself, have this sensory cross-stimulant? Have they shared their experiences with you? If you’re beset with tis condition, what’s your experiences been like? Do you find this condition strange in a good or bad way? I’d love to know your thoughts, so please share in the comments.

Keeping Track of Details by Karen Shughart

Well, I’m almost there. I’ve been slogging away at writing book two of the Edmund DeCleryk mystery series, Murder in the Cemetery, for upwards of a year and now I’m in the editing, polishing and cut-and-paste phase of the book. There are more details in this one than Murder in the Museum, so way more things to keep track of:

For example, in an earlier chapter, Annie DeCleryk, wife of sleuth Edmund DeCleryk, invites a friend of hers to speak at an evening event sponsored by the Historical Society where Annie works. Low and behold, a later chapter indicated that it was a luncheon event. Boy, was I glad I discovered that one!

At another point I write about an unidentified set of tire tracks at the murder scene, that’s early on in the story, but as I reached the end of the first draft I realized I’d never come back to it and explained why they were there.

There are a set of historical letters written into the plot, they take place in the 1800s. I have them interspersed throughout the book in chronological order. At least now I do. When I scrolled through the manuscript, I discovered that in a couple places they were in the wrong order.

white painted papers

Then there are chapters. As I write and revise, I sometimes remove chapters or move them to another location. Sometimes I divide one chapter into two. I spent one afternoon making sure the chapters were in order and correctly numbered. In a few cases they weren’t.

I also try and eliminate redundancy. Ed and Annie take a trip to England, you’ll learn why when you read the book, and they discover there’s a connection with something that happens on that trip and the murder in Lighthouse Cove. I explain it fully in that chapter and yep, I had Ed explaining the same scenario, multiple times, to other characters who were helping solve the crime. You, the reader, probably don’t want to revisit the entire story more than once, so in subsequent explanations I went back and had Ed summarize.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was a journalist once and as a result, my fiction writing, at least those early drafts, is typically very succinct. So, then I go back and expand the plot. Once done, I usually realize I’ve written more than I need, so then I cut.  What that means is that sometimes I get rid of a chapter I’m emotionally attached to, because as much as I like it, it really doesn’t enhance the plot.

Writing a novel takes a lot of work, not just making sure the plot makes sense, but also keeping track of all the details that make a book flow the way it’s supposed to. I do that on handwritten notes, charts, notes in my computer and, also, in my head. Phew! But I’m gratified when the finished product finally goes to print.


Guest Blogger: Greta Boris

In answer to the question: How did you come up with the idea to write about the seven deadly sins?

I love suspense, especially psychological suspense that revolves around regular people, the kind who live next door, or work in the next cubicle. I can’t get enough of Lisa Scottoline’s, Harlan Coben’s, Ruth Ware’s, or Shari Lapena’s suburban noir novels.

I also love book series. If I’m drawn into a fictional world, I want to return to it over and over. I’m a big fan of C.J. Box, Lincoln and Child, and Linda Castillo. But if you notice, the three authors I just named all write about a detective. Box’s protagonist is a park ranger, Lincoln and Child’s an FBI agent, and Castillo’s is a sheriff.

How could I do both? Write a “what would you do if you ran into a dead body?” kind of story that was also a series? It’s hard to sell the idea that a real estate agent, or a chef, or a Pilates instructor would bump into more than one murderer in a lifetime. Hence the reason most domestic thrillers are standalones.

My Oprah Moment:

One day I was talking to a friend about besetting sins, or what I refer to as “our personal BS.” You know, those negative thought patterns, those special lies, that trip us up when we run into turbulent waters. We all have one we struggle with more than the others.

A light bulb went on. “What if,” I said, “I wrote a suspense series that explored each of the seven deadly sins and set it in the world I know best—Orange County, California. The hero of the next book in series could be introduced in the previous. Characters could make appearances in novels other than their story of origin as needed.

My friend loved the idea, so I went with it. I knew I’d have at least one reader.

Thank goodness she wasn’t the only one who loved it. I was picked up by Fawkes Press in Texas with a two book deal and first right of refusal on the rest. The Color of Envy, the book on preorder as I write this (August, 2019) is book 4.

The thing my readers comment on most is the relatability of my characters. My protagonists are all ordinary women with normal lives trying to make it in careers you and I know something about. A Margin of Lust features a real estate agent. The Scent of Wrath is about a single mom running the gift shop inside a Pilates studio. The protagonist in The Sanctity of Sloth is a school librarian who has publishing aspirations. The new book, The Color of Envy, revolves around an interior designer. Each of them is challenged by murder.

If, according to Lisa Cron, we read to help us vicariously tackle dilemma’s and dangers before they come, my stories solve a common problem. No one wants to meet a corpse or a killer unprepared.

All the fortress’s inhabitants have been rich, reclusive, and mysterious.

It has tantalized Rosie Ring for years. When horror writer Jacob Rinehart purchases the large stone house on the cliffs and hires her to redecorate, it seems like a dream come true. But Rinehart is living a nightmare. A woman has been killed in the same manner as the victims in his latest book.

Gruesome deaths, disturbing artwork, and red-soled shoes litter the opulent landscape of Laguna Beach, California. Everyone close to Rosie is hiding something, and one of those secrets leads to death.

If you loved Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, or Shari Lapena’s An Unwanted Guest, Greta Boris’s The Color of Envy should be right up your dark alley. Get a copy and enter the world of The Seven Deadly Sins—Standalone Novels of Psychological Suspense.

A tale of suburban suspense that will keep you turning pages. – Matt Coyle, author of the Anthony Award-winning Rick Cahill series

Buy Link for The Color of Envy: https://www.amazon.com/Color-Envy-Seven-Deadly-Sins-ebook/dp/B07SXR1HZW

Greta Boris is the author of A Margin of Lust, The Scent of Wrath, The Sanctity of Sloth, and The Color of Envy, the first four books in The 7 Deadly Sins. Ordinary women. Unexpected Evil. Taut psychological thrillers that expose the dark side of sunny Southern California.

She’s a popular conference speaker and the Amazon Kindle bestselling nonfiction author of The Wine and Chocolate Workout – Sip, Savor, and Strengthen for a Healthier Life. 

You can visit her at http://gretaboris.com. She describes her work (and her life) as an O.C. housewife meets Dante’s Inferno. 

A Bee in my Bonnet by Paty Jager


While figuring out the means of death in my latest Shandra Higheagle mystery, Toxic Trigger-point, I had to come up with something quiet, easy, and could be done while a woman was face down on a massage table.

I wanted the scene when the body is found to look as if the woman is on the table waiting for a massage, but then they realize she is dead.

The scene had to look serene-normal.

I came up with an allergy to bees. After reading up on it, I discovered people who are deathly allergic to bees can die within minutes of contact with bee venom. Further research, I discovered there are some facial creams that have bee venom in them. Enough to cause anaphylaxis shock and death.

To tell you any more about how it all happened would give the story away. ;)_

However, each time I tried to come up with a way for Shandra and Ryan to get a confirmation it was from a bee sting or venom from forensics, I was shot down by Judy Melinek, MD and forensic pathologist.

Each time I’d come up with something, like, how about finding the enzymes for bee venom in stomach contents, she’d shut me down. Bee venom can not be tested for because of it’s chemical break down. Hmmm….

She told me the discovery would have to come from the investigation. Discovering the woman’s allergy and working from there. So that’s what I did. With the help of information from the victim’s family and, of course, Shandra’s dreams, she and Ryan solve the murder.

This is what I enjoy about writing mysteries. While I might have a great idea in mind for a murder, I have to dig and research to discover the best, and sometimes the only way, to disclose or discover how the victim was killed.

Have you read any mystery books with an unusual way the victim was killed?

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How Mysteries Found Me . . . and Elude Me

Ever since I was a fourth grade nothing–and despite my disdain in book report writing during grammar school–my goal was to break into news reporting. Specifically, feature writing, soft-news reporting, or 1st POV investigative journalism. Thank the current events segment of school lessons, two National Geographic and Time magazine issues, and falling asleep to the opening 10 O’Clock news segments–after the announcer’s ask if parents knew where their children were?–of the usual Middle Eastern countries fighting. I’d be amiss if I didn’t give a nod of gratitude to the inimitable Paul Harvey for enriching my love of journalism until his still-missed narrative on said news. The dream became reality in features reporting for two college newsrags, an online site when the Interwebs was young, a stint with a New Orleans Pennysaver, a church tabloid, and scattered articles in First Draft, and in a Brooklyn, a Queens, and a small-town Texas outlets. But even with present-day current events growing scarier, stranger, and noticeably darker with each passing hour as news outlets are also noticeably more crowded and pointy-elbow competitive, I still follow them steadfast.

Much as I love words and what REM sleep-dreams surprise me with, it never occurred I’d write one book, let alone be earlobes-deep into projects spanning three separate series, this platform, newsletter-planning, and shoehorning in working flash fiction pieces and haikus. The universe and the Designer behind it had adventures in mind not involving conventional journalism. As one not believing in coincidences, I’m body-surfing this space-time wave unapologetically.

My now-deceased mother devoured anything medicine-related for a career in nursing, but my joyous arrival detoured those plans. My being born with albinism likely pushed her into the genetics end of biology of medicine, from the sneaks I saw of her Queensborough College class notes, and with her help during high school biology and organic chemistry, I aced the classes; to this day, I still remember most of the components. On her days off from working as a phlebotomist lab tech since early childhood, she watched every medical or crime mystery on TV. Perry Mason. Quincy, M.D. Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Mysteries. Hart to Hart. Ironside. Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I Spy. The Saint. Mannix. Barnaby Jones. Kojak. Nero Wolff. More often than not, she cracked the case before the show’s penultimate commercial block. She also read Sidney Sheldon, Michael Crichton–The Andromeda Strain stands out alongside Robin Cook’s Coma and another title with “Ophelia” in it, but I’m unsure which this is–Jackie Collins, and back copies of Ellery Queen. She’d offer these when I read everything in our area library or at home, but I did so lacklusterly (yes, I made up a word! 🙂 )–no kids were in it. Leastwise, no cute guys I could imagine as my book boyfriends. Sherlock Holmes was easier to listen to than to read, but even then, that story captured me as long as a rainbow lasts; ADHD much? Same with Nancy Drews (what WAS it with every 👏🏻 story 👏🏻ending 👏🏻 with 👏🏻 an 👏🏻 ice 👏🏻 cream 👏🏻 sundae 👏🏻 celebration?!? Who can even eat that much ice cream–NOT looking at you, Joey Chestnut! 🙂 Yikes!). The Hardy Boys were more fun than Nancy, as were a handful of classic Scooby-Doo episodes, but not for lack of trying. Aside from the aforementioned, there wasn’t much for kids to believably play in, and case-crack, good whodunnits. Sci-fi, sure. Judy Blume, Richard Peck, Heidi, Charlotte’s Web, Peter and the Wolf, Beverly Cleary, and Paula Danziger ruled the kid-lit scene as Harry Potter, Wimpy Kid, The Dork Diaries, and the Percy Jackson reads do today, but the After-School Specials in book form tackled fitting in, boy-meets-girl, boy-loves-girl, boy-loses-girl or boy-claims-girl-again, bravery and honesty in friendships, humility, and standing up for oneself Cleary handled. Danziger and Blume took on heavier topics like divorce, drugs, puberty, sexuality, dysfunctional families, or weight struggles. So who’d believe a kid crime-fighter or a pint-sized spy in the same playing field genre as Sherlock, Nero, Bond, or Mike Hammer, let alone one grown-ups would take seriously? Heck, even teenagers Frank, Joe, and Nancy were grown-up technically, but they probably still did kid-stuff like ball games, pillow fights, sock-hops, and pajama parties offstage!

Aghast and disgusted with American journalism’s willful descent into madness during college, post graduation and zero job prospects, I pondered what I’d next write, where I’d next go. Diary-keeping–meh. Blogging wasn’t a thing. I loved emailing, but didn’t know a soul I couldn’t easily talk to in person or on the phone. And most family members had passed away or weren’t on speaking terms with me to engage in letter-writing. My imagination? Then, like now, is too friggin’ big to contain in a short story if I tried. Still reading though–Harry Potter, in this case–while cleaning my kids’ bedroom one afternoon, a teenage boy on his bed in his messy room, looseleaf open on his knees as he dozed, flashed to mind like C.S. Lewis’s lit lamppost in a snowstorm-shrouded forest popped in his. This fully formed Wyoming high school sophomore, oldest of three siblings and sans girlfriend, was Jay Vincent. Upon hearing stock car racers Tony and Cruz Pedregon’s surnames later that evening, I stole this to tag as J.V.’s. Add in Keenan Alexander, the name Keenan influenced by the Wayans brothers on a youngish FOX network, and Casper McGuinness from another false-start novel, I had my central cast in need of a story. A few turns of the imaginative Phillips head, Keenan became Casper’s street-smart, smart-ass, and lady-killer cousin Logan.

2005 was pivotal for news and personal events. New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer made headlines in regular trysts with a prostitute and for it, shamed out of office. Not long after, New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey lost his post for hiring a PI to track his gay boyfriend’s affair at taxpayers’ expense. Iconic comedian Richard Pryor, and R & B artists Luther Vandross and Rick “Superfreak” James died, but Pryor made ink with his birth allegations the result of a hooker-john union. In that year, I happened into a long-forgotten neighbor around the corner from my then-residence who remembered my being a non-conformist curiosity preschooler, and a ball of near nonstop energy. A ten minute exchange of hellos and are you so-and-so’s daughter turned into a year of visits, teas, desserts and hushed conversations I deserved to know, including confirmations behind our 1980 cross-country move, how my maternal grandmother had been an alleycat, and my dad’s acidic bigotry to Caucasians were explained.

Even with my questions and suspicions acknowledged, a deeper why thickened the current events and history soup I mentally and emotionally digested: What if two high school kids learn they’re sons of prostitutes, set to be slain to keep them from discovering why they are? From that, I the composer to sleuth-to-be Jay Vincent Pedregon and cousins Casper and Logan McGuinness, the players of the music in pouring out my heart in anger, shock, astonishment, rage, and sadness in my experiences-backstory-explained on paper, mixed with current events in the novel’s plot, found a story home. In the storm and its cleansing, JERSEY DOGS was born.

Was that to shamelessly plug my inaugural mystery? Nope. It’s to illustrate why I’m an author in the first place, and how my ancestry’s sordid and unapologetic past drop-kicked me here. My mother’s love for this genre, and learning she used to write before her vocation in peripheral medicine? Partly. But it’s broader and more intense than having messy creative fun in streaking watercolors to blend word forms, characters, scenes, plots, and settings. If I’m gonna be ugly-crying honest with myself and with you, I need to be constantly okay with my father’s homicide in 1991, that I may never uncover why that now Pluto-cold case ever happened, or that his putrid ethnic views might’ve factored in his death. I’m also good with not knowing my mother’s deepest fears in having daughters with albinism, or her fright behind her uprooting my 14yo self and its bustling, never-sleepy Metropolis life to a podunk northern Arizona town with one traffic light and one post office. Forensically, though, albeit fictionally, my curiosity Qs and As are a little more sated with each story crafted, crime solved or gotten away with, and growth steps my characters take. That, too, is okay. If there isn’t enough time to read all the books I’d like to, then in a world where the 5Ws and an H are often plain, aspects of how my author life came to pass is a sweet enough mystery for me.

What Makes A Mystery?

by Janis Patterson

We talk a lot about writing mysteries, reading mysteries, enjoying mysteries, but it’s seldom discussed what a mystery is. Leaving out the religious definitions, Dictionary.com says

  1. any affair, thing or person that presents features or qualities so obscure as to arouse curiosity or speculation
  2. a novel, short story, play, or film whose plot involves a crime or other event that remains puzzlingly unsettled until the very end
  3. obscure, puzzling, or mysterious quality or character

So at heart a mystery seems to be an obfuscation, either deliberate or accidental. I can deal with that. It isn’t easy, but I can deal with it. It comes down to making the unknown known, and the writer has the unenviable task of revealing it piece (clue) by piece. That is after he created the story and then covered it up! It is a delicate balance.

Taking a ‘mystery’ and making it into an enjoyable and reasonably coherent novel is a daunting process, whether it’s the question of who took Aunt Ida’s coconut cake to finding a vicious and seemingly omnipotent serial killer. The process is – or should be – the same. Even if it isn’t the first scene in the book, when you’re plotting you need to start with an action by an unknown – i.e., the crime, be it coconut cake or murder. Then you must follow the carefully laid clues but seemingly random clues found by the sleuth, be he amateur or professional detective, and by examining these clues eventually uncover the truth. Don’t forget to complicate the process with a fair amount of believable red herrings and some conflicts/problems caused by the people involved.

The trick to doing this is not to be too obscure or too obvious. And I’m a firm believer that your sleuth has to work at finding these clues and therefore find the solution to the mystery in a logical and sort of organized form. You should also put in enough clues that the reader, if so inclined, has a decent chance of solving the mystery. Now I’m perfectly aware there are mysteries which are widely read and even some celebrated writers who break these rules. The most famous example is Raymond Chandler, who admitted that sometimes even he didn’t know how his sleuth solved the mystery – it just happened. Raymond Chandlers are few and far in between, though; the quality of his writing was so good that neither readers nor critics seem to care. Don’t try to duplicate this. Odds are you can’t.

Another rule-breaker is often the currently popular ‘fluffy’ cozy mystery. The sleuth is usually a woman and she usually has a ‘cute’ job – owning a bakery or specialty coffee cafe or floral shop or something similar. She has or wants a boyfriend, who often turns out to be a policeman of some sort, and a bunch of ‘zany’ or ‘quirky’ friends. All too often in this kind of story the mystery is of secondary importance to personal relationships and the personal life of the sleuth. It’s an overdone trope, but some sleuths still express a passion for shoes which takes up a lot of the story space. Which is fine, as long as that is the sort of story is what the reader wants.

What is not acceptable, however, is when in whatever kind of mystery the sleuth does little to no sleuthing. Clues seem to appear with no effort on the sleuth’s part. The solution is highly reminiscent of the deus ex machina so beloved of Greek and Roman playwrights. I call that a cheat. A mystery shouldn’t need a god to step down from Olympus to unravel a story so complex it is beyond the ken of mere humans.

It is good that there are so many variations of mysteries – puzzles, non-lethal crimes, capers, murders, serial killers, fluffy cozies, traditional cozies, hard-boileds… there is a style of mystery for every reader. I only hope they follow the rules that make a mystery a good story.

Cozy mysteries… on TV

I love cozy mysteries so darn much (so much that I’m saying darn instead of something with a bit more bite). I love to read them and I definitely love to watch them. There’s something about the quirky characters and charming settings brought to life on the screen that makes them so enjoyable.

I’m a huge Hallmark fan. Park me in front of my TV, turn on Sling and let me binge watch Hallmark Christmas romances and I am a very happy woman.

Very. Happy.

Guess what I love as much as a Hallmark Christmas romance? A cozy mystery on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. There are so many great ones and I wanted to share a few of them with you.

As a writer, I love to see how the stories are assembled in film form. As a reader, I can watch a cozy much faster than I can read one 😀 And some of the Hallmark cozies are based on books, which is like super duper extra bonus round.

Mystery 101 series

I LOVE this series. There’s two out currently with a third releasing in September. This series combines several of my favorite things: criminology, academia, romance, and a good mystery.

The setting is great and the chemistry between the two characters sizzles. I love a slow burn romance. But you know what I love most about this one? The female amateur sleuth is brilliant. She’s not ditsy and she doesn’t stumble upon the answers by accident. She’s smart and respected.

Also, the detective respects her. Instead of spending the whole series giving her crap and telling her to stay out of his way, he respects her contributions and acknowledges that she’s helping him solve the murders. I really enjoy the banter, cheekiness and respect these two characters have.

Morning Show Mysteries series

This series first drew my attention because it’s set in the Pacific Northwest (where I live). The family and friends of the characters are so charming, loving and downright silly sometimes.

This mystery also includes a second-chance romance between the amateur sleuth and the detective. Their chemistry is fantastic. Also #RickFox #swoon.

This one does a great job blending several interests, specifically television and cooking. If you like either or both of those things, this is the series for you.

Your turn! Do you watch any Hallmark mysteries or other cozies? I’d love your recommendations!




Right now I’m making the transition from writing a series to writing a stand-alone. There are similarities between the two forms, of course. Setting is still all important, for example. We need to know where the story takes place and how this affects the characters. Is the story set in a city? If yes, then at least some characters will travel by public transportation–the subway or bus or zip car or Uber/Lyft or bicycle. If the setting is a small town or even a farm community, the bus will be a once a day opportunity, and most people will drive everywhere.

The variety of characters around the protagonist will remain important, but here some less obvious differences start to emerge. In any mystery the reader expects a diversity in age, occupation, gender, and race. That’s a given. The list of characters should reflect the makeup of the setting in all its variety and richness. Even in the most traditional stories from the Golden Age, the characters, especially the suspects, had a sense of individuality and diversity within the given bounds of the time. The Anita Ray series is set in a tourist resort in South India, which gives me unlimited possibilities for characters.

In a mystery novel that is part of a series, the suspects orbited around the protagonist and her or his circle of friends and relatives, the recurring personae of the series. We enjoy seeing some of our favorite fictional friends fall in and out of trouble, knowing that in the end, the real culprit will be found out. Our literary friends, of course, will be fine. I was glad of this because I grew very fond of some of Felicity O’Brien’s relatives in Below the Tree Line, my newest series.

In a stand-alone, every single character is equally suspect. There is no protected circle of recurring characters, and there is no single character who cannot be the culprit, not even the narrator in a first person tale. Perhaps I should say, especially not the protagonist now that there are so many stories with unreliable narrators.

As I tackle my first stand-alone, writing every character as though he or she is the villain changes some fundamental aspects of the story. The narrator in a first person story really has no one she can rely on as a trustworthy confidante. We have to suspect everyone. Never can we say, Oh, that’s just Aunt Ida. She’s always like that, right from Book One. In a stand-alone, Aunt Ida, as flaky as she may be, remains a viable candidate for the role of murderer. If the narrator is confiding in her about her suspicions, Aunt Ida could be gathering information that will enable her to foist the guilt onto someone else. Or Aunt Ida could be discerning an important detail that would allow her to blackmail the real villain. Or the narrator could be planting ideas in Aunt Ida’s mind to propel her to act in a certain way. Poor Aunt Ida. She’s landed in the wrong script, and there’s no getting out of it.

The other change that seems most notable to me should be obvious in the preceding paragraph. No matter how dire the situation, I tend to see things through a particular lens, and it shows up in my wry humor. Aunt Ida can’t become a comedic character that undermines the tension of the story.

I’m working on all of this, and when I finally finish this ms I hope I’ll have mastered what is for me partly a new form. Stay tuned as we used to say. More to come.