The Waxing Moon and Me by Heather Haven

Occasionally, we writers write ourselves into a corner. In some ways, it can be fun. It can be a challenge. And being the inventive sort that writers are, we often come up with a pretty nifty bit of business to get out of these scrapes. The bonus is the story often improves, becoming more colorful and interesting.

However, you can’t do that sort of thing with Mother Nature. You have to stick with what is scientifically possible. Unless you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, of course. Then you can have a green sky and 6 moons. But here on earth, we are stuck with one orbiting satellite, which tends to do its thing consistently. In fact, we have come to expect the moon to behave in a certain way. I happen to write cozy mysteries such as the one I’m doing now, Book 4 of The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries. They take place on earth, so I can only diddle around with the truth of it so much.

As I neared what I hoped was the final round of rewrites for Hotshot Shamus before sending it off to my editor, I realized I had several scenes and chapters taking place during two full moons. Unfortunately, these full moons occurred only 10 days apart within the story.

I am not a scientist but even I know there have never been two full moons in that short a space of time. Something catastrophic would have to take place for that to happen. Given the state of the world right now, I didn’t want to go there.

I tried not to panic. Maybe I could turn one of the full moons into a new moon? No, no, no. A new moon is just a full moon coming back within the same calendar month. And it usually happens 25 to 28 days apart.

Time to panic? I couldn’t leave it as it was and I couldn’t abandon the moon being a part of the prose, either. Like many writers, I often make the atmosphere a character in the story. So, it was with this stupid moon. A driving character, too. Did that mean I would be rewriting 4 to 6 chapters worth of story to correct this error?

If I had to, I had to. But I wouldn’t be happy.

After several pieces of chocolate washed down by a martini, I decided to research the moon in all its glory. Maybe the moon did something I didn’t know about that would bail me out. After all, it’s a good moon, a lovely moon, a romantic moon. I even look ten years younger in the moonlight. Moon, don’t fail me now.

Then I stumbled upon what is called a waxing­­­­ gibbous moon. Somehow that particular phase of the moon got by me. I’d never heard of it before. Waning, yes. That rang a bell. But waxing? No. Gibbous, excuse me?? Come to find out gibbous means marked by convexity or swelling of the moon or a planet. Well, I never. Maybe I was in Study Hall when that lesson took place.

Panic avoided. The beauty of a waxing gibbous moon is it turns into a full moon after about 8 days. That’s close enough for my needs. And bless its little heart, it can shine enough light the entire time to save my scenes and chapters. Just a tweak here and there and all became perfectly reasonable.

Ain’t Mother Nature wonderful?

When Research Just Isn’t Working by Heather Haven

Most of us pride ourselves on getting facts and figures right in our novels. And in order to do that we must do research. I come tooth to jowl with that all the time because no matter how much I try to convince my husband I know everything, I don’t. So, whether the story takes place today or yesteryear, I have to do a certain amount of research.

I love doing research most of the time. But truth be told, I have found historical research can come with a few problems, due to time and distance. And information isn’t always readily available. But tough togas. I need to keep at it. Accurate information grounds the reader. Inaccurate info can throw them out of the story. The kiss of death for any writer.

I don’t write this because readers chastised me for getting something wrong. Hmmmm. Well, okay, yes I am, and they did. Frankly, being told you’re a ninny just once is enough. I remember the incident well. I’d written a sentence in the Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries, where I state the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade took place in 1942.

Wrong. I got emails, some not so nice, telling me the parade had been canceled due to the United States’ entrance into WWII. I was ashamed and chagrined. In this case, I was worse than a ninny. I should have made sure I got that fact right. Lesson learned.

Currently, I am writing Hotshot Shamus, the 4th book of the Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries. The series takes place in New York City during WWII. Percy Cole is one of the City’s first female private detectives. At 5’11” and a full-figured gal, Percy is physically bigger than many men of that era. Between that and her brains, she’s quite comfortable living in a man’s world. I love writing about her but sometimes, finding out about the world around her is hard. After all, there was a war on. And living three thousand miles away in sunny California these days doesn’t help. I can’t just hop on a bus.

In Hotshot Shamus, much of the action revolves around the Cloisters, a museum completed in 1938. While living in Manhattan, I visited the Cloisters often, but small details have escaped me. I do know it’s a gorgeous museum dedicated solely to Medieval art and owned by the Metropolitan Museum on 5th Avenue. Unlike the Met, though, the Cloisters is in the middle of nowhere, way up in Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park. Even today the Cloisters doesn’t see the number of visitors it should. In its salad days, it saw even fewer. Probably because the United States had been drawn into yet another world war right after the depression. Life was scary and hard. Most people simply didn’t have the mindset or the luxury of a visit to a museum.

How does this tie in with my historical research? What all of this means is not a lot was written up on the Cloisters during that time. I can get large details, but things such as was there a gift shop, not so much. I have to count on the cooperation of the Met, which they are willing to give. In fact, I recently found out from one of their return calls that they discovered the room that is currently the gift shop was a cloakroom back then. So, the gift shop as a crime scene is out and a chapel is in.

But I have more questions. How big is the Unicorn Tapestry Room? Was the cafeteria opened for Mother’s Day in 1943? Did it even exist then? Which rooms open onto the gardens? The list goes on and on. Once again, the Met is trying to be helpful with this, but even their knowledge of that time has its limitations.

Does that give me carte blanche? Does that mean I can write whatever I want? Not on your tintype. Someone out there has a book, pamphlet, story, or journal about the Cloisters. They may even know someone who trod the grounds of the Cloisters during WWII. Maybe they trod the grounds themselves. But you can bet whoever they are if they read my book and I have made false statements, they will have a fit and tell me off. So, if I can’t verify something, it’s out.

And that’s only as it should be. But man, sometimes research is tough!

Clueless by Heather Haven

I suffered an illness in 2022 which took me months to recover from. During that time, if I did any writing, it was here and there. Not a steady diet. I could usually find a blog or an article to do, not a cohesive structure such as a novel, but at the time, fairly fulfilling. But I got out of the habit of writing every day.

However, when I realized I was a year past due on my fourth Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries, Hotshot Shamus, I knew I had to buckle down. So, I did. Or tried to. It didn’t work. I was easily distracted and the drive to write something as daunting as a novel was so tamped down, I wasn’t sure I could resurrect it again. It was frightening. 

On November 1st, I decided to try NaNoWriMo. On the surface of it, it worked. NaNoWriMo was just the jumpstart I needed. Every day I got up and wrote 1500 words no matter what. In the past, I was writing 5000 words a day, so once I committed to sitting down and writing, it wasn’t hard to do 1500.

On November 2nd, however, is when I realized I wasn’t prepared to write this novel. I didn’t have a storyline, not really, and didn’t know where I was heading, except to the coffee pot for more cups of java. I had just a vague notion, doncha-know. My usual style is to think the story through and write chronologically. I more or less follow a one-day-after-the-other pattern or one consequential scene after the other. Of course, there would be an insert here and there or I’d move a chapter or two around, but it was all fairly controlled.

Not this time. It was like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what would stick where. I’d invent a scenario involving the protagonist and be off and away. If it didn’t reflect or match the ha-ha storyline, I told myself I’d deal with it later. Basically, it was characters, situations, plots, clues, and actions all banged into the keyboard appearing magically on the page. Every day for a month. Needless to say, I graduated NaNoWriMo. 50 thousand plus words were not that hard, especially when most of the words didn’t make any sense.

December had me piecing the story together. Then I added another 15 thousand words or so to make a complete 1st draft.  I cut, swapped out, repurposed, and eliminated scenes and chapters until I got some sort of cohesion. Eureka! A beginning, a middle, and an end. But I am nowhere near done.

Putting aside the rewrites, I am focusing on yet another result of my slapdash approach: the clues. Clues may be mandatory in a mystery but are like cookies. You may think you can never have too many cookies, but overindulge and it will give you a real, live stomach ache.

Unfortunately, the month of November saw me as a wild, reckless writer. Aside from writing anything that came into my head, I would throw in a new clue nearly every day. I’ve wound up with about three times as many clues as needed. I am awash in them. And while I think nothing of throwing away a whole scene that isn’t working, for some reason I am reluctant to let go of even one clue. Let’s face it, I love my clues.

So, January, February, and probably much of March will be devoted to rewrites and getting my clues in order. But I will get there. I shook things up and I’m grateful to NaNoWriMo for the jumpstart. But I have such a stomach ache!

The Art of the Literary Device by Heather Haven

Google states a “Literary Device is a writing technique that writers use to express ideas, convey meaning, and highlight important themes in a piece of text. A metaphor, for instance, is a famous example of a literary device. These devices serve a wide range of purposes in literature.”

And that’s probably as good of an explanation of a literary device as any other. It changes hues from one genre to another. Probably not that much, but enough to separate the people who know what they’re doing from the attempters. I was an attempter in the field of romance. Once. At about chapter 8, I was bored out of my mind. Where’d the dead body go, I asked? So, I added one. Instantly, there was a lot more zip to everything, including my step. But it was no longer a romance story. Let’s face it, if there’s no dead body in my novel, I’m not interested in writing it.

According to song and legend, Edgar Allen Poe was one of the first to qualify as a mystery writer. One of his short stories, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” from 1841, paved the way for a lot of us. Arguably, there are 10 device steps that are needed in order to write a good mystery: a hook, atmosphere, a crime, a sleuth, a villain, narrative momentum, a trail of clues, foreshadowing, red herrings, and, of course, a satisfying ending. It sounds a lot easier to do than it is.

But other genres have latched on to their own devices. I don’t always know what they are or recognize them when they’re hurled out at me. But when I do catch on, I try to learn from them, even if they aren’t applicable to what I do.

Recently we went to see the national tour of Ain’t Too Proud the Life and Times of the Temptations, the Broadway musical. The musical is based on the book “Temptations” by the group’s founder, Otis Williams. For those of you arriving from another planet or born after the year 2010, they were the biggest singing group to come out of Motown, rivals to Diana Ross and the Supremes. And if you’re going to ask who Diana Ross and the Supremes are, please don’t do it in my presence. Or allow me to get a strong scotch first.

Ain’t Too Proud was one of the best productions of any show I’ve seen in a long, long time. Each performer was of star quality, from the leads to people playing multiple roles. The acting, singing, dancing, costumes, lighting, and sets went to a level of perfection seldom achieved in live theater. I have a background in theater and worked backstage on Broadway for 10 years, so naturally, I think I know what I’m talking about. It doesn’t mean I do, but try telling me that.

Anyway, the writer of the musical’s book, Dominique Morrisseau, is first-class. The storyline was clear, well-paced, entertaining, emotionally moving, and all the stuff a really fine book to a musical ought to be but seldom is. And the writer applied a device using verb tenses that astonished me. I will try to explain it. There would be a scene where one character would initially say they were going to do a specific thing. Then after a small amount of dialog, that same character would repeat the same line, but state they were doing that specific thing.  Further on in the scene, the same character would use the same sentence, but this time announcing the long-term result or outcome of what they’d done. So we would go future, present, past, in one fell swoop. Whether it was a few months or years, the plot advanced solely due to these tense changes. I did note that the same words had to be used each time in the sentence and said by the same character for clarity, but this device worked.

It would be great to know if any of you have either seen this device used before or have used it yourself. It was a first for me. And I loved learning about it! But whatever you do, try going to see Ain’t Too Proud. It will make you and your heart sing.

Real Recipes from a Fictional PI by Heather Haven

When you treat your characters as living, breathing entities, things can happen. This includes those near and dear thinking you’re peculiar. For instance, when writing the third book of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, Death Runs in the Family, the two cats from the series, Baba and Tugger, were catnapped and in the back of the villain’s station wagon speeding from Palo Alto to Las Vegas. For reasons I can’t remember, I had to stop writing the story at that point. For three whole days I was uncomfortable about it. I kept telling myself, it’s just a story, right? They’re not real cats trapped in carriers in the back of a station wagon without food or water for days on end, right? Wrong.

On the third night, even though I knew all the above intellectually, I woke up at two am and leapt out of bed, determined to write the fur balls into safety and a bowl of kibble. At nine am I staggered back to bed. But now I could sleep. The cats were fed, cuddled, and loved by Lee Alvarez, the protagonist of the series. On another note, even though my husband is not a writer, he knows me. That night he rolled over and went back to sleep, totally understanding my getting up and needing to save my fictional cats then and there. At least, that’s what he said. And still says. He shoulda been a diplomat.

Any writer will tell you giving fictional characters the same traits as living people is a good idea. Keeps things real, don-cha-know. But like anything else, it can depend on how far you go with it. I tread a fine line. Let’s get back to my protagonist, Lee Alvarez. I’m an eater. So she’s an eater. Of course, she’s a svelte size eight, because this is fiction. I’m a svelte Omar the Tentmaker. But I take great joy in her being a foodie. Which runs in the family. Her uncle, Tio, another character in the series, is a retired chef. His recipes just add to the fun. Sometimes I feel the need for Lee to share one of these recipes. Like now:

Lee here. Even though my idea of cooking dinner is to stop at the nearest deli for a roast beef sandwich, as the central character of the humorous Alvarez Family Murder Mystery Series, I do get to eat a lot of epicurean meals. That’s because my Tio was an executive chef at a well-known restaurant here in the Bay Area. During his career, his recipes were often written up in gourmet food magazines. They’d throw in a few pics of him, too, because Tio is one classy-looking guy. I have articles and pictures in a scrapbook I started in my early teens. That was before my PI days. I don’t have time to make scrapbooks anymore – I don’t have time to do squat anymore – except I do seem to find time to sit down at the dinner table and scarf down one of his culinary masterpieces!

Tío may be retired but his skills aren’t. He still likes to create great meals, but now just for family and friends. While doing so, he tends to make a dish again and again until it reaches his idea of perfection. Meanwhile, lucky me gets to gobble up every version, as he strives for the ultimate. When Tio was working on his Flan de Naranja, I gained six of the happiest pounds of my life. Fortunately, I spend a lot of time chasing bad guys over rooftops, so I can lose the weight as fast as I gain it.

No lie, his flan has gone down in song and legend. If I could sing, I’d demonstrate. Tio even picks the oranges himself right off our backyard tree. I thought it would be nice to share his recipe with you. If any of you make it, though, I sure hope you will invite me over for a helping. It’s a real winner!

Tio’s Flan de Naranja

Serves 4-6:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).


5 egg yolks

1 cup white sugar

3 cups heavy cream

1 cup half-and-half cream

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1 orange peel

1/2 fluid ounce orange liqueur

2 ounces candied orange peel, grated


In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks. Beat in sugar until smooth. Set aside.  In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine cream, half-and-half, the vanilla bean and its scrapings, and the peel of one orange. Heat until bubbles form at edges of liquid, reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes. Remove orange peel. Beat hot cream into egg mixture, a little at a time, until all is incorporated. Stir in orange liqueur. Pour into 4 to 6 individual custard cups.

Line a roasting pan with a damp kitchen towel. Place cups on towel, inside roasting pan, and place roasting pan on oven rack. Fill roasting pan with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the cups.

Bake in preheated oven 45 to 60 minutes, until set. Let cool completely.  Sprinkle candied orange peel on top of each cup before serving. Olé!