Nova: A bright star….by Karen Shughart

I remember sitting on the wet tarmac in the parking lot of PetSmart. It was a cold, rainy day in April a year into the pandemic. Both my husband and I smiled when a man came walking over to us with a tiny Blue Tick beagle on a leash. I opened my arms and she walked into them, and from that moment it was true love.

We hadn’t wanted another dog, our dear Gretchen had gone over the Rainbow Bridge years before, but when we saw Nova on a no-kill shelter website where other friends had recently adopted dogs, we were smitten. The shelter staff was honest. Nova had been severely mistreated as a breeder at a puppy mill, and when she was of no more use to them, they threw her out. By the time the shelter found her, she had tick disease, ear and eye infections, had been shot multiple times with a BB gun (and had the pellets in her body to prove it) and had not been spayed. They didn’t know how long she’d live, given her health challenges. We decided that that we would love and cherish her for as long as we could.

From the beginning she must have sensed the strength of our love, and we provided her with the best medical care possible. After a few months she got a clean bill of health; her eyes sparkled and her coat was shiny . She loved her kibbles, green beans, and pumpkin, and each morning my husband shared a small piece of banana with her while he was eating his.

Nova

She learned to enjoy her daily leash walks and to not be afraid of grass, she’d never seen it before. Within weeks she was patrolling our yard in search of adventures, attempting to dig under our fence to see what was on the other side, and if truth be told, to find whatever goodies she could forage, she was a beagle after all. When we went out for an evening without her, she watched cartoons on TV and nibbled at a Kong filled with frozen green beans. She adored food puzzles and could solve them faster than we could say her name.

One of my favorite things was winter cuddling. On a cold, snowy day, we’d crawl onto the loveseat in our living room, fire blazing in the fireplace. I’d read with her head on my chest, both of us under a cozy throw; she’d fall asleep and snore softly, a paw on my shoulder. She loved being warm and when we tucked her in on a chilly night, I covered her with a soft blanket. She’d sigh and would lick my nose.

At first, we thought it was the heat, we’d had a warm summer, but this year in late August something changed.  She resisted her walks; when she went outside, she stayed on the deck instead of exploring the yard. Her high, squeaky, indignant howl(that had been suppressed by a bark collar at the puppy mill) to let us know she wanted to come back inside was replaced with her sitting in front of the door waiting patiently until we let her in. She started pacing at night, she couldn’t find a comfortable place to sleep, even with two of her beds in our room. Then we discovered several large nodules on her neck. We made an appointment with our vet, but before we could see her, Nova started having serious breathing issues.

That same night we drove to an emergency clinic, where a technician was waiting to admit her. It turns out she was riddled with cancer; the nodules were obstructing her breathing. Steroids to minimize the symptoms were one option; chemotherapy, too, but with either choice her life would be extended by only a few weeks or months.  We couldn’t bear to lose her, but neither could we bear for her to suffer. We made a choice.

At 2 a.m. that morning we gave her a snack of pureed chicken, talked and sang to her, petted and kissed her; with Lambchop, her favorite stuffed toy, and her “blankie” helping her on her journey to the Rainbow Bridge. Before she passed, she nuzzled us once more and gently fell asleep.

Eating Locavore by Karen Shughart

We live in the Finger Lakes region of New York on the south shore of Lake Ontario. It’s a beautiful area with lovely scenery, and defined seasons. I love all the seasons here, but summer is the most bountiful. We’re surrounded by orchards and vineyards, cideries and apiaries, and farms offering up a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, dairy products, or cattle and chickens sustainably and humanely raised.

This year I made a concerted effort to buy local as much as possible. It’s decreased the number of trips to the grocery store, the food tastes better because it’s so fresh, and the shelf-life is longer. It’s also much less expensive. We joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) from an organic farm that delivers items of our choosing every two weeks, and I shop weekly at a farm stand for fresh-picked produce, grass-fed beef, organic eggs from free range chickens, home baked bread, local honey, preserves and cheese. I grow my own herbs.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

For me, buying locally is exciting and challenging. I love concocting menus based on what’s available during any given week. If I can’t get spinach, I use kale and romaine. If strawberries are out of season, I buy berries or stone fruit. I’ll substitute Swiss chard for beet greens and when I can’t get cherry tomatoes, I buy the large, beefy ones that were so common during my childhood.

 I’ve learned to be creative with green beans, cruciferous vegetables, cucumbers, fresh garlic, zucchini, and blueberries, which are plentiful throughout most of the summer. Committing to buying locally and for the most part only eating what’s grown here and is in season also means we won’t be eating corn until early August, apples and pears until September, and winter squashes and root vegetables from early to late fall. When I’ve bought more than we can consume in a week or two, I make soups and stews to freeze for cold winter nights, and there’s always a large pitcher of homemade gazpacho in our refrigerator.

We don’t eat many sweets, but occasionally, especially on hot summer days, it’s nice to have a cold treat. I make homemade ice cream using an ice cream maker, cheating a bit with coconut or almond milk for the lactose intolerant among us, but also using milk from local dairies and fruit from local farms. A wine and spirits store in our village carries Finger Lakes wine; a shop up the road, locally made hard ciders and spirits.

I’ll do this again next year, it’s worked for us. We like knowing we’re supporting our local agricultural community and that everything we eat is fresh and healthy and supplied to us by our neighbors and friends..

To Prologue or Not to Prologue (#2) by Karen Shughart

I promise this isn’t a duplication of Paty Jager’s blog from last Monday. Paty and I frequently seem to be on the same page when choosing topics for our monthly blogs, and when I read her title, I was terrified that my extremely rough draft had somehow made it’s way into scheduling instead of her very well-written and polished one. Fortunately, my fears were allayed when I saw her name as the author. Whew! And while our titles are the same, we’ve written from our own points of view.

Each of the books in my Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mysteries has an historical backstory that’s related to the crime and provides clues to why the murder was committed. In book one, Murder in the Museum, the prologue introduced a character whose journal, written in 1845, was discovered at an archeological dig in Toronto, Canada. The prologue in book two, Murder in the Cemetery, ties the crime to a battle that occurred in Lighthouse Cove, NY during the War of 1812.

My creative juices really started flowing in book two, and I played around with writing two prologues: the first as described above; the other to introduce the setting, the month of May. You’ll have to read the book to learn why that’s important. My dilemma was which to keep and which to discard. I realized I was emotionally attached to both, so decided to get my publisher’s advice-few books are written with two prologues. Her quick response: “go for it,” and I did.

I’m heading down the home stretch with book three, Murder at Freedom Hill. Yet again, I’ve written two prologues: the first, the historical backstory – it takes place in 1859 in Lighthouse Cove during the abolition movement, when fleeing slaves boarded a schooner to transport them across Lake Ontario to Canada. The second is set in November, the month when the harvest is over, and the chill and frost of winter lurk just around the corner.  

What I love about writing this series is that I don’t have to follow all the rules. It doesn’t mean I am undisciplined; I certainly know how to craft a story from beginning to end, but I enjoy taking liberties with commonly accepted writing practices when it makes sense.

It’s up to us mystery writers to decide how our stories will be written. Some begin with the murder; others lead up to it, it can go either way. It’s the same for prologues. Sometimes a book needs no prologue, but at other times a prologue can set the scene and enhance the plot. And at times, two prologues are even better.

It Take a Village by Karen Shughart

The setting for the Cozies I write is a village on the south shore of Lake Ontario in New York, and while fictionalized, it closely resembles the village where I live. If you’ve read the books, you might remember that typical of the genre, there’s a close-knit group of characters who, in addition to solving crimes, also get together for social and community events and to provide support in times of stress.

It’s no accident that I chose to model Lighthouse Cove after Sodus Point. It’s much easier to write about what you know, and while the characters in the book are mainly figments of my imagination, the preponderance of people here are as kind and caring as those, other than the villains, portrayed in the books.

Without going into a lot of explanation, a couple of weeks ago our 21-pound Blue Tick beagle, Nova, escaped from our fenced-in yard on a bright, sunny day.  My husband was out running errands, and when I discovered she was gone, I sprang to action and started walking the streets calling her name. One of my neighbors checked to see if she had perhaps wandered into her carriage house. Another, on her way out of town, took a few minutes to drive around to see if she could spot her. A young woman I’d never met was walking her dog and said she’d look, too, and would bring her home if she found her.

After my husband arrived, we fanned the neighborhood on foot to no avail. We decided to post her photo on a couple of local Facebook sites and then get into the car to continue the search, but before we did, I checked my phone. There was a message. One woman who lives about three blocks away had spotted her, and while she wouldn’t come when called, that person herded her to the home of a friend who always keeps treats and a lead at her house. Fortunately, Nova had identifying tags with phone numbers, and we were notified.  Within an hour of her escape she was home safe and sound, tired and a bit scared, but no worse for the wear.

Around dinner time that evening, my phone rang. A friend, who had heard about her escape from another, asked if we’d found Nova and said that earlier, when he’d heard the news, he’d gotten on his bike and ridden around our village looking for her. The next morning, when my husband walked her, a man he didn’t know stopped him on the street and told him he was glad we’d found our dog.

For some, living in such a tight-knit community would be claustrophobic and confining; for us it’s been a blessing. There are many more incidents I can recall where people have banded together to help those experiencing some sort of crisis that I’ll write about at a different time. But for now, I’ll end with expressing gratitude for living in a village where the call for help is always answered.

It’s All in the Details by Karen Shughart

Even in fiction, it’s important that some details are correct, especially in a murder mystery when describing an investigation and its resolution when the killer is captured. While the plot, setting, and characters can be a complete figment of the imagination, there’s got to be some accuracy when describing the measures taken to solve the crime.

Our communities offer many resources to those of us who write mysteries, among them sheriffs and police personnel, district attorneys, public defenders, prosecutors, and judges. Having access to these experts and being willing to learn from them adds a level of authenticity to our stories, and hopefully results in more reader satisfaction.  I’m fortunate that these professionals have been available to me when I’ve had questions.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

There’s wiggle room, of course, but when investigators on TV are trying to solve a crime and get DNA results in an hour, that’s not how it really works. Although technology has evolved, and today it’s possible for a speedier turnaround time- sometimes in as little as six hours-I try and stick as much to the facts as possible.

I’m working on Murder at Freedom Hill right now, the third is the series of Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mysteries.  In the last two books, the crimes were solved without my needing to provide precise details of what followed after the murderer was apprehended. This time around it’s a bit more complicated.

I’ve realized as I’ve been writing this book that my knowledge of some those procedures is a bit rusty, and I wanted to clarify the steps that must occur from arrest to sentencing, the difference between probation and parole, and the circumstances that permit the defense attorney to make a deal. A few weeks ago, I met with our county’s district attorney.  We spent about an hour together, and after, I went home and revised some sections of the book for clarity, although I must admit that I fudged a few of the details to mesh better with the story.

 The women and men who work at various levels of law enforcement and in criminal justice professions are a valuable resource to those of us who write mysteries. They help provide a framework that allows us to create a book that weaves fantasy and reality into a believable plot.