Guest Blogger ~ Claudia Riess

 The Freedoms and Constraints of Genre

     I love art, mystery and romance and wanted to explore all three.  The notion of “genre” was secondary.  For efficiency my present genre’s been labeled “mystery,” but more accurately, it’s “hybrid.” 

     What sparked Stolen Light, the first book in what was to become my art mystery series, was an offhand remark by my brother, an art historian, about the possibility of unearthing a presentation drawing or cartoon fragment of Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina.  The idea instantly conjoined with a conversation I’d had many years prior with a Vassar College mate, who spoke of her father’s sugar plantation having been confiscated during the Cuban Revolution. (To me, the daughter of an English professor, whose worldly possessions had never crossed the borders of Brooklyn, New York, this was a collision of societal classes never before experienced first-hand.  The memory would remain intact.)  Without losing a beat, I reconfigured events, made the plantation owner an art enthusiast whose art collection is looted during the turmoil of 1958, in an incident shrouded in mystery that would resurface six decades later.  My protagonists, Erika Shawn, a young art magazine editor, and Harrison Wheatley, a more seasoned art history professor, would come into being a few hours later, when I was sitting in front of my computer, staring at a blinking cursor on an otherwise blank screen.  Erika and Harrison, I decided, would would find themselves thrown together in both an academic sleuthing adventure that turns deadly, as well as a burgeoning romance with hazards of its own.

     What pressed me into writing False Light, the second book in the series, and whose plot pivots around the notorious forger, Eric Hebborn (Born to Trouble, a memoir, 1991), is two-fold.  I was now hooked on tackling exploits in the art world, where man’s most sublime aspirations conflict with his basest (a great amalgam for fiction!), and also Erika and Harrison were insisting I allow them to get on with their lives.

     The third book in the series, Knight Light, would focus on the recovery of art seized during Germany’s occupation of Paris, and the fourth and most recent, To Kingdom Come, on the repatriation of art looted from Africa during the late nineteenth century.

     Working in a hybrid medium, where the protagonists are amateur sleuths helping solve crimes, often gruesome, in the art world, and also engaged in a dynamic romantic relationship, can be challenging.  One way I deal with the balancing act is seeing that the principal driving force is the mystery and sticking to it.  To prevent the plot from stalling, I make sure that Erika and Harrison’s personal conflicts have a bearing on their crime-solving.  In one instance, say, Erika goes off on a risky mission on the sly, despite Harrison’s adamant opposition.  Her decision and his reaction play an integral part in how the mystery evolves.

     Something I have to be on guard about is digressing too long on intimate encounters or personal-issue-centered dialogue.  Both can break the forward motion of the central plot.  I have a tendency to get swept into the emotional drama at hand, and it’s only later, when I’m reading through the section where the interlude occurs, that I realize the main thread’s been lost.  Luckily, most of the time all it takes to resolve the problem is a bit of pruning.  On occasion, though, it requires the interlude’s excision.  This can be painful, but sometimes cutting a manuscript—and a writer’s ego—down to size can be a constructive experience.   

Amateur sleuths, Erika Shawn-Wheatley, art magazine editor, and Harrison Wheatley, art history professor, attend a Zoom meeting of individuals from around the globe whose common goal is to expedite the return of African art looted during the colonial era.  Olivia Chatham, a math instructor at London University, has just begun speaking about her recent find, a journal penned by her great-granduncle, Andrew Barrett, active member of the Royal Army Medical Service during England’s 1897 “punitive expedition” launched against the Kingdom of Benin. 

Olivia is about to disclose what she hopes the sleuthing duo will bring to light, when the proceedings are disrupted by an unusual movement in one of the squares on the grid.  Frozen disbelief erupts into a frenzy of calls for help as the group, including the victim, watch in horror the enactment of a murder videotaped in real time.

It will not be the only murder or act of brutality Erika and Harrison encounter in their two-pronged effort to hunt down the source of violence and unearth a cache of African treasures alluded to in Barrett’s journal.

Much of the action takes place in London, scene of the crimes and quest for redemption.

Buy links: https://www.amazon.com/Kingdom-Come-Art-History-Mystery-ebook/dp/B09Z1KFNB4

https://www.levelbestbooks.us/

 Claudia Riess, award-winning author of seven novels, is a Vassar graduate who has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart and Winston, and has edited several art monographs.

                       http://claudiariessbooks.com

                       http://twitter.com/ClaudiaRiess

                       http://www.facebook.com/ClaudiaRiessBooks

Guest Blogger ~ Heather Weidner

With a Little Help from Some Friends

Heather Weidner, Author of the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries and the Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries

I am extremely grateful for all the authors who have shared their ideas, advice, and successes with me through the years. Writing is mostly a solitary process, so it’s nice to know that you’re not alone and that others have experienced what you’re going through. Here are some tidbits that I’ve picked up through the years that have helped me improve my craft and to stay focused.

When I’m working on a new novel, I plot out a simple outline. I learned from Donna Andrews to color-code the different kinds of action in your outline, so you can see it over the course of the book. For example, I mark all romantic elements with pink, humorous items are orange, clues are green, etc. It helps create a visual as you write, and it shows you where you’re missing elements or when you’ve overloaded the story.

I learned from Mary Burton to keep a running list of over-used words. Add to it as you write, and then at the end of each revision cycle, search your document and remove the culprits. She also calls your first draft the “sloppy copy.” Typing “the end” doesn’t mean you’re finished. It’s the beginning of the revision cycle.

I learned from the late Kathy Mix to keep a list of character names for each book. Her rule was to name each character with a different letter of the alphabet. If she already had a Krissy, then she couldn’t have another character whose first name started with a “K.” I build a chart of characters for each book and note where the characters appear. I also create a list of key locations. I enter all the important facts, so I can keep track of the details.

Mary Miley gave me some great advice about honing dialogue. She recommends cutting out the unnecessary pleasantries and chitchat that don’t move your story forward.

Elaine Viets said to know your genre and who is publishing in it. Do your research and know the conventions before you query agents or publishers.

Lynda Bishop recommends that authors keep a timeline for each book to make sure all events are in order and make sense. This helps with pacing. This helps me keep the days straight (so the character doesn’t have lunch two times in the same day).

Tina Glasneck suggests that authors create a calendar for each book launch. Mine starts three months before the launch and runs three months after. Plan all events, interviews, blogs, and media campaigns. Make sure that you track the details.

Jane Friedman tells writers that their platform grows from their body of work. An author’s website and blog should be at the center of all of your marketing.

Frances Aylor and Alan Orloff gave me the best advice for writing. Butt glue (Frances) or BICFOK (Alan). They’re essentially the same. If you want to be a writer, put your Butt in the Chair and Fingers on the Keyboard.

Hollywood has come to Fern Valley, and the one stoplight town may never be the same. Everyone wants to get in on the act.

The crew from the wildly popular, fan favorite, Fatal Impressions, takes over Jules Keene’s glamping resort, and they bring a lot of offscreen drama and baggage that doesn’t include the scads of costumes, props, and crowds that descend on the bucolic resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Added security, hundreds of calls from hopeful extras, and some demanding divas keep Jules’s team hopping.

When the show’s prickly head writer ends up dead under the L. Frank Baum tiny house in what looks like a staged murder scene with a kitschy homage to the Wizard of Oz, Jules has to figure out who would want the writer dead. Then while they are still reeling from the first murder, the popular publicist gets lost after a long night at the local honky-tonk and winds up strangled. Jules needs to solve both crimes before filming is canceled, and her business is ruined.

Book Links

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1685122000

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BHLSYBZ9?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420

Barnes and Noble: Film Crews and Rendezvous: A Jules Keene Glamping Mystery by Heather Weidner, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)

BookBub: Film Crews and Rendezvous: A Jules Keene Glamping Mystery by Heather Weidner – BookBub

Books a Million: film crews and rendezvous : : Booksamillion.com

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/shop/heatherweidner

Fantastic Fiction: Film Crews and Rendezvous (Jules Keene Glamping Mystery, book 2) by Heather Weidner (fantasticfiction.com)

Goodreads: Film Crews and Rendezvous by Heather Weidner | Goodreads

Kobo: Film Crews and Rendezvous eBook by Heather Weidner – EPUB | Rakuten Kobo United States

Scribd: Film Crews and Rendezvous by Heather Weidner – Ebook | Scribd

Through the years, Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She writes the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries, the Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries, and the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries.

Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Deadly Southern Charm, and Murder by the Glass, and her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Social Media Links

Website and Blog: http://www.heatherweidner.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HeatherWeidner1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeatherWeidnerAuthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heather_mystery_writer/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8121854.Heather_Weidner

Amazon Authors: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00HOYR0MQ

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/HeatherBWeidner/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heather-weidner-0064b233?trk=hp-identity-name

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/heather-weidner-d6430278-c5c9-4b10-b911-340828fc7003

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@heather_weidner_author?lang=en

Guest Blogger ~ A.M. Reade

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

I recently took an online quiz designed to determine whether I am a right-brained or left-brained person. There were probably a thousand other things that might have been a better use of my time, but I was intrigued (Clickbait, you’ve come to the right place). In a nutshell, right-brained people tend to be the more creative types, whereas left-brained people tend to be more analytical.

You may have seen this quiz, or recall one very much like it from 2015. People are shown a photo of a sneaker and asked what they see: is it gray and teal, or is it pink and white? Back in 2015, it was the dress. Did you see a blue and black dress or a white and gold one? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google it. You’ll see what I mean.

In a brilliant illustration of what it’s like to be me, the sneaker and dress quizzes indicate that I fall into both right-brained and left-brained camps—or neither, depending on how you look at it.

In all seriousness, though, everyone has both right- and left-brain capabilities, though one side or the other happens to be dominant in most people. I honestly don’t know which is my dominant side.

I used to consider myself a left-brained person: verbal, analytical, and (somewhat) organized. That makes sense—I practiced law before turning to writing fiction, and the law is very logic-based. I know, I can hear you laughing from here, but it really is true, at least in a courtroom setting. Writing a novel requires a certain amount of logic, too. A writer’s job is to come up with a plot and a story arc that make sense to the reader.

The longer I’m away from the law, though, the more I find myself doing things like handicrafts and gardening and artwork and experimental cooking (I like to tweak or make up recipes just to see what will happen) in my spare time. These are typically considered right-brained activities.

This got me thinking: where does that leave the zealous lover of mystery fiction?

And here’s what I’ve decided: writers and readers of mysteries get to experience the best of both worlds (both sides of the brain) simultaneously.

The act of writing satisfies and exercises both analytical and creative muscles, as does the act of reading. Is there anything better than finding yourself immersed in a story, following along as if you’re part of the action? Whether you’re writing that story or reading it, you’re using both sides of your brain. You’re walking the logical path of the plot from beginning to end, puzzling out the clues, and you’re using your imagination to experience the sights, sounds, scents, and tactile sensations of the setting.

If you’re a writer, you’ve done your job if a reader comes away with a feeling of satisfaction. If you’re a writer of historical mysteries, as I am, you’ve done your job if the reader also learns a little something in addition to enjoying the mystery.

If you’re a reader, you’ve done your job if you’ve simply paid attention to the story. You’ve very likely used your imagination without even realizing it. This is left- and right-brain exercise at its best.

It turned out to be a good thing for me to take that sneaker quiz because it led me down the rabbit hole of research into how people use different parts of their brains. It got me thinking of the ways in which I use my own brain.

If you’re reading this post, you probably love mysteries. You use your whole brain when you read. So where do you see yourself on the left-brain/right-brain spectrum? What do you do in addition to reading? Are you a stock analyst? Are you a painter? Does (or did) your day job exercise a different part of the brain than the part you use when you read? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks to the Ladies of Mystery for hosting me here today. It’s been a fun post to write and I hope it got you thinking.

CAPE MENACE

The year is 1714. Two years have passed since Ruth Hanover vanished into the wilderness of the New Jersey colony without a trace, leaving behind her husband, William, and their daughter, Sarah.

Though William and Sarah have never stopped hoping Ruth will return, as time goes by it becomes less and less likely they will ever see her again.

Now William is acting strangely. He won’t tell Sarah why he’s conducting business with a mysterious stranger in the middle of the night, he won’t explain the sudden increase in his income, and he won’t share with her what people in town are saying about her mother’s disappearance.

When the time comes for Sarah to face her father’s secrets and figure out why her mother never came home that December day in 1712, what she learns will shock her tiny community on the New Jersey cape and leave her fighting for her life.

KINDLE: https://www.amazon.com/Cape-Menace-Historical-Mystery-Collection-ebook/dp/B087PJWX7Y

APPLE IBOOK: https://books.apple.com/us/book/cape-menace-a-cape-may-historical-mystery/id1511409624

KOBO: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/cape-menace-a-cape-may-historical-mystery

BARNES & NOBLE NOOK: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/cape-menace-amy-m-reade/1136964165

GOOGLE PLAY: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Amy_M_Reade_Cape_Menace?id=P3zkDwAAQBAJ

PAPERBACK: https://www.amazon.com/Cape-Menace-Historical-Mystery-Collection/dp/1732690782

Amy M. Reade is the USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of cozy, historical, and Gothic mysteries.

A former practicing attorney, Amy discovered a passion for fiction writing and has never looked back. She has so far penned three standalone Gothic mysteries, the Malice series of Gothic novels, the Juniper Junction Holiday Cozy Mystery series, the Libraries of the World Mystery Series, and the Cape May Historical Mystery Collection. In addition to writing, she loves to read, cook and travel. Amy lives in New Jersey and is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

You can find out more on her website at www.amymreade.com.

BLOG: https://amreade.wordpress.com/

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/amreadeauthor

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/stores/Amy-M.-Reade/author/B00LX6ASF2

GOODREADS: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8189243.Amy_M_Reade

BOOKBUB: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/amy-m-reade

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/readeandwrite

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/amymreade PINTEREST: https://www.pinterest.com/amreade/

Guest Blogger ~ Robin Henry

Great mystery/thriller books writers should read… by Robin Henry

It is time for year end lists!  Here’s my list of favorite mysteries and thrillers I read in 2022.  NOTE—I read these in 2022, some of them were published earlier…

Each of these are a great mini-masterclass for mystery writers, too. Each does a wonderful job of keeping the reader curious, building suspense, but without frustrating the reader.  Several of them are also playing with form, like epistolary or traditional historical.  If you want to write a great mystery or just get lost in one for a while, these are all excellent choices.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

An excellent use of the epistolary form, and just a fun mystery with a load of crazy characters who will keep you guessing.  Definitely recommended for Cozy fans…

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Domestic Thriller by the current Queen of the Genre in my opinion.  So many family secrets…but somehow all loose ends are explained and tied up at the end.

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

Need a book that will make you stay up until 2 AM?  Look no further.  This apartment building is creepy and so are the people who live there…

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

You’ll laugh, you’ll tear up, you’ll love every moment you spend with the gang. One of the most fun things about Osman is the observations he makes about the world through the eyes of his characters.  Surrender to it and you won’t be sorry.

Apothecary Melchior and the Mystery of St. Olaf’s Church by Indrek Hargla

English translation by Adam Cullen, English version published by Peter Owen

A finely plotted traditional medieval whodunit.  If you’ve been wishing for a new Father Cædful, try Apothecary Melchior…

Fatherland by Robert Harris

Gritty, alternative history mystery set in the Berlin of a partially victorious Third Reich.  The Cold War looks a little different and the Americans under President Joe Kennedy (mobster father of John, Ted, and Robert) is cozying up to the fascists. The book is simply fantastic and also a little frightening because of the way Harris understands human nature.

See more book reviews along with free writing tools at http://readerly.net

Robin Henry is a librarian and independent scholar turned book coach who loves history and mysteries along with her hot beverage.  You can find out more at http://readerly.net or contact her at readerlybooks@gmail.com 

Voice as Unique as a Fingerprint

My mind spins so many different directions when I’m “stewing and brewing” the next book or chapter. The other day, as browsed the email of free photos from Depositphotos a vector caught my attention. It is in this post. I thought could I use that for anything, and poof! the idea for this post came to mind.

Everyone has a unique to them fingerprint. It is theirs and theirs alone.

The same can be said for a writer’s voice. Not their speaking voice, their style of writing. Some writers use long, elaborate words or sentences. They spin their tales with sinewy prose, weaving the tale in between the actual words on the page. Then there are others who use precise words, short sentences, and graphic descriptions.

No matter what the writer writes there is a telltale “fingerprint” to their writing. Think about some of your favorite authors. Why do you read each one of their books? Is it how the story is worded? The characters? The plotting?

Characters? Plotting? How can that be voice? Again, think about your favorite authors. Do the characters seem similar even if they have different names, backgrounds, and ethnicity? Every author puts a little of themselves into their main and sometimes secondary characters. They can’t help it. Otherwise, how would they be able to describe feelings, emotions, and even the setting around them, if they didn’t allow a bit of themselves to slip into the characters.

And Plotting- You can give five authors the same basic theme for a book and each one would put their own spin on how that theme or plot played out. Again, they would each put their knowledge, feelings, and imagination into that story, making it their own with their unique voice.

I’ve always thought of my writing as simple and engaging- not really having a memorable voice. However, many readers tell me they enjoy the simplicity of my writing. They can see the story as it unfolds and not have to guess what words mean. I take that as a compliment to my style. Especially, when I’ve had several people also say that my books brought them back to reading.

My true voice, I think, is that all my stories are about justice. Not just the bad guy getting what he deserves but also showing the injustices that are in the world. I will throw in a cause here and there in my books to bring it to the attention of my readers. And thankfully, they understand that is what I’m doing. I don’t preach. I reveal the injustice and leave it up to the reader to do more digging if it intrigues them. That is my voice. As unique to me as my fingerprints.

Coming at the end of this month, book 10 in my Gabriel Hawke series, Bear Stalker.

Greed, misdirection, and murder has Hawke rushing to track his sister in the Montana wilderness before she becomes the next victim.

Oregon State Trooper Gabriel Hawke’s sister, Marion, is on a corporate retreat in Montana when she is suspected of murder. Running for her life from the real killer, she contacts Hawke for help. 

Hawke heads to Montana to find his sister and prove she isn’t a murderer. He hasn’t seen Marion in over twenty years but he knows she wouldn’t kill the man she was about to marry.

As they dig into possible embezzlement, two more murders, and find themselves trying to outsmart a wilderness-wise kidnapper, Hawke realizes his sister needs to return home and immerse herself in their heritage. Grief is a journey that must be traveled and knowing her fiancé had wanted Marion to dance again, Hawke believes their culture would help her heal.

You can pre-order it here:

https://books2read.com/u/mdjNzW