Guest Blogger~ Sally Carpenter

Christmas can be murder

By Sally Carpenter

Only ten weeks until Christmas!

In my mind, it’s never too early to break out the holly and tune up the carols. I’m a Christmas junkie. I cry when I pack away the decorations each year and count down the days when I can put them up again. I’ve toyed with the idea of leaving them up year-round. That would save me the bother of hauling them out of storage each year and unpacking.

Readers of cozy mysteries love Christmas. I’m not sure why, but there’s something about the holiday season that brings out the larceny. Maybe it’s the juxtaposing of a cheery time of goodwill against murder, or the thought of strangling that annoying neighbor with a strand of colored lights. Most cozy series have at least one Christmas-themed mystery. I finally wrote my contribution to the genre: The Notorious Noel Caper.

As you can tell by the title, it’s part of my Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series—book five, in fact. I’m astounded that I’ve made it this far in my writing. I have two cozies in my other series—the Psychedelic Spy—for a total of seven books. Many authors have a greater backlist, but I’ll celebrate my output. My first novel was published ten years ago (2011), so that’s almost one book a year. Not bad for a part-time author holding down a day job. Also, many writers stop after one or two books, so I’m thrilled with my longevity.

My Christmas mystery has a twist—it’s set in Southern California, where snow is something you won’t see unless you watch a Hallmark movie or drive (with chains on the tires) up the mountains to the ski resorts. In SoCal, Christmas means sand at the beach, and “cold” weather is 55 degrees. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who have commented about the thick, quilted coat I brought with me when I moved from the Midwest. A “winter coat” here is really a hoodie zipped up.

My book is the only Christmas cozy ever written with surfing Santas. When I was writing the third draft, I saw a newspaper article about the real surfing Santas. That sounded so cool I added them in the story. Every year some surfers dress up in red-and-white wetsuits, put on fake beards and Santa hats, and surf off the coast. No agenda except to put a smile on faces as people watch them shoot the waves. My book cover has a surfing Santa. In chapter 15, Sandy is involved in a surfing Santa event and, like everything Sandy does, ends in near disaster.

The story is set at the Santa’s Magic theme park, based off a poplar (and fictious) movie franchise. SoCal is home to a number of theme parks. Santa’s Magic was inspired by the real-life Santa Claus Land (now called Holiday World), which opened in Santa Claus, Indiana, in 1946, making it the world’s oldest theme park (Disneyland debuted in 1955). My Psychedelic Spy series also has a Christmas theme park, but I made sure the two parks had different rides and attractions.

Sandy is the emcee of the Miss North Pole pageant, inspired by the fact that teen idol Donny Osmond has been involved with both the Miss Universe and Miss USA events. But things get sticky when Sandy’s girlfriend, Cinnamon, is jealous of him spending time around the beautiful contestants. Sandy and Cinnamon are sorting out their relationship that’s been growing over four books.

And the mystery? Well, this time I have three bodies. I had asked members of a cozy readers Facebook group how they felt about multiple murders in a book. Their answers scared me. One said, “The more the merrier!” Since cozy murders take place off the page, three bodies are not as ruthless as it sounds. All of the bodies turn up at the Santa’s Magic park, substituting ho-ho-homicide for holiday cheer.

Christmas cozies remind us of the darkness that lurks in human hearts. In scripture, after the joyful nativity the Holy Family fled into another country to escape an evil ruler who then killed hundreds of babies. Christmas Day may mean sorrow to families who can’t afford gifts or those who face empty dinner table chairs that once held loved ones who have passed away. For some, Christmas may be just another day of living in a sidewalk tent. But cozies also bring us a happy ending: the crook is caught and community order is restored. And what will happened between Sandy and Cinnamon? That too may be a happy ending as well.  

It’s Christmastime in Tinsel Town, and there’s plenty of ho-ho-homicide at the soon-to-open Santa’s Magic theme park, where bodies are dropping like snowflakes. Former pop star Sandy Fairfax has a killer job—he’s the emcee for the televised Miss North Pole beauty contest–er, scholarship pageant. But will the beautiful contestants make his girlfriend jealous? Or will she join him in his sleuthing? The deadly Christmas season begins at a celebrity bowling tournament when a pinsetter plops down a body instead of the pins. Throw in surfing Santas, a seductive executive’s wife, a sleazy tabloid editor, an egotistical movie rival and a gift-wrapped death trap, and it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Print link:   https://www.amazon.com/Notorious-Noel-Caper-Fairfax-Mystery/dp/1952579317

ebook link:  https://www.amazon.com/Notorious-Caper-Sandy-Fairfax-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B09CN1W7V1

As my Christmas gift to readers, I’m giving away a free story to those who sign up for my mailing list. Sandy Fairfax starred in a hit 1970s TV show, Buddy Brave Boy Sleuth. You can get a free Buddy Brave adventure, “The Medieval Malice Caper,” at http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com; scroll to the bottom of the page for the button.

Sally Carpenter is a native Hoosier who now lives in Southern California. Besides writing seven cozies, all published by Cozy Cat Press, she has stories in three anthologies and penned chapter three of the group mystery Chasing the Codex. She works at a community newspaper where she also writes the Roots of Faith column. This year she welcomed a new rescue cat into her home.   

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sally.carpenter.54

I think your character is getting old and senile.

That is what my oldest daughter, one of my beta readers, said to me while reading my latest draft of the next Gabriel Hawke book. I laughed and asked why. She mentioned two things that were not my character’s fault. They were mine. So it is the writer and creator of Gabriel Hawke who is getting senile! LOL

Actually, this last manuscript, I found myself having to reread the last two or three chapters every time I sat down to write because I would have days in between being able to write. I lost the flow of the story and the events. Even though I also write about three or four chapters and then go back and on a notepad write down all the significant events that have to do with the murder or investigation they are doing.

I also have a calendar white board that I put small sticky notes on each day with the significant information that is discovered that day. It helps me keep track of the length of time the book plays out over and what forensics information could be coming in.

With all of these “cover my backside” in place, I still repeated things and had my character saying things that he’d already said. Yikes!

Now I know why I didn’t pursue my writing career until my kids were older. Right now we have our oldest granddaughter living with us. We have been attending her volleyball games and I’ve been taking days to go trail riding with other grandkids. I’m spending time with family and my writing is suffering. But I would rather have that than my family suffering.

While the Hawke book is off with my beta readers, I started fleshing out the next Spotted Pony Casino Mystery book. I did something I have never done. I made a 5 page outline of sorts. I wrote five or less sentences for each chapter pushing the plot of the story along. I didn’t add in any emotional or sub plots, but I’m hoping those will come naturally as I write and the outline will keep my story flowing without repeating and backtracking. Because until this granddaughter graduates in May, I will be busy with her and her school functions as well as having fun with the grandkids down the road.

If you are a writer, do you plot or do an outline before you start a book? Have you ever discovered at the end that you had repeated information?

Readers, have you ever read a book that repeated information or made the main character seem lost?

Guest Blogger~ Debbie Burke

Hi, Ladies of Mystery, I’m crime novelist Debbie Burke. Thank you to Paty Jager for her gracious invitation to chat with you today. Here’s a little about my main character.

Montana widow Tawny Lindholm is swept up into a terrorist plot when she trusts the wrong man.

After Tawny receives a new smartphone as a gift, she’s baffled. This instrument of the devil behaves as if possessed and she dubs it Lucifer. Enter a dashing widower who offers to help her untangle its mysteries. Lonely and vulnerable after her husband’s death, Tawny falls prey to his charm. She doesn’t realize he is a terrorist who sent her the device as part of his plot to destroy the electrical grid. His target: Hungry Horse Dam where Tawny is a longtime seasonal employee. He sets her up as the scapegoat to take the fall for his crime.

Soon she’s being followed. When she can’t explain large cash deposits, the bank and suspicious feds freeze her money. She’s broke, her family is threatened, and she’s on the run.

Can she turn the devil back on himself to save her own life and prevent a blackout affecting millions?

Are there autobiographical elements?

Tawny’s struggles mirror my own experiences with a frustrating new smartphone.

Fortunately, though, I haven’t met any charming terrorists!

When I was writing the book, news stories about the vulnerability of the power grid kept surfacing. Documentaries exposed how easily a smartphone could trigger a cyberattack that would disrupt electricity to vast swaths of the U.S.

I was onto something timely…and scary.

Tawny may seem like an unlikely thriller hero—an everywoman like your neighbor or coworker—but, with technology intruding into all aspects of today’s life, this scenario could happen to anyone…even you.

Instrument of the Devil is the first book in the Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion series. Toward the end of the book, a larger-than-life lawyer named Tillman Rosenbaum comes on scene to defend her. He’s brilliant, arrogant, and sexy. Their gasoline-and-match chemistry leads into the second book, Stalking Midas, where Tawny goes to work for Tillman as an investigator.

Each book is written as a standalone and can be read in any order but there is an ongoing arc of their stormy relationship.  

The series is meant to be entertaining, with fast-moving action, surprise-twist plots, and quirky characters. But it also examines timely issues like terrorism, racism, elder fraud, teen suicide, and a justice system that rarely gives justice. 

Please stop by my website: debbieburkewriter.com

Twitter: @burke_writer

Try Instrument of the Devil for FREE then come back for the other Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion

Click on covers below for Amazon links.

Links to other online booksellers:

Instrument of the Devil

Stalking Midas

Eyes in the Sky

Dead Man’s Bluff

Crowded Hearts – A Novella

Flight to Forever

  

  

Guest Blogger ~ Brenda Whiteside

The Wickedest Town in the West turned ghost town, turned hippie haven, turned tourist mecca…that’s the inspiration for my latest series, The MacKenzie Chronicles. Although I’ve renamed my city Joshua, Arizona, anyone familiar with Jerome, Arizona will recognize the setting within my stories.

I was born and raised in Arizona and fell in love with the city in the 1960s. Jerome has long been a favorite place to visit for locals. The town nearly died in the 1950s when the mining dried up. What once was a raucous little town in the late 1800s through the 1920s, hanging on the side of a mountain, inhabited by the men who worked the mines, the wealthy who owned the mines, and the ladies who lived in the cribs and entertained both, became a ghost town. And the city does literally hang on the side of the mountain. There is the ruin of a jail that slid down three streets during a storm decades ago. The three main roads are stacked like stadium seating on the side of the mountain.

In the 1960s, hippies discovered Jerome and squatted in the abandoned buildings. They took up residence mainly in an area of town called The Gulch. In my series, I have renamed it The Ravine. The wave of hippies and artists also bought homes, improved them, and turned the town into a center for art. To this day, The Gulch/Ravine is a roughed-out area with a road that is nearly impossible to drive. The remaining hippie community prefers it that way.

Today, the town flourishes with artists, wine tasting, historical settings, and restaurants. The residents prefer to keep the town looking much like it did in the 1920s when the mines pumped out the minerals that made millions.

Frank MacKenzie, an artist, and Susie Muse, a store owner and mystic, met in the hippie days of Joshua. The MacKenzie Chronicles are about their three children, now grown. Susie died a couple of decades ago, but two of her offspring have mystic talents while one has her feet more solidly on the ground like her father. There is murder, mystery, suspense, and romance in Joshua, Arizona for the MacKenzie siblings, some of which reaches into those early hippie days and affects the present.

Mystery on Spirit Mountain

The past never sleeps.

The truth never dies.

Only Harlan MacKenzie can sense the troubled history of the Big Purple House. When he’s hired to restore the historical mansion, he doesn’t foresee the secrets—secrets that entangle his family in deceit and murder.

Phaedra is selling the house that has been in her family for decades. As her friends-to-lovers relationship with Harlan escalates, she puts her values on the line and chances losing him.

After a stranger comes to town, weaving her web of deception, hell-bent on correcting an old grievance connected to the house, dark revelations of the past implode the present. Harlan and Phaedra are thrown on a dangerous path, not only risking love but possibly their lives.

BOOK LINKS:

Amazon Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Spirit-Mountain-MacKenzie-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B09CP3BXVG/

Other Book Links:

https://www.bookbub.com/books/mystery-on-spirit-mountain-the-mackenzie-chronicles-book-2-by-brenda-whiteside

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58803364-mystery-on-spirit-mountain

Brenda Whiteside is the author of suspenseful, action-adventure stories with a touch of romance. Mostly. She and her husband are gypsies at heart having lived in six states and two countries. For now, they’ve settled in Central Arizona, but won’t discount the possibility of another move in their future. They share their home with a rescue dog named Amigo. While FDW is fishing, Brenda writes.

Visit Brenda at https://www.brendawhiteside.com

Or on FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/BrendaWhitesideAuthor

Sign up for her email newsletter: https://us3.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=4804e039587723cfe02e83f2c&id=5e4b22a4ac

Twitter: https://twitter.com/brendawhitesid2

She blogs and has guests: https://brendawhiteside.blogspot.com/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003V15WF8

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3972045.Brenda_Whiteside

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/brenda-whiteside

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

The Illusive Word

Early on in my writing, I would have times when I’d be writing along and…nothing. I knew what I wanted to say but I couldn’t find the word I wanted. That was before I was writing on a computer. I would pull out my dictionary and look up a word similar to what I wanted. And hopefully by process of elimination, the right word would reveal itself.

After attending my first RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference, I learned that every writer needs a dictionary( which I had), a thesaurus, The Chicago Manual of Style, and the book Goals, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon. I went home and found those books at my local bookstore and they have been on my shelf. I even purchased a newer version of The Chicago Manual of Style this year.

my shelf of reference books

As you can tell by the ratty cover on the thesaurus, I have used it a lot. Even when I look up a word through Word Docs, I will end up going to the book. I sort through word after word, until I come up with the one that makes the sentence show what I want.

My falling apart thesaurus

There are days it feels like I stop my momentum more than I write. On those days my brain doesn’t spit out the words I want and I hunt and hunt. Then there are days I don’t touch any of the books as my fingers fly over the keys moving my story along with the precise words I need to convey the scene.

I know I will be going back and editing the story and could just put in what I want to say in parenthesis and move on. But my brain won’t let me. I have to have the exact word or I can’t move on with the story. Although there have been a couple of times when the right word couldn’t be conjured up with all my reference books. Then I do put down what I want to say in parenthesis and come back to it when I do the edits, hoping the brain is more engaged that day.

I think the need to have the “perfect” word is a curse to writers. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can use up writing time hunting down the illusive word that is on the tip of my fingers but can’t quite manifest in my mind.

For me, this is a second behind editing as the hardest and most dreaded part of writing for me. How about other writers? Do you also struggle at times to find the right word? Readers, have you ever read something and thought, “this word would have been a better choice?”