Writers and Our Mentors

Over the last few weeks I’ve come across more than one article on writers and their influences. Every writer has one person we consider a mentor whether we acknowledge them as such or not. We usually think about mentors as the person who stands over us, and guides us in negotiating the world as it appears to a beginner. But in writing, the influence is both more subtle and more complicated.

James Crumley, like many others, thinks of Raymond Chandler as his lamp on the highway of narration, and William Zinsser thinks of E. B. White and his light tone before he begins work. R. V. Raman grew up reading Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and other writers of the Golden Age, which spurred his longing to write a traditional mystery set in India. Dorothea Brande talks about influences in more specific terms.

After warning the writer against imitating others in Becoming a Writer, she suggests the beginner analyze her work for its weaknesses and then seek out those who have the skills she lacks. If your dialogue is wooden or uninteresting, pick up a book by a writer known for riveting, revealing dialogue, and discover that no two people speak exactly alike. The distinction is more than the occasional vocabulary item, and a good dialogue will challenge the reader. I thought about her advice when I began working on Below the Tree Line: A Pioneer Mystery, which is set in a rural area quite different from where I live though I know it fairly well. My love of the traditional mystery, by writers such as Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and others, should be obvious. But others also played a role.

Although many writers spend time setting a scene in the mountains or along the ocean, few use it as a character as well as a now-forgotten English writer, P.M. Hubbard. Published in the 1960s and 1970s, he often set his stories in a natural world of both beauty and danger. His final scenes of The Quiet River have stayed with me over the years, a reminder of how powerful nature can be not only in shaping a story by challenging characters but also by undermining their civilized veneer, and washing away illusions of control and safety.

No story or novel is written today without influence from other fiction even if the story line is based on a true story. When I think of The Scarlet Letter, I wonder if Hawthorne was thinking of Edgar Allan Poe, whose crime tales and other work he admired. This classic novel reads to me as an early crime novel, with Chillingworth, the outraged husband, appearing as a secret sleuth out for revenge. He investigates, zeroes in on a suspicious situation, and moves closer to a suspect, driving this man further into despair. I’m not the first one to have entertained this idea. I just like the sense of writers working in conversation with others, learning from each other and engaging in a dialogue with our predecessors in our narratives.

Guest Author – Jacqueline Seewald

I’ve been asked how I came up with the main character in my mystery series.  I originally got my inspiration to write a mystery novel with an academic librarian as amateur sleuth during the time of my library studies at Rutgers University. Completing my MLS degree, I was required to attend symposiums. One speaker was a Princeton University librarian who spoke on the subject of inferno collections. His lecture was so fascinating and vivid that I was inspired to do further research. I became convinced the concept of inferno collections would be an excellent frame for a mystery novel and that no one else had written anything similar. (Briefly, inferno collections are banned books considered inappropriate for general public display and reading. Often these were books deemed salacious and kept separate or hidden in libraries under lock and key).

My novel THE INFERNO COLLECTION was the first in the Kim Reynolds series.

It was published in hardcover by Five Star/Gale, who published two more of the novels in the days when they did mystery fiction. All three of the books received fine reviews. They were also picked up by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery for paperback editions and distribution.

Kim Reynolds isn’t me. She’s a creation of my imagination, as are the other characters in the series. There are now five mystery novels with Kim as the main protagonist. The fifth novel, BLOOD FAMILY, was recently released by Encircle and has also garnered excellent reviews.

Blood Family

A Kim Reynolds Mystery

Blood Family is Jacqueline Seewald’s fifth Kim Reynolds Mystery. Kim, an academic  librarian, is intent on finding her biological father. Unfortunately after locating him, James Shaw dies unexpectedly. It is up to Kim to connect with the family she has never known. In doing so, she discovers a half-sister who is in need of her emotional support. Kim is concerned that Claire Shaw is being exploited and wants to help her. Kim also learns that Claire’s stepmother died under mysterious circumstances and her stepbrother disappeared. When Kim becomes involved, her life is placed in danger. Kim’s fiancé, Lieutenant Mike Gardner, Wilson Township homicide detective, investigates along with Sergeant Bert St. Croix.

Amzon but link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1645990435

Encircled buy link: http://encirclepub.com/product/bloodfamily/

Multiple award-winning author, Jacqueline Seewald, has taught creative, expository and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Twenty of her books of fiction have been published to critical praise including books for adults, teens and children. Her most recent mystery novels are DEATH PROMISE and BLOOD FAMILY. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications and numerous anthologies such as: THE WRITER, L.A. TIMES, READER’S DIGEST, PEDESTAL, SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE, OVER MY DEAD BODY!, GUMSHOE REVIEW, LIBRARY JOURNAL, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR. She enjoys painting landscapes and singing along to all kinds of music. Her writer’s blog can be found at: http://jacquelineseewald.blogspot.com

Push the Limits by Paty Jager

I have written two mystery series with Native American characters, while I am not Native American. I’ve read books by Native American authors, have a friend who lives on the Colville Reservation with her Native American husband, and I have lived in an area that has so much Native American history I feel it seeps into you.

But I am facing my biggest challenge as a writer, now, when it is more politically correct to be of the same heritage as the characters you write.

I started slowly, with my heroine, Shandra Higheagle being only half Native American so I could have her raised without that influence and have her discover it as I did writing her story.

Paiute Dancer photo by me

But I felt the area where I grew up, needed more exposure about the people who lived and were stewards of the land before if was favored as lush feed for cattle. And that was how my character, Gabriel Hawke, came to be. He is of Nez Perce and Cayuse heritage. He is working as a State Trooper with the Fish and Wildlife Division in Wallowa County, the land where his ancestors summered and winter. While he hasn’t lived on the reservation since graduating high school, I feel I can pull off his loyalty to his ancestors and still have him respect his culture but not be fully immersed in it.

Now, as I am writing the last Shandra book and moving onto a new character, I have to tame the lump in my gut and start contacting people on the Umatilla Reservation. My next character will be living and working on the reservation. I will need first hand knowledge to make this character ring true and to make her not only show the life of someone trying to end the cycle of prejudice and move on, but also someone who values her people’s culture.

That my writer and reader friends is what I will be trying to achieve the next few months. Connecting with people who are willing to allow me into their world and to show a life that I am not a part of but believe in.

Wish me luck! And let me know if you have anyone on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation who would be willing to help me. I’m sending out feelers this week.

Guest Author – Tara Lush

Write What You Know (And always listen to your best friend)

By Tara Lush

When I first started writing fiction six years ago, I turned to romance. It was a genre that I’d read and loved — along with mystery and true crime, of course. When I told my oldest friend about my plan to write a steamy novel, she scrunched up her face.

“Why aren’t you writing crime fiction?”

It was an excellent question. I’ve been a newspaper and wire service journalist in Florida for two decades, with many of those years devoted to the weird, the horrific, and the criminal. I’ve covered many of the state’s biggest crime stories. High-profile ones such as Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin. Lesser-known murderers who had abducted children and those who attacked fellow citizens in a drug-induced haze. I’ve also covered eleven mass shootings (including Parkland and Pulse) and witnessed thirteen executions in Florida’s death chamber.

“Pfft. Why would I write crime fiction?” I asked my friend. “It’s too depressing. Too much like my day job. I want to do something different. My muse is telling me to write about sex.”

And yet, my muse told me to write a romantic suspense for my first novel. I moved on from there, writing contemporary romance and erotic romance. And while I had some measure of success — a RITA finalist book in 2018 — it never felt a hundred percent right, either.

In 2019, I was on a trip to Vermont and sitting around my best friend’s house. I was musing aloud about my next steps for my fiction career. Self-publishing contemporary romance was increasingly difficult and competitive, I told her, and writing the happy-ever-after between the couple wasn’t as satisfying as it had been in previous years. I wanted to tell a story about justice, but with humor and nuance.

I’d recently finished a series about couples in a quirky Florida town, and let’s just say the eccentricities of the characters weren’t resonating with romance readers. I was frustrated.

“What about a mystery novel?” my friend asked.

I mulled this over for the entire month of August while I was on a monthlong vacation. I’d been reading Kathy Reichs’ Deja Dead, and although I loved it, I couldn’t imagine myself writing something so dark. There was the matter of the day job trauma, after all. But what if I could write something softer, something with a little romance and a twisty murder… something gentle.

A cozy mystery, perhaps?

While sitting in a café in Quebec City and drinking the best espresso I’d ever had, I sketched an outline for my cozy. I used my experience as a crime reporter to plot the murder. First I chose a victim. Then I chose a murderer. I worked backwards with the details and clues, thinking about all the police reports I’d read over the years, all the news conferences I’d been to, and all the cops I’d chatted up. Suddenly everything made sense.

You know those wooden puzzle boxes, the ones that seem so hard to open? That’s what my brain felt like. Each clue, each detail, unlocked something inside my creative soul in a way that romance didn’t. I was able to blend my quirky characters and my love of a Florida setting with a murder and a romantic subplot. Justice as an HEA was more alluring than a fictional marriage proposal.

What was this sorcery?

That fall, I wrote my cozy mystery and in March of this year, sold it to Crooked Lane Books.

The lesson here is to always listen to your best friend. And perhaps, listen to what your muse is whispering.

Barista Lana Lewis’s sleuthing may land her in a latte trouble as Tara Lush launches her debut mystery series.

When Lana Lewis’ best — and most difficult — employee abruptly quits and goes to work for the competition just days before the Sunshine State Barista Championship, her café’s chances of winning the contest are creamed. In front of a gossipy crowd in the small Florida town of Devil’s Beach, Lana’s normally calm demeanor heats to a boil when she runs into the arrogant java slinger. Of course, Fabrizio “Fab” Bellucci has a slick explanation for jumping ship. But when he’s found dead the next morning under a palm tree in the alley behind Lana’s café, she becomes the prime suspect.

Even the island’s handsome police chief isn’t quite certain of her innocence. But Lana isn’t the only one in town who was angry with Fabrizio. Jilted lovers, a shrimp boat captain, and a surfer with ties to the mob are all suspects as trouble brews on the beach.

With her stoned, hippie dad, a Shih Tzu named Stanley, and a new, curious barista sporting a punk rock aesthetic at her side, Lana’s prepared to turn up the heat to catch the real killer. After all, she is a former award-winning reporter. As scandal hangs over her beachside café, can Lana clear her name and win the championship — or will she come to a bitter end?

Preorder here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/667052/grounds-for-murder-by-tara-lush/9781643856186/

Tara Lush is a journalist with The Associated Press. Her debut cozy mystery, GROUNDS FOR MURDER, will be published Dec. 8. learn more about her and her books here:

Guest Blogger – Daniella Bernett

How Do I Kill Thee?

Murder is a shocking and terrifying taboo. The very word sends an icy frisson slithering down one’s spine. And yet, it is an occupational hazard for a crime writer. On a cerebral level, the taking of a human life is fascinating. It is a serious business, requiring cunning and sangfroid mingled with passion, anger or fear. A certain degree of luck is necessary to pull off a murder without getting caught. The faint of heart would be riddled with remorse and horror at this deadly transgression.  

Setting aside the moral considerations, I find it deliciously thrilling to plot a murder. The omnipotent power to kill is a dizzying prospect. Murder is an art form, if one thinks about it. The killer must be creative. But how does an author choose from the plethora of methods available? Your character is the key to unlocking this mystery. Therefore, an author must first delve into the murderer’s psyche to thoroughly understand why he or she came to make the fatal decision. Is he or she an assassin, a spurned lover, a business partner who has been swindled, or an average individual pushed to the brink in an extraordinary situation? Once the author has sketched this character profile, the pieces will fall into place and the story will begin to flow. The author must have absolute trust in the murderer. He or she will guide you down the evil path and determine if the victim expires quickly or suffers a slow, lingering death.

In most cases, murder stems from a rupture in an intimate relationship. This personal animus is likely fueled by emotion and an overwhelming thirst for revenge. Consequently, this means inflicting pain. The thrust of a knife into the heart, stomach or between the ribs would do the job nicely. With stabbing, the murderer and victim must be at close range. Generally, stabbing ensures that the killer’s face is the last thing the victim sees in this world, satisfying a desire to mete out punishment. For this reason, the murderer in one of the books in my series featuring journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief/insurance investigator Gregory Longdon slashed the throat of an unscrupulous man, who had derived malicious glee from ruining other people’s lives.

Meanwhile, shooting also would induce pain. With this method, the author has the option of killing someone instantly, forcing the culprit to hastily cover his or her tracks. This provides an opportunity to sprinkle red herrings through the story. Conversely, the dark deed can rattle the murderer to the point that he or she is no longer thinking clearly and makes mistakes. Another possibility is that the gunshot does not kill the victim outright. It may cause a grave wound, presenting the murderer with a chance to finish off the victim another way. Let’s say by poison, for example.

Ah, poison. To me, it’s so sinister and tantalizing. I believe I share this view with my hero Agatha Christie, who masterfully eliminated dozens with a soupçon of poison. Some poisons are tasteless and odorless. Then there is cyanide, which smells like bitter almonds, while arsenic, when heated, gives off an odor resembling garlic. Depending on what your story dictates, poison can work instantaneously or the victim can waste away little by little. Russian spies, and Putin in particular as a former head of the KGB, have a penchant for using poison to dispatch enemies, defectors and anyone who dares to oppose them. As a result, poison was my weapon of choice in another novel. The story dealt with a defector who recklessly pitted Putin against Russian mafia boss Igor Bronowski. At the same time, both had unsavory entanglements with a ruthless British entrepreneur. All were obsessed with a flawless blue diamond. I will confess that two victims succumbed to poison in the book. However, poison is not the exclusive domain of the assassin. An author can wield it perfectly well among those who have a personal score to settle. On this point of the professional versus the amateur (for want of a better word) killer, an assassin can employ stabbing or shooting in a pinch for expediency’s sake.

A lethal arsenal would not be complete without strangulation, drowning and smothering. But all three may prove troublesome because they require a degree of strength and the victim will most certainly put up a struggle. A murderer wants death to come swiftly with a minimum of fuss to have time to disappear before the body is discovered. On the same token, bludgeoning someone to death with a heavy object could prove messy, since several blows would likely be needed thus causing a good deal of blood to be shed. Of course, an author may want to employ bludgeoning for precisely this reason to set the stage for the murderer’s ultimate undoing. For in the haste to flee, he or she may miss a trace of blood.

Allow these diabolical musings to steep in your mind. After a while, you’ll come to realize that it’s criminally good fun to acquire a literary taste for murder.

OLD SINS NEVER DIE

Never look back…Treason is deadly

While in the Lake District, journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief/insurance investigator Gregory Longdon overhear a man attempting to hire international assassin Hugh Carstairs, a MI5 agent who went rogue. They race back to London to warn Philip Acheson of the Foreign Office and Superintendent Oliver Burnell. But it’s a devil of problem to prevent a vicious killing, if the target is a mystery.

More trouble brews as Emmeline pursues a story about shipping magnate Noel Rallis, who is on trial for murder. Rallis is desperate to keep the negative publicity from exposing his illicit schemes, especially something sinister called Poseidon. Lord Desmond Starrett, whose dark past made him easy prey for blackmail, is getting cold feet about their dubious partnership. Hovering in the shadows of this ugly secret world is a Russian mole buried inside MI5. Scorned prima ballerina Anastasia Tarasova makes the fatal mistake of threatening to reveal all she knows. The hunt for the answers takes Emmeline and Gregory up to Scotland, where they learn that the truth has lethal consequences.

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Old-Sins-Never-Die-Emmeline/dp/1644372762

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/old+sins+never+die+daniella+bernett/

Daniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America NY Chapter and the International Thriller Writers. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger, Deadly Legacy, From Beyond The Grave, A Checkered Past and When Blood Runs Cold are the books in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure. Visit www.daniellabernett.com or follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008802318282 or on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/40690254-daniella-bernett. Old Sins Never Die, the sixth book in her series, was released today.

Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008802318282

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/40690254-daniella-bernett

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/daniella-bernett

My Own Version of Justice by Paty Jager

This year, I’ve been banging the keyboard and getting projects done…until last month. It seemed like every time I got in a good day, or two, of writing, something came up and I went days without getting a word down on my WIP (work in progress).

This month, I’m determined to get the 6th Gabriel Hawke book written and out to my CPs (Critique Partners) I’ve had this story idea in my head since I did my ride-along with a State Trooper before I started this series.

It’s something that happened in real life but I’m putting a different spin on it. On the ride-along, the trooper pointed out a campsite and said, “See that burnt spot?”

I did. It was a campfire ring of charred rocks and grass three feet around the ring.

“A vehicle rolled over the fire with a man in it. It was written up as an accident.” The trooper looked over at me. “What do you think?”

“There is no way it was an accident,” were my words. The area was flat. A vehicle even if knocked out of gear wouldn’t have rolled the distance the vehicle was parked away from the fire.

“The victim was drunk. His wife kicked him out of the tent and he went to sleep in his vehicle. They say, he must have bumped the gearshift and it rolled.” He glanced at me again.

I shook my head. “Why was it pronounced an accident? I don’t see how it could have been.”

“All the investigators wanted to call it a homicide but the District Attorney said we didn’t have enough evidence and didn’t want us digging into it any further.”

I could hear the dismay in his voice. He clearly felt someone had gotten away with murder. And that is why my book, Turkey’s Fiery Roost, is about Hawke tracking down the killer.

Writers, do you like to use real life murders/criminal activity to spur ideas?

Readers, do you like knowing that writer’s try to write their own form of justice when putting together a murder mystery?

Guest Blogger – Kimila Kay

The story idea for Peril in Paradise came after a news story featuring a Portland mother whose daughter had gone missing on her way to school. The mother’s anguish, and hope, as she pleaded for her daughter to be found, moved me. Unfortunately, as the story unfolded, the young girl’s body was found a few houses from her home, tucked into some bushes. I found myself wondering how this mother was coping with the death, and rape, of her daughter? What kind of monster had the young girl encountered, in less than a mile from her home, in a neighborhood where she felt safe?

The mother didn’t make another news appearance, heartbroken beyond words I imagined. The man responsible for the girl’s death was apprehended and eventually sent to prison. Closure for the girl’s mother, and the rest of her family. Possibly.

I couldn’t let go of the idea that sending the murderous rapist to prison actually brought closure. Questions such as: What would I have done if it was my child? Would I have been comforted by the man’s conviction? Or would I have wanted a more permanent type justice.

Justice versus revenge? What would bring me comfort? I knew I couldn’t kill someone, which triggered the thought: Maybe I could hire someone? Of course, I watch enough crime shows to know hiring someone to do the deed doesn’t ensure you won’t get caught. The young girl’s rape and murder, coupled with her mother’s helplessness, continued to torment my thoughts.

And then I had a dream . . . I love when my writer’s brain takes a thought and creates a fictional scenario that can be woven into an intriguing story. Hence, Peril in Paradise was born!

In my dream, I could clearly see my villain. I had been trying to come up with a story idea for my Mexico Mayhem series but hadn’t been able to find a plausible storyline that began in the United States and ended in Mexico. Viola ~ Damian Garza provided the crossover opportunity I needed.

I could also visualize my hero. A man tortured by Damian’s previous villainous acts. A man who I could imagine carrying out a murder for hire scenario. Jackson Brady had his own need for justice . . . or revenge.

What I couldn’t see in my dream was my heroine. I knew she existed because I felt her pain and anger over losing her daughter. But I couldn’t see her. But not being able to picture Clara Marsh wasn’t a problem for me. As a mother, I could truly imagine her suffering. Her grief. Her guilt. Her need for justice. Her desire for revenge. I knew Clara Marsh would be a little like me.

Peril in Paradise

Mexico Mayhem Book 1

Imagine—A brutal rape. A vicious murder. Now—what would you seek if it involved your daughter? If the monster is her stepfather. Justice or revenge? In Peril in Paradise, Clara Garza is faced with this dilemma while trying to stay one step ahead of her deranged ex-husband, Damian Garza. As she embarks on her voyage for justice, Clara meets Jackson Brady, a man also seeking his own revenge—a man trying to capture her heart. The two find themselves resolving one issue only to face another sinister challenge. Readers will want to join Clara and Jackson as they navigate a journey of justice, revenge . . . and survival.

Buy Links- https://www.amazon.com/Peril-Paradise-unspeakable-unimaginable-unrelenting-ebook/dp/B07MQSB16Y

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/peril-in-paradise-kimila-kay/1130316947?ean=9781794052451

Kimila Kay lives in Donald, Oregon with her husband, Randy, adorable Boston Terrier, Maggie, and feisty black cat, Halle.

Her professional accomplishments include three anthologized essays in the CUP OF COMFORT series. In three separate contests, PERIL IN PARADISE, has won two first place awards, and a third-place award in the romantic suspense category. Kimila is currently a member of a writing critique group, Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA), Windtree Press, and Willamette Writers.

PERIL IN PARADISE is the first novel in a planned cross-cultural series, Mexico Mayhem, which will include Malice in Mazatlan (January 2021), Chaos in Cabo, Vanished in Vallarta, and Lost in Loreto.

REDNECK RANCH will be the first novel in a planned mystery series, The Stoneybrook Series, set in a fictional Oregon town. REDNECK RANCH is slated for publication in 2022.

https://www.facebook.com/MexicoMayhemPIP 

https://www.facebook.com/MexicoMayhemMIM

 https://www.facebook.com/OregonNovels

Guest Blogger – Sally Carpenter

New Books For Strange Times

I’d like to thank Paty Jager and the ladies of mystery for allowing me a guest post. It’s been a while since I was a regular contributor on this blog, and much has happened in the meantime.

 The pandemic has not affect me as much as others. Fortunately I work an essential job (newspaper), so I’m still commuting to my day job. Many of my fellow employees are working from home, so those of us who are still in the office have plenty of space to move around safely.

As a writer, I’m at home much of the time anyway, and I’ve put the time to good use. I reorganized files and did some rearranging to make my home more comfortable. Little changes, but effective.

And I’ve gone gun ho on the writing.

I hadn’t written a Sandy Fairfax mystery in several years, so I reread the older books to get up to speed on the character. I found grammatical and continuity errors as well as more cuss words than necessary. Ouch! How embarrassing. With permission of my publisher, I took the opportunity to edit the older books. I’m fixing the mistakes, cleaning up the language, and reworking awkward passages for a better read. With Print On Demand technology, all new print and ebooks purchased going forward will have the changes. So far “The Sinister Sitcom Caper” is finalized. “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper” and “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper” should both be ready in a month or two.

Once all the old books are corrected, I can focus on the next Sandy book. The working title is “The Cryptic Christmas Caper.” Sandy is the emcee of the Miss North Pole Pageant, where the contestants are dropping like snowflakes.

I launched a new book in June, the second in my Psychedelic Spy retro-cozy series set in 1967. “Hippie Haven Homicide” follows the further adventures of actress Noelle McNabb as she works with a super secret spy organization, SIAMESE (Special Intelligence Apparatus for Midwest Enemy Surveillance and Espionage). This time her cat, Ceebee, is part of the action.

In the 1960s, the CIA had a project called Acoustic Kitty. The plan was to implant a cat with a microphone, using its tail to hold a wire for transmission. The cat would wander around parks and embassies where spies met to talk. Nobody would notice a stray cat. The real-life project went nowhere, but the idea was too good to pass up.

So I made Ceebee the acoustic cat. The microphone is inside a metal collar around the cat’s neck. Noelle and agent Destiny King are inside a nearby van, listening in. As you might imagine, felines are a bit unpredictable, even spy cats.

While SIAMESE is chasing an enemy agent, a busload of counterculture hippies invade Noelle’s staid town of Yuletide, Indiana. This plot point was inspired by the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, better known as the Hare Krishnas, the orange-robed devotees who were hung out around airports and large cities to chant and pass out brochures on their beliefs. The 1960s saw an explosion of new spiritual ideas: Vatican II, the Jesus People, contemporary Christian music, Transcendental Meditation, communes and ISCKON.

My sect is SPARK: Spiritually Pure And Radiant Kin. Their guru is the Wise One, an elderly leader who rarely appears in public. First Sage handles the day-to-day operations of the sect. He also rigorously guards the members from “contamination of the material world.” The cult members clash with the police chief and residents of Yuletide. The situation worsens when one of the SPARK members is found dead. The police chief calls it a drug overdose. Noelle has her suspicions and investigates on her own with the help of a newspaper reporter, Trevor Spellman.

Noelle uses her acting skills to go undercover to both find a spy and solve a murder. Meanwhile, she babysits her siblings, works with an anxious bride-to-be who’s buying clothes for the bridal party, and digs out secrets in the McNabb family tree. All in a day’s work for a cozy sleuth.

So happy reads to all. If you want to stay abreast of my writing projects, follow me at facebook.com.Sally.Carpenter.54, or my website at sandyfairfax.com, or email scwriter@earthlink.net.

Sally Carpenter is native Hoosier living in southern California. She has a master’s degree in theater and a creative writing award from Indiana State University.

She also has a Master of Divinity and a black belt in tae kwon do.

She’s written six books for Cozy Cat Press: four in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series (including 2012 Eureka! Award nominee The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper) and two books in the Psychedelic Spy retro-series.

She’s contributed short stories to three anthologies and penned chapter three of the CCP group mystery Chasing the Codex.

To atone for killing characters on paper, she writes the Roots of Faith column for the Acorn Newspapers (theacornonline.com).

Guest Blogger – Lorrie Holmgren

When I start to plan an Emily Swift Travel Mystery, I go where my amateur sleuth will go and jot down descriptions, observations, and plot ideas in my journal.  Because Emily is a travel writer, I want to capture her enthusiasm for new places and describe them as well as I can. Useful as my journal is, however, I often turn to the Internet to develop my ideas in more detail when I’m actually writing. I find the combination of real-life observation and research works for me.

Sometimes I have an idea for a scene that means I must head off to a place I’ve never been.   In Murder on Madeline Island, the first book in the Emily Swift Travel Mystery series, Emily is helping an elderly woman search for her long-lost Ojibwa brother.   I thought her search might lead her to a Powwow.  So, I drove to Bayfield, Wisconsin to see a powwow firsthand. As I always do, I jotted down detailed descriptions in my journal.  But when I started to write the scene, I realized I needed more.  I went on UTube to watch the Shawl Dance and Grass Dance and found out their significance.  Then it was easy to imagine the scene.  In the final version a snippy young girl who has been resisting Emily’s entreaties to meet with the old woman, dances beautifully, transforming herself from a girl into a crow.  The character’s love of tradition gave her greater depth and made her more likeable.  That was my intention anyway. If you read it, let me know if you agree.

Sometimes I see something on a trip that gives me a plot idea and then I go online to find out more.  While I was in Hawaii, my husband and I visited a mountain top that had been the site of an ancient temple. Fresh fruits and flowers were placed there as if at a shrine or gravesite.  It seemed to me this would be the perfect place for a body to be discovered.  So, in Homicide in Hawaii, that’s where the victim’s body is found.  I went online to do research and discovered there had been a resurgence of interest in the old Hawaiian religion and worship of the god Lono.  Here was another lead to help me develop the story.  One character – a young girl who has been adopted and is now seeking information about her Polynesian heritage becomes fascinated by the old religion.

Now, when we are all kept inside by the Pandemic, it was a particular joy to relive my last trip to England where I did the research for A Killing in the Cotswolds, the third book in the series, which has just been published by Cozy Cat Press.  In the novel, Emily is writing articles about daytrips not far from London when she is drawn into a murder investigation.  Like Emily, I travelled from London to charming Cotswold villages to Stratford upon Avon and Avebury and enjoyed delicious teas and visits to historic sites.  But it was Internet research that gave me the idea for the long-buried secret that led to murder. I didn’t use the actual event, but it spurred my imagination.

For now, I highly recommend armchair travel.  Emily Swift Travel mysteries are available in print and Kindle on Amazon.

A Killing in the Cotswolds, An Emily Swift Travel Mystery

It’s springtime in England and travel writer Emily Swift is writing about charming Cotswold villages. But when a politician is found dead in a country inn, she and her boyfriend Jack are drawn into a murder investigation. Who killed him? An actor with a talent for deception?  A schoolmaster fired after a mysterious death? A tour guide at Warwick Castle bent on revenge?  Over tea and crumpets, Emily’s childhood friend begs her to find out and save an innocent woman from being charged with murder. Emily can’t say no. Clues lead through the British countryside and danger lurks where Emily least expects it.

The books are available in print and Kindle on Amazon

Lorrie Holmgren is the author of three Emily Swift Travel Mysteries: Murder on Madeline Island, Homicide in Hawaii and A Killing in the Cotswolds. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband, busily penning mysteries and hoping it will soon be safe to travel.  She enjoys Zumba, Salsa, Bachata, aqua aerobics, gardening, knitting, and book group discussions.

Website www.lorrieholmgren.com

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Guest Author- Leslie Wheeler

An Unexpected Encounter with Wildlife Becomes a Magical Moment in Fiction

By Leslie Wheeler

One of the pleasures of having a house in rural Western Massachusetts is the opportunity to see wildlife at close range. I’ve observed deer, bear, bobcats, foxes, beavers and otters on my property, and every time this happens, I feel like I’ve been given a gift. But there is one species of wildlife I didn’t think I’d ever see–a moose.

Then one Friday in September, a few years ago, I went to my house in the Berkshires, and discovered that a cow moose, about a year old, had taken up residence, drawn by the pond on the property, the old apple trees laden with fruit, and also perhaps by the hope of finding a mate. She followed a track that took her out of the woods, onto the back field, across it, around the pond, and down the front field to the driveway, which she crossed to return to the woods and begin another circuit.

Around dusk on Saturday, I’d gone into my fenced-in vegetable garden when I looked up and saw her standing a few yards away, watching me. She was so quiet I hadn’t heard her approach. I froze, fearful that a sudden movement or sound would frighten her away. After a few moments, I slipped carefully from the garden, and stood stock still, returning her curious and unafraid gaze. Although not a bull moose with antlers or a cow with a calf to protect, she was still a very large animal. Finally, breaking eye contact, she continued on her leisurely circuit around the property.

Sunday morning, I watched from indoors as she made yet another circuit. She even ventured onto the patio, the closest she’d come to the house. And there I was without my camera, knowing full well that this might be my last chance to get a shot of her before I returned to town. Then, as I began to pack up, she made a second circuit, and armed with my camera I followed her along the patio to the front of house, where she stopped and regarded me with the same unafraid eyes. I took two pictures before she finally hoofed it away.

I returned to Boston, never to see that moose again, but the experience inspired me to write a scene in my new mystery, Shuntoll Road.  In it, the main character, Kathryn Stinson, wakes up at dawn the day after a fire has raged in the woods around the house she’s renting. She goes outside to see if it’s still burning and spots a big animal on the far side of the pond. It’s not a moose, but a white stag, a legendary creature, which does exist in real life. To her surprise, the stag approaches her, stopping a few yards short of the patio, where she’s standing. Then it turns around and bounds back to the pond, where it stops and looks back at her. The white stag does, this enough times for her to think it wants her to follow it—into the burnt woods where she makes an important discovery. Later when Kathryn expresses her wonder at why the white stag appeared to her of all people, her boyfriend says, “It’s a mystery. And a gift.”

Readers: Have you have had encounters with wildlife that you’ve used in your fiction?

Shuntoll Road

Boston library curator Kathryn Stinson returns to the Berkshires, hoping to rebuild her romance with Earl Barker, but ends up battling a New York developer, determined to turn the property she’s been renting into an upscale development. The fight pits her against Earl, who has been offered the job of clearing the land. When a fire breaks out in the woods, the burned body of another opponent is discovered. Did he die attempting to escape a fire he set, or was the fire set to cover up his murder? Kathryn’s search for answers leads her to other questions about the developer’s connection to a friend of hers who fled New York years ago for mysterious reasons. The information she uncovers puts her in grave danger.

Paperback

Amazon – Note they do not show this as a pre-sale, but if people order from Amazon it will still get to them at a reasonable time not what they show on their site.

https://www.amazon.com/Shuntoll-Road-Leslie-Wheeler/dp/1645990346

Barnes and Noble

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/shuntoll-road-leslie-wheeler/1136500170?ean=9781645990345

E-books

Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08DCZYR3M

Apple

https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1524348304

Kobo

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/shuntoll-road

Barnes & Noble

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/shuntoll-road-leslie-wheeler/1136500170

An award-winning author of nonfiction, Leslie Wheeler writes the Miranda Lewis Living History Mysteries which began with Murder at Plimoth Plantation, recently re-released for the first time as a trade paperback, and the Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries which began with Rattlesnake Hill and continue with Shuntoll Road.

Check out my books at my website: http://www.lesliewheeler.com

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