The Wine Blog by Karen Shughart

I’ve always believed that it’s easier to write about what you know, which is why wine features so prominently in my Edmund DeCleryk mysteries. Like my husband and me, Ed, and his wife Annie, live in the northern Finger Lakes region of New York, the second largest wine producer in the U. S. Wine is very much part of the lifestyle here.

Our own wine journey began many years ago. Our kids were in college, our careers at their peak, and we came home each night exhausted. We made the transition from workday to evening by having a glass of wine (or sometimes for Lyle, a Scotch) before dinner.  We caught up, chatted about our day, and even when my husband traveled for business, we designated a time to call each other, evening drink in hand. Although now retired, we continue the tradition to this day.

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One weekend we were invited to a dinner party at some friends’ house. We were asked to bring a dish to share and a bottle of wine to pair with it. It was the genesis of a gourmet group that met quarterly for many years, rotating hosts. A specialist at a wine store helped us choose the wines to go with each course. We quickly learned that to enjoy wine is to slowly sip and savor it.

Some of us took a cruise together from San Francisco Bay, along rivers that led to the Napa, Sonoma and Carneros wine regions of California.  Each evening we’d dock and before dinner attend a wine education session. The next morning we’d board a bus that would take us to charming towns for vineyard tours, wine tastings and to explore galleries and shops.

One weekend Lyle and I traveled to the Finger Lakes; a short drive from where we lived in Pennsylvania. We were enchanted by the wineries and restaurants, the vibrant jazz scene, and postcard-picture beauty.  We purchased an 1890s cottage on Lake Ontario; after retirement, we decided to make it our permanent home.

We joined a wine club.  At a series of monthly classes at New York Kitchen in Canandaigua, we learned about regions around the world where wine is crafted and how terroir, the natural environment in which grapes are grown, results in differences in color, smell and taste of the same varietal.  We cleaned up our musty basement and created a wine cellar in what was once a cistern, dry as a bone with thick stone walls and floor and about 56 degrees year ‘round.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about wine, and I write about it in my mysteries. It is, after all, part of the local lore, and an integral part of the culture. And just like Lyle and me, having a glass of wine at the end of the day is a way for Ed and Annie to unwind and share their stories.

Guest Blogger- Tara Lush

As a journalist in Florida, I’ve written about the shady side of my sunny state for years.

Political corruption, horrific crime, drunken antics at tiki bars, alligators, naked people with machetes, cockroaches ending up in unmentionable places…nothing shocks me anymore. I’ve witnessed thirteen executions and covered numerous mass shootings.

I’ve long wanted to write crime fiction, and entertained the thought of doing true crime. But that seemed a little too close to my day job, and frankly, covering those horrific stories as a journalist sapped my desire to retell them in a novel.

My first forays into fiction were contemporary romances, and almost all were set in Florida. But crime fiction lurked in the corners of my brain, and in 2019, I sat down and finally plotted a murder mystery.

I adored the work of Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey and Edna Buchanan — how could I not, they’re all journalists, like me — but when I started to write my debut mystery, I just couldn’t muster the cynicism or the edginess of the hardboiled noir. Perhaps the tumultuousness of recent years played a part in that.

As I scribbled my first mystery, I imagined a slightly less-dysfunctional tropical paradise, one that was loosely based on the things I’ve seen in my twenty-plus years as a reporter in Florida.

I knew I wanted to retain the quirkiness of Florida, though, so I created a fictional island in the Gulf of Mexico, chock full of eccentric characters. Devil’s Beach is where gossipy old hippies mingle with reformed mafiosos. Where the local newspaper writes stories about chicken nuggets shaped like manatees. Where a handsome Instagram-famous barista is found dead and no one bats an eye when a laid off journalist tries to figure out how the barista spent his final hours.

I also wanted a gentle anchor in the book, and that’s why I set it in the coffee shop of my dreams. It’s called Perkatory, a place decorated in hues of weathered wood with sky blue accents.

And then, my reporter’s brain kicked in. I drew inspiration from decades of covering crime in crafting my fictional murder. From the stilted language of cop-speak to wrangling over deadlines with editors, I used details from newspaper stories to seed clues into my fictional story. And the suspects, those were easy — they are all based on people I’ve covered in the past, folks who stood out as true characters.

There are also some fun Florida easter eggs in the details — for instance, the wild monkeys that inhabit a park on my fictional island can really be found in a place called Silver Springs.

I believe that for Florida residents, they’ll recognize many of the places, stories and details in the book. And for you non-Florida folks, I’m hopeful you’ll read my book and feel like you’re on a beach vacation, one where you get to know those quirky characters at the end of the tiki bar.

ABOUT GROUNDS FOR MURDER: Barista Lana Lewis’s sleuthing may land her in a latte trouble as Tara Lush launches her new Coffee Shop mysteries.

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?

LINK: books2read.com/u/4A7KLA 

Tara Lush is a Rita Award finalist, an Amtrak writing fellow, and a George C. Polk Award winning journalist. For the past decade, she’s been a reporter with the Associated Press, covering crime, alligators, natural disasters, and politics.

She also writes contemporary romance set in tropical locations under her real name, Tamara Lush. A fan of vintage pulp-fiction book covers, Sinatra-era jazz, and 1980s fashion, she lives with her husband and two dogs on the Gulf coast.

Guest Author ~ Sharon Dean

A male English professor once asked me, why do all you women trade these mystery novels? By “all you women” he meant people like me, female English professors of a certain age. I used to trade with someone during final exams and escape into a mystery between reading student papers. My favorites were by Amanda Cross. How could I resist something called Death in a Tenured Position?

            Amanda Cross was the pseudonym for Carolyn Heilbrun, a faculty member at Columbia. She escaped the stress of being a woman in what was then a male dominated profession by writing novels about a female professor stumbling upon and solving crimes.

            What my female colleagues and I all had in common were preteen years reading Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, the Dana girls, any of a huge number of mysteries put out by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Bobbee Anne Mason, who wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on Vladimir Nabokov, studied these novels in a book called The Girl Sleuth (1975) before she turned to writing fiction of her own. In a line that captures how these books led so many of us to become English professors, Mason writes that after all “A scholar is a version of a sleuth.”

            My last scholarly book was an edition of letters by the nineteenth century writer Constance Fenimore Woolson. I had to be a sleuth to edit these letters. I had to find them, to puzzle together how they fit chronologically, to search for many of the names now lost to us. When I gave up writing books that required footnotes and turned to writing fiction, mysteries were a logical place for me to begin.

            My first amateur sleuth, Susan Warner, is what you would expect from me––a retired English professor. My new one, Deborah Strong, is not far removed. She’s a librarian in a town adjacent to the one I imagined for Susan. Both these amateur sleuths listen, watch, put clues together. Both allow me to draw on my life as an academic, especially the second in both series. My Susan Warner novel Death of the Keynote Speaker is set on New England’s Isles of Shoals. It weaves together the real history of Celia Thaxter’s literary salon on Appledore Island and a notorious murder on Smuttynose Island, with a fictional nineteenth-century writer I named Abigail Brewster. Writing it, I drew on many of those letters by Constance Woolson that I edited. In my forthcoming novel, The Wicked Bible (scheduled for Octorber 2021), Deborah Strong encounters a letter to the imagined Brewster when she’s at a conference on the history of libraries.

            I’ve let go of the academic life and learned to edit out the scholarly voice that used to intrude into my drafts. But I can’t let go of the connections to the scholarly research that creep into my fiction. Mine is a life that a good sleuth might have predicted. Reader of girl sleuth mysteries becomes analyzer of literature, and scholarly sleuth becomes writer of whodunits. I’m enjoying the journey.

The Barn

In 1990, Deborah Madison and Rachel Cummings, both seventeen, are enjoying a bicycle ride on a beautiful September day in New Hampshire. They stop at a local barn that no longer houses cows but still displays a wooden cow’s head that peeks out from a window in the rafters. Sliding open the door, they find Rachel’s boyfriend, Joseph Wheeler, dead on the barn’s floor.

            The case lies as cold as Joseph for nearly thirty years until Rachel returns to New Hampshire to attend the funeral of Joseph’s mother. The girls, now women, reopen the cold case and uncover secrets that have festered, as they often do, in small towns. Against a backdrop of cold and snow and freezing rain, Deborah and Rachel rekindle their friendship and confess the guilt each of them has felt about things that happened in the past.

The Barn is a story of friendship lost and recovered, secrets buried and unburied, and the power of forgiveness.

Buy links: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08BZWKTMB

publisher’s link: https://encirclepub.com/product/thebarn/

Sharon L. Dean grew up in Massachusetts where she was immersed in the literature of New England. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of New Hampshire, a state she lived and taught in before moving to Oregon. After giving up writing scholarly books that required footnotes, she reinvented herself as a fiction writer. She is the author of three Susan Warner mysteries and of a literary novel titled Leaving Freedom. The Barn, the first novel in a new mystery series, features librarian and reluctant sleuth Deborah Strong as she and her friend solve a thirty-year-old cold case. Set in the depth of New Hampshire’s January, The Barn is a story of friendship lost and recovered, secrets buried and unburied, and the power of forgiveness.

website: https://wordpress.com/page/sharonldean.com/31
publisher’s link: https://encirclepub.com/product/thebarn/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/267389.Sharon_L_Dean

Guest Author ~ Zaida Alfaro

Since I can remember, I was always writing.  I would write poems to my family and to my imaginary best friends.  Then as I got older, my poems progressed into song lyrics, and those song lyrics progressed into my two music albums. Then, many years ago, I became an avid reader of cozy mysteries, because of my sister. She gifted me a book because of its cover.  I ended up reading the entire series of the author.  I didn’t know the cozy genre existed before then. The story lines were intriguing, engaging, and funny at the same time. I was so inspired by the authors, that I then decided to take my musical experiences, and put it on paper. I began writing and completing this first novel, in between my full-time job, my weekend gigs, and my personal life. The phobia’s, the dream sequences, and the quirkiness of the main characters, are all based on facts. I also wanted to bring the love I have for Miami, the Cuban culture, my family, and music, to the readers of my novel, and to the series to come. The ironic thing is the main character is not my favorite character in my book.  My favorite character is Alexia.  At first, Alexia was not going to have such a big role in my book, but the more I wrote her, the more that I fell in love with her character.  The character is based off my older sister, and a lot of the bantering, communication, and the closeness that Vy and Alexia have in the book, portrays my actual relationship with my older sister.

If you are currently writing a novel, the best advice I can give you is to not give up.  I received so many rejection letters, that I was on the verge of not sending out any more query letters.  Then I attended a book signing for one of my favorite authors.  Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for her, I was the only person that attended the signing.  I was able to sit with her for an hour and talk about my novel and the hardships.  She said to me, “give yourself a deadline of a year before you resort to self-publishing. Do not give up just yet.”  So, when I left that signing, I calendared a year from that date.  In six months, my book was picked up!  So, do not give up.  Give yourself a deadline and send out as many query letters as you can.  There will be one publisher that will believe in your work, but make sure that you believe in your work first.

I just want to say, thank you readers and to Paty for taking the time to read my book and also blog about it.  I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Welcome to my crazy world!

THE LAST NOTE: A Miami Music Mystery

Killer songs and a killer voice, but a killer at her gig?  Vy has always found herself at the center of attention as the lead singer for one of Miami’s top cover bands, but when she finds herself at the center of a murder investigation, while performing at the Steel Horse Bar, that changes the tune of the night.

Someone believes that Vy knows the truth behind the murder of the bar owner Ricky, and now that person is after her. Vy better figure out quickly who wanted Ricky dead, who is threatening her with her favorite band’s song lyrics, and why she’s falling for the handsome Detective Houston, before she too sings her last note.

With a mixture of mystery, mayhem and comedy, you will find yourself immersed in Vy’s musical and murderous world.

buy link:
https://www.amazon.com/Last-Note-Miami-Music-Mystery/dp/1946063487

The novel’s main backdrop, the amazing city of Miami, Florida, is beloved and well-known to me. I was born and raised in Miami, and like the novel’s main character Vy, I am a singer/songwriter, as well as the lead singer to a self-proclaimed cover band. All things relating to music or literature are my passion. I keep a journal, and I am constantly writing poems, stories, and any thought that comes to mind. I have a fascination for black and white films, that have the element of mystery. As I have been told by many, I have a very creative imagination.  Many years ago, I became an avid reader of cozy mysteries. The story lines were intriguing, engaging, and funny at the same time. I was so inspired by the authors, that I then decided to take my musical experiences, and put it on paper, hence the outcome of The Last Note: A Miami Music Mystery.

Guest Author – Kathy Manos Penn

I’m a Cozy Mystery Writer because . . .

Would you believe me if I said it was an instance of serendipity? Or several instances? As an English major, I did a brief stint as a high school English teacher and then moved on to a banking career where I became the go-to person for writing—no matter my actual job title. Trust me, they never let me near the money!  Maybe that was the first instance of serendipity.

While I was still ensconced in that career, the next serendipitous moment occurred. I was inspired to write a guest column for a local weekly paper and before I knew it I was producing “The Ink Penn” every week. 

I knew I enjoyed my corporate writing, but this was different. I’d found my passion, so I started a weekly blog. When I retired, I published a collection of my columns and then a book that grew out of the blogs written by my dog. Don’t ask how.  It just happened.

I was seeking help in marketing a second dog book when a consultant uttered the words, “You know, I think you should write a cozy mystery.” My reaction? “Who me? What do I know about plots or mysteries?” Except it turns out I know quite a bit.  After all, I’ve read two-three books a week my whole life, mostly mysteries. 

How did I happen to talk to the one person who would see that potential in me? Once again, I’d call it a stroke of serendipity. Together, we ticked off a list of ingredients for my cozy—a list that represented my personality, my sense of humor, my writing style, and my likes.

  1. Be set in England to suit my Anglophile tastes
  2. Include a cat and a dog—Better yet, the main character can converse with her pets
  3. Have a more mature main character—not someone in their twenties or thirties.

From there, I followed the adage to write what you know. Like me, Leta Petkas Parker is Greek. She’s a retired banker, an avid reader, a word nerd, and a good cook. Unlike me, she’s a widow.  My husband hasn’t yet forgiven me for that detail and keeps wanting to know when I’m going to bring him back to life. I keep telling him he is NOT Henry Parker, but he’s not buying it.

And there you have it. Leta, Dickens the dog, and Christie the cat move from Atlanta to the fictional village of Astonbury in the Cotswolds to start a new life. They make new friends, have new adventures, and—of course—find a dead body. Whiskers, Wreaths & Murder, Book Three in the Dickens & Christie mystery series is sure to put you in the mood for shifting into the holiday season. Enjoy!

Whiskers, Wreaths & Murder

Christmas in the Cotswolds. Three wise women. Two furry friends. One dead body. Will they unwrap the killer?  Or become the latest victims?

Leta and her friends are busy preparing for the Tree Lighting on the Village Green. The children hang ornaments, the choir sings, and the Earl of Stow flips the switch to set the tree ablaze with lights.

What could go wrong?

Plenty when there’s a new Earl in town. The beloved elderly Earl passed away months ago, and his American grandson has arrived to claim his title and inheritance. And he has plans—big plans.

The village is rife with rumors about the goings-on at Astonbury Manor.

Add a tragic accident and a grieving family—and the season is off to a rocky start. Can the village pull together to chase away the dark mood? Only if the mystery surrounding the accident can be solved.

Leave it to the Little Old Ladies’ Detective Agency and their four-legged sidekicks Dickens & Christie. Fresh off investigating a murder at the Fall Fête, they’re once again on the case.

Amazon Link for Whiskers, Wreaths & Murder https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08FRTQP7F

Amazon Series Link https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085FSHQYW?ref_=dbs_p_mng_rwt_ser_shvlr&storeType=ebooks

AUTHOR BIO

Picture Kathy Manos Penn sitting serenely at her desk surrounded by her four-legged office assistants. Happily retired from corporate America, she’d never considered being an author until a friend suggested she write a cozy mystery.

As a child, she took a book everywhere—to family dinners, to doctors’ offices, and of course to bed. Years later, a newspaper article inspired her to put pen to paper and submit her thoughts to the editor. Before she knew it, she was writing weekly columns and blogs—in addition to her demanding day job. Then came a book co-written with her dog. As she says, “Doesn’t everyone do that?”

Now, she’s writing cozy animal mysteries featuring a dog and cat who converse with their owner. If a dog can write a book, surely animals can communicate. Naturally, her office assistants help with the dialogue. And, yes, they’re angling to be listed as co-authors.

Find Kathy on these social media sites:

Website:https://kathymanospenn.com/

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

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