Guest Author – Camille Minichino

Puzzled by Crime

Since we’ve been sheltered in place, sales of jigsaw puzzles have soared. As trusted a source as NPR recently reported an increase of more than 300% over last year’s sales.

It’s not hard to figure out why people have turned to puzzling in a time of great confusion and uncertainty. If you’re focused on finding that piece of blue sky over Tuolumne Meadows in the Sierras, or the jacket of the woman ice skating in Rockefeller Center, you can hardly give in to fear or anxiety at the same time.

Other puzzles, too, are having their moment. Newspapers offer extra crosswords, acrostics, and entire supplemental sections with Sudoku, logic puzzles, and picture puzzles for kids.

Some say humans are designed to solve problems, and puzzles fill that need, especially ones that come with a clear set of rules and an unambiguous solution.

Am I ever going to talk about cozies?

Yes, here it comes.

Cozies are primarily puzzles. That’s not to say that the other elements of fiction are unimportant. Cozy readers expect all the basics of a good story: engaging characters, sparkling dialogue, appealing descriptions, riveting suspense, and a satisfying conclusion.

What cozy readers don’t expect are graphic details that take away from the essential puzzle. Does that mean that cozies make light of murder, for example? A case can be made that the touch of humor often found in cozy mysteries takes away from the seriousness of the matter. But the theory behind cozies, to my mind, is that readers already know that murder is horrible, that it’s brutal, violent, no matter the weapon, and that it takes an enormous toll on everyone around it. We don’t need to dwell on those aspects. We choose to dwell on the puzzle that connects the motive, the victim, the killer, and the clues.

The amateur sleuth featured in cozies is making a red velvet cake with her hands, while her mind is figuring out the clues. Instead of forensic details and images of internal organs being weighed in the pan of a laboratory scale, we’re treated to her aha moment—the oven timer goes off and she realizes that Mr. Victim in the Library could not have been killed before two o’clock in the afternoon. Puzzle solved!

The cozy sleuth usually has a threat to her life when the killer realizes how smart she is, how she’s been able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. But the cozy reader knows the danger is there only to provide another opportunity for a clever move, as if the whole story were being played out on a chess board. Quite satisfying.

Murder is brutal in real life, and there are subgenres in crime fiction that deal with that—noir and horror, for example, and what are called thrillers.

At the moment, we seem to be living in a medical thriller. Maybe we’d rather leave that behind as we read. If so, cozies are there for us.

MOUSSE AND MURDER

A young chef bites off more than she can chew when she returns to her Alaskan hometown to take over her parents’ diner.

When Chef Charlotte “Charlie” Cooke was offered the chance to leave San Francisco and return home to Elkview, Alaska, and take over her mother’s diner, she didn’t even consider saying no. For the past year, she’s built a comfortable existence, spending her days making sure the restaurant runs smoothly and that her cat, Eggs Benedict, is appropriately pampered. But soon life at the diner starts feeling a little one-note.

Determined to bring fresh life and flavors to the Bear Claw Diner, Charlie starts planning changes to the menu, which has grown stale over the years. But her plans are fried when her head chef Oliver turns up dead after a bitter and public fight over Charlie’s ideas—leaving Charlie as the prime suspect.

With her career, freedom, and life all on thin ice, Charlie must find out who the real killer is, before it’s too late.

Buy links are at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/622413/mousse-and-murder-by-elizabeth-logan/

Camille Minichino is a retired physicist. She’s the author of 28 mystery novels, plus many short stories and articles. Her 5 series feature a physicist, a miniaturist, a college math professor, a postmistress, and a chef in a fictional town in Alaska. She teaches science at Golden Gate University in San Francisco and writing workshops around the SF Bay Area. Her latest series, the Alaskan Diner Mysteries, written as Elizabeth Logan, debuts with “Mousse and Murder.” All her names and numbers can be found at www.minichino.com, and at https://www.facebook.com/camille.minichino

On Being a Writer by Heather Haven

Heather cartoon-smallest copyThere are a lot of bonuses to being a writer. Take today. Without leaving my office, I got to go on an early morning car chase on Highway 92, a scenic route over the coastal mountains of California. Highway 92 leads to a lot of nifty places, such as the Pacific Ocean and a darling little town called Half Moon Bay. True, the car chase may have only been in my mind, but it was pretty exciting. And a total relief, especially with what’s going on in the world now.

Following my protagonist and her hubby, I wound up at a Christmas tree farm. There I got to watch among other things, these two charmers sabotage the getaway helicopter of the villains. They were outnumbered and it was a close call, of course, but things were set right in the end.  As I tagged along with them, the sun came up on a glorious day in a glorious part of the world. I said to myself, I said, “Self, this is the joy of writing a cozy. You know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and there’s going to be a happy ending, because it’s all up to you.” Self was happy.

On top of that, I got to do research. I love doing research. I learned things, such as different fuels for a helicopter (there are two kinds, depending on the engine), if the windshield can be penetrated by a bullet (yes), and how the rotating blades taking the copter up, up, and away actually do it (too detailed to go into). Today my life was in the building, maintenance, and aerodynamics of a helicopter on a Christmas tree farm near Half Moon Bay and little else.

Of course, I would have to come back to reality now and then to feed the cat, hubby, make the bed, disinfect anything that came into the house, go for a brief walk, and make dinner. But still, parts of my day were absolutely marvelous. I may be a crazy writer, but I LOVE what I do for a living. Even when I don’t make much of a living at it. Money comes and goes. Sometimes I sail along, sometimes I’m dashed to the rocks.

But then, I never became a writer because of the moola. It’s the lure of things like car chases over Highway 92, foiling the bad guy, and winning the day at a Christmas tree farm. You just can’t get jobs like that every day, no matter what the pay.

 

The Angst That Doesn’t Go On The Page by Paty Jager

Many literary prose are filled with angst and trepidation. I wonder if literary writers feel the same angst and trepidation that genre writers do?

This is a confession of sorts. Before I started writing mystery, I just researched either history, settings, occupations or whatever I needed to make the story real and conjured up characters that I liked and hoped readers liked. Those were my romance books.

Then I wrote an action adventure trilogy. I researched and read and studied. I came up with a high IQ character and hoped I could pull her off. I set books in areas I had never been, but I found people who had or lived there. I dug deep to make sure I had all the knowledge I felt I needed to write those books. When the first one released, I knew it was going to flop. How could I write about an anthropologist with a genius level IQ and make people believe her?

But I did! Readers loved Isabella Mumphrey. The first book won an award!

After all the angst and worry, I decided to try my hand at the genre I really wanted to write– mystery. And what did I do? I made my character half Native American. Mainly because I feel it is a culture that gets shoved under the rug and partly because I love research and learning new things. I thought why not learn about the culture along with my character.

But I worried I couldn’t pull her off. That someone would tell me I didn’t have the right to write such a character or I wasn’t portraying her correctly. However at book 14 in my Shandra Higheagle Mystery series, I have people who love the information on the culture that I include in the books. This makes me happy that I am informing my readers about a culture they may not know about in an entertaining way.

Then I start writing another book and I worry this one won’t be as good as the last. Or I feel it’s lagging, not enough twists, or not enough culture… There is always something I feel I didn’t flush out enough.

This goes on daily as I write. My books go through critique partners, beta readers, a line editor, a sensitivity reader, a proof reader and my final arc readers before it gets to the public. And I still worry that something was missed.

It isn’t until my ARC readers send me the links to their reviews that I know if my book was mediocre or they enjoyed it. I”m happy to say the newest release has been a joy to get reviews and emails about. The subject lines have been: I loved it! You did it again!

These are worth all the worrying, angst, and beating myself up over the characters and plot.

Here is Abstract Casualty

Book 14 in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series

Hawaiian adventure, Deceit, Murder

Shandra Higheagle is asked to juror an art exhibition on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.

After an altercation at the exhibition, the chairwoman of the event, Shandra’s friend, arrives home with torn clothes, scratches, and stating she tried to save an angry artist who fell over a cliff. Shandra and Ryan begin piecing together information to figure out if the friend did try to save the artist or helped him over the edge.

During the investigation, Shandra comes across a person who reminds her of an unhealthy time in her past. Knowing this man and the one from her past, she is determined to find his connection to the dead artist.  When her grandmother doesn’t come to her in dreams, Shandra wonders if her past is blinding her from the truth.

https://books2read.com/u/4XXLke

Wrapping Up a Murder by Paty Jager

I just finished the 14th Shandra Higheagle Mystery book. This book is set in Kauai, Hawaii. Yes, I had to write off the trip I took to Kauai last October. LOL Actually, it took me 40 years to get my husband to go to Hawaii with me and I happened to like the idea of setting a book there.

I enjoyed revisiting the places we went to add spice and authenticity to the book. My photos, some I took with the intention of using for the cover, and others so I could remember what I’d seen, helped me bring the island to life in the book.

While the writing, bringing in the island flavor, and discovering an actual event that brought my amateur sleuth potter to the island in a real way, it was the intricacy of the plot that kept me spellbound as I wrote the book.

Artwork from the exhibition in my book.

As usual, I started out with my suspect chart, all part of the art world on Kauai. But as I researched and discovered more about the island, the art world became more dark and convoluted. This on an island that boasts very low crime rates. But I couldn’t help myself. The island is warm, inviting, and overpopulated with tourists.

Because of the tourists, I have my characters catering to the masses. I’m not saying what I wrote about isn’t happening on the island, but it isn’t in the statistics that I read. However, I did read about the influx of drugs back about 5 years and taking creative license, I used that information to sway the direction of the story.

I take pride in so many readers saying they didn’t know who the murderer was until it was unveiled in most of my mysteries. And so, I go at each book with the intent to drop clues but keep the reader wondering until the end. I hope I’ve done that with this book as well. We’ll see when I get my critique partners’ notes on it.

Here is the cover for Abstract Casualty, set on Kauai, Hawaii.

Sick Days and Mysteries

I caught the crud over Thanksgiving and stayed home from work today. If I’m home sick, few things make me feel better than binging some mystery books, TV shows or movies.

Today, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Investigation Discovery and Oxygen, watching lots of true crime shows. How do you like to spend a sick day? I’m enjoying some turkey noodle soup with turkey leftovers and homemade semolina egg noodles. Yummy!

I’ve also spent some time perusing cozy mysteries with various fall and winter holiday themes to add them to my wishlist. I love holiday themed books and shows. Hallmark Christmas romances? Halloween themed paranormal cozy mysteries? Yes please.

So, on this day where I’m foggy headed and being taken care of by my cats, I ask you for your recommendations. What are some holiday-themed books you’ve read or are looking forward to reading?

Here’s a picture of one of my cats *literally* cuddling me this morning. How cute is this ginger nurse?

Ginger cat with arm outstretched over human stomach, cuddled under human's arm

 

Keeping a Character in Stitches

I make a lot of my own clothes and some of my husband’s. Why? Oh, lots of reasons. There’s the social justice thing – not supporting the sweat shop culture perpetrated by cheaply made clothes. Also, I like doing it. It’s creative and can be very interesting.

Now, don’t get too excited. I did not say I’m that good at it. I know too many people whose skills outstrip my own several times over. It’s just something I do. Okay?

It’s not that I’m disparaging myself, mind you. I’m happy to accept praise for my cooking, and my writing. It’s just kind of embarrassing when people gush about something that I’m not that good at. Trust me. I have never sewn a straight seam in my life. My topstitching is chronically crooked, and you do not want to know how many outfits I’ve had to give away because they didn’t fit, or because, like the last shirt I made for my husband, I put the sleeves on backwards.

What is interesting, in regards to the purpose of this forum, is how my interest in fabrics and needle crafts creeps into most of my writing. For example, in the 1920s, Freddie and Kathy series, when I had to figure out what industry had made Freddie Little’s family so extremely wealthy, I chose the textile industry. Aside from the fact that it is one of the oldest industries in the U.S., and Freddie is from Old Money, it’s something I like.

For the Old Los Angeles series, yes, Maddie Wilcox is a winemaker because my husband makes wine and I wanted a character that did, too. But Maddie is also a clothes horse – she will describe everyone’s outfits before she’ll describe anything else. I love historical clothing.

Then there’s the character who actually sews: Lisa Wycherly. Lisa and Sid Hackbirn have been a part of my life since 1982, when I first started writing That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine. It’s kind of a cozy spy novel, extended romance, occasional murder mystery series. I’m working on re-writing it now. The first four books are available now, and I’m getting book five, Sad Lisa, ready to appear on my personal blog for my Friday fiction serial. In fact, it will debut on December 6.

The thing is, as Lisa came to life, I wanted her to have a family and interests of her own. Sid doesn’t have any family and his hobby is sleeping around. Lisa, who is still a virgin and likely to stay that way for her own reasons, needed a life apart from being a member of a top-secret organization within the FBI. So, Lisa is religious, like me, and she sews and knits, although at the time I wrote her, I was not nearly as advanced a knitter as she is. Nor was I that advanced at sewing, either.

Which is kind of creating a problem now that I’m re-writing the series. You see, I’ve left it set in the original time that I wrote it. Why not? I’ve got all the dialogue and slang. A lot of the daily life details are all in the text, so I don’t have to hunt them down as much. Only there are some details that aren’t in the original text that I want to add. I’m trying to remember when I got my overlock machine, for example. Also known as a serger, they were around during the early to mid-80s, but mostly in industrial settings. My only problem is that if I didn’t get mine until the early 90s, having Lisa use one when it’s only 1984 would be bad.

Will I do another character who sews? I don’t know. I might. It would work well in the cozy world, in general. On the other hand, I do have one additional character in the queue who makes wine. I want to get that series started first. And, in the meantime, I am continuing to develop my sewing skills. Like remembering to put the sleeves on the shirt in the right direction. Sigh.

My Favorite Part of Being a Writer by Paty Jager

I don’t know about all writers, but for me, the best part of writing a book is the “stewing and brewing” process. It’s the time between, “Bing!” I have an idea and when I start writing the actual story.

source: Depositphotos

What I call the “Stewing and Brewing” process is where I come up with the story idea or setting and then start researching and filling out my suspect chart.

I get to scan websites and look through baby name books to come up with character names and then give the attributes and reasons they are part of the story. Suspects, officials, friends, the whole bit.

And even better! Figuring out how the victim dies. I love putting a twist on the cause of murder. My newest Shandra Higheagle release, Toxic Trigger-point the death is caused by an acute allergic reaction to bees. The book I’m “stewing and brewing” right now I’m thinking the death appears accidental at first. Then… as things get investigated further it was murder.

There are times my devious mind astounds me! LOL However, coming up with the out-of-the-box scenarios is so much fun. Taking the reader on the trip of; this person did it, no, that person did it, is almost as much fun as coming up with the characters, motive, and cause of death.

I pinch myself all the time wondering how I can have so much fun writing when other writers are always complaining how hard it is. I do agree, the editing, revisions, and making the story shine are hard, but it’s like child birth. I forget about those things when I’m in the throes of “stewing and brewing”. 😉

Here is my latest Shandra Higheagle release:

Toxic Trigger-Point

Adultery… Jealousy… Murder

Shandra Higheagle Greer is minding her own business when she walks into a room for a massage and it is already occupied—by a dead body.

Always the champion for someone she knows, when her favorite masseuse looks like the murderer, Shandra listens to her gut and dreams choreographed by her deceased grandmother.

Detective Ryan Greer can’t believe his wife has walked into another homicide. He’s learned no matter how he tries to keep her out of the investigation he can’t. But this time the consequences could be deadly for Shandra—she heard the murder happen.

https://books2read.com/u/4Ex9De

Revamping My Covers by Heather Haven

I never realized that a book cover was a lot like a hairdo. They need to be updated every now and then. Frankly, I love my covers, especially for the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries. They’re familiar. They’re comfortable. Whoops! Maybe when you start saying stuff like that it’s time for a redo. Sigh.

Let’s face it. A good, eye-catching cover is what helps sell a book, big time. Times change. What worked in the early 2000s may not work now. So here I am, deciding what I should do. Should I continue to do the covers myself or should I job them out? Has competition gotten so keen, I need to have a real professional do them for me? Although, I thought I was a professional. But am I a real, dyed-in-the-wool professional CA who can compete in today’s market? Okay. So there I got me. I’m not.

What I am is a professional writer who has enough on her plate and needs to job certain things out. Like my covers. Truth be told, I really would like more time for writing. For playing with my cat. For having lunch with my friends. For canoodling with my husband.

So, for the moment, The Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries covers are having a do-over. And not by me.

Digital Technology in Mysteries

Person with long, blonde hair sitting at a laptop with hands on keyboard. Photo taken from over their shoulder.

The more I read, the more I notice when digital technology isn’t a part of the story. It’s become a way for me to quickly decipher how old a book is. If I’m reading a novel and there’s no mention of texting or social media, or even Googling something, it sometimes pulls me out of the story.

The thing is, I’ve been a frequent texter for more than a decade. I’ve used social media regularly that long as well. But it feels like publishing has been slower to accept digital technology in stories and it’s only becoming more common in the past couple of years.

Digital technology is such an important part of our lives. Sure, the extent of that importance may vary from person-to-person, but you’re here reading a blog so it’s important to both of us on some level. 🙂

When I read a romance, I like seeing one character Google another. If I’m going on a date with someone or crushing on another person, you bet your britches I’m going to be checking them out online. Not only for curiosity’s sake, but for my own safety. My true crime obsession doesn’t help.

It’s even more glaring to me as a reader of mysteries. Particularly when a sleuth is a millennial or younger (late 30s or below). I’m at the upper end of the millennial group, which means I’m part of a small subset of millennials who remember life before cell phones and computers, but they’re important to how I operate daily because they were introduced during childhood. That’s the big difference I see between myself and my parents. When I’m curious about something, one of my first instincts is to Google it. That’s not instinctual to my parents because these digital technologies were available later in their lives.

So, when I read about a sleuth in their 20s or 30s (at least, but not limited to those ages), I expect to see them using the internet in their investigations or slyly using their cell phone to record someone, or sending out a help beacon from their Apple Watch if they’re in trouble. Granted, age does not equate to technological comfort and skill. I have friends who don’t have a social media presence and only switched from a flip phone to a smartphone in the last year or two. But, to me, that’s the exception not the rule.

I feel like I see the use of digital technologies more in television. Hallmark has been doing a great job of incorporating texts, video chatting, internet searches, and more into their movies (I’ve been watching Hallmark movies pretty non-stop since June). I’m not sure if it’s because authors are hesitant to write it, publishing professionals advice against adding a technological shelf life, or some other reason I haven’t thought of.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot during revisions of my cozy mystery. I’ve been intentionally trying to find ways to incorporate digital technologies.

Do you incorporate digital technologies in your stories? Do you think there’s a trend toward seeing more of it? Curious about your thoughts!

 

Guest Blogger- Daisy Pettles

Why I Write a Humorous Cozy Mystery Series for Feisty Older Ladies

Here’s a mystery for you … a study by Sisters in Crime, a professional women writers mystery and crime association, found that the vast majority of mystery readers are women. Moreover, 71% of the genre’s readers are 50 or older. (Source Link:https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.sistersincrime.org/resource/resmgr/imported/ConsumerBuyingBookReport.pdf)

The mystery? Why is it, then, that the leading lady of the cozy mystery today is a baby-faced, early career, 30-something, rather than a mature, perhaps somewhat disgruntled, widowed or divorced, half-retired woman of 50+ years?

I turned 60 this year, and I read like a demon, devouring novels like M&M’s. Why, I wondered, was my feisty generation—all prime readers for Pete’s sake—so invisible in women’s mystery fiction today?

I found myself agreeing with one sister in crime writer, Dianne Harman,  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dianne-harman/boomer-reads_b_3210208.html, who mused in 2013 that, “[Boomer Lit] is the most overlooked, underwritten genre out there.”

OK, so the term “baby boomer lit” has gotten a bad rap. Much of that is justified. The indie market is awash with badly written “boomer” novels that feature highly forgettable “senior sleuths,” seeking second chances in the confines of gated retirement villages.

Too much of this lit pounds home a “sundowner” theme – think cancer, moving into assisted living, fighting over men with competing ladies in Leisure Village – OR a “second chance” theme. Think “widower dares to date again” or “the search for the one that got away.”

Problem. I don’t see my life as in need of “second chances.” I see it as more of what it always has been: a bit of a hair-raising adventure. Why not, I thought, write about cantankerous, every day women who are aging, but who are also busy having a go at life, every morning, pretty much as they always have?

Oldsters are as varied as youngsters (really, they are). Being of the mind that if there’s a problem it’s my responsibility to engineer a solution – a great notion from the 70’s when I first hit the road out of high school — I began to create a new crime comedy series loaded with oldsters of all varieties.

In my new amateur detective series, The Shady Hoosier Detective Agency, the protagonists are lifelong gal pals, ages 67 and 71, living in small town Indiana. They share a house, a 1960 Chevy, and reluctant custody of grown children who still reside in their basement.

One in particular (Veenie) has been a lifelong snoop. The other (Ruby Jane) has great computer skills. For them, the decision to punch a time clock post-retirement as sleuths with the Harry Shades Detective Agency is as much a way to exercise their curiosity as it is a path to supplementing their social security.

Back in the 90’s the TV drama “Golden Girls,” about older widowed and divorced women sharing a home and laughter, broke through ageism to show that the closing chapters of life can be as varied and exciting as the beginning and middle. I believe that there remains pent up demand for older, feisty women characters in the cozy mystery niche.

My goal in creating the Shady Hoosier Detective Agency, with Book 3, The Chickenlandia Mystery, coming out as this is posted, is to update the cozy to better serve publishing’s core reading demographic by creating books that mirror the more diverse evolving lives of Boomer women like me.

Like all publishing undertakings, it is up to the cosmos to decide if the series will find a readership, but a few stars do seem to be aligning. The Shady Hoosiers’ debut book, Ghost Busting Mystery, has thus far won three Best Indie Humor Book Awards and two Best Indie Cozy Mystery Book Awards,

In the end, I write what I want to read. There has never been a more active, curious, diverse, witty, kick-ass generation of women. Why not gift ourselves leisure reading that reflects this?

Author Daisy Pettles

Daisy Pettles was born in southern Indiana, in a tiny river town. As a child, she was fed a steady diet of books, pies, and Bible stories. Her debut cozy series, the Shady Hoosier Detective Agency, crime comedies set in fictional Pawpaw County, Indiana, won the 2019 Gold Medal as Best Humor Book from the Indie Reader, The Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and the American Fiction Awards. Visit her anytime at https://www.daisypettles.com

CONTACT: Daisy@daisypettles.com

TWITTER: @DaisyPettles

FB: https://www.facebook.com/daisypettles

WEB: https://www.daisypettles.com

Amazon Buy Links:

Ghost Busting Mystery (Book 1)

Baby Daddy Mystery (Book 2)

Chickenlandia Mystery (Book 3)