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/

Guest Blogger – Lois Winston

Killing Two Birds with One Stone

By Lois Winston

When I began writing A Sew Deadly Cruise, the ninth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, I set myself two separate tasks. First, I thought it was high time I gave readers some additional background about Zachary Barnes, Anastasia’s love interest. Zack is introduced in Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, as Anastasia’s new tenant. A photojournalist, he’s looking to move from Manhattan to a quieter location in the suburbs where he can work in his darkroom without crazy neighbors suspecting he’s running a meth lab out of his apartment. The apartment above Anastasia’s garage provides the perfect location for him.

Almost immediately Anastasia suspects Zack’s career as a photojournalist is cover for a more covert government gig with one of the alphabet agencies. After all, when he’s not traveling back and forth to Washington, D.C., he’s flying off to questionable locations full of political and social unrest. Not to mention, he’s got a badass gun! Was he really photographing lemurs and pochards in Madagascar, or is he there for other reasons?

Of course, Zack denies he’s a spy, but wouldn’t any spy deny he’s a spy? So, is he, or isn’t he? Neither Anastasia nor my readers know at this point. Other than mentioning Zack’s brief marriage twenty years earlier, I’ve never delved further into his background. This all changes in A Sew Deadly Cruise when I finally reveal more about Zack’s history—or at least a substantial part of it.

In addition, for some time now I’ve been itching to write a locked-room mystery. A year ago, while on a cruise up to Canada with my husband—pre-pandemic—I began plotting a murder on a cruise ship, an ideal location for a locked-room mystery. However, to write a truly locked-room mystery, I needed to find a reason to keep the ship’s passengers from disembarking at any scheduled ports of call. Covid-19 hit as I was writing the book, but I certainly wasn’t going to use a pandemic or even an outbreak of norovirus, no matter how common they are on cruise ships.

How would Anastasia investigate a murder if passengers were all confined to their rooms due to illness? And really, who wants to read a humorous cozy mystery with characters suffering from gastrointestinal issues? Where’s the humor in that? Any reader with a weak stomach would be running for the porcelain throne!

I was at a point in my plot where I had to make a major decision about the story. Since I really, really wanted to keep my passengers stuck on the ship, I started hunting around the Internet for stories about stranded cruise liners, searching for a plausible excuse to keep the ship from being allowed to dock at any of its scheduled ports. Of course, I’m going to keep you in suspense, but I did find the perfect solution for keeping everyone onboard the ship but not confined to their cabins due to illness.

A Sew Deadly Cruise

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 9

Life is looking up for magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack. Newly engaged, she and photojournalist fiancé Zack Barnes are on a winter cruise with her family, compliments of a Christmas gift from her half-brother-in-law. Son Alex’s girlfriend and her father have also joined them. Shortly after boarding the ship, Anastasia is approached by a man with an unusual interest in her engagement ring. When she tells Zack of her encounter, he suggests the man might be a jewel thief scouting for his next mark. But before Anastasia can point the man out to Zack, the would-be thief approaches him, revealing his true motivation. Long-buried secrets now threaten the well-being of everyone Anastasia holds dear. And that’s before the first dead body turns up.

Craft projects included.

Buy Links

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3fwHR7X

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/a-sew-deadly-cruise

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-sew-deadly-cruise-lois-winston/1137427499?ean=2940162697930

Apple iBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/a-sew-deadly-cruise/id1526052822

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

Website: www.loiswinston.com

Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/anasleuth

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/722763.Lois_Winston

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lois-winston

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:

The Year of Uncertainty by Karen Shughart

For many of us this has been a year of uncertainty, a difficult year, and a year we could never have imagined, one that took us completely by surprise and rocked our universe. For my husband and me it has meant almost no in-person contact with our children. Our son and daughter-in-law live on the West Coast, my husband and I live north of the Finger Lakes on Lake Ontario,  and although we spent time over the summer with our daughter who lives in New Jersey, she’s started back teaching. We have no idea when we’ll be able to visit with any of them again.

Zoom meetings have become part of our lives. Truth be told, it’s not a great way to mourn the death of a beloved sibling, celebrate several new births, or the milestone of a cousin’s 70th birthday.  We do it; we have no choice, but it’s been much harder than giving up dining out at restaurants or attending live cultural performances.

On the professional end, book talks and signings, and a conference for readers of mysteries where I was to be a panelist, were all canceled because of Covid-19, shortly after my second mystery was launched. Appointments for yearly check-ups and screenings have also been canceled and rescheduled, more than once.

But despite the uncertainty and sadness, there have been bright spots: The babies and birthday mentioned above, the support of friends when we were mourning the death of my sibling; the outdoor, safe distancing gatherings of a small group of us who are bonded not by blood but by heart; a cooking video on YouTube with me preparing a recipe from one of my books. And we do get to speak with and see our children on FaceTime and at family Zoom gatherings.

In early April we adopted Nova, a tiny Blue Tick Beagle, who captured our hearts from the moment we saw her photo at the shelter. A gentle, easy going and loving dog, she also is spunky and stubborn, qualities that have stood her in good stead, given the horrible neglect and abuse she suffered before becoming part of our family. Five months have passed, and Nova is a happy, healthy, increasingly confident and secure dog, just as we had hoped. It was the virus that brought us together.

To deal with the anxiety I feel because of these surreal times, I’ve been listening to guided meditation CDs, about 20 minutes daily; it’s helped. As has writing in a journal, giving voice to thoughts and feelings about all the chaos in our world. But I also write down ten things each day for which I’m grateful. Poetry and classical music, always part of my life, have assumed a greater role, calming and centering me.

Most of us have heard the old saw, “this too shall pass,” but sometimes it’s not all that easy to believe. I think it will happen, eventually, but our world, both big and small, will be changed forever.  Hopefully, when it does, we’ll find strength to pick up the pieces and move on.

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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Trying to Combine Two Stories Into One by Heather Haven

When I began writing Casting Call for a Corpse, my latest cozy mystery revolving around the Alvarez Family, I wanted to combine the ongoing characters from the series with a few characters from a play I penned some time ago. I also wanted to add a Scottish character in honor of my heart sister, who was adopted at birth and recently found her Scottish birth family. An homage, doncha know.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I could make it work. Some nights I lost sleep over whether or not I could pull this into anything readable. However, I really loved the characters from the play, in particular the internationally acclaimed actress, her loyal assistant, the Hispanic housekeeper, and a has-been writer who burned bright in his youth but had done little since. Putting Lee Alvarez, the protagonist of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, and the actress together was easy. Close in age, I found making them friends from way-back-when in New York City added reality and depth to my tale. Also lots of humor! The other characters were a little tougher to place but ultimately, I managed to do it.

As for the storyline, itself, that was different. I was never too sure if ‘this’ was too much or ‘that’ was enough. So I took the throw-all-the-spaghetti-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. Not quite my style. I usually know the first chapter, where I want to go, and how I want the story to end. This time I had no idea of any of it. I was a panster to the nth degree.

Surprisingly, while writing the novel this method was freeing. If I had a thought, it was in. I’d deal with the validity of it later. I wound up with some not-so-nice Russian businessmen, a trendy restaurant, threatening letters, jewel thieves, secret tunnels, and even a Christmas tree farm. I mean, why not? Then I added an inside take on life backstage in the theater, which was a large part of my existence in my salad days. I still had sleepless nights, but at least I had written pages to show for them.

Months later, when I finished the final draft, I went back in and took out extraneous plots, substories, and innuendos that didn’t work or were confusing. By that time, I actually had a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Hallelujah! When I handed the book off to my editors and Beta readers, I waited with the proverbial bated breath to see if the novel worked. It did. In fact, my content editor, one tough cookie, said it was the tightest of all the Alvarez books. Did that mean if I knew a storyline may not work from the very first word on the page to the very last, it made me a better novelist?

I’m thinking no. Each story is unique and different. When I start a new novel it’s almost like writing the first one. So far I’ve written thirteen novels, numerous novellas, and dozens of short stories. Not one of them has been easy or formulaic. True, I’ve developed a few tricks along the way. I believe I know what doesn’t work. But what definitively works? You got me.

In a way, I love that part. It never gets boring, this writing stuff.

Back in the Saddle Again

As we enter quarter 3 of 2020, I’m finally getting back into the groove and picking things up where I left off before this year took a massive left turn into the scary land of Pandemicia. Before COVID-19, I was on track to launch the first three books of my debut cozy mystery series this fall and about to start launching a series of social media courses for authors.

*whistles and puts hands in pockets* Yeah, that’s not quite how quarter 2 went. On the bright side, I was able to focus on finishing my thesis (and master’s) so now I can re-focus on other goals without that on my shoulders.

Anyone else returning to some normalcy in your writing or life after the initial onslaught of the pandemic?

It feels so good to be thinking about writing and publishing again, and be able to share that with you all! I recently finished working with an amazing cover artist on my debut cover. I’ll be sure to share the cover in a future blog post and talk about the elements of cozy mystery covers.

Another good thing about the unexpected break from writing (can you tell I’m an optimist always looking for the bright side?) is that I have SUPER fresh eyes to read the current draft of my cozy. I’m sure that’s going to come in handy.

To be honest, I can’t really recall where I left off with it. It’s like life pre-COVID is still a blur. I know I was revising and working on a revision plan, but I don’t recall quite where I was going with everything. I’m going to take that as a blessing that I can now look at it with a new perspective and not be bogged down by old ideas. Hopefully the strongest ideas from before will return or I’ll get some new ones.

This week, I’ll be reading what I currently have and tackling a new revision plan. By the time my blog date rolls around for August, I’m sure I’ll have lots of exciting things to update you on with my indie publishing journey. Possibly new release dates picked out for early 2021 (because fall 2020 definitely won’t be happening at this point, haha), tales from Revision Land, maybe even talking about the process of working with a hired editor. So much goodness to come!

I’d love to hear what’s going on with you. Do you have any summer goals? Anything you’re happy to be returning to after some time away?