Guest Blogger~ Sally Carpenter

Christmas can be murder

By Sally Carpenter

Only ten weeks until Christmas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My New Book and What Erle Stanley Gardner Has to Do With It

Though I thought I was done with my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, but after a visit to my daughter’s home in a gated community for seniors, another idea popped into my head and I wrote The Trash Harem.

It wasn’t easy. The fact that I couldn’t meet with my critique group due to the pandemic really hurt. Receiving their feed-back chapter by chapter has always helped so much and I’m considered them my first editor.

Erle Stanley Gardner

However, the ideas kept flowing, and because the story is set in Temecula, a place I’ve visited often, a thought popped into my head about a most famous writer, Erle Stanley Gardner. He lived and wrote most of his books while living in Temecula. I knew a lot about Gardner, not only from reading some of his Perry Mason books, but visiting the Temecula Valley Museum where the whole second floor is dedicated to the writer.

Not only is his writing desk available to be viewed, items from his office and other artifacts but also a multitude of photos of his ranch. Gardner’s ranch had twenty seven buildings including separate cabins for his full time secretaries. He loved camping in Baja California; he took his secretaries because he wrote even while on vacation, his doctor, and many others with him in a caravan of different kinds and types of camping vehicles. After his death, the ranch was sold, and resold to the Pechanga Indians.

I had the privilege of meeting three of his four secretaries who appeared at the Temecula museum for a celebration of Gardner. As they told those of us who had gathered, Gardner worked on four books at a time, he spoke them into a Dictaphone and were transcribed by his secretaries. When I met the secretaries who were in their eighties, they were all still lovely, bright women.

And yes, I did figure out a way for Erle Stanley Gardner to be an important part of The Trash Harem.

Marilyn

Official Blurb:

Deputy Tempe Crabtree has retired from her job in Bear Creek when friends, who once lived in Bear Creek and attended Pastor Hutch’s church, ask her to visit them in Temecula. The husband, Jonathan, is a suspect in what might be a murder case. The retirement community includes many interesting characters, any of whom might have had a better motive than Jonathan. There is also a connection to Earle Stanley Gardner as well as the Pechanga Old Oak. What is a trash harem? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

To purchase The Trash Harem https://www.amazon.com/Trash-Harem-Tempe-Crabtree-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B096KZDPH8/

Marilyn Meredith’s Bio:

She is the author of over 40 published books including the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, and writing as F. M. Meredith, the Rocky Bluff P.D. series. She’s a member of two chapters of Sisters in Crime and the Public Safety Writers Association.

Webpage: http://fictionforyou.com/

Blog: https://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marilyn.meredith

Guest Blogger ~ Susie Black

No matter what stage an author’s writing career is at, one thing that is constantly drilled into their head is to only write what you know. If you don’t know it, either do the research and learn it or don’t you dare write it. If you don’t have the creds for what you write, you are toast because readers can spot a phony by the second paragraph and never finish reading your book. This concept is one I never lose sight of and is the reason I write about the subjects I do. 

Like the protagonist in my Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series, I am a ladies’ swimwear sales exec in the greater Los Angeles area. From the beginning of my career, I have kept a daily journal chronicling the interesting, quirky, and sometimes quite challenging people I have encountered as well as the crazy situations I’ve gotten myself into and out of. My daily journal entries are the foundation of everything I write.

I came to write in the cozy mystery genre because I love solving puzzles. My parents would certainly confirm I have always asked a lot of questions, and I am naturally curious (some narrow-minded people say I am nosy…go figure…LOL). So, writing mysteries was the natural next step for me to take. it is also the genre I read, am comfortable in, and enjoy the most. The bonus is that it was an excellent way to knock off some people on paper who I would have loved to eliminate in real life and still not end up in prison. Extremely therapeutic. I highly recommend it.

As a female who has succeeded in a historically male-dominated industry, it was important to me to write about the apparel business from a woman’s point of view. All of my characters are based on real people, and the central characters are all strong, successful women who have beaten the odds and broken the glass ceiling. Holly Schlivnik, the main character, is based on me with some poetic license taken, of course. The plots and premises of my stories all take place in the fast-paced ladies’ apparel industry. The premise behind the story in Death by Sample Size is what if a buying office big shot in the apparel industry so universally disliked that when she was murdered, there were so many potential suspects that it wasn’t a question of who wanted her dead, it was a question of who didn’t.

DEATH BY SAMPLE SIZE

Everyone wanted her dead…but who actually killed her?

The last thing swimwear sales exec Holly Schlivnik expected was to discover ruthless buying office big wig Bunny Frank’s corpse trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey with a bikini stuffed down her throat. When Holly’s colleague is arrested for Bunny’s murder, the wise-cracking, irreverent amateur sleuth jumps into action to find the real killer.  Nothing turns out the way Holly thinks it will as she matches wits with a wily killer hellbent on revenge. Get ready to laugh out loud as Susie Black’s Death by Sample Size takes you on a rollicking adventure ride through the Los Angeles apparel industry.

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/gp/productttt/BO93F24T3F

BARNES & NOBLE: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/death-by-sample-size-susie-black/1139356591

Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/Susie-black

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57877534-death-by-sample-size

Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?pcampaignid=books_read_action&id=k8swEAAAQBAJ

I Tunes: https://books.apple.com/us/book/death-by-sample-size/id1564686461

kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/search?query=Death+by+Sample+Size

TARGET.COM: https://www.target.com/s?searchTerm=Death+by+Sample+Size

Just behind my college graduation, wedding day, and the birth of my son, June 9th was truly one of the most amazing days of my entire life. My debut cozy mystery Death by Sample Size was released for publication. I am humbled, honored, and proud to be able to say that now I am officially a published author! A life-long dream has come true, a hard-fought-for goal has been accomplished.

Born in the Big Apple, Susie Black now calls sunny Southern California home. Like the protagonist in her Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series, Susie is a successful apparel sales executive. Susie began telling stories as soon as she learned to talk. Now she’s telling all the stories from her garment industry experiences in humorous mysteries.

She reads, writes, and speaks Spanish, albeit with an accent that sounds like Mildred from Michigan went on a Mexican vacation and is trying to fit in with the locals. Since life without pizza and ice cream as her core food groups wouldn’t be worth living, she’s a dedicated walker to keep her girlish figure. A voracious reader, she’s also an avid stamp collector. Susie lives with a highly intelligent man and has one incredibly brainy but smart-aleck adult son who inexplicably blames his sarcasm on an inherited genetic defect.

Looking for more? Reach her at mysteries_@authorsusieblack.com

Social Media Links:

Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/Susie-black

Facebook: https://facebook.com/TheHollySwimsuitMysterySeries

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57877534-death-by-sample-size

Instagram: Susie Black (@hollyswimsuit) • Instagram photos and videos

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/authorsusieblack-61941011

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/hollysusie1_saved/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/@hollyswimsuit

Guest Blogger~Susan Elia MacNeal

Hello and thank you for having me, Ladies of Mystery!

            I’m thrilled to be here talking about The Hollywood Spy. It’s the latest novel in the Maggie Hope series—but it can also be read as a stand-alone, so don’t worry about needing to catch up.

            In The Hollywood Spy, Maggie Hope returns to the United States—and not just anywhere, but Los Angeles, in the summer of 1943.

            Why Los Angeles? Typically, the setting for the books has been London and the UK. Well, I read the Pulitzer-Prize-nominated non-fiction book, Hitler in Los Angeles and that was the catalyst I needed. Yes, you read that title correctly—in the 1930s and even after World War II began, southern California was a hotbed of fascist activity for both German and American Nazis. When I finished reading the book (which reads like a thriller, by the way), I knew I wanted to set a book there and then.

            Los Angeles turns out to be a perfect place for Maggie Hope’s adventures to continue. She’s asked (by her former beau) to investigate his fiancée’s murder. Well, that’s a bit awkward! But Maggie needs a change of scene from dreary grey London—and what starts as a cursory inquiry turns much darker and twistier as more clues are discovered.

            Los Angeles, the city, is a character in her own right in this book. Some of the locations are the Chateau Marmont (where Maggie and her friend Sarah Sanderson stay), the Walt Disney Studios (where John Sterling, Maggie’s ex beau works), the swanky Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel, Schwab’s Pharmacy, Caltech, and the Carthay theater. I loved reading books and articles about L.A. during the war, as well as watching documentaries. Taking a research trip was also both productive and fun.

            In The Hollywood Spy, we also meet some famous names from Hollywood at the time: Walt Disney, of course, but also choreographer George Balanchine, composer Igor Stravinsky, singer Cab Calloway, aviation and movie tycoon Howard Hughes, and actress Lena Horne.

            But it’s not all glitz and glamour in Los Angeles, as Maggie and her friends soon find. There’s a dark underbelly as well—all historically documented. In June of 1943, L.A. was torn apart by the Zoot Suit riots. People who identified as LGBTQ were in danger of being arrested or worse. “Smog” was just beginning to appear as traffic increased and rubber plants and war industry polluted the air. And there was significant corruption in the LAPD.

            Los Angeles proved to be a wonderful setting to punch through the soft fog of nostalgia about “the Greatest Generation.” While it’s true most of America was standing shoulder-to-shoulder to fight the Nazis and Axis powers, things (especially in L.A.) are a bit more complex. After all, the government needs the country’s unity—to produce the men and machines for war. Los Angeles was not only home to Hollywood, the propaganda machine for the U.S., but also the aviation industry. While “pulling together” was supposed to stitch up tears in the social, racial, sexual inequality in America, the reality wasn’t as simple as the propaganda and shared memories would have it sound. Los Angeles—and America—stood both divided and together.

            Thank you for having me—hope you read and enjoy The Hollywood Spy!

THE HOLLYWOOD SPY

A Maggie Hope Mystery

by Susan Elia MacNeal

Los Angeles, 1943. As the Allies beat back the Nazis in the Mediterranean and the United States military slowly closes in on Tokyo, Walt Disney cranks out wartime propaganda and the Cocoanut Grove is alive with jazz and swing each night. But behind this sunny façade lies a darker reality. Somewhere in the lush foothills of Hollywood, a woman floats, lifeless, in the pool of one of California’s trendiest hotels. When American-born secret agent and British spy Maggie Hope learns

that this woman was engaged to her old flame, John Sterling, and that he suspects her death was no accident, intuition tells her he’s right. Leaving London under siege—not to mention flying thousands of miles—is a lot to ask. But John was once the love of Maggie’s life…and she won’t say no.

Maggie is shocked to find Los Angeles as divided as Europe itself—the Zoot Suit Riots loom large and the Ku Klux Klan casts a long shadow. As she marvels at the hatred in her home country, she can’t help but wonder what it will be like to see her lost love once again. But there is little time to dwell on memories once she starts digging into the case. As she traces a web of deception from the infamous Garden of Allah Hotel to the iconic Carthay Theater, she discovers things aren’t always the way things appear in the movies—and the political situation in America is more complicated, and dangerous, than the newsreels would have them all believe. 

Buy Link: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/617760/the-hollywood-spy-by-susan-elia-macneal/?pdivflag

Susan Elia MacNeal is the New York Times bestselling author of the Maggie Hope mysteries. MacNeal won the Barry Award and has been nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, Agatha, Left Coast Crime, Dilys, and ITW Thriller awards. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and son.

Visit randomhousebooks.com or susaneliamacneal.com
You can find the author of on Facebook @MrChurcillsSecretary, Twitter @SusanMacNeal, and Instagram @susaneliamacneal

 

What I Like and Dislike About Writing

Writing is something I’m compelled to do. I’ve written in one form or another since I was around four. The first of my telling stories was in a series of pictures about the soap opera my mother listened to on the radio every morning—My Gal Sunday. While mom worked in the kitchen with the radio tuned in, I sat at a little table with a tablet and crayons, depicting what I heard.

During my grammar school days I wrote lots of stories, some were my versions of “Little House on the Prairie,” and an old series of books of my mother’s about the life of Elsie Dinsmore. I also wrote and illustrated a fairy tale my mother sent off to a publisher. She must’ve thought it was good—the publisher sent back a nice rejection letter.

My junior high years I wrote plays for the neighborhood kids to star in and a magazine which I sold to my friends for a nickel. I wrote essays, stories and poems during my high school years. I married young and was kept busy running my household and raising five children. My writing turned to newsletters for PTA and plays for my Camp Fire Girls to perform. I did write two novels during that period of my life and have no idea what happened to them.

My sister labored on our family’s genealogy and when she was done, I used it as a guide for writing two historical family sagas—a huge undertaking requiring lots of research. Both books, after a lot of criticism and work, were published. And I was hooked.

I love the writing process. Because I love to read mysteries, I started writing them. Being inside another place, seeing exciting events through the eyes of imaginary characters became my obsession. Planning the mystery, where it would take place, who would be the detective, deciding who should be a victim and who might want to see that person dead, how the person was killed, all became part of the enjoyment of writing.

I do like the editing part—though I confess to missing mistakes and I’m grateful to my editor for finding plot holes and typos.

Even after all the editing, I don’t like it when a reader lets me know about a mistake she’s found. Oh, I’m glad she pointed it out because it can be fixed, but I’m unhappy because the mistake was missed during the editing process.

Researching is often fun: talking to people in law enforcement, going on ride-alongs, attending mystery and writing conferences, meeting other writers and readers.

What I dislike about the whole business of writing is planning promotional events: making the phone call or going in-person to ask to hold a book signing in a particular place. Though I do enjoy talking to readers, I’m not happy with trying to convince someone to buy a book. If they aren’t interested after I’ve told them about it, I’m not going to push.

I like being on panels at writing or mystery cons, but what I don’t like is when one author tries to hog the whole time period for him/herself.

Though I do like some ways of promotion, I’m not fond of any that takes a lot of time away from writing and costs a lot of money. Anything effective seems to do both.

No matter, when I’m finished with one book, an idea for another is usually rolling around in my brain.

Okay, I’ve had my say. I’d like to hear from my author friends, what do you like best about writing? And what don’t you like about the process?

Marilyn