Guest Blogger – J.L. Greger

TRAVEL DURING THE PANDEMIC

How would you complete this sentence: Be careful what you wish for because…? I suspect most of would say, “…because you may get it.”

I think that expression is apt during the COVID pandemic. Many Americans are bristling under travel restrictions now and dreaming of touring exotic locations. If they swallowed their pride, many would realize they’d be happier reading a novel set in a faraway place while seated in a comfortable armchair than actually experiencing the trip. I could also add that unfortunate travel dilemmas are hilarious when you’re not the one vomiting (I hope I’m not being too blunt.) or losing money.

A BOTTOM LINE FOR AUTHORS This is a good time to include travel in your novels. It will appeal to readers who are beginning to think of grocery shopping as a travel opportunity. You can also develop characters more fully when they are confronted with a challenging location.

Here’s an example. In Dirty Holy Water, my heroine Sara Almquist guesses her boyfriend Sanders plans to propose with the Taj Mahal in the background. A true romantic author would have Sanders propose as they gaze at the Taj Mahal shimmering in the mists at sunrise. As a mystery author who appreciates realistic settings, I felt that a romantic fantasy would leave out more than half the story. See what you think.

The guide promised the group a spell binding view of the Taj Mahal and hurried them off the bus. Sara was skeptical. She could see the gray Yamuna River with yellow mists above it and mud flats next to it. Scraggly greenery and rubble from buildings or walls filled the area between the bus and the river. She guessed the guide’s claim might be exaggerated because only three other buses were discharging tourists. Sara figured at least she wouldn’t be jostled during this viewing of the Taj Mahal and grabbed Sanders’s arm as soon as he alighted.

They strolled along the river. Women in brightly colored saris were washing clothes on the rocks at the water’s edge. Gradually the yellow mist lightened to gray and the outline of the Taj Mahal in a darker gray became visible. Sunlight hit the dome and it began to whiten and shimmer.

Sanders put his arm on Sara’s shoulder and guided her to a low wall. “We need to talk. Yesterday everything was so crowded and noisy. This is quiet but it looks….”

“Like the banks of a river that overflows it banks regularly?”

“Yes, but I expected it to be more refined and romantic.” He fumbled in his jacket pocket.

She realized he wanted to propose and might even foolishly go down on one knee in the mud. That would be a mistake—a funny one. She remembered a quotation from Oscar Wilde: “Nothing spoils romance so much as a sense of humor in the woman.”

She pulled his hand from his pocket and stroked it. “Yes, we should talk but why not after we go back to the hotel for breakfast? We can sit on a comfortable bench in the garden behind the hotel. It will be empty and quiet this morning”

He coughed. “I can’t eat. My gut….”

“I know. We can sip tea and eat a little toast or rice and then relax in the garden by the hotel.”

Blurb for DIRTY HOLY WATER: Sara Almquist is about to become engaged and leave for a vacation in India when she becomes the chief suspect in the murder of a friend. Only the friend and her family, well to put it politely, have a couple of dark secrets. Sara soon realizes the difference between a villain and a victim can be alarmingly small in a dysfunctional family.

Book at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0960028587

Website: http://www.jlgreger.com

Disclaimer and Bio: I love the challenges of foreign travel. I learned more than I taught when I consulted on scientific issues in the Marshall Islands, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates. Accordingly, my protagonist Sara Almquist has consulted on science issues in the Middle East (I Saw You in Beirut), in Bolivia (Ignore the Pain), and Cuba (Malignancy) in my thrillers.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janet.greger.3

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/J.L.Greger/e/B008IFZSC4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Guest Blogger- Tara Lush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINK: books2read.com/u/4A7KLA 

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

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

Guest Author – Kathleen Kalb

What Are We REALLY Talking About?

by Kathleen Marple Kalb

  Keep your eyes open when my characters start talking about social issues.

 Chances are pretty good I’m slipping in some very important evidence that you’ll want to remember later. One of the wonderful things I’ve learned as an historical mystery writer is that all of that background gives me unique ways to work in key clues while most of the reader’s attention is on other things…for an especially satisfying reveal later in the story.

Here’s an example: in A FATAL FIRST NIGHT, most of the cast is at the main characters’ home for Sunday afternoon tea, and they get into a wonderful discussion of suffrage, women’s role in the world, and whether females can kill. Some extremely important evidence comes out during that talk, and of course, I’m not going to tell you what it is because of the potential spoiler. But that scene is one of my favorites.

I’m far from the first writer to use this trick. Many of my favorites, especially people I grew up reading and wanting to emulate, do the same thing. Elizabeth Peters, probably my all-time favorite, was the sneakiest of them all. Especially in her Amelia Peabody historical series, you’d be thinking about amulets or dead pharaohs, and first thing you knew, the Master Criminal had pulled off some dastardly deed that Amelia would sort out at the end.

Ella’s world is just chock-full of similar opportunities. Not only is there all of the social ferment to fuel heated teatime debates, there are also the worlds of opera, newspapers and sports, all of which contribute bits of the solution to the plot, and provide fun ways to get there. Plus, because this is a series about a performer, classic backstage dramas.

My favorite writers take familiar plots and tropes, and give them a twist just when you think you know what’s going to happen, and that’s what I like to do too. Ella’s relationship with her beau, Gilbert Saint Aubyn, Duke of Leith, is all about upending expectations. In old-school historical romances, a Duke is the ultimate matrimonial prize, usually drawn as a suave fellow who could have any woman he wanted but chose our heroine because she was interesting, and of course, virtuous.

The Barrister (as most of the cast calls him) is in fact a Duke, and easy on the eyes. After that, though, the tropes are out the window. He’s anything but suave, inevitably saying stupid things when he tries to impress Ella, and much more comfortable playing the lawyer he trained to be than the Peer he became. She likes him because he’s open-minded and unpretentious, but still has less than no interest in marrying him and becoming his legal property.

I’d keep my eyes open for clues whenever those two are fencing and courting. You never know where I might hide something…

A FATAL FIRST NIGHT (coming 4/27/21) opens with a murder in Richard III’s dressing room after the premiere of the Ella Shane Opera Company’s new production, The Princes in the Tower.  Ella and friends aren’t at all sure about their colleague’s guilt — even though it seems obvious. Meanwhile, newspaper reporter Hetty MacNaughten has finally escaped hats to cover a sensational murder trial. Before it’s over, the cast will have to sort out several interlocking mysteries, welcome an unexpected visitor…and find another Richard III. Will everyone survive to the final curtain? 

PREORDER: https://www.kensingtonbooks.com/9781496727244/a-fatal-first-night/

Kathleen Marple Kalb grew up in front of a microphone and a keyboard. She’s currently a weekend morning anchor at 1010 WINS Radio in New York, capping a career she started as a teenage DJ in her Western Pennsylvania hometown. She’s the author of the Ella Shane Mystery historical mystery series: A Fatal Finale is out now, A Fatal First Night this spring. She also just began a darkly comic new chapter series on Chanillo.com: On the Side of the Angels.

WHERE TO FIND ME:

Website: https://kathleenmarplekalb.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Kathleen-Marple-Kalb-1082949845220373/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KalbMarple

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

Photo source: public domain picture from the NYPL Digital Collections

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.