Guest Blogger ~ Skye Alexander

A Good Place To Die

The real estate agent’s axiom about the importance of “location, location, location” holds true for me, too, as a mystery writer––usually the setting is the first thing I establish in a novel. The place where a story occurs provides a backdrop for the action and creates ambiance. It also grounds the tale in a time/space framework with a history, culture, and physical features that dictate what can or cannot happen there. A crime that transpires in a seventeenth-century French chateau, for instance, will be different from one that takes place on the mean streets of Al Capone’s Chicago or in a California mining town during the Gold Rush.

Sometimes the setting assumes a life of its own and becomes a character in the story, such as the marsh in Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing and the Four Corners in Tony Hillerman’s novels. In some cases, the setting serves as an antagonist, like the Dust Bowl in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and the Parisian flood in Sarah Smith’s Knowledge of Water. The environment challenges the protagonist and either helps or hinders her efforts to solve the crime––or to stay alive.

Much as I enjoy reading about Louise Penny’s fictitious town of Three Pines, Quebec, and Susan Oleksiw’s Hotel Delite in Kovalam, South India, I didn’t want to limit my series to only one setting. Consequently, I created a cast of New York Jazz Age musicians whom wealthy people hire to perform at special events. Each stint takes the entertainers to a different location where they’re presented with a unique set of obstacles and opportunities.

The most recent novel in my Lizzie Crane mystery series, What the Walls Know, is set in a spooky castle in October of 1925. When the musicians accept an invitation to perform at a Halloween party there, they have no idea they’ll be trapped on an isolated peninsula with real-life wizards, witches, ghosts, fortune-tellers––and a murderer. The actual neo-Gothic Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts inspired me, and I incorporated its magnificent pipe organ and some other notable features into the story. The oceanside estate of the plumbing magnate Richard Crane prompted the first book in my series, Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife. Two future novels in the series, The Goddess of Shipwrecked Sailors and Running in the Shadows, take place in Salem, Massachusetts. This city’s colorful history offered up intriguing plot elements, including the clipper ship trade and the notorious smuggling tunnels that once ran beneath the old town.

For the sake of authenticity, I physically visit each place mentioned in my novels––every house, store, hotel, restaurant, church, library, museum, park, railway station, and cemetery. If it ever existed and still does, I’ve been there. In Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife, my characters eat lunch at a resort that unfortunately burned down in the 1950s, dashing my hopes for a site visit. Luckily, though, I located an elderly gentleman whose family owned the resort when he was young and he kindly spent an evening recounting the “good old days” with me.

What are some of your favorite story locations? How do you feel they contribute to the tale? Does reading about a particular setting make you want to go there?

What The Walls Know

Halloween 1925, Gloucester, Massachusetts: Jazz singer Lizzie Crane thinks ghosts in a creepy castle are her only worry, until a woman dies of a suspicious heroin overdose and Lizzie becomes a murder suspect––or maybe the next victim.

Buy Links:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/what-the-walls-know-skye-alexander/1142463455

Skye Alexander is the author of nearly 50 fiction and nonfiction books. Her stories have appeared in anthologies internationally, and her work has been published in more than a dozen languages. In 2003, she cofounded Level Best Books with fellow authors Kate Flora and Susan Oleksiw. The first novel in her Lizzie Crane mystery series, Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife, set in 1925, was published in 2021; the second, What the Walls Know, was released in November 2022. Skye lives in Texas with her black Manx cat Zoe.

Website: www.skyealexander.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/skye.alexander.92

Guest Blogger ~ A. M. Ialacci

It’s the end of November as I write this, and I had hoped to have my fifth and final book in the Crystal Coast Case Series complete and ready to publish next month, but my muse had different ideas. The fifth book is outlined and even started, but I had another, different project, begun a few years ago clamoring for my attention. Rather than force myself to write the book I needed to write, I chose to let the stories inside to make that decision for me.

This other, more insistent book, a historical mystery, started as eleven pages that were written over a period of maybe three days — without an outline, without character studies, without research — and then stuck in a drawer for a while. How very unlike me!

I went on to complete book four of the Crystal Coast Case Series, “Sunsets, Scripts, and Murder,” and released it in September of last year. Outlined, researched, edited, formatted, published. Done and dusted.

Then in October, I went to Italy for a much-anticipated writing retreat. A week in the rolling hills of Tuscany at a villa with four-course, chef-cooked meals. I couldn’t be further from the beaches of the Crystal Coast of North Carolina, so I chose to pick up that eleven-page historical mystery and see where it led. By the end of the week, my fellow writers were hooked on my story, and I was bewildered. How was I doing this?

When I returned home to the realities of everyday life, that bewilderment combined with my very real responsibilities and turned into a period of burnout. I couldn’t write anything. This had happened to me once before, and I recognized that I just needed time. It was uncomfortable, I was unhappy, but I wasn’t going to add more stress to the situation by creating arbitrary goals to get back to my work.

With some outside help and coaching, I gradually returned to my story, and continued to write intuitively. No one was more surprised than me. My entire process was different, but the story was appearing before me on the blank page. I only had to follow its lead and put it into words.

Now my draft is done, and my critique partners, my beloved writing circle, tell me it’s the best book I’ve written. And it isn’t even near its final form yet.

In April, I go to Germany, in part to do some on-the-ground research for this historical mystery, and I know it may be some months before this book is complete. But I’m truly excited about it, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

In the meantime, I’ll get back to the series finale my readers have been eagerly anticipating. If you’d like to get caught up on this series, so that you’ll be ready for book five when it comes out, please click on the accompanying links.

A dead actress. A big secret. And Allie Fox is on the case.

Tired of couch-surfing with friends, PI Allie Fox heads to the beach on an overcast, off-season day to do some house hunting.

But when she stumbles onto a dead body in an empty rental, she’s plunged straight into another case of foul play.

Up and coming actor Aisha Carter’s stay in Emerald Isle had been a secret, and only a select few knew she was here. When her agent hires Allie to investigate, she finds the actor was keeping everyone in the dark, and hiding much more than her whereabouts.

As she digs deeper into Aisha’s past, nothing seems to add up. Then Allie uncovers a shocking clue that puts everyone she loves on the killer’s list.

Sunsets, Scripts, and Murder continues the story of the Crystal Coast Case series. If you like Melinda Leigh, Lisa Gray, or Claire McGowan, you’ll love A. M. Ialacci’s gripping story of bright lights, big secrets, and murder.

Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09H5JMS84

Growing up on a steady diet of Murder She Wrote and Nancy Drew, it wasn’t until Anna left her twenty-year teaching career that she realized she might be able to write her own mystery. Single mom to a young man on the autism spectrum, and living in a multigenerational household, she loves the beach, reading Scandinavian crime fiction, and binging on Netflix. Anna is the winner of the Occasions, Just Write Writing Contest 2018, and a runner up in the Writer’s Domain One Sentence Story Contest 2018.

Website: https://www.amialacci.com

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

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

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/AMIalacci

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18931413.A_M_Ialacci

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/A-M-Ialacci/e/B07P7J1RWV

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/a-m-ialacci

November: A Prologue by Karen Shughart

After my first Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mystery, Murder in the Museum, was published, I decided to play around with the concept of having two prologues for subsequent books and contacted my publisher to see what she thought. She basically told me to ” go for it”, and in book two, Murder in the Cemetery, that’s what I did: the first to set the historical back story that alerts readers to why the murder may have been committed, and the second to describe the seasonal tone for the crime.

In book two I described the month of May in Lighthouse Cove, with its profusion of flowers and abundance of sun, a fitting backdrop to the crime that’s about to occur. In Murder at Freedom Hill, the third book in the series (now on sale in paperback and Kindle versions at Amazon and other book outlets) the second prologue is entitled “November”. I thought it was appropriate for this month’s blog, so here goes:

  For residents of Lighthouse Cove, NY, November was always a month of mixed emotions.  

There was a yearning for the blazing colors of October, the cool, crisp nights, starlit skies, bright days. For a low-hanging sun that could still warm the bones and ease the joints.  For the farm stands, now shuttered until spring, that had offered up a bounty of ripe produce, local honey, homemade baked goods and jams, fresh herbs.  For the hayrides and bonfires and deer spotting among the apple orchards. For the unbridled joy of chattering, costumed children extending small hands for treats as their parents kept a watchful eye; glowing lights illuminating their way.

There was also the peace that comes with tourists gone for another year and the ease of getting about.  The sound of waves, ambling onto the beach like lazy sloths. The geese and swans gliding effortlessly around the bay, no longer competing for space with boats and bathers, and the eagles soaring silently above on currents of wind. The rumbling and grumbling of street noises now muffled by a thick carpet of brown, fallen leaves.

 There was excitement and anticipation, too, in November.  For a day, later in the month, when families would gather to give thanks and then soon after, start to prepare for the hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday season. For the hunters who had been looking forward all year to donning their camo, retrieving their guns, and stalking their prey in fields and woods, hoping to bestow upon their loved ones a largess befitting of their labors.

For some, November was also the month of grieving. A month of decay that precedes death.  Where what was past was past and would be no more, and what lay ahead was the chill and dark of winter.

Guest Blogger ~ Heather Redmond

The Story Behind A Twist of Murder

A Twist of Murder is the fifth in my historical mystery series, A Dickens of a Crime. It started in January 1835, when (yes, that) Charles Dickens was a parliamentary reporter, not yet a novelist, and tracks the start of his literary career and his courtship with Catherine Hogarth, his future real-life wife. The first four books were set in London, but I moved most of the action to Harrow on the Hill for book five, set in March 1836, to follow my former mudlark characters who are going to school there.

And what a school it is! Strange goings on indeed. The owner of Aga Academy seems to have sold off part interest to Fagin Sikes, a harsh taskmaster who treats the students like poor orphans, not paying customers. A servant girl is flashing around a treasure map. When a circus comes to town, some of the students vanish and no one looks for them. Soon after, the servant girl goes missing, and people finally start to care. When a coroner’s job includes researching rumors of treasure, that might get the highest priority of all. Charles Dickens and friends are called to the school to find the missing students, the missing servant, and the treasure.

When you are writing an ongoing series, the next story idea appears quite naturally as an offshoot of the characters from previous books. I prefer to hold onto characters instead of dropping them from book to book. I think it makes series richer. Therefore, the missing students and victims in this book have largely been featured in previous books or are related to important ongoing characters. This gives relationships between all my story people room to grow and change. Aga Academy had been mentioned and briefly visited in earlier books, so it was time to feature it as a main location.

Charles Dickens did a little treasure hunting in A Tale of Two Murders, book one, but that was nothing compared to his new adventure. As an ardent follower of the History Channel TV show The Curse of Oak Island, I love to have treasure hunts in my books. This was my first opportunity to create an actual treasure map, though. I confused myself a few times while creating it. I guess I wasn’t a pirate in a previous life, LOL.

This series is loosely based on the novels of Charles Dickens. A Twist of Murder includes elements of his novels Oliver Twist and Hard Times, such as the life of orphans and students, as well as his hatred of the Utilitarian philosophy of education. My conceit for the series is that Charles is having experiences and hearing names that will ultimately appear in his fiction. We know that his novels are far from being fanciful. Modern readers are so far removed from the Victorian era that we often don’t recognize what is in his novels was normal life at the time.

I had a lot of fun writing a book set in 1836 Harrow on the Hill, and I hope you enjoy this adventure hunting for treasure, missing students, and the murderer of a young servant girl.

A TWIST OF MURDER

In Victorian England, aspiring author Charles Dickens is on the case again—in pursuit of missing orphans, legendary treasure, and a cold-blooded killer in the latest installment of Heather Redmond’s charming series that reimagines the famous writer as an amateur sleuth.

Harrow-on-the-Hill, March 1836: In a sense, orphans Ollie, John, and Arthur have always been treasure hunters. The mudlarks have gone from a hardscrabble life scavenging the banks of the Thames for bits and bobs to becoming students at a boarding school outside of London, thanks to the kind and generous intercession of Charles Dickens. But now they’re missing—as is, apparently, a treasure map.

When Charles arrives at the school, he’s hit with another twist—the servant girl who was allegedly in possession of the map has been strangled in the icehouse. Unbeknownst to them on their spirited adventure, his young friends may be in mortal danger. Now Charles and his fiancée Kate Hogarth, who has come to join him in the search for the runaways, must artfully dodge false leads and red herrings to find the boys and the map—before X marks the spot of their graves . . .

A Twist of Murder by Heather Redmond

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1496737970

Heather Redmond writes two mystery series, A Dickens of a Crime, featuring young Charles Dickens in the 1830s, and a Seattle-set cozy mystery series, the Journaling mysteries. Her latest Dickens title is A Twist of Murder, book 5 in the series, and the paperback edition of Tattooed to Death, book 2 of her cozy series, will be available in January. She also writes as Heather Hiestand and lives in Washington state.

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Guest Blogger ~ Kimila Kay

HONEYMOON IN PARADISE

When my husband, Randy, and I decided to get married after dating for three years, it was an exciting time. At the age of thirty-one, I was hardly a blushing, young bride but knew I wanted our wedding to be a festive affair with family and friends. And of course, a honeymoon in Hawaii would be perfect.

I might be a tad of a control freak, but managed to let go of my need to oversee the honeymoon and allowed Randy to plan our romantic getaway. Imagine my surprise when he comes home from work a month before the wedding and announces our honeymoon destination.

“I booked our trip today,” Randy said with a broad grin.

“Great!” I kissed him. “I’ve already started packing.”

“Packing? But you don’t know where we’re going.”

“I know what to pack for Hawaii.” I winked at him.

“Hawaii?”

I held up a finger. “Don’t tell me the island, that way I’ll still be a little surprised.”

“We’re going to Mazatlán, Mexico.”

“Mexico?” I faced him, hands on hips. “I am not going to a third world country on my honeymoon!”

When I stepped off the plane onto the hot, sticky tarmac of the Mazatlán airport, I instantly fell in love with … everything.

I knew from that very first visit that someday I would write a novel set in Mazatlán. My latest novel, Malice in Mazatlán begins in the city I love and features real places we’ve enjoyed on our many visits to this fabulous vacation destination.

In Malice in Mazatlán my female protagonist Katelyn Graham flees to city, known as the Pearl of the Pacific, after her failed nuptials and finds herself arrested for the murder of a man she met at Joe’s. Christopher Temple searches the city for an elusive drug queen and a beautiful woman who’s piqued his interest. Sarita Garcia knows to stay alive she’ll have to leave her lavish lifestyle and young lover for a safer existence far away from Mazatlán.

In my books, I strive to capture the culture of Mexico from the food to the citizens to the beautiful beaches. My attempt to be a margarita connoisseur is blended with my characters as they enjoy one of my favorite dishes, marlin tacos. While I’ve never attempted to jog on the beach next to the sparkling blue ocean, I have admired those who do from my favorite lounge chair. And, thankfully, I have not crossed paths with a drug queen, but am aware cartels are woven into the landscape of Mexico as much as the towering palm trees.

My husband has given me love, gifts and lots of fun throughout our marriage, but the best present he ever bestowed on me is our fabulous link to paradise.

Malice in Mazatlán

When her fiancé cheats a week before their wedding, Katelyn Graham flees to Mazatlán, Mexico hoping the sea will soothe her broken heart. After a night of margaritas with a handsome stranger, Katelyn finds herself arrested for his murder.

Special Agent Christopher Temple is juggling his investigation into a drug queen with his search for a beautiful woman who has piqued his interest, and whom he fears he’s put in harm’s way.

Aware the FBI and DEA are working with the policía to capture her, Sarita is torn between leaving her lavish lifestyle and her adoring paramour for a world free of worrying about being imprisoned … or eliminated.

Malice in Mazatlán has a splash of suspense, a touch of mystery, and a dash of romance, all of which should be enjoyed with a perfect margarita.

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/MALICE-MAZATL%C3%81N-KIMILA-KAY-ebook/dp/B0BLHSN6NJ

Kimila Kay lives in Donald, Oregon along with her husband, Randy, her adorable Boston Terrier Maggie, and a feisty black cat named Halle.

Her professional accomplishments include three anthologized essays in the CUP OF COMFORT series. Kimila is currently a member of Windtree Press, Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA), and Willamette Writers.

MALICE IN MAZATLÁN is the second novel in cross-cultural series that now includes Peril in Paradise, Book One, and will soon include Vanished in Vallarta, Chaos in Cabo, Lost in Loreto, and Fiasco in Peñasco.

www.KimilaKay.com