The Wine Blog by Karen Shughart

I’ve always believed that it’s easier to write about what you know, which is why wine features so prominently in my Edmund DeCleryk mysteries. Like my husband and me, Ed, and his wife Annie, live in the northern Finger Lakes region of New York, the second largest wine producer in the U. S. Wine is very much part of the lifestyle here.

Our own wine journey began many years ago. Our kids were in college, our careers at their peak, and we came home each night exhausted. We made the transition from workday to evening by having a glass of wine (or sometimes for Lyle, a Scotch) before dinner.  We caught up, chatted about our day, and even when my husband traveled for business, we designated a time to call each other, evening drink in hand. Although now retired, we continue the tradition to this day.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is restaurant-love-romantic-dinner.jpg

One weekend we were invited to a dinner party at some friends’ house. We were asked to bring a dish to share and a bottle of wine to pair with it. It was the genesis of a gourmet group that met quarterly for many years, rotating hosts. A specialist at a wine store helped us choose the wines to go with each course. We quickly learned that to enjoy wine is to slowly sip and savor it.

Some of us took a cruise together from San Francisco Bay, along rivers that led to the Napa, Sonoma and Carneros wine regions of California.  Each evening we’d dock and before dinner attend a wine education session. The next morning we’d board a bus that would take us to charming towns for vineyard tours, wine tastings and to explore galleries and shops.

One weekend Lyle and I traveled to the Finger Lakes; a short drive from where we lived in Pennsylvania. We were enchanted by the wineries and restaurants, the vibrant jazz scene, and postcard-picture beauty.  We purchased an 1890s cottage on Lake Ontario; after retirement, we decided to make it our permanent home.

We joined a wine club.  At a series of monthly classes at New York Kitchen in Canandaigua, we learned about regions around the world where wine is crafted and how terroir, the natural environment in which grapes are grown, results in differences in color, smell and taste of the same varietal.  We cleaned up our musty basement and created a wine cellar in what was once a cistern, dry as a bone with thick stone walls and floor and about 56 degrees year ‘round.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about wine, and I write about it in my mysteries. It is, after all, part of the local lore, and an integral part of the culture. And just like Lyle and me, having a glass of wine at the end of the day is a way for Ed and Annie to unwind and share their stories.

Ending a Series is Hard by Paty Jager

After waiting years to finally feel as if I were a good enough writer to write the genre I loved, it’s hard to fathom I have the last book of my Shandra Higheagle series releasing this month.

Years ago, we’re talking in the early 90s I wanted to write mystery books. I read them voraciously and after reading the first three in Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series, I wanted to write a mystery book. I had taken creative writing classes at the local community college and was ready to try my hand at mystery. Especially after someone I thought was a close friend told her husband she was having an affair with my husband to keep her husband from learning who was her real lover.

I knew I could write a really good murder mystery because I was killing that person in my story. I wrote the book. In first person, just like Ms. Grafton did. When I sent it to an agent, the reply was: First person mysteries don’t sell. I read the letter over and over wondering at the comment since I’d read many first person mysteries. While I waited to hear back on the first one, I killed off a replica of the same person in my second book with the same main character.

After receiving the letter from the agent, I transformed my first person account into third person and sent it off. Still a solid rejection. When I tried back then to get into a mystery writers group all of them insisted you had to be already published to become a member. Heart broken and feeling like mystery wasn’t my calling, I joined RWA- Romance Writers of American and put my writing skills into western romance always adding a bit of adventure or mystery into each book and showcasing injustices.

When I picked up the gauntlet to write an Indian Jones type book, I wrote my Isabella Mumphrey Action Adventure series. The success of those books and my brother telling me about a way to hide a murder weapon on a bronze statue started my brain spinning. I came up with an amateur sleuth who was in the art world.

Giving a nod to the fact I like to write Native American characters to help educate readers about their history and circumstances, I came up with Shandra Higheagle a potter. From book one, Double Duplicity, I loved my character and the secondary characters I sprinkled into her life. Through the series the reader learns more about Shandra’s past and sees her build a future with Detective Ryan Greer.

At book six my daughter’s asked when I would end the series. I told them when I was tired of writing them or my readers were tired of reading them. I didn’t want to be an author who had readers saying I should have ended the series three books ago. But as I wrote the previous book, Capricious Demise, and I had Shandra and Ryan adopt twins, I realized to keep readers liking my character, she would have to stop sleuthing and take care of the kids.

And that is how I came up with the last book of the series. Shandra’s grandmother comes to her in a dream showing her, Ryan and the twins at the Colville Powwow. During the course of the book, her grandmother stops coming to her dreams and Shandra realizes she can no longer put her life in danger. The twins lost two parents already. They didn’t need to lose another.

While it is sad to think I won’t be visiting Shandra, Sheba, Ryan, Crazy Lil, Ruthie, Maxwell, Ted, Naomi, Maranda, and Alex, I’m excited to carry on writing Gabriel Hawke novels and my new series Spotted Pony Casino Mysteries.

Vanishing Dream

Book 16 in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series

Deception, Gluttony, Murder

Shandra Higheagle Greer’s deceased Nez Perce grandmother appears in her dream, dancing at a powwow. Since Grandmother only appears when there is a murder, Shandra believes, she, Ryan, and the twins should attend the yearly Powwow at the Colville Reservation.

While out for a walk the first night, Shandra sees someone lurking in the dark between the vendor tents. A vendor is discovered the next morning strangled with her own beads. 

When members of Shandra’s family are attacked, she finds it hard to stay out of the investigation. While Ryan is working with the Tribal Police, Shandra follows a suspect and is captured. No one knows her whereabouts. Calling upon her grandmother seems futile. The dreams are vanishing and so could her life.

universal book link to pre-order at most ebook vendors: https://books2read.com/u/4XLkvg

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

Starting Afresh, With Hope

by Janis Patterson

Happy New Year! Hopefully 2021 is going to be a better year than 2020. It would have to work very hard to be worse!

I’ll admit I was off my game during 2020, and I’m not sure why. My life did not change that much during the lockdowns. My normal day (if writers do indeed have anything that could be regarded as a ‘normal’ day) consists of spending most of the day sitting in the den in front of my computer all alone with my invisible friends. During the lockdown I spent most of the day in the den in front of my computer all alone with my invisible friends. The only change was that The Husband was here for about two months before he had to go back to work. Then I sat alone in the guest room/my office all alone with my invisible friends. I did miss the lunches with my real living friends, but we talked on the phone and made do with that. I also missed – and still do – our various clubs’ meetings and fear greatly that some of them will not come back after this plague is over.

Now the big change in our lives is The Husband is officially retired as of January 8 and that is a big adjustment for us both. I have pretty much moved my work into my office, leaving the den and the television – and our spoilt and yappy intrusive little dog – to him during the day. The only chore left – and it’s a big one – is to train him that when I am in my office with the door closed I am working. I’m not retired like he is – and has to learn he shouldn’t disturb me unless there is death, flames or blood. I honestly don’t know how that will go; a former Navy captain, he is not used to taking orders.

So – assuming that I am able to work at least semi-uninterrupted in my office – what will I be doing? As I said, I did a lot of goofing off this year, letting my writing and publishing slide, a distressing situation which I must endeavor to correct. I must quit taking an afternoon break bingewatching Netflix and chatting for hours on the phone. I must set up a writing schedule for the year, as I have done for many years before the disaster of 2020, and more importantly stick to it. I must set a daily routine, just as if I had an office job, because we all know writing is not only a real job, it is a strict taskmaster. Dilettantes don’t last long.

Can I do all that and become the hard-working, dedicated professional novelist I used to be? I honestly don’t know. Two years ago after a long recovery following my very first surgery ever I claimed the sloth as my spirit animal, and he is a stern taskmaster. Maybe that’s ‘anti-taskmaster.’ I can find all kinds of real and logical reasons why I shouldn’t get up and accomplish something, and let’s be honest, the madness of 2020 most definitely did not help. Sometimes it takes hours to force myself off the couch and back to the computer. Bad sloth, teaching me such self-destructive but pleasurable habits! Bad me, for giving in to them!

And, to prove I’m really working on it, tomorrow I’m releasing not one, but two brand new books. ROMANCE AT SPANISH ROCK, written under my romance name of Janis Susan May wherein an LA photographer inherits a ranch in Texas’ Palo Duro Canyon, and A WELL-MANNERED MURDER, a murder mystery written under my crime name of Janis Patterson wherein a middle-aged woman trying to survive a divorce is researching a long closed charm school and gets involved with the Kennedy assassination. Both are available as ebooks only (at the moment) on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. You see, I am trying!

2021 will be better. I will see to it. I promise.

New Year, New Chair by Paty Jager

I’m starting this year with a new desk chair and a new perspective of my writing.

The chair. My old chair would make by backside numb when I sat for any length of time in it. I tried one of those egg crate things and it didn’t seem to help either. Not that I sit for long periods of time. With two dogs who seem to think they need to go in and out of the house every twenty minutes, I get up and down plenty during the day. But by mid-afternoon, I couldn’t concentrate because of pain down there.

My new chair in the corner.

I went to a chain office products store and sat in every chair, no matter what the price. I wanted a chair that would be comfortable and I could sit back and type with out hunching over the keyboard or desk. I found the perfect chair…I thought.

It has thick padding, arm rests that fit me just right, and a little bit of a rocking motion. I like to gently rock. Especially when I’m thinking. 😉 Which I do a lot while writing a book, as we all know.

I brought the chair home and it barely fits in the area behind my desk. That’s my fault. I like to be in the corner and look out the window to the front of the house and the door into the main room of house. Which limits me of space because of 1) my husband’s desk and file cabinet. (He rarely sits at his desk. He just stores things on it…) He packs whatever he’s working out out to the nook table early in the morning and does his paperwork there.

Behind my desk looking out.

But I digressed. I love the spot where my desk sits. It makes squeezingh into the chair interesting, but once I’m there, I can put my feet up on a little stool under the desk, pull the keyboard out or set it on my lap, lean back in the chair, and type to my heart’s content. This is the most comfortable I’ve been typing a book since I started writing!

New perspective on my writing. While I tried to limit my goal on the books I plan to write this year, I also gave myself permission to not meet that goal if life intervenes. In the past if I didn’t get books out regularly, I would beat myself up and make myself miserable, pushing to get more written and put the book out there because the reader wanted it.

Now, I write the books I want to write and I still try to keep a new one in each mystery series coming out every 6 months, but I’m not as driven to make sure every genre I write has a book coming out. That was driving me insane. I’m sticking to the genre that has always called to me- Murder mystery.

I’m super excited about the Gabriel Hawke book I’m writing right now. I finally connected with someone who knows a lot about the topic in the book and feel I have enough information to make this a good solid book to help showcase a cause and epidemic that needs more attention. I’ve never considered myself an activist, but I have always been driven to write books about justice. And everyone deserves that.

Next month learn about my decision to end a series and how I hope I didn’t disappoint readers.