Guest Blogger: Jeri Westerson

History and the Religious Thriller

By Jeri Westerson

When you write about the medieval period, religion looms large. Of course, I’m talking the Catholic Church when it truly was a universal (catholic) church, where everyone who was Christian was Catholic and any reformists were to be condemned. In the time period that I write—late fourteenth England—being a reformist was dangerous but not necessarily life-threatening. That was later, in the fifteenth century (after all, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition).

I’m always looking for something interesting for my disgraced-knight-turned-detective Crispin Guest to deal with, besides murder. And I remembered reading about the Judas Gospel a few years ago. It’s only one of several “apocryphal” gospels, meaning “hidden”, or those that weren’t accepted at the time when the early Church fathers were deciding what to include in the New Testament, like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. But the Gospel of Judas would be sufficiently intriguing and dangerous enough for my detective to discover and try to fend off forces beyond his control. Judas is the “traitor” in TRAITOR’S CODEX, but the “traitor” is also Crispin, whose treason got him disgraced and banished from court in the first place.

By delving into its strange history, the religious reformers of the day (called Lollards), and getting him mixed up in murders and a mysterious agent of the Church out to get this book to destroy it, Crispin has his hands full doing his detecting.

The Judas Gospel, as did many of the apocryphal gospels, had a different voice from the four chosen gospels we know of today. It follows a very spiritually eastern path with its emphasis on one’s inner divinity, and that Judas was the favored Apostle not John, the one to whom Jesus entrusted this distinctly different philosophy. It’s presence certainly made Crispin think about what it means to be a faithful Christian, when the most auspicious decision one could make in the day was whether to follow the orthodoxy of the Church, or follow Lollard tenets. Lollards did not believe, for instance, that baptism and confession were necessary for salvation. They believed in the laity reading scripture in their own language and they considered asking intercession of saints and statues a form of idolatry—essentially, the beliefs that would eventually come to fruition in Henry VIII’s reformation in the sixteenth century.

When I started writing my series, I was interested in the medieval setting, with its mores and society so very different from our own. The challenge was to world-build just enough so that readers not wholly familiar with the fourteenth century and the court of Richard II, would be able to relate to my characters. Authenticity sometimes wars with accuracy (I give you the taste of the language, for instance, instead of writing it in Middle English), but history is never sacrificed for plot. Sometimes it’s tight-rope walking that fine line, but it’s never dull.

Disgraced knight turned detective Crispin Guest is caught in a deadly conspiracy within the Church to suppress what they consider a dangerous relic from falling into the hands of the reformist Lollards. But murder and betrayal are the coin of the realm amid the turmoil stirred up by a mysterious nemesis. Crispin struggles to find a killer and might have to bring a painful truth to light while avoiding falling into the lethal hands of a shadow organization within the Church.
Buy links: Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Traitors-Codex-Crispin-Guest-Mystery/dp/0727888757/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2BH7SKBABH45&keywords=traitors+codex&qid=1561419959&s=gateway&sprefix=traitors+codex%2Caps%2C248&sr=8-1Barnes & Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-traitors-codex-jeri-westerson/1130151313?ean=9780727888754#/Indiebound  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780727888754Google Play https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Jeri_Westerson_Traitor_s_Codex?id=7MeDDwAAQBAJKobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/traitor-s-codex

Los Angeles native JERI WESTERSON is the author of twelve Crispin Guest Medieval Noir Mystery novels, a series nominated for thirteen national awards from the Agatha to the Shamus. Jeri also writes the urban fantasy series, BOOKE OF THE HIDDEN. She has served two terms as president of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, twice president of the Orange County Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and as vice president and California Crime Writers Conference co-chair for the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime. See more about Jeri at JeriWesterson.com or visit BOOKEoftheHIDDEN.com

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Inspired by Solitaire

There are two immutables that drivSolitaireShote my writing life. One is that I am the ADHD poster child. This means that focus is not my strong suit and that I am fidgety as all get-out. The other is that I am an audial writer. I have to hear it in my head before I can write it. So, sitting still while mulling over my next line can be a bit of a problem.

Thank God for solitaire. Okay, I also like Bubble Witch (although that’s getting a little too tough for mindless clicking) and I have a slot machine game (completely mindless clicking), plus the mahjong matching game and blackjack training. But when it’s time to write, inevitably, I’ve got the solitaire app open.

It’s one of those that has dozens of games, most of which I don’t play. But I have my ten or so favorites, and of those, there’s the game I play most often – Thirty Thieves. It’s not an easy game to win, but not as impossible as its cousin Forty Thieves. I win about half the time I play – and I know that from my stats. It’s not completely mindless, in that I do have to decide where and how to play my cards. But it’s pretty close. (Drat, just lost another hand). In short, it keeps my mind and my hands just busy enough that I can focus on what to write next.

The idea behind Thirty Thieves is that you try to move cards in number and suit order Solitaire2up to the foundation from where they’ve been dealt. The catch is that you can only move one card at a time (okay, need to undo that last move) and you can only go through the stack once. But you can put cards in any empty spot, once you’ve emptied it. (Let’s see, if I put that seven here, I can put the eight and the nine there and there, then put the eight on the nine and the seven on the eight, and that’s a new empty spot.)

I try not to think how many games I go through while working on something. I think I’ve played at least 12 since I started this piece (won that last one – yay). And sometimes, I have to get away from desktop so that I’m not playing endless rounds of solitaire. But there is something about that mindless clicking that joggles the thoughts loose like nothing else. (Okay, 14 games).

So, what helps you joggle the thoughts loose?

 

Hi . . . Missye K. Clarke, Newly-Realized Synesthete

**The title is solely from the author’s imagination, and is not looking to do disservice to those with this neurological condition or for ones familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous.**

Live Streaming from The Saturday Show on WQXR’s app: John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Great song if you want an explosion of colors bouncing in your mind’s eye like blown dandelion puffs on a breeze like I have now.

Allow me to share a funny, true story. And thanks for the “Hi, Missye!” hellos for being part of this incredible platform, by the way.

My youngest son devours chocolate milk, especially if it’s a lovely blend of soft-serve and imported dark chocolate of Michelin Star grade. I found a great little seafood place in Lancaster PA called Mr. Bill’s (est. 1974), and took the last of their blueberry, strawberry, and orange cremes in stock after remembering the picture he’d showed me from online. One orange creme I snagged was his. Past tries of blueberry and strawberry milk left me gun-shy for another go; the sugar content may as well have been akin to rocket fuel-boosters for the Apollo 11 mission.

Our drinks deliciously cold hours later, I left my orange cremes be. He insisted I sip his strawberry and blueberry after saying, “It’s a liquid form of a great blueberry muffin–seriously.”

I looked at him dubiously.

“No, Mom, it’s not the sugar version of Thurgood Stubbs’ salt addiction. You’ll like it,” he pressed.

He made me laugh; I got the joke, took his container. Well . . . if Sam-I-Am liked green eggs and ham . . .

I dared a taste.

And delightfully found it to be exactly what pastel purple would taste like!

We sipped the milks again, but I barely contained my excitement.

My son: “Totally a liquid blueberry muffin. Yeah!”

Me: “I see that. But it’s what pastel purple taste like if more people could taste colors.”

He, looking at me like I’m bats (which is often): “Mom . . . are you saying you’re tasting a color?”

Me: “Well, I see musical notes in colors, too, so . . . yeah, I guess I am.”

And later that night, the orange creme, breathtakingly delicious, I tasted a lovely dream.

You’re A . . .Who?!?

A synesthete (pronounced sin-UHSS-theet, or sin-ESS-theet). It’s the medical term for one having sensory pathways crossed, which is synesthesia (from the Greek syn, meaning “together,” and thesia or thaesia for “sensation.”). According to dictionary.com, it’s an “involuntary neurological condition where the individual activates a second sensory pathway when the first is stimulated.” Apparently there’s more than 60 ways to either instigate or innately have synesthesia–one way to be part of this is to drop acid, but that’s not surprising (Sidenote: I’ve never in life dropped acid, nor will I, research or no. I’m taking zero chances of lasting side-effects, I’m scared I’ll become addicted to the substance, and/or what it’ll do to me during and after consumption. I know me–if I’d’ve had a positive, lovely trip, I’d want to do it again to get that back. If I’d’ve had a bad, negative trip, I’d be tormented for hours like I am in one of my asleep-dream nightmares. Best that door stays welded closed and moved on from altogether). There’s no real statistics in how many have this condition, because baseline science is only just putting the call out to those with such exceptions to how the senses are so crossed to be double-blind studied, or done so objectively.

In my mind’s eye since I was young, I’ve always seen musical notes in colors; the blueberry milk episode, obviously external, only recently. Until now, I thought everyone heard music this way. For others affected with this still-understudied condition, it manifests externally and has a strong run in families. Synesthetes can also become such from a stroke, blindness, or another health anomaly. In one extreme case, a British woman, according to a special about her documented on NatGeo in 2011, had to get rid of her television; any time food, cologne, or laundry advertisements aired, she could literally, just by hearing the ad described, “taste” the human and pet foods; laundry detergent, soap washes, and dish liquid; colognes and perfumes, too. But the times she found her synesthesia pleasant was during certain weather days. Sunny days, she’s reported, the sunshine tasted of lemons, pineapples, or bananas. On rainy days, she heard the raindrops in random musical notes the way wind chimes sounded on blustery days, and saw the raindrops on her patio table in sprays of colors. When she used the products she could “taste” by hearing them on ads, when actually using then, she didn’t have this sensation.

Weird, right?

I remember asking my mother could she taste the color blue when I was about four. Trying not to laugh, she said, no, honey, blue’s a color. I told her I could taste it. She asked–amusing me, probably–what did it taste like? Like ice. Or snow. Or ridonkulously really cold water, I said, and does today. As for my musical notes in colors–they range in dark blues and greens, with pops of distant bright white and silver for the A major chords. C majors are royal blues, shamrocks, bold reds, deep golds. F majors: red, bright yellows, bright whites . . . and pretty much so on.

Inspired by the NatGeo doc, my experiences and its scientific term, a character in MccGuinness/Pedregon Casebook #3 has this condition. Gregory Street is afflicted with synesthesia and a key component in helping the crew solve why former top five music competitors are homicide targets. Unfortunately, he’ll make the killer’s crosshairs in his main goal of murdering my narrator, but I wanted a way to fold in this condition with solving this crime. I just hope I do Street’s death justice not only in believability, but showing his condition with grace and dignity in the honest portrayal I’m offering. Moreover, it’s my biggest hope neurological science not only finds a way to explore, deep diagnose, and explain why this occurs, but shows its daily impact on affected individuals. Do they “taste” fire like they see the flames, hear them roar, feel its heat? Do they “hear” mud, or dirt as they feel, smell, or see it? Can they “see” petrichor–the way a geographical landscape looks and smells after a hard, fast, and intense rain? Can they “touch” sounds the way we can feel the differences in sandpaper, or petting an animal, or holding an ice cube?

Have you known someone, or maybe you yourself, have this sensory cross-stimulant? Have they shared their experiences with you? If you’re beset with tis condition, what’s your experiences been like? Do you find this condition strange in a good or bad way? I’d love to know your thoughts, so please share in the comments.

Decisions, Decisions by Paty Jager

I’ve been contemplating whether or not to write books out of sequence since my trip to Iceland.

The trip started out as fun way to see Iceland with other authors, but the more I thought about it, I decided to set a Gabriel Hawke book there. However, the next book in the series has already been mentioned in the last Hawke book, so I have to make sure it comes next….

But…I believe I need to write the Iceland book while it is all still fresh in my mind. One day while the tour group was having lunch, I sat with our guide, Ragnor, and asked him questions about the best way to bring my Fish and Wildlife State Trooper with Master Tracker credentials to Iceland, other than a vacation. He would never travel that far for a vacation. He would stay close to home and perhaps even stay with his mother on the reservation.

Ragnor didn’t see him coming to any conference or event that would be put on by the Icelandic police. He did say that they had a very active Search and Rescue program. *boom* That is how I will have Hawke be in Iceland. He will be doing a training on tracking for the search and rescue. I even brainstormed his superior’s sister is married to an Icelander and they are living in Reykjavik.

I still have to do the research on their Search and Rescue program and put together the who and why of the murder he’ll get involved in. But the pieces are slowly coming together and I’m getting excited to write the book.

While we were out driving around on the tour, I took tons of photos (that are a bit blurry) of businesses and things that I will mention to give the feeling of the country to the book. And good photos of the place I think will work for Hawke to take his workshop outside to do some tracking. That will be when they discover a body.

Once Hawke starts on a trail, he can’t quit. Upping the stakes, the main suspect will be the nephew of his boss back in the states. Hawke is loyal. He’ll do everything in his power to make sure they find the real killer.

So my decision? Even though it will put the next Hawke book further out on a publish date, I’m leaning toward writing the Iceland book now.

What do you think? Good plan or could it backfire in my face since there hasn’t been a Hawke book out since March and the next one may not be until the end of the year?

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Changing Horses In Midstream by Heather Haven

Picture it: There are two horses standing in a stream. We’re not sure why; reasoning cloudy. Sitting astride one horse is a woman who doesn’t want to be there. Possibly, she has been whispering into the horse’s ear something like ‘let’s get a move on, sport,’ but to no avail. Said horse seems to like having his tootsies in the cool water.

She looks over at the other horse just lollygagging around, and decides that’s the saddle to be in. Several minutes later she is either swept downstream or trampled to death by two horses having had enough of her silliness. Which brings to mind another wise old saw: They died with their boots on.

So there I was, soggy boots and all, writing a romance and wanting to jump into the saddle of suspense. My reasoning wasn’t cloudy. I suck at writing pure romance. I didn’t know it then, but I sure know it now. Frankly, If I hadn’t been so stubborn, I’d have changed genres within the first three months instead of waiting so long. I was turning out the most boring drivel I’d ever written in my life and I have been known to drivel with the best. There was no longer any joy in writing. My bliss had done a bunk.

Of course, this particular book had a deadline that could not be overlooked. Christmas Trifle was holiday-bound. But at the rate I was going, not in my lifetime. Desperate, I threw in a murder even though I was already half-way through the book. And glory be! Suddenly scenes had a little zing, characters a bounce to their step. They used snappier dialog. A readable plot was developing.

So I went with it. Not that it was easy going. It was a nightmare, actually. Stuff like, where should the suspense go? And how much? Who should be the villain? Should I use a new character? An existing one? What should come out? Stay in? I would wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with but one burning thought: Was I trying to meld a bicycle pump with a hat?

Wait, wait. Didn’t Andy Warhol do that back in the 70’s?

I’m good.

Wait, wait. It was a tomato soup can, not a bicycle pump.

I’m dead.

But short of writing me in as the corpus delicti, I persevered. If nothing else, for six long months I’d been creating a backstory for these people. I knew how every character would react to anything without even thinking about it. I hadn’t been wasting my time, I told myself. Take note: it’s amazing what you can talk yourself into if you have to.

When I finished  – or ran out of anything else to put down on paper – I sent it to the three courageous buddies in my writing group in the hopes they could help. They did not fail me. Their comments were honest and inciteful. They are the best.

1 – C. offered great questions, reminding me about specificity. That’s something you can only do at a certain point in a novel, she reiterated, but it’s absolutely the most fun.

2 – M. said it started out as a love story and morphed into a mystery. It didn’t bother her she wrote, but she was surprised. Uh-oh. That’s the kiss of death for any work. You make a contract with your reader in the first chapter regarding what type of work you’re going to deliver. I hadn’t lived up to that contract.

3 – J. said it didn’t have the Haven sparkle he was used to. Don’t release it until it does. Better to miss this Christmas deadline, but turn out your best work. There’s always next Christmas. Words to live by. But could I pull it together no matter what Christmas loomed ahead? Dread to live by.

I worked for two more months, eight to ten hours a day, seven days a week. I was obsessed. C. was right about specificity. I had a ball with that one. Now readers will know who, what, where, when, how, and why. So will I. M’s comment about the genre switch was easily correctable. I started the story with two unsolved murders from the previous year. The killings hover over the characters from page one and foreshadow every scene.

J’s comment was the most haunting. Did it have the Haven sparkle? Yes, the novel grew a lot, changed a lot, solidified. I actually wound up liking it. But was it any good?

I handed it over to my editor and asked her for a verdict. I was too close to know anything anymore. This was a first, but I had tried something new and if it didn’t work, into the trashcan it would go. It would be a lesson well-learned.

Fortunately for me, she said it was one of my best, and only needed tweaking. Relieved, I went back to the keyboard resolving to get it right no matter how many Christmases it took.

Because that’s what I do. I write novels.  But I write murder/mystery/suspense novels with a touch of romance. You’d think I’d have known that by now. After all, I’m on book number fourteen, bicycle pumps notwithstanding.

 

True Crime Podcasts by Lisa Leoni

I spend a lot of my free time listening to podcasts. When I’m driving, cleaning, crocheting, or even falling asleep – I usually have one playing. Most of the podcasts I listen to fall in one of two categories: entrepreneurship and true crime. I’m just waiting for the day that those two categories cross. Maybe that’s a podcast I should launch?

If you’re not familiar with podcasts, they’re episode-based audio files you can listen to. Sort of like niche-themed radio shows that you can listen to on-demand. If you have an iPhone, there’s a built-in app called Apple Podcasts where you can search for shows on just about any topic. If you’re on an Android or Windows phone, there are tons of other apps like Stitcher.

While I’m a big audiobook fan, I love that podcasts are short (most are under an hour each episode). It’s great to listen to the start, middle and end of something if you only have a short amount of time.

I get a lot of ideas for stories from listening to true crime podcasts. There’s ones just about cults, crimes in the specific geographic areas like the United Kingdom, serial killers, kids who kill or unsolved murders. There’s also a wide range of styles from a couple of comedians gabbing about crime to well-researched storytelling by a single person. Some shows focus on one case throughout the whole series or season while others have multiple crimes discussed in each episode (and everything in between).

I’m subscribed to more than 30 true crime podcasts (gulp!) and I wanted to share some of the ones I’m currently listening to in case you find them as interesting as I do.

logoMy Favorite Murder: Two comedians in LA tell each other about a crime. This wasn’t the first true crime podcast, but it’s hands-down the most successful and opened the door to many more podcasts. Serial is another a gateway podcast for many, though it wasn’t one I was really into.

Casefile: An Australian man (great accent, if that’s your jam) tells really in-depth and wonderful stories from all over the world. The stories are thoroughly researched.

Red Handed: Two women from London co-tell a crime each episode. I enjoy their banter and the super interesting crimes they talk about.

Cold: Though I tend to prefer shows where a different crime is talked about each episode, this is a fantastic one (and also horrifying). It’s about a murdered mom in Utah and the sordid history involving her husband and father-in-law.

Okay, one more, Root of Evil is another show about one topic. This is connected to the infamous and unsolved Black Dahlia murder, but not just about that case. It’s about the family of a man who possibly killed her and the fallout of his actions on his descendants into today.

Do you have any favorites? I’d love to hear about them! I also have more than 30 more to recommend if you’re looking for something specific.

The Highlights of June by Marilyn Meredith

As far as my writing life is concerned, the month of June has been most exciting.

Because I’m still promoting my latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Seldom Traveled, I’ve been a guest on several blogs—which of course means promoting those blogs.

My first book signing was a success mainly because I picked a popular chocolate shop in a nearby city. (We don’t have any bookstores nearby). When I first got there, a local video reporter stopped by to interview me and later in the day a reporter from the newspaper stopped by. Besides readers, a group of my family members also stopped by.

Next up came a book signing at the Tehachapi Museum, located in the town where Seldom Traveled is set. Tehachapi is about a 2 ½ hour drive from my home. I was thrilled they invited me to come.

And I have a final signing at the end of this month set at a local coffee shop in the community where I live.

As part of my ongoing promotion, I offered the first book in the series, Deadly Omen, free on Kindle for five days. Over 1,600 copies were downloaded which I feel was quite successful. Of course now the hope is that after reading Deadly Omen other books in the series will be ordered. This seems to be happening, slowly, but it is happening.

While all this is going on, I’ve been working on the latest mystery in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, as yet unnamed.

Also, I belong to a small writers group that meets once a month. I’m not always able to attend, but this month’s meeting was absolutely delightful. We all shared what motivates us to keep on writing and where we do our writing. Everyone had such different ways of doing things.

However, my life is not all about writing. I have a big family and I enjoy spending with them. I think it’s important that writers take time off from all the business of writing and promotion to enjoy life. The great-grands that share out home and their parents, keep me busy and entertained.

To the other writers out there, what is your favorite get-away from writing?

Marilyn