A Day of Beginnings by Susan Oleksiw

This month seems to be a time of new beginnings for me and for Ladies of Mystery, with four new writers joining the blog. I already know several of my colleagues from their books and blogs, and I’m delighted to find myself now writing among them.

Unlike many mystery writers, I came to crime fiction relatively late, in graduate school. Someone gave me a copy of They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie, and in the first few pages I knew this was the writer for me. I had the book in hand when I went to see my professor, and he saw it and smiled. “I read those when I was trying to improve my English,” he said. He grew up speaking Dutch and French, studied German, and then learned English. So, instead of talking about my research, that day we talked about Agatha Christie.

Christie’s influence, along with that of a number of other British writers, is obvious in my first series, the Mellingham series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva. After reading lots of British and American mysteries, I knew not only what I wanted to write but what I didn’t want to write. I did not want my detective, in this case a police chief in a small town, to be depressed, an alcoholic, divorced, alienated from his birth family or children, a broken-down guy trying to get it together. (I said this once in a conference, and hilarity and applause ensued.) Joe is single but working on it in the first three books, calls his parents every week, and gets along with his siblings. He speaks Portuguese and is easy going except where crime is concerned. He knows what it takes to manage life in a small town.

In the Anita Ray series I got to indulge my love of India–palm trees, sunshine, the ocean, spicy food, lots of color everywhere. Anita is a young Indian-American photographer living at her aunt’s tourist hotel, resistant to marriage and a magnet for murder, to the despair of her Auntie Meena. When a reader picks up one of these books, I want her to smell the spices, feel the heat and the cooling breeze, and spot the moon through the palm leaves at night.

My third series features Felicity O’Brien, farmer and healer, who finds a body on her land while an out of town buyer is offering outrageous sums for what she considers substandard farm land. This story was fun to write for very different reasons. I got to explore a life I lived briefly but relived for years while listening to my parents and older brothers reminisce about our long-gone farm.

You can probably tell that setting is all important to me, and it’s the first element I think of when sitting down to write. Instead of a book in one of the series, right now I’m working on a stand-alone that covers some of the issues I explore in my earlier novels–the clash between old and new, the shock of unexpected change and how people cope with it. I plan to share some of these thoughts and others on writing issues here on Ladies of Mystery.

But today, while new readers are getting to know me, I’ll be driving most of the day to pick up our new dog, a rescue lab waiting for us in Brattleboro, Vermont. No doubt this pooch will play a role in a story to come. So, yes, today is a day of new beginnings, and I have lots to be excited about. Next month I’ll have photos of our new dog and more.



Anne Louise Bannon Would Like to Introduce Herself, But…

Photo of Anne Louise Bannon's desktop to illustrate why she's writing such a quick introduction.Is it the Third Thursday already? Shavings! (Note to self, check to see why reminders didn’t pop up). (Note to self, stop ignoring your reminders).

Hi, I’m Anne Louise Bannon. I’m supposed to be introducing myself, and my intent was to offer you a breezy little look at who I am, introduce you to the household critters, that sort of thing.

Only I’d really rather be working on my novel right now. It’s at that place where things are falling together, even though I’m really annoyed about having to off an otherwise inoffensive, nice guy of a character because it’s better for the plot.

And it’s not like I don’t have other distractions. We all do. I have a house that I need to help keep liveable, and while the dust generally waits around here, my feet sticking to the floor must be dealt with. And my husband needs clean shirts – only fair since he does the dishes. Plus the dog wants out again. The cats, as usual, can’t make up their minds, and the more I want them to, the longer they take to do it. Plus there’s the money gig which needs attention – I’ve gotten rather fond of eating, you know.

So, this is going to be quick. I’m Anne. I write the Freddie and Kathy series, set in the 1920s, the Old Los Angeles series, set in 1870 (the novel I want to get back to is the third in this one). I have a lovely husband, one adult daughter, and the critters, who I name because they don’t have the same privacy issues the kid and the spouse do. TobyWan is our basset/beagle mix. There’s the older cat Sadie, who should be Medusa, and the two young cats, Xanax and Benzedrine. There is a story behind the names, but that will have to wait until next month or some other time.

I need to get back to Death of the Chinese Field Hands. Maddie is in full interrogation mode and I need to write that.

It’s Audio Book Month by Paty Jager

Do you like to listen to audio books? I have become a fan of them both as a writer and a listener.

I just finished the second book in Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s , Thora Gudmundsdottir series. They are classified as suspense, but I really enjoyed the humor that makes the suspense/ supernatural undertones not so real. LOL I know, I’m a wimp when it comes to scary. But I have to say the first two books in the series were really good.

I think what made them so good was the narrator. I loved her pauses and attitude when narrating. She had the right amount of “drama” for lack of a better word to make the books really come to life.

That’s what I’m hoping to find on my quest for a narrator for my Gabriel Hawke books. 

I have been making audio books with the talented Ann M. Thompson. You can find the first 9 books in the Shandra Higheagle Mysteries in audio book.

I’ve requested auditions from two male narrators to begin putting the Gabriel Hawke novels into audio. This will probably be harder to find a narrator than the Shandra books were.

Ann had the warm tone I envisioned as Shandra’s, but of all the men who were suggested from my description of what I wanted for Hawke’s voice, there were only two who seemed close to what I was looking for. I’m interested in hearing their auditions of the first chapter of Murder of Ravens to see if they capture how I see him and the tone of the books.

Making an audio book isn’t hard, but it is stressful and time consuming. Stressful in hoping you pick the best representative of your book to narrate it and at a price you can afford.

Time consuming is going through the book to make sure it will read well, then picking out words that the narrator may need guidance with pronunciation. Then it’s listening to the chapters as the narrator sends them to you and making sure your book is well represented without you driving the narrator nuts with changes. But you are paying them and they should be willing to work with you to make your book its best.

Do you enjoy listening to books on tape? What makes a good audio book for you? Narrator or how well the characters are portrayed?

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On A Collision Course With Words

On the radio: Live-Streaming a NYC station playing Willie Nelson’s version of Hoagy Carmichael’s,”The Nearness of You.”

Hi, y’all! Been a long time I’ve blogged, and I’m thrilled and grateful to be part of a stellar group of talented authors on this platform of LADIES OF MYSTERY. I’ll do my genuine best to be a good egg . . . but I can’t promise I’ll always play nice with the other kids. If some of you know me from the SinC boards, I kinda have a big mouth. Not intentionally mind you, but, well . . . I think I’m just naturally antagonistic. And naturally a big mouth. Shy writers, don’t go–I’m really nice, honest. I’ll just save that why-I’m-a-big-mouth post for another time (Teaser–it’s why and how I began writing to start with).

I’ve always thought words were incredible, powerful tools. Onomatopoeias (words that spell out sounds–remember the series Batman? “POW”! “CRASH!” “ZAP!”? That.), And, according to family members, I was reading by three, and I remember spelling my first big word when I was four: “Freedom.” When I discovered the dictionary at 12–my fault for telling my Granny I was bored, what could I do?–I found out homophones, synonyms, antonyms, and pseudonyms were ugly cousins to one another. How cool to know ew, ewe, you, yew, yoo, whew, and hue are close enough to pass, but only just. Now I see why the English language is so hard to master. Once done, it’s wonderful to unearth the mysteries behind why it’s still the most widely accepted language spoken on the planet.

Before I wrote or read, I talked. And sang. A LOT. I never shut up–and gee, big surprise, that got me in trouble more often than not. When I wasn’t in trouble and other kids weren’t around, I’d either sing or talked to imaginary friends in whatever words or worlds my fictitious playmates and I dreamed up. Sometimes the play was fun, sometimes I sang to the radio to my pretend audiences, or sometimes I was bored and moved onto my dolls, Play-Doh, or Hanna-Barbera cartoons on TV. Or my radio set to WABC in the middle of the night (yeah, I never shut up then sometimes, too). There, I’d pull the cartoon characters from the storyboards and craft fan-fiction stories and games before that became a thing. Oh, if I could go back in time . . . Rocky & Bullwinkle Tag Team Casper and Wendy! Underdog vs. Might Mouse. Tom & Jerry Meet Heckle & Jeckle. The killing I’d’ve made, too . . . but I digress.

But I discovered words were so strong, so impressionable, so damned fun, so I used them often. And sarcasm, too, when I learned what that meant. Putting those words to paper in book report form when I was a kid, not so much, and I refused to do it. It was easier to give oral reports on the books than written ones–this way, I could act out my favorite characters in the stories I devoured. Whether it was a great story a spelling test–I don’t have to tell you I almost always aced those–a vocabulary quiz, or something involving ways to express myself, I was, as report cards home oft said, never at a loss for words to do this. Couple in being born and raised in 1960s-1980s NYC, and, well . . . Big Mouth, par excellence 🙂.

So how does this relate to writing? And writing mysteries?

Two ways.

The first–my mother, her desire to be a nurse, was an avid fan of crime shows with a medical twist, Ellery Queen, Michael Crichton, and Robin Cook. She turned me onto my first mystery, an I Can Read story titled The Case of the Cat’s Meow, and later, The Hardy Boys Mysteries. The Cat’s Meow book I have to this day, ready for when my first grandchild is old enough to discover new universes and boundless imaginations books hold.

The second way came when my father’s death, in a collision with a NYC Transit uptown-bound A train in 1991, marred the birth of his first grandchild by his oldest child–me–that same year. His unexpected end is still listed in the NYPD rosters as a cold case/unsolved homicide to this day.

So I suppose in all rights, mystery writing found me.

Although I wrote plenty in journalism since my teens, I didn’t ever think I’d write a book, much less I’d want to. Now I’ve three series plans in blueprints, and several books within said blueprints in varied states of progress. But past events, not excluding my move to a speck of town called Page AZ from gigantic Gotham on a lie discovered after the parties involved died, prompted wonderings how could a mystery work. Peppering in tales from my past, people who knew my parents still living to share their stories, and strangers who remembered little me when I was four and spelling “Freedom” for them, all began to weave a tale in my thoughts.

In writing, I hope to never stop asking why or have my curiosity’s thirst ever quenched. I hope my cast of zany characters never stops asking why I’m as zany as they are. Most of all, I deeply hope to inspire a lonely, bored, or imaginative kid–or said kids at heart–to be transported into the stories as I’d been at their age, and still am today, fostering a love for words I vow to never let die.

Until next month . . . dew the best yew ewe were born two due.

Stay Awesome!
~ Missye

Cozy Mysteries: Happy Little Murder Stories

Someone sitting outside and reading a novel

Hello! I’m so happy to be the newest member in the Ladies of Mystery crew. I’ve been consuming mystery stories for as long as I can remember, but I’m pretty new to writing them.

I decided to start writing novels in 2005 when I accidentally read a romance novel. I thought I was getting a vampire fiction book and I wasn’t prepared for the laughs and the love, but it was such a great accident. I immediately realized that’s what I wanted to write. Swoons, strong women, laughs, and happily ever afters. I wanted to write something that would make me smile.

But there’s always been this other side of me obsessed with crime and mysteries. Don’t worry, not committing crime. I’ve been reading about serial killers since I was young enough for it to be a bit concerning. When no one was looking in the bookstore, I’d read serial killer encyclopedias while being careful not to crack the spines. I’ve taken forensic anthropology classes, watched a gazillion hours of crime dramas, and toured prisons and creepy places on vacations.

On paper, I look like a textbook mystery writer, but it took me nearly 15 years of writing novels to get to a point where I wanted to write a mystery.

I learned what cozy mysteries were and it changed everything.

I’d been consuming them as TV shows without realizing it was a subgenre of mystery. I’d never noticed certain elements among shows I liked. I’d picked up books here and there without realizing they were cozies.

In case you, like me a few months ago, aren’t well-versed on the cozy front, let me help! Widely accepted commonalities among (most) cozies are an amateur sleuth as the main character; they often set in a small town or small part of a big city with wacky characters; many involve food, crafts or animals in their theme; and they don’t include graphic descriptions (of the violent or sexy kinds) or profanity. The hook/theme of the book often has almost as much real estate on the pages as the mystery itself. Plus, the crime gets wrapped up by the end. Lots of them even include an ongoing romance. There are always exceptions to a genre definition, but this covers what I usually see in the genre expectations.

Basically, they’re happy little murder stories.

They combine what I love about romance with my lifetime interest in crime and mystery.

I love that you can get to know some zany characters that come back each book, while also being able to mix up a sub-setting in each book. For example, the cozy series might be set in a small town in western Oregon. The town is there in each book, but one book might be set at a rodeo and another involving a theater production. There are endless possibilities of where to take the characters!

I’ve now got a cozy mystery manuscript draft completed. It was so much fun to write quirky characters, a slow burn romance, lots of laughs, and get to think about murder motivations, while getting to have a light-hearted ending.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you read cozies? Have you come across a corner of the book world that has everything you want in a story?

TODAY IS MEMORIAL DAY by Marilyn Meredith

Because it’s long holiday weekend, too many forget this is the day to remember all those who gave up their lives in wars for our freedom. My husband served 20 years in the Sea Bees, including 3 tours in Vietnam. We were fortunate as he came home to us, unlike so many other families who suffered great losses.

Though my husband loved his time serving his country, it wasn’t so pleasant for me. We had a big family—ultimately five children. Often, I was the only parent at home.

There was never enough money. I got my monthly allotment check and I had to buy food for the whole month and budget wisely. There were times I went to work to supplement our income. Usually I ended up splitting whatever I made with the babysitter.

The only reason I decided to share the above information, is that there are many military families still going through separation and not enough money. At this time, we have two family members who are married to service men and have children. I believe the pay is better than what it was during my time as a military wife—but I sincerely doubt that it’s enough. And for those who’ve lost their husbands (or in some cases, wives), I’m willing to bet besides the emotional struggle there are monetary ones too.

Yes, I know that is neither writing nor mystery related, just something I felt compelled to share.

At this time, I’ve been busily planning three book signings—one in my little mountain community at a local coffee/sandwich shop, one in the closest city in a wonderful chocolate store, and one at a museum in Tehachapi—the setting for Spirit Wind. This is the latest in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series.

Fortunately, Spirit Windhas received some great reviews.


Available in trade paperback and on Kindle.

Voice and Word Choice by Paty Jager

Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character; or. Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of the narrator of a work of fiction.”

This definition I pulled off the internet helps define Voice, but I’m going to dig a little deeper.

Each genre, historical or contemporary, western or mystery, I have to think about the “voice” I need to use for each one. I know the example of voice says it conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character- true, but that has to also fit the time period and the place- historical or contemporary western. Jeans in a historical are called denims or overalls – in a contemporary they could be call Jeans, Wranglers or Levis.

This also goes along with word choice. The writer needs to know if a word was used in 1880 or if it didn’t become popular until the 1900s. When I type a word when writing an historical, and it feels modern, I use online etymology, a website where you can type in a word and it tells you when it was first used and the meaning of the word at that time and later.

Same goes with my mystery books. I use terms that are contemporary but try to include a bit of a western feel or voice to the books. I do this because they are set in rural areas and because my main characters are Native American, which also leads me to think about phraseology when writing from their points of view.

Paiute Fancy Dancer

Especially, my Gabriel Hawke character. He grew up surrounded by his culture, and therefore, has a deeper connection to the outdoors and the earth in general. While writing in his POV, I try to make sure his inner dialog as well as what he says to other characters captures that essence. 

Shandra Higheagle, while having the love of the outdoors and making pottery from clay she digs on the mountain where she lives, she grew up in a white world and is only now learning how deep her roots go in the earth. And because of this, she is easier for me to write because I can include my wonder of the Nez Perce and their culture to be reflected in her as she is coming to know more about her family.

When I sit down to write a book, depending on the genre, I have to mentally put myself in that time and place to make sure I give the best accounting of the events that are happening and told through my characters’ eyes and emotions. If you read a book from each of the genres I write, you will see there is a bit of difference in voice because I am trying to show the story through their eyes and not mine. But some of my emotions- such as my need to show injustice – will come through in every main character.

Word choice as I commented on earlier, has to do with making sure the word is true to the time and the occupation of a character or knowing what I am talking about. I don’t know how many western romance books- contemporary and historical – I stopped reading because a character grabbed a fetlock to swing up onto a horse’s back, or they grabbed the cantle as the horse started galloping. Or what really had me tossing a book…They put the halter on the horse and slid the bridle into its mouth. The writer needs to know what they are writing about. If they don’t know, they need to look it up. I spend a third of my writing time looking things up. Even if I think I know it, I still look it up to be sure. And while I’m looking it up, I might find a better word that makes the scene sound even more convincing.  

Words are what make up a book and they need to be thought about carefully. Just as carefully as the characters that are fabricated to show the story.

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