Guest Blogger ~ A.M. Reade

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

I recently took an online quiz designed to determine whether I am a right-brained or left-brained person. There were probably a thousand other things that might have been a better use of my time, but I was intrigued (Clickbait, you’ve come to the right place). In a nutshell, right-brained people tend to be the more creative types, whereas left-brained people tend to be more analytical.

You may have seen this quiz, or recall one very much like it from 2015. People are shown a photo of a sneaker and asked what they see: is it gray and teal, or is it pink and white? Back in 2015, it was the dress. Did you see a blue and black dress or a white and gold one? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google it. You’ll see what I mean.

In a brilliant illustration of what it’s like to be me, the sneaker and dress quizzes indicate that I fall into both right-brained and left-brained camps—or neither, depending on how you look at it.

In all seriousness, though, everyone has both right- and left-brain capabilities, though one side or the other happens to be dominant in most people. I honestly don’t know which is my dominant side.

I used to consider myself a left-brained person: verbal, analytical, and (somewhat) organized. That makes sense—I practiced law before turning to writing fiction, and the law is very logic-based. I know, I can hear you laughing from here, but it really is true, at least in a courtroom setting. Writing a novel requires a certain amount of logic, too. A writer’s job is to come up with a plot and a story arc that make sense to the reader.

The longer I’m away from the law, though, the more I find myself doing things like handicrafts and gardening and artwork and experimental cooking (I like to tweak or make up recipes just to see what will happen) in my spare time. These are typically considered right-brained activities.

This got me thinking: where does that leave the zealous lover of mystery fiction?

And here’s what I’ve decided: writers and readers of mysteries get to experience the best of both worlds (both sides of the brain) simultaneously.

The act of writing satisfies and exercises both analytical and creative muscles, as does the act of reading. Is there anything better than finding yourself immersed in a story, following along as if you’re part of the action? Whether you’re writing that story or reading it, you’re using both sides of your brain. You’re walking the logical path of the plot from beginning to end, puzzling out the clues, and you’re using your imagination to experience the sights, sounds, scents, and tactile sensations of the setting.

If you’re a writer, you’ve done your job if a reader comes away with a feeling of satisfaction. If you’re a writer of historical mysteries, as I am, you’ve done your job if the reader also learns a little something in addition to enjoying the mystery.

If you’re a reader, you’ve done your job if you’ve simply paid attention to the story. You’ve very likely used your imagination without even realizing it. This is left- and right-brain exercise at its best.

It turned out to be a good thing for me to take that sneaker quiz because it led me down the rabbit hole of research into how people use different parts of their brains. It got me thinking of the ways in which I use my own brain.

If you’re reading this post, you probably love mysteries. You use your whole brain when you read. So where do you see yourself on the left-brain/right-brain spectrum? What do you do in addition to reading? Are you a stock analyst? Are you a painter? Does (or did) your day job exercise a different part of the brain than the part you use when you read? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks to the Ladies of Mystery for hosting me here today. It’s been a fun post to write and I hope it got you thinking.

CAPE MENACE

The year is 1714. Two years have passed since Ruth Hanover vanished into the wilderness of the New Jersey colony without a trace, leaving behind her husband, William, and their daughter, Sarah.

Though William and Sarah have never stopped hoping Ruth will return, as time goes by it becomes less and less likely they will ever see her again.

Now William is acting strangely. He won’t tell Sarah why he’s conducting business with a mysterious stranger in the middle of the night, he won’t explain the sudden increase in his income, and he won’t share with her what people in town are saying about her mother’s disappearance.

When the time comes for Sarah to face her father’s secrets and figure out why her mother never came home that December day in 1712, what she learns will shock her tiny community on the New Jersey cape and leave her fighting for her life.

KINDLE: https://www.amazon.com/Cape-Menace-Historical-Mystery-Collection-ebook/dp/B087PJWX7Y

APPLE IBOOK: https://books.apple.com/us/book/cape-menace-a-cape-may-historical-mystery/id1511409624

KOBO: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/cape-menace-a-cape-may-historical-mystery

BARNES & NOBLE NOOK: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/cape-menace-amy-m-reade/1136964165

GOOGLE PLAY: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Amy_M_Reade_Cape_Menace?id=P3zkDwAAQBAJ

PAPERBACK: https://www.amazon.com/Cape-Menace-Historical-Mystery-Collection/dp/1732690782

Amy M. Reade is the USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of cozy, historical, and Gothic mysteries.

A former practicing attorney, Amy discovered a passion for fiction writing and has never looked back. She has so far penned three standalone Gothic mysteries, the Malice series of Gothic novels, the Juniper Junction Holiday Cozy Mystery series, the Libraries of the World Mystery Series, and the Cape May Historical Mystery Collection. In addition to writing, she loves to read, cook and travel. Amy lives in New Jersey and is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

You can find out more on her website at www.amymreade.com.

BLOG: https://amreade.wordpress.com/

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/amreadeauthor

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/stores/Amy-M.-Reade/author/B00LX6ASF2

GOODREADS: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8189243.Amy_M_Reade

BOOKBUB: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/amy-m-reade

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/readeandwrite

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/amymreade PINTEREST: https://www.pinterest.com/amreade/

Voice as Unique as a Fingerprint

My mind spins so many different directions when I’m “stewing and brewing” the next book or chapter. The other day, as browsed the email of free photos from Depositphotos a vector caught my attention. It is in this post. I thought could I use that for anything, and poof! the idea for this post came to mind.

Everyone has a unique to them fingerprint. It is theirs and theirs alone.

The same can be said for a writer’s voice. Not their speaking voice, their style of writing. Some writers use long, elaborate words or sentences. They spin their tales with sinewy prose, weaving the tale in between the actual words on the page. Then there are others who use precise words, short sentences, and graphic descriptions.

No matter what the writer writes there is a telltale “fingerprint” to their writing. Think about some of your favorite authors. Why do you read each one of their books? Is it how the story is worded? The characters? The plotting?

Characters? Plotting? How can that be voice? Again, think about your favorite authors. Do the characters seem similar even if they have different names, backgrounds, and ethnicity? Every author puts a little of themselves into their main and sometimes secondary characters. They can’t help it. Otherwise, how would they be able to describe feelings, emotions, and even the setting around them, if they didn’t allow a bit of themselves to slip into the characters.

And Plotting- You can give five authors the same basic theme for a book and each one would put their own spin on how that theme or plot played out. Again, they would each put their knowledge, feelings, and imagination into that story, making it their own with their unique voice.

I’ve always thought of my writing as simple and engaging- not really having a memorable voice. However, many readers tell me they enjoy the simplicity of my writing. They can see the story as it unfolds and not have to guess what words mean. I take that as a compliment to my style. Especially, when I’ve had several people also say that my books brought them back to reading.

My true voice, I think, is that all my stories are about justice. Not just the bad guy getting what he deserves but also showing the injustices that are in the world. I will throw in a cause here and there in my books to bring it to the attention of my readers. And thankfully, they understand that is what I’m doing. I don’t preach. I reveal the injustice and leave it up to the reader to do more digging if it intrigues them. That is my voice. As unique to me as my fingerprints.

Coming at the end of this month, book 10 in my Gabriel Hawke series, Bear Stalker.

Greed, misdirection, and murder has Hawke rushing to track his sister in the Montana wilderness before she becomes the next victim.

Oregon State Trooper Gabriel Hawke’s sister, Marion, is on a corporate retreat in Montana when she is suspected of murder. Running for her life from the real killer, she contacts Hawke for help. 

Hawke heads to Montana to find his sister and prove she isn’t a murderer. He hasn’t seen Marion in over twenty years but he knows she wouldn’t kill the man she was about to marry.

As they dig into possible embezzlement, two more murders, and find themselves trying to outsmart a wilderness-wise kidnapper, Hawke realizes his sister needs to return home and immerse herself in their heritage. Grief is a journey that must be traveled and knowing her fiancé had wanted Marion to dance again, Hawke believes their culture would help her heal.

You can pre-order it here:

https://books2read.com/u/mdjNzW

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 ~ Laura Kelly Robb

Behind the Book – Discovering the Florida Highwaymen

By Laura Kelly Robb

Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, lived her last years in Fort Pierce, a beach town on the Atlantic coast of Florida.  She lived for a while on a houseboat and later in a modest cement block rental house.  A visitor can see the makeshift desk and black Underwood typewriter Hurston used for her last pieces.

Through a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, I traveled to Fort Pierce to learn more about Hurston’s life through a week-long seminar led by Professor Heather Russell.  She told us the story of how Hurston had fallen out of favor with many critics until Alice Walker resuscitated her legacy of novels, stories, and African American folklore.

While in Fort Pierce, cultural ambassadors from the African American community  helped us understand other aspects of the town’s history.  The Florida Highwaymen, they said, had gone a long way toward putting the town on the map.  I had never heard of those artists, but our guides forgave my ignorance and led us to a gallery run by James Gibson, one of the Highwaymen.  Sitting on a stool, as casually as if he were telling us about dinner the night before, he spun tales of his companions in art, the twenty-five men and one woman, who made up the official list of Florida Highwaymen.

They knew each other, some from long contact, some only by sight, and some were blood relatives.  They were eager to get out of the sweltering fields and as far away from the punishing orange harvests as possible.  Hope came in the form of post-war prosperity, air-conditioning, and a wave of middle-class tourists. Black and white, the vacationers were driving the length of Florida.  The Highwaymen’s images of sunsets, palm trees, and scudding clouds were the perfect souvenir.

From the mid-1950’s until the early ‘80’s, the loose group of self-taught artists produced, by conservative estimate, over 100,000 paintings.  Sold out of the back of a car, sometimes on the side of the highway, for a bargain price of twenty-five dollars, the paintings traveled with their new owners all over the fifty states. Al Black, a prolific painter and also the lead salesman, could sell water to a whale they said. Money was made; oranges were not picked. James Gibson smiled and called them the best of years.

After the seminar, the story of the Florida Highwaymen stayed tucked away but not forgotten. I read reports of the uptick in interest and I saw episodes of Antiques Roadshow where the art experts valued Highwaymen paintings from $5,000 up to $10,000.  I wondered how art professionals dealt with a body of work as large as the one generated in Fort Pierce.

That question serves as a starting point for my mystery, The Laguna Shores Research Club (TouchPoint Press, September 14, 2022), featuring an art cataloguer, an art collector, and an ambitious museum curator in St. Augustine. The protagonist, Laila, believes her chance to get ahead in the art world lies in protecting the Florida Highwaymen.  When her friend and fellow researcher turns up dead, Laila is the one who needs protection. 

The Laguna Shores Research Club

Laila Harrow knows the best way to track down anything—or anybody—is to ask Billie Farmer. As the brains of the Laguna Shores Research Club, Billie teaches fellow members how to reach into the ether and pluck out facts.

Counting on Billie’s guidance, Laila promises the St. Augustine Museum a catalogue of Florida Highwaymen paintings that will catapult her standing in the art world. But when Billie dies suddenly, Laila is forced to pull herself out of the darkness to think like Billie and follow the facts.

Fact: Billie’s good health makes the diagnosis of a heart attack unlikely.
Fact: Her actions the night of her death hint at a looming threat.
Fact: Her condo has been turned upside down, her computer and phone missing.

With support from her friends and family, Laila vows to get to the bottom of Billie’s death. Then one last piece of information comes to light.

Fact: Laila is at the center of a dangerous game.

Amazon Paperback and Kindle

Barnes&Noble and Nook

Laura grew up in New York, the fifth of six daughters.  She earned a BA from the University of Toronto and went to work in Vigo, Spain. She lived in a small village and studied part-time at the University of Santiago.  Returning to the US, she taught Spanish and History for Seattle Schools.  She began to submit short stories and write novels while getting coaching at an Iowa Writers Workshop summer session.  She now writes full-time, with a sequel to The Research Club expected in 2023.  With her husband Paul, she lives in St. Simons, Georgia and takes breaks from the heat in Friday Harbor, Washington near her three adult children.

www.LauraKellyRobb.com

Twitter: @LauraKellyRobb

Instagram: @BookHardy and LauraKellyRobb_Author

Guest Blogger ~ Lois Winston

Truth, Lies, and Fiction

My plots have always been influenced by real-life crimes and human-interest stories. However, with Guilty as Framed, my latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, the story is more than influenced by an actual crime; it incorporates that crime, one that has fascinated me for decades, into the story. This, of course, posed various challenges, especially since it involved a cold case that was rife with lies, misdirection, and botched investigations.

The crime in question was the 1990 burglary of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, considered the largest art heist in history. The theft consisted of priceless masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, Degas, and others. It involved such disparate characters as a pot-smoking security guard, the Irish mob, and even the Pope. It included the unsolved murders of some of the suspects and as the years passed, the deaths of most of the persons of interest.

There were sworn statements by mob relatives and associates claiming to have seen some of the missing paintings over the years, as well as speculation that the artworks are in Saudi Arabia. And in what must be one of the oddest law enforcement press conferences on record, thirteen years after the robbery, the head of the Boston FBI announced the crime had been solved, although he presented none of the missing artworks nor announced any arrests. He then ended with a plea to the public for help in solving the case.

True crime and cozy mystery are two distinct genres. One is fiction; the other is not. But in weaving a true crime into my fiction, I wanted to hone as closely as possible to the actual events of the case. To do so, I had to take some creative liberties. I decided to focus my story around one specific incident that involved a mob associate and his wife, weaving that aspect of the actual investigation into my plot.

Even though these people have since died, I changed their names and the names of other suspects and persons of interest who I incorporated into my story. (When dealing with members of organized crime, even ones long dead, it’s best to play it safe!) I also created additional characters, thus enabling me to weave a thirty-two-year-old Boston cold case into a series that takes place in present-day New Jersey.

Guilty as Framed is the eleventh book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. In each book I’ve challenged myself to create stories unlike my previous ones. No reader wants to read a book where only the names and places (and possibly the murder weapon) differ from other books in the series. This current book was my greatest creative leap to date. I’m hoping readers find the book as enjoyable to read as I did to write.

Guilty as Framed

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 11

When an elderly man shows up at the home of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack, she’s drawn into the unsolved mystery of the greatest art heist in history.

Boston mob boss Cormac Murphy has recently been released from prison. He doesn’t believe Anastasia’s assertion that the man he’s looking for doesn’t live at her address and attempts to muscle his way into her home. His efforts are thwarted by Anastasia’s fiancé Zack Barnes.

A week later, a stolen SUV containing a dead body appears in Anastasia’s driveway. Anastasia believes Murphy is sending her a message. It’s only the first in a series of alarming incidents, including a mugging, a break-in, another murder, and the discovery of a cache of jewelry and an etching from the largest museum burglary in history.

But will Anastasia solve the mystery behind these shocking events before she falls victim to a couple of desperate thugs who will stop at nothing to get what they want?

Buy Links

Paperback: https://amzn.to/3QLEYU5

Hardcover: https://amzn.to/3Ans5s6

Kindle: https://amzn.to/3tLnT3d

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/guilty-as-framed

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/guilty-as-framed/id6442846272

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/guilty-as-framed-lois-winston/1141500980?ean=2940185728703

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website www.loiswinston.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.