Guest Blogger – Vicki Vass

Why I write

Hi, Ladies of Mystery, thanks for letting me drop by and share some of my story with your readers. I thought I’d start by introducing myself. My name is Vicki Vass, and I write two different cozy mystery series, The Antique Hunter’s Mystery, and Witch Cat Mysteries.

My writing journey started very early actually almost as soon as I could read. I was a precocious child. So when I was four years old and saw my older brother reading a book, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I read everything from cereal boxes to billboards to newspapers to books. It wasn’t long after that I decided I wanted to write. I wrote short stories through grade school, often killing off all the characters because I didn’t know how to end the story. I adapted the books Caddie Woodlawn and Alice in Wonderland into plays that my friends and I performed in our suburban Chicago neighborhood.

When it came time to go to college, I wanted to major in English and become a fiction writer. My uncle, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, encouraged me to major in journalism, stating that there was more career opportunities. I ended up in journalism and knew it was the right path for me. At my college, I covered government for my daily newspaper and also was able to write some feature articles.

Following college, I wrote for community newspapers until moving to the Chicago Tribune, first as a freelancer and later as a staff writer for special sections. I covered everything from city councils, library boards, artists and community festivals. It was a wonderful experience and taught me how to write fast under deadline pressure. As newspapers began to decline, I moved on to social media and into my current full-time path as an editor of a medical journal.

Working for a peer-reviewed medical journal means that I don’t write nor do I edit. I found myself missing writing so one day I took pen to paper and drafted a story which eventually became Murder for Sale, the first book in my Antique Hunter Mystery series. I loosely based the two lead characters, Anne and CC, on my close friends and our weekend adventures antique hunting together. That book was a finalist in the Mystery and Mayhem contest, and the sixth book in the series, A White Rabbit’s Tale, will be released in winter 2019.

While the characters were originally based on my two close friends, the characters have developed their own unique storylines and personality traits. Now the characters live outside of the real individuals.

The stories also focus on a historical element usually centered around a significant antique. That’s where reality ends and fiction takes over. The historical elements are a tribute to my father who taught American history and government for 30 years in the Chicago Public School District. He taught me to study and respect history.

As the series has evolved, I have found my passion for writing fiction to be restored, and I cannot wait to start the next story. My only shortage is time.

Thanks again for letting me stop by!

Vicki Vass

Vicki Vass gave up her reporter’s notebook to chronicle the near real-life adventures of her two best friends and fellow antique hunters. Like the fictional Anne, Vicki enjoys shopping and is always in the hunt for the next great deal. When not writing, Vicki can be found walking her two Australian shepherd puppies, Atticus and Tracker. She writes about her reading and adventures on her blog vickiscozycorner.com.  

Social media Facebook.com/vickivassauthorTwitter:@vickivass

A Free Kindle Book and Some Halloween Trivia

callingthedead-sm

 

For Halloween I’m offering a free kindle book, Calling the Dead, one of the early Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries. It is free now through Halloween.

https://www.amazon.com/Calling-Dead-Tempe-Crabtree-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B07S3RFZ29/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=Calling+the+dead+by+Marilyn+Meredith&qid=1570114084&s=digital-text&sr=1-3

In Calling the Dead, Deputy Tempe Crabtree is challenged by a death that looks like suicide and a suicide that looks like murder and putting her job on the line when she investigates both on her on time, and jeopardizes her marriage to her pastor husband when she uses Native American ways to call back the dead.

orange and white squash
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Now for some fun trivia about Halloween:

  1. Halloween originated in Ireland
  2. A pumpkin is a fruit.
  3. The round orange pumpkin is a native to North America
  4. The first individually wrapped candies were Tootsie Rolls.
  5. Alabama doesn’t allow Halloween celebrants to dress up like priests or nuns.
  6. In 2020, there will be a full moon on Halloween night.
  7. In 2017 the most popular Halloween candy was Kit Kats.
  8. Jack O Lanterns were first made out of turnips.
  9. To protect yourself on Halloween you should carry salt in your pocket.
  10. Male witches are called Warlocks.
  11. The word witch comes from the Old English meaning Wise Woman.
  12. Trick or treating evolved from the Celtic culture.
  13. If a person wears his or her clothes inside out and walks backward on Halloween, he or she will see a witch at midnight.

A bit more about my free Kindle book offer of Calling the Dead.

I did not use BookBub to promote—two reasons, it wouldn’t have been accepted because of not enough reviews, though what I do have are great, and I can’t afford a BookBub promotion.

What I did do is pay for some much less expensive advertising through places that promote free-e-books. And of course I’ll do my own promoting on Facebook, Twitter, and the various Facebook groups I belong to.

And you may ask, what is the motive for giving away copies of the Kindle version of the book? Hopefully, readers will like it and buy others in the series. Calling the Dead seemed like the perfect tale to offer for Halloween.

Marilyn

 

 

 

Changing over Time

After one of my novels comes out in print, I rarely reread it. If asked, I’ll read passages and discuss them, but once the work has gone to press, it’s out of my life except for promotion. All that changed recently when my agent reported the interest of a new publisher in taking on earlier series. This wasn’t simply a nice bit of news. It was an assignment—a synopsis of each and every book.

Like almost any other writer, I dread writing a synopsis. I don’t know why I find these so onerous and difficult. Nevertheless, I turned to the Mellingham series and pulled the first book from the shelf, Murder in Mellingham(Scribner, 1993). No one ever asked for a synopsis. No one or five page treatment lurked in a now-defunct format anywhere on my computer. After much gnashing of teeth, I had a page that pretty much covered the story of the book. On to the next in the series, Double Take. On this title, the Kirkus reviewer commented, “Oleksiw is growing as a writer.” I thought that was nice, wondered what passage prompted it, and thought no more about it. By the time I got to Family AlbumI was actually reading the story. I came across paragraphs I enjoyed, lingered on the phrasing, and stalled. Did I write that? Apparently, yes. I had the same experience with the remaining four books in the series.

I don’t know why I should be so surprised at how much my style has changed over twenty-seven years. The real surprise would be if it hadn’t. When I first began reading mysteries, I had very catholic tastes, but one day I wanted to read all of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books in a row for a reason I’ve since forgotten. With copies of her twelve mysteries on hand (excluding Sleeping Murder, published after her death though written thirty years before), I began reading. Although these mysteries are somewhat evenly spaced over forty years, the style ranges widely. I had never noticed this until I read them one after the other, when the differences become evident.

The typical cozy mystery reader may not think of Christie as a writer of several distinct styles but I do. I think the variations are masked by her consistent approach to exploring crime and the attitudes of the period. This rereading also helped me recognize at least one reason for a flagging interest in writers I used to enjoy—the sense of sameness in the work. Each story feels like the last one I read, and I no longer feel the sense of anticipation when I pick up those writers’ newest title.

Now that the synopses are done, I’ve turned to my current WIP, a stand-alone that is a departure for me both in narrative style and structure. This story is written in first person with more physical action and draws on my experience with home renovation. I like the concreteness of the work. William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, described an exercise he gave his students that was a turning point for many of them. Take an ordinary object in your home, something you use or see every day, and describe it and how it works. I gave my students this in-class writing assignment: What is a zipper and how does it work? The students talked about it for days.

I used to think that an artist’s or writer’s style changed with the subject matter, but no longer. The change may be the result of no more than the passage of time, of assimilating what we’ve learned from the just completed work, and transforming that into something new, where again we learn and change. Now that I’ve seen how my work has evolved over twenty-five plus years and twelve published mysteries (not to mention the ones that failed and sit not quite forgotten in a drawer), I’m curious about how my work will change over the coming five or ten years.

 

It’s Finally Happened … by Amber Foxx

I have a post due, and I have no idea what to write. I got Shadow Family back from my editor, after the usual back and forth about what to rewrite and why, and now I’m going through the book for the last time with her changes. The last time before sending it to my proofreader, that is. And then I’ll look it over again once those corrections are in. The upside of all this is that I’ve practically memorized all my books from so much repeated exposure to every page. I’m not likely to forget details that could affect the next book. I maintain a file of master notes on the series just in case, keeping track of characters’ ages, birthdays,  and unique mannerisms, names of minor secondary characters, family trees, and more, but I have the file of my protagonist’s personal memories and life experiences in my head. Okay, back to work. My readers are waiting for this book to come out.

 

Overused Words by Karen Shughart

There is something I want to tell you. As absolutely awesome and nice it is to see you, often when we’re together it’s because I really find you interesting and amazing which isn’t bad; in fact, it’s good and fine and makes me a bit happy. Really.  But therefore, I hope you are well and will continue to be thereafter. So long.

If you’re completely puzzled after reading the above paragraph, I admit I’m guilty. It’s terrible, and I wrote it, but there was a method to my madness. Read further, and I’ll explain.

I’ve been working on the second book in the Edmund DeCleryk series, Murder in the Cemetery. After several drafts, the process of editing and polishing has begun, and for me, this is the hard part. After writing everything I could think of that will create and enhance the plot, I start

words text scrabble blocks
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

winnowing it down. First, I look for inconsistencies. For example, in book one, Murder in the Museum, one of the characters and his wife had recently welcomed their second grandchild. A year-and-half later, in this second book, the grandchild is in kindergarten. Whoops!

As I read through the book, I also look for extraneous narrative. Annie, wife of Ed, the investigator and a sleuth in her own right, provides an intern who is working on a project for her with contact information for her friend, Charles, who lives in Canada. Charles, who had a large role in book one, has expertise in the field the intern is researching. As much as I wanted him to reappear in book two, I realized that the intern didn’t need Charles’ help and never would, the task was simple. Goodbye, Charles.

I’m pretty good at spelling, grammar and punctuation. I was an English teacher, for gosh sake. That said, I always find errors. Sometimes my brain works faster than my fingers as they pound away at the keyboard; I make mistakes. This is the phase in the book where I read carefully and slowly; I don’t want my publisher to think I’m illiterate or careless, heaven forbid.

Now we come to the reason for the sentence at the beginning of this blog. I know from experience that it’s easy to overuse certain words, as I did above. Sometimes we get attached to phrases, we use them to pad the word count, or our overuse of words is completely unintentional. If we want our writing to flow, if we want it to look professional, these must be deleted. At least most of them.

Using computer software, I can search my document for a certain word, and it’s highlighted every time it appears. It’s frustrating because the computer can’t distinguish the as in was from the word as. Still, it’s a good tool. It takes time, but once I’ve identified these overused words, I can rewrite sentences that are original, creative. And, hopefully for you, the reader, much more compelling.

Guest Blogger- Baird Nuckolls

Researching My Historical Novel

By Baird Nuckolls, author of “Shattered Angel, Morelli’s Private Inquiries, Book 1”

My new novel, Shattered Angel, is set in New York City in 1923. While millions of people have been to New York, even more have seen it in movies, television or photographs. You may feel like you know New York, but I want you to know New York back in the days when my story is set. The Roaring Twenties were a time of great change in society and technology. Society was recovering from the first world war; women had more freedoms, Prohibition had an impact on society’s activities, new jazz music was the rage and new inventions were changing daily life forever.

Doing research is as important as plotting the mystery. You can spend hours or days finding out things that may never make it into the book. For example, we think of the radio as being pretty ubiquitous. Yes, the radio was invented in the late 1800’s, the first radio broadcasts happened in 1906 and the first radio station opened in Philadelphia in 1920. But in 1923, there were few radio stations, fewer programs, and the radios themselves were expensive. So, my detective, Morelli, does NOT have a radio that he can listen to it at night, as he might be doing if the year was 1926 or 1927. Those few years make all the difference.

Another little thing that needed a lot of research was cigarettes. If you watch old movies, everyone smoked like chimneys and pre-rolled cigarettes had become popular during WWI, when they were shipped to the troops overseas. They’d even become popular with women in the 1920’s and the long cigarette holders became a major fashion accessory, in part to keep ash off their clothes and prevent their hats from catching fire, but also to look sophisticated. However, there was still a cost factor. Morelli continues to smoke hand rolled cigarettes because it’s cheaper and he would rather spend his money on whiskey. Telephones were available, including pay phones, but deciding who would have one and who wouldn’t, was part of my initial research as well.

The original genesis of the story came from two articles in the NYTimes. One was about a rum-running tugboat seized by government agents and some missing drugs. The other was about a payroll robbery on the subway. As the story continued to develop, I read more and more of the newspapers of the day and decided to add things to the plot. Stories about the politics, including the mayor and the commissions came straight from the pages of the news. The Jack Dempsey heavyweight title fight was a huge event in 1923. I even found film footage of the fight on YouTube, so that I was able to accurately describe the experience of being there.

Ultimately, these details are what make the story feel like it’s set in a real place. The characters are mostly fictional and the story is my own creation, but New York City is alive and truly a character in its own right.

SHATTERED  ANGEL

Set amid the growing roar of the 1920’s, a beautiful young flapper named Angel has hired Adriano Morelli, an ex-cop turned private detective, to follow her cheating husband. When Morelli steps into the rarified hush of a Fifth Avenue apartment looking for his client, what he discovers changes the stakes of the game.  

He now has a murder to solve while staying one step ahead of the cops. And with a history of failure, especially when it comes to beautiful women, Morelli is hoping to redeem himself for past sins. From the Cotton Club and the city’s speakeasies to the Polo Grounds where heavyweight Jack Dempsey faces his greatest opponent, the life of New York City comes right off the pages of the newspapers of the day in this riveting historical mystery. 

Buy  Links: Amazon EbookPaperback

Baird Nuckolls has had a multifaceted career, from banking to baking. In addition to writing, she has been a partner and editor for The Wives of Bath Press, as well as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine. She has previously published short stories, as well as a middle grade novel, “The Dragons of Graham.” She lives in Seattle and Orcas Island, Washington with her husband. 

Website: bairdnuckolls.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/baird.nuckolls 

Author Central

My Favorite Halloween Costumes

The best part of Halloween for me is, by far, the costumes. Okay, little chocolate bars are up there. But deciding what to wear and how to make it, that is possibly the most fun of all.

Fred did not like the chicken suit

I wish I had pictures of my Jawa costume from 1977 – they’re around here someplace. I built it myself and it even had real, glowing orange lights for eyes. Then there was the last minute costume I threw together when I was 14 so that I could go trick or treating at the last minute. I wrapped up a bunch of sheet strips around my ankle, got an old ski pole and a jacket and went as a skier.

Which kind of underscores my costume philosophy. Make it really complicated or make it funny. Or better yet, both. This got to be a problem as my kid grew up because between me, with my creative inclinations, and her engineer father, who loved that kind of problem-solving, my daughter could ask to be just about anything and did.

We tried the shark suit with Clyde. He didn’t like it.
TobyWan didn’t like the chicken suit, either.

When she was 3, she wanted to be Cinderella. I did a creditable dress for her. And when she was 5, she wanted to be My Little Pony. That one was not one of my better efforts, but in all fairness, the sewing machine died the night of October 30 and all I had was my serger to work with.

Then, when she was 6, she wanted to be a birthday cake. We pulled that one off. She wanted to be a box of Nerds candy one year and was a treasure chest another year – both of those were her father’s work since they were all cardboard.

My husband now does not like to dress up and we haven’t been to a Halloween party in years, anyway. Life has gotten busy and I’ve had a couple health issues that force me to spend my energy on longer-lasting projects, like books. That, and we’ve already got the costume pic with TobyWan, the current dog.

Moses as Charlton Heston

The earlier dogs weren’t thrilled with the costume thing, but I at least got the costume on long enough to get pictures. That being said, it took almost 12 years to get around to dressing our dog Moses up as Charlton Heston, back in 2013. It may have been just as well. Mosie was pretty hyper as a younger dog and probably would not have sat still for the photo.

So, there’s not going to be any dressing up this year. Unless we get a last-minute invite to a party. That sheep costume should be around here someplace.