Cozy mysteries… on TV

I love cozy mysteries so darn much (so much that I’m saying darn instead of something with a bit more bite). I love to read them and I definitely love to watch them. There’s something about the quirky characters and charming settings brought to life on the screen that makes them so enjoyable.

I’m a huge Hallmark fan. Park me in front of my TV, turn on Sling and let me binge watch Hallmark Christmas romances and I am a very happy woman.

Very. Happy.

Guess what I love as much as a Hallmark Christmas romance? A cozy mystery on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. There are so many great ones and I wanted to share a few of them with you.

As a writer, I love to see how the stories are assembled in film form. As a reader, I can watch a cozy much faster than I can read one 😀 And some of the Hallmark cozies are based on books, which is like super duper extra bonus round.

Mystery 101 series

I LOVE this series. There’s two out currently with a third releasing in September. This series combines several of my favorite things: criminology, academia, romance, and a good mystery.

The setting is great and the chemistry between the two characters sizzles. I love a slow burn romance. But you know what I love most about this one? The female amateur sleuth is brilliant. She’s not ditsy and she doesn’t stumble upon the answers by accident. She’s smart and respected.

Also, the detective respects her. Instead of spending the whole series giving her crap and telling her to stay out of his way, he respects her contributions and acknowledges that she’s helping him solve the murders. I really enjoy the banter, cheekiness and respect these two characters have.

Morning Show Mysteries series

This series first drew my attention because it’s set in the Pacific Northwest (where I live). The family and friends of the characters are so charming, loving and downright silly sometimes.

This mystery also includes a second-chance romance between the amateur sleuth and the detective. Their chemistry is fantastic. Also #RickFox #swoon.

This one does a great job blending several interests, specifically television and cooking. If you like either or both of those things, this is the series for you.

Your turn! Do you watch any Hallmark mysteries or other cozies? I’d love your recommendations!

 

 

Transitions

Right now I’m making the transition from writing a series to writing a stand-alone. There are similarities between the two forms, of course. Setting is still all important, for example. We need to know where the story takes place and how this affects the characters. Is the story set in a city? If yes, then at least some characters will travel by public transportation–the subway or bus or zip car or Uber/Lyft or bicycle. If the setting is a small town or even a farm community, the bus will be a once a day opportunity, and most people will drive everywhere.

The variety of characters around the protagonist will remain important, but here some less obvious differences start to emerge. In any mystery the reader expects a diversity in age, occupation, gender, and race. That’s a given. The list of characters should reflect the makeup of the setting in all its variety and richness. Even in the most traditional stories from the Golden Age, the characters, especially the suspects, had a sense of individuality and diversity within the given bounds of the time. The Anita Ray series is set in a tourist resort in South India, which gives me unlimited possibilities for characters.

In a mystery novel that is part of a series, the suspects orbited around the protagonist and her or his circle of friends and relatives, the recurring personae of the series. We enjoy seeing some of our favorite fictional friends fall in and out of trouble, knowing that in the end, the real culprit will be found out. Our literary friends, of course, will be fine. I was glad of this because I grew very fond of some of Felicity O’Brien’s relatives in Below the Tree Line, my newest series.

In a stand-alone, every single character is equally suspect. There is no protected circle of recurring characters, and there is no single character who cannot be the culprit, not even the narrator in a first person tale. Perhaps I should say, especially not the protagonist now that there are so many stories with unreliable narrators.

As I tackle my first stand-alone, writing every character as though he or she is the villain changes some fundamental aspects of the story. The narrator in a first person story really has no one she can rely on as a trustworthy confidante. We have to suspect everyone. Never can we say, Oh, that’s just Aunt Ida. She’s always like that, right from Book One. In a stand-alone, Aunt Ida, as flaky as she may be, remains a viable candidate for the role of murderer. If the narrator is confiding in her about her suspicions, Aunt Ida could be gathering information that will enable her to foist the guilt onto someone else. Or Aunt Ida could be discerning an important detail that would allow her to blackmail the real villain. Or the narrator could be planting ideas in Aunt Ida’s mind to propel her to act in a certain way. Poor Aunt Ida. She’s landed in the wrong script, and there’s no getting out of it.

The other change that seems most notable to me should be obvious in the preceding paragraph. No matter how dire the situation, I tend to see things through a particular lens, and it shows up in my wry humor. Aunt Ida can’t become a comedic character that undermines the tension of the story.

I’m working on all of this, and when I finally finish this ms I hope I’ll have mastered what is for me partly a new form. Stay tuned as we used to say. More to come.

Harder than the whole book? Amber Foxx on the Battle of the Blurb

I know the title. I know the plot, finally, after pantsing my way through it twice. Now I’m cutting, cleaning, and clarifying. A lot of work, but manageable. I have possible cover images, all by Donna Catterick, the photographer whose work graces the covers of Death Omen and Small Awakenings. My cover artist will help me choose among them. (Your feedback is welcome, too.) I know I want Turtleback Mountain, because key scenes take place on the mountain and on the banks of the Rio Grande with a view of the The Turtle.

The hardest part now is the back cover or blurb. Or so it seems when the time comes to write it.

How do I get it to intrigue readers without giving away the plot?

I like this line:

An old flame, an old friend, and the ghost of an old enemy.

 All of the above are featured in the plot. The old flame and the old friend show up right away. But the ghost of an old enemy? Much as I love the sound of it, he doesn’t play a role until further into the book. (No one kills him, by the way, although his ghost claims otherwise. I haven’t changed my approach. Still no murder.) My protagonist’s confrontations with him are part of a major subplot that contributes to solving the mystery, but the main plot revolves around family secrets. Does a subplot have a place in the blurb?

The instigating event belongs in a blurb. (And series fans will want to know that the ongoing romantic story is integrated into the mystery. My readers get very involved in Mae Martin’s personal life.)  The lead character’s goal, an obstacle or conflict, and a hook are the other necessary ingredients. The formula is simple, but applying it isn’t easy.

This is my blurb draft.

Shadow Family

The Seventh Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Mae Martin goes into the holidays thinking the choice between two men presents the biggest challenge in her life. Reunite with Hubert, her steady, reliable ex-husband? Move forward with Jamie, her colorful, unpredictable not-quite-ex-boyfriend? Then, on Christmas Eve, two trespassers break into Hubert’s house to commit the stupidest crime in the history of Tylerton, North Carolina. On Christmas Day, a stranger shows up in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, looking for Mae’s stepdaughters, bringing the first news of their birth mother in seven years—news of her death.

Through psychic journeys, road trips, and risky decisions, Mae searches for the truth about the woman whose children she raised. The girls are finally ready to learn about her, but she was a mystery, not only to the husband and children she walked away from but also to friends in her new life, running from secrets that could come back to haunt them all—in the form of her brothers.

*****

My assessment of it? Meh.

What I like: I have material from chapter one, the instigating events. I indicate the main mystery plot and why it matters to Mae. I’m not sure about the strength of the hook, though. It feels weak. In needs more of a punch, more danger. And the middle is missing, the conflict. There’s so much—with Mae’ s ex, with her former in-laws, with her old  high school friend, Deputy Yolanda Cherry, and Yolanda’s cousin Malba, herbalist, seer, and trickster. Not to mention Mae’s old enemy, Joe Broadus, the gossip king of Tylerton, who still stirs up trouble after he dies. Conflict in Mae’s mind and heart. And with those shadowy, questionable brothers and even the stupid criminals who get the ball rolling.

I can’t fit all that into a blurb, though. Really, it’s easier to get back to work on the book.

Do You Ever Use Real People in Your Mysteries?

Do You Ever Use Real People in your Mysteries?

The reason I’m asking, I’m contemplating doing exactly that in my next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Oh, I’ve based characters on people I know or have known and made enough changes the person would never recognize him or herself.

I’ve used real crimes I’ve read about in the newspapers or someone has told me about, and changed the people and the situations enough that no one ever said they knew where my plot came from.

Once, at the request of a friend, I put her into one of my mysteries, described her as she is, and included her dogs and cat. The only thing I changed was her name. She loved it, and her friends all recognized her.  I even included her in another book because she asked.

As the result of contests, I’ve used the names of real people, but the descriptions and personalities came out of my imagination to fit the book I was writing.

In the next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery, (which I just sent off to the publisher) I used two real situations I knew about in the plot, but changed both radically.

Recently, I met the strangest group of people in an even stranger situation. I don’t want to say any more because I truly want to use them in the next book I’m planning. In order to make it not obvious what I’m doing, of course the names and descriptions will be much different than they are, as will be the setting.

I’m not sure I can pull this off—but the big thing I have going for me is I know none of them read my books.

I’m eager to hear what my fellow authors have to share. And readers,  have you ever recognized a real person or situation in a mystery you were reading?

Marilyn, whose latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery is Spirit Wind.

Spirit Wind cover

Blurb for Spirit Wind: A call from a ghost hunter changes Deputy Tempe Crabtree’s vacation plans. Instead of going to the coast, she and her husband are headed to Tehachapi to investigate a haunted house and are confronted by voices on the wind, a murder, and someone out to get them.

Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/Spirit-Wind-Tempe-Crabtree-Mysteries/dp/1092112081/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=Spirit+Wind+by+Marilyn+Meredith&qid=1556631664&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmrnull

 

 

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

Social Media:Facebook https://www.facebook.com/author.westerson Instagram  https://www.instagram.com/jeriwestersonauthor/
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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?

 

Acknowledging Technical Support by Karen Shughart

police motorcycle in middle of road
Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

I write mysteries. They’re Cozies, which means they don’t include graphic violence, explicit intimate scenes or coarse language.  But they do have a sleuth who investigates the murders, and although the books are fiction and there’s a lot of sway in writing them, I want them to be at least somewhat technically correct.

There’s wiggle room, of course there is. No one is holding my feet to the fire if I miss a detail that a real detective wouldn’t. But my aim is to make the books as realistic as possible, so that’s why I decided to get technical support.

Technical support offers credibility to any work, and it’s important to me, as an author, to feel comfortable that what I’m writing has at least a semblance of investigative reality. Plus, it’s a fun way to meet competent experts in a wide variety of fields, in my case criminal justice.

Before completing Murder in the Museum, the first of the Edmund DeCleryk Mysteries, I attended an eight-week class sponsored by our county sheriff’s office. I learned all the ins-and-outs of our county’s criminal justice system, everything from investigative procedures to arrests and bookings to how a K-9 unit works. There are also a number of other services provided to the community by our sheriff’s office that have nothing to do with solving crimes; services to the elderly and children, for example, and learning about those gave me an appreciation for all the fine work our sheriffs do.  When I had additional questions, I was delighted when the sheriff and two of his undersheriffs offered to meet with me to answer those questions.

A retired commander from a sheriff’s department in another county, two retired police officers-one a professor of criminal justice at a local community college-helped me not only understand how our legal system works but also the steps in conducting a solid investigation. It was high praise, once the book was published, to get an email from one of my contacts who said the investigation in the book was “spot on”.

Now I’m working on the second book in the series, Murder in the Cemetery. I’ve kept notes and all the information from those wonderful and talented folks who helped me with the first book, but in this one I needed additional support. Our district attorney who is a former physician’s assistant, provided valuable insights and information. A possible connection to the murder with the CIA resulted in a lengthy and productive conversation with that agency’s public affairs director. A retired beat cop and friend gave stellar examples of how law enforcement agents can be compassionate.

blur close up focus gavel

Writing a book takes a lot of work. Keeping track of details, making sure the plot flows and keeping characters straight are part of the process, but  including realistic investigative procedures results in not only a better book but also one that passes the test for accuracy.