Lessons from a Bad Neighbor

He’s long gone. In fact, I wrote the first draft of this post back in September and just now rediscovered it in my files. Some of these lessons I learned from enduring a bad neighbor for six weeks were things I already knew conceptually, but experiencing them emotionally last summer was enlightening for me as a writer.

Shortly after Bad Neighbor’s arrival in our lovely old adobe apartment building, which is entirely non-smoking, even the courtyard, I began to smell tobacco smoke leaking through the gaps around the kitchen and bathroom pipes. Second-hand smoke causes low-level carbon monoxide poisoning, and opening windows and running fans isn’t enough to clear it out. He smoked so much, I got headaches and dizzy spells and had trouble concentrating, and the stink often woke me up in the middle of the night. To make it worse, he seemed to be a drug dealer. People stopped by for five to ten minutes at all hours. He left his outdoor light on all night for them. When one of my good neighbors confronted him (“Are you selling dope?”), Bad Neighbor threatened to knock his head off. Bad Neighbor accused me of harassing him when I complained, and he was furious with me for getting him evicted by telling our landlord about the smoking. Not that Bad Neighbor let the eviction notice cramp his style. After a month, instead of leaving, he moved his equally hostile, smoking girlfriend in with him. They had no lease. They paid no rent. They didn’t move out until a few days before he had to appear in court. Meanwhile, I acquired some insights.

One: How con artists work. This squatter took advantage of my kind, soft-hearted landlord with a sob story about why he couldn’t get a place to rent or afford a deposit and why he could only pay for one week at a time. My landlord was new in town. If he’d been in the rental business here longer, he might have heard about this guy’s history as a serial evictee, sort of a professional squatter. Bad Neighbor found a perfect mark. I suspect he knows the law as well as anyone and exploits it to make sure he can live rent free, utilities included, as long as possible.

Two: Why people could get the urge to be amateur sleuths. My good neighbors and I were convinced there were drug sales going on, and so was the gentleman next door. But we couldn’t prove anything. The temptation to ask each of the five-minute visitors what they were doing was strong. So was the desire to find a way to prove Bad Neighbor was not just a squatter but a criminal. I could see it especially in the old soldiers—a Korean War vet and a Vietnam vet. They wanted to be brave and see justice done.

Three: How frustration could drive people to act on their own when the law can’t move swiftly enough to suit them. In my best moments, I sent positive intentions toward Bad Neighbor, visualizing him quitting smoking, acquiring a conscience, and paying what he owed, but at other times I fantasized having superpowers that would make him wander off in the desert and fall into a canyon, never to be seen again. Not that I would actually have hurt him, but … I got it. How a peaceful person—I’m a yoga teacher, for Pete’s sake!—could wish harm on an enemy.

One of my good neighbors suggested I might break with my “no murder, just mystery” approach and write a story in which Bad Neighbor dies. Good idea, but I plan to write it without murder. I’m thinking of giving one of my recurring characters such a neighbor. In keeping with an ongoing theme in my series, she could recruit help from someone with paranormal powers, taking justice into her own hands. Actions like that have a way of biting back. I like this plot idea, but I have two books to revise before I can get to it.

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Excited about 2019 by Paty Jager

gabriel hawke logoI think the last time I was so excited about a new year, it was 40 years ago. The reason being, my hubby’s mother told him he couldn’t get married until he was 21. She had a strange reason why, so we waited two years. Yes, we met when we were 19 and knew several months into the relationship that we were getting married. We didn’t really talk about getting married but where we would live, what we would do.

Anyway, 1979 couldn’t come fast enough for us.  And then it did, we married, had children, and forty years later he still supports my need to write.  He is a definite keeper. We both believed in dreams. He is living his– a 60 acre alfalfa field irrigated by a pivot. I am living mine by writing every day and putting out stories that I hope others enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing them.

My excitement for 2019 to get here has to do with my new Gabriel Hawke mystery series. The first book is on pre-order and will release on Jan. 20th.  Murder of Ravens takes me home. Most of the series will be set in the remote county in NE Oregon where I grew up.

I have always loved the beauty of the county, but the small town atmosphere really doesn’t work for this introvert. I don’t like people knowing what I’m doing or watching my every move. Which is why I didn’t return to live there. However, the same reason I don’t want to live there is exactly what I wanted for my series.

The area not only has generations of families and acres of remote land, it is one of the few counties that the Fish and Wildlife officers are also State Troopers. This dual job gives my character more subplots and a way to be in the middle of murder investigations.

I wrote about riding for a day with a Fish and Wildlife State Trooper in Wallowa County on an earlier post. That was my in-depth researching I did for this series. I’ve also had many email conversations with the same trooper and my son-in-law who is a detective with the state police.

As I’ve written each book, new things come up for me to research and carry the story in new directions and plant red herrings. I thought I couldn’t have anymore fun than writing the Shandra Higheagle mystery series, but, I have to say, writing Hawke’s books is just as fun! I hope the readers think so too.

Book 13 in the Shandra Higheagle series, Homicide Hideaway, released last week. Even going on their honeymoon to a remote hunting lodge, Ryan and Shandra get pulled into a murder investigation. In this book my reader are also introduced to Hawke.

homicide hideaway 5x8Love… Marriage… Murder

Less than twelve hours after arriving at a remote hunting lodge for their honeymoon, Shandra Higheagle and Detective Ryan Greer find a body. Shandra’s cousin had quarreled with the man earlier, and the clues point to her as being the murderer.

Fish and Wildlife State Trooper Gabriel Hawke, arrives and immediately takes a dislike to Shandra’s cousin. But he is willing to work with Shandra and Ryan to discover the truth.

For a remote hunting lodge, the place becomes overrun with suspicious guests. Shandra’s dreams and Hawke’s tracking skills soon discover the cause of the drunk’s death.

Universal Buy Link: https://www.books2read.com/u/3nYweo

State Trooper and master tracker Gabriel Hawke comes across a murder he’s never seen before while in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Once he starts following the trail of clues, he’s determined to see the investigation through to the end.  Murder of Ravens Is available on pre-order and is releasing on Jan. 20th.

1 GH Murder of Ravens 5x8The ancient Indian art of tracking is his greatest strength…And also his biggest weakness.

Fish and Wildlife State Trooper Gabriel Hawke believes he’s chasing poachers. However, he comes upon a wildlife biologist standing over a body that is wearing a wolf tracking collar.

He uses master tracker skills taught to him by his Nez Perce grandfather to follow clues on the mountain. Paper trails and the whisper of rumors in the rural community where he works, draws Hawke to a conclusion that he finds bitter.

Arresting his brother-in-law ended his marriage, could solving this murder ruin a friendship?

Pre-order link: https://www.books2read.com/u/bxZwMP

These two books are the reason that I am so excited for 2019. I love writing these series. I can’t wait to get up in the morning and start working on them. Knowing I can get up every day and work on the books for these series makes me happy and will keep me rolling through this year.

How about you? What do you have that makes you happy keeps you going?

SH Mug Art

 

 

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Musery, or Conversations With A Goddess

by Janis Patterson

On one of my writers’ loops the other day a bunch of us were lamenting the fact that we all couldn’t just write and leave the business side of publishing to someone else. These days however you are published you have to deal in the non-creative side of the book industry – publicity, editing and all the rest. As we all were having the same problems, someone said she was grateful for other writers, as ‘misery loves company.’

Well, you know I can’t leave a single quip unturned, so I popped back, “Shouldn’t that be musery?” My rather smart-ass remark has turned into a… well, not a phenomenon, but a comment that is spreading. ‘Musery’ is a growing concept.

So what is Musery? It is taken from the legend of the Muse, a mythological construct of some goddess or another who is constantly whispering fantastic prose into a writer’s shell-like ear… which all writers know is pretty much wishful thinking. Even if you get ideas constantly peppering you like beneficent shotgun pellets as I do, ideas by themselves are pretty useless – nice, and a necessary beginning, but by themselves pretty much useless. No book ever came from ideas alone. It would be sort of like trying to live in only the foundation of a house.

Ideas (and it takes many to make a book) are only the beginning. You need believable characters, many complications, conflicts… the whole menu of writerly tools. Many of us need the interaction and brainstorming with other writers, and then there is research and finally – and perhaps most importantly – a command of the language that can make the whole heap of disparate parts into a readable and hopefully enjoyable book.

This seemingly magical combination of elements is the essence of Musery, which boils down to the basics of inspiration, imagination and skill. Done right, it appears effortless, which is probably the basis of the popular belief that some magical creature dictates the finished product to the writer, who has only to write it down, thus perpetuating its own myth that writing a book is a piece of cake that anyone could do if they only took the time.

Yeah, right. The fastest way to reach your Muse always has, is and always will be hard work. Now I have to go propitiate mine with a couple of hours at the computer.

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Writing in the new year

By Sally Carpenter

In the Ladies of Mystery rotation, my post is always the first one each month, which means I get to kick off the new year. I’ve made my 2019 writing resolutions.

First off, I have a 90-minute presentation in March as part of the University Series, a program of adult education classes held in the local Catholic parishes during Lent. I gave a talk two years ago on the nature of evil and crime, and it was well received. This time I’ll be speaking about the portions of scripture that are found in the Catholic but not Protestant Bibles. Some of the stories are mystery-related!

The book of Daniel, chapter 14, has perhaps the world’s earliest locked-room mystery. In a temple to the idol Bal, the priests left food and drink each night. They would leave, lock the door, and the following morning the food would be gone. So the idol must have eaten the food, right?

One night, after the food was placed in the temple and everyone had left, Daniel spread ashes on the floor. The next day, footprints were seen in the ashes. Caught in the act, the priests revealed a secret door that they used to enter the room during the night and take the food.

The story in Daniel chapter 13 has a #MeToo vibe. Two prominent men lusted after a married woman named Susanna. One day they found her alone in a garden and tried to assault her. She resisted and screamed. In an effort to punish her, the men told the townsfolk Susanna had a lover, although she insisted she was innocent of the charge.

Daniel questioned the men individually, and their stories did not match. When asked about the type of tree where Susanna met her alleged lover, the men give different descriptions, and so their accusation was proven false.

As for my mystery writing: My last Sandy Fairfax book was released two years ago, so I need to get that series up to speed.

In 2018 year I wrote a new short story about Sandy to add to the reprint of “The Baffled Beatlemanic Caper.” However, my publisher said the story made the book too long.

What should I do with my leftover story? I considered selling it as a stand-alone on Amazon, but a reader said she didn’t have an ereader. If I wrote three or four more stories with the same character, I could bundle all of them into one print book/ebook.

The stories will involve Sandy’s family members and his girlfriend with more attention given to the family dynamics. Each story takes place in a different setting, but the trick is to keep Sandy’s detection work from getting repetitive—talking to the same types of people and finding the same sorts of clues. The plan is to finish the anthology by the end of the year.

Next up for 2020 is the “Flower Power Fatality” sequel, tentatively titled “Hippie Haven Homicide.” After all, one can’t have a series with only one book. A guru and his counter-culture followers invade the sleepy town of Yuletide, Indiana.

This year my local library is starring a monthly writers’ group for adults. I’m scheduled to speak to the group in March. So far I have no other writer appearances set for 2019. While I enjoy participating in such events, they don’t result in book sales. Spending hours on a presentation and then to sell one book at the event is not the best use of my time. But I’m open to the right opportunities.

I also getting things in order so I can attend Bouchercon in Sacrament in 2020.

Meanwhile, I’ll still be posting on Ladies of Mystery and writing my Roots of Faith newspaper column.

On a personal note, my cat is old. Will I be breaking in a new cat this year? Or will I be cat-free for a while? Stay tuned . . .

 

 

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Why January Is NOT My Favorite Month!

Perhaps it’s because I was a summer baby—born in the high humidity and temperatures of Fort Worth, Texas, on an early summer morning in June.

Maybe it’s because for the next month I’ll be writing checks and letters dated with 2018 on them. When will 2019 FINALLY stick in my brain?

Some would say it’s fear—and maybe there’s something to this. I don’t know for sure, but the fact remains. I DO NOT LIKE JANUARY.

For one thing, January follows December. Yes, I know you already knew that. But let me clarify for you. December is full of sparkling lights, wonderful nostalgic music, people who are genuinely excited to participate in the Christmas and other holiday festivities. Even folks who were feeling curmudgeonly in November, seem to find their smile when the calendar flips to December. If you have children (even grown ones) it’s fun to remember their little faces on past Christmas mornings. I have a bank of old movies now, preserved digitally, to experience those scenes any time I wish.

All I know is New Year’s Eve is more fun than New Year’s Day. Depending upon how you spent the previous evening, you can be rested or roasted. Either way, you’re facing a brand new year, with brand new obligations, and maybe a host of problems to go with them. And, contrary to the fall and early winter, there are virtually no fun holidays! The only really good one for fun is Valentine’s Day, and even that has its pitfalls. We have to wait until at least May to get revved up for a fun holiday.

I become weary of the cold by January, and yet there are two or three more months of it to endure. Plus, there’s still a lot of darkness in January. Let’s face it, the sun won’t set noticeably later until at least March (and even that is RIGGED with what they like to call “Daylight Saving Time”).

Come to think of it, maybe it’s not just January that depresses me. I think I’d prefer to wake up in April on the day following New Year’s Eve.

Yeah, that’s it. Now we’re on to something!

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New Year- New Insights

Several of the Ladies of Mystery have some info about how they begin a new year or resolutions they make.


Amber in tree final

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. When I discover the need for change, I do it, no matter what time of year. I recently caught myself reading too much when I should have been writing—not exactly a vice for a writer, but still, it was taking me away from my work in progress. I now start the day writing. I limit myself to reading one book at a time, and have cut back on magazines and news articles. Not so much as to slip into ignorance, just reading in moderation. Writing before I do anything else is energizing and keeps the ideas percolating as I do other things before I resume writing at night. I’ve always written daily, but the morning writing is new.

My goal for the year is to complete the seventh Mae Martin mystery.  I’m entering such major revisions on it, the process will be quite an adventure. ~ Amber Fox

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Me at Caruthers Library 2I never write New Year’s Resolutions, but my plan—and you know what happens to plans—is to be more regular about my writing if possible. I’ve actually gotten rid of a couple of jobs so I should have more time, right? In any case, what I really want is to enjoy my writing. ~Marilyn Meredith

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2017 headshot newI don’t make resolutions, I make goals. My goal for the coming year is to put out a product (box set, book, novella, audio book) a month. I like to have something to tell my newsletter readers about.  And I  like to keep pushing out new material. My brain is so full of ideas for the series I have started and some I don’t that I have to keep pushing out the words and stories to make more room in my head.  ~Paty Jager

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Asking an Expert

I wish the author had asked me some questions. Asked someone with expertise in exercise science. The plot of a book that shall remain nameless depended on a near-impossible event having to do with exercise physiology. While this diminished my enjoyment of the book, it did remind me to do my own research diligently. A minor factual error doesn’t bother me much, one that slides by and doesn’t change the story. In another book, I noted a character saying that spring is nice in New Mexico, and I thought: Have you been here in April? Do you like high winds blowing grit in your eyes? But the plot didn’t revolve around the weather. And, well, the  spring temperatures are nice.

I’m partially confessing to an error that plagues me in one of my books. It wouldn’t change the plot, just some descriptive details, so I’m not going to tell you what it is, but if I’d asked an expert in person rather than looking things up, I wouldn’t have made it. Readers who catch the error may be a bit annoyed, though none have contacted me. Yet.

One of my beta readers does a lot of camping, something I’ve done in the past, but not for a long time. Ghost Sickness includes a camping scene, and she caught all the places where my memory hadn’t served me well. Sometimes we think we know, and we don’t. Or we used to know, and we forgot more than we realized.

I’m working on a book in which two characters are trivia buffs and play pub trivia. There aren’t any trivia game scenes, but I decided to go the Truth or Consequences Brewing Co. on trivia night anyway, just get a feel for their experience. I’m now hooked on the monthly trivia night. One time, I teamed up with two tourists from Chicago who were hiking in the area, and I found out that the world’s longest trivia tournament takes place in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. I can picture one of my trivia buff characters attending that event in a future book, or I could invent such a tournament in in T or C, and have fun with the portion where competitors have to explore the town to get answers. Another night, I teamed up with a friend’s daughter who is a wild land firefighter. I have a character who’s in that line of work, and have only featured him in one book so far, while he’s home between fires. I’d wanted to ask her questions for future books, in case I gave him a larger role in the future, and she was eager to share. The great thing about talking to the expert, not simply looking things up, was that she could tell me things I didn’t think to ask. We stayed after trivia and I took lots of notes and got her contact information. I can’t wait to bring back the firefighter character, though it may have to be three books in the future.

My research contact list is growing.  I’ve talked to my neighbor who is the county medical investigator. She loves talking about her work, dead bodies and all. (There’s still no murder in my future books, but there may be a death under extremely awkward circumstances.) My meeting with an antiques dealer radically changed my plans for a crime in my work in progress. It seemed like a good idea when I came up with it, but I’ll have to discard it and plan anew. It’s okay.  I don’t want anyone reading my book and thinking : The whole plot turned on that one thing, and she didn’t get it right. Why didn’t she just ask someone?

*****

Curious about mysteries without murder? The boxed set of the first three Mae Martin Mysteries is on sale for $2.99 for the next two weeks.

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