Guest Author – Carole Price

Murder never eauthorphoto copyntered my mind until I retired. I love puzzles of all kinds, but I favor a good mystery. As a teen, I listened to Inner Sanctum, Dragnet, and the Falcon on the radio. After retiring, I attended my first book signing, joined a critique group, and was on my way to thinking how I might murder someone (not literally). Opportunities come in the most unexpected ways. When our daughter moved to Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, my husband and I attended many performances. It was a life-changing experience. I fell in love with the Bard and the theater, took behind-the-scene tours, and interviewed a stage manager from the festival. Later, after I returned home, I had a phone conversation with an artistic director from the festival and thought why not bring Shakespeare to Livermore wine country, create my own theater, and add a mystery. Then I remembered Livermore does have their own Shakespeare festival of three plays over one month, yet different from my two theaters. The outdoor stage at a world-class winery is a great way to take in the works of Shakespeare.

But first, before venturing into plotting a murder I needed to understand police procedures. So I signed up and graduated from the citizens’ police academy and became a volunteer with the Livermore Police Department. I went through their daunting clearance process¾fingerprinting, drug testing, and a polygraph test¾and passed or I would have been denied access to the police station. I remain an active volunteer and have many opportunities to work with the officers and enjoy their thought-provoking encounters and learning experiences. The officers have been generous with their time to answer my questions. They even bought a few of my books.

My series takes place in Livermore, California, where I live, with scenes inside the station’s interview rooms. Because my publisher had specific rules when using the name of a real town or city, I had to get permission from the police chief and the city attorney to use one of their interview rooms in my book as long as I didn’t say anything that would portray the police department or Livermore in a negative light. Living in Livermore wine country has offered me opportunities to interview winery staff members, take winery tours, and decide where to plot a murder. I chose to create two Shakespearean theaters and vineyard on top of a hill on the outskirts of town. A private tour of one of our many wineries is how I learned where empty wine bottles were shipped from and how they are packaged. This information was useful in my newest book, Vineyard Prey, which will be released October 21, 2017.

VINEYARD PREY BLURB

front cover 2Cait Pepper, owner of the Bening Estate, and navy SEAL Royal Tanner return to help friends who recently acquired a vineyard in Livermore, CA. Sadie, an Amish girl, and her husband Danny Lord are excited about their new adventure of owning their own vineyard until a couple agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency knock on their door with a warrant to search their property. When Danny bought the winery, he neglected to check the owners’ background.

Desperate to save her friends from danger and embarrassment, Cait is torn between where to focus her efforts to help—the Lords or the actors and her Shakespeare Festival. Cait uses her cop skills to solve the problem of finding drugs at the Lords’ vineyard while avoiding another tragedy that could put her Shakespeare Festival in peril.

About the Author

Carole Price is a Buckeye! Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, she attended The Ohio State University. She worked for a national laboratory in northern California before turning to writing mysteries. Carole fell in love with the Bard after attending plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. She graduated from the Citizens Police Academy and is an active police volunteer for the Livermore Police Department, a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She actively promotes her books at conferences, literary groups, and many other venues. Carole and her husband reside in the San Francisco Bay Area in the middle of wine country.

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https://www.theladykillers.typepad.com/caroleprice

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https://www.carolepricemysteries.com

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What is “Real”?

by Janis Patterson

Writing is a time consuming occupation. Not only do we have to spend time plotting, thinking, and constructing our stories, we spend time putting them into a concrete form and then making them as polished a form as we possibly can. Then – if we want respectable sales – we must spend egregious amounts of time doing publicity and interacting with our readers.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it ain’t.

It wouldn’t be easy even if life didn’t intrude. Writers have families and jobs and lives, to say nothing of accidents and incidents and attacks of the unexpected. There are writing gurus who say you must write every day for a certain amount of time. That’s great, if your life allows and that works for you. I’m certain that somewhere there is someone who does this, but I don’t know any.

So what do we do? My answer is, the best we can. It’s not only a matter of time management, it’s a matter of priorities. When your granddaughter is in a life-threatening accident your focus should not be on writing. When the laundry reaches Matterhorn proportions or your living room needs dusting, that is no excuse not to write. (Of course, The Husband says I take that last dictum much too much to heart, and lately he has started muttering about finding a sharecropper for the parlor.)

The question devolves down to : Are you a writer or a hobbyist? Assuming that there is nothing life-altering going on (dust does not count) you have to decide just how important writing is to you.

In my case, it’s very important. I am a professional novelist, and a few days ago finished my fifth book this year. Because of this job, I miss shopping expeditions and luncheons with girlfriends, theatre trips and even some family gatherings – as tempting as such frivols sound – and have to plan my books around the trips The Husband and I make. (And I have never journeyed anywhere in the last decade that a laptop or tablet did not go with me!)

I also have a life. While I am blessed not to have to have a regular-in-an-office job, there are still lots of things that must be done. Groceries must be bought and eventually cooked. Pets must go to the vet. The car must be attended to. Extended family needs attention. The minutiae of living must go on, whether you work outside the home or not. My family is very important to me, as is my activism for animal welfare and conservative causes. The Husband’s happiness is always paramount in my priorities, and there is no way either he or I will ever give up our interest in and studies of Ancient Egypt and the Civil War. Health issues also raise their ugly heads from time to time.

But I am a writer, and after the really important things – family, beliefs, home – writing comes first, before nearly all social events, before frivols, before self-indulgences. Most self-indulgences. Some of my friends become insulted when I cannot go to lunch or take the afternoon off to go shopping, though they would never have such a reaction if I worked a 9-to-5 in an office. It’s disheartening to think that after all this time so many people still think that if you work from home you don’t have a ‘real’ job… Or that if you’re a self-employed writer, you still don’t have a ‘real’ job… Or that if you’re self-publishing and don’t have a big contract with a major publisher you really don’t have a ‘real’ job. After all, aren’t all self-published writers just wanna-bes or hobbyists who couldn’t get a ‘real’ publisher?

Yes, I have heard almost those exact words from people who are otherwise intelligent and sophisticated. Some of them I have given up trying to convince that I do have a ‘real’ job. Some truly do equate writing with lounging around, tossing off X number of words in a string, having them published immediately and then sitting back while unbelievable riches roll in.

Don’t we all wish!

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Meeting Peter Graves

by Sally Carpenter

Over the years I’ve met celebrities at book signings, concerts and appearances. Some stars have been quite charming; others apparently wanted me to go away. One particular appearance comes in mind regarding my WIP set in 1967.

In 1967 the entertainment world was spy crazy. Imitating the success of the new James Bond films came the spy parodies “Our Man Flint,” “In Like Flint,” “The Silencers” and “Murderer’s Row.” Television was chock-a-block spies with “The Man From UNCLE,” “The Girl From UNCLE,” “Get Smart,” “The Avengers” “The Wild, Wild West” (secret agents in the Old West) and “Mission: Impossible.”

As a kid I didn’t understand “MI” when it first aired, although I had a crush on Peter Graves. Years later when watching the shows in syndication I became a devout fan. In fact, my WIP works the “MI” show into the story as homage.

On a Friday in 2009, I glanced through the weekend entertainment section of the newspaper and saw that the next day Peter Graves was scheduled to receive an award at the Ojai Film Festival. The event would start with a screening of the film “Airplane!” with Graves in a hilarious comic performance, followed by comments from Graves and an audience Q&A.

Ojai was about an hour or so drive from my town and the festival was open to the public. Why not go, I thought. I thought up an interesting question for the Q&A and pulled out my book “The Mission: Impossible Dossier,” about the making of the TV show, for him to autograph.

Ojai is one of those places you can’t get there from here. To go by freeway meant dealing with heavy traffic, so I opted for the back roads route. What looked like an easy path on the map became navigating up and down steep hills with winding streets and hairpin turns. I was too busy watching the road to enjoy the rural scenery.

Ojai has basically one main street, so finding the location wasn’t difficult. The event would take place inside a drab school auditorium. Hardly the sort of dazzling venue fit for a star of Graves’ caliber. I stood in the long line, waiting for the doors to open. Some people were talking to the man ahead of me. I didn’t pay any attention to him.

Inside the auditorium I took a front row seat on the right hand side on the old-fashioned wooden bleacher-type chairs. The emcee said the festival’s custom was to ask the honoree to select their favorite piece of work to screen. Graves had picked “Airplane!” An interesting choice.

After the movie, Graves came out front along with Robert Hayes, another “Airplane!” star. Also joining them was the man who stood in line in front of me—Rossie Harris, who played Joey in the movie (the kid in the cockpit) and now all grown up. Now I wish I’d gotten his autograph.

Unfortunately, Graves was no longer the handsome leading man. He looked ill, was quite thin and used a cane for walking/standing. His voice quavered a little and at one point he seemed to forget what he was saying. But for the most part his mind was still sharp and his speech lucid.

When the Q&A started, I raised my hand. I mentioned that Peter smoked a lot of “MI.” Was that just for the character or did he smoke in real life? (Martin Landau, Barbara Bain and Greg Morris also smoked on the show).

Graves replied in a strong voice, quote, “I smoked for forty years and enjoyed every puff!” He went on to say he was forced to quit smoking after a skiing accident that resulted in his jaws being wired shut for several weeks. The doctor gave him a set of wire cutters so he could remove the wires in case he needed to throw up (TMI).

The program ended and the audience was leaving. Graves and his entourage headed for the exit. I was sitting between him and the door. I ran up to him and said, “May I have your autograph?”

He said, “I came empty handed,” meaning he had nothing to sign for me.

I held out the book and a pen. He seemed surprise. “Oh, you have the book!” I set the book on the stage (we were on the ground floor) so he’d had a firm surface for writing. He took the pen and signed the page I had opened. I thanked him and he left the building. I don’t know if he was annoyed at me—I was the only one in the crowd that had accosted him—but I was over the moon.

Graves died six months later.

What I’ve learned from meeting celebrities is to always be gracious to a fan. As a published author I haven’t had many opportunities to meet readers, and I’ll never be as famous as Graves, but when I’m “on stage” I strive to be pleasant and accommodating. Once at a writers convention a reader interrupted me while I was eating to sign my book. I was so thrilled that someone actually wanted my autograph that I didn’t mind at all.

But don’t bother me in the ladies’ room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Favorite First Lines

Favorite First Lines

 “I was trying to remember if I’d ever been blindfolded before.

I didn’t think I had been, but the cloth on my eyes felt vaguely familiar, almost nostalgic. I couldn’t imagine why. The only images I could connect with blindfolds were kidnappings.”                      J. Michael Orenduff, The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein

“Nearly thirteen thousand summers have passed since that splendid morning when the first human footprints appeared between these towering canyon walls. But in all the years since that singular event, not one good thing has happened here. This being the case, hardly anyone visits this remote and dreadful place—though the rare exception is worthy of mention.  Consider Jacob Gourd Rattle.”                     James D. Doss, The Witch’s Tongue

An effective opening says something that makes the reader sit up and pay attention. It’s not a warm-up, but the beginning of something. Something that sets the tone of the book and makes the reader curious or empathic or otherwise immediately engaged. Usually—though not always—it leads into the event that triggers the main plot.

I like the two I quoted above because both give the reader a strong sense of the voice and mood of the book. In the Orenduff example, the narrator reveals his personality, his sense of humor, and his ability to stay cool in bizarre situations. And of course, it raises the question: Why is he blindfolded? The reader is caught up right away, and I think it would hook newcomers to the series who are not yet acquainted with pot thief Hubie Schuze. They don’t need to know his name yet, or what he looks like, or that he’s in Albuquerque. That can come later, once they are pulled into the events.

The example from Doss sets a different tone. His omniscient narrator sees a big-picture view, hinting at something supernatural or evil, and yet doing so with a touch of humor. You can almost hear some Southwestern old-timer spinning a spooky tall tale. The lines create a sense of mystery about the canyon itself and the events—none of them good—that have happened there. And of course, the reader has to wonder who is Jacob Gourd Rattle is and what he’s doing in this cursed or haunted place.

Peter Heller’s novel, The Painter, begins with an equally powerful but entirely different type of hook.

“I never imagined I would shoot a man. Or be a father. Or live so far from the sea. As a child, you imagine your life sometimes, how it will be. I never thought I would be a painter. That I might make a world and walk into it and forget myself. That art would be something I would not have any way of not doing.”

This is backstory and introspection, a risky way to start a book, and one that seldom works. So why is it effective here? For me, it’s the juxtaposition of the startling first line with the narrator’s other unexpected life turns. Art and fatherhood suggest peace, nurturing, and creativity; shooting someone clashes with that image. Then, his compulsion to paint and his ability to vanish into his work suggest he is a passionate man who has things he’d like to forget. The interiority of this passage lets the reader know that this book will be as much about the protagonist’s inner arc as about the dark suspense that drives the plot.

I began Soul Loss, the fourth Mae Martin mystery, this way:

“The full moon was the only glitch in the plan. Too much visibility against the desert and the lake. He’d have to wait ’til he was sure the other campers were sleeping.

“Jamie stared down the slope from his tent to the shore. Depression grabbed him like a weighted net. He’d felt lighter after making the decision, but now the delay dragged him back down.”

Newcomers to the series may wonder who he is and why he’s on the verge of some desperate act. Readers who have been following the series know him and his history, and I meant to alarm them, to make them want to reach into the story and stop him.

Though I’m satisfied with my own first lines, I’m inspired to aim for even stronger ones in the future.  I have an opening line I love in book seven (as yet untitled and unfinished). I’ll have to move it from the beginning of chapter three to the beginning of the book, rearranging the chapters, but it might be worth the work.

What are your favorite openings and why?

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Mind Games and Murder

by Janis Patterson

I wonder if all mystery writers are irretrievably warped?

I spent last week at the Novelists’ Inc. (NINC) conference in St. Pete Beach, Florida. It was held at the luxurious TradeWinds resort, a place of which dreams are made. The weather was good – a little rain, a lot of wind, but mostly warm and sunny. The resort amenities are incredible – this is our fourth time here and I still haven’t been able to do all the ‘resorty’ things I want to, such as going down the big slide and doing the paddle boats on the carefully maintained artificial creek or sing at karaoke night. (I’m not lazy – it’s just the conference is so intense and it’s so wonderful to be able just to sit and talk with other writers.)

The resort is perfection, and the staff works hard to keep it that way. (And I’m positive none of my dire imaginings have ever happened there in reality – it is a lovely place in every sense of the word.) I mean, even the brick walks are swept several times a day to keep the beach sand off. Everywhere you look there are staff members in their trademark blue and yellow Hawaiian style shirts going around making things perfect, just like little elves. The restaurants and bars are great and to get up early in the morning and watch from our balcony as the day is born to the music of the surf is heavenly.

So why are my thoughts swamped with murder and mayhem? You’d think I would just be enjoying the conference and my friends and the beauty, but no – so  far I’ve hatched a bunch of plots that involve poisoning, stabbing, international intrigue and smuggling, all located in this consciously perfect setting.

Violence and crime are terrible no matter where they occur, but it seems they are worse in places of such beauty and perfection, and therefore more alluring to the mystery writer. The vast number of employees, each in their yellow and blue Hawaiian shirts, are an invitation to a villainous outsider outsider to use the uniform as camouflage. After all, with the exception of our chambermaid, I don’t think I’ve seen the same employee twice.

Am I the only one who looks at the minutiae of life through such a murderous lens? In an arboretum full of beautiful plants I am drawn to the poisonous ones. In an art museum I find myself thinking not of the beautiful paintings, but of what a wonderful place it would be to hide a body. A shopping mall? Just too full of murderous opportunities to list.

People often ask me where I get my ideas – or, worse, offer to sell me theirs. Getting the ideas is not the problem; most of the creative people I know have many more than they can ever use. The problem is deciding which idea to use – and it takes a bunch that fit together seamlessly to make a good book. The bad part is that you can only fit so many widely different murders into one book!

Worst of all, when you are surrounded by such beauty and comfort and perfection the urge to indulge in a little villainous mayhem is far too much to resist. I think I’ve decided on smuggling… or maybe jealousy… or perhaps a disputed inheritance… as the inciting incident. Check with me next  year and we’ll see how the story turned out!

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Holiday Reads or Not? by Paty Jager

paty shadow (1)I’m not one of those people who has to buy every romance or mystery book that deals with a holiday. In fact, over the 50+ years that I’ve been a reader,  I’ve had one Nora Roberts set of romance books that were Christmas books that I read every year in December, but I didn’t read any other Christmas books. Then a friend wrote a Thanksgiving novella. I pull that out and read it in November. But that’s about it for reading holiday themed books.

And yet, I seem to write a lot of holiday themed books. In my romance books I’ve written three Christmas Stories, a 4th of July, New Year’s, Halloween, and Valentine story.

In my mysteries, I’ve now written a Christmas and a Halloween story. Last November I put out Yuletide Slaying with Sheba the pony-sized mutt as the character who discovered the dead body.

And this month, going with the theme of an animal finding the body in the holiday stories, Lewis, Crazy Lil’s orange cat, finds the body in Haunting Corpse, book 9 of my Shandra Higheagle Mystery series.

I found while planning this book, I didn’t really think about the holiday. My mind was focused on the murder and who could have done it. The Halloween party was merely used as a means to gather information for Shandra and Ryan and the reader. But I had fun writing the party, the costumes, and the conversations.

Do you find as a reader that you like to read between the lines of the conversation and character’s actions, to try and discover the murderer? Or do you just let yourself go with the flow of the story and be surprised at the end?  Writer’s do you try to make your characters’ conversations relevant to giving clues or do you just write what comes to mind and drop a hint here or there?

Here is the blurb and cover of my newest Shandra Higheagle Mystery.

Haunting Corpse 5x8Desertion…Wrath…Murder

A runaway bride, murder, and arson has Shandra Higheagle sleuthing again. Sorting through the debris of her best friend’s childhood, Shandra believes she must solve the murder before her friend becomes the next victim.

Stumbling upon a dead body, Detective Ryan Greer is determined to bring the killer to justice before Shandra becomes too entangled in her friend’s dysfunctional past. He hopes he’s not too late. Her deceased grandmother has already visited her dreams, putting Shandra in the middle of his investigation and danger.

Universal Link – https://www.books2read.com/u/3J0ZWX

 

higheagle-book-banner

 

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Retro-dressing my characters

By Sally Carpenter

One of the challenges of writers of historical mysteries is clothing their characters. As fashions change continually, authors must carefully research their time period for accuracy.

My new cozy is set in 1967, a period that should be easy to clothe, right? When I was growing up in the ‘60s I wasn’t interested in fashion. My mother sewed all my clothes and I didn’t buy my own clothing until college. My memory of what people wore at the time is vague and limited.

So I consulted books and learned about Mary Quant and the groovy, hip styles. However, my book is set in the rural Midwest—similar to where I grew up—and the hot fashions of the New York runway never made it west. Growing up, I didn’t see anyone on the streets wearing love beads or Nehru jackets or batik prints or even miniskirts. The ordinary Jane Doe didn’t dress like Emma Peel.

What to do? I found a terrific book titled “Fashionable Clothing from the Sears Catalogs mid 1960s.” That’s right, the book contains full-color illustrations of the merchandise sold in the mail-order catalogs. It’s a wealth of information of what the common person wore as they shopped at Sears, not high-end boutiques.

Women’s clothes of the ‘60s were less restrictive than the ‘50s. Gone were the girdles and mounds of petticoats holding up poodle skirts. Pantyhose replaced nylon stockings for a practical reason. Individual stockings required garter belts to hold them up, but the stocking clips could be seen under miniskirts. Pantyhose provided a seamless visual line as well as some modesty if the skirt flipped up.

But some ‘50s holdovers remained into the ‘60s. The catalogue book has several pages of women’s hats, and when ladies put on a hat, they wore gloves as well. Jackie Kennedy made the pillbox hat a must-have at the time. So I will occasionally put my 26-year-old heroine in a hat because it looks far out and while she’s tough, she isn’t a total tomboy.

The Sears book has no miniskirts! The dresses and skirts hit the knee or just below. A black “dance” dress is shorter, with the hem only about two inches above the knee “to allow movement.” Miniskirts were not practical for everyday women working in offices, stores or schoolrooms.

The book also has far more dresses than pants for women. Women in white- and pink-collar jobs generally wore dresses and seldom  pantsuits on a night out. I had to rethink my character’s wardrobe. I’m putting her in more dresses than I anticipated, but that’s OK. She looks groovy in skirts. And she’s in pants for the “action” scenes that require running and climbing.

I found no women’s jeans in the catalog book, although I did spot a denim jacket and skirt outfit. Women’s dungarees (jeans) had been around in the ‘50s, but only for casual wear or factory/farm work. In the ‘50s and early ‘60s jeans were associated with biker gangs, hoods and rowdy rock bands. Only by mid ‘60s did jeans gain popularity. In fact, faded and patched jeans were stylish.

The few shoes in the book are mostly flats, a surprise as I thought most women in dresses wore heels. Flat heels permit more movement and are less painful for the feet. However, the pencil skirts of the time prevented women from taking long strides and forced them to move their hips more when walking.

Watching TV shows and movies of the era is a another great way to do research. One can see not only what women wore but also how they moved in the slim skirts and short hems. One of my heroine’s dresses is based on an outfit Barbara Feldon wore in “Get Smart.”

In the ‘60s, not everyone jumped on the fashion bandwagon. The older generation, i.e., my parents, continued to wear older styles. Few women in my hometown wore pants in public. My mother only put on pants once in her adult life and I thought they looked weird on her.

I’m writing from my experience. No doubt many older women of the ‘60s embraced pants and other hip styles—just not in my neighborhood.

Of course my cozy has hippies. They dressed differently from the “square” townsfolk to express their individually and distain for the “establishment.” The Sears book didn’t have hippie clothes–no surprise there–but I found examples in other books. Surprisingly, hippies shopped at war surplus stores. This seems odd considering their opposition to the war, but perhaps the reason was that the merchandise sold cheap.

Men’s fashions haven’t changed much over the years. The suit-and-tie has remained standard wear forever, although the ‘70s put a spin on that with the huge lapels, wild pastel colors and paisley shirts. The men in my book mostly wear regular shirts and pants except for the occasional denim overalls (this is farm country after all) and suspenders. And maybe a couple of bellbottoms.

In looking through the Sears book, I was struck at the beauty of the clothes. The models look feminine but not girlish, pretty yet confident, stylish but not too dated. Modern women’s clothing has a drab “unisex” look that I dislike. I’d love to wear some of the fashions in the Sears book. Let’s go retro!

 

 

 

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