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.

Guest Blogger – Eileen Watkins

PersianCover_HiResMy Cat Groomer Mystery series evolved from a theme suggested by my publisher, but animals always have been a passion for me. As an only child, I grew up with pets instead of siblings, and related to them almost as brothers and sisters. I’ve never worked with animals professionally, but felt that with a little research I could step into the shoes of someone who did.

My amateur sleuth, Cassie McGlone, is in her late 20s when the series begins. Her psychology degree didn’t net her any jobs after college, so she took further training as a vet tech, an animal behaviorist and a cat groomer. Along the way, she learned that cats have different grooming and boarding needs from dogs. In the first book, The Persian Always Meows Twice, she has just set up an all-feline grooming and boarding business in the fictional rural/suburban town of Chadwick, N.J.

I’d read a few cozy mysteries featuring cats, usually pets who loitered on the fringes of things. They often had psychic links with their owners and provided clues to help solve crimes. In some books, cats communicated with other animals; they all seemed more aware than most humans of what was going on in their town, including people’s motives for murder.

I prefer to emphasize my sleuth’s realistic understanding of and compassion for animals, and how those traits compel her to investigate murders that involve her human clients. I also like to slip in lesser-known tips about cat care and behavior and to touch on some serious issues. I feel that Cassie’s work and the humans and felines she deals with can be interesting enough without any fantasy elements.

One of the things I enjoy most about writing cozies is the freedom to include a few laughs. My sense of humor is a bit dark, which works for murder mysteries, and I project that onto Cassie and her friends. When things get a little too weird or dangerous, I let someone crack a joke to lighten the mood.

I also like evolving the series. By now, Cassie has built up a solid circle of supporters including her assistant Sarah; her veterinarian boyfriend Mark; her over-protective mother Barbara; her best friend Dawn; Det. Angela Bonelli of the Chadwick police; faithful handyman Nick and his computer-genius son Dion; and members of the local shelter, Friend of Chadwick Animals (FOCA). In each book, I’ve tried to give one or two of these secondary characters larger roles than they’ve had so far. Cassie’s relationships with them also grow and deepen along the way.

In the first three books, Cassie stays pretty close to home (she lives above her shop). I worried about the series developing Cabot Cove Syndrome, with a ridiculous number of murders taking place in a supposedly “safe” small town. So by Book 4, Gone, Kitty, Gone, she’ll acquire a grooming van that lets her travel farther afield and get into a wider variety of scrapes.

Hope you’ll come along for the ride!

The Persian Always Meows Twice

A Cat Groomer Mystery

Cat lovers are thrilled to welcome an expert groomer to the picturesque town of Chadwick, N.J. But scratch below the surface, and unmasking a killer becomes a game of cat and mouse…

Professional cat grooming isn’t all fluff. When the fur starts flying, Cassie McGlone, owner of Cassie’s Comfy Cats, handles her feistiest four-legged clients with a caring touch and nerves of steel. While these qualities help keep her business purring, they also come in handy when she makes a house call to her best client, millionaire George DeLeuw, and discovers his murdered body next to his newly orphaned Persian, Harpo.

To help the local police find the killer, Cassie begins her own investigation. But no one, from George’s housekeeper to his vindictive ex-wife, is giving up clues. Not until Cassie is given permission to temporarily board Harpo does anyone show interest in the Persian’s well-being. Someone is desperate to get their paws on Harpo before the feline helps untangle a felony. Are there deadly truths that a cat whisperer like Cassie can coax out? She needs to tread lightly and remember that she gets one life, not nine!

The buy links for the book are:

EFW_Trees_TightShot_BestEileen Watkins specializes in mystery and suspense fiction. In 2017 she launched the Cat Groomer Mysteries, starting with The Persian Always Meows Twice, from Kensington Publishing. The Bengal Identity came out in spring of 2018 and Feral Attraction this fall. The Persian Always Meows Twice won the David G. Sasher Award for Best Mystery of 2017 at the Deadly Ink Mystery Conference, and received a Certificate of Excellence for 2017 from the Cat Writers’ Association, Inc. Eileen previously published eight novels through Amber Quill Press, most of them paranormal suspense, as “E. F. Watkins.”

Eileen is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Liberty States Fiction Writers and Sisters in Crime. She serves as publicist for Sisters in Crime Central Jersey and also for New Jersey’s annual Deadly Ink Mystery Conference. Eileen comes from a journalistic background, having written on art, architecture, interior design and home improvement for daily newspapers and major magazines. Besides these topics, her interests include the paranormal and spirituality as well as animal training and rescue. She is seldom without at least one cat in the house and pays regular visits to the nearest riding stable. Visit her web site at http://www.efwatkins.com.

Her website is www.efwatkins.com, and her Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/EileenWatkinsAuthor.

Killing Time by Paty Jager

paty shadow (1)Eons ago when I wrote my  first mystery book it all started with guests on a talk show. Well, let me take a step back from there. I wrote that first murder mystery because there was someone in my life I wanted to see dead. Since I’m a law-abiding citizen, I used the power of words to kill my intended victim. 😉

It was having the demise of this person in mind as I watched the talk show that the premise of the story formed. The talk show had a woman and a man who were private detectives and they’d written a book, Be Your Own Detective. I listened to them talk about how they’d written a book that could help anyone be their own detective.

I haunted bookstores until I found the book. (This was way before you could order easily online). With the book in hand, I came up with a freelance photographer and divorced mother of two who gets a call from her ex that he is in jail for a murder he didn’t commit. The woman debated on whether to ignore her husband or make sure her children didn’t have the baggage of a criminal father. She watched a talk show and discovered the same book I did. 😉

With the book in hand she begins digging into the whereabouts of her husband when he supposedly killed a woman. (The person I wanted dead)  I used the information in the book on tailing, surveillance, paper trails and verbal seduction to come up with scenes and move the story along. The book had lots of great information in it. Some of it would still work to day and some that is dated.

I actually wrote two books with the same amateur sleuth. Some day, with lots of updating, they might become published. But as long as I can keep coming up with plausible deaths and mysteries for Shandra Higheagle to solve, I’ll be working on her stories.

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Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 25+ novels and over a dozen novellas and short stories of murder mystery, western romance, and action adventure.  This is what Mysteries Etc says about her Shandra Higheagle mystery series: “Mystery, romance, small town, and Native American heritage combine to make a compelling read.”
All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

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Mystery and Mysticism by Paty Jager

paty shadow (1)My brother is an artist who creates his own bronze statues and patinas bronze work for other artists. When he told me about a specific piece he’d put the patina on and how it had a unique configuration, he had my attention. His words, “This would make a great murder weapon.”

That sentence stayed with me for several years.

And finally, when I decided to write a murder mystery series, I jumped at the idea of using a 300 lb bronze statue as the weapon. Only I had to come up with a plausible amateur sleuth and give her a profession. That is how Shandra Higheagle, a potter who is half Nez Perce Indian, came to be. I wanted her to have the Native American background to keep with my tag line, “Murder mystery and steamy western romance starring cowboys and Indians.”  And I wanted her to use her heritage to help solve the murders. That is where her Nez Perce grandmother came onto the scene.

Shandra’s Nez Perce father was a rodeo bronc rider who died in a rodeo accident when she was four. Her Caucasian mother and step-father kept her from her father’s family until Shandra rebelled as a teenager and spent a summer with her grandmother.  While Shandra still wasn’t allowed to let people know of her Indian heritage, she kept in touch with her grandmother. The first book opens with Shandra returning from her grandmother’s funeral and seven drum ceremony.

Where is this all going you ask?  When Shandra is suspected of killing a gallery owner and then the county sheriff’s detective turns his interest to her best friend, Shandra’s grandmother comes to Shandra in her dreams, guiding her to the evidence that will help them find the murderer.

Shandra has a hard time believing in these dreams, yet the detective believes. Her dreams cause her conflict with herself and allows her to let someone in after years of keeping herself closed off.

One of the most difficult and rewarding parts of writing these books is to come up with dreams for Shandra to have that reflect what is going on with the mystery without giving anything away.

The first three books of the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series are now in an ebook box set.

Here are the shortened blurbs for the first three books in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery Series.

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Double Duplicity

Potter Shandra Higheagle’s Nez Perce grandmother visits her dreams, revealing clues that help Shandra uncover not only one murder but two.

Tarnished Remains

Digging up Crazy Lil’s past takes Shandra Higheagle down a road of greed, miscommunication, and deceit.

Deadly Aim

The dead body of an illicit neighbor and an old necklace sends potter Shandra Higheagle on a chase to find a murderer.

Windtree Press / Amazon / Nook / Apple / Kobo

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 25+ novels and over a dozen novellas and short stories of murder mystery, western historical romance, and action adventure. She has a RomCon Reader’s Choice Award for her Action Adventure and received the EPPIE Award for Best Contemporary Romance. Her first mystery was a finalist in the Chanticleer Mayhem and Mystery Award and is a finalist in the RONE Award Mystery category.  This is what Mysteries Etc says about her Shandra Higheagle mystery series: “Mystery, romance, small town, and Native American heritage combine to make a compelling read.”

blog / websiteFacebook / Paty’s Posse / Goodreads / Twitter / Pinterest

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What do Jessica Fletcher, Shania Twain, and Sarah Winnemucca have in common? by #Paty Jager

canstockphoto26040640I was asked this question for a blog interview I did: Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

These are the people/characters I picked and the reasoning behind choosing them.

The first is a character: Jessica Fletcher of the TV series Murder She Wrote. Jessica is always finding herself in the middle of murders and so is Shandra Higheagle my protagonist in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series. They are both amateur sleuths and they both have creative minds. Shandra is a potter who sells her sought-after vases as art pieces.

DanPost_DP3544_15The second person is real: Shania Twain, the country singer. Her artistic nature and panache reminds me of Shandra. My character buys a new pair of fancy cowgirl boots every time she sells a vase. She likes the flashy, fancy ones with embroidery and cut-outs. And while she dresses with flair and adds special touches to her vases, she loves to ride her horse, snuggle with her dog, and dig in the clay that she uses for her art.

The third person is also real and a part of history: Sarah Winnemucca, a Paiute woman who was an activist and educator from 1844-1891. Shandra has been kept from her father’s Nez Perce family while growing up. Now that is an adult, she is exploring her heritage. The more she travels to the reservation to get to know her family, she is determined to help her people and family through her art and educate the masses. I have a post here about some other fascinating Paiute women.

When this question was first put to me, I had to think about it a bit. But once I started connecting the people with my character it became clear who she was and how she related to each of these women I picked.

I’m currently working on the 6th book in the Shandra Higheagle series, Reservation Revenge. This book is all set on the Colville Indian Reservation. The home of the Chief Joseph band of Nez Perce and 11 other tribes. It has been a learning experience writing this book. Both culturally and as I try to make it twist and turn.

If you want to learn more about Shandra Higheagle you can go here.

You can get the first book of the series for free:

Double Duplicity (652x1024)Book one of the Shandra Higheagle Native American Mystery Series
Dreams…Visions…Murder
On the eve of the biggest art event at Huckleberry Mountain Resort, potter Shandra Higheagle finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She’s ruled out as a suspect, but now it’s up to her to prove the friend she witnessed fleeing the scene was just as innocent.

With help from her recently deceased Nez Perce grandmother, Shandra becomes more confused than ever but just as determined to discover the truth. While Shandra is hesitant to trust her dreams, Detective Ryan Greer believes in them and believes in her.
Can the pair uncover enough clues for Ryan to make an arrest before one of them becomes the next victim?

BUY LINKS

Amazon / Kobo / Nook / Apple / Windtree Press

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 25+ novels and over a dozen novellas and short stories of murder mystery, western historical romance, and action adventure. She has a RomCon Reader’s Choice Award for her Action Adventure and received the EPPIE Award for Best Contemporary Romance. Her first mystery was a finalist in the Chanticleer Mayhem and Mystery Award and is a finalist in the RONE Award Mystery category. This is what Mysteries Etc says about her Shandra Higheagle mystery series: “Mystery, romance, small town, and Native American heritage combine to make a compelling read.”

All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

blog / websiteFacebook / Paty’s Posse / Goodreads / Twitter

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 photo source: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / dizanna

6 Deadly Sins of Writing a Mystery by Paty Jager

Every mystery writer wants to write the best who-dun-it. The one who kept the reader guessing to the end and then has the reader saying, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”  But the writer has to beware of the 6 things that can make them lose readers.

  1. Fair play – All clues discovered by the detective must be made known to the reader.
  2. The murderer must be introduced in the story before he is announced as the killer. Someone can’t appear in the last chapter and then is announced as the murderer.
  3. The crime being solved must be significant. Murder, kidnapping, blackmail, theft something that has a significant impact on the story.
  4. The solution can’t be stumbled on. There must be detection done by the protagonist(s). A web of clues that not only misdirects the sleuth but the reader.
  5. The suspects should be known and the murderer among them.
  6. Keep the story to the solving the crime, don’t toss in unnecessary things to throw the reader off.

If a writer keeps these in mind and takes the reader on a journey of discovering one clue after the other, you can still keep the reader guessing as each suspect is slowly dropped from the list.

I like to bring the murderer into the story not as a character on the page but as a character that is alluded to. I used this method in my latest Shandra Higheagle Mystery, Killer Descent.

Some may say that having my amateur sleuth’s grandmother come to her in dreams would be a no-no as stated in number 4. But the dreams don’t give her the clues, they direct her to seeking out the clues. She still has to decipher the dreams and then find the clue. I have a post about it here.

I’m currently writing the next Shandra Higheagle Mystery, Reservation Revenge. Setting it on an actual reservation has been giving me some logistical challenges, but I’m excited to see where the clues lead me. 😉

About Me:

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 25+ novels and over a dozen novellas and short stories of murder mystery, western historical romance, and action adventure. She has a RomCon Reader’s Choice Award for her Action Adventure and received the EPPIE Award for Best Contemporary Romance. Her first mystery was a finalist in the Chanticleer Mayhem and Mystery Award and is a finalist in the RONE Award Mystery category.  This is what Mysteries Etc says about her Shandra Higheagle mystery series: “Mystery, romance, small town, and Native American heritage combine to make a compelling read.”

All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

blog / websiteFacebook / Paty’s Posse / Goodreads / Twitter

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Guest Blogger – Susan Breen

Sometimes You Have to Jump

I wouldn’t consider myself a bold person. I slow down at yellow lights. Occasionally at green ones. I look both ways, twice. So I startled myself when I decided the protagonist of my first mystery would be a Sunday School teacher.

This was not at all the safe choice.

Sunday School teachers are not generally considered exciting. In movies they are the ones with buttoned-up shirts. They’re no fun. They quote scripture and sing hymns. At best, they’re considered prudish, at worst fanatics. Why would you want to spend 300 pages with one?

I thought about that a lot. I also worried there would be people who would simply not want to go near a book with a Sunday School teacher as a protagonist. Would I be considered one of those raving people who launch themselves at you at street corners? (I like to sit and write in Bryant Park in Manhattan and quite often people come up and try to convert me to one thing or another.)

However, beyond the fact of being fairly stubborn and wanting to write about what I wanted to write, there were several compelling reasons why I thought a Sunday School teacher would make an interesting detective.

Sunday School teachers, and people of faith in general, see the world as organized by a set of rules. There is a reason why things happen. So when things go wrong, when people are murdered, when your neighbor shows up dead on your front lawn, it’s all the more disturbing. Not only does it upset the protagonist, it upsets the natural order of things. In this case, Maggie Dove is forced to confront what she believes. It raises the stakes.

So that was one reason.

The other reason was that it would bring Maggie Dove into contact with people of all different ages. Maggie Dove is 62 years old (that was my other bold choice.) But as a Sunday School teacher she comes into contact with young people, such as her favorite student, 6-year-old Edgar Blake, and older people, such as his 39-year-old mother. And then, of course, Maggie’s not confined to the world of the church. She’s active in her village and comes into contact with a variety of people. I like stories about communities.

Then there’s the fact that I have spent about 300 years teaching Sunday School. I know the ins and outs. I know that if you decide to cook pretzels with your students, for example, you may set off the alarm in the kitchen. which will require the entire church to evacuate during the minister’s sermon. I felt I could flesh the novel out with that sort of detail. It’s a world that I know, and a world that I love.

So, am I happy with my choice?

Absolutely! And for my next novel, my protagonist is going to be a vampire. (Not.)

Maggie Dove coverSusan Breen introduces a charming new series heroine in this poignant and absorbing cozy mystery with a bite. Maggie Dove thinks everyone in her small Westchester County community knows everyone else’s secrets. Then murder comes to town.

When Sunday School teacher Maggie Dove finds her hateful next-door neighbor Marcus Bender lying dead under her beloved oak tree—the one he demanded she cut down—she figures the man dropped dead of a mean heart. But Marcus was murdered, and the prime suspect is a young man Maggie loves like a son. Peter Nelson was the worst of Maggie’s Sunday School students; he was also her late daughter’s fiancé, and he’s been a devoted friend to Maggie in the years since her daughter’s death.

Maggie can’t lose Peter, too. So she sets out to find the real murderer. To do that, she must move past the grief that has immobilized her all these years. She must probe the hidden corners of her little village on the Hudson River. And, when another death strikes even closer to home, Maggie must find the courage to defend the people and the town she loves—even if it kills her.

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Bio:
Susan Breen’s first mystery, Maggie Dove, was just published by a digital imprint of Penguin Random House. The sequel, Maggie Dove’s Detective Agency, will be published on October. 18, 2016. Susan’s short stories and essays have been published by a number of magazines, among them Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, American Literary Review and anderbo.com. Susan teaches creative writing at Gotham Writers in Manhattan. She’s also on the faculty of the New York Pitch Conference and New York Writers Workshop. She lives in a small village in the Hudson Valley with her husband, two dogs (cockapoos) and a cat. Her three grown children are flourishing elsewhere.

 

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