The Importance of Setting by Karen Shughart

aerial view, architecture, autumn

As I write this, it’s raining. Heavily and steadily. And there’s a bit of a chill in the air. After all, it’s fall, a transition month of warm days, cool nights, brilliant sunshine and cloudless skies; apples, pumpkins, red orange, rust and yellow leaves and a profusion of brightly colored mums. And, of course, there’s also the rain, wind and a sea so noisy we can hear it with our windows closed. I’ve worked all morning on Murder in the Cemetery, the second book in the Edmund DeCleryk series, which is set in the fictional village of Lighthouse Cove, NY. I imagine Ed, and his wife, Annie, sitting in front of a roaring fire at the end of the day, drinking red wine and discussing the case.

Yesterday was different. It was one of those days when you just want to be outside enjoying the crisp fall air and the smell of the decaying leaves. I imagine a reflective Ed, walking on a deserted beach, waves lapping onto shore, cup of steaming coffee in hand.

In the winter my characters take long walks in the snow and meet friends at cozy pubs with wood-beamed ceilings that have parking lots filled with snowmobiles.  They eat hearty food and settle in with a good book in front of the fire.

In the spring the roads they drive on meander through acres of fruit trees covered with fragrant, fuzzy pink and white blossoms, and in summer, you might see them sailing on the teal blue waters of Lake Ontario or watching a splendid fireworks’ display from their decks.

Each season of the year has its own beauty and inspires me to interject that beauty into the plot of the Cozy mysteries I write. I have an affinity to Cozies because of their charm, but also because the reader gets to know not only the cast of characters but also the towns and villages where they live.

Think about Louise Penny’s Three Pines series- would it be as engaging if it weren’t set in a small, quaint Canadian village? And what about the works of Martha Grimes, whose character, Richard Jury, gets help solving cases from friends living in the quirky village of Long Piddleton.  If you’ve ever watched Midsomer Murders (one of my favorite “cozy” TV series), you’ll remember the festivals, concerts and fairs as well as the enticing Midsomer County woods, fields and streams that help set the scene for those murders.

The setting of a book is crucial to drawing the reader into the plot. “It was a dark and stormy night, ….” although comically trite, really does warn the reader that something ominous is about to occur. But then there’s also an intriguing juxtaposition between a day when the birds are singing, the sunrise glorious and all’s right with the world, and a horrific murder that occurs that same morning in dark and swampy woods.

A groovy new book

By Sally Carpenter

Flower_Power_Fatality_jpg (1)

My new retro-cozy, “Flower Power Fatality,” seems like it’s taken forever to write. I estimate the actual writing time at about 1.5 years but it’s been on my mind for much longer.

The idea originated a number of years ago at a fundraising concert at my parish. A group of ‘60s rockers were performing and I thought a cozy set in the 1960s was a pretty far out idea. I only know of one other mystery series in the ‘60s so the field seemed ripe for exploiting.

I considered a series with a college student as a protagonist (campus unrest was a big topic in the era), one book for each year of school. However, high-achieving students are too busy with classes, homework and extra-curricular activities to have time for sleuthing (except for the Hardy Boys who always seem to be on a school holiday). Writing scenes about someone sitting in lecture classes all day didn’t interest me either (my apologies to those of you who write school mysteries).

I didn’t want to write about a rock musician, because I already had a musician in my Sandy Fairfax series. Hippies are interesting characters, but they make poor sleuths. They don’t want to deal with the cops and frankly, some of them are too strung out much of the time to be of use.

One of my writer acquaintances is a Doris Day fan, so I started watching Doris Day movies. The idea clicked with “The Glass Bottom Boat.” Doris plays a civilian who unwitting gets mixed up with spies. Aha!

The 1960s was the height of the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, with nuclear annihilation of both countries only a button-push away. Everyone knew about CIA and KGB spies, no matter how hard they tried to keep their activities a secret. Mad Magazine made light of this conflict in the wordless “Spy vs. Spy” cartoons.

The spy genre was popular entertainment in the 1960s, kicked off, of course by the James Bond craze. Soon Bond found himself parodied in the Derek Flint and Matt Helm films and in the 1967 “Casino Royale.”

Spies took over TV as well with such shows as “I Spy,” “The Man From UNCLE,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Get Smart.” One could argue “Batman” followed suit as well, with its many bat-gadgets, droll sense of humor and over-the-top presentation like the Bond movies.

“UNCLE” episodes featured a new “innocent” (guest star) each week, a civilian recruited by the agency to help the spies with the mission, much like the protagonist in my book, an actress who stumbles upon a murder and missing microdots.

But I couldn’t start writing right away. I wanted to crank out another Sandy Fairfax book, so I put the new idea on the back burner. Then I researched a big presentation for my parish. Then I wrote a short story for the “Cozy Cats Shorts” anthology (2017). And along the way I was still writing my monthly Ladies of Mystery post and my newspaper column.

At long last I put everything aside to work on the new idea.

Sometimes letting an idea simmer makes it tastier. I used the time to research my setting and the 1960s in general. Being a kid at the time, much of what was going on went right over my head. I also had to check on every product and piece of music mentioned in the book to make sure it was time-appropriate.

And the book has a pet cat. Well, that one was easy to research. I just looked in my yard.

Name that tune

By Sally Carpenter

In my mysteries I use song titles as my chapter headers. The protagonist in my cozies is a former teen idol, so the stories slanty heavy into music. And just saying “chapter one, “chapter two,” etc. is boring.

The chapter title makes some reference to what’s going on in that section so I can keep track of how the action progresses throughout the book. And I like the challenge and fun of finding songs to fit. It amuses me.

And no, quoting song titles in a book does not violate copyright law. If it did, writers would be in trouble every time they used phrases like “she loves you” or “I feel fine” or “I want to know” or even the word “misery.”

 Below are the chapter titles to my upcoming cozy. “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper.” See if you know the artist who recorded the song.

1. Monday, Monday

2. I Want To Know

3. We Just Disagree

4. Carry On Wayward Son

5. Be True to Your School

6. Stiletto

7. (It’s a) Family Affair

8. If You’ve Got Trouble

9. Call Me

10. Games People Play

11. Xanadu

12. Listen to the Band

13. Sometimes She’s a Little Girl

14. Saturday in the Park.

15. Up, Up and Away

16. We Can Work It Out

17. FM (No Static at All)

18. (I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden

19 You Won’t See Me

20. Diary

21. Your Lying Eyes

22. Mr. Success

23. Thanks for the Pepperoni

24. I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind

26. Garden Party

26. Live and Let Die

27. Last Dance

 Answers:

1. The Mamas and The Papas

2. Eric Clapton and The Powerhouse

3. Dave Mason

4. Kansas

5. The Beach Boys

6. Billy Joel

7. Sly and the Family Stone

8. Beatles, but didn’t appear until “Anthology”

9. Blondie

10. The Spinners

11. Olivia Newton-John from the movie soundtrack

12. The Monkees

13. Boyce and Hart

15. Fifth Dimension

16. Beatles again

17. Steely Dan

18. Lynn Anderson

19. Beatles one more time

20. Bread on the original version but Micky Dolenz recorded it years later

21. The Eagles

22. First recorded by Frank Sinatra but I have a version by Bobby Sherman

23. Extra points as this one’s obscure. An instrumental jam on the third disc of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” opus.

24. Monkees once more

25. Ricky Nelson

26. Paul McCartney and Wings

27. Donna Summers

 Cross posted in The Cozy Cat Chronicles

 

How long should a Series be? by Paty Jager

paty shadow (1)When I came up with the idea for a mystery series, the second thing I thought about after bringing Shandra Higheagle to life was: Can I write enough stories to make this a long running series?

So I sat down and thought about where she lives- a ski resort; what she does- a potter; and then the people she is closest to. Her family history and heritage also can play into several story linesBookmark Front. All of these things figured into stories I could write to expand the series.

I’m also finding that as I write a story, something will pop up that sends me to my list of story ideas and adding another one. Also, things I hear and see on the news starts and idea for a premise of a story.

I figured if Sue Grafton could write 26 books with the same sleuth, Janet Evanovich went for Tricky Twenty-Two, and Tony HIllerman put out 19, I should be able to come up with that many mysteries for Shandra to solve without her or the stories getting stale.

Right now I’m researching for Book 5. I know who will be killed and who will be suspected, but I still need to write up my suspect chart, which will happen after I know more about the murder venue. Usually by this stage I have a title for the book. This one isn’t coming to me as easily. But I’m sure by the time I get to the middle of the book, I’ll know my title.

If you read series, has there come a time when you’ve found the series going stale? Why do you think that happened?

www.patyjager.net

Writing into the Sunset

 

Dreaming up an Amateur Sleuth by Paty Jager

Dream your dreams with your eyes closed…paty shadow (1)

But live your Dreams with your eyes open—

                                                                     ~Cherokee~

The amateur sleuth in my Shandra Higheagle Mystery Series is half Nez Perce. She was raised to hide her Native American heritage when her Nez Perce father died and her mother remarried. However, her paternal grandmother kept in touch, and Shandra spent a summer during her teen-age years with her grandmother on the reservation. Her grandmother said Shandra had powers. When Shandra announced that at home her mother and step-father quickly made her see it was an old woman’s way to making an awkward teenaged girl feel special–nothing more.

As an adult, Shandra visits her grandmother more and is interested in discovering more about her roots. But her grandmother dies, leaving Shandra a note requesting she attend the Seven Drum Ceremony after the funeral.

While in the midst of murders and mystery, Shandra’s grandmother comes to her in dreams showing her clues to the true murderer. While Shandra investigates the dreams and discovers helpful information, she has a hard time believing the dreams and her grandmother’s presence.

This is the information I came up with when I was brainstorming who my amateur sleuth would be in the mystery series I wanted to write. I started with the niggling that I wanted a Native American character. But not being Native American myself, I didn’t know the first thing about being from that heritage. That’s when I came up with the idea of her being kept from those roots. It allowed me to discover Shandra’s heritage as she is discovering it, a piece at a time.

To add a bit more of the “mysticism” or “dreamer” qualities to the Native American element I have her deceased grandmother come to her in dreams. Visions and dreams are instrumental in Native American culture. This was my way of drawing on elements that could be intrinsic to Shandra.

And all amateur sleuths need a person in law enforcement to keep them safe. I gave Shandra handsome Weippe County Detective Ryan Greer. He believes in Shandra’s dreams more than her in the beginning thanks to his Irish mother who taught him to believe in things you can’t see.

I’m enjoying getting to know Shandra and Ryan better with each book I write and having them meet the locals of Huckleberry, Idaho and the unique murders that draw Shandra into the investigations. And I can use the backdrop of the ski resort and the art communities because Shandra is a potter whose works are considered art.

What draws you to the main character in a mystery series? What elements in a character haven’t you seen that you would like to see?

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www.patyjager.net

Writing into the Sunset

Series- Keeping it Interesting by Paty Jager

paty shadow (1)I don’t know how you feel about reading mystery series but I love reading and writing them. Following a character on their journey through life, murders, and mayhem is fun. They have personal triumphs and failures, that the reader who has become a part of that character’s world can cheer and cry over.

Some of my favorite characters and series to read over the years have been Mrs. Polifax by Dorothy Gilman, Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Mysteries with Joe Leaphorn,  Leighann Dobbs, Blackmore Sisters, Marilyn Meredith’s Tempe Crabtree and J.L. Simpsons’s Daisy Dunlop. I enjoy meeting back up with them in each book and seeing what mayhem they get into.

I like writing series because I can continue relationships, make new relationship, and have a cast of characters I know and can take on adventures. Whether they are the main characters, Shandra Higheagle and Ryan Greer of if they are the quirky, endearing, and annoying secondary characters, like Crazy Lil, Sheba the dog, Ryan’s nosy family,  or the cast of characters who live in Huckleberry.

The murdered person and the murder suspects are usually new characters, which means I have to discover all I can about them before I start writing the books. But that is one of the best parts about a mystery, discovering how to make characters connect and have motives for the murder that happened.

I’ve never thought of myself as analytical or a puzzle solver but I love piecing the story together to have my sleuths think it’s one person only to discover it could be someone else. Keeping my sleuths guessing, I hope also keeps  the readers guessing.

I just released the fourth book on my Shandra Higheagle mystery series- Murderous Secrets. This book has Shandra delving into her father’s death. She’d always been told it was a rodeo accident, but as her grandmother continues to come to her in dreams, she begins to feel it wasn’t an accident and searches for the truth.

A bonus about this book, the timing couldn’t have been better, because it happens in December and ends on Christmas Eve.

Murderous SecretsMurderous Secrets

Jealousy…Deception…Murder

The accident that took her father’s life has always haunted Shandra Higheagle. When her dreams become too real, she knows it’s time to discover the truth. It doesn’t take long to suspect her father had been murdered and that someone is unhappy with her probing.

Detective Ryan Greer knows Shandra well enough to insist he be kept informed of her investigation into the decades old death of her father. When signs implicate her mother, he can’t withhold the information, even though he realizes it could complicate their relationship.

Buy Links:

AmazonNook –  KoboWindtree Press

Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. On her road to publication she wrote freelance articles for two local newspapers and enjoyed her job with the County Extension service as a 4-H Program Assistant. Raising hay and cattle, riding horses, and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story.

You can learn more about Paty at

her blog; Writing into the Sunset

her website; http://www.patyjager.net

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/pages/Paty-Jager/132536633482029

Newsletter: Paty’s Prattle: http://eepurl.com/1CFgX

Paty’s Posse: https://www.facebook.com/groups/402519373168442/?ref=bookmarks

Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1005334.Paty_Jager

twitter @patyjag.

Who Said You Could Wear a Dress?

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By JL Simpson

I made it this month. Due to the hectic pace of life, family crisis and dumb stupidity I missed posting in September. I hope you didn’t miss me, actually you probably never even noticed. However, whilst I have forgotten to post on here I have been busy writing.

Even though people buy and read my books I do feel like a fraud some days. In my head a writer bangs away on a typewriter with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of their mouth, a glass of whiskey close at hand. Even worse, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, (clue ha ha, no pun intended).

Some writers plot. They have weird charts, spreadsheets, cards and all manner of paraphernalia. I just have a blank screen. I’ve tried to plot. I’ve tried to work out how many words the book is going to be, how many chapters, what the gist of each chapter is, whose point of view it’s in, what the hook is at the end. It’s a great idea, but it doesn’t work for me.

For me writing a book is a lot like childbirth. Yes, lots of screaming, sweating, swearing at my husband (just kidding). Every word is hard earned. No matter how much you practice your breathing, and think  you know what is coming, labor is like nothing you could imagine. Everything you thought you knew goes out the window. Writing is like that for me.  Even when I have a plan or a plot my characters just do what they choose. I start a chapter thinking one thing is going to happen and then Solomon or Daisy will do or say something that takes the story off on a tangent. Today I was thinking I knew all there was to know about my grumpy Irish PI hero and then another character mentions that he once went undercover as a woman. Now Daisy is plotting how to put this knowledge about the Irish git to good use.

Not only is writing unexpected but it’s also surprising. If you’re going to slug it out for hours and hours then it’s nice to have something exciting at the end. When I had my kids I never knew if I was having a boy or a girl, and when I’m writing a book I never know what is going to happen. The only thing I know for sure is that someone it going to die, Daisy and Solomon are going to give each other hell, Daisy is going to flirt outrageously and somehow someway she is going to solve the case. Who dies, who kills them and why are not things that concern me when I start the story. Thankfully every book so far has been delivered healthy, and once dressed in a pretty cover lots of people have taken a look and decided that they love my crazy creation almost as much as I do.

 

www.jlsimpson.com