To Prologue or Not to Prologue (#2) by Karen Shughart

I promise this isn’t a duplication of Paty Jager’s blog from last Monday. Paty and I frequently seem to be on the same page when choosing topics for our monthly blogs, and when I read her title, I was terrified that my extremely rough draft had somehow made it’s way into scheduling instead of her very well-written and polished one. Fortunately, my fears were allayed when I saw her name as the author. Whew! And while our titles are the same, we’ve written from our own points of view.

Each of the books in my Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mysteries has an historical backstory that’s related to the crime and provides clues to why the murder was committed. In book one, Murder in the Museum, the prologue introduced a character whose journal, written in 1845, was discovered at an archeological dig in Toronto, Canada. The prologue in book two, Murder in the Cemetery, ties the crime to a battle that occurred in Lighthouse Cove, NY during the War of 1812.

My creative juices really started flowing in book two, and I played around with writing two prologues: the first as described above; the other to introduce the setting, the month of May. You’ll have to read the book to learn why that’s important. My dilemma was which to keep and which to discard. I realized I was emotionally attached to both, so decided to get my publisher’s advice-few books are written with two prologues. Her quick response: “go for it,” and I did.

I’m heading down the home stretch with book three, Murder at Freedom Hill. Yet again, I’ve written two prologues: the first, the historical backstory – it takes place in 1859 in Lighthouse Cove during the abolition movement, when fleeing slaves boarded a schooner to transport them across Lake Ontario to Canada. The second is set in November, the month when the harvest is over, and the chill and frost of winter lurk just around the corner.  

What I love about writing this series is that I don’t have to follow all the rules. It doesn’t mean I am undisciplined; I certainly know how to craft a story from beginning to end, but I enjoy taking liberties with commonly accepted writing practices when it makes sense.

It’s up to us mystery writers to decide how our stories will be written. Some begin with the murder; others lead up to it, it can go either way. It’s the same for prologues. Sometimes a book needs no prologue, but at other times a prologue can set the scene and enhance the plot. And at times, two prologues are even better.

It Never Rains in Southern California by Karen Shughart

We just returned from a visit with our son and daughter-in-law, who live in southern California. There was a song in the 1970s entitled It Never Rains in Southern California, and although the lyrics did not particularly inspire joy, the title is apt, it truly hardly ever rains in southern California. As my son reminded me when I mentioned how nice it was to not have to deal with the inconsistent weather events like blizzards and blinding rainstorms like we do here in the northeast, he reminded me that California has plenty of their own climate issues: mudslides, fires, earthquakes, and damaging winds. Good point.

During our visit we sat under a pergola in their backyard and snacked on tangerines picked from a nearby tree. One night for dinner we ate freshly-caught Pacific salmon with lemon slices we plucked from another. Avocados, plentiful in that part of the world, hang heavy on branches drooping over fences A bottle brush tree with vivid red flowers and clusters of bright yellow daylilies attract a multitude of hummingbirds and Monarch butterflies. The air is redolent with sun-ripened foliage and the salty brine that drifts inland from the broad, blue Pacific Ocean.

Photo by Gary Barnes on Pexels.com

We arrived back in New York to a gray, cloudy day with a drizzle of fine rain and yet, when we pulled into our driveway, our daffodils and forsythia were beginning to bloom, the hyacinths were emerging from the earth, and nestled in among our own burgeoning daylilies were bright, purple violets, signs that spring is surely on the way. While the weather is fickle, each day here brings a surprise; now some days are warm and bright, on others, winter doesn’t want to lose its frosty grip.

I thought about how climate and weather affect writing. My Cozies are set in a small village along the south shore of Lake Ontario, much like the village where we live.  Four defined seasons provide the setting to the mysteries:  a dark, stormy, windblown night is a metaphor for what’s to come, as is the juxtaposition of bright summer days and a murder that’s occurred in a lush garden setting.

If we lived in California, I would still be writing Cozies, but they would different. Mine have a backstory based on the history of our state: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Underground Railroad, to name a few. If we lived in California, I’d choose Spanish Missions, the Mexican American War, or the Gold Rush.   The setting, too, would change. A California beach town and one on Lake Ontario have few characteristics in common, our beaches are rocky and not as wide, we don’t have sidewalks and parking lots along the water, and the distance across the lake to Canada is a mere 80 miles, compared to more than 6,000 to China. We do, surprisingly, have pelicans, but we’ve never seen a whale. Still, it’s fun to contemplate what I’d do differently if my mysteries were set in a part of our country where it never snows, hardly ever rains, and the sun shines almost every day.

My Desk is a Mess by Karen Shughart

This is the stage when I’m writing a mystery that if you visited my office, you’d gasp in horror. I’m usually very organized, but at this stage, my desk is a mess.

On the right are the first two books in my Edmund DeCleryk Cozy series, Murder in the Museum and Murder in the Cemetery. I use them as a reference for book three, Murder at Freedom Hill, because there are recurring characters: a newborn baby in the last book can’t be in elementary school two years later.

A thesaurus, usually on a shelf, claims space on my left. I’m forever scrambling to find synonyms for words I tend to overuse. It’s a weighty tome but a necessary tool, although the good news is that I recently had an aha! moment when I realized that with a couple of keystrokes and the click of the mouse, hello Google, goodbye Roget’s.  How easy is that?

That thesaurus, by the way, was published in 1962. My Webster’s dictionary in 1982. If you think that dates me, it does, think about how many words there are now that none of us who were alive 50 years ago could have imagined: truthiness; snowflake (not the one that falls from the sky); bestie; twerk. Not that I’d ever include those words in my books, none of my main characters is young enough to use them. Wait a minute, did I say 50 years? Has it really taken me that long to follow my bliss?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But I digress.  Piles of paper surround me: bills I’ve received from vendors who still, after all these years, won’t send them electronically but that I, a modern woman, have  paid online; recipes I printed from The New York Times when I could have simply opened my phone or computer when preparing them; print-outs of outdated passwords; a receipt for our dog’s latest checkup; a flyer from the local carwash announcing its wash and wax specials.

I don’t like wasting paper. “Waste not, want not” –phrase origin 1576 or 1772 — depending on your source, is my motto. I write notes to myself on the blank sides to advance the story line, a timeline I never follow, names of new characters to remember, thoughts and ideas that come to me at 3 a.m., questions I have about historical details that are always part of the backstory and the reason for the murder.

There’s a system here, a method to my madness, and it works for me. Once I make sure my historical facts are mostly correct, change the timeline yet again, check for inconsistencies, discard ideas I had at 3 a.m. — what was I thinking — I cross the items off the list, rip the paper into shreds, and toss it into the recycling bin. Then the cycle begins again. Until I reach the point when the manuscript is sent off to my publisher, my desk will remain a mess.

Guest Blogger ~ Julie Weston

The Nellie Burns and Moonshine Mystery series began one full moon night. My husband and I had visited Galena Lodge in south central Idaho, near where we live, for a full moon dinner. On our way back down from this mountain pass between the Boulder Mountains and the Sawtooth Mountains, we stopped at Last Chance Ranch. My husband is a photographer and he longed to take a photograph of this ranch in the moonlight and snow. No lights were lit, so we climbed through the fence, he carrying his large format camera, tripod, and other camera gear. As he set up the camera to take the photograph, I watched the house and decided there could be a dead body in there. And lo, my Moon series of books began.

My protagonist is a young woman photographer who comes west from Chicago in the early 1920s. She yearns to be an artistic landscape photographer. Photographing Moonshadows (the name of the first book in the series) is high on her list. In addition to my husband, I have a line of photographers in my family on my maternal side, who came first to Idaho in the 1870s on their way to Oregon via wagon train. They stopped in Boise and never left Idaho. My grandmother and mother were born there, and I grew up in North Idaho in a mining town. The photographers in my family were named Burns. In early North Idaho, a woman photographer arrived from Chicago. Her name was Nellie Stockbridge. And lo, I had my first character: Nellie Burns.

Author in a mine near where she grew up.

Other characters turned up almost immediately: Rosy Kipling, a retired miner from Hailey (our hometown now); Charlie Asteguigoiri, the Basque sheriff for the county; Goldie Bock, the owner of a rooming house in Ketchum; a Chinese mother and son; a sheep rancher, and other persons of interest. Nellie and her photographs help solve the mystery of the dead man at the ranch, along with Moonshine, a black Labrador dog, that Nellie adopts. He becomes her constant companion. And lo, I have a sidekick.

The second and third books in the series live in Idaho—in the Stanley Basin (Basque Moon) and in Craters of the Moon (Moonscape). Each time the landscapes become characters as well, partly because of my heritage and partly because I live here after having practiced law in Seattle for many years. My books have each won honors, including Basque Moon, which was a WILLA winner in historical fiction.

My latest book, MINERS’ MOON, coming out in December, 2021, grew out of my mining town of Kellogg. I descended the mines a while ago, and all I did and learned then became the basis for this newest book. Rosy, Charlie, and Nell get tangled up in two investigations: a mine explosion where several miners are killed, and bootlegging the federal revenuers seek to stop.

Idaho has so many wonderful and strange places and history, I see no end to my Nellie Burns and Moonshine series.

Miner’s Moon

Crime photographer Nellie Burns and Basque Sheriff Charlie Asteguigoiri travel from central to northern Idaho to investigate bootlegging and possible complicit town officials. A suspicious mine explosion pulls them into a second investigation. Retired miner Rosy Kipling joins them, bringing Nell’s black Lab Moonshine.

While Charlie roams the backcountry in search of illegal stills, Nell questions survivors of the explosion and a madam. Rosy descends the principal mine to listen and pry. The two investigations lead all three to discover secrets and lies—from “soda drink” parlors, local brothels, worker hints deep in the mine shafts—that have deadly consequences. Predictably, Nellie gets in over her head. A rock burst seals off Charlie and Rosy in a mine collapse. Moonshine plays an instrumental role, and Nellie tries to rise to the occasion in spite of her debilitating fear. All four long to return to their high desert home, but cannot until they lay bare the crimes before their luck runs out.

Buy Links:

Indiebound:  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781432888046

Amazon:   https://www.amazon.com/Miners-Nellie-Burns-Moonshine-Mystery/dp/1432888048/ 

Five Star Publishing:  gale.orders@cengage.com

Julie Weston’s publications include mysteries set in Idaho in the 1920s, a memoir of place about Kellogg, Idaho, where she grew up; and a coffee table book with her photographer husband, Gerry Morrison. Essays and Stories have appeared in a variety of journals, including The Threepenny Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, IDAHO magazine and others.

Awards for Weston include the WILLA Award for Historical Fiction, Story Circle Finalist award for Moonshadows, Foreword Bronze Award for Mystery and Honorable Mention for her memoir in the 2009 Idaho Book of the Year Award, among others.

Social Media:

Facebook: Julie Weston and JulieWestonAuthor

Instagram: westmorjw

Email: westmorjw@aol.com, juliewweston@gmail.com

www.julieweston.com

www.bigwoodbooks.com

Back to the Concerts by Karen Shughart

We moved from a mid-sized metropolitan area to a small village on the south shore of Lake Ontario in the Finger Lakes region of New York almost seven years ago. We love being part of a community where everyone truly does know your name, and the beauty surrounding us is inspirational. I wouldn’t be writing the Edmund DeCleryk mystery series anywhere else.

There’s lots going on here, especially during summer months, but attending monthly cultural events was an integral part of our lives where we used to live, so we decided to explore what was available in nearby Rochester and other nearby communities.  The highway system is good, and within a short drive there are a multitude of choices:  Broadway offerings performed by excellent touring companies; ballet; opera; community theatre; choral performances, and concerts of every sort. 

We discovered a wonderful performing arts venue, The Smith Opera House, in nearby Geneva, and that each year they offer a subscription to a cultural series that includes performances by both the Rochester and Syracuse symphony orchestras, world renowned dance troupes and award-winning vocal groups. This series became the opportunity for a monthly date night, preceded by dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, located a few doors away from the performing arts hall. It was something we looked forward to, especially during winter months.

Photo by Gabriel Santos Fotografia on Pexels.com

Then the pandemic hit, and our date nights in Geneva fizzled. The series was cancelled, and we found ourselves scheduling nights at home: pizza, perhaps; or takeout from a nearby restaurant; followed by streaming cultural events on TV. It was nice watching events from the safety and comfort of our home, and we agreed we enjoyed those evenings, but it wasn’t the same.

The Smith has opened its doors again, but for safety reasons there will be no subscription series this year. Each performance will be available as a separate entity, there will be no paper tickets (just an email confirmation) and patrons must order online or purchase their tickets at the door the evening of the event. Masks plus proof of vaccination will be required, plus there will be social distancing inside the venue.

We’re fine with that.  I just ordered two tickets for the first symphony performance to be held later this month. The restaurant we like has re-opened but with strict guidelines; we’re fine with that, too. We’re happy to be able to get out for an evening.

While we are looking forward to resuming some semblance of normalcy in our lives, I must admit to feeling a bit anxious about attending these performances in person as more cases of Covid and its variants seem to be gaining a chokehold on our country again.   We also realize that things could change between now and then. It’s okay, we’re willing to deal with it. Life is in flux, it usually is, but we’re hoping for the best.