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printed from The New York Times when I could have simply opened my phone or computer when preparing them; print-outs of outdated passwords; a receipt for our dog’s latest checkup; a flyer from the local carwash announcing its wash and wax specials.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.

What Do Animals and Children Reveal? by Paty Jager

It’s funny how having a reader comment about how having a child’s interaction with my main character shows a different side to him–a side she liked–reminded me why I put animals, and in the case of the Gabriel Hawke series children, in my books.

When I started brewing up my character Shandra Higheagle, I knew she would have a big dog, because she was going to live alone on a mountain. But then I turned that big dog into a coward, and there went her protection. Along came a curmudgeon of a woman, Crazy Lil, who came with the ranch Shandra bought. And with Lil came Lewis, the cat, who hangs around her neck like a fur necklace.

The reason for the dog for Shandra was protection, but Lewis for Lil was to show she had a soft caring side that she doesn’t show. Or want anyone to know about. As is with most women, they both have a soft spot for horses. The way Lil cares for the cat, the horses, and Shandra, shows more of her character than one would guess from her interactions with other characters.

Gabriel Hawke, the main character in my new series, is a by the book Fish and Wildlife State Trooper. His marriage failed because of his job, so he doesn’t have plans to marry again. He is a bit standoffish to people he’s never met because of his Native American heritage and the put downs he’s suffered over the years. He likes to remain aloof until he sees which way the other person will treat him.

In walks his dog, Dog. Yes, he named his dog, Dog because he doesn’t want to get too attached, but guess what? The dog is by his side whenever Hawke isn’t in uniform. He shares food with the animal and allows it to sleep next to him in his sleeping bag when on patrol in the mountains. Then there’s Jack, his horse, and Horse, his mule. Hawke believes if you name an animal what it should be, just as it has it’s animal name, it will behave as such. Hence, a mule is called Horse to keep it from having the nasty mule tendencies. Guess what? It doesn’t always work. 😉

As Hawke works to keep his relationships with two women whose company he enjoys platonic, along comes a child who steals his heart with her interest in plants and all things that deal with his beloved Eagle Cap Wilderness. His heart softening and letting the child in has also lowered his resistance to the two women. All this interaction with animals and the child is bringing him out of his grumpy, stoic trance and having him see the world in a whole new way.

When a main character’s true self can be shown through animals or children, you can bet the reader is going to become more engaged with that character and care just a little bit more about them and what happens to them.

Rattlesnake Brother, book 3 in the Gabriel Hawke series is now available in ebook and print.

Corrupt officials.

Illegal hunters.

Death to those who dare complain.

Fish and Wildlife State Trooper Gabriel Hawke encounters a hunter with an illegal tag. The name on the tag belongs to the Wallowa County District Attorney and the man holding the tag isn’t the public defender. 

As Hawke digs to find out if the DA is corrupt, the hunter’s body is found. Zeroing in on the DA, Hawke finds he has more suspects than the DA and more deaths than the hunter.

Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/3JyooJ

Too Many Ideas Not Enough Time by Paty Jager

Lit Light BulbIf only I could write twice as fast! Ideas come at me like raindrops in a storm.  Some ideas seem like a great idea at the time and as I get closer to writing the story, decide it won’t work.

And then there are the ones that come when you least expect it and hold up the more you think about them and start researching.

In December, my husband and I spent a weekend at a nice casino in Reno. I’d won the weekend from the Silent Auction at the Left Coast Crime conference in Reno last February.  Part of the package I purchased was a spa package. I was excited to get a massage.

And the spa…on my! I’d never been anywhere that pampered and had such wonderful amenities.  I sat in a dimly lit room, watching big colorful fish in an aquarium, drinking lemon water, and waiting my time for a massage. Depositphotos_213681916_l-2015

The masseuse arrived and escorted me to the room. It was dimly lit, soft music playing. She showed me everything and headed to the door. “Take off your robe and get under the sheet, I’ll be right back.”

I did as instructed and as I laid there, face down, my arms dangling over each side of the table, my mind went to- “What if I were a dead body?” And of course my head began spinning with how to work it into one of my Shandra Higheagle books.

By the time my massage was over, I had the plot all figured out in my head. What I needed now was research.  While waiting for my hubby to come out of the men’s side of the spa, I started quizzing the people at the counter. I filled up the back side of two price sheets with answers to my questions about how a spa of that magnitude ran.

Then two weeks ago, I spent a week at the Oregon Coast writing. It was wonderful! What I especially like when I write at the beach are my walks on the beach.

On one walk, when the wind was blowing and cold enough I had my sweatshirt hood tied tight, I shared the beach with an older gentleman and a little boy of about six. I assumed the older gentleman was the grandfather. The the boy had on only a t-shirt and shorts. He had something in his hand. He came up to me and said, “Look! I found a mermaid scale!” It appeared to be a colorful piece of mollusk shell. But I agreed with him.

20190206_182452I went on my walk and noticed a boat bobbing in the ocean just the other side of the breaks. Thinking it would make a nice photo, I took several, then turned and headed back the way, I’d come.

The grandfather was near the water. The little boy was splashing in the waning waves sweeping up on the sand.  I passed them and glanced out at the waves. The boat was moving along the other side of the breaks in the same direction I was.

I thought I saw the head of a sea lion. I stared and took photos, trying to capture the creature. Walking briskly because the wind was getting colder, I headed to the hotel stairs two blocks from the house where I was staying. I looked back at the beach.

The man was there but I didn’t see the boy. And the boat was heading the other direction. Perhaps what I saw wasn’t a sea lion but a man in scuba gear?

As I walked to the house, I put together the kidnapping of a boy and the woman who captured it on her camera without knowing. It will be a story in a Gabriel Hawke book.

I love when ideas hit and I can see they will be a fun book to write.

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