God Winks: It’s The Little Things

Being a bombastic big mouth from old school NYC, it’s hard to get me to willingly shut up. When I do, you best believe it’s intentional, purposeful, and to hold my attention. 9/11. A sun dog. A newborn with her fantastic Heaven-scent aroma on her onesie and in my nose. A great sleep.

And . . . God winks.

Although I’d drafted this on the 27th anniversary of turning 27–that’s called “Awesome 54some!” for those of you in #RioLinda **smirk/sarc**–it’s been dreadful to find fresh words for my Casebooks, my Threesome of Magic mysteries, even this platform. We were in the biggest game of cooties I’ve seen in life via COVID. A shutdown wrecking economic havoc. The pokiness of re-opening states so people can resume their lives–or move on in them to settle loved ones’ affairs. These stupid city burnings after an unfortunate series of events in Minnesota. And still having to wear a mask, it becoming a symbol of murdering logic, common sense, and reason in favor of groupthink, fear, and forced compliance.

But I digress.

I prayed, mainly because I couldn’t take the overwhelm anymore. It was the one thing I had some control over, some input for, some say in. When I wasn’t praying, I was sleeping. A lot. No, I’ve no plans to harm myself or others–don’t tempt me on the “others” part, please! :)–but I found it a solace He was listening.

That’s when the little reminders popped up like mushrooms do overnight. Specifics only I’d know. Hoo-boy, did I know them.

Ever heard of Squire Rushnell? Oh, yes you have. If you’re familiar with Schoolhouse Rock and other Saturday morning children’s programming on ABC back in the day, that’s the name behind this part of pop culture. He put that network on the map for inspiring 3 to 7 minute animated segments in history, science, math, government (“I’m Just a Bill”), and grammar in between cartoons, much like CBS did In The News with Christopher Glenn in between theirs (and I switched channels often to not miss either one!). Anyhoo . . . Rushnell kept adding up little coincidences in his life leading to the big ones like Schoolhouse, and how that lead him to be ABC’s Children’s Programming Prez. And hey–if he helped kids do better in school with these subjects of the songs and visuals they provided, #360Win.

Mushroom #1: My husband Pete picks up flowers in bright purple and vivid yellow. I gasped, cried, then asked if he remembered if I told him of my villain’s signature colors in my TOM mysteries. He said no–he just felt he had to get them when he saw them as a sweet birthday gesture.

Mushroom #2: Somebody shares a meme on social of an entryway from the movie adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Almost immediately, a scene drops in mind for my TOM mysteries I can plenty use to move the plot(s) forward. Yes . . . I gasped in sweet surprise again.

Mushroom #3: A Times fan since my mother, God rest her, gave me a back-to-school Snoopy watch for third grade when I was seven (I skipped second, being so bright), fostering my love for analog timepieces since. Along with the flowers, my husband gifts me a watch called Vincero (pronounced vinchairro), and the brand translates in English from Italian, “I will win.” Vincero’s pretty damn close to missing-his-ear van Gogh. Vincent Price. And my Casebooks Jay Vincent. Oh, sure–Casper’s and Logan’s names’d pop up plenty of times outside of their Casebook lives in my life, but Pedregon’s seldom did . . . before that watch company came in over my transom.

Mushroom #4: A numerology newsletter I’m subscribed to, the author suggested in part of her communique for this month that, for those who draw, to keep drawing. Those who create and craft, keep creating and crafting.

And for those who write?
You guessed it: keep writing.

Squire Rushnell created God Winks when he thought coincidence did a disservice to those unexplainable-timing-in-a-good-way little things that make you take notice. It’s not a religious aspect you must believe to see the treatise behind the belief, although Rushnell is a Christian. It’s more like Chicken Soup for the Soul’s cousin or bolder little sister. I haven’t read the book, but I plan to. It’s an occasional nod you’re headed in the right direction when you’re not sure you are, to keep staying on track–or need a boost when you don’t want to stay the course, as was my circumstance, but poignantly special after a monstrously trying week in a disgustingly taxing first half of 2020.

But in the middle of our national storm, another birthday’s come and gone. That, all things considered, is the best God wink there is.

Apologies for the heavy use of adverbs in this update. “Lolly’s Adverb Store” takes full blame for that!

Acknowledging Technical Support by Karen Shughart

police motorcycle in middle of road
Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

I write mysteries. They’re Cozies, which means they don’t include graphic violence, explicit intimate scenes or coarse language.  But they do have a sleuth who investigates the murders, and although the books are fiction and there’s a lot of sway in writing them, I want them to be at least somewhat technically correct.

There’s wiggle room, of course there is. No one is holding my feet to the fire if I miss a detail that a real detective wouldn’t. But my aim is to make the books as realistic as possible, so that’s why I decided to get technical support.

Technical support offers credibility to any work, and it’s important to me, as an author, to feel comfortable that what I’m writing has at least a semblance of investigative reality. Plus, it’s a fun way to meet competent experts in a wide variety of fields, in my case criminal justice.

Before completing Murder in the Museum, the first of the Edmund DeCleryk Mysteries, I attended an eight-week class sponsored by our county sheriff’s office. I learned all the ins-and-outs of our county’s criminal justice system, everything from investigative procedures to arrests and bookings to how a K-9 unit works. There are also a number of other services provided to the community by our sheriff’s office that have nothing to do with solving crimes; services to the elderly and children, for example, and learning about those gave me an appreciation for all the fine work our sheriffs do.  When I had additional questions, I was delighted when the sheriff and two of his undersheriffs offered to meet with me to answer those questions.

A retired commander from a sheriff’s department in another county, two retired police officers-one a professor of criminal justice at a local community college-helped me not only understand how our legal system works but also the steps in conducting a solid investigation. It was high praise, once the book was published, to get an email from one of my contacts who said the investigation in the book was “spot on”.

Now I’m working on the second book in the series, Murder in the Cemetery. I’ve kept notes and all the information from those wonderful and talented folks who helped me with the first book, but in this one I needed additional support. Our district attorney who is a former physician’s assistant, provided valuable insights and information. A possible connection to the murder with the CIA resulted in a lengthy and productive conversation with that agency’s public affairs director. A retired beat cop and friend gave stellar examples of how law enforcement agents can be compassionate.

blur close up focus gavel

Writing a book takes a lot of work. Keeping track of details, making sure the plot flows and keeping characters straight are part of the process, but  including realistic investigative procedures results in not only a better book but also one that passes the test for accuracy.

 

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.

Understanding Your Characters

Part of what makes a great story is great characters. Any reader can tell you that. Writers talk about developing characters, fleshing them out, giving them back story, making them flawed and relatable. These are all vital steps in creating great a character.

But once the character is created, I find I have yet one more hurdle that I have to jump: I have to understand my characters.

A young couple in Galway contemplate the evening

But you created them, you might say with surprise. You wrote their background, you devised their likes and dislikes, fears and dreams. What’s left to understand?

Lots.

Characters run the show. They get away from you, the writer, taking their own story in directions you hadn’t anticipated. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous. Yet it happens to all writers.

In my current work in progress, I realized after finishing the second draft that I had the wrong killer. A different character was standing in the wings looking guiltily around, trying not to make eye contact with me. Ah-hah, I thought. That’s the real killer!

Trying to pull a fast one on me, I might add.

In several of my books I have another problem of understanding with some of my characters: I write characters who are not native English speakers.

My mother and grandmother in Warsaw

As we all know, language affects not just the way we talk but even the way we think. Writing a foreign character (foreign to me, that is) means not only understanding their native tongue enough to be able to replicate their thoughts, but also understanding the way they frame their thoughts in the first place.

A Pole, an American and an Irishman walk into a bar…. They’re all thinking a little differently and it’s my job to understand those differences.

A woman examines a grave in Warsaw. What might she be thinking?

I’m not complaining. I love that job! I spend time improving my language skills. (By the way, for anyone interested in learning French, I recommend the lessons by Paul Noble. They’re very good!). Extra bonus, it helps when I travel the world and meet new people. So it’s a good problem to have. And one that I hope I have succeeded in overcoming.

But you tell me. If you’ve read any of my books, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my foreign characters and how well I’ve captured their differences.

Learn more about Jane Gorman and the Adam Kaminski mystery series at janegorman.com.

Flying High

by Janis Patterson

The Husband is an avid rocketeer and even has a Level 1 High Power rating. That’s heavy, folks, and means he can send up huge rockets. So why am I talking about rockets on a mystery writing blog?

I could say it’s a mystery to me why anyone likes sending up rockets, but that would be a cheap shot. I just know he’s not alone. There are thousands of hobbyists across the country and at least two national organizations. (I don’t pay that much attention to that part of it.) Our local chapter has at least two dozen members, and I remember being surprised that several of them were women. Of course, I am a member, but that’s only because of a family membership. Plus the fact I like some of our local members very much, and our group’s going out for dinner after a meeting is always a delight.

The rockets not so much. First of all you have no idea of how many parts go into a rocket, and considering how spread out they are during construction apparently not one can touch another while the rocket is being built. Second, every rocketeer needs multiples of different sizes of rocket bodies, which to me look just like cardboard tubes. Frankly, our sunroom (rocket central in our house) looks as if a pipe organ had exploded in there.

Thirdly, building a rocket takes an unimaginable amount of time, energy and money. Especially money. A dedicated rocketeer can spend up to a year building a rocket – deciding the size, creating the fins and attaching them, putting in the motor mount, calculating motor size, choosing a parachute, deciding whether or not to have a GPS and/or a camera, choosing the paint colors and design, then doing a base coat while the thing is still in pieces… then once the rocket is finally completed spending endless hours putting on the final finish. Sanding, painting, buffing, sanding again, painting again, buffing again… all for the dubious joy of sending the thing aloft with a whisssth, as likely as not never to be seen again! AAAAUGH!

Once in an attempt to understand I talked to The Husband about this. He didn’t see anything that wasn’t immediately obvious. “What’s to understand?” he asked. “It’s fun.”

Fun. Humph. I would really just as soon watch paint dry. Which, if I think about it, is not a very fair statement. The Husband seldom (like once every couple of years) reads fiction, yet he accompanies me to my local MWA meeting, whether or not the subject is one that interests him. Of course, directly after that I go with him to his rocketry meeting, where I know I won’t find anything that interests me beyond the cameraderie of dinner afterward.

However… I was born with an overdeveloped fairness gene, and must look at the other side. He finds fiction boring, much prefering history. He has always been absolutely astonished that I can spend an entire day at the computer wrestling with a storyline, weighing one word against another over and over again, sometimes barely conscious of what is going on around me (do NOT ask about the burned roast!) until I am so knackered I can barely stand and still enjoy it thoroughly… most of the time.

“It’s fun,” I tell him. The look he gives  me is probably equal to the one I give him. If I have learned anything it’s that we must be tolerant and supportive of our spouse’s passions, no matter how incomprehensible they might be to us!