November: A Prologue by Karen Shughart

After my first Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mystery, Murder in the Museum, was published, I decided to play around with the concept of having two prologues for subsequent books and contacted my publisher to see what she thought. She basically told me to ” go for it”, and in book two, Murder in the Cemetery, that’s what I did: the first to set the historical back story that alerts readers to why the murder may have been committed, and the second to describe the seasonal tone for the crime.

In book two I described the month of May in Lighthouse Cove, with its profusion of flowers and abundance of sun, a fitting backdrop to the crime that’s about to occur. In Murder at Freedom Hill, the third book in the series (now on sale in paperback and Kindle versions at Amazon and other book outlets) the second prologue is entitled “November”. I thought it was appropriate for this month’s blog, so here goes:

  For residents of Lighthouse Cove, NY, November was always a month of mixed emotions.  

There was a yearning for the blazing colors of October, the cool, crisp nights, starlit skies, bright days. For a low-hanging sun that could still warm the bones and ease the joints.  For the farm stands, now shuttered until spring, that had offered up a bounty of ripe produce, local honey, homemade baked goods and jams, fresh herbs.  For the hayrides and bonfires and deer spotting among the apple orchards. For the unbridled joy of chattering, costumed children extending small hands for treats as their parents kept a watchful eye; glowing lights illuminating their way.

There was also the peace that comes with tourists gone for another year and the ease of getting about.  The sound of waves, ambling onto the beach like lazy sloths. The geese and swans gliding effortlessly around the bay, no longer competing for space with boats and bathers, and the eagles soaring silently above on currents of wind. The rumbling and grumbling of street noises now muffled by a thick carpet of brown, fallen leaves.

 There was excitement and anticipation, too, in November.  For a day, later in the month, when families would gather to give thanks and then soon after, start to prepare for the hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday season. For the hunters who had been looking forward all year to donning their camo, retrieving their guns, and stalking their prey in fields and woods, hoping to bestow upon their loved ones a largess befitting of their labors.

For some, November was also the month of grieving. A month of decay that precedes death.  Where what was past was past and would be no more, and what lay ahead was the chill and dark of winter.

Guest Blogger~Christine DeSmet

From the Land of 11 Lighthouses

The question always comes up when I do a book talk:  What part of your background is in your character of Ava Oosterling?

I was raised on a 160-acre dairy farm in southern Wisconsin near Barneveld. I feel nostalgic when driving by fragrant, new-mown alfalfa fields. I remember bringing up cows from our far-flung pastures while I was going barefoot in the soft, dusty cow paths that had seen thousands of hooves over the years.  

Being a farm girl is also the background for Ava Oosterling—star of my Fudge Shop Mystery Series, including the new holiday novel, Holly Jolly Fudge Folly.

My character of Ava Oosterling is far more adventurous than I am. She’s been nearly burned alive and drowned by bad guys. But I’m not exactly a wallflower. I have climbed ancient oak trees and ridden cows—and never fallen

I started my writing career years ago as an adult. I entered a national manuscript contest sponsored by Romance Writers of America. I won the “Golden Heart”! But I didn’t get published because I didn’t know enough yet to revise properly. In the years to come, I eventually became what I am today—a writing coach and instructor, author of several published novels, and an optioned screenwriter.

These days I write using “plot points” and “scene design” and “hooks” and other technical writerly tools. When I plan a novel or short story, I start with the Central Question. It must start with the word “Will” and stick to one topic. “Will Ava accomplish/solve WHAT by the end?” Of course she’ll solve the mystery, but I try to build in an adjacent concern that must be solved.

My first published novel, Spirit Lake, a romantic suspense, came out around the year 2000 when electronic books were small disks you read on a computer. I was a pioneer, part of the publishing revolution. Back then, such authors were discriminated against for not publishing “real” books. Hard to believe now!

 As years went by, I wrote “cozy” romantic mystery novellas—short novels—in my Mischief in Moonstone series, set near Superior, Wisconsin.

Those are now re-issued for Kindle and paperback by Writers Exchange E-Publishing, a new Australian publisher. The books include the Halloween novella, When the Dead People Brought a Dish-to-Pass, and the Christmas novella, When Rudolph Was Kidnapped. I’ve written a screenplay based on the latter.

My Fudge Shop Mystery series came about when a literary agent was looking for somebody to write about chocolate in Door County, Wisconsin—known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. The peninsular county jutting into Lake Michigan has the most lighthouses of any county in the United States—11. A lighthouse indeed entered into a murder plot in one of my books. I’ve now written six novels in that cozy series, including this season’s Holly Jolly Fudge Folly.

A “cozy mystery” always focuses on a small community. Violence, sex, and politics are kept off the page. Cozies focus on humor, adventure, respect, family and friends, and often pets and good food. My key characters include a trouble-making but lovable grandpa who has to have his coffee strong and laced with Belgian chocolate, and an American Water Spaniel named Lucky Harbor who loves cheese crackers. That breed of dog was developed in Wisconsin.

 My protagonist, Ava Oosterling, is Belgian—like me. She was also raised on a farm, hers in Door County—part of a region with the biggest rural population of Belgian immigrants in the United States.

My books contain recipes for Belgian items such as Belgian booyah—a harvest soup made outdoors in big barrels over wood fires in autumn. My recipe is in Hot Fudge Frame-Up.

In Holly Jolly Fudge Folly the quest is on for a new recipe to please Santa and his elves. In the story, Ava Oosterlings’ best friend is getting married, but not before Ava’s grandpa gets accused of murder. That jeopardizes his prized role as Santa in the holiday parade and his ability to walk Ava’s friend down the aisle. The new novel contains my recipe for Holly Jolly Fudge.

Thank you for letting me introduce myself and my writing life. I love hearing from readers and fellow writers through my website, or Facebook, or through the Blackbird Writers group where I also blog. Best wishes for your holiday season!

Christine DeSmet’s books are available in paperback and ebook formats through her publisher (Writers Exchange E-Publishing), through Amazon, or through Christine’s website at this link: https://christinedesmet.com/books/how-to-buy/

Because Christine doesn’t have the cover or buy link yet for Holly Jolly Fudge Folly, here is another Holiday mystery from Christine: From her Mischief in Moonstone Series:

When Rudolph was Kidnapped

A cozy holiday mystery with a stocking full of tender romance! When her pet reindeer, Rudolph, is stolen from the live animal holiday display, first-grade teacher Crystal Hagan has a big problem:  Her students fear Christmas will be canceled. The prime suspect is a man who lives in the mansion known as the “North Pole.” And to her shock, Peter LeBarron admits to kidnapping Rudolph and won’t give him back without some romantic negotiations. Book 1 of the Mischief in Moonstone Mystery Series

Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/Mischief-Moonstone-Novella-Rudolph-Kidnapped/dp/B08WJP893S

Christine DeSmet writes the Fudge Shop Mystery Series including the Fall 2022 release called Holly Jolly Fudge Folly. She’s also authored the Mischief in Moonstone Series (novellas). She is an award-winning, optioned screenwriter. Her new book projects include children’s picture books. Christine is a long-time writing coach and developmental editor—skills honed while creating and leading programs as a Distinguished Faculty Associate at University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies. Her memberships: Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrations. Christine was raised on a dairy-and-hog farm in southwestern Wisconsin. She loves any art that includes cows. https://christinedesmet.com/  and Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/christine.desmet.357

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.

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.