Sometimes You Have to Jump
I wouldn’t consider myself a bold person. I slow down at yellow lights. Occasionally at green ones. I look both ways, twice. So I startled myself when I decided the protagonist of my first mystery would be a Sunday School teacher.
This was not at all the safe choice.
Sunday School teachers are not generally considered exciting. In movies they are the ones with buttoned-up shirts. They’re no fun. They quote scripture and sing hymns. At best, they’re considered prudish, at worst fanatics. Why would you want to spend 300 pages with one?
I thought about that a lot. I also worried there would be people who would simply not want to go near a book with a Sunday School teacher as a protagonist. Would I be considered one of those raving people who launch themselves at you at street corners? (I like to sit and write in Bryant Park in Manhattan and quite often people come up and try to convert me to one thing or another.)
However, beyond the fact of being fairly stubborn and wanting to write about what I wanted to write, there were several compelling reasons why I thought a Sunday School teacher would make an interesting detective.
Sunday School teachers, and people of faith in general, see the world as organized by a set of rules. There is a reason why things happen. So when things go wrong, when people are murdered, when your neighbor shows up dead on your front lawn, it’s all the more disturbing. Not only does it upset the protagonist, it upsets the natural order of things. In this case, Maggie Dove is forced to confront what she believes. It raises the stakes.
So that was one reason.
The other reason was that it would bring Maggie Dove into contact with people of all different ages. Maggie Dove is 62 years old (that was my other bold choice.) But as a Sunday School teacher she comes into contact with young people, such as her favorite student, 6-year-old Edgar Blake, and older people, such as his 39-year-old mother. And then, of course, Maggie’s not confined to the world of the church. She’s active in her village and comes into contact with a variety of people. I like stories about communities.
Then there’s the fact that I have spent about 300 years teaching Sunday School. I know the ins and outs. I know that if you decide to cook pretzels with your students, for example, you may set off the alarm in the kitchen. which will require the entire church to evacuate during the minister’s sermon. I felt I could flesh the novel out with that sort of detail. It’s a world that I know, and a world that I love.
So, am I happy with my choice?
Absolutely! And for my next novel, my protagonist is going to be a vampire. (Not.)
When Sunday School teacher Maggie Dove finds her hateful next-door neighbor Marcus Bender lying dead under her beloved oak tree—the one he demanded she cut down—she figures the man dropped dead of a mean heart. But Marcus was murdered, and the prime suspect is a young man Maggie loves like a son. Peter Nelson was the worst of Maggie’s Sunday School students; he was also her late daughter’s fiancé, and he’s been a devoted friend to Maggie in the years since her daughter’s death.
Maggie can’t lose Peter, too. So she sets out to find the real murderer. To do that, she must move past the grief that has immobilized her all these years. She must probe the hidden corners of her little village on the Hudson River. And, when another death strikes even closer to home, Maggie must find the courage to defend the people and the town she loves—even if it kills her.
Thank you so much to the Ladies of Mystery for allowing me to guest today!
I’m Leslie Langtry – A USA Today Bestselling Author of the Greatest Hits Series, The Merry Wrath Mysteries and a new book and series with UKULELE MURDER launching on July 6!
This new series is a thrill for me. I’m an amateur ukulele musician. I’d never played an instrument before. So one day, the local music store had a sign up for a ukulele class. I bought my first uke and signed up. This is me then, with my pineapple ukulele.
I’d like to say it wasn’t long before I was blasting out complicated fingerstyle songs – but that would be a lie. It took me longer than most people to figure out how to make the chords while strumming because I seem to be coordinationally challenged (in fact, I can barely talk and walk without falling over – something that is quite embarrassing at the gym).
But I kept at it. I bought books on everything from the history of the instrument to song collections. I practiced and practiced and was eventually a little better. Over time I expanded my repertoire to include a few Beatles songs, one or two by Jim Croce and a few kitschy tunes (but NOT Tiptoe Thru The Tulips…never Tiptoe Thru The Tulips – I have to have some standards after all).
And then one day, my cousin presented me with a ukulele she said my Grandpa Smiley played. Fate had smacked me upside the head and told me to go forth and uke on. My husband didn’t care for this advice, as it sent me on a ukulele bender where I bought 3 more ukes. But Fate said it was okay, so he really doesn’t have an argument there.
I am, in no way, an expert or a virtuoso – but I do have the ukulele madness. I’m obsessed.
So, when my publisher announced they were starting a continuity series set in Hawaii, I jumped at the chance. Now I could be a virtuoso – well, at least in fiction. And Nani Johnson, ukulele artist extraordinaire was born.
I still practice every week. And my goal – once both kids are in college – is to join the local ukulele club.
But for now, I just have to be content with pretending to be a ukulele performer on paper.
And I’m totally okay with that.
If you’d like a chance to win a copy of UKULELE MURDER and this cute totebag:
Leave a comment below! And thanks again to Ladies of Mystery for hosting me!
Ukulele Murder ( A Nani Johnson Mystery)
Aloha Lagoon Mysteries book #1
Nani Johnson thought she had it made when she moved from Kansas to the resort town of Aloha Lagoon, Kauai. In spite of her certifiably crazy mom, Nani is determined that nothing will stop her from becoming a ukulele virtuoso! Unfortunately her Julliard training doesn’t help her break into the local music scene due to some heavy competition from the Terrible Trio—three hostile, local musicians. The only work she finds is a few bar mitzvahs and gigs at the kitschy Blue Hawaii Wedding Chapel.
But when one of Nani’s competitors drops dead right after a public feud, Nani becomes the police’s main suspect. A missing murder weapon, mysterious threats, and a heck of a frame-up job all have Nani worrying she’ll be trading in her flowery muumuus for prison orange. Enter hunky local botanist Nick Woodfield, who just might be able to help her clear her name…that is if he doesn’t have secrets of his own. With the bodies stacking up, the danger closing in, and the authorities circling, Nani must track down a killer…before she ends up the latest victim of the Ukulele Murderer!
Coming July 6!
Amazon: available July 6
Print: available July 6
Leslie Langtry is the USA TODAY Bestselling author of the Merry Wrath Mysteries, the Greatest Hits Series, and Sex, Lies & Family vacations.
She is not, nor ever has been a former CIA agent or an assassin (a question that surprisingly comes up more than you’d think). She has been a Girl Scout Volunteer for 15 years and was a troop leader for 10 years – which gave her a wealth of material that she uses in her books.
Leslie lives in the Midwest with her family and assorted animals and has an unnatural obsession with cake. You can find out more about her and her books at http://www.leslielangtry.com.
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:
I’ve started researching and writing the sixth book in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series, Reservation Revenge. I visited the Colville Reservation where Shandra’s family lives and wrote about the visit and the woman who lives on the reservation and helps me with my research here.
During that trip I knew I would set a murder at the reservation and one of Shandra’s relatives would be involved. This is that book. While I’ve had a tour of the reservation and while on that tour acquired a wonderful topographical map of the reservation, I still have questions about the lake where the murder takes place and the area where Shandra’s cousin is hiding. For these answers I’ve once again gone to my friend and fellow author who lives on the reservation.
The best part about having an author help with digging up the research is they understand the need for some of the tiniest mundane things. Like what are the plants in this area, how many police officers are on the reservation, who would be working the crime scene?
These are all questions I have to have answered before I can start writing the book. While I’m not a plotter, I need to know information about the place and who would be people my character would come across while trying to prove her cousin’s innocence.
And because this series is written from the amateur sleuth, Shandra, and the County Detective , Ryan’s, points of view, I have to have the murder scene figured out. Who was there, who wasn’t? Who was killed? What was the cause? My main sleuths aren’t on the scene in this book. The murder happens four hours from Shandra, and she has to rely on talking to people and her grandmothers cryptic dreams.
So where did I begin this book? With a dream. A short to the point dream that unsettles Shandra and reveals there is trouble to come.
“Ella what do you want?” Shandra Higheagle pleaded as she stood looking up into the clouds that formed her deceased grandmother’s face. The droplets of rain falling on Shandra’s face were warm and salty. Tears.
What better way to start a book where the amateur sleuth uncovers the real murderer through dreams then with a dream.
Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 25+ novels and over a dozen novellas and short stories of murder mystery, western historical romance, and action adventure. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters.
Last Friday I had a book signing with a new bookstore owner in a town where I lived for thirty years.
I have a little person who sits on my shoulder and tells me to get things done in a timely fashion and don’t make anyone have to work too hard for an event I’m the center of.
My first contact with the bookstore owner was to walk in and introduce myself, give her a card, and let her know I had a new mystery book releasing in March. She thanked me for coming in and said she would contact me. She didn’t. So I followed up with her via email when I had several other events happening in her area. I reminded her who I was, that I had a new release and that I would be in her area on several days and would one of them work for a book signing.
She replied with two dates that would work for her. I jumped on the first date she had available. Then I followed up with sending press releases to the local newspapers and using Vista Print to make posters. On another trip in that area, I dropped off posters and discussed the evening a bit more with her.
A couple weeks before the event, I checked back in and asked if I needed to bring any refreshments. She said she would have wine, water, lemonade, and cheese and crackers. I offered to bring cookies. I had a great idea and went on a hunt for cookie cutters and made weapon cookies.
The day/night of the signing. I hauled my books, cookies, and giveaways into the store two hours before the presentation/signing time. The owner looked at me with wonder. “You’re early!” I explained I was having dinner with some friends before the signing and wanted to make sure everything was here and ready in case we got to talking and I lost track of time.
She thanked me and said I am the first author she’d worked with since buying the store who she hadn’t had to prod for bios and news release information and hope they showed up on time.
I replied, “I like to make a good impression on bookstore owners so they have me back and feel good selling my books.”
You can write a good book, and get reviews but if you don’t have a good rapport with the people who hand sell your books, they are less likely to recommend you to their readers.
The event turned out fun. I talked about writing mystery and my journey to the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series I write.
After the event, the bookstore owner was happy with the results and in my opinion, that’s all that matters with an event like this!
Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. All Paty’s work have Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her Shandra Higheagle Mystery series, set in a fictional ski resort in Idaho, is full of quirky characters, twists, turns, and a bit of mysticism.
By Nina Mansfield
Often, when people hear I’ve written a young adult novel, they say something like: “Ooo, YA is really hot right now.” This statement often carries the implication I chose to write YA because the genre happens to be popular at the moment.
Other times, I’ll get a very different reaction that goes something like this: “Well, I know YA is ‘in’, but…” In the silence I can hear the words, “I don’t read kids books.”
To that I can only say that you’re missing out. YA isn’t just for kids.
But I did have kids—young teens specifically— on the brain when I started writing my debut YA mystery novel, SWIMMING ALONE.
I guess it all goes back to the adage, “write what you know.” And as high school English and Drama teacher, I really got to know teens. And I learned they come in all shapes and sizes. They can be impulsive, reserved, judgmental, accepting, free-spirited, aloof, fun-loving, cautious, passionate, restrained, anxious, unconcerned. And because their brains are still developing and they’re filled with hormones, their personalities are magnified ten-fold. They aren’t quite adults yet, but they really think they are. And while this energy can drive some people crazy, I think it’s kind of magnificent.
As a teacher, I often felt myself stepping back into my teenage shoes—remembering what it was like to fail that quiz, or have that crush, or feel misunderstood. I had to do it to understand my students better. This constant self-reflection came in handy when developing my teen protagonist. No surprise she turned out a lot like a fifteen-year old version of myself: a bit insecure, a bit judgmental, and bit impulsive. She wants to do the right thing, but as far as she’s concerned, adult interference isn’t necessary.
There’s another reason I chose to write YA. I know plenty of adults read YA, and I am one of them. But the truth is, I wrote for young people because it breaks my heart when I hear a one say they don’t like reading. I can’t imagine a life without books. I don’t know if reading saved my life, but it certainly saved my sanity. Pippi Longstocking, Ramona Quimby, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley Twins… I spent my pre-teen years with these characters. In junior high, thanks to a fantastic teacher, I became hooked on the books of Lois Duncan and Joan Lowery Nixon. Soon after, I started reading Agatha Christie’s mysteries. I remember that feeling of anticipation when I thought I’d figured out the twist in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, followed by a feeling of triumph when I discovered I was right!
Throughout those tumultuous high school years—when I was in a state of constant heart break—I escaped into Brave New World and 1984. Another extraordinary teacher introduced me to Thomas Hardy. I stayed up late with Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and had my heart ripped open by Jude the Obscure. Oh, these folks had it so much harder than I did—and it helped me put my life in perspective.
I want every child to able to escape into a book when real life isn’t going as planned. During my first year teaching, I discovered even the most reluctant reader will keep turning the pages if there’s enough action and suspense. These were the readers I had in mind when I wrote SWIMMING ALONE.
The Sea Side Strangler is on the loose in Beach Point, where fifteen-year-old Cathy Banks is spending what she thinks will be a wretched summer. Just when she begins to make friends, and even finds a crush to drool over, her new friend Lauren vanishes. When a body surfaces in Beach Point Bay, Cathy is forced to face the question: has the Sea Side Strangler struck again?
SWIMMING ALONE Links
- Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B013Y4WE48
- Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/569442
- Fire & Ice: http://www.fireandiceya.com/authors/ninamansfield/swimmingalone.html
Nina Mansfield is a Greenwich, Connecticut based writer. Her debut novel, SWIMMING ALONE a YA mystery, was published by Fire & Ice YA in 2015. Her plays have been published and produced throughout United States and internationally. Her graphic novel FAKE ID: BEYOND RECOGNITION, illustrated by Leyla Akdogan, will be out with Plume Snake in 2016. Nina’s short mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mysterical-E. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Dramatists Guild.
- My website: http://www.ninamansfield.com
- My blog: http://notevenjoking.ninamansfield.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NinaMansfieldWriter
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/NinaJMansfield
- Pintrest: https://www.pinterest.com/ninamwriter/
- Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4279557.Nina_Mansfield
I had the great pleasure this past weekend to attend a meeting of my local chapter of the Sisters in Crime (the Delaware Valley Chapter). The guest speaker for the meeting is a Conservator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (which is, coincidentally, where I earned my PhD in Anthropology). Because it is a museum of archaeology rather than fine arts, Molly Gleeson conserves artifacts and other specimens. That includes human remains.
It was a fascinating talk — as they always are at these meetings. Ms. Gleeson prefaced her talk by warning us that she was going to show us images of human remains, then admitted that for this particular audience that might not be a problem. We all write and read about murder. We’re used to human remains, right?
Well…maybe. A murder mystery can be many, many things. It can be light hearted and funny. It can be chic lit. It can be dark, gritty. And it can be gory, a story of violence and evil. When choosing a new book to read, a mystery reader has to know what she’s getting into — or she reads at her own peril.
Personally, I prefer not to read gruesome stories. I particularly avoid books that include rape scenes, but I generally skim through (or avoid altogether) stories with too much gory detail, too much vividly painted violence. I write the books I like to read. Relatively dark mysteries, gritty even, but with the violence taking place almost entirely off the page.
As an aside, one of the most beautiful death scenes I’ve ever read was written by the late, great Ruth Rendell (who, incidentally, did not shy away from violence when she felt it was called for). I always picture that pretty corpse floating peacefully and elegantly down the river, surrounded by wildflowers, whenever I’m trying to write my own murder scenes. I have not yet achieved Rendell’s level of artistic description of death, but I’ll keep trying.
Which brings me back to the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Sisters in Crime. Each month, a technical speaker is invited to come to our group, to share his or her knowledge of biology, ways to kill a person, how crime scenes are handled, even about ancient methods of human preservation (mummies). To an outsider, we probably seem like a pretty gory bunch.
Quite the contrary. In our group, you’ll find cozy writers, young adult writers, and many, like me, who write traditional mysteries that are high on mystery but low on sex and violence. But one thing we have in common: we’re all well-informed on those gory topics that inform the background of our stories, but don’t make an appearance on the page.
How about you? How much violence do you want to see in the mysteries you read?