Fiction or Fact: That Is the Question by Karen Shughart

If you’ve read any of the books in my Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mystery series, by now you will have noticed that with each murder there’s a historical back story that gives clues as to why the crime occurred.

When I conceived the series I decided to write about what I knew, which meant describing the beauty where we live up here on the southern shore of Lake Ontario: the beaches; fruit orchards; quaint homes and cottages, and the stunning weather that changes with each season. There’s also our close knit and friendly community and a rich tradition of history.

Across the lake lies Canada and in the middle of it, where the depths can reach 800 feet, shipwrecks occurred starting long before the Revolutionary War. The British invaded our village and burned most of it down during the War of 1812, and an active and committed abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad helped to change the course of history. In the 1920s, rumrunners from Main Duck Island in Prince Edward, Ontario piloted across the lake to Chimney Bluffs-drumlins created by icebergs with a broad beach below-to supply the speakeasies here with booze. During World War II, several prisoner-of-war camps housed German soldiers, one of which has been converted to a state park near our home.

Photo by ArtHouse Studio on

I’ve been asked numerous times, at books talks and signings, about the inclusion of history into my books and the incidents are real. While the historical events are based on actual occurrences, I remind my readers that I write fiction, so history is merely a way to enhance the plot. Mostly, the characters are fictional and the details surrounding the events are figments of my imagination, although I do occasionally slip a real character into the mix.

In book one, King George, III had a minor role; in book two, I name-drop Morgan Lewis, the fourth governor of New York and quartermaster general during the War of 1812, whose father was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In Murder at Freedom Hill, I mention Abe Lincoln  once or twice along with Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, but only to provide context to the back story.

I just started writing book four in the series, Murder at Chimney Bluffs. It’s early days, so at this point I have no idea who my historical celebrity will be, but whoever it is will have either supported Prohibition or opposed it, or be one of those mysterious crime bosses who organized the trips back and forth across the lake. I’ll figure it out as I move forward.

What I tell my readers is that what I love about writing fiction is that I can pretty much do anything I want with the plot, name dropping and historical events notwithstanding.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Silver Linings and Simple Pleasures

by Janis Patterson

Update – we still don’t have our new refrigerator despite two unkept promises of delivery dates (thank you, Lowe’s!) and someone finally had the decency to tell us that it wasn’t even in the country yet (thank you, GE!). And yes, I’m being very sarcastic, but my true thoughts on both these entities are not fit for public pixilation. I’ve quit calling Lowe’s for updates and go over to the store to trap the salesman and occasionally his manager for an eye-to-eye confrontation. This last time I was promised (which means nothing, as every failed delivery date was a promise) that I would have my white, basic French door refrigerator by Christmas. (This was after he was telling me the not heartening news that another special order refrigerator had taken 18 months to be delivered.) I looked him square in the eye and asked if he meant Christmas, 2022. It was not encouraging that he said nothing.

Sad thing is, I could have had a bright pink refrigerator within a week of ordering. (Wrong color, wrong size, wrong configuration, waaaay wrong price, though.) I still don’t understand why a basic white refrigerator has to be a special order!

On to other news. Everything seems to have gone wonky this fall – except for our glorious trip to Egypt (and my trip diary is available to read for free on my website). Some backstory on the most painful problem – during his last Iraqi deployment several years ago The Husband injured his left shoulder. It healed pretty much, though it has given him some trouble from time to time, but while in Egypt he had the bird-brained idea to go down in the Bent Pyramid – perhaps the hairiest and most dangerous pyramid available to tourists. Why he went, I don’t know, as he has done it before.

Well, sometime in the tour he reinjured that same shoulder and it has been giving him terrible pain ever since. We’ve been to a doc-in-the-box, our personal physician, an orthopedic specialist, several multi-week rounds of physical therapy, an X-Ray and an MRI… and his shoulder is getting better, but very little and very slowly. (I think I told you that I told him if he ever even mentioned going down in that pyramid again I would sit on him until he gave up the idea or passed out from suffocation!)

However, I have always believed that dark clouds have silver linings. With his shoulder The Husband cannot drive, so guess who gets to be his chauffeur – driving him to his various appointments, waiting while he takes care of things and then taking him home? Right… However, this has been an unexpected blessing in two big ways. If there is grocery shopping needed, we stop at a conveniently located Aldi’s on the way back – and he has to give some input into what we eat for the next few days. (And often he just looks around and suggests we go out, which I like…)

Perhaps the best benefit, though, is that while I’m waiting I read. There’s not enough time involved for me to be expected to take my computer and write, so I just sit and read, both of which for me are rare luxuries. I’ve always loved to read – hey, I live in a house with three dedicated libraries, so that’s a given – but between writing and all its attendant duties of rewriting, publishing, publicity, et al, care of extended family and now The Husband, housework, etc., etc., etc., there has been precious little time for just pleasure reading. Thank goodness for reading apps on my phone!

Which brings me to the important part of this little screed – never underestimate how important it is for writers to read. We become so bogged down in our own work, making sure that our characters and situations are real, that action is always logical for the world we have created, even keeping track of hair and eye color and the time of day, that our word choices and grammar are acceptable, sometimes we forget the simple, overwhelming magic of the printed word. By reading the work of others we learn. Sometimes their work is incredible, opening doors and windows into realms we have never known, or may have once known but time and other things have obscured. Sometimes their work is so bad that it is a salutary lesson in what not to do. And sometimes it is so incredibly bad that it isn’t worth my time to read more than a few pages – but there are still lessons in those few awful pages.

I do sincerely hope that The Husband will soon recover fully and go back to having at least a portion of his own life. On the other hand, it would be a lie for me to say that there has not been at least a sliver of silver lining in my time spent in various waiting rooms. I got to read for pleasure without feeling guilty that I’m taking time away from working and other responsibilities, and that’s always good.

My First DSLR

I was returning to India after a seventeen-year hiatus, and my husband suggested I take a digital camera. He gave me his. The first time I returned I took a film camera. The DSLR would be much easier—no film to load and unload throughout the day, not to mention the added cost to develop and weight in my luggage.

One of my favorite side ventures is photography, something that I first tried as an eight-year-old and then again as a college student, but didn’t pick up again until my forties. Since then I’ve had two solo shows, exhibited in juried shows, and sold a few images. But the camera I use has its own story.

Michael began working in photography in college, and immediately showed an aptitude for all things photographic. He began with a Pentax and remained loyal to the brand for practical as well as technical reasons. Every Pentax lens is interchangeable on a Pentax body, and over the years he accumulated lots of lenses. Before my trip he’d been having trouble with his current DSLR, and took it to a specialist, at Hunt’s. The two men along with a technician inspected, tested, retried, retested, opened, fiddled, and couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t register an image. The camera simply didn’t work. He didn’t buy it from Hunt’s, but the man offered him something reasonable for it. Instead, Michael brought it home and told me of the very disappointing visit. This is where it gets weird.

He came in and told me the whole story of his visit to Hunt’s, and his discussion with the owner, whom he’d worked with before and trusted. I picked up the camera, sighted it, and snapped the shutter. The image appeared and looked fine to me.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked. “It looks okay.”

Michael looked at the image, at me holding the camera out to him, at the image, at me. He agreed it did look okay. I’ll never forget the look on his face, though I didn’t understand why his expression was so odd.

“Why don’t you take it with you to India, along with the other one.” He was referring to a small pocket digital Pentax I’d given him a few years ago that he didn’t use.

I did, and took tons of photographs. The camera was the most reliable tool I’ve ever worked with. It always worked for me. I never had any trouble with it. It never worked for him again, no matter what he did. I use it still, though I now have access to his other, more advanced cameras and lenses.

At the time I said the problem with the camera was a matter of electricity. I had less in my hands, or body, than he had. My touch didn’t interfere with the operation of the camera. Maybe I have more than he has and that helps the camera work. I have no idea. But it’s one of those odd incidents in life that reminds me of how little we know about how the physical world around us operates. 

And it perhaps explains why some of us love our tools, as though they are a part of our body, an extension of our imaginative selves as we manipulate the physical world to fit our vision. Writers do it with paper and pen, or computer and printer; carpenters with hammers and chisels and wood; photographers with camera and lenses and paper and ink. It doesn’t matter what you use; the result is the same—a world remade according to the singular vision of one particular person, a lens into another mind and its world.

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.

It’s November Again

by Janis Patterson

Yes, the dreaded month of November has stomped onto our calendars again, darn it. No, I’m not talking about the approaching gluttony of Thanksgiving or the terrifyingly few weekends left until Christmas, though both are swiftly oncoming realities.

I’m talking about the annual National Novel Writing Month, commonly known as NaNoWriMo or even NaNo, where for years now people have been encouraged to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. It is called an exercise in accountability, or a time of group encouragement, or any number of other pleasant and positive euphemisms. While I can see that both the former can be regarded as sort of desirable for writers, what disturbs me is the number of absolute tyros who will regard this as their ticket to literary fame and fortune.

Perhaps a few of them will learn what plain old hard work it is to string 50,000 +/- words into a cohesive story and there is a lot more to creating salable stories than just writing down the requisite number of words… but most of them won’t. They’ll pound out the words in a blaze of literary fervor, many truly believing that their prose is both deathless and special. Most of it will not be.

And to this point that’s fine. It’s supposed to be a learning experience. What bugs me is that most of the tyros won’t learn from it. Many of them will take their ‘masterpieces’ and send them off to agents and publishers and wait impatiently for large contracts. Many of those manuscripts will not be edited or, on some sad occasions, not even be read through. Then, when the inevitable rejections occur, said novices will declare that the publishing world does not recognize their genius and will self-publish.

I do wish that there were some sort of law forbidding any non-professional writer to submit a manuscript done for NaNo. It would be so much kinder to everyone involved. Writing is just about the only profession where someone with no training or education in the field and no discernable skills in grammar, punctuation or story structure wakes up one morning and decides he is going to write a novel, then is surprised when the rest of the world does not acclaim the genius of his work. But hey – he wanted to write a novel so he did. I guess we should all be grateful he didn’t wake up, decide he wanted to be a brain surgeon or aerospace engineer and act in the same way.
And that’s my opinion of those who have a skewed and unreasonable view of NaNo. What about the working professional writer?

Properly used, NaNo can be a marvelous tool of discipline and accountability. I’ve worked under various writing contracts for the majority of my adult life, but as I get older I have noticed that I am not only slowing down, I am becoming much more easily distracted. For example, while in Egypt a couple of weeks ago – after vowing I wouldn’t do another book set in Egypt – I got the idea for a wonderful mystery and began writing it. Normally a couple of years ago I would have had the first draft already finished. It isn’t.

I’ve never done NaNo, so this year – since I have no overhanging contracts or deadlines at the moment – I decided to try it. It’s a wonderful thing. Every day I have to post to a certain site (this NaNo is being facilitated by one of my writers’ groups) how many words I have done that day. Sometimes it is embarrassing. Sometimes – when I exceed my allotted number by a respectable amount – it is a source of pride. I like it. Accountability is a good, positive thing.
Some say that NaNo is at its heart a learning experience. I can agree with that, and can also agree that we should never stop learning.

REFRIGERATOR UPDATE – I told you about my woes of buying a new refrigerator. All we want is a very simple refrigerator – French door, bottom freezer and ice/water on the outside of the door. And white. White was the problem; white is not standard any more, nor even available on most models. It has to be special ordered.

So we ordered it the day after we returned from Egypt and were told we could have it some three weeks later on 23 October. On 22 October I called Lowe’s and asked for a time frame for delivery; between 8-12 on the 24th, I was told. Well, October 24th came and went with no refrigerator, so I called and after being routed through two idiots who knew nothing finally got a hold of a manager, who after some investigation told me the refrigerator was not only not in Dallas, it was still at the factory and had not even been finished.


With admirable self-restraint I asked why Lowe’s had not told me the truth and had not told me a real date for delivery instead of giving me a big chunk of blue sky. I also asked why no one had had the courtesy to call and say the refrigerator was not even in Dallas yet. (Needless to say, the refrigerator was fully paid for on the day we ordered it.) The man had the good grace to be embarrassed and said he didn’t know. Then he gave me the delivery date of 25 November. I asked him if that was any more true than the first date had been. He didn’t answer.

So – heed my sad little tale and be very careful where you buy a refrigerator or any other appliance unless you will let the store dictate what you will receive.