Tag: mysteries

mysteries

Dining with Agatha Christie

One of my favorite rooms at Greenway House was the dining room. Here was where Agatha Christie celebrated holidays with her husband, the archaeologist Max Mallowan, her daughter Rosalind and her grandson, Matthew.  You’ll note there’s a small pitcher in front of Agatha Christie’s seat, whereas the other settings have wine glasses.  That’s because Agatha Christie was a teetotaler. Rather than alcohol,  she preferred to drink Devonshire cream. (Just as a side note, I looked up the calorie count on  Devonshire cream and it’s 73 calories a tablespoon!) She also liked to drink a glass or two of Devonshire cream while she wrote. Perhaps this is a secret to a long career. At one end of the dining room was this intriguing little knick knack, that I assume is a raven. The whole house is awash with knick knacks and I was told that, when the National Trust was going through the house, they uncovered Agatha Christie’s Order of the British Empire medal under a pile of books. Incidentally, there is a person who has the job of being a Writer-in-Residence at Greenway House and she is leading a writing workshop in which writers will be prompted to use objects in Agatha Christie’s collection as a starting point for their stories. How fabulous is that? Another lovely room was upstairs, where there is a collection of Agatha Christie’s first editions. I tried to find her typewriter, but the guide told me that she preferred to speak into a Dictaphone. Greenway House was where she went to relax after writing books. So not a lot of writing took place there. There’s also a closet full of her dresses and hats. Tomorrow I’ll discuss where murder took place at Greenway!

Read More

Happy Labor Day!

Today is a day when we celebrate those who labor, and also those who’ve stood up for the rights of those who labor, and in honor of that, I thought some Labor Day mysteries might be in order. So if you’re interested in murder and the labor movement, here are some suggestions:  1. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett. When the last honest man in a mining town known as Poisonville is murdered, the Continental Op goes in to take on the whole town. 2. For the Love of Mike by Rhys Bowen, in which Molly Murphy has to go undercover in the garment business. 3.  A More Perfect Union by J.A. Jance, in which Homicide Detective J.P. Beaumont. investigates a murder involving a union. (Possibly not an incredibly pro-union book.) 4. A Red Death by Walter Mosley, in which Easy Rawlins has to spy on a supposed Communist organizer. Also, I’m happy to report that the Miss Demeanors have been honored by making Feedspot’s list of the Top 100 Mystery Book Blogs and Websites for  Mystery Readers & Authors. We are number 18 and are in some very good company. You can check it out at: https://blog.feedspot.com/mystery_book_blogs/ 

Read More

The Writer

I have an article in this month’s issue of The Writer titled “What is this thing I’m Working On.” The idea came to me when one of my students sent me some pages and said, “What is this? ” She wasn’t sure if she’d written, or should be writing, a memoir, a novel, a narrative non-fiction or something else. Though we were certain she was not writing a poem. Although, in my own writing history, I’ve generally had pretty good idea of what I was doing, I could relate because I did stumble into writing mysteries. I’ve always loved reading them, but when I first started writing Maggie Dove, I was really more focused on the fact that she was a mystery writer than that she would be a detective. I’d written The Fiction Class, which was about a woman teaching a fiction class, and thought that it would be nice to have a follow-up about a woman teaching a mystery-writing class.  But then a body showed up. And Maggie Dove had to figure out what to do about it, as did I. Sometimes life takes you on unexpected journeys and sometimes those journeys take you off a cliff. But occasionally they take you just where you should be. So that was a blessing. Last week, in the midst of ThrillerFest, I managed to get in another article to The Writer. On time! But you will have to wait a few months to see what that one’s about.  How do you know what format your own writing will take?  

Read More

Favorite stories

Today is the first day of my Gotham Writers spring schedule, which means that I will be spending today teaching. So I felt I should include something educational in today’s post.  One of the things I’ll be talking to my students about is how to plot a novel, and something that is very useful in that respect, is to start taking apart stories. Not everyone looks at it this way, but I think there is some validity to considering a short story a very short novel. So with that in mind, what are some good short stories to tear apart and learn from: 1. “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” by Sherman Alexie.  Read this for voice, for first person point of view, and for the beautiful structure. Everything you want to know about narrative arc is in this story. 2. “Labors of the Heart,” by Claire Davis. Read this for character and dialogue and that hopeless yearning that fuels the best stories. 3. “Afterward,” by Edith Wharton, which contains one of my favorite plot twists in all literature. 4. “A Death,” by Stephen King, first published in The New Yorker. A real master of story telling.  5. “Wants” by Grace Paley. Just love her voice. 6. “A Slight Deviation from the Mean,” by Susan Oleksiw. Set in India. In the November/December issue of Alfred Hitchcock. 7. “Cat Person,” by Kristen Roupenanian. This New Yorker short story went viral because of its provocative account of a young woman’s relationship with an older man. A great story to discuss with a class.  8. “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson.  Because this story has stayed in my head since the first time I read it, and it’s just as chilling the tenth time around. Do you have any favorite stories?

Read More

Must A Main Character Be Like Me?

I am in the midst of rewriting large portions of my fourth book this week. There are three POV characters in this story. One is an African American female police officer, aged 27, single sans kids. She’s been a cop for three years and is very smart with a high EQ, but a troubled history. Another is a hugely successful 37-year-old Black female orthopedist of West Indian descent that armchair quarterbacks injuries on a sports network as a medical commentator. She’s in a heap of trouble. The third is a 35-year-old former Caucasian attorney turned stay-at-home mom to twin boys, one of whom is autistic and homeschooled. She’s a walking anxiety disorder with a sharp wit. All the characters are American. None of them are particularly like me, though I am sure my personality and observations bleed into all my characters. Specifically, their back stories and cultural heritages don’t match my own (though the orthopedist is of West Indian descent and so is the Jamaican half of my family).  I have things in common with all of my POV characters, though. And, most importantly, I’ve done my research.  All this writing has me thinking this week about character creation. How like me should my characters be? How much latitude do I have, as a fiction writer, to create characters that have different cultural heritages and American experiences than my own?   In practice, I tend to err on the side of a lot of latitude, providing I’ve done the research and have a connection to the character so that they come across as a real person and not caricature. For The Widower’s Wife, one of my characters was a white male insurance agent math whiz. I am not white. Not male. Not an insurance agent. And definitely not a math whiz. But, I interviewed a female friend insurance agent and am married to a former math major. I’d felt like I’d done my homework. Still, I’ve been known to take too much latitude in my life. So, I asked the MissDemeanors for their take.  Q. When you write main POV characters, do you create people that share your gender and ethnicity or do they come from other cultures? Why? Alexia: I write main characters who share my race, gender, and socioeconomic background because I spent the first 47-ish years of my life not finding many/any middle class, African American, female main characters and I got tired of not reading about anyone who looked like me. #representationmatters. Susan: I tend to write main characters who share my race, gender, etc. because I feel I have something authentic to say from that point of view. However, I did write a novel with a protagonist who was an Indian young woman, and that was a challenge, but I tried to get around it by making sure she and I had points of intersection. So I made her a Christian. I definitely populate my fictional world with a wide variety of people.  Michele: I’m going to sound apologetic here, but the truth is I don’t feel qualified to write from the point of view of someone ethnically or racially different from me. I do feel I can write from a male point of view and I’ve written gay characters with some authenticity, probably because I have gay family members and friends. What I try to do is appeal to the universal themes and desires that all human beings struggle with. I applaud those who can write with more diversity than I and enjoy reading those stories. Alison: I have an extremely detailed knowledge of my ancestry because I grew up Mormon. I can go onto a Family Search website and see my ancestry (including when everyone was baptized and received various temple ordinances), which is mostly English and Swedish, with a little Scottish, Irish and Welsh thrown in. If you go back several centuries, there is some French. Needless to say, my experience is that of a fish-belly white woman. My protagonist, Abish Taylor, is also white (but, wait for it, she has auburn hair). Before my editor convinced me to write Blessed be the Wicked entirely from Abbie’s PoV, my favorite voice was that of the male police officer and returned LDS missionary. He’s also descended from Mormon pioneer stock, which means some variation of the British/Scandinavian mix. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I could convincingly write another ethnicity for three main reasons: ignorance (I don’t know what I don’t know), fear (I’d be afraid to get something really wrong), and anxiety (I wouldn’t want to offend someone if I did get some thing wrong). Tracee: Susan and Cate may remember we (or I) were asked a version of this at our book even last year in Manhattan. The specific question was how did I feel about writing from a man’s point of view. For me the intersection or commonalities of culture and sociology economic situation are more restrictive than gender. On the other hand, if I really felt a story needed a character outside my comfort zone I think I would try. On the other hand…. would I get it right? I would never write a character simple to check a diversity box. I don’t think that’s fair to who ever really lives in that box. We all deserve authenticity. Paula: It’s a tricky question. I believe literature should reflect the multicultural world we live in and as an agent I try to do my part to champion writers who contribute to that multiculturalism. As a writer I believe that writers should in theory be able write about anything or anybody, but in practice in my own writing I am more cautious. My mystery A Borrowing of Bones features characters of different genders and ethnicities, but so far I only feel comfortable writing from the point of view of characters ethnically similar to myself. I do write his and her points of view, but both my hero and my heroine are former military and having been raised in a military family I hope that helps me pull it off. Robin: Authenticity is important to me – if a character is unrelatable they’re not fun to write and less fun to read. I have no problem writing in the voice of different genders. My best friends have always been men and they’re used to me asking lots of (sometimes inappropriate) questions. Socioeconomic diversity isn’t a problem, either. I’ve personally experienced the gamut on that so I have my own life to draw on. I’m also comfortable with writing gay or straight characters, being gay myself and having grown up, lived, and worked around straight people. Ethnicities are trickier because I worry about getting it wrong or the character feeling 2-dimensional. That’s where I proceed with caution and get guidance from friends. Looking back at the stories I’ve written, all have been set in and around San Francisco so multiculturalism is part of the world-building. Not to mention one of the reasons I love the SF (and NYC). When it comes down to it, though, it’s service to the story. I agree with Tracee, I won’t go out of my way just to tick a particular diversity box.  

Read More

New Year's Resolutions

2018 is fast approaching. Now is the time to take stock of 2017 and figure out what to do better next year. In addition to my annual, post-holiday binge pledge to reduce my consumption in a variety of ways, I also hope to be gentler with my family and myself in 2018. Slower to anger. Kinder. More patient.  I asked the MissDemeanors for their resolutions. This is what they said.  Michele Dorsey: To practice forgiveness and remember it is a gift you give yourself. D.A. Bartley: To err on the side of kindness. May 2018 be a year of compassion and peace. Robin Stuart: Breathe. Literally. Just pause each afternoon for 5-10 minutes to focus only on breathing to quiet the noise, reflect, re-center. Paula Munier: Ritualize my life. Starting with my morning routine: Instead of stumbling around the house and the Internet until the caffeine kicks in, I’m going to establish a more productive and inspiring way to begin my day: tea, yoga, walk the dog. I’ve got the electric tea pot and the yoga dice and the dog, so all I need now is a little good karma. Alexia Gordon: I resolve to choose a one-a-day or one-a-week challenge (e.g. a stitch a day, a book a week, a letter a week, a journal entry a day) and stick to it for the entire year, be more disciplined about my writing and write every day (no excuses), even if it’s only 100 words, and send out a monthly newsletter. I also resolve to do one new thing, just for fun and personal enrichment. Susan Breen: This year my resolution is to read the Bible from start to finish. I got one of those 15-minute-a-day Bibles and I’ve done a fairly good job, though I seem to be mired in November. Beyond the religious reasons, I just love all the stories and words. (I’m reading the King James version.) I’ve also found some incredible titles. Tracee de Hahn: These have all been so wonderful! I was thinking of being more healthful- but I think it’s more along the lines of what Alexia and Paula are suggesting- more purposeful. Which spills over into healthy start to the day, and improving habits in general (including the ones that are about writing). What’s your resolution?   

Read More

Finding inspiration in Paris

We are thrilled to host Ashley Weaver, author of the Amory Ames mysteries. When she’s not writing, Ashley is the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries in Louisiana. The Miss Demeanors have written several posts about our love of libraries and Ashley has worked in one since she was 14; first as a page and then a clerk before finally obtaining her MLIS from Louisiana State University.  Now, I’ll turn it over to Ashley to talk about her latest book!   What inspired your book? It’s a question authors often get asked, but I find it’s not always an easy one to answer. For me, story ideas sometimes come out of the blue, with no recognizable links to any one influence. Other times, they come together in little pieces as I write, like a puzzle being slowly assembled. However, my newest book, The Essence of Malice, combines two specific inspirations, both with roots in things I have loved since childhood: Paris and perfume.    I have always been enamored with Paris. Growing up, I had a giant poster of the Eiffel Tower hanging above my bed, and I dreamed of one day taking a trip to the City of Lights. I would check out audiocassette tapes from the library on learning French and would practice at home. I read books on the history of France and perused travel guides, plotting future adventures. My dream of visiting Paris finally came true a few years ago when I went with a group of friends for Christmas. We rented a little apartment two blocks from the Louvre and had the time of our lives exploring the city, eating delicious food, and trying out a few phrases in the French language. (I never did become fluent, for all those audiocassettes, but I’m still working on it!)  The trip was just as magical as I had always imagined it would be, and, when I began plotting my fourth Amory Ames mystery, I knew that it was time for Amory and her husband Milo to take a trip to Paris as well. Paris in the 1930s was a bit different than the Paris of today, of course, and Amory and Milo don’t visit the tourist hotspots that my friends and I did. But the glamour and sophistication of the city stands eternal and was a source of great inspiration.   One lingering remnant of that trip is my affection for the perfume J’Adore by Dior. My parents had bought me a bottle that Christmas, and I brought it with me, spraying it on before days spent wandering Parisian streets. Now, whenever I smell the scent, it reminds me of that trip. But Paris was not the beginning of my love of perfume. I was fascinated with fragrance from a young age. I remember, as a small child, loving to look at the perfume bottles on my grandmother’s dresser when we would go to visit her. There was one shaped like an elegant lady that always captured my imagination, and it was fun to open the bottles and dab on the different scents. I loved my mother’s perfume, too, and the whiff of it will bring back happy childhood memories to this day.   I even took my own foray into the world of perfumery. When I was about six or seven, my cousin and I decided that we would make homemade perfume for our mothers. We found some little bottles and filled them with water and rose petals, sure that this was precisely the way real perfume was made. Of course, we had missed a few essential ingredients. In no time at all, the waterlogged rose petals decomposed and our “perfume” began to smell horrible. My mom kept it and pretended to love it, but that was the last time I tried to make perfume – at least until I wrote The Essence of Malice.  In the book, Amory and Milo investigate the suspicious death of a famous parfumier. To form a connection with the family, Amory commissions them to make a custom perfume. I greatly enjoyed researching the art of perfumery and concocting Amory’s new fragrance, and I couldn’t resist including a slightly altered version of my failed childhood attempt at creating perfume, the first time I have adapted a personal story into one of my mysteries! Its origins in my longtime love for the magic of Paris and perfume made The Essence of Malice an especially fun book to write. The story allowed me to travel back to Paris, this time with an additional dash of intrigue and danger. It also gave me the opportunity, at least in words, to try my hand at creating a perfume once more – this time one that doesn’t smell like rotten rose petals! https://www.ashley-weaver.comFacebook at AuthorAshleyWeaverTwitter @AshleyCWeaver

Read More

Search By Tags