Tag: Mystery series

Mystery series

Two Covers

The first of my Maggie Dove mysteries was just re-released in paperback, and also digital form. One of the most exciting/challenging/nerve-wracking parts of the whole thing was figuring out what the new cover should look like. (Many, many thanks to the design artist, Mila, who did the hard work here.) There was so much I loved about the original cover, on the left. The tree, of course. The body under the tree, which signified that it was a mystery, but also that it was a cozy mystery. No blood spatter here. This is a mystery about people and relationships and hurt. I also loved the light coming from the window. So what did we change? The sky is darker in the new version and you can see the stars. I love those stars! Maggie Dove is a person who is always looking up, metaphorically or otherwise, and those stars speak to me. There’s also the silhouette of her in the window. She’s a 62-year-old woman who is trying to become wise, I hope. Then there’s the white font, which looks slightly mysterious. Recently we’ve started work on the cover for Maggie Dove’s Detective Agency, which will be re-released in September, […]

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Authors and Books and Readers, Oh My

 Crime conference season is still in full swing. Thrillerfest takes place in New York City in a couple of weeks. (Yes, I’ll be there!) Bouchercon happens in Florida in September. Dozens of other events are scheduled worldwide between now and November. I counted 17 on Sisters in Crime’s upcoming events calendar. Libraries also kick off their summer reading programs this time of year. They host author events in conjunction with their efforts to encourage people to get out and read. This Saturday, June 30, from 1-3pm, I’ll be at the Dixon Public Library in Dixon, IL as part of their Summer Author Series. Author events and conferences have several things in common—authors, books, and readers. Beyond that, they’re as different as, well, authors, books, and readers. Some feature moderated panels. Several authors answer questions they may or may not have received in advance. Some feature interviews. Someone, usually an author, interviews the featured guest author in front of an audience. Authors read from their works at some events and give prepared speeches at others. Sometimes an author hosts a table. Readers may spend the entire event seated with the table’s host or they may move from table to table and meet several. These events usually involve food. Yum. This weekend’s event at the Dixon Public Library is a meet and greet and Q and A. Readers will ask me questions and I’ll try to answer them. What’s your favorite format for author events?

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Popcorn and Mysteries

Okay, I admit it. This blog is not about writing or reading. It is, however, about something critical to the creative process: what you eat while you watch your favorite mystery. My taste in mysteries and suspense runs the gamut. I have a special place in my heart for the BBC. I’ve watched all 19 seasons of Midsomer Murders. I love Endeavor, Shetland, Loch Ness, Luther, Inspector Lewis, Foyle’s Wars, Wallander, Agatha Raisin, Inspector Lynley, Father Brown, Jonathan Creek, Zen and anything Agatha Christie old or new. I also happily watch Winter and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries for a taste of Australia. New Zealand has The Brokenwood Mysteries.  Then there’s Elementary, Psych, Longmire and Bosch for something with an American accent. I could go on, but I won’t. While the shows may change, my snack of choice does not. It’s always popcorn. If I’m watching by myself, the topping will be whatever strikes my fancy. If I’m curling up to watch a mystery with my daughter, we tend to top our popcorn with truffle butter and parmesan. If I’m watching with my son, it’s frequently butter mixed with hot sauce from Belize. (My sister-in-law is Belizean and introduced the family to Mary Sharps. Our lives have never been the same.) If I’m making popcorn for the entire family, I usually stick to the classic butter and salt. I find high-fat, cultured butter is best because it has, to my taste buds, the right ratio of fat to milk solids. Vermont Creamery Cultured Butter is one of life’s true pleasures. My salt of choice is Baleine coarse salt ground in a salt grinder, but I’ve had great results with black salt from Maui and pink Himalayan salt, as well. I use an old air popper, carefully drizzling the  melted butter on the popcorn as it drops into the bowl. When all the popcorn is popped, I add eight to ten turns of ground salt and place another bowl on top so that I can shake the popcorn until the butter and salt (or parmesan) are evenly distributed. For me, there’s nothing better. It can be a meal in itself…and has been more times than I should confess. Having said that, I’m always on the prowl for both new mysteries and new snacks. So, what do you watch, and what do you eat while watching it?   

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Stormy Weather

 I’m scheduled to host a book signing today (Thursday) to promote my second novel, Death in D Minor. I’ve booked a venue and a caterer, I’ve ordered pastries from the local bakery, I have swag and gift bags. And I have my fingers crossed I don’t get washed out. Horrid, extreme weather has hit my area with the force of a crashing meteor. Flooding, power outages, early business closures. A sharknado spinning by wouldn’t surprise me. The dark clouds that rolled across yesterday’s morning sky made 9 a.m. look like 9 p.m. Traffic was more terrifying than a Doré engraving. The weather people predict more of the same for today. Please let them be as wrong as they are when they predict sun on my days off. Yesterday’s bad weather did get me thinking about weather in literature. Weather, usually extreme, often sets the scene and creates an atmosphere without which the story wouldn’t be the same. Would The Shining be as terrifying on a warm spring day? Would Cat on a Hot Tin Roof feel as sultry and on-edge in the dead of winter? Can you imagine Usher’s house falling at noon in the summer sun? Moving beyond “a dark and stormy night,” weather often plays a more pivotal plot role than atmospheric backdrop. A drought sets The Grapes of Wrath in motion. A tempest does the same for The Tempest. Dorothy needed a tornado to get her to Oz. Robinson Crusoe needed a storm to shipwreck him. Arctic cold saves the world from the Blob. Weather is sine qua non in Gothic fiction. It mirrors characters’ feelings, foreshadows events, and highlights action. Weather can even be a character. The titular tornado in Twister proves a formidable foe. What are some of your favorite works of mystery fiction where weather serves as a plot device?And, if you’re in the Lake Forest, IL area, hope for decent weather and stop by LifeWorking Coworking, 717 Forest Ave, for a book signing (and food!) between 5:30 and 7:30 pm

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It's only for research purposes

 My second novel, Death in D Minor, officially premieres tomorrow, July 11. I’ve been busy revising the third book in the series, A Killing in C Sharp, so I haven’t had time to freak out about release day for my sophomore effort. I resisted the urge to repeat my debut novel swag buying frenzy. With Murder in G Major, I put my book cover on everything—hats, t-shirts, posters, calendars, tote bags, mugs, pens, stickers—you get the idea. For Death in D Minor, I limited myself to pens, postcards, bottle opener key rings, and combination flashlight/laser pointers. I’ve scheduled a book signing on July 13, my first official book signing not associated with a conference panel. Stop by if you’re anywhere near Lake Forest, IL. I’ve also been doing research for future novels. When you write about ghosts, research consists of streaming episodes of Ghost Adventures on Sling TV, listening to paranormal podcasts on Stitcher, and—my favorite—listening to M. R. James’s ghost stories on Audible. Montague Rhodes James, a respected medievalist scholar, college provost (King’s College, Cambridge and Eton), and museum director, wrote the most disturbing ghost story I’ve ever read—”Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.” The. Most. Disturbing. Ever. I had issues with bed sheets for months after I first read it. (No spoilers in this blog. You’ll have to read the story to see what I mean.) James possessed a gift for turning the disarmingly bucolic English country village into the scene of your darkest nightmare. Think Jane Austen tossed with Stephen King, seasoned with a dash of razor-edged satire on the English academic establishment. And a sprinkling of golf jokes. James pokes fun of golfers a lot. His biography attracted me to his ghost stories as much as his writing style. I’m looking at a photo of the man as I write this. He looks like you’d expect an antiquarian scholar/college administrator to look: conservative haircut, receding hair line, wire-rimmed glasses, appropriately stern look. The son of Anglican clergy and a naval officer’s daughter, he had what sounds like a well-adjusted childhood, an excellent education, and a satisfactory career. He never married, spent most of his adult life in an academic setting, and won an Order of Merit. No reports of family dysfunction, childhood traumas, scandals, nervous breakdowns, or any of the other drama so often associated with authors of dark fiction. The mind that translated the Apocrypha and, according to Wikipedia, wrote a Latin hagiography of Aethelbert II of East Anglia also penned dozens of tales featuring cursed objects, demonic creatures, and horrible deaths. The normalcy of the man who wrote such paranormal tales makes the stories seem all the creepier. Still waters run deep.  The best thing about James’s stories? He read them aloud as Christmas presents to friends and students. Christmas presents! No socks or puddings from Professor James. Oh no. How about a demonic painting found in an old book in a church library? Field glasses made from human bones? A killer ash tree?This aspect of his stories—their oral presentation—inspired me to take the advice given in the introduction to a volume of his collected works to experience the stories the way they were meant to be experienced and listen to someone read them. I started with You Tube where I found a surprising collection of audiobooks. Then I discovered Audible. With Audible, I could not only listen to James’s stories, I could listen to them read by Derek Jacobi and David Suchet. And never again look at the English countryside—or a sedate college don—the same. (Images public domain from Wikimedia Commons)

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The Series. Where to start?

 Do you start at the beginning?  As a mystery writer I am also a mystery reader. Many (most?) are series. I’m always looking for a new book, new writer, new series….. but that is where the dilemma starts. Do I read the current one? Or do I go back to the beginning and start there? I remember discovering Michael Connelly (apparently, I had been living on Mars in an isolated space station, that’s the only explanation for joining the party late).  There were simply too many…. I jumped in at the current point and since then have dipped back in time whenever the mood strikes. I’ve liked picking up Harry Bosch and Micky Haller at various points in their lives, skipping forward and backward, knowing what was coming or learning what got them there. When I latched onto Sue Grafton and Kinsey Millhone I started with A is for Alibi and went from there (maybe it was the alphabet that made me feel obligated to march in lock step). As a writer I like to see how the characters have changed over time, how the writing had changed. Do the characters age a year between the annual publication dates (as do Louise Penny’s) or do they remain in an artificial era? PI Kinsey Millhone stays fixed in the 1970s whereas Martha Grimes’s Inspector Richard Jury works has moved forward in time, trusting that the reader will ignore the fact that he was a child in the Second World War (it works for me, but I was raised on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot who was old during the First World War and kept on solving crimes well after the second war ended. Always old, never precisely older.). What makes series so successful? The ability to return to the comfort of a character who is an old friend? I think that’s what I look forward to the most.

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