Tag: mystery writing

mystery writing

The Perils of Writing From Home

by Cate Holahan A man died on my dining room table. His blood seeped into the honed concrete slab becoming an indelible stain on the surface. To the untrained eye, the mark might appear red wine, sloshed on the table by some drunken dinner guest. But the spot is darker. Deeper. I see it. Anyone that has ever read The Widower’s Wife and then attends a dinner party at my house sees it too. In truth, there isn’t any stain on the table. (When I host Thanksgiving, I put plastic underneath the tablecloth like the OCD aunt that covers all the furniture). The mark is all in our minds. It got there because I staged a murder scene in that book in my actual house, and a character does die on the table. My real dining room table. Scenes from this book are set in my house. Folks say “write what you know.” Since I work from home, sometimes that entails snatching details from where I live and incorporating them into my work. My protagonist’s apartment in Lies She Told is a copy of the first place my husband and I lived as a married couple in New York City, […]

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Welcome to Agatha Christie week

 Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Greenway House, Agatha Christie’s summer home. For anyone who loves Agatha Christie (and I’m hoping there’s no one who doesn’t), it’s a treasure. What a treat to see the rooms where she wrote, to walk the woods where she hiked, and to visit the small villages on the Dart River that inspired some of her fiction. In fact, my husband and I stayed at a hotel that had been used in a 1984 version of Ordeal by Innocence. (I think. It also supposedly was slept in by Queen Mary II, though my husband’s convinced that’s impossible. But it was a fabulous hotel and why argue?) Anyway, if you look at the picture of the Dart River below, then look up and to the left, you’ll see Greenway tucked into the woods.  Below is a closer version of Greenway.House. It looks rather austere in this version, though in fact it’s surrounding by rolling hills and there are deck chairs out front where you can sit.  Once you go inside, you’re surrounded by coziness. This is a picture of the sitting room. To the left, which you can’t see, is a piano. (Agatha Christie […]

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Toy Lady

Over the next few days the Bouchercon Mystery Convention will be taking place in St. Petersburg, Florida. More than 1,500 mystery writers and fans will be attending. Karin Slaughter will be the guest of honor. It will be a fabulous time, but I had to bow out this year because I will be having a different sort of fabulous time. I will be sorting toys for my church Attic Sale.  I am the chairperson of the Toy Department, which is not an honor I actually had to fight for. But it’s an honor nonetheless. That means that I spend hours sorting through black trash bags and trying to figure out what that thing is that looks like a bean ball and how much can charge for it? The miraculous part about this whole exercise is that we raise a huge sum of money. The Attic Sale as a whole raises about $50,000 and my little department raises about $2,000. (You can only charge so much for a used Barbie car.) Every penny that we raise we donate. We give to local organizations that help kids in our community, to groups who help prisoners trying to get acclimated after they get out of jail, […]

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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 […]

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Malice Domestic Most Geographical

This month my story, “The End of the World,” will be in a new anthology titled Malice Domestic Most Geographiical (published by Wildside Press.) I am delighted to be included with so many authors I respect, among them G. M. Malliet, Edith Maxwell, Alan Orloff, Keenan Powell, Triss Stein, Leslie Wheeler, and many more. Even more meaningful to me is that I now truly feel like a member of the cozy mystery writing community. One of the things I like about writing for anthologies is that they prompt you to write about things you might not otherwise have considered. In this case, as you might guess, the prompt was to set a mystery anywhere in the world. Setting had to play a part in the story. I spent months debating where the mystery should take place.  I had recently been on a trip to London and it seemed to me that a tour offered up certain murderous possibilities. But then I happened to be watching an episode of Island Hunters and a couple went on a honeymoon to an overwater bungalow hotel in Tahiti. This is a string of little thatched rooms that are lined up, one after the other, over a […]

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Sue Grafton

When I heard that Sue Grafton died, my first thought, beyond intense sadness, was to go to my bookshelves and pick up “A” is for Alibi. Since the day I first read it, back in 1982, I’ve kept that book nearby. I never met Sue Grafton, yet I can say that she and Kinsey Millhone were my close friends.  Reading through the book today, 36 years after the first time, I’m struck by how vivid Kinsey still is. She’s a living, breathing and very funny person. Some of my favorite lines: “The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind. I’m a nice person and I have a lot of friends.” While making coffee: “The gurgling sound was comforting, like the pump in an aquarium.” Of her VW Beetle: “I like my cars cramped and this one was filled with law books, a briefcase where I keep my little automatic, cardboard boxes , and a case of motor oil given to me by a client.” “In addition to the junk, I keep a packed overnight case back there, too, for God knows what emergency. I wouldn’t work for anyone who wanted me that fast.” And my favorite: “The basic characteristics of any good investigator […]

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In praise of House Hunters

My boss, who is given to making profound and occasionally disturbing pronouncements, once told me that every conversation is a power play. (We were having a conversation at the time.) I’ve found this very useful to think about when writing dialogue. And it’s part of why I enjoy the TV show House Hunters so much. You’ve probably seen it at some point or other. It’s on HGTV and it’s half an hour long and its about people, usually a couple, who are looking for a house. Invariably one member of the couple wants one type of house—a traditional fixer-upper—and the other wants modern. Or one wants to spend $300,000 and one $400,000. Or in the episode I watched recently, one was very concerned that his house not be haunted and his wife didn’t care. As a New Yorker, the first thing that strikes me is that if I lived anywhere else in this country, except San Diego, I could get much more house for my money. But why be bitter? The key thing that fascinates me is how these couples make their decisions. They are always so diametrically opposed that compromise is not really possible. One person usually has to give in. So who […]

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To Google Maps, with Love

I recently wrote a short story for an upcoming anthology inspired by the music of Lou Reed. My story, Pale Blue Eyes, based on his song, could not take place in New Jersey or New York, the states with which I am most familiar, having lived in both for years. Something about the rumble of Lou Reed’s gravelly tenor refused to let me throw the characters inspired by his songs in the fast-talking, faster moving Manhattan area and its environs.  So, I set it in Las Vegas. Part of it takes place on the infamous strip, which I’ve been to. But the far more significant part of the story takes place at Las Vegas’ Red Rock Canyon State Park, which I have never visited.  Thanks to Google, though, I could virtually visit. The Internet Giant’s map site let me walk through the Calico Tanks trail, showing me all the scenery I might see on a given day, every step of the way.  I could see the dusty trail, the striated red rock formations and the prickly scrub brush lining the narrow foot path.  I could view user uploaded images at different points in the day of the giant red rocks.  Thanks to associated links, I could even visit […]

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Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

This week, to my complete delight, my Sunday School teacher/private detective/fabulous protagonist Maggie Dove made a guest appearance in the pages of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. This is big time. AHMM has been around since 1956.  It has published a roster of famous mystery writers. And now me! My story is titled “The Countess of Warsaw,” but I can’t explain why without giving away too much.  It was a hard story to write because I knew from the moment I started to write it that I wanted it to be good. Which is a lot of pressure. Usually I meander my way into a story, but in this case I truly hoped it would be picked up by AHMM, and so I focused intently on plotting and making it tight. I tried to think about the stories I loved growing up. I loved to be surprised by the way a plot unfolded and I absolutely loved to be surprised at the end. But you can’t just sit down and say, Okay. Surprise me. It probably took me about a year to write this.  Anyway, it is a great joy to see my name in the Table of Contents and to think of Maggie Dove joining […]

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Mystery women

On March 1, I’ll be speaking at  a feminist mystery writing panel at the Book Culture bookstore in NYC, with several of my fellow Miss Demeanors. Whenever I think about feminism, I think about my mother, who was a very reluctant feminist. My mother got married in 1955 and she embraced the whole suburban dream. She used to joke that she was one of the few people in the world who actually wanted to be a housewife. We lived near Levittown, Long Island, which was the epicenter of suburbia at that time.  My father worked as a display animator, which meant that he made mannequins move. You might have seen his work at the It’s a Small World ride at Disney World. Everything was going to plan, except that, when he turned 30, my father came down with a form of Multiple Sclerosis so virulent that within a few years he couldn’t move.  My mother found herself in desperate need of a job. We were blessed to have a business in the family and she got work there, but the experience taught her, and me, that no matter what your plans, a woman has got to be able to rely on herself. When […]

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