There ARE Modern Mystery Writers for Readers Like Me

headshotJacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery, Barking Mad At Murder, followed by A Bird’s Eye View of Murder. Her first Harlow Brothers’ mystery, Civility Rules, is out in ebook format and paperback. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.jacquelinevick.com.

 

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I love flinch-free fiction. Think Agatha Christie. Rex Stout. P.G. Wodehouse. I want to enjoy the book I’m currently reading, not suffer from nightmares for weeks after I close the pages.  I’m not interested in a sex manual, and I also don’t need to learn any new dirty words. I don’t want the characters to sound like the squeaking mice from an animated cartoon, but I don’t need to be subjected to a diatribe on __________ (insert cause here .) What’s a girl to do?

Fortunately, after reading my Rex Stout and Agatha Christie collection again for the umpteenth time, I ventured–cautiously–into some new writers. New to me. I was pleasantly surprised, and I’d like to share some of them with you in case you’re looking for a good read.

houndedDave Rosenfeld brings us the Andy Carpenter mysteries. His character is a defense attorney who inherited a pile of wealth, so he spends most of his free time with the Tara Foundation, a dog rescue. The rescue is the launching point for the mystery, such as when a dog is stolen from the foundation only to turn up next to a corpse in Who Let the Dog Out? And yes, I do plan to purchase The Twelve Dogs of Christmas for my holiday reading list.

I daeth-wears-a-maskpicked up Ashley Weaver’s Death Wears a Mask based solely on the cover, so I guess good covers do matter. I found a fun world that revolved around Amory Ames and her playboy husband, Milo. The back cover described it as Agatha Christie updated, and I thought it came close. This is the second book in the series, so I’ll have to go back and start with number one.

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I discovered Julia Buckley on a blog. Don’t ask me which one, because I can’t remember. I thought her book sounded intriguing. A writer takes on an apprenticeship with her idol, and the first day there, a dead body turns up on the beach below the house. She reminds me of a slightly restrained Dorothy Cannell (The Thin Woman.)

Robert yankee-peddlerL. Hecker’s Yankee Peddler is more of a farcical social commentary than a mystery, but it’s so funny I had to include it. Ambassador Elizabeth Sullivan Wexford Adams sets out to sell the Litanians on “The American Way.”  Hard to do when these isolated islanders have never heard of the USA.

That’s probably enough to get you started, especially since, if you enjoy the books as I did, you’ll want to read the entire series.

Unlucky Charms Debuts

We don’t usually post on Mondays, but we have a guest post by author Linda O. Johnston that is fitting for this time of the year. Now, don’t get nervous, but it’s October and getting close to Halloween and the post is about superstition mysteries!

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Thank you, Writers in Residence.  I’m delighted to be blogging here.  In case you can’t tell, I enjoy blogging, including guest blogging.

It’s October, the month of Halloween.  Halloween is full of superstitions.   It’s a great time for the debut of my third Superstition Mystery, Unlucky Charms.

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My Superstition Mysteries feature Rory Chasen, a pet lover who managed a pet store in Los Angeles… till she came to Destiny, California.  Destiny is all about superstitions, and Rory headed there when her fiancé died after walking under a ladder.  No, the ladder didn’t fall on him, but he was hit by a car soon afterward.  Did the two interconnect?  Did he die thanks to the effect of the superstition?  Rory wants to know.

And when she first gets to Destiny with her dog Pluckie, she learns that black and white dogs are good luck, especially if you’re going to a business meeting.  Pluckie saves the life of Martha Jallopia, who owns the Lucky Dog Boutique.  Martha then asks Rory to stay in Destiny and manage the shop.

That story is in the first Superstition Mystery, Lost Under a Ladder–in which Martha becomes a murder suspect and Rory has to help her in that, too, by trying to clear her.  In book two, Knock on Wood, Rory’s bff Gemma Grayfield comes to  Destiny to be with Rory–and she’s the next one to become a murder suspect.

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Here, in book three, Unlucky Charms, Rory’s the murder suspect!

All through this, Rory remains a superstition agnostic.  Sure, it probably doesn’t hurt to comply with superstitions… but does it really help?  She continues trying to figure it out.

And there are a lot of suspicions all over Destiny that Rory gets involved with, including seeding the sidewalks in front of the Lucky Dog Boutique with lucky heads-up pennies.  Since I write a lot about dogs and other pets, more superstitions about them are contained in the stories, too–including how unlucky, or lucky, black cats are.

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Like Rory, I’m a superstition agnostic.  How about you?  Do you really believe… or not?

Just in case… well, one thing I will do here at the Writers in Residence blog is to cross my fingers, and knock on wood, that all the writers in residence, as well as all their readers, have lots and lots of good luck!

 

Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries. She additionally currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as paranormal romance for Harlequin Nocturne.

She also wrote the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spin-off from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkeley Prime Crime.

Please visit Linda at her website: http://www.LindaOJohnston.com and friend her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LindaOJohnston

Latest book: Unlucky Charms

The Wisdom of the WInRs by Miko Johnston

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko Johnston

Miko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

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I sincerely hope you, our readers, find The Writers In Residence blog as enlightening as I do.

Madeline’s recent post on story endings reminded me of a project several writers and I undertook earlier this year. We analyzed different endings, both satisfying and disappointing, and came up with a list, but nothing as contemplative as Madeline’s. There’s a difference between knowing a subject and conveying that knowledge with eloquence.

Gayle’s piece on mining your past reminded me of the importance of authenticity. In fact I touched upon that subject in my earlier blog post on killing your characters. My protagonist loses someone dear to her very unexpectedly. I summed up her reaction in a brief paragraph, taken from my own experience with an identical situation. I still get choked up when I read it, and more than one writer giving critique has as well. Mining your life goes beyond knowledge and experience. At the deepest level you hit real emotion. To ensure that I do, I’m following Kate’s suggestions regarding beta readers.

Creating authenticity in our writing has been a thread recently. Bonnie’s post on research, Jackie Vicks’ on writing what you want to know, and Jackie Houchin’s story based on her missionary experiences in Malawi reminded me of that. My current novel takes place during World War I on the lesser know Eastern front. The subject hasn’t been covered in English language literature, which makes it both unique and challenging. But the challenges go beyond research for me.

Like many writers, I struggle to balance writing time with all the other obligations in my life. I’ve lost my ability to multitask as I’ve grown older – or maybe it’s the lack of time pressure now that I no longer work – but time seems to move faster as I’ve become slower. That’s why Rosemary’s post hit home with me. Years ago I found a very effective organizing system called the Funnel Method. Picture a letter-sized page in landscape format. Divide it into three rows across and seven columns down to create 21 boxes. Label the seven top row boxes with categories of what you need to do: appointments, errands, writing, etc. and list what you need to accomplish each week in the appropriate box. Then use the boxes in the middle row to prioritize your lists, from most to least important. The third row is your weekly calendar; assign a day and time for each task based on its priority. It works brilliantly if you follow it. Unfortunately, I don’t – I rebel against micro-management; like Rosemary, ideal time management eludes me.

So thank you fellow WinRs for sharing your insight and wisdom. It’s made a difference in my writing and, I suspect, has helped other writers who read this blog. I’ll end this post with my contribution – the list of endings I mentioned earlier. See if you agree.

SATISFYING ENDINGS:file3171299616544

Summation – where you bring the previous elements back into play and sum up the action or make a statement.

Partial Summation – where some story lines are tied up, but a few are left unresolved for the sequel (common in serialized novels).

Cozy – where everything’s gonna be alright; it settles down at the end and they all have a cup of tea.

Cinematic – zoom in from the setting to the character(s), or out from the character(s) to the setting (like a movie).

Emotional – tug at the heartstrings and pull out the stops; needs to be carefully handled to avoid crossing over to sappiness.

Bookend – where it mirrors, and often clarifies, the opening scene.

Ambiguous/Cliff hanger – promotes discussion as well as sequels; doesn’t tie everything up into a neat bow.

UNSATISFYING ENDINGS:

Trite – there’s no surprise element; clichéd.

Incomplete – story doesn’t resolve or too many important threads left undone.

Abrupt – too rushed or sudden, like a curtain dropping; doesn’t provide satisfaction.

Prolonged – too slow or dragged out; destroys the tension of the climax.

Martians landed – euphemism for a scenario dropped in without being set up.

Cheap shot – solving the issue without input from protagonist.

Mismatched – ending doesn’t have anything to do with the beginning.

Incoherent – ending doesn’t make sense or is rambling.

Sappy – emotionally overdone; turns maudlin or trite.

 

When “Things” Get Out of Hand…

Madeline Gornell

Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of six award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also a potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. For more information, visit her at website or Amazon Author Page.

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Characters and settingI’ll expound on both whenever I get a chanceare the two items that are really important to my enjoying a story. Several of our recent posts here on Writers in Residence have been on research, so I thought I’d add my voice to the discussion. And why? Because without research—unless you’re one of those people who already knows everything about everything(smile)characters and locations have no backbone, no appeal, no enticement, no flavor without it. I know I mention P.D. James a lot, but setting and characters are two of the many aspects of her writing that I revel in; the places, buildings, institutions she took me to, and going there through the eyes of so many multi-careered characters with their own unique back stories was marvelous.

And in my own writing mind, one of the major items in location is sensory experience, and one of the main ways of presenting a character, is explaining how they are experiencing the world through all their senses.

Going off tract a bit with a little back-story, as a child, an elderly and kind lady—still remember her name, Mrs. Shoecraft—in the flat above us, I grew up as a Chicago kid, would often bake yeast-bread. The aroma floating to the floor below, was marvelous. And to my delight, she made mini-loaves and shared. As an adult, and primarily a west coast dweller, I’ve retained my love for good bread, but it isn’t easy making good yeast bread of any type, including rye-bread, ciabata, and baguettes (other childhood favorites and memories), and I have consequently collected various and now seldom-used items like a bread mixer, mix-master kneader, and a lots and lots of books on bread making.

Back to the writing part, Hester Miller, a character in my current WIP, and a carryover from Rhodes – The Mojave-Stone, is baking bread in a scene. Why? Because I think she’s a bread-making kind of Romani housekeeper, and bread baking is a new aspect of her that might explain, or counterbalance some of her other actions. Of course I couldn’t just write the darn scene. I had to do more research on bread! By late afternoon, I’d ordered yet another book from Amazon, and printed out three new recipes from the internet.

Did I write anything that day? No. But two days later, wrote these lines:

Then he caught the aroma in the air. “Is that yeast I smell?”

“Yep,” she answered.

He smiled, not just at her short and enigmatic seeming answer, but his mind shot back to those days eons ago when his father Everett and his mother Sophie would take him to her mother’s house in Austin. Grandma Nelson would always have dough rising when they came over. Invariably Sundays, and she had mini-loaf panseveryone got their own loaf of warm buttery bread. The aromas at Grandma Nelson’s were heaven; but the homemade yeast bread Leiv knew he would never forget. Yep, a special memory.

Ended up, in my story the reference/memory wasn’t even with the same character in mind. Was the additional research worth it? I’m doubtful. Did I enjoy going back down my sensory bread-lane? Definitely.

bookcaseAnd this isn’t an isolated event for me. Research that gets out of hand—at least at “that” moment of interest. Here’s a picture of an ages old bookcase in my kitchen, stuffed with unused recipe books and internet printouts. Many are products of “Research.” Nonetheless, I sincerely believe–not only are past memories, experiences (see several preceding excellent posts here on our site), and travels invaluable to writing, but all the “research gone array” also contributes to the mosaic of our stories. Maybe not exactly at this moment in writing time, maybe even unconsciously, but down the road for sure. To use a bread analogy, to write with texture, flavor,  and aroma (I can smell the bread), research is invaluable. Though it can get out of hand for some of us. But even if I’m completely wrong about the value part, it sure is fun.

I do need to figure out what kind of filming camera one of my characters would prefer. Hmmm, maybe there’s something on the internet…or a book on Amazon maybe….

Happy writing trails!

DEAD MICE, An African Tale – Turning Experiences Into Stories

By Jackie Houchin

In last week’s Writers in Residence blog post, Gayle Bartos-Pool asked the question, “What do I bring to the party?”  She went on to tell of her extensive and varied experiences and personal contacts that have helped in research for her detective and spy novels. It got me to thinking about what I “bring to the party” of my story writing.

(1) I have a good knowledge of the Bible. (2) I’ve been on three short-term mission trips to Malawi, Africa. (3) I have 3 granddaughters who were once little and to whom I told and wrote many stories. (4)  I teach the 4th-6th grade Sunday School class at church and I occasionally help in the K-2nd grade Junior Church.

What a set up for writing children’s stories that take place in Africa and that have a Bible truth woven into them. Hey! That’s just what I am doing. I write the “Missionary Kids Stories” series (about a family serving in Malawi) and I send them out to about a dozen young kids (6-11) at church via email every 1-2 weeks. They are entertaining (according to  the kids) informative about Africa and mission life (occasionally gross as in the story that follows), “safe” (one mom’s comment), and have truths from the Bible as a take away.

Here is the first one I sent out, introducing the family and setting up the series. It is the shortest and simplest one. The stories vary in age level depending on the MK (Missionary Kid) who is telling the story. Stories five and six – told by a teenager – is one story in two parts with a cliff hanger at the end of five.

Dead Mice

Introduction

 These stories are about the (make-believe) Matthews Family, who went to Malawi, Africa about eight years ago to be missionaries.  This family has a dad and a mom, and seven children (three boys and four girls including a set of twins). As part of their names, each of them has the month that they were born in as a first or middle name, like Melody May or April Grace.  All of the stories are written to you as letters.  The first story starts like this: 

Hi kids!

My name is Melody May, and I have a twin sister whose name is Charity June. I also have three brothers and two more sisters. We all have the month we were born in as part of our names. It’s really cool I think, but some people think it’s weird.

My mom – her name is Mrs. Matthews – is really fun and creative. She picks out all our names. My dad – his name is Mr. Matthews – just smiles at her with love and agrees to the names.

People call me Melody, but they call my twin sister “June.” You may wonder how twins could be born in two different months. Can you guess how? It’s kind of tricky.

I’ll let my brothers and sisters tell you about themselves in other letters, but right now, let me tell you about what happened to my sister June and I a week ago.

We are MKs (Missionary Kids) who live in Malawi, Africa. Our dad is a college teacher at the African Bible College. We go to a school there too, but in a different building.

One day, an African boy in our class showed us a mouse… a really DEAD mouse. Then he dared us to do something with it. At first June and I refused, but then…..

Here’s how it happened.

The boy’s name is Kukana (Koo-KAH-nah). On that day, the first day of the new school year, he dared us to EAT a dead mouse! Ewww! Would YOU eat a mouse, especially a dead one? (I guess a live one would be worse!)

There are kids from America and Canada and Holland and South Africa in my class. There are many Malawian kids too. We have three grades in our classroom because, well, our teacher is very smart and can teach three grades at once! At least that’s what I think.

That day, when Kukana stood up in class with a closed box and told us he brought something for us to eat, we all smiled. We thought it might be some roasted peanuts, or those small super-sweet bananas they grown in Malawi. Yum.

Then he opened the box and reached in and held up this really stiff, black, hairy thing.  Some of the new girls screamed, but June and I didn’t. We almost did, but we grabbed each other’s hands and squeezed real tight.

“This is a mbewa,” he told us.

(You say mbewa like this – mmmmm-BEE-wah.)

“They are very tasty to eat,” Kukana said.

Then he held the mbewa up high by the stiff tail, tilted his head back, put the old dead mouse’s head into his mouth… and crunched it off!!!!!  He smiled big as he chewed it. The Malawian boys cheered and stomped their feet!

Our teacher frowned a little, but she didn’t say anything.

Kukana smiled again, real big, and there were little bits of black fur in his teeth!  He leaned very close to June and me and showed us his icky tongue, trying to scare us, I think.

Then he ate the rest of it….. even the tail. There were more hoots from the boys, and this time Mrs. Molenaar said, “Okay. That’s enough. Now tell the class about mbewa. Why did you bring it – and eat it?”

Mrs. Molenaar knew about mbewa – we could tell by her look – but she wanted Kukana to explain about this “famous Malawian snack food.”

“We eat mbewa because it’s good protein food,” began Kukana.

June and I looked at each other, our eyebrows raised way up and our eyes got big. OUR family eats  eggs, chicken, fish, and sometimes pork or beef for protein.

Kukana went on, “Village families here in Malawi are very poor. They raise goats and sometimes cows to SELL but not to EAT. They do this to have money for beans and maize to eat, and seeds to plant.”

I thought about what else OUR family eats. We like the beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, and peanuts that the villagers grow. We also eat yogurt and canned fruit and oatmeal. Sometimes Mom cooks nsima (nnnnnn-SEE-mah) which is made from white corn, called maize, and tastes like thick hot cereal without any salt. (Mom adds some for us.) Poor Malawians eat that every day. Sometimes that is all they HAVE to eat.

“There’s LOTS of mbewa around,” said Kukana. “You just have to catch them. We go to where old maize stalks or dead grass is piled up. We stand around the pile with sticks. Then someone lifts up the pile with a long pole and mice run out everywhere.  We have a lot of fun killing them with our sticks!”

Kukana laughed and all the boys laughed too.

“Then we put five or maybe ten of them on a long stick and roast them.”

Kukana looked right at June and me, opened his eyes really big and added, “….just… like… your… marshmallows!” Then he laughed in a mean way.

That made us feel mad and scared and icky, but we didn’t do anything. I think it was then, that I started to think….. maybe I WILL eat a dead mouse!

Mrs. Molenaar gave Kukana a stern look and he finished his talk like this. “Sometimes our fathers burn off the maize stubble (old stalks) in our fields. Then all the people stand around the edge of the field to catch the mice that run out.”

Mrs. Molenaar told the rest of it. “After the mice are roasted, which dries out the bodies but doesn’t burn off all the fur, they will keep for quite a while. Maybe you American children have tried jerky. It’s a bit like that.”

She turned to Kukana. “Did you want to share your mbewa with the class?”

He walked through the desks with the box down low. All the Malawian boys and girls took one out and started crunching and chewing. One American boy, named Benji took one too.

When the box came to June and me, my sister leaned way back, but I….. I reached in, grabbed a stiff hairy burned mouse and took it out.  Before I could think about what I was doing, I leaned back, held the thing up, and crunched off its head!!!!!!

This time June DID scream. “Melody! Noooo!! You are going to get sick and die!! And Mom will be very mad!”

I didn’t look at her. I stared at Kukana as I chewed the prickly, scratchy thing. It tasted kind of like burnt peanut shells and grease to me. Finally I swallowed it and stuck out my black-specked tongue to prove I ate it.

Kukana was surprised. He smiled at me (nicely, this time) and gave a little nod.  After that, he didn’t tease June and me. He kind of respected me, and since I was usually with my sister, he didn’t dare tease her either. After a while we even became friends.

Let me tell you a secret now. I didn’t finish the dead mouse.  I passed it to the boy behind me who snatched it up and ate it.

And you know what else?  I didn’t get sick and die.

I just became a Malawian.

But Mom DID get mad at me and told me never to do that again. I promised her that I wouldn’t. I figured I would never HAVE to do it again.

Later in our Sunday School class at the International Bible Fellowship church where my Dad sometimes preaches, I learned what Paul wrote in one of his letters in the Bible. He was a missionary to MANY countries. I don’t know if he ever had to eat mice, but he did say in 1 Corinthians 9:22, that he wanted to “become all things to all men that he might save some” for Christ.

I hope Kukana will someday want to know Jesus too. Maybe he will listen to me now when I tell him the gospel story ….. BECAUSE I ate the mouse.

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~~ Facts ~~

          Malawians DO eat mice like this for protein. Sometimes you can see them along the road, selling mbewa still lined up in a row on the roasting sticks, or in piles on a piece of cloth they spread out on the ground. They also eat big grasshoppers for protein which they fry in oil and sprinkle with hot pepper.