Agatha Short Story Nominees

Agatha awards, so named for Agatha Christie of mys­tery writ­ing fame, are given every year at the Mal­ice Domes­tic con­fer­ence. One award is given for the top short story pub­lished the pre­vi­ous year. This year’s nom­i­nees are all win­ners, even though only one will receive the tea pot that is the cov­eted prize. Nom­i­nated for Best Short Story are:

The Odds are Against Us” by Art Tay­lor, Ellery Queen Mys­tery Mag­a­zine, Nov. 2014
“Pre­mo­ni­tion” by Art Tay­lor, Chesa­peake Crimes Homi­ci­dal Hol­i­days (Wild­side Press)
“The Shadow Knows” by Barb Goff­man, Chesa­peake Crimes Homi­ci­dal Hol­i­days (Wild­side Press)
“Just Desserts for Johnny” by Edith Maxwell (Kings River Life Mag­a­zine)
“The Bless­ing Witch” by Kathy Lynn Emer­son, Best New Eng­land Crime Sto­ries 2015: Rogue Wave (Level Best Books)

Those who attend Mal­ice Domes­tic this year are in for a dilemma. Which of these excel­lent sto­ries will they vote for? What idea sparked the story? Find that answer on the Wicked Cozy Author blog, Best Short Agatha Nom­i­nees on Ideas. The Writ­ers Who Kill blog asked each writer other ques­tions. How many char­ac­ters? How should they be devel­oped? What comes first, story or theme? Their post is: An Inter­view with the 2014 Agatha Best Short Story Nom­i­nee Authors. They also have links to each story.

Wish I were going to Mal­ice Domes­tic, except, then I’d have to decide which story was best. Quite an impossibility.

(Other links of inter­est are the Mal­ice Domes­tic list of ear­lier short story win­ners and all more recent win­ners.)

 

The Eagle Has Hatched!

I must take a pass on shar­ing my War of 1812 research. Over a month ago I blogged about a pair of eagles on their nest of two eggs. Then we had snow on the first day of spring. How were the eagles faring?

Yes, you see an eagle head.

Yes, you see an eagle head.

This pic­ture might give you a clue. They were keep­ing those eggs warm. (An author­ity answered wor­ried watch­ers, “Notice the snow doesn’t melt over the par­ent. That means his or her feath­ers are keep­ing the body well insulated.”)

Now, this morn­ing our paper had the news—the first egg had hatched! Byeagle feeds baby the time I sat down at my com­puter to write this blog, the sec­ond egg had hatched and the first eaglet had already had its first meal. Fish bits, yum, yum. Mamma (or Papa) had to keep try­ing to con­nect with the tiny wob­bling beak.

Here’s some inter­est­ing arti­cles to read and videos to watch: Arti­cle in this morning’s news­pa­per. Video-first egg hatches. Video-second egg hatches. A first meal.

Five Stars For LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF MURDER

Nancy Martin cover1I’ve read and thor­oughly enjoyed the Black­bird Sis­ters mys­ter­ies by Nancy Mar­tin, but this is my lat­est. (Not hers, but I’m a bit behind.) The three sis­ters make do with­out the money they grew up with (and their par­ents mis­spent before they deserted the crum­bling fam­ily home). Nora tries to keep body and soul together, save the fam­ily estate, and, oh, yes, not marry the man she loves who just hap­pens to be a semi-reformed mob­ster. You see, there’s this thing about any man who mar­ries one of the sis­ters (there have been sev­eral) dying a sud­den and usu­ally dread­ful death.

That is some­thing that runs through all the books. But the sis­ters have a lot more going on. Babies, for one. That’s one sister’s specialty—she’s had many hus­bands. Mys­tery for another. A mys­tery that involves Nora more than any­one. In this book, Nora is sent by the new boss at her news­pa­per to write a pro­file on a bil­lion­aire fash­ion designer at his new high-tech organic farm. Unfor­tu­nately, he is mur­dered before she can com­plete the interview.

To quote from the Goodreads descrip­tion, “If any­thing can bring the blue-blooded Black­bird sis­ters together, it’s a mur­der inves­ti­ga­tion involv­ing high-society events, glam­orous peo­ple, and the dis­ap­pear­ance of a genet­i­cally per­fect pig that may or may not be bask­ing in the sun at Black­bird Farm. They’ll all have to pull together this time, because if Nora can’t bring home the bacon, she might have to exchange her bucolic estate for a cramped walk-up.”

The Black­bird Sis­ters mys­ter­ies are always great reads. I espe­cially liked this one. Lots of fun and fash­ion, mys­tery and dan­ger. Nora and her sis­ters keep me enthralled!

America At War-1812

My Thurs­day series on the War of 1812 continues.

President Madison

Pres­i­dent Madison

They called it Pres­i­dent Madison’s War. It was a war to free the impos­si­ble con­di­tions on the Atlantic Ocean—Britain seiz­ing ships and con­script­ing sailors, while both Britain and France declared our ship­ments ille­gal. The coun­try was deep in depres­sion with the Pres­i­dent for­bid­ding trade across the ocean. Although also ille­gal, com­merce con­tin­ued to the north, across the Great Lakes with Canada.

But the lack of com­merce and the result­ing Amer­i­can finan­cial depres­sion wasn’t the only rea­son many in the United States favored war. Some wanted to over­come the advan­tage the British had with the Indi­ans who often joined Eng­lish forces against the United States. Oth­ers were look­ing to grab land, to add farmable acres, specif­i­cally Canada and Florida. Thomas Jef­fer­son is said to have remarked that cap­tur­ing Canada was, “a mere mat­ter of march­ing.”  There were areas of Canada largely pop­u­lated by Amer­i­cans. Mean­while, Eng­land believed that Canada was ade­quately pro­tected. The United States did bat­tle with Cana­dian and British forces, with vic­to­ries going each way.

One notable Amer­i­can vic­tory was at Put-In-Bay when Amer­i­can Com­modore Oliver Haz­ard Perry turned pos­si­ble defeat into vic­tory and cap­tured an entire British fleet. His report became famous. “We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.”

Even­tu­ally, how­ever, the Amer­i­can attack was defeated. The Amer­i­cans in Canada didn’t rally around their for­mer coun­try­men. They only wanted to be left alone. They prob­a­bly num­bered among those who were united by the Cana­dian vic­to­ries into the coun­try that, in 2012 cel­e­brated their two hun­dredth anniver­sary of vic­tory against their south­ern neighbors.

Dur­ing much of 1812, most British ships were too involved fight­ing France to worry about our east coast. The only for­ti­fi­ca­tions on both sides were along our North­ern boarder with Canada. Life went on as usual on most of the Atlantic coast. Var­i­ous civil­ian mili­tia formed along the water­front and in towns and vil­lages. How­ever, no United States mil­i­tary forces were placed on Chesa­peake Bay.

Goodreads Giveaway-YESTERDAY’S BODY

I’m sub­sti­tut­ing a bit of news for my usual five-star review today. I’m run­ning a Goodreads give­away with Yesterday’s Body, my first pub­lished mys­tery. The event runs from March 17, through April 9, and I’m giv­ing away ten copies. Goodreads give­away link here.

For a brief descrip­tion: Jo Durbin isn’t under 40 or anorexic slim. Her face wouldn’t launch a thou­sand ships or even a row­boat. She won­ders, how did she get the job with those beau­ti­ful peo­ple? And, will the police find her fin­ger­prints on the mur­der weapon? Did one of those beau­ti­ful peo­ple she works with kill Francine? Or, will they point to Jo?

Hard to explain that she’s only try­ing to revi­tal­ize a career gone south. Her plan—write a best-seller as a bag lady liv­ing on the street. Invent an imag­i­nary cat to fur­ther her image. Col­lect keys that let her into unused stor­age and vacant homes. Get accepted by the street peo­ple. Befriend the guy who wants to “save” them all. It seems pos­si­ble. Ignore the carp­ing sis­ter who “knows bet­ter”? That one’s tricky. Elude the killer long enough to solve the crime? You know that’s the killer question.
“I very much like your voice. You project just the tone and atti­tude I love to read.” Chris Roer­den, Author of Agatha Award-winning DON’T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY.
The first edi­tion e-book was a 2011 EPIC final­ist for mystery/suspense.
The sequel, For­got­ten Body, will be pub­lished later this year.

The Forgotten War

This year, 2015, marks the 200th anniver­sary of the last bat­tle of the War of 1812. Note that I didn’t say this is two hun­dred years since the end of the War of 1812, because that offi­cially came on Decem­ber 24, 1814, when The Treaty of Ghent was signed. But that was in Europe, and with­out twenty-first cen­tury com­mu­ni­ca­tion, such as cell phones, radio, or even cable mes­sages, the news had to wait until a ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Why am I inter­ested in that bit of his­tory? My next book revolves around a reen­act­ment of the War of 1812, so I did a bit of research for inci­den­tal com­ments as my char­ac­ters speak. I wanted to know what was true, although some of my char­ac­ters may not know the real facts. But why did I choose that time to reen­act instead of the more com­mon Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War or the Civil War?

That’s another story.

My hus­band and I spent a lot of time sail­ing on Chesa­peake Bay. We stopped at var­i­ous ports and I shopped the local gift shops. They always had a book about the local his­tory, which included the War of 1812 and bat­tles on Chesa­peake Bay. I read up on those bat­tles. The burn­ing of Havre de Grace. How the peo­ple of St. Michaels fooled the British. The defeat of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and the burn­ing of the White House. The suc­cess­ful bat­tle at Bal­ti­more. So I knew when I wrote the next book my char­ac­ter, Jo Durbin would be involved in a reen­act­ment of the For­got­ten War. Of course, there’s a For­got­ten Body.

And, while the sub­ject is fresh in my mind, I’ll spend the next few Thurs­days telling bits of Amer­i­can his­tory that changed the lives of our ances­tors (and, even­tu­ally, our lives as well).

Why did we go to war with Britain? What hap­pened back in 1803-07? The United King­dom (Eng­land) and Napo­lianic France went to war against each other. Nei­ther side wanted Amer­i­can sup­plies to reach the other. They both declared it ille­gal for Amer­i­can ships to deliver goods to the other. Which, they fig­ured, made it per­fectly okay to seize ships defy­ing their laws. France seized 206 United States flag ships, but Eng­land seized 528 Amer­i­can ships. Not only that, but Eng­land seized around 6,000 men from our ships and put them to work on their ships, often claim­ing they were really AWOL from British ships. They also bar­ri­caded Amer­i­can ports.

In 1811, Pres­i­dent Thomas Jef­fer­son decided the only way to solve that Henry Clayprob­lem was to for­bid the Amer­i­can com­pa­nies from ship­ping any­thing any­where. Con­gress agreed. That put the whole coun­try into a finan­cial depres­sion. Not hard to imag­ine what came next. Fully half the old con­gress was voted out. The old guard was replaced by the young War Hawks. Henry Clay became the new Speaker of the House, a posi­tion, until then merely as a pre­sid­ing offi­cer. Under Henry Clay the office became one of party lead­er­ship, as it is now. (That would be the Demo­c­ra­tic– Repub­li­cans, before the party split. The other party was the Federalists.)

So Amer­ica went to war against Great Britain. Amer­ica was com­pletely unpre­pared for war.

 

Five Star Read — EVANS ABOVE

This is the first of the series, and the first of Rhys Bowen’s three series. I dis­cov­ered her third series first, then the sec­ond, and now while I’m try­ing to col­lect all the books in the sec­ond, I decided to try the first. Did not know what to expect with a male pro­tag­o­nist, a vil­lage con­sta­ble in Wales. I must say, from my read­ing of the first book, that this series is just as delight­ful (not a term usu­ally asso­ci­ated with male cops) as the other two. In this book read­ers are right there in Wales, along with all the frus­tra­tions, the odd goings on, and the vari­ety of char­ac­ters. Add to that a puz­zling plot and a wind-up that pulls an amaz­ing host of events together.

Evans aboveI’d like to quote from the publisher’s descrip­tion — Evan Evans, a young police con­sta­ble, has traded city life for that of Llan­fair — an idyl­lic Welsh vil­lage. Nestling in the Snow­do­nia moun­tain range, Llan­fair looks to Evans like a town for­got­ten by time, but he quickly learns that even the bucolic coun­try­side has its share of eccen­tric — and deadly — char­ac­ters. Evans’s new neigh­bors include two com­pet­i­tive min­is­ters vying for the souls of their flock, one las­civ­i­ous bar­maid, and three other Evanses: Evans-the-Meat; Evans-the-Milk and Evans-the-Post (whose favorite hobby is to read the mail before he deliv­ers it).

Before Evans has time to sort through the com­pli­cated rela­tion­ships and rival­ries of his new home, he’s called to the scene of a crime as bru­tal and fear­some as any he encoun­tered in the big city. Two hik­ers have been mur­dered on the trails of the local moun­tain, and Evans must hunt down a vicious killer — who may or may not be linked to the mys­te­ri­ous destruc­tion of Mrs. Powell-Jones’ prize-winning tomatoes.

Most of this series is avail­able as e-books only. I’ve got­ten them as used books through the resellers on Ama­zon since my hus­band enjoys them too, and he hasn’t con­verted to e-book read­ing. I do wish they were more widely available.

Since I men­tioned the rar­ity of books pub­lished even as late as 2005, I won­der, do you have a favorite series that is out of print?

 

Thoughts on the Writing Process

One Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch expres­sion I’ve heard is: “Too soon old, too late smart.” A more com­mon expres­sion is: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I guess I could accept both those sen­ti­ments, but as the 85-year-old self-described Grandma Moses of Mys­tery, I tend to ignore them. Why else would I read writ­ing mag­a­zines, lis­ten to videos, and inter­act with other writ­ers to learn more of my trade? Or, am I relearn­ing things I thought I already knew?

I’ve been attempt­ing to write a short story, a pre­quel to my first mys­tery. writer at workEvery day I started over, chang­ing what I had writ­ten, decid­ing it was all wrong. Then I read a blog post from a well-published author I fol­low. She was hav­ing trou­ble writ­ing her newest book. She decided the prob­lem was that she didn’t know where it was going, what should come next. She had to take time out until she knew what her char­ac­ters would do. A few days later I read a mag­a­zine Q and A with an author. His words—writing was a strug­gle all the way. But he also said that if he were told what a scene should be, he could write it eas­ily. The idea was the hard part.

Okay, got it. Yeah, that idea. And I real­ize, when I’m writ­ing a full-length mys­tery, I keep a sep­a­rate file to talk about my story. I ask myself, would Jo do that? If she did, what would her sis­ter say? What would Mel do? I’ll ram­ble on down one path, then back up. “Nope,” I tell myself, “that’s not right. But maybe, if she said…” And I’m off on a new string.

So, why not do the same thing with a short story?

Hey, did this old dog learn a new trick? Umm, maybe. Maybe just a relearned trick. But that won’t stop me from look­ing for some­thing new for my tool kit. After all, I only started this blog a cou­ple of years ago, at 83. And I’m still try­ing to improve it every chance I get. I try, as well, to improve my sto­ries as I write new ones. I will go along with the, “Too soon old,” part of that say­ing. But, “too late smart?” Nope, that will never happen.

I think writ­ers are a time­less bunch. We write about oth­ers of any age, no mat­ter our own age. Women write about men, men write about women. We send our char­ac­ters to far lands, or into their own minds. If we didn’t con­tinue to learn and inno­vate, we’d have one story to tell, then be done. I’m will­ing to bet, each writer has learned some­thing com­pletely new within the last year, and writ­ten about it. Do you agree? Or, do you disagree?

Craft Blog Visit

I’m vis­it­ing Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers blog today with a repeat post 3-2-15 786px-Quilt_barn_stock_tp_harrison_co_Ohioabout barn quilts. How do you like the new barn pic­ture she found to show? See the whole story here.

My ebook, A Knuck­le­head in 1920s Alaska is still free through March 2, 2015. It is avail­able for Kin­dle at Amazon.

Fol­low the daily posts at Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers. Thurs­day, on my blog, look for a writ­ing hint I dis­cov­ered a cou­ple of days ago, quite dis­prov­ing that say­ing, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Free e-book—A KNUCKLEHEAD IN 1920s ALASKA

A Knucklehead in 1920s AlaskaEvery Thurs­day I post some­thing I find inter­est­ing, hop­ing you will too. So, today’s inter­est­ing bit is about tomorrow—which is when one of my e-books goes free for five days.

File it under both his­tory and mys­tery. The his­tory part is easy. The book is one I wrote with my father from audio tapes he gave me quite a few years ago about going to Alaska to earn col­lege money.  He was nine­teen, a hot-headed kid who didn’t want to take any guff. Of course, guff is often what one gets from an employer, so he had a lot of dif­fer­ent jobs. He failed to blow him­self up car­ry­ing dyna­mite. He failed to drown when he and a horse ended up under the ice in a near-freezing river. He even man­aged to sur­vive danc­ing with what they referred to as “a woman on the line” when her boyfriend showed up. In fact, after I heard my father’s adven­tures, I real­ized that it’s a mar­vel I was ever born. That’s the his­tory part.

The mys­tery part is at the tail end of this book, sort of a Thank You for reading—a reprint of my first short mys­tery, “Yesterday’s News” pub­lished in Future’s Mys­te­ri­ous Mys­tery Mag­a­zine sev­eral years ago.

A Knuck­le­head in 1920s Alaska e-book is avail­able for Kin­dle. The free dates are Feb­ru­ary 27 through March 3, 2015. Do read and enjoy!

Mon­day, I’ll be back here, but I’ll be vis­it­ing Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers too.