Where do ideas come from?

Where DO your ideas come from?

That’s a ques­tion a writer often hears. And, the writer has to think about it. Yes, the idea came from some­where, but how did it devel­op and grow into a sto­ry? Quite pos­si­bly, the writer may have for­got­ten what sparked some­thing, that in turn, pulled togeth­er a bunch of mem­o­ries, ideas, hap­pen­ings, or, just pos­si­bly, a flight of fancy.

I remem­ber the spark that start­ed my young adult ghost mys­tery. It was a sign that direct­ed one to “Sandy Bot­tom Road.” We passed it by, I nev­er saw the road, but I just could­n’t for­get that name. Even­tu­al­ly, Sandy Bot­tom Road became a major part of that book. How­ev­er, I don’t remem­ber the twists I devel­oped on the way.

More recent­ly I wrote a short sto­ry to sub­mit to a future book of short sto­ries. They want­ed sev­er­al mys­ter­ies with a time trav­el theme. My sto­ry was­n’t cho­sen, but I’ve been play­ing around with the idea, devel­op­ing it into a pos­si­ble new series.

What did I throw into the pot to let it sim­mer into a full fledged project? I’m rather old so my mem­o­ry goes well into the past. The mem­o­ry I had took place a year or two after the end of World War II. I was in high school and a fel­low of about high school age came to school with a stu­dent for about two days, then dis­ap­peared. The sto­ry was that he’d arrived in Seat­tle on a Russ­ian boat as part of  the crew and jumped ship.

I nev­er heard what hap­pened to him, any­thing about him, or even his name. But I decid­ed to supply/invent his sto­ry. When my sto­ry failed to find an audi­ence, I decid­ed to add a few oth­er things and mere­ly use that part as an intro­duc­tion to a time-trav­el mys­tery series. The next step was to research his­to­ry and decide where else to send my ama­teur sleuth. I need­ed a more his­toric destination.

Hmm. Recent­ly I’d heard about a repli­ca of the Lin­coln funer­al train tour­ing the coun­try. Nope, did­n’t think about that soon enough to actu­al­ly vis­it the train. Now that would have been per­fect, but I was too late. But there are plen­ty of sites on the inter­net where I found a lot of infor­ma­tion. Next stop, look­ing up slang and music of the era. Check­ing out where the funer­al train was and when. Find­ing the may­or of one city (Philadel­phia) where the train stopped. Dis­cov­er­ing a few rumors from that time — rumors that if car­ried out, could have been dis­as­trous (I did need a crime for a mys­tery, yes?)

Some­thing else perked in my mind. A year or so ago, maybe longer, I read about a series of short books being devel­oped by a team — uni­corn West­erns. They decid­ed that with uni­corns, they would­n’t have to wor­ry about being his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate, or even phys­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble, I guess. It was­n’t the uni­corn idea that made a spark, it was the short books, to be offered at 99 cents each. The first three would come out one a month. Now, THAT is what sparked my inter­est. Short books, at 99 cents each. Hey, maybe I could write three of them, pub­lish and keep writ­ing. (Like I may have men­tioned, I dream big.) And there’s cer­tain­ly a lot of his­to­ry in our past that could be looked into. Hey, such books might even spark an inter­est in learn­ing his­to­ry, always an admirable notion. Yeah—then…

Then I applied a whole lot of imag­i­na­tion. So I’m cur­rent­ly work­ing on a new book. (Or, I should be doing that instead of writ­ing this blog. But that’s anoth­er story.)

I’ve had peo­ple ask me where I get my ideas. Now, I’d like to ask the read­ers — When you read a new book, of what­ev­er kind of fic­tion, do you won­der where the idea came from? Or, do you make your own con­nec­tions and think, I bet this … was the spark? (If so, just maybe, you have a book inside you wait­ing to burst forth!)

Lowcountry Boil (A Liz Talbot Mystery, #1) — Book Review

Lowcountry Boil

I read (and first reviewed) this book eight years ago. My deci­sion then was: Great mys­tery. Loved the plot, the char­ac­ters, the sit­u­a­tion, the, um, every­thing about it? Liz returns to the Car­oli­na island home­stead after her grand­moth­er dies, and she learns it was mur­der. So, why would any­one kill a sweet old lady? There are con­spir­a­cies afoot, and a ghost who con­fers with Liz, look­ing to save the island from the bad guys.

At that time the pub­lish­er, Hen­ery Press, was new. They said, if you like one of our mys­ter­ies, you’ll like them all. I dis­cov­ered that was close to the truth, for I sam­pled sev­er­al of their authors. I also read sev­er­al more of Susan M. Boy­er’s Low­coun­try mys­tery series.

This fits the “cozy” mys­tery since it takes place on an island, Liz’s broth­er is the local police chief, and Liz knows every­one she sees. Where it might veer a bit off “cozy” is Liz, her­self. She’s a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor, and car­ries her Sig 9 in her Kate Spade hand­bag.  Her gold­en retriev­er, Rhett, rides shot­gun in her hybrid Escape. But then, pos­si­bly that’s the dif­fer­ence with this pub­lish­er’s mys­ter­ies. Cozy with a twist that is not baked yum­mies (although some are def­i­nite­ly encoun­tered) or hand­i­crafts (or does refur­bish­ing a house count?).

Not to wor­ry, there is a mur­der, a killer, and dan­ger to Liz and fam­i­ly, as well as a some­times help­ful ghost. Who could ask for more?  (Maybe win­ning an Agatha for best first mystery?)

Book Review — A Quiet Life in The Country

A Quiet Life in the Country

The Ama­zon write­up starts: Lady Emi­ly Hard­cas­tle is an eccen­tric wid­ow with a secret past. Flo­rence Arm­strong, her maid and con­fi­dante, is an expert in mar­tial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from Lon­don to the coun­try, hop­ing for a qui­et life.

Now, that para­graph sparked my inter­est  and I cer­tain­ly did enjoy the mys­tery. I espe­cial­ly liked the main char­ac­ters, two ladies, one the lady, and the oth­er her maid/servant/friend. While polite­ly, or sass­i­ly (is that a word?) charg­ing through the book, they man­age to move into a new home, meet the locals, and, par­ty, and quite inci­den­tal­ly, ah, but that would be telling it out of order.

First they was the body in the woods. Dead, of course. Then the police were com­plete­ly off track. What were Lady Hard­cas­tle and Flo to do?

As they inves­ti­gate fur­ther, into rur­al rival­ries and resent­ment, they dis­cov­er secrets and intrigue. Sus­pects abound. Before the caper is all over, the lady and Flo dis­cov­er one thing for sure. There is no such thing as a qui­et life in the country.

I gave this five stars.

Agatha Christie’s Birthday

Happy Birthday to Agatha!

Agatha Christie

Today is the day we (writ­ers, okay, read­ers too) cel­e­brate Agatha Christie’s birth­day. She is the moth­er-lode of mys­ter­ies. Her spe­cial­ty was plac­ing a mur­der in a small vil­lage that is then solved by col­lect­ing clues, notic­ing per­son­al­i­ty traits, and inven­tive think­ing. Add a bake shop, knit­ting club, or a sim­i­lar bit of savory eat­a­bles, per­haps a small busi­ness, or hob­by, and a col­lec­tion of peo­ple, often women, and you have today’s cozy mys­tery. Read­ers, and writ­ers as well, love the puz­zle they find in the cozy mystery.

Today with the pan­dem­ic hit­ting the world, many find their com­pan­ion­ship in the pages of a real book, or per­haps in the elec­tron­ic ver­sions found on their hand-held library of choice. (I know, my home does­n’t have enough shelf space for the vol­umes my Kin­dle carries.)

Dame Agath­a’s first mys­tery was pub­lished in the Unit­ed States in 1920, and in Eng­land in 1921. She died in 1975, but the last first pub­li­ca­tion of a book she wrote was in 2014. She had writ­ten it in 1954 to raise mon­ey for a church. In 1974 and 1975 the last cas­es for Poirot and Miss Marple were pub­lished, but they were both writ­ten in the 1940s. Her books came out, one to three titles a year! Wow, she was pro­lif­ic. She also wrote 165 short sto­ries, most­ly in col­lec­tions. Aaaaand, she also wrote six romances as Mary Westmacott.

They were all writ­ten before com­put­ers, pos­si­bly some before type­writ­ers. Okay, not before type­writ­ers. Type­writ­ers were invent­ed in 1868. But that fac­toid shows me anoth­er hand­i­cap Agatha Christie had. I found that fact out in less than a minute on my com­put­er. Dame Agatha would have had to get in a car, dri­ve to a library, park the car, walk into the library, walk through aisles of books, pick out one or five, take them to the library table, scan through them until she found that fact, if, in truth, the library just hap­pened to have the book she need­ed. Accord­ing to how far she lived from the library — a half day or more spent with the pos­si­bil­i­ty of not find­ing her fact. Anoth­er option: change the sen­tence so she did­n’t even men­tion a type­writer, or wax elo­quent­ly about how her char­ac­ter used a love­ly, spe­cial­ly designed pen to write.

So, give thanks to Agatha Christie — and the march of time that pro­vides we eager read­ers with a Kin­dle or Nook and instant access to the book of our choice!

Favorite Authors

Yes, writ­ers have favorite authors. I prob­a­bly have too many to actu­al­ly list. Pos­si­bly, the most recent book I’ve read is my favorite.

Here’s a few favorites: Jinx Schwartz, Susan Meier, Don­na Andrews, Diane Vallere, Rhys Bowen, Kaye George, Tamar Myers, Dorothy Gilman (oh, that goes way back), Lois Win­ston, oh, there are just too many! Right now I’m read­ing a book by Joan­na Camp­bell Slan, Paper, Scis­sors, Death.  Maybe she’ll turn out to be my favorite author (today, anyway).

Most of those I list­ed are mys­tery writ­ers. I like books with a bit of his­to­ry, many that are con­sid­ered cozy, sev­er­al who are bit woo, woo (ghosts, future worlds, for instance), oh, and with ani­mals or boats, or.…  Anoth­er favorite author — must­n’t for­get Sharon Huss Roat — my daugh­ter who writes young adult.

Books are won­der­ful, don’t you think?

A bit of history — Ration Books

Rationing helped the war effort

In this time of coro­na virus and a dis­rupt­ed coun­try, I remem­ber anoth­er time of dis­rup­tion in the Unit­ed States, and the world. Since I’m old, I remem­ber World War II. I was a child, but I remem­ber ration books. The things rationed were to allow our coun­try to tool up to fight a war. We received the books in the mail, one book for each mem­ber of the fam­i­ly. In each book were tiny per­fo­rat­ed rec­tan­gles in a vari­ety of col­ors. We had no idea what would be rationed.

The told us by radio on a Sun­day morn­ing. (Stores were all closed, as usu­al.) Start­ing the next day, we would need a coupon as well as mon­ey to pur­chase cer­tain good. Canned veg­eta­bles, meat and but­ter, shoes, sug­ar, and gaso­line are the ones I remem­ber. The prod­ucts rationed were to save ship­ping space (sug­ar), met­al for build­ing ships (canned foods), meat, but­ter, and shoes to feed and clothe the sol­diers and sailors. Or, at least, that’s what we surmised.

Some prod­ucts were devel­oped to over­come such needs as shoes for a grow­ing child as, I seem to remem­ber the allot­ment was one pair a year. And, shoes were added to pro­vide a fash­ion change. They called them play shoes, and there was no leather in them, just plas­tic and cloth, rather like ten­nis shoes on steroids. Also, food providers devel­oped cake mix­es, and, I tell you, they were a sor­ry bunch of a waste of sug­ar. I remem­ber my moth­er try­ing one. Yuck. And, although, as a farm fam­i­ly we most­ly pro­duced our own food, rais­ing cat­tle, chick­ens, and veg­eta­bles and saved our meat coupons for but­ter, the city folks did­n’t have that advan­tage. Some­one devel­oped oleo margarine.

The gas for our cars was anoth­er thing. The speed lim­it was changed to 35 miles per hour to save our warn tires — as rub­ber went to the war effort as well. But farm­ers not only were gen­er­al­ly exempt­ed from the draft as the coun­try need­ed the food, but they had extra gas to run their trac­tors. My dad shook his head over the gov­ern­men­t’s sys­tem. They asked each farmer to record how much gas was used dur­ing the spring months then mul­ti­plied the allot­ment by four times that. Yep, spring is when the farmer runs his trac­tor the most, plow­ing and seed­ing his crop. He runs it also to har­vest accord­ing to what he grows. For us it was hay to feed the cows that pro­duced the milk.

I remem­ber one pair of my shoes. I was in the sixth grade and my moth­er decid­ed I was grown up enough for wom­en’s shoes. (Or, maybe my feet were too big.) Any­way, those shoes were a yel­low­ish col­or with Cuban heels. Now, pic­ture me play­ing soft­ball dur­ing recess, clunk­ing around in those shoes.

But, of course, I sur­vived. And so did our country.

Pie in the Sky

Recent­ly I saw a car­toon that men­tioned “pie in the sky.” I’ve heard the expres­sion before. I decid­ed this would be my first blog entry in some­thing new—a once in a while series of mem­o­ries con­nect­ed to his­to­ry. Um, that sounds weird, does­n’t it? Maybe I’ll just start with an illus­tra­tion and con­tin­ue from there. Okay?

Now for the mem­o­ry of “pie in the sky.” Actu­al­ly, it’s my father’s mem­o­ry, one he shared with me when we were orga­niz­ing his sto­ry of work­ing for col­lege money.

In 1923, when he was nine­teen and liv­ing in Wash­ing­ton state, my dad got a job in Alas­ka. They sent him by boat, but not by first class. He and sev­er­al oth­er men had bunks in the hold, along with five cows. One of the oth­er men they called Baldy since he was par­tial­ly bald, and the old­est of the group—maybe twen­ty-nine or thir­ty. Anoth­er one they called Shorty.

Shorty was being sent to Alas­ka to spread the word about the Indus­tri­al Work­ers of the World. He gave quite a talk on Com­mu­nism, which was new to my dad.

When Shorty got through, Baldy had his say, which was, “Hooray for free speech. I believe in the IWW, free speech, and over­head sew­er systems.”

Short­y’s response was to sing the fol­low­ing song.

A long-haired preach­er comes out every night.
And he tells us what is wrong and what is right.
He tells us when we’re flush, give our mon­ey to the Lord.
And he tells us when we’re on the bum.
Work and pray, live on hay.
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

My dad had the impres­sion that was an Indus­tri­al Work­ers of the World song, but Wikipedia has a bit dif­fer­ent sto­ry. Pos­si­bly the IWW appro­pri­at­ed the last two lines of the orig­i­nal song. But “pie in the sky” meant the same thing it does today.

Anoth­er thing that spurred this blog is my dad’s book, his mem­o­ry and my deci­sion to start post­ing my mem­o­ries. The book we put togeth­er is A Knuck­le­head in 1920/s Alas­ka, now avail­able as a paper­back and as an e‑book for all e‑book read­ers here.

Do you have a mem­o­ry about “pie in the sky” to share?

A BookFunnel Promo

The Ins and Outs of a Promo

I’ve nev­er before joined a Book­Fun­nel Pro­mo, in fact, I think they are rather new. This one runs from Octo­ber 1 — 7, 2019, and is for cozy para­nor­mal mys­ter­ies. Hey, I can do that. I have a cou­ple of books with ghosts and one with an imag­i­nary cat. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there are only eight books signed up, so it prob­a­bly won’t be a big suc­cess. (Just how much can you make off of a 99 cent book? Some are even free.) But it does­n’t cost a cent (oth­er than the annu­al amount to use Book­Fun­nel). And, I get to play with canva.com to make a visu­al. Which I did, as you see above.

The title of the pro­mo is Witch­es and Wolves, but there are no books includ­ed with wolves. There’s a haunt­ed ship, a dog that sees ghosts, a psy­chic cat, and a col­lec­tion of both witch­es and ghosts. Oh, yes, if you want to take a look, here’s the link to these cozy mys­ter­ies.

I like to write my blogs for read­ers, but some­times I include some­thing for writ­ers. Okay, this could be con­sid­ered for both audi­ences, right? Tomor­row is my day to pro­mote this to my newslet­ter. (That’s for read­ers.) I’ll do the wrap-up after this is over. (That’s for the writers.)

I’d love to hear any com­ment about my blog, or my stu­pen­dous, won­der­ful, took me all of 15 min­utes to make visu­al. Okay, it was fun, anyway!

Cozy Mystery Day

It’s Agatha Christie’s Birthday — Let’s Celebrate International Cozy Mystery Day

Did you know Sep­tem­ber 15 is Agatha Christie’s birth­day? Since Dame Christie’s mys­ter­ies start­ed the mys­tery genre now known as cozies, both Eng­land and the Unit­ed States cel­e­brate today as Inter­na­tion­al Cozy Mys­tery Day. Offi­cial­ly, cozies are all about mur­der in a small com­mu­ni­ty that is solved by some­one oth­er than the police. (Ama­teur detec­tive, please step forward!)

Eng­lish cozies can be quite man­ner­ly, with Lords and Ladies. Amer­i­can cozies often involved dogs or cats, and espe­cial­ly food, or a small shop that sells a vari­ety of things.

Cozy com­mu­ni­ties come in all vari­eties: small towns, fish­ing vil­lages, farm com­mu­ni­ties, the sea shore, and even aboard ship. The time zone may cer­tain­ly be cur­rent, but many cozies are set in the past. Some are even set in the future. There might be ghosts involved, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, or aliens, and even romance. Hol­i­days bring out a new batch of titles. (Noth­ing quite like a lit­tle mur­der for Hal­loween, right?) In fact, any­thing or any­one can be includ­ed in a cozy — except a tru­ly grue­some killing, a world-wide threat, or a pro­fes­sion­al crime solver!

I’ve illus­trat­ed a bit of vari­ety with twelve cov­ers. A cou­ple of authors answered when I asked for vol­un­teers. Some, I select­ed from a Gup­py post. (Gup­pies are Sis­ters in Crime mem­bers.) I’ve read some of the books myself. And, oth­ers I just hap­pened to have the cov­er copied to my can­va dot come file. (Made it easy.) Some of the titles are quite old, some brand new. (I’m enclos­ing the Kin­dle links I find at Ama­zon — one is only avail­able in print.)

What cozy do you love the most? Do you have a cozy series you can’t get enough of? One of my favorites is the series that includes Click Here For Murder by Don­na Andrews. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I must be in the minor­i­ty, as her pub­lish­er only want­ed four of them. There def­i­nite­ly was an over­all ongo­ing plot that nev­er hap­pened. (Oh, and the fact that the alpha­bet now ends at Y. But that one is understandable.)

Death By Dis­ser­ta­tionChrist­mas Cocoa Mur­derDown in FlamesPor­trait of a Dead GuyClick Here for Mur­derCliff Hang­erA Souf­fle of Sus­pi­cionJudge Thee NotThe Fam­i­ly WayStran­gled Eggs and HamPlay It Again, SpamFat Cat at Large

New Bonus Book

A New Bonus Book — for Norma’s Chat Members

I love my newslet­ter mem­bers. We have some love­ly chats. Recent­ly, they helped me design the cov­er for my lat­est book, a free-be for them and any­one who wants to join my chat group.

You can see from the cov­er what is includ­ed. But I’ll give you a hint about what is inside.

The two new short sto­ries are rep­re­sent­ed by the stone and the donuts. The amaz­ing his­to­ry (the War of 1812 on Chesa­peake Bay) is hint­ed at by the sail­ing ship. The gold nugget and the black cat? Oh, they are impor­tant in a cou­ple of my pub­lished books. I’ve includ­ed a brief men­tion of each book. (Try­ing to lure you into buy­ing one, of course.) A taste of each, you might say.

Speak­ing of taste, that’s for the kitchen hacks. Not recipes, but tasty ideas for straw­ber­ries, slop­py Joe sand­wich­es, and a super sauce. Yum.

The com­plete book is avail­able in three dif­fer­ent forms through this Book Fun­nel link. You will be asked for your e‑mail address to be signed up for my usu­al­ly month­ly newslet­ter. I always include oth­er author’s books (and some­times one of mine) on sale or free (usu­al­ly cozy mys­ter­ies). I include any writ­ing news, and try to enter­tain. (Well, try, any­way.) No spam, and no e‑mail address­es shared. If you are already a mem­ber, use the same email address so you won’t get dupli­cate newslet­ters. Enjoy!