I’m on the Hen House Blog

The years my hus­band and I spent sail­ing on Chesa­peake Bay and beyond con­tributed to my mys­tery writ­ing. For one, I found a cou­ple of boats I want­ed to include in my sto­ries. One, a small lob­ster boat con­vert­ed to a live-aboard cruis­er, is front and cen­ter of my sec­ond pub­lished mys­tery. Here’s the pic­ture, and here’s the result­ing cov­er.

Snapdragon1

HotChickSmallerFrontCoverThat’s just one of my sto­ries. As one of the con­trib­u­tors to the Sis­ters in Crime Writes of Pas­sage, I vis­it­ed the  Hen­ery Press Blog (no longer active). I told them why I place my mys­ter­ies on Chesa­peake Bay.

 

Five Stars for The Witch Doctor’s Wife

9-28 Witch doctors wifeWith The Witch Doctor’s Wife, Tamar Myers delves into her per­son­al his­to­ry as the daugh­ter of Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ar­ies in the Bel­gian Con­go. Rich and alive with the sights and sounds of the continent—as excit­ing, evoca­tive, charm­ing, and sus­pense­ful as Alexan­der McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detec­tive Agency novels—Myer’s unfor­get­table excur­sion to colo­nial Africa recalls Bar­bara Kingsolver’s The Poi­son­wood Bible, even the Acad­e­my Award-nom­i­nat­ed film Blood Dia­mond. Award-win­ning author Car­olyn Hart raves: “Mes­mer­iz­ing….The Witch Doctor’s Wife will long linger in the hearts and minds of read­ers. Authen­tic. Pow­er­ful. Tri­umphant.”

The above is part of the publisher’s blurb for the book that fol­lowed many of Tamar Myer’s two won­der­ful­ly fun­ny and clever cozy mys­ter­ies. I read The Witch Doctor’s Wife about five years ago, before I joined Goodreads, before I had a blog, and, mainly—before I began review­ing the books I read. How­ev­er, I remem­ber it fond­ly, so you know it has stay­ing pow­er.

I did inter­view Tamar for the Sis­ters in Crime blog. I remem­ber a cou­ple of answers from that inter­view. For one, she had a com­put­er ded­i­cat­ed to writ­ing, with no games or inter­net access. (That’s one I real­ly, real­ly should fol­low.) Also, she said she didn’t write the story—it was already writ­ten. All she did was ask the Uni­verse to deliv­er her dai­ly por­tion of cre­ativ­i­ty and it did. She then sat down and wrote a thou­sand pol­ished words a day, five days a week.

And that is tal­ent!

Inci­den­tal­ly, she has writ­ten more books in that series, as well as con­tin­u­ing the cozy series. In fact, she has a four-page Ama­zon author page. For a taste of Tamar’s fun, I would sug­gest read­ing the acknowl­edg­ments in Death of Pie.

Name That Character

No, it’s not a game show, but it is a game all writ­ers play. And, it does remind me of a game show—What’s My Line from the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, that’s anoth­er game writ­ers play—giving their char­ac­ters a job. But, back to the names. How does that work?

Bit player—needs an ordi­nary name. John Smith. Nope, too ordi­nary. Mary Mar­tin. Nope, a big star already owns that name.

Play­er that must be over­looked until the dénouement—needs a dis­tinc­tive name, I’d say, with his infor­ma­tion seem­ing to be slight. Fane Olivet­ti. Nope. A bit too dis­tinc­tive, and prob­a­bly comes from two dif­fer­ent parts of the world.

You get the idea. And that goes dou­ble for main char­ac­ters. I once wrote a young adult sto­ry with a hero named Jasper. Nev­er heard of it, except for the name of a city. For­got the sto­ry for years. Took it out to rewrite, and dis­cov­ered that Jasper was a main char­ac­ter of a new, wild­ly pop­u­lar YA book. Okay, he need­ed a new name. Would you believe Fred? In fact, Fred’s name was real­ly Friedrich due to his Ger­man her­itage. How­ev­er, short­ly after WW II, the war with Ger­many the ene­my, that name con­tributed to someone’s para­noia, and added a whole miss­ing ele­ment to the plot. (Yes, serendip­i­ty exists.)

So, how do writ­ers come up with names? Some keep lists. I do. I have three alpha­bet­i­cal lists that I add to con­stant­ly: male, female, and sur­names. I may add nota­tions: top ten in 2002, His­pan­ic, Japan­ese. But often, I choose names not on that list. Or, don’t choose them.

There’s a name I haven’t used, but I remem­ber it. When I was a child a neigh­bor­ing fam­i­ly had immi­grat­ed from some­where. The preg­nant wife decid­ed to name her child after the ship’s cap­tain. But since the child was a girl, she was named after the ship. Yes, her name was Ula­dia. Haven’t used that name yet.

I always search the name I use on the inter­net. (That alerts me to names of real peo­ple I don’t want to use, but there are always real peo­ple by the name. I just pick one with­out some­one famous or noto­ri­ous.)

Oth­er peo­ple search names as well—their own names. One sur­prise was when one woman with the same name as one of my main char­ac­ters found my book—and bought it! Wow! And, it wasn’t a com­mon name at all. In fact, she e-mailed me to say she knew of no one with that sur­name but her imme­di­ate fam­i­ly. Hmm. Maybe I should use those more com­mon names. (Just kid­ding.)

Ques­tion for read­ers: How do the names affect your immage of a book’s char­ac­ters? (Writ­ers want to know.)

Ques­tion for writ­ers: Do you have a spe­cial way you choose writer names? (This writer wants to know.) Okay, I should put a hap­py face here, or one of those, um, what­ev­er they are called.

Five Stars for Digital Dick

I like mys­tery: cozy, noir, his­toric, roman­tic, sus­pense, and espe­cial­ly off-beat mys­tery. Dig­i­tal Dick def­i­nite­ly qual­i­fies on that last one.

9-21 Digital Dick coverI absolute­ly love this book about a sen­tient com­put­er. That’s a com­put­er who learns to solve crimes while wish­ing he had hands so he could plug into the elec­tric­i­ty him­self. He learns as he goes along, but he’s quite knowl­edge­able for a sev­en-year old. Still, his goofs on prop­er behav­ior are fun­ny (or exas­per­at­ing to his human sis­ter), while, of course, he men­tal­ly runs rings around the bad guys. Even the guys who aren’t bad, just don’t believe in Dig­i­tal Dick.

The pub­lish­ers says, “As a com­put­er with a human per­son­al­i­ty, Dick Young strug­gles to under­stand peo­ple. Some would deny per­son­hood to Dick, oth­ers who fear him would take him apart chip by chip.

After he wit­ness­es a bloody mur­der, Dick offers to assist the San Diego Police Depart­ment catch the killer. But when the search for the mur­der­er turns up a sec­ond body, Dick’s Sat­is­fac­tion Index plum­mets. He breaks com­pa­ny with the police and begins inves­ti­gat­ing the case on his own. As he fol­lows the clues, Dick learns more and more about humans: how they live, how they love and how they mur­der. He will need that knowl­edge to over­come the killer who threat­ens to destroy Dick and every­one that Dick holds dear.”

The July 2015 Mid­west Book Review, puts it this way: “In addi­tion to tak­ing the prize for orig­i­nal­i­ty, this book is a great piece of sto­ry-telling and a good read. I high­ly rec­om­mend it.”

And I add, if you like your mys­tery with a great sense of humor while keep­ing up the sus­pense, this is the read for you.

Covers

All of my cov­ers have been designed by one of my daugh­ters while she was gross­ly under­em­ployed. For­tu­nate­ly for her, that is no longer the case. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for me, I have to rethink cov­ers. I want to go GREAT. I want to go PROFESSIONAL. I want to go with a cov­er that says, “BUY ME!” So, of course, I’ve asked a pro whose cov­ers are strik­ing and ver­setile to design the cov­er of my upcom­ing mys­tery.

In the mean­time, I’ve been writ­ing  a cou­ple of short sto­ries that I intend to offer for free—to fur­ther encour­age read­ers to buy my new mys­tery. So I’ve been did­dling with canva.com. I have used it to make a small design to put on Twit­ter, pro­mot­ing one of my books. (Don’t know if it actu­al­ly works, but…it looks good.) I’ve tried a lot of dif­fer­ent designs using a vari­ety of free and per­son­al pho­tos. This is what I’ve come up with so far.

HIDDEN BODY cover B

Deserter cover 2Tell me, what do you think? Good enough? Or not.

Five Stars for Buried In A Bog

9-14 Buried in a Bog coverI’m going back in my Goodreads file of five star reads. If I look at one I read two years ago and I can remem­ber the sto­ry with renewed plea­sure, I know it deserved every one of those five stars. That’s this one, Buried In A Bog, by Sheila Con­nol­ly.

My review:  This is the first of Sheila Connolly’s third mys­tery series, and my favorite. Buried in a Bog is far more than a mystery–it’s the sto­ry of a young woman from Boston deal­ing with loss and find­ing her way for­ward, as well as a sto­ry of a small vil­lage in Ire­land. It was grandmother’s last wish that she vis­it. It’s a sto­ry of rela­tion­ships, gen­er­a­tions, and above all, real—actually fic­tion­al, but for sure real peo­ple. It’s a mys­tery too, deal­ing with mur­der. This book sat­is­fies on every lev­el.

Anoth­er review­er said, “Awe­some book! The set­ting was cozy and real and made me want to head off to Ire­land for a spell. Can’t wait for the next one!”

Since then, Sheila Con­nol­ly has writ­ten the next one, and oth­ers as well. I espe­cial­ly like the first of her fourth series as well. (It’s a bit woo woo.) But why don’t you check out all of her series on her Ama­zon author page? You’ll be glad you did.

Testing The New Software

I got a new com­put­er more than a year ago. I’d added soft­ware to the old com­put­er to down­load pic­tures from my cam­era. No prob­lem, I’d just shove that disc in the new omput­er to trans­fer the soft­ware. Except—it didn’t work with Win­dows 7. Who knew that would have been a prob­lem? But, some day, I’d fig­ure it out. Sure I would.

But I didn’t.

I resist­ed tak­ing pic­tures. Hey, I could down­load any that friends or fam­i­ly e-mailed me. The big snow we had last win­ter? Well, I did take some pic­ture of that, but they sat on my cam­era.

Final­ly, I bought a new pro­gram, high­ly rat­ed, in fact, num­ber one for 2015. Geez, why did I do that? I have no idea how to use it. That takes study, time spent away from writ­ing. But…

Hey, I’ll try down­load­ing my cam­era. Shoot a few more images. I walked out my back door (since our house is on a hill, the porch is more of a bal­cony) and stand with my head prac­ti­cal­ly in the trees. It’s one of my favorite places, with one of my favorite views. (I won­der, was I a bird in some past life?)

2014-1 021Now, to prove I’ve mas­tered the first basic les­son of my new soft­ware, I’ll dis­play one of the pic­tures right here.

And now, to illus­trate how long those 2014-1 010pic­tures have been in the cam­era, I’ll show an ear­li­er pho­to tak­en from near­ly the same spot. See those bare branch­es on the right? That’s the same tulip poplar tree shown above.

So that’s my lat­est new soft­ware. I’m hop­ing to do won­der­ful things, even­tu­al­ly, with my pic­tures. I’m a cam­era buff from way back. Just don’t ask me any­thing about cell phones that only inci­den­tal­ly make tele­phone calls.

War of 1812-Recruitment, A Matter of Money

What was a young man to do when his coun­try went to war? Sol­dier, mariner (sailor), what? Go where the mon­ey was best, of course. At least, that’s what hap­pened.

Pos­si­bly some want­ed to be on the sea, sail­ing and fight­ing against the British ships. Since most of those ships win­tered in Bermu­da, a few months off prob­a­bly didn’t hurt recruit­ment. How­ev­er, sev­er­al army units were enlist­ing men and giv­ing them boun­ties of $30 plus $8 month­ly with only one year enlist­ment. The marines (navy) gave them less. One could always sign onto a privateer—they paid bet­ter as well. There was anoth­er option. Hire on as a sea fen­ci­ble. That brought in $12 a month for one year. An advan­tage was that a man could not be called up in any oth­er ser­vice, he would be close to home, and in the win­ter unless some­thing else came up, he could take his food home to the fam­i­ly. Pos­si­bly as a result of the dif­fer­ent pay sched­ules, many blacks were marines. From the his­to­ry I’ve read, they were clothed and worked as equals.

This is anoth­er of my War of 1812 series. I am still dis­cov­er­ing his­to­ry I didn’t know, still find­ing in quite inter­est­ing. My next mys­tery involves a reen­act­ment of that war, which is why I’ve been read­ing up.

It’s two hun­dred years since The War of 1812, for­got­ten by most of our his­to­ry books. It is, still, a part of our his­to­ry. Do you find it as inter­est­ing as I do?

 

Five Stars for Murder on Lexington Avenue

8-31 Victoria Thompson coverMur­der on Lex­ing­ton Avenue is the 12th in Vic­to­ria Thompson’s Gaslight Mys­tery series. I’ve read sev­er­al, but this one is a favorite of mine. My review: Sarah Brandt, New York mid­wife in the ear­ly 1900s, keeps get­ting involved in mur­der while deliv­er­ing babies. It isn’t any­thing about souls pass­ing in and out, it’s just that the same peo­ple are involved. While one woman is hav­ing a baby, some­one she knows, be it her fam­i­ly or her neigh­bors, is mixed up in mur­der, often as the vic­tim. Sarah is handy and will­ing to help out an Irish cop, Detec­tive Sergeant Frank Mal­loy. In this case, the teenage daugh­ter of the vic­tim is involved with con­flict­ing schools of train­ing the deaf. Her father is a gen­er­al­ly dis­liked busi­ness own­er. But, who killed him? Seem­ing­ly he was alone at his place of busi­ness. His busi­ness part­ner, and sev­er­al oth­ers may have vis­it­ed. Or, none of them saw him, if one is to believe the tes­ti­mo­ny. And, even if Frank Mal­loy finds the killer, 1903 in New York often meant Frank, although he was the police, would find it dif­fi­cult to accuse any­one who had the mon­ey to make sure he didn’t keep his job. Then anoth­er mur­der com­pli­cates the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

The ambiance is authen­tic, the plot is devi­ous, the char­ac­ters are a mix from delight­ful to dev­il­ish. Best of all, the out­come is com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed, but, oh so absolute­ly right! High­ly rec­om­mend­ed to mys­tery and his­to­ry read­ers.

Vic­to­ria Thomp­son has been nom­i­nat­ed for an Agatha for his­toric mys­tery. There are now 17 books in the series. Her Ama­zon author page is here. (I believe the mid­wife and the police detec­tive sergeant are plan­ning to wed in the lat­est. Must read that too!)