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.