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?

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?

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!

 

 

Dog Lover Mysteries

Mystery — Gone to the Dogs

What a love­ly group of book cov­ers! It is tru­ly amaz­ing what vari­ety authors come up with, all to enter­tain their read­ers. Not only did these books sat­is­fy my desire to fol­low a mys­tery to a sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion, they each had an unusu­al attrac­tion, AND taught me some­thing I did­n’t know. Now, that’s quite an accom­plish­ment when you think about it.

So, what did I par­tic­u­lar­ly like about To Kill A Labrador?  I loved the voice, which means, I loved the way the author put the words togeth­er. Her style made me turn the first page. (Okay, I read it on my Kin­dle, so I did­n’t actu­al­ly turn a page.) It kept me so involved in read­ing that I fin­ished it it two evenings. What did I learn? Answer — a whole lot about ser­vice dogs for vet­er­ans. And how did all that hap­pen? The main char­ac­ter (and ama­teur sleuth) trains ser­vice dogs. When she is called in to take care of Bud­dy (the dog), she dis­cov­ers his vet­er­an own­er is assumed guilty of mur­der until proven inno­cent — and she does some­thing about it.

Oh Bits, Grum­bles From The Grave was quite unusu­al. It is his­tor­i­cal fiction—heavy on the fic­tion, I’d say. Some­how, the sto­ry gal­loped along with sud­den addi­tions of oth­er ele­ments. The read­er does­n’t know what the title refers to until at least half way through. But I do like books that sur­prise me. Let’s see, there were view­points from the hero­ine who was a recent col­lege grad­u­ate hired on a news­pa­per, a Ger­man spy, a gravedig­ger, a woman, before and after she became a ghost, a cou­ple more as well, I believe. And, how about a haunt­ed mir­ror? Read­abil­i­ty and the unex­pect­ed lured me into this book and kept me read­ing to the end. What did I learn? Fan­ta­sy, his­to­ry, and mys­tery can co-exist.

Girl in the Shad­ows was a fun, quick read. I espe­cial­ly liked the main char­ac­ter, Abby, a girl with a super mem­o­ry who takes a temp sec­re­tary job. I liked her actions and reac­tions, and her take-hold atti­tude, as she quick­ly dis­cov­ered she liked her new job—no, she loved inves­tiga­tive work. She also took  over her boss’s trusty bea­gle Chewie. Hi-jinx ensue! This book was short and fun­ny. Can’t beat that com­bi­na­tion. Guess I did­n’t real­ly learn any­thing new, except, per­haps, that short books are sell­ing and get­ting nice reviews. (Okay, as an author, that’s some­thing to con­sid­er when I’m strug­gling to com­plete 70,000 or more words.)

This Dog for Hire was an excel­lent intro to behind-the-scenes shenani­gans at a dog show. Rachael is the inves­ti­ga­tor, check­ing out those shenani­gans with her pit bull Dash. They’re a team, and one can always agree that if you want a dog to pro­tect you, a pit bull can’t be beat.  At times I was a bit con­fused, which is usu­al­ly good for a mys­tery. This book kept me engrossed, with a mys­tery to solve and a main char­ac­ter who was (at least in this sto­ry) a bit too sus­pi­cious for her own good.

These are all mys­ter­ies I’ve read and enjoyed. I did­n’t give any of them five stars, but they came close. The unique take-away for dif­fer­ent ones? One was the voice, one was sur­prise ele­ments, one was the main char­ac­ter, and the last took sus­pi­cion to a new lev­el. I learned some­thing dif­fer­ent from each one as well: the very dif­fer­ent “occu­pa­tions” for dogs, and four dif­fer­ent approach­es to the dog­gie mystery.

Now I have a ques­tion or two: If mys­ter­ies are your thing, do you enjoy a vari­ety which might include ani­mals as main char­ac­ters? Do you have a favorite mys­tery that includes dogs? Okay, last one: Tell me, quick! What book is it? (I love a good mys­tery, and a per­son­al rec­om­men­da­tion is super.)