Discovering Character-And Other Things

I should know Jo, my main character by now—I’ve just completed final edits of the second mystery, plus a short story prequel. But she continues to surprise me. I’ve been resisting.

Why? Hey, she and I started out the same age with the same childhood memories, but our personalities and life experiences are different. Over the years that I wrote and rewrote that first mystery, I aged, while Jo kept getting younger. By the time a small press said, “Is your manuscript still available? We want it,” I was nearly eighty and she was somewhere in her late sixties (never specifically stated).

As I started the sequel, I thought, 61. Yeah, sounds about right. But, as I wrote, I decided, maybe late 50s. That’s old enough to have the history I’d supplied. Some of those memories could be from Grandma, or a parent. Or, she’s into old stuff. Then I added a TV reference I remember watching with my kids. My kids are mostly in their 50s. So I wrote away, deciding she was that age. But, I still  had those ‘old’ references. Jo described herself as old in a variety of ways. I do not think of my 50s daughters as old. They do not look old. Perhaps—I just didn’t think.

Until, I saw an article about Valerie Bertinelli with her cookbook.8-13 Bertinelli cover She’s 55. Yoiks! How can that be? I remember her on TV as a teenager. I’m realizing that fifty is definitely the new thirty. Finally, I have an image of my fifty-something Jo—maybe not a beauty, definitely not a Valerie twin, but certainly not a hag. And a whole new image of my market. And the possible cover. And possibly a redo of the first cover. And, definitely, a redo of Jo’s attitude. She’s been much too laid back about the guy who’d like to know her much better. I mean, let’s have a little chemistry there.

And maybe I’ll try Valerie’s recipes. (I do love to cook!)

 

 

Do You Tweet?

Some days I tweet, some days I don’t. Today, for some reason, I put up several tweets on different subjects. I linked them to my blog, or to an Amazon site. I can’t say if Amazon got any clicks, but my blog got a couple. They were about books—nothing about any of mine, but comments about other books and favorite books. Did a clicker then go to the other books’ Amazon sites, maybe buy a book? I don’t know.

_Fish or Cut Bait coverSpeaking of tweeting, those of us who contributed to the Fish or Cut Bait anthology decided to tweet and retweet other’s promotions. I’ve done so a couple of times. But, there are so many tweets flying by, I haven’t seen any to retweet. (And that’s another thing I’m unable to check for any kind of benefit.)

I like to add pictures to my tweets, a book cover, usually. Does that make a tweet more noticeable? Probably. Or, does the reader just get tired of seeing so many, often the same picture repeatedly? Yeah, I’m sure that happens too.

I’m not all that savvy to use Tweet Deck or any such program. I’ve tried a couple, unsuccessfully. So, I’m not a tweet expert. I tweet in the dark, you might say.

How about you? Shall we just bumble along together?

Five Stars for The Glassblower’s Wife

8-3 Glassblower coverI love an historical mystery. I especially love one that introduces me to history I don’t know in such a thoroughly engrossing way. The Glassblower’s Wife, by Joanna Campbell Slan, is a long short story rather than a full-length novel. But, it packs a wallop! It is an historic tale involving Jewish glass blowers from Italy who took their exceptional craft to France to make the mirrors for the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. There’s murder, devotion, an excellent plot, and superb writing.

The official blurb states: “When Jewish glassmakers and their families flee the powerful Doge of Venice, the cost of their freedom is three hundred and fifty-seven mirrors–the creation of the magnificent Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. But the Doge sends assassins to pick off the artists, one by one. Can Ruth Telfin, the mute wife of the head glassmaker, save her people?”

I’m not the only reader who commented favorably. One says, “Since this is a short story, I figured it would be a good chance to get a taste of this author’s writing style. I never expected such a powerful story.”

Another said: “I must admit that this type of book isn’t really what I usually pick to read. Having read all of Campbell Slan’s other books, I decided to give it a try. This is a long short story based on historical facts back in the late 1600’s. I really learned a lot from it. She throws in a fictional character that really saves the day at the end. Kudos to Slan for her research and drive to write this book.”

And that’s my focus today—fiction that gives the reader history with a story that not only interests the reader, but opens her eyes to something that really happened, perhaps years, perhaps centuries ago. All too often history is presented as boring, irrelevant, unimportant, or, even as perpetuated untrue myth. One of the websites I researched to follow this story said: “Historians have long repeated that the formula for lead-glass was invented in 1674 by an Englishman, George Ravenscroft. Historians often make a habit of being in error. In this case the error could not be more gross. Ravenscroft was neither an artisan nor an inventor. It is true that Ravenscroft patented the process; it is false that he invented it.”

And, occasionally, textbooks perpetuate myth as well. I remember one such from my own high school years. I certainly know that fiction often plays fast and loose with historic past. No problem, as long as it is understood. Some of my favorite reads are steampunk novels, the ultimate reworked history. But I love the true meaning that often comes through in historical fiction.

Lois Winston-Guest with A Stitch To Die For

7-27 a_stitch_to_die_forI’m happy to introduce my guest, Lois Winston. Her new book is A Stitch To Die For. (I absolutely love the cover—and the excerpt.) She answered a few of my questions.

I know you write in more than one category. Do you have a preference of one over the others?

I started out writing romantic suspense, but I really found my voice when I switched over to writing humorous first-person novels—initially in chick lit, then in amateur sleuth mysteries. I’m not a funny person by nature. I either forget or mess up the punch line of any joke I’ve ever tried to tell, but I discovered I have a talent for writing funny. Of course, humor is very subjective, so not everyone “gets” my sense of humor, but that’s true of most things in life, isn’t it? Some people “get” you; others don’t.

What inspired you to begin your writing career?

As cliché as it sounds, it was a dream. I usually don’t remember my dreams, but one night I experienced a very vivid one that stayed with me. Every night for over a week the dream continued, unfolding like the chapters of a book. I finally decided I needed to write down the story, mostly to get it out of my system. When I had finished, I realized I wanted to keep writing. By the way, that initial story, after years of revisions, became Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, the second book I sold.

Characters and plots—are any of yours based on real people or real situations? Does reality ever spark a creative leap?

Most of my plots are born from actual events I’ve read about in the newspaper or watched on the news. I’m a total news junkie. A Stitch to Die For, my latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, incorporates several news stories that have appeared over the past year—swatting incidents that are occurring across the country and a couple of court cases where children died from salt poisoning.

In addition, some of my characters have been based on people I’ve known. Lucille, Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law, is based on my own communist mother-in-law. The woman put me through years of hell. I’m now getting even. Lucille has become the character readers love to hate.

Now let’s talk about your new book, A Stitch To Die For. I love the cover for your new Anastasia Pollack mystery. Will you reveal a bit of a teaser? Or more?

Thanks! I’m really thrilled with the cover, too!

The adventures of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack continue in A Stitch to Die For, the 5th book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series.

Ever since her husband died and left her in debt equal to the gross national product of Uzbekistan, magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack has stumbled across one dead body after another—but always in work-related settings. When a killer targets the elderly nasty neighbor who lives across the street from her, murder strikes too close to home. Couple that with a series of unsettling events days before Halloween, and Anastasia begins to wonder if someone is sending her a deadly message.

Excerpt:

Two weeks ago my mother, Flora Sudberry Periwinkle Ramirez Scoffield Goldberg O’Keefe, took her sixth trip down the aisle to become Flora Sudberry Periwinkle Ramirez Scoffield Goldberg O’Keefe Tuttnauer. The groom’s daughter was a no-show. At the time of the ceremony her body was being fished out of the Delaware and Raritan Canal in Lambertville, New Jersey.

Ira Pollack, my stepbrother-in-law and the groom’s son-in-law, had just finished a toast to Mama and Lawrence Tuttnauer when two men in dark suits entered the backyard catering tent and headed straight toward him. Given all my dealings with the police over the last few months, I easily made them for detectives, a suspicion confirmed when I spotted them flashing their badges. Ira nodded and followed them out of the tent.

I followed Ira.

He and the two men made their way to the patio at the back of his house. I stopped at the entrance to the tent. The men stood with their backs to me, Ira facing me. From my vantage point I couldn’t hear their words over the conversations and music going on behind me, but I saw the color drain from Ira’s face. He shook his head violently and yelled, “No!” loud enough for me to hear.

I raced across the lawn as fast as I could in three-inch heels. Once at the patio, I placed my hand on Ira’s arm. In a voice that trembled as much as his body, he said, “Cynthia. They found her floating in the canal.”

I gasped, then led Ira over to one of the patio lounge chairs. He collapsed onto the cushion and buried his head in his hands as he choked out huge sobs.

I turned to the detectives, waiting for more of an explanation, but both ignored Ira’s grief to fixate on the party across the lawn. “What’s going on here?” one of them asked.

“A wedding,” I said.

“Whose?”

“Ira’s father-in-law married my mother.”

Both detectives knit their brows together and glared at Ira. “Your wife doesn’t show for her father’s wedding, and you’re not worried?” asked the older and taller of the two men.

Ira tried speaking between sobs. His mouth opened and closed several times, but no words came out. I answered for him. “Cynthia didn’t approve of her father marrying my mother.”

“And you are?” asked the second detective, whipping out a notepad and pencil.

“Anastasia Pollack. I’m also Ira’s stepsister-in-law.”

Both detectives repeated the twin eyebrow knit, but neither said anything. Also, up to this point I had no idea how Cynthia had died, so I asked, “What happened to Cynthia?”

“The medical examiner will have to determine cause of death,” said the older detective. “We’re waiting on an autopsy.”

“Do you suspect foul play?”

“Why would you suggest that?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I can’t imagine how Cynthia would land in the canal on her own. She isn’t…wasn’t the canal-strolling type.” Dirt and extremely expensive designer duds don’t mix.

“What type was she?” asked the younger detective.

Cynthia the Trophy Wife was more the spend-all-day-spending-Ira’s-money type. I thought for a moment, not wanting to say anything that might be misconstrued. If Cynthia hadn’t died of natural causes, Ira would wind up at the top of the suspect list. “I only met her once,” I said, “but I’d describe her as someone more interested in indoor activities than communing with nature.”

The spouse is always the prime suspect, but Ira was no killer. The man didn’t even have the backbone to discipline his bratty kids. If Cynthia had met with foul play, my money was on the pool boy she’d run off with weeks earlier. “Ira, you have to tell the detectives what happened with Cynthia.”

Buy Links  Paperback     Kindle     Nook     iTunes     Kobo     Google Play

(Other books in the series include Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, Death by Killer Mop Doll, Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, Decoupage Can Be Deadly, and three mini-mysteries: Crewel Intentions, Mosaic Mayhem, and Patchwork Peril.)

7-27 lois-winstonBio: USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Visit Lois/Emma at her website and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog. Follow everyone on Tsu, on Pinterest, and on Twitter @anasleuth. Sign up for her newsletter here.

Five Stars for A Hostage To Heritage

7-20 Adair coverI can’t believe I haven’t already profiled this book on my Monday book blog. It’s one of my very favorites—not only mystery, but history as well! My comments from Amazon and Goodreads follow.

Suzanne Adair has presented the reading public with another excellent historic mystery adventure. This book is Michael Stoddard’s story. He’s a British officer in America at the time of our Revolution. The earlier books in this series tell the stories of Americans during that time, and a few of the characters appear in all of the books. They, and this one as well, show the conflicting loyalties of people in our past, including the English Michael. Besides that, there’s the main story of a missing young boy and how Michael and his second in command worked toward finding the boy while also following their commanding officer’s orders. I won’t say more, don’t want to ruin the story for anyone.

Highly recommended to lovers of history, and mystery. This book satisfies on every level! It’s a mystery with great characters, solid history, suspense, and emotion. It’s historical fiction with revealing attitudes and war-time danger. It’s a character study with “real” fictional people who had a past and will have a future. It’s romantic suspense with anticipation. And finally, it’s emotion transferred from words on paper (or, in my case, on Kindle) to the reader.

I’ll send you to Suzanne’s Amazon page where all her books are listed (mysteries of our Revolution in the Southern states) and Suzanne’s website and blog. Her blog hosts guest authors with a wide variety of books, often including giveaways. (Always interesting.) 

That Final Edit

Every day when I sit at my computer, I see a clipping I cut out years ago. It’s a picture of a dog and a cat. In these days of viral videos showing animals of all kinds playing with each other, this one typifies the usual belief of dogs and cats as wary enemies. The dog’s head seen from the rear tips ever so slightly toward the cat. The cat gingerly passes the dog while watching for any wayward movements. It’s an illustration from a book for writers, The Pocket Muse. It illustrates the sentence, “Most good stories are about trouble,” and includes a list of troubles.

When I look at that page, even more than trouble, I think, suspense, suspicion, what if…

Today I’m paying special attention to that illustration, since I’m deep into a final edit of a mystery, I know my reader must have that same sense—that something will surely happen, but not in a good way. Will the reader be slightly disoriented, possibly leery of questionable actions, even fearful of what might happen to a character on the next page? Will the reader turn the next page?

Ah, that is the eternal question.

So, even after my manuscript has undergone peer review with a critique group, a full professional edit, and a perusal by a beta reader, I’m going over it again. I’ve noted articles in the recent Writers’ Digest issue on revision, I’m checking my pages for violations of the 24 problems explained in Chris Roerden’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery. (Okay, that one is my Bible.) And, especially, I want to make sure each chapter, each scene, each page entices the reader to eagerly turn the page.

And, if I’m successful, my reader will have a mystery that provides exactly what the reader wants—a good book—a story that satisfies and possibly educates in some small way.

The Monday Book Blog

Hidden Body 4I’m not here—I wrote this last week. (Hey, a gal has to take time off once in a while.) Actually, other than a few days over the 4th of July, oh, and family visiting the end of July, I’ll be at Camp NaNoWriMo. (That’s a fictional camp, quite proper for one who writes fiction.) I hope to finish writing a short story (that may become a novella if I don’t watch out). I call it Hidden Body, and my big plans are to include it in a book of short stories called—ta da— Hidden Body and Other Short Stories. I even made up a cover. This may not be the cover I eventually use. But, would you buy a book that looked like that? Let’s say, would you download a free book that looked like that? (I hope to make it free.)

My second project for the month is to complete editing Forgotten Body.

Five Stars For Mr. Monk

I loved the TV show—now long gone. It ran from 2002 through 2009. The books with original stories by Lee Goldberg kept on going after the Monk show ran its course. Then Lee Goldberg stopped writing them after quite a few, and Hy Conrad took over. I may have just read the final book of the series, since Mr. Conrad’s fourth book, Mr. Monk and The New Lieutenant, is his last one. He hopes someone else will continue, but when that one was published this year (2015) no one had yet stepped up.

So, here are my reviews of two of my favorite books—Mr. Monk is Cleaned Out by Lee Goldberg, and Mr. Monk and The New Lieutenant by Hy Conrad.

6-29 Mr Monk 1

6-29 Mr Monk 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My five-star review of the first was short: “I was a big fan of the Monk TV series, and I’m a big fan of Lee Goldberg’s Monk mystery series. This book is a neat combination of Monk, his phobias, and up-to-the-minute current events! And you can just guess Monk’s thoughts about that dog with those irregular markings.”

I’ve just finished reading the second book, and it deserves five stars as well. “Mr. Monk does not like Captain Stottlemeyer’s new lieutenant. He’s new, for one thing. (Of course, the feeling is mutual.) However, he and Natalie try their best. They now have their own detective agency with little business. Natalie takes on a divorce case (without Mr. Monk’s knowledge, and definitely against his approval). Then there’s the murder case that wasn’t—until Monk declared at a man’s funeral that he had been murdered. Now they are trying to save the Captain with the same symptoms while tracking down a missing client. Monk convinces Randy Disher to return. With all this going on, it isn’t only Monk’s OCD that confuses everyone. This time Stottlemeyer’s life depends on Monk’s success.”

Both authors worked on the Monk TV show. Lee Goldberg contributed to some shows and worked on different series as well. Hy Conrad was with the Monk show the whole time. Both authors give the reader the authentic “Monk” voice. Goldberg tends to give him more problems with his multiple phobias and personality disorders. Conrad, writing the stories as Monk begins to improve (slightly) still shows them, but they are possibly a bit more muted. (One reader’s opinion here.) Both authors present a humorous as well as nicely convoluted suspenseful story.

I do hope this isn’t the last Monk story.

Five Stars For Scout And Ant Farm

Okay, that title is confusing, right? Totally does not make sense.

6-22 Ant Farm coverLet’s start over. My five-star book today is Ant Farm, a mystery that was, only this past week, published by the Kindle Scout program. The Scout program is rather new to Amazon. It’s a win-win for both writers and readers. The writer who enters his or her book submits a complete manuscript and a cover design. The books accepted into the program are then presented to the voting/reading public with the cover illustration and the novel beginning. Both Amazon and the author then await the voting, or, as they call it, the nominations.

Voting, you ask? What is this? Who votes? Or, nominations? How and why?

That’s where the reader comes in. You read the offerings in a variety of categories. Let’s say that you find one beginning that makes you say to yourself, “Oh, I’d love to read that book!” Just click the link to nominate the book. (That’s the voting.) Then sit back and wait for the best part—the e-mail from Amazon telling you if the book has been chosen for publication. If it has? You get an advance copy of the e-book, all for free. Of course, they hope you’ll review it.

The win for the author? Publication with an advance, a contract, and more authority than self-publication. For, after all, Amazon hopes to come out ahead as well.

I’ve nominated four books so far. The first didn’t make it. The second was Ant Farm. I received my copy long enough before the official publication to allow me to read the book. Loved it. This is what I had to say about it:

“This is a Kindle Scout book, and, as one who voted for it, I got a free copy before publication. And, I’m sooo glad. This is a thriller, but, I’d say, also a more traditional mystery, as it is a puzzle as well. The puzzle part is the plot, as nuanced and devious as any reader could hope for. The thriller part is the impending danger involved for the hero, his son, and assorted other characters (not to mention the victims). The characters are a mix of likable and some you really hope see their comeuppance. Of course, first impressions can be deceiving. Another thing—the surprises never stop! (Be warned.)”

I’ve nominated two other books as well. The third was accepted, so I’m waiting for that free book. The fourth is still awaiting the end of the 30-day nominating period. (A reader is allowed a total of three books at a time, so I can go back to look for two more.) This is the link to the Kindle Scout program for both readers and writers. And, in case you want to read this five-star book, here’s the link for Ant Farm.

 

5 Stars for An Error In Judgment

An Error In Judgment-coverThis is the third in the Thea Campbell Mystery series, but one I especially like.

As one review said, “OK, I was already a fan, so I bought An Error in Judgment expecting an entertaining read. I already knew and liked the characters and I knew Schreyer delivered a well crafted, well plotted mystery with lots of twists and turns. No surprise that An Error in Judgment delivers all of that. What blew me away and made this a must read book is that with this third offering in the Thea Campbell series Schreyer deftly moves from traditional mystery to romantic thriller and blows the doors off the genre while keeping her story real with gently comedic and completely realisic moments between her lead characters.”

I summed it up this way. “Mystery writing and showing horses have a lot to do with pacing, and this mystery with Thea combines her business, her horse Blackie, her boyfriend Paul, and murder with unmatched pacing. There are moments of terror, moments of tenderness, moments of doubt, and moments of fulfillment—all combined to keep the reader eagerly turning the pages.”

Is it possible to have a favorite book in a series? Yes, it is. And one reader’s favorite may not be everyone’s favorite, just as no one book or type of book appeals to every reader. I say, “Thank goodness for that!”