Agatha Winners

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Hank Phillippi Ryan

For writers of cozy, or almost cozy mysteries (think Agatha Christie), Malice Domestic is the conference to interact with their readers. Of course, the Agatha award—a teapot—is coveted. I was there in spirit only. Naturally, I awaited the final word from Saturday night’s award banquet. And, I wanted to see how my picks fared.

Since I mentioned all short story authors, I can claim a victory for that! (Art Taylor won.) I scored again with my write-up of Writes of Passage. It won for best non-fiction. I’m wondering, since I was one of those who contributed an essay, can I claim one sixtieth of an Agatha? (Good question.) The editor who did claim the teapot, Hank Phillippi Ryan, also won for best contemporary novel. Another of my favorite authors, Rhys Bowen, won for best historical novel.

This is the official line-up of Agatha winners:

Best children’s / YA: Code Buster’s Club, Cast #4 by Penny Warner
Best short story: The Odds Are Against Us, by Art Taylor
Best nonfiction: Writes of Passage, edited by Hank Phillippi Ryan with Elaine Will Sparber
Best first novel: Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Farley Moran
Best historical novel: Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen
Best contemporary novel: Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan
In addition, Cynthia Kuhn won the Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers.

War of 1812 in St. Michaels

cover-St Michaels bookSt. Michaels, Md. calls itself “The Town That Fooled The British.” During the War of 1812, there were as many as six shipbuilders in and near St. Michaels. One ship they produced was a fast schooner (later known as the Baltimore clipper). These vessels were well suited for outrunning pirates or foreign naval vessels at sea. A military battery was stationed at St. Michaels to protect the town and the shipyards. On August 10, 1813, the British attacked. However, the residents had turned off any lights in their homes and hung lanterns high in the trees. As a result, most of the cannon balls sailed over and beyond the village. One house  was hit by a cannonball. It went through the roof, and bounced down the stairs next to a child sitting there. (She told all about it in later years.) There are other stories of that time in the book—about the women sewing an American flag, about the battle against the military battery, about getting information from a British deserter, and about a farmer on a nearby island who tried to fool St. Michaels.

Several years ago, when my husband and I were sailing on Chesapeak Bay Maritime museum2Chesapeake Bay, we often stopped at St. Michaels and tied up in a slip next to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (shown here). Of course, I shopped for souvenirs. I purchased the booklet shown above. The story is engrossing. I vowed to write about the War of 1812 someday. That day arrived in 2013, and my mystery is now finished. It is in the process of cover design and manuscript formatting, to be published this summer. So, I haven’t hit exactly 200 years from 1813, when the St. Michaels incident occurred, but the war officially ended in 2015. Shortly, Forgotten Body, the second in the Jo Durbin Mysteries, will be published. It isn’t exactly about the war, but it does involve a reenactment of the Forgotten War of 1812.

 

New Anthology-Fish or Cut Bait

cover-Fish or cut baitFISH OR CUT BAIT was published this April by Wildside Press. It’s a collection of 22 short stories, each one with a crime and a major decision that affects the outcome. (That’s the fish or cut bait line.) All 22 authors are members of the Guppy chapter of Sisters in Crime. I understand this book (the third Guppy anthology) will be available at Malice Domestic in May.

I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m sure it will rate five stars. Okay, maybe I’m biased, since my short story, Herbs To You, is included. Should I add a teaser here? Umm—why not?

After twenty years of marriage, the retired shrimper tells his wife a story that illustrates his love—a love that will last ’til he dies.

Fish Or Cut Bait is available at Wildside Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million.

One Hundred Fifty Years Ago

Lincoln funeral-trainOne hundred fifty years ago the country was in mourning. The president, Abraham Lincoln, had been assassinated. His body was taken by train from Washington, D.C. to his home state. There were stops along the way at various large cities to accommodate the mourners. The train merely passed through smaller cities.

One such city was Lancaster, Pennsylvania. On April 22, 1865, at 2:19 p.m. the train arrived in Lancaster. In a testament to the universal grief, with only a total city population of 17,000 people, 20,000 people crowded beside the tracks for a final farewell. On April 21, 2015, my local newspaper’s front page was covered with the story, A NATION MOURNS. A second article told the story of the 15-year old boy who was at the theater with his father the night Lincoln was killed.

Route of Lincoln Funeral Train

Route of Lincoln Funeral Train

Besides that eye-witness report, I learned what local dignitaries were watching, the description of the train, and that Lincoln’s son, Captain Robert Lincoln, was in one of the cars. The casket of Willie, the son who died in 1862, had been disinterred and was in the final car with Lincoln’s casket. He would be buried beside his father.

There were no tweets, no instant messaging, no ringing cell phones, but the nation heard the news.

Five Stars For THE RAINALDI QUARTET

Rainaldi Quartet coverWish I could give this book six stars! That would be five stars for the story and the sixth star for the physical book. Sure, I love to read e-books as well, but I do love to hold a well-designed, superbly crafted trade paperback, turn the soft pages that lie flat, feel the texture of a lovely cover, and read the unique sans serif type font to follow an entrancing story.

On to the story. The Rainaldi Quartet refers to the four men who meet weekly to play in their hometown of Cremona, Italy. Two are luthers (those who make violins) as well as violin players. Rainaldi is one, the other is the narrator of the story, Gianni. A priest plays the viola and the younger, chief of police plays the cello. But it is Rainaldi, in good spirits, who chooses what they will play when the story opens. And it is Rainaldi who is murdered late that night.

The plot follows Gianni and the chief of police as they try to determine why their friend was killed, what secret he knew, what papers he had been working on, what amazing event he looked forward to. Their search takes them to the English countryside, to Venice, and to the ruins of a house burned a century ago looking for documents, then looking for a rare violin that may or may not exist.

Besides pouring over the mystery of the book, the reader will absorb bits of history, bits of the making and restoring of rare violins, and especially, the day to day life of an Italian gentleman of a certain age (as they say). Gianni’s musing on his grandchildren visiting, the changing light on the canals of Venice, and his emotions over sudden death are, surprisingly, every bit as engrossing as the search for the perhaps mythical violin and the reason behind murder.

Although this is placed in current times, history underlies the plot. And, as an American reader, I marvel at families who “remember” ancestors of a hundred or more years ago, and live in the same home, looking at the same portraits on the wall, and may not be all that impressed by the fame of the violinist in their family tree.

 

Indi Authors And Libraries

Most independently published authors have heard of J. A. Konrath. They follow his blog and his progress with his independently published books.  He took his traditionally published books back from the publisher and successfully published them himself. Others joined him. He’s the first true guru to many indi authors.

Now he’s going a step further. He has started a program that’s still in beta form, one to supply e-book manuscripts to libraries. It is called EAF-Ebooks Are Forever. Instead of a library buying a manuscript for a limited number of borrows, it will buy a copy that is good forever. (The same way libraries buy physical books.) And, just as with physical books, the e-book can only be loaned to one person at a time. For a popular book, a library would buy multiple copies, just as they do with physical books. Sounds like a good idea to me.

A full-size book would be purchased for $7.99, no matter its price on line, even if it is offered for free. It would probably already be available for sale everywhere, not locked into one venue, such as KDP.

Konrath envisions eventually offering every interested independent author’s books to libraries. I’d like to join. I tried, but the site doesn’t seem to be accepting other contributors yet. But I’ll watch for any updates. Meanwhile, to learn more, click highlighted words to see Konrath’s blog explanation. Find EBooks Are Forever here.

 

Five Stars For THE OTHER WOMAN

The Other WomanThis is an excellent week to showcase this favorite book—Hank Phillippi Ryan’s The Other Woman. (See the two reasons why at the end of this post.) It’sVolume #1 of the Jane Ryland series. In this book, Jane is a journalist out of a job, in disgrace, and possibly owing a million dollars for her supposed error. The publisher’s blurb includes: “Dirty politics, dirty tricks, and a barrage of final twists, The Other Woman is the first in an explosive new series.”

But let me quote from a few reviews. One said: “Boston newspaper reporter Jane Ryland seeks to uncover the identity of the mistress of a Senate candidate. Her investigation intersects with the hunt for a possible serial killer. The book has all the necessary components for a great mystery: murders, sex, scandal, gorgeous characters, money, privilege.”

Another gives this review: “Oh man, this was a tremendously good read. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I LOVE a book that makes me sit up and take notice. The Other Woman did that, and then some. This is a page-turner from the get-go, with protagonists who are flawed but incredibly likeable, trying to solve a mystery that, believe me, turns into one very creative climax.”

When I first read this book, I commented: “There’s the other woman in the red coat, but she’s not the only ‘other’ woman in this engrossing mystery/thriller. From nuanced characters to surprising plot twists, this is one good read for anyone.”

Now for Reason Number One that this is a good week for this series: After the second book in the series, The Wrong Girl, won the Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel of 2013, the third, Truth Be Told, is up for an Agatha this year as Best Contemporary Novel of 2014!
And—Ta Da, Reason Number Two that this is a good week to showcase The Other Woman—Click here for a Goodreads giveaway going on for this book right now.

Snoop, Student, Writer

I’ve had friends ask, after reading one of my books, “Where do you get your ideas?” My husband asks, “How do you think all that up?” I’m quite sure every writer gets the same questions. And, like me, the answer might be something like, “I’m not exactly sure,” or possibly, “Or, here and there.”

writing SnoopyThe true answer is complicated. It’s a bit like the way I follow a recipe when I’m cooking. Love the picture that goes with it. Beautiful. The ingredients? Oh, sure. Except, I don’t have all of them. In fact, even if I do have an item, I really prefer another. I’ll trade off Worstershire sauce for soy sauce every time. Let’s see, unsalted butter? Heck, I have salted. No problem. Broccoli is just as green as green beans. Recipe calls for veal, but I happen to have pork. Oops, that item is one husband doesn’t like—I’ll skip that. I think I’ll serve the dish with noodles instead of rice.

You get the idea, right?

Now, how about the title of this piece. Yes, it also explains at least one writer’s system (mine). Maybe snoop is a bit extreme. Let’s say, I discover something that appeals to me. For instance, my YA Cherish, began with a road sign. “Sandy Bottom Road.” That book definitely used my recipe-following system. I’d discarded the manuscript years before, but I started with that and substituted. A skeleton became a ghost. The girls switched boyfriends. I changed names, dipped into a variety of viewpoints. I added real history to alter the story. And, I definitely updated my teens into twenty-first century kids. Those last two required the student mode with information and assistance from the internet and advice from teens.

Okay, maybe that’s not illustrating the snoop-student mode of a writer. Snoop: Scan newspapers for something new I can incorporate into a mystery. How about the item about a seven-year-old girl who takes fantastic photographs? Check. Now, here’s an item about Workampers, or people who live in their RV campers but travel around taking short term jobs to support themselves. They stop to work for a season at theme parks or a few weeks at local celebrations. Check. How about those books I’ve gathered during our sailing years at small Chesapeake Bay towns—books about local history, many mentioning the War of 1812? Check. Okay, now for the study. Read and compare those local histories. Check it out on the internet. Study reenactments, historic figures’ lives, maps for placement of my fictional town. That’s the template for my upcoming mystery, Forgotten Body, now awaiting one final run-through, formatting, and cover.

But I do have a still better example of the student mode for an author. I’m now working on a short story that may turn into a novella. I’m planning to make it permafree to interest people in my mysteries. It’s gotta be good for that. And, I’m struggling. But, I’ve found help by reading the writing blogs, newsletters, books, and magazines I’ll never abandon. That’s because, invariably, a phrase or sentence will spark an idea. Most recently it was part of a sentence in R.A. McCormick’s article in the Sisters in Crime Guppy chapter newsletter, First Draft. Quote, “surprise as the story goes in a direction that readers don’t expect.” It’s not new information to me, but those words reminded me—“Hey, that’s what I need!” The other manuscript help was a guest appearance by another Guppy, Kaye George, on B.K. Stevens’ blog, The First Two Pages. Yep, after reading Kaye’s clear show and tell of the way she added each element, I knew what I had to do. Ramp up my beginning as well as surprise the reader.

So, next time someone asks me where I get my ideas, what will I answer? “You see, there’s a talking bird—not a parrot, I’ll have to look that up, and one of those mini-houses I’ve read about that is cramped with one person, but I’m putting two in there. And there’s this guy who faked his death and will come back to upset the lady who thought she was a widow about the time she’s getting serious about someone else.” Will that be my answer?

More likely, I’ll reply, “Oh, here and there.”

As a reader, I’d probably love to hear more. But, as a writer, do I want to rattle on and bore my reader even before the book is out? Hope. How about you?

A New Review For YESTERDAY’S BODY

Okay, I gotta crow!

It’s mighty rare when one’s work is recognized so beautifully, and on the same day when I want to remind readers that my Goodreads giveaway is winding down.

Here’s the full review:

Yesterday's BodyTitle: Yesterday’s Body
Author: Norma Huss
Publisher: Sunset Cloud Mystery
ISBN: 13: 978-1466449350
Genre: Mystery

The next time you see an older woman who looks like she lives on the streets, remember to be nice, she might just be more than she seems. She could be amateur sleuth, Jo Durbin, and, if you’ve done anything bad, she might be looking for you.

Talented author Norma Huss has crafted a fun read that offers a different kind of sleuth with a very different background. Life on the streets is a hard way to live and any reader will definitely wonder how such a person, particularly a woman, could have the energy and ambition to investigate murders or other crimes.

Join Jo, and her sometime sidekick Sylvie who is also her sister, in tracking down a killer after she discovers a body in a closet with the help of her cat, Clyde, who isn’t all there.

I’m pleased to recommend Yesterday’s Body as a story any mystery fan will enjoy. The characters’ varied backgrounds blend into a story you won’t want to put down until you find out who the killer is and why they kill. You’ll enjoy meeting the realistic characters as they cross paths with Jo and yourself. You’ll find you’ve joined Jo in her investigation with Clyde and Sylvie and their threesome has become a foursome intent on solving the crimes.

Enjoy the adventure. I sure did.

Anne K. Edwards

Now for the Goodreads giveaway information—ends April 9, 2015. Giving away ten copies. Sign up here.

Next Monday, my five-star review (of other’s books) will be back. And this Thursday I’ll have something for both readers and writers.

War of 1812 in Havre de Grace

Havre de Grace in 1813

Havre de Grace in 1813

This coming summer my new mystery, Forgotten Body, will be released. Since it centers around a reenactment of the War of 1812, I am sharing some of my research. What did the area look like? This diorama made to represent Havre de Grace at the time shows a sparsely settled area.

Havre de Grace sits on the shore of the Susquehanna River in Maryland. On May 2, 1813, the British under Admiral Cockburn attacked and burned most of the houses in the town. Several reports from that time tell the story. The Admiral planned to bypass Havre de Grace until he saw an American flag flying and someone shot cannon fire. That was probably John O’Neill. He stood his ground, firing until the cannon backfired on him, forcing him to leave. However, he did join others with their muskets.

O'Neill At The Cannon

O’Neill At The Cannon

The 40 local militia, mostly older men, wisely retreated in the face of an overwhelming force after one was killed. John O’Neill was captured. He was to be executed the next day, however his 15-year-old daughter rowed out the admiral’s vessel to plead for her father’s life. Since she had the papers that proved he was a military officer and not a civilian, he was released. The surviving articles hint that her comely ways and bravery affected the admiral. In any event, he gave her his gold-mounted tortoiseshell snuff box. (Exactly what any teenager would love to have.)

Other stories may not have been authenticated. One I heard was that the admiral declined to burn the home of a widow since she had no husband fighting against Mother England. (I must admit, that is the story I used in my upcoming mystery.)

Question: When the entire story is a fabrication, must the history be absolutely authentic?

My answer: Sometimes. If the history is presented as authentic—you bet your life. I’ll make it as authentic as I can. If the history is admittedly augmented—hey the writer/history doesn’t tell everything. And, if the history is presented as a fabrication—go for it! (I understand that was the thinking behind Unicorn Westerns.)

What is your answer?