featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

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Friday, July 3, 2020

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AUTHOR JUDY HOGAN TALKS ABOUT DEVELOPING A TEEN CHARACTER

Judy Hogan has published thirteen Penny Weaver Mysteries with another on the way. She also writes poetry, edits creative writers, and offers workshops. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog. Today she stops by to talk about how one of her characters developed over time.   

About Seb
I’m not sure how my character Seb emerged the way he did as my amateur detective Penny Weaver’s grandson. True, she’d kept him as a toddler for his mother many times over the years. Seb wanted to help Penny, Kenneth and their next-door neighbors, the Styles, plant the spring garden. Leroy, his dad, let him plant “nunions.” 

Meantime, Penny’s daughter Sarah, his mother, hadn’t wanted to marry Leroy, his father. She was trying to find someone to marry, who suited her, but such men didn’t want to be Seb’s daddy. This was painful all around. 

Finally, a young farmer named Mark Judd, who had his own problems, fell in love with Sarah and Seb. About the same time another farmer, Nora Fisher, fell in love with Leroy, and these four had a double wedding. So Seb ended up with four parents, who had the best of intentions, but sometimes had trouble keeping up with Seb. 

Seb ran away to Raleigh with some older friends, who willingly gave him a ride, so he could attend the Moral Monday March led by Rev. Barber. The police called Sarah. He was too young to be in a protest, they said. He was fourteen. 

Another time he had refused to go to school because he knew more about The Odyssey than his teacher. Penny had already read it with him. 

At the capitol building, Penny’s friend Oscar had stayed with Seb. His mother was furious. Oscar offered to tutor him in writing college essays, which Seb loved.

The crowning blow to Seb’s four parents, as well as to Naomi’s parents, was the discovery by Aunt Sammie that fourteen-year-old Seb and thirteen-year-old Naomi were enjoying the joys of sex while Naomi was babysitting Sammie’s kids. Although this story in Pernicious Poll is a subplot, it may be the most interesting part of the book. One reviewer wrote: “I loved the ending.” The reader may wonder whether the teens will be able to cope if they lose the joys of sex. More of the story will come out in the fourteenth novel of the series, A Teen’s Christmas in Wales.

Pernicious Poll
A Penny Weaver Mystery, Book 13

The North Carolina state government has passed a new law that requires voters to show a picture ID. Its real aim is to make it harder for elderly black citizens to vote. Penny Weaver and her friends are working to assist elderly voters to get a state-issued ID. Meantime the lead counsel for the NAACP court challenge to the new law, Becka Cagle is murdered on her doorstep. Penny's friend Sammie learns that her grandson Seb and Sammie's niece Naomi had discovered the joys of sex at ages fourteen and thirteen. Penny, Sammie, and Lt. Lilly Bates of the Sheriff's Department work to solve the murder. While the three women do their own investigation, their friend Kate takes over the role of the dead Becka in the NAACP case, and Penny's husband Kenneth guards Kate. The parents of the teens come together to make new rules for the teens, but Penny ends up keeping her grandson Seb when his parents are busy, and Seb finds it easy to outwit her.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

AN INTERVIEW WITH MYSTERY AUTHOR KATHY KRAVAT'S GOURMET CAT MYSTERIES SLEUTH

Today we sit down for a cha with Colbie Summers from mystery author Kathy Krevat’s
Gourmet Cat Mysteries.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
I was focused on raising my wonderful son Elliott and making my business a success. My company, Meowio Batali Gourmet Cat Food, was inspired by my cat Trouble. She has digestive issues, so I started making her organic, human grade food. When I found out other cats had the same problems, Meowio was born. 

I’d just moved back in with my father – his second bout of pneumonia really hit him hard right at a time when I had a little difficulty with my day job. We’re trying hard to make it work. After being a city person for so long, leaving San Diego for small town Sunnyside takes some getting used to.

And stumbling over my new friend’s dead body was not something I ever expected. 

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
I’d have to say my stubbornness, which I need to succeed at business, and life in general. Being a single mom at a young age was never my plan, so I had to push hard to find, and keep, jobs to support us. 

What do you like least about yourself?
My stubbornness. It kept me from having much of a relationship with my father when I left home at eighteen. He’s pretty stubborn too, which is why twelve years went by with infrequent visits.  

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
Did I mention the stumbling over dead bodies stuff? Besides that, she made me get a treatment for lice! Yes, it was part of an investigation, and I didn’t actually have them, but my head was itchy for days. She’s also forced me to have encounters with chicken poop, fight a rabbit over my strawberry patch, and get head-butted by a baby goat. 

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
She likes to say I do what she tells me, but you should see what happens between the outline and the finished book. I control plenty of the action; she just doesn’t realize it yet. 

What is your greatest fear?
Something terrible happening to my son or father because of my investigations. 

What makes you happy?
So many things! Seeing Elliott singing and dancing on stage in his junior theater musicals, when he’s at his most joyous. Having coffee with my father on the porch during a quiet morning, before we start our day. Hanging out with my cat Trouble, even if she’s complain-meowing while waiting to taste-test a new recipe.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
I definitely wish I hadn’t fought with my dad and moved out when I was eighteen. We missed out on so many years of family because of pride. 

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
I’d have to say Gina Pace. She’s a personal trainer who puts me through a punishing workout to get any information from her, and she keeps reminding me that I should get rid of my “paunch.” 

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
Besides Trouble, who lives like a queen, I’d choose Elliott. He’s twelve, at that wonderful age where so much is new, and he’s figuring out who he is in the world. He’s surrounded by love at home and has great friends. His whole life is in front of him, and I just know it’s going to be wonderful. 

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Kathy Krevat is the only one I know who’s busier than me. She’s the author of the Gourmet Cat Mystery series, the Chocolate Covered Mystery series (under the name Kathy Aarons), and the short story, “One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in the Crossing Borders Anthology. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

She also performs stand-up comedy, usually in San Diego clubs, but now online via Zoom. 

When she’s not writing, she’s volunteering for the CCA Writers’ Conference (the only free writing conference for high school students in the US), Left Coast Crime 2020, and more. 

What's next for you?
Kathy is working on a young adult mystery series, where I’m sure to have a cameo.

The Trouble With Talent
A Gourmet Cat Mystery, Book 3
 
Sunnyside’s most gifted students have been at the mercy of a shadowy network of college fixers—including an abusive oboe teacher whose recommendation is necessary to get into Julliard and a school secretary who alters grades for cash. When they turn up dead, Colbie has to untangle a cat’s cradle of suspects and motivations—from livid parents and students whose dreams have been crushed to an entire secret Facebook group of spurned lovers.
 
Suddenly, holiday preparations just got a lot hairier. With the big re-order now on hold and the real killer still at large, Colbie discovers that someone has been grading on a very dangerous curve—and it will take all her newfound sleuthing talent to land safely on her feet.

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Monday, June 29, 2020

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--MYSTERY AUTHOR MADDIE DAY SHARES AN EMPANADAS RECIPE AND A NEW RELEASE

Award-winning mystery author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and multi-published short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she pens the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Learn more about Edith/Maddie and her books at her combined website. 

Creating a Series
Thanks so much for having me over to celebrate my book release, Lois!

When I designed my Country Store Mysteries, I knew I wanted to feature a breakfast and lunch restaurant in southern Indiana. As I am originally a Californian, I made protagonist Robbie Jordan a transplant from the Golden State, too. She grew up in Santa Barbara, but loves living and cooking in Brown County, Indiana. 

I spent five happy years earning a doctorate in the next county some decades ago and visited Brown County often. The southern part of Indiana is hilly and pretty, and the pace of life is slower and more relaxed that I’ve found on the coasts. It was fun to create an iconic fictional Midwestern village and people it with locals. A couple of them are fond of using quirky southern phrases like, “Welp, that went faster than green grass through a goose,” or, “The fella’s a regular cobweb rig,” for a particularly tall man.

After Robbie’s mother dies suddenly of a ruptured brain aneurysm in her fifties, Robbie is heartbroken but inherits some money. She’s already living in Brown County, working as a chef. She and her Aunt Adele, her mother’s sister, find a run-down country store for sale. Robbie’s mom was a cabinetmaker, so Robbie learned carpentry skills from her. She goes to work renovating the store.

Flipped for Murder, the first book in the series, begins at the store’s grand opening. It’s been fun developing Pans ‘N Pancakes into the village watering hole over the course of six books and a novella. It’s where everybody comes for breakfast or lunch, and where they gossip and talk about the latest murder.

I’ve also enjoyed developing the recipes for the restaurant, some of which I include in the books. I love cooking, and I live with a tall skinny man who loves recipe testing! 

For book seven, Nacho Average Murder, which releases tomorrow, Robbie goes back to California to her tenth high school reunion. I created a number of yummy recipes with a Cali-Mex flavor, using avocados and spices like cumin and chili powder. It’s food I love to eat and I’m happy to present one of the dishes here for you.

Flaky Chicken Empanadas
These yummy bits are served at the Chumash High School reunion.

Ingredients:
1 large boneless chicken breast
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces grated pepper jack cheese (or regular Monterey Jack)
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
2 puff pastry sheets, thawed
1egg + 1 tablespoon water whisked together in a small bowl

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. 

Slice the chicken lengthwise into inch-wide strips. Rub all surfaces with the spice mix.
Heat oil in a skillet at medium high. Lay in chicken strips not touching each other. Sauté for two to three minutes until brown on bottom, then flip them over. Sauté for one more minute. Lower heat to medium low and cook until chicken is done, about ten minutes in all. Remove from heat and cool for an hour. Dice the chicken, ending up with about two cups.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, cream cheese, grated cheese, and peppers. Use your hand to mix well.

Lay out one sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough and roll out to an approximate dimension of 11 x 15 inches. Cut 3 1/2” circles in the dough with a biscuit cutter, a glass, or a bowl. Repeat with the other sheet of puff pastry. Gather dough scraps and roll out to dimensions to fit additional circles.

Place 1 tablespoon chicken mixture in the center of each circle. Lightly brush the edge of half of a circle with egg wash and fold over, pinch edges tightly to seal. Place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining circles but DO NOT dip your brush in the egg wash again until your brush becomes dry because too much egg wash will prevent the edges from sticking.

Check each empanada to make sure there is about a finger's width of dough sealed together before the filling starts. Crimp the edges together with a fork. Pierce each empanada two times with a fork so steam can escape while baking.
Spread empanadas apart so they are not touching each other on the baking sheets. Brush the tops/sides evenly with egg wash. Bake until golden brown, approximately 15 minutes. Serve hot.

To freeze:
While empanadas are lined on the baking sheets before baking, transfer entire baking tray to the freezer. Once frozen, add individual empanadas to a freezer bag or glass container with lid.

When ready to bake, array desired amount of empanadas on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Nacho Average Murder
A Country Store Mystery, Book 7

While looking forward to her high school reunion back in California, Robbie Jordan’s anticipation is complicated by memories of her mother’s untimely death. At first, she has fun hanging out with her old classmates and reuniting with the local flavors—avocados, citrus, fish, and spicy Cali-Mex dishes. When she gets wind of rumors that her mother, an environmental activist, may not have died of natural causes, Robbie enlists old friends to clear the smoke surrounding the mystery. But what she finds could make it hard to get back to Indiana alive . . .

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Friday, June 26, 2020

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--INTERVIEW WITH COZY, MYSTERY & PARANORMAL AUTHOR RENEE GEORGE

Today we sit down for a chat with cozy, mystery, and paranormal author Renee George. Renee writes the Nora Black Midlife Psychic Mysteries. Learn more about Renee and her books at her website. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I think I always knew that I wanted to write books, especially books that provide an escape from everyday life and leave people with a warm fuzzy feeling at the end. I was in my thirties, working as a nurse, before I published my first book (2005) and realized it was possible to write professionally. Now I'm fifty-one and living my best life as a full-time author. 

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Hah! I answered this in the last question. However, it was only after I went indie in 2014 that I started publishing the books I really wanted to write. 

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? 
I am hybrid, though I've been predominantly Indie since 2014.

Where do you write? 
I am not someone who needs to be in a certain space to write. Actually, I'm the complete opposite. I will move from my office, to the dining room, to the deck, to the living room, and my bedroom (at home) when I'm on deadline because the space I'm in at any given time will start feeling like it is closing in on me. I can also write in the car, when I go on vacation (some of my most productive writing!), and really just anywhere. 

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?  
I listen to classical music, white noise, or I need the space completely quiet when I'm writing. Anything with audible words will distract me (songs, tv, or people). My husband bought me noise cancelling headphones for Mother's Day last year, and now any space can be a writing space.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular? 
My latest character, Nora Black, is a lot of me, in that she is fifty-one (and has all the aches and nearsightedness that come with aging along with the feeling that she still feels vital and has a lot of life to live), recently had a hysterectomy, and has a couple of best friends she considers her tribe, but her life and the plots of the mysteries are all fiction. 

Describe your process for naming your character? 
Sometimes I just look at baby name websites and scour the names until one of them pops out and says, hey! choose me. My side and sub-characters tend to get names from my family and friends and acquaintances (though the characters themselves have nothing in common with anyone I know). 

Real settings or fictional towns? 
Fictional towns, for sure. Even if the name comes from an actual town, it's usually set somewhere else and the real town has no connection.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? 
My heroine Nora Black has developed a psychic gift after dying on the operating table (less than 30 seconds). Now she can see memories that are related to scents. Only, it's other people's memories she's seeing, not her own. 

What’s your quirkiest quirk? 
I actually say stuff in real life like criminently, criminy, jiminy crickets, fudgy knuckles, cripes, jeez louise, crap on toast, along with more choice words that are less than cozy. 

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? 
Charlaine Harris's Dead Until Dark. It was the first paranormal mystery book that I'd ever read, and I thought the story was brilliant, and Charlaine Harris is a genius writer. After that I read all her books and series. Fun fact: I got to take Charlaine Harris to dinner before a book signing in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I fangirled so hard. After I dropped her off at the Barnes & Noble, I parked my vehicle and cried for a moment before I went inside the bookstore.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? 
I don't have any do-overs, but there are a few books that I wish I would have taken a little more time with the ending. I won't be naming titles, though, since the readers haven't seemed to mind. 

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Chain letters (email, Messenger, or Facebook). I find "forwards" incredibly annoying.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? 
A book, a piece of flint, and a machete.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held? 
Laundry and housekeeping in a nursing home (1987). I lasted one full week. 

What’s the best book you’ve ever read? 
I'm not sure I've ever read a "best" book. I've had best books of the moment.

Ocean or mountains? 
Ocean

City girl/guy or country girl/guy? 
Country. When I was younger, I would have said city, but the older I get, the quieter I like my life.

What’s on the horizon for you?
In August, I will be releasing War of the Noses (A Nora Black Midlife Psychic Mystery Book 3). 

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? 
Reading has always been an escape for me, and I love books that have engaging characters I can identify with and satisfying endings that make me feel good when I've finished. That's what I try to accomplish with every book I write. I want readers to see the best of themselves in the characters, and to just feel really good when they get to the end.

Sense and Scent Ability
Nora Black Midlife Psychic Mystery, Book 1

My name is Nora Black, and I'm fifty-one-years young. At least that's what I tell myself, when I'm not having hot flashes, my knees don't hurt, and I can find my reading glasses.

I’m also the proud owner of a salon called Scents & Scentsability in the small resort town of Garden Cove, where I make a cozy living selling handmade bath and beauty products. All in all, my life's is pretty good.

Except for one little glitch...

Since my recent hysterectomy, where I died on the operating table, I’ve been experiencing what some might call paranormal activity. No, I don’t see dead people, but quite suddenly I’m triggered by scents that, in their wake, leave behind these vividly intense memories. Sometimes they’re unfocused and hazy, but there’s no doubt, they are very, very real.

Know what else? They’re not my memories. It seems I've lost a uterus and gained a psychic gift.

When my best friend Gilly’s abusive boyfriend ends up dead after a fire, and she becomes the prime suspect, I end up a babysitter to her two teenagers while she's locked up in the clink. Add to that my super sniffer’s newly acquired abilities and a rash of memories connected to the real criminal, and I find myself in a race to catch a killer before my best friend is tried for murder. 

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

MYSTERY AUTHOR MARILYN MEREDITH ON TWEAKING REAL SETTINGS FOR FICTION

Tule River
Mystery author Marilyn Meredith has written more than forty books under her own name and as F.M. Meredith. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog.

How Much of The Setting of the Tempe Crabtree Mysteries is Like Where I Live?
It’s no secret that the area where Tempe Crabtree is resident deputy has a close resemblance to the town of Springville. Both are in the Southern Sierra*, however, Bear Creek is 1000 feet higher in elevation. My main reason for that was I wanted better trees and the chance for more changes in the weather. Weather often plays an important part in series.

When I moved Bear Creek higher into the mountains, I changed the main highway a bit to fit the stories I wrote. 

The Tule River runs through the place I live, but I call it Bear Creek, and the town is named after the river.

Both places are near an Indian reservation, and the real one is much like the one in my series.

In my town there is an inn like the one in Bear Creek, however the fictional one is a bit different than the real one, though the history of it is the same. Right now, it’s closed.  In fact, the main reason I didn’t use all the same businesses in my series is because they tend to come and go. Summer brings the tourists, but it’s hard for many places to remain open during the winter. And the virus isn’t helping.

In the latest book, a campground is featured. We have many campground and hiking trails, but the ones in End of the Trail are fictional. The surroundings are real. We have giant Sequoia groves in several places. 

As far as I know, no one living off the road to the reservation has a compound like the one I describe in this latest mystery. However, there is plenty of land where someone could build exactly what my fictional characters did. 

The town of Dennison is somewhat like the nearby town of Porterville. Any of my neighbors will recognize Main Street, the mortuary, and the library. (As a sad aside, the library burned down earlier this year.)

When Tempe visits another real place and I’ve used the name, I try to keep as true to what it is like as possible. However, when I write Bear Creek, I am happy that I can fictionalize what I’m writing about. It gives me many more opportunities for plot ideas.

*Sierra means mountains.

End of the Trail 
A Tempe Crabtree Mystery, Book 18

Deputy Tempe Crabtree joins the search for a missing hiker which results in a murder investigation, a near death experience, an unexpected rescuer, and an unhappy ghost. 

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Monday, June 22, 2020

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GOTTA LAUGH! GOTTA CRAFT!

Gotta Laugh! Gotta Craft!

Is there anyone out there who isn’t stressed to the max right now? Probably not. We’re living in extremely stressful times. Just about everyone I know wants to crawl into bed, pull a quilt over their heads, and not get up until the world is a safer and saner place for everyone.

Personally, I’ve been feeling that way for some time now, ever since author Lois Winston started messing with my life. Sometimes my head spins when I think about the way she’s turned my life upside down and sideways. A year ago, I was living the American Dream with my husband, two great kids, a home in the suburbs, and a job I loved. The one fly in the ointment was my cantankerous communist mother-in-law who was living with us while she recuperated from a hit-and-run, but Karl, my husband, had assured me her stay was temporary. He didn’t want her in our home any more than I did.

Then Karl dropped dead in Las Vegas, and life has never been the same. I felt like such a cliché—the clueless wife who knew nothing of her husband’s affair. Only Karl’s affair had been with Lady Luck, and his luck had run out. He left me, not only permanently stuck with his mother but also his loan shark, having gambled away everything—including money we didn’t have. The loan shark didn’t care, which I’ve since learned is SOP—standard operating procedure—for loan sharks. Being a Jersey girl, you’d think I would have known that.

You might also think all of the above would be enough of a triple whammy for any clueless wife, right? Far from it. Ever since Karl’s death, thanks to Lois, the dead bodies keep piling up around me, and I’ve found myself with a second career as a reluctant amateur sleuth. It was either that or wind up railroaded for a murder I didn’t commit.

I don’t think even Sherlock Holmes stumbles across dead bodies at the rate I have this past year. Nor did Sherlock have as many people trying to kill him. You’d think I work in law enforcement, given all those dead bodies, but I’m the crafts editor at a women’s magazine, for heaven’s sake! Hardly your typical life-threatening occupation. And yet, my life keeps getting threatened, thanks to Lois.

They say that laughter is the best medicine. Of course, laughter isn’t going to cure everything that ails us right now, but it will release endorphins, which make us feel better. And at least Lois has decided to give me a sense of humor that helps me get through all the murder and mayhem she throws my way.

She’s also decided that you, too, could probably use a good laugh right about now. So for the next few days Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, is on sale for only .99 cents. Treat yourself to a good laugh at my expense. I won’t mind.

And before I go, I’m going to put my craft editor hat on and remind all of you that there’s something else that can make you feel better right now—crafting. Working on crafts projects can be a huge stress reliever. If you’ve got some unfinished craft projects lying around the house (and what crafter doesn’t?), pick one up and finish it. I promise, it will put a smile on your face. And who doesn’t need an excuse to smile right now?

Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 1

When Anastasia Pollack’s husband permanently cashes in his chips at a roulette table in Vegas, her comfortable middle-class life craps out. She’s left with two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, and her hateful, cane-wielding Communist mother-in-law. Not to mention stunned disbelief over her late husband’s secret gambling addiction, and the loan shark who’s demanding fifty thousand dollars.

Anastasia’s job as crafts editor at American Woman magazine proves no respite when she discovers a dead body glued to her desk chair. The victim, fashion editor Marlys Vandenburg, collected enemies and ex-lovers like Jimmy Choos on her ruthless climb to editor-in-chief. But when evidence surfaces of an illicit affair between Marlys and Anastasia’s husband, Anastasia becomes the prime suspect. Can she find the killer and clear her name before he strikes again?

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Friday, June 19, 2020

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--AUTHOR NANCY NAU SULLIVAN ON WHAT MYSTERY READERS LIKE (AND DISLIKE)

Nancy Nau Sullivan’s first mystery in the Blanche Murninghan series, Saving Tuna Street, launches June 23. It's a series with a suitcase--next installment, Mexico, then Vietnam, Ireland, Argentina, and Spain. A former journalist, Nancy taught English in Argentina, Mexico, and at a boys’ prison in Florida. Learn more about Nancy and her books at her website.

It’s a Mystery to Me
I asked some critique groups I belong to for comments about likes and dislikes of the mystery genre: 

First off, one reader jumped right in to put mysteries into two camps: A mystery is suspense (the reader knows who did the deed but is held in abeyance with the author’s sleight of hand) and the mystery is thriller (the reader doesn’t know the perpetrator and there’s a thrill around every corner until the end). One reader mentioned that many writers combine both—He offered Lisa Unger and Greg Iles as examples. 

Agatha Christie is right up there on the lists of most popular mystery writers. In her books, the reader doesn’t know whodunit until the puzzle pieces are put together at the end. Agatha has four on the list of the top 100 mystery stories, according to Mystery Writers of America. (Strangely enough, To Kill a Mockingbird is number 60--for its suspense? Rosemary’s Baby comes in at 100. Isn’t that horror?)

The lines are blurred, and waver all over the genre. Carolyn Keane, the pseudonym for Nancy Drew, is probably single-handedly responsible for inspiring a generation of mystery writers, even though Nancy did not deal in dead bodies. She was busy finding out who stole the heirlooms and driving around in that fabulous little roadster. I got hooked early.

Other notes in my unscientific survey:

·   Clues. “They shouldn’t look like clues until the end,” said Dawn. Lisa likes “delicious, well-place clues.” Rachael likes “a mix of subtle and obvious clues.”

·   Murder. “Most people don’t understand it, and they want to know why someone would do such a thing,” according to Yvonne. It’s “intriguing and, usually, the stakes are high.”

·   Design. A good mystery should be like “a puzzle, like a locked room, and it’s fun to finally get in,” says Jacquelyn. 

Some readers object to the lack of diversity in mysteries and a tendency toward misogyny and sexism. As regards the latter, Melissa was turned off by the writer who was obsessed with breasts. He had breasts “winking” and “smiling” in nearly every scene with a female.  

A couple of readers said they don’t like the killer to come out of left field, or the evil twin to show up with little explanation, or the cop to always be a bumbling idiot. 

Julienne does not like “shock at the expense of logic.” I recall my addiction to Perry Mason, and wonder why out of the half a dozen suspects the least likely was the one to usually jump up in the back of the courtroom at the last minute. I cry, foul.

Some readers don’t want a lot of clues and say they are smart enough to figure it out. They are unhappy with books that hand over the outcome too soon. Nonetheless, the story does need to wrap up nicely. Melissa put the capper on it: “I love the moment it all comes together, when the disparate threads make sense.” For each reader, that moment may be different, but most agree it does need to happen. Mystery writers should not leave their thread hanging…

What is it for you? Why do you like mysteries?

Saving Tuna Street
A Blanche Murninghan Mystery, Book 1

Blanche “Bang” Murninghan is a part-time journalist with a penchant for walking the beach on her beloved Santa Maria Island. Gran left her a cabin on Tuna Street, and she’s got her friends and family. All is well. Until the land-grabbing goons arrive. Blanche finds herself in a tailspin. Her friend, Bob Blankenship is found murdered, and she suspects the slick, handsome land developer Sergi Langstrom and his company of chaos are behind it all. Blanche keeps digging. All the way to hell. The goons, it seems, are a front for a drug cartel.

The harder Blanche pushes against the source of trouble, the more she is sucked into the vortex of greed, murder, drug runners, and kidnapping (hers). Who can look away? It’s like watching a hurricane, which, literally, comes straight for Tuna Street.

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