Tag Archives: mysteries

Conan Doyle For The Defense by Margalit Fox

I just finished this fascinating true crime story involving none other than Arthur Conan Doyle.

Over the years I’d heard that people would write to Conan Doyle and ask his help on various legal or criminal matters but I thought that was anecdotal, since people also thought Sherlock Holmes was a real person.

But this is one of those actual cases.

A man named Oscar Slater was jailed for the murder of an elderly woman in Scotland in 1908. But the investigation was a sham and it was clear that Slater was railroaded. Slater was a convenient person to nab … Jewish, foreign, poor, held dodgy jobs. He checked all the easy boxes and was sent to a brutal place, Peterhead Prison, just north of Aberdeen on the northeast coast of Scotland. He was there for eighteen years.

The author very adeptly travels back and forth between Slater’s case and the investigation, the history of law and police procedures in general and in Scotland in particular, and how Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes. It’s pretty clear Sherlock was based on Joseph Bell who was a doctor at a teaching hospital. As a second year medical student, Conan Doyle was chosen to be his clerk. Bell diagnosed illnesses exactly as Sherlock solved crimes.

The influence of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle led to new ideas we still use today in police work, but fair warning, the things they did to Oscar Slater will make your blood boil.

This book was a delightful combination of police procedural, biography, history, and plain ‘ol mystery. It also taught me the difference between deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning.

Sherlock would be proud.

What are you reading?

 

How Much Cursing Is Okay In A Cozy?

I originally posted this over at Mysteristas, but I wanted it here, too. So if it seems familiar, you’re not having a mystical déjà vu moment. Or are you ….

♦ ♦ ♦

Since I wanted to get your opinion on cozies today, I thought I’d bribe you a bit with pics of Nala, my cozy cuddlebug. (See what I did there?)

There are a lot of colors in the “Mystery” rainbow: cozies, legal and medical thrillers, police procedurals, suspense, romantic suspense, historicals, private eyes, noir, capers … and more!

And don’t forget the subgenres! Just under the “cozy” umbrella there are crafting cozies, cupcake cozies, cat cozies, hobby cozies, etc, etc, etc. There are even some stay-at-home-dad cozies.

Most readers read across the spectrum to some degree, but writers tend to stick with one genre.

I’ve always told people I write cozies because my definition is that they have an amateur sleuth, are usually funny or light-hearted, not a lot of violence or sex, and usually set in a small town. But I was at a party recently and a friend told me about a controversy she’d been following about readers giving one-star reviews to cozies that don’t follow the reader’s “rules,” whether that’s absolutely no cursing, or that cozies must have a recipe, or whatever. They’ll turn up their noses and slam the author for “calling their book a cozy when it’s clearly a traditional. Harrumph.”

Now, I don’t mind a well-reasoned negative review (well, I do, but that’s a conversation for my therapist) but those arbitrary and angry 1-stars bring down an authors rating, causing all sorts of problems for their career.

And when I stumble across the phrase “traditional mystery,” I’m stumped. How is that different from a cozy?

I don’t think anyone would argue that Agatha Christie is the Queen of the Traditional Mystery, but look at the Miss Marple books. She ticks all my “cozy” boxes.

But Writing World separates “cozies” and “amateur sleuths” into two distinct genres.

I decided, with FICTION CAN BE MURDER, my new perhaps-cozy-perhaps-traditional-perhaps-amateur-sleuth-but-definitely-not-police-procedural mystery coming out soon, I needed a definitive answer.

So I started asking people, beginning with a Facebook group I recently joined called A Cozy Experience Online Cozy Mystery Book Club. With a name like that, they will know!

I asked them how they defined cozies. Here are some of the insightful answers I got:

  • I define a cozy as a “soft” mystery with no blood curdling scenes and no cursing in a homey setting where only one or maybe two bullying, egotistical jerks live.
  • I don’t like any cursing in my cozys, nor do I like any sexual activity, implied or otherwise. To me traditional mysteries and cozys are entirely different entities. Cozys the murder occurs quietly off scene, mysteries that’s not always the case. I expect a mystery to be a little more graphic but not necessarily as gruesome as a thriller.
  • Hm, I’m wondering how I’d categorize series like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, or Diane Kelly’s “Death, Taxes, and…” series, both of which I love and which fit the bill for most of the cozy check points (humor, young single female protagonist, light on gore or violence or criminal psych study, and justice is always served – but both series can be more graphic when it comes to language & sex (neither of which bother me at all).
  • Mild cursing is fine, eg “gosh darn”or “shoot.” And I am all for romance in cozies though nothing too explicit, I’m there for the mystery not the sex. Also I am really really really getting tired of love triangles in cozies. A love triangle is NOT cozy. Sorry for the shouting. [This comment made me laugh!]
  • I always think of a cozy as a story that happens to have a murder involved but it’s really more about the protagonist’s life. Also in a cozy mystery the protagonist’s hobby or career are as important, if not more important than the murder. I don’t mind cursing, especially if it fits the character. And I don’t mind the sex if it drives the story.
  • A cozy mystery takes me to a new place, introduces me to new people, and tosses in a murder or two or three.
  • A cozy is also supposed to have an amateur detective (a regular person like you or me) as the main character. Some books are called cozies but are really just mysteries or maybe humorous mysteries. I’m not picky though, I read them all.
  • I enjoy cozies. I do not enjoy graphic violence or really twisted characters which often appear in mysteries other than cozies. I don’t want to feel “sick” when I read. Mild cursing is not a problem for me, however, I do sometimes find some cozies “too sweet” and it gets old.
  • I would say Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories are almost the ideal cozies. Don’t see the violence. Don’t see the sex. Figuring out the mystery is done by brain power. Jane didn’t have a strong supporting cast which I think is needed in a good cozy series. (There are a couple of series that I enjoy the sleuth’s buddies more than the main character.)
  • To me, a cozy is a relatable character that has a fun job/hobby that is also included in the book — baker has recipes, crafter has craft projects, etc. I don’t mind mild cursing. A traditional mystery to me is one where the character is a policeman or detective. Someone doing a job they normally perform. But they are less approachable, for lack of a better word. Cozy characters draw me in and could be my best friend or myself even. I also think cozies have a good bit of comedy added.
  • No cursing or swearing…mild violence, nothing gory. Relatable characters, quirky and funny…laugh at themselves. Mild romance, friendships. Also like the series that include crafts, baking, decorating, pets…so many great theme series out there!
  • Cozy mysteries are fun and the characters are more quirky than in a traditional mystery.
  • And someone posted this link to an interesting article defining cozy mysteries.

Quite a lot of agreement, except about the profanity, which kind of worries me because I taught my two sailors everything they needed to know when they shipped out. I get one more pass through my manuscript before it’s set in stone, so I’ll scrub it as clean as makes sense. But what makes sense to me, may not make sense to my readers.

What do you think about my definition of cozies … or the difference between cozy and traditional … or how much cursing is okay in a cozy?

What, You Ask, Are Copyedits Like?

Doing copyedits on a novel is like being sent on the most intense scavenger hunt EVER.

Page 43 sends you to the notes on page 168 and then to the notes on page 285 so you read them all, then tweak page 43 and/or page 285 but you decide with the other tweaks, page 168 is okay as it stands. So you go back to continue on at page 44. But when you get to page 168 and see the note from your editor, you don’t remember if you changed page 43 so you go back to check. But page 43 isn’t page 43 anymore because you’ve added and/or deleted words since then … because page 59 sent you to page 12 which sent you to page 97. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

By the time you’ve gotten lost in the minutiae of the manuscript, you can’t even remember your own name, much less what that character said about the photographer, or if that one had a cigar, or why that one didn’t make that important call when she said she would!

That’s the time to collapse in a heap sobbing, “I don’t KNOW what color the curtains are! I don’t KNOW why she hasn’t changed clothes yet! I don’t KNOW what direction that road goes!”

And then, of course, you slink downstairs to take a deep, cleansing breath and to remove a single piece of dark chocolate from its hiding place. With the sharp aftertaste of cacao on your tongue you straighten your shoulders, march upstairs, and get back to it, blessing your copyeditor for asking all these questions.

Because you’re a writer and this is what writers do.

LITTLE PRETTY THINGS by Lori Rader-Day

This is definitely on my BEST OF THE YEAR list. Couldn’t put it down!

Subscribers to my mailing list get the chance to win this signed copy. I have many more spectacular books from many more spectacular authors, so if you’re not a subscriber, sign up today. And if you are a subscriber, keep an eye out for my So Seldom It’s Shameful News. (Keep me out of your spam folder because I can’t breathe in there.)

Read the first chapter here.

 

One Question Interview — Ann Parker

I started doing my One Question Interviews because I am lucky enough to be able to meet tons of eclectic and interesting authors. It occurred to me you might want to meet them, too. So I wrote a dozen or so questions on index cards, steered the authors to a quiet corner with me and my iPhone, then had them pick a question at random. I hope you like them and their books as much as I do. Visit their websites, find them on social media, buy their books, and/or ask your library to carry them. Share this post and the video with anyone who might enjoy their books.

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SilverLiesCoverIron_TiesLeadenSkiesCoverMercurysRise coverWhat_Gold_Buys_Cover

Ann Parker wanted to live in Colorado since she was a child, but through various “twists of fate” and life decisions, has only managed to move one set of hills east from where she was born and raised in Northern California. She wrote her first novel when she was 12 years old featuring… a strong female protagonist and set in the Old West! (Started young.) She’s  been a wordsmith since then, making a living by spinning words in one venue or another since she got out of college, mostly as a science writer. What she REALLY wanted to be was an astronomer (hence the double degree in Physics, with English Literature tagging along because she lived and breathed stories and words). Ah well, maybe next time.

She works like a crazy woman in her day job(s) and writes fiction the rest of the time. She lives with a spouse and a cat who uneasily (and barely) co-exist.

Her favorite book as a child was The Tall Book of Mother Goose, copyright 1942, illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky. This book came out long before she was born, so it must have been handed down from a cousin or some such. She loved the beautiful illustrations first, before she could read. At some point a little later on, she taught herself to count and recognize numbers using the page numbers. And when she finally could read, the whole world of poetry and “literature” opened up. This book has a little of everything. Mystery (who cut off the tails on Bo-Peep’s sheep?), danger and adventure (Jack and Jill! Up the hill! Then Jack falls down!), horror (little Miss Muffet and that scary spider), love (Mary and her little lamb)… you name it! She still gets a great feeling of “resonance” looking through the book.

What_Gold_Buys_CoverAnn’s newest book WHAT GOLD BUYS, set in Leadville, CO, is the fifth in the Silver Rush mystery series, and is available RIGHT NOW for pre-order.

Read descriptions of all the books in the series on Amazon.

Connect with Ann at her website,  on Goodreads, and all the usual places.

 

A Promise For Sidekicks

The literary world is full of sidekicks — Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Stephanie Plum and Lula, Linus and his blanket.

So are movies — Thelma and Louise, R2D2 and C3PO, the Karate Kid and his actual side kick.

So are meals. After all, what’s the point of mashed potatoes without gravy? Bagels without cream cheese? Cheesecake without strawberries? Orange jello without grated carrots?

I never said all sidekicks were good.

We have sidekicks in our real lives, too. Spouses, significant others, kids, siblings, BFFs, business partners, cubicle mates, roommates, critique partners, beta readers, pets.

Nala for Marshmallow Mayhem

Nala’s sidekick is this red pillow.

Everyone brings their unique angle to the relationship. And don’t forget that nobody thinks they are the sidekick — everyone is the hero of their own story. Some are equal relationships, others might tilt weekly or even hourly in favor of one or the other depending on a million different negotiations, verbalized or not. (But in the case of pets, the sidekick is always the one without opposable thumbs.)

As a writer, I depend on all these types of sidekicks, real and imaginary. The real people keep me moving forward, helping with my manuscripts or my psyche, calming, cajoling or kicking me, whichever I might need at that moment.

The imaginary people help creatively. They populate and drive my stories, often doing things that surprise and delight me … and sometimes confound me, spinning me off in a scary new direction.

But then there’s a group of sidekicks in that nebulous world between real and imaginary. I call them My Readers. I feel their presence almost more than I do my real-life sidekicks because they’re always hovering on my periphery. They never go to school or work, they don’t sleep, they don’t disappear while on a ski trip or a Netflix eight-season binge. I spend an inordinate amount of time wondering how to get My Readers to fall in love with my characters. How can I pull them into this plot with me? How can I get them to laugh, or gasp, or cry, or keep turning pages?

My Reader sidekicks are always in my head. I’m compelled to be a better writer for them, to be a better storyteller, to give them more than they give me.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to give them that much, but I can promise all my sidekicks one thing. I will never put carrots in their jello.

 

 

 

The Semester of Our Discontent

The beauty of orbiting various communities of writers is that I get to meet so many great writers and read books I might never have stumbled on otherwise.

Plus, I love sharing new writers and books with you!

The Semester of our DiscontentIf you like cozy mysteries, you will love Cynthia Kuhn‘s The Semester of Our Discontent. It’s set in the world of academia and is full of little tidbits about that world. One of the cool things I like about books — cozy mysteries especially — is getting immersed in a world I know nothing about.

I know, I know. It is surprising I’m not an academic. I exude such deep, scholarly … you know … juice ‘n stuff.

Here’s the blurb….

The Semester of Our Discontent (Henery Press, 2016)

English professor Lila Maclean is thrilled about her new job at prestigious Stonedale University until she finds one of her colleagues dead.  She soon learns that everyone, from the chancellor to the detective working the case, believes Lila—or someone she is protecting—may be responsible for the horrific event, so she assigns herself the task of identifying the killer.

More attacks on professors follow, the only connection a curious symbol found at each of the crime scenes. Putting her scholarly skills to the test, Lila gathers evidence, but her search is complicated by an unexpected nemesis, a suspicious investigator, and an ominous secret society. Rather than earning an “A” for effort, she receives a threat featuring the mysterious emblem and must act quickly to avoid failing her assignment…and becoming the next victim.

I’m so proud to know Cynthia. Not only does she write these Lila Maclean academic mysteries, but she’s one of those rare creatures who makes the world a happier place simply because she’s in it. You want to be a better person because she’s so fantastic. I met her when a few of us decided to start up the Colorado chapter of Sisters in Crime. She’s our President and Fearless Leader. (Don’t tell her, but I kinda can’t say no to her. I went to the first meeting having vowed right out loud that I wasn’t volunteering for anything. I left as one of the programming coordinators.)

This is Cynthia’s debut novel, but her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Literary Mama, Copper Nickel, Prick of the Spindle, Muddy River Poetry Review, Mama PhD and other publications. She has also produced studies on contemporary gothic and dress/fashion in literature. Originally from upstate New York, Cynthia currently teaches English at MSU Denver and really IS a scholar!

Get your hands on a copy of The Semester of Our Discontent and enjoy meeting Lila Maclean and her cohorts. (When you’re done, don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads … and tell your friends!)

Book Links:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iTunes
Kobo

Author Links:

Twitter: @cynthiakuhn
Facebook: www.facebook.com/cynthiakuhnwriter
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/cynthiakuhn
Blog: mysteristas.wordpress.com

 

Bouchercon, the Universe, and Me

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you’ve perhaps already heard some of my unbelievable story.

But I wanted to give you a bit of background, as well as document for myself this weird, weird coincidence. I have another wild story about being sued and landing on 20/20 which I also had to document because every time I told it, I thought, “That’s crazy! Must have been a dream.”

At any rate, in the last few months, I kind of lost my writing mojo. Sales on BANANA BAMBOOZLE and MARSHMALLOW MAYHEM had tanked and I couldn’t get any new reviews (C’mon! Three reviews? Not cool.), I was struggling with the writing of my new manuscript, but why bother because sales are bad, my marketing isn’t working, why bother to market, who has time to market because I’m trying to write this ridiculously bad book, I suck, what am I thinking, I should get a real job, or maybe just sit on the couch all day and drink.

You may have heard this conversation in your own head once or twice.

Around this time, I was lucky to get the fantastic opportunity to be on the ground floor of starting a new Sisters in Crime chapter here in Colorado. So I stepped away from the half-finished manuscript completely and did other things instead.

I dove into my new Programming duties for SinC-CO.

Becky Clark 9 4x6 300dpiI shopped for my mother-of-the-bride dress. And watched some football.

I gave myself a pedicure and flossed my teeth.

I got my Lazy Squirrel Purses store on Etsy open for business. (And made my first sale! Squee!) spine

 

Then a month or so ago, I picked up that half-finished manuscript and read it. And it wasn’t completely horrible. My eyes didn’t even bleed. So I started working on it again, and actually began to have some fun.

But as any of you creative types know, once you stare into the abyss of crushing self-doubt like that, you always kind of see it out of the corner of your eye. One false step and you’re whooshed right back in.

Fast forward to yesterday. At about noon, I typed THE END on the first draft of the new manuscript. Yippee!

After a bit of celebratory facebooking and back patting, I went back to my to-do list, one item of which was to sign up for Bouchercon 2016. I got that all squared away, then called the hotel for reservations.

I was on the phone with the Marriott in New Orleans or wherever the reservation place was. Tessa, my lovely representative, was having all kinds of glitchy computer problems so I was on the phone for awhile. We had ample opportunity to chat. She asked what Bouchercon was and I told her it was for readers and writers of mysteries and thrillers and such.

She said, “I love mysteries. I have a lot of favorites. I read something by … what was her name … I’m pretty sure it was Clark, like you. Banana something.”

Heart stopping pause on my end. “Bamboozle?”

“Yes! I loved it. And there’s a Marshmallow one coming out soon. I can’t wait to read it.”

“Um, it’s already out. I wrote both of those.”

We both fan-squealed, although technically, I might have shrieked.

WHAT. ARE. THE. ODDS???

The moral of the story, Best Beloved, is that we don’t have any idea who we touch — or when, or how, or even why — with our writing. I don’t quite understand the machinations, but yesterday, the Universe decided to let me have a peek behind that curtain.

Tomorrow it might be your turn, so never, ever quit. And always, always stay at the Marriott.