Wednesday, December 21, 2016

No Killing This Christmas

by Janis Patterson

This Sunday is Christmas. It’s a wonderful day – a day for thankfulness, a day for prayer, a day for family, a day for reflection, a day for gifts, a day for… Well, there are as many ways to spend Christmas as there are people.

I remember enormous family Christmases at my grandparents’ when I was a child, with great-aunts and uncles and cousins and lots of people whom I really didn’t quite know how were connected but they were kin, and that was all that counted. My mother and her sisters would each bring enormous amounts of food and we would feast continually all day long. No dishes were ever assigned or discussed, but somehow we always ended up with a fair balance of meats and vegetables and salads and desserts. My grandmother was not allowed to cook – not because her children wanted to spare her, or because they wanted to show off their own culinary expertise – it was because while she was a lovely woman she was a rotten cook! About all you could say was that she never poisoned anyone.

I take part of that back. She made the best divinity candy in the entire world, and she made it every year. She couldn’t do a roast and her mashed potatoes were … interesting, but her divinity, which I’ve heard is one of the hardest candies to make well, was simply and literally divine. Even now, many decades later, her divinity is to me the real taste of Christmas.

After the feasting and the exchange of gifts around the tree and the shadows were growing long across the ground it was time to go home. The sisters would divide up the food – and I swear each year everyone took home more than they brought, though to a logical mind that seems impossible – and at my house we would eat Christmas leftovers for at least two or three days.

Through the haze of memory those Christmases were perfect, though I do have clear memories of someone always a-feudin’ and a-fightin’ with someone else and painful memories of one of my younger cousin’s repeated attempts to significantly damage all us other cousins, but this is too magical a time to remember old hurts, be they mental or physical.

I know this is a mystery blog, but crave your indulgence just this once. Sunday is Christmas, and too wonderful a time to talk about murder and mayhem, no matter how many books are set around the holiday. This is a time to enjoy friends and family and faith and tradition and bask in the glow of the season.

Merry Christmas, everyone! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Bit More on Where Ideas Come From

I wrote a post recently about how different my life was from those of my characters, but I have a bit more to say on the subject.

A writer friend, who truly helped me along the way, recently wrote to another writer friend that most fiction writers based their stories on what happened in their own lives. She is not a mystery writer and that holds true for the fiction books she's written. I know her well enough that when I read her fiction I knew she had drawn much from her own life.

In my case, though I have used incidents at times that really happened, once I've written it into a story and rearranged and changed it, no one would ever recognize it.

Some of my writing ideas pop into my head unbidden--especially right before I go to sleep. Some I remember, some I don't.

Like many, I read about something that really happened and then think about it and ask, "What if it happened this way instead?" And off I go from there.

I've had people tell me about a crime that happened in their family and though I used it, as I wrote, to fit it into the plot I envisioned, everything changed.

And I can tell you with all honesty, my life is not as exciting as Tempe Crabtree's. I've never been in law enforcement, or solved an actual mystery, I've never seen a murder victim--thank God--though I have seen people who have passed on. (Certainly not the same thing.)

As I often tell people who ask me how I know about certain things--I've lived a long time and had enough experiences to know how people react when things happen. And, you can find out anything on the Internet.

And yes, despite it being holiday season, I am getting some writing done.


Monday, December 19, 2016

How Much Grit Do I Want in My Mysteries?

My guest today is my dear friend and fellow mystery writer, Maggie King. Murder at the Moonshine Inn, the second book in her Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, has recently been published. Today Maggie discusses how much grit she wants in her mysteries.

Gritty mysteries. Violent content, bloody images, sexuality, language. The movie versions are rated R. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of gritty is “harsh and unpleasant.” Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly, Patricia Cornwell, Robert Crais, Henning Mankell, and Ruth Rendell are just a few of our renowned authors who write the “dark stuff”—noir. And they’re really good at it.

I watch many TV shows where violence runs rampant. The British and Swedish do it best—Luther is breathtakingly violent; the characters in the riveting Swedish drama, Beck, don’t flinch at a little blood; the American Animal Kingdom had a mild, if menacing, start but by the end of the season the violence had reached a nearly unbearable level. Sexuality and language are a natural part of these stories— the characters aren’t likely to say, “Oh, fudge!”
I love these depictions of a grim reality, whether in print or on screen. But do I want to write tales
with a “darkness of the spirit?”

No, no, a thousand times, no! Maybe spending so much time with my characters and story makes me fear all that darkness. I write cozies, edgy cozies, but cozies all the same. My violence happens off-page and is minimally described. In one story, I have the killer picking up a weapon and using it. But I left the aftermath to the reader’s vivid imagination. In another story, a character gets killed in a pretty horrific way, but all I mention is the murder weapon. Again, I let my readers fill in the blanks. No grisly details. Sometimes a well-chosen word here or there will paint a complete picture.
My characters love sex and love to talk about sex but when they “get right down to the real nitty-gritty” (see how well the song title fits the subject?) they go off-page. I may sprinkle a mild expletive—or two—into the dialogue. My readers object to profanity and I must respect their wishes. There are ways to suggest swearing and mystery author Naomi Hirahara is so skilled at this that you know the exact word she’s not using. Another mystery author, F.M. Meredith, has this to say about the lack of salty language in her Rocky Bluff P.D. series: “Oh, the characters do cuss, I just don’t quote them.”
But Merriam-Webster has another definition of gritty: having or showing a lot of courage and determination.

My main character, Hazel Rose, doesn’t consider herself to be brave and accepts her crime-solving missions with great reluctance. But, once committed, she will run a killer to earth. Mystery writers, regardless of how noir-ish or cozy their story is, want a determined detective, one with an abundance of “true grit.” It’s true grit that unites crime writers as we restore justice to our fictional worlds.
And it’s true grit that I want in my mysteries.

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including the recently-released Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She contributed the stories “A Not So Genteel Murder” and “Reunion at Shockoe Slip” to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies.
Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.
Buy link:

Blurb for Murder at the Moonshine Inn:
WHEN HIGH-POWERED EXECUTIVE Roxanne Howard dies in a pool of blood outside the Moonshine Inn, Richmond, Virginia’s premiere redneck bar, the victim’s sister enlists Hazel Rose to ferret out the killer. At first Hazel balks—she’s a romance writer, not a detective. But Brad Jones, Rox’s husband, is the prime suspect. He’s also Hazel’s cousin, and Hazel believes in doing anything to help family. Never mind that Brad won’t give her the time of day—he’s still family.

Hazel recruits her book group members to help with the investigation. It’s not long before they discover any number of people who feel that a world without Rox Howard is just fine with them: Brad’s son believes that Rox and Brad were behind his mother’s death; Rox’s former young lover holds Rox responsible for a tragedy in his family; and one of Rox’s employees filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against her. The killer could be an angry regular from the Moonshine Inn—or just about anyone who ever crossed paths with the willful and manipulative Rox.

When a second murder ups the ante Hazel must find out who is behind the killings. And fast. Or she may be victim #3.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Peace on Earth and Good Will to All - Linda Kane

This is my normal third Thursday of the month post (Linda Thorne), but I am honored to have Linda Lee Kane be my guest on Make Mine Mystery. The title is hers, and this is Linda Kane's Christmas post:

This is the time of year those loved ones, both here and gone, should be remembered and cherished with joy and gratefulness. They are the very reason we are here to celebrate the holidays and to bring in the New Year. They are often the reason for the traditions that warm our hearts and allow us to truly appreciate the blessings we have each day. For what are we without our traditions passed down to us; putting up the Christmas tree, adding the ornaments, hanging the stockings. More traditions like making popcorn with cranberry strands to wrap around our trees. Let us not forget another tradition, watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. These are the things that help unite us all.

As you celebrate and ring in the New Year, I hope you take in the time and special moments to really appreciate all that the season teaches us. Love of our fellow man, kindness at its very best and hope for a better tomorrow. There is so much joy to be found in the smallest things, like the smiles that greet you as you rush by little children with their rosy cheeks and hope. I know that I will be thinking of all of you, my friends, my new friends, my family at this glorious time of the year. You are all a blessing to me that I cherish each and every day.

Linda Lee Kane has a master’s degree in education, school psychology, people pupil services, and learning disability specialist. She has authored eight books; two are mysteries, The Black Madonna: A fast-paced action adventure and an exciting, exhilarating read. Murder, mystery, and intrigue keep you on the edge of your seat. Chilled to the Bones: An adventurous and chilling ride where four high school friends find themselves embroiled in a historical mystery more than a century old. Secret codes, murder, and a lurking evil presence lead them to the point of almost no return. A page turner from beginning to end.

Check Out Her Books:

Check Out Her Blog:

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

And the Holiday Season is Upon Us

Many authors are now participating in Christmas boutiques and craft shows, and I just did one too.

I thought I'd make a comment about authors who do these. I know that it's fun to be with other authors, but sometimes that can be a problem. I've noticed too often that if two or more authors are together, they tend to spend a lot of time chatting with one another instead of paying  attention to those who are passing by.

For me, I find that I'll sell more books if I stand up and make eye contact with those passing by. And if they do glance my way, I ask, "Do you like to read mysteries?" Those who aren't at all interested will shake their heads, or say they don't read, or only read non-fiction, but many will stop and listen to what I have to say about my books. Once I've had that opportunity to give a few short sentences about my series, they'll often ask questions, and will probably purchase a book or two.

Another problem I've seen is the author leaving his/her post to go visit with others. No one is going to buy your books if you aren't there to sell it. I've seen people stop at an unmanned table, pick up books and then look around to see who was there to talk to--no one. Then the potential buyer moves on.

Because authors work alone, it's great to finally have someone who know about writing be available to visit with--but do it when there are no customers or readers walking by. Interrupt your conversation if needed.

And smile at everyone. Look like you're enjoying yourself even if you aren't. Maybe you're way out of your comfort zone, but you signed up for the event to sell books so that's what you should do.

And with that, I'll sign off--but tell me what you think--both readers and writers.