Tag Archives: murder mystery

The Mystery of Life by Sherrie Hansen

It’s been two months since I blogged – but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been writing.  In late October, I dashed off a Christmas play called Count Your Blessings which has since been performed by the Sunday School at my husband’s church to rave reviews and a few laughs, too.

Blog - 1Sheep

Blog - 1Christmas program

In November, I wrote the first 50,000 words of my first ever mystery, Seaside Daisy, set on the Wild Atlantic Way in Dingle, Ireland. I’m loving my main characters, Daisy Fitzpatrick and Cavan Donaghue, and even Aunt Sheelagh and that spawn of the devil, Darcie Sneem.  If you liked my ghosts in Golden Rod, you’ll love Granny Brigid and Captain Donaghue. It’s been great fun reliving the days we spent in Dingle and Killarney and touring the Wild Atlantic Way as well as all our other Irish adventure in early summer 2017.  Participating the the annual NaNoWriMo writing challenge was a great way to jump start my novel and discipline myself to write every day in the month of November.

 

Here’s a sneak peek at what you have to look forward to in Seaside Daisy:  When Daisy Fitzpatrick discovers a treasure chest filled with gold unearthed by a storm in a sea cave near her granny’s Dingle Peninsula shanty, she rents out her seaside shop and loft apartment, buys an old mansion in Killarney, and overnight, finds herself a celebrity with a grand new life. A few months later, the local priest in Dingle ends up dead and the police claim the gold she found was on his land, not hers. When Daisy loses everything, including her friends – both tried and true and new and fickle, can she find it in herself to start over? The Wild Atlantic Way might be a hard foe to tame, but the townsfolk of Dingle, Ireland soon learn that even the roar of the sea is no match for a Fitzpatrick with their mind made up.

Blog - 1Celtic Crosses

When December 1st came, it was time to set Seaside Daisy aside and begin writing a murder mystery for New Year’s Eve at the Blue Belle Inn, the bed and breakfast I own and operate when I’m not writing. Of course, I had a million other things to catch up on after doing little but writing the whole month of November. I also needed to tweak the Christmas program before rehearsals started and plan and create characters for our February mystery. And, I wanted to make some of my Celtic Crosses to go with my Danish books and my Wildflowers of Scotland novels in case people wanted to buy them for Christmas gifts. And, of course, since I was thinking about Seaside Daisy, some Irish crosses, too. That’s where I got sidelined. 

Then, the next week, when I came up with the following premise for our February 15 and 16 mystery dinner, I was so in love with the concept that I wanted to write it immediately! And the menu – well, be still my heart. 
Food - Seafood Mornay
Oh Venus – Make My Dream Come True (or is that too much to ask?) a Mt. Olympus Murder Mystery by Sherrie Hansen – When the Roman gods have a horse fall gravely ill that cannot be healed using any of their powers, they call in Dr. Brown, a gifted veterinarian from Iowa, to try to find a cure. When Dr. Brown restores the horse to health, the gods invite her to a relaxing stay at Mount Olympus Spa “on the house.” “Sorry, Charlie,” she wrote to her husband, “but since I am having such a divine time, I am going to stay on at the spa as a Valentine treat to myself.” After all, she knew that he was not going to buy her flowers or chocolate or take her out to dinner. A few days later, when her worried husband arrived at Mount Olympus Spa to surprise her, she was found dead from an arrow in her heart. Now Jupiter, Mars, Diana, Vesta, Neptune, Pluto, Venus, and Dr. Brown’s husband are all suspects. Figure out who killed Dr. Brown, and you could be the lucky sleuth who gets your dinner free!MENU:

Mount Olympus Tortellini Soup, Green Salad and a Roll with Your Choice of:

Chicken Carbonara a la Jupiter with Parmesan Cream Sauce, Bacon, Mushrooms and Peas on Bow Tie Pasta OR

Pork and Parmesan Stuffed Manicotti a la Mars with Spinach Artichoke Alfredo Sauce and Italian Cheeses OR

Seafood Mornay a la Venus with Swiss, Shrimp and Imitation Crab on Puff Pastry Hearts on Scallop Shells OR

Italian Meatballs a la Vesta in Tomato Basil Cream Sauce with Provolone Cheese on Garlic Toast Rounds OR

Roast Vegetables Diana with Spinach Artichoke Dip on Wild Rice with Italian Cheeses

A choice of Our Homemade Desserts including Italian Cream Cake and Amaretto Whisper Cheesecake will be offered for $5.00 each. Optional Beverages $1.50 each. You may bring your own wine, beer and champagne. A charge or $1.00 per stem includes uncorking as needed. Dinner and Mystery $24.95 each. Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, North Central Iowa.

MM - Midsummer Night's Murder
But since December 31st comes long before Valentine’s Day weekend, I knew I needed to get cracking on my December mystery. I finally found time to write it the week before Christmas and I love the way it turned out.  Here’s the story:  I was in Paris, France on New Year’s Eve, 1979 to ring in 1980. I had been living in Germany for 2 1/2 years and couldn’t wait to experience a unique French menu and entertainment. When we arrived, the host hotel “surprised” us with a German dinner and “oom-pah” band to play polkas! So, remembering that night, I’m preparing the French meal I was dreaming of to go along with a mystery called The Unresolved New Year’s Resolution.

 

BBInn - heavy snow smaller

Our New Year’s performance is sold out, but we will be doing a repeat performance on Friday, January 18 at 6:30 pm. Here’s the scoop:  When someone tries to put an end to newbie 2019’s hopes, dreams and ambitions before it even has a chance to get started, the New Year is forced to go into hiding. If guests can’t determine who is guilty of attempting to stop the New Year in its tracks, 2019 won’t come out of hiding, New Year’s resolutions will remain unresolved, and 2018 will continue on in infamy! It’s up to you to solve the mystery of who’s trying to put an end to 2019 – time traveler Claire Voyant, numbers fanatic Flo Bia, computer geek Y2K19, Back to the Future opportunist Biff Baby Back Baby Back Baby Back, devilish incumbent 2000 Haight Teen, politician Lane Duck, 64 year old Rhea Tyree, and old timer Lester Day, who longs for the good old days when all his troubles seemed so far away… One lucky sleuth will get their dinner free.

Menu for December 31, 2018 and January 18, 2019:

French Onion Soup, Green Salad and a Roll

Your choice of:

French Steak with Cheddar Chablis Sauce and Red Potatoes OR

Herbes de Provence Chicken and Bacon with Roquefort Cream Sauce on Mashed Potatoes OR

Chicken Cordon Bleu Crepes with Ham and Swiss Cheese Sauce OR

Seafood Stuffed Salmon on Wild Rice OR

Roasted Vegetables with Spinach Artichoke Dip on Wild Rice with Cheese

Dinner and mystery $29.95 each. Our featured desserts will include Blueberry French Cream Pie and Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake and will be offered for $5.00 each.

MM - Blue Belle

So that’s what I’ve been up to and why I’ve been too busy to blog. I didn’t even mention writing our Christmas letter since my husband did most it! I hope you enjoyed catching up and that you’re having a great holiday so far. Blessings to all of you as we look ahead to a hopefully wonderful 2019!

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Filed under photographs, Sherrie Hansen, writing

And to All a Happy Thanksgiving

It would seem churlish to write about anything other than Thanksgiving today.  (The other thing on my mind is the election and, believe me, that would be even more churlish.)

Problem is, everything’s already been said about Thanksgiving (including by me: see  Happy Any-Holiday, Wherever You Are).  As deeply as  I feel all those things, I don’t want to write in cliches.  So instead, I’ll post the Thanksgiving scene from DEADLY ADAGIO.  As with much fiction, this particular scene is based on a real-life experience.   It’s a different kind of Thanksgiving, but the basics are there: family, food, fellowship, gratitude.

Set-up: someone in the official American community in Dakar, Senegal, has been murdered.  In this scene, a couple of guys from Washington are in Senegal, investigating.  I’m leaving one name blank for those unfortunate souls who haven’t yet read the book and don’t know who’s been murdered.

  •              *               *              *

The two bland men with skinny ties who were seated on either side of Bruce were introduced as being “from Washington, to help with the investigation.”  Unsmiling,  but without the puffed-out chest Emily had expected, those guys somehow managed to look stern and submissive at the same time.  Maybe that was their intention.  And they didn’t realize it was 1998, or maybe they just hadn’t bought new ties since the ’80s.  These must be the guys from the FBI.

When they were seated, Bruce started off by asking her the routine questions she couldn’t believe he needed to bother with: name, age, marital status, address, profession.  She wanted to scream at him, “Come on, Bruce, this is me.  Emily!  We’re in the orchestra together.  You know Pete, too.  You know my name and my marital status and does my age really matter?”  She controlled herself, though, because she didn’t want to demean him in front of his Washington-guys.  Demeaning wasn’t nice and, besides, it wouldn’t be a good way to gain his trust so he’d divulge.

Bruce finally tiptoed into reality with questions about how long she and ______ had known each other, how well they knew each other, where they met, whether they knew each others’ families.  The Washington guys took notes on those skinny pads that she’d seen TV cops use.  Emily wondered if their note-taking was redundant, and they compared notes later, or specialized, with each one wring about one kind of thing.  She wanted to try to notice when their note-taking sped up and slowed down — maybe that would shed some light on the things they were particularly interested in.

When Bruce asked how they’d first met, she lost track of her status as interviewee and sank into the sweet nostalgia of remembering her friend.

It had been just before Thanksgiving.  Emily had gone to the Peace Corps office to offer to invite a couple of volunteers to her family’s celebration, knowing it was a particularly tough time for the young ones, especially, to be away from home.  It turned out there was a new Peace Corps Director, and when she made her offer to him, he said they’d be hosting all the volunteers.

“All the volunteers?  Do you have any idea what you’re in for?  Do you know how hungry those kids can be?”  She’d entertained volunteers in the past and knew first hand.  The brownie consumption alone was impressive.

Knowing the family would be in for a shock, Emily volunteered to help with the preparations, though not the meal itself, which she’d share with her own family.  She got in touch with ________ and the two women spent the next few days together, concerning themselves with how to approximate turkey with all the trimmings in West Africa.

“Fifty volunteers, so about 50 pounds of turkey.  How many turkeys is that, do you think?” asked _______.  “Anyway, I’m sure we can get them through the Commissary.”

“No, no, no, you’re thinking of people back home.  These kids are really hungry.  Fifty kids means at least 100 pounds of turkey, I’d say.”

“A hundred pounds of turkey?  How will we ever be able to cook all that?”

They found a bakery that would cook six big turkeys, leaving _______’s oven available for 100 or so baked potatoes — 50 sweet and 50 white.

Another logistical challenge was salad for fifty.  Here in West Africa, any locally-grown produce to be consumed raw and unpeeled had to be soaked in an iodine solution, then rinsed in (previously-boiled) water to combat the iodine taste.  The Peace Corps doctor and Embassy doctor were unanimous and adamant about this.  Many of the volunteers, young enough to consider themselves immortal, cut corners — and some paid the amoebic price — but ________ and Emily had shed their senses of immortality long before.  They gathered large buckets for lettuce-soaking and peeled the cucumbers and tomatoes so they wouldn’t require soaking.

________’s maid, Yacine, enlisted four family members to help.  When Emily and _______ tried to explain the origins of the Thanksgiving meal to Yacine and her helpers, they realized how difficult it was to explain something so culturally specific to someone from another culture.  They also realized how incomplete their knowledge was.  Between pictures, words, and pantomime, though, everyone wound up understanding a little and laughing a lot.

In the end, _______ and Emily became so close from preparing for the meal that their families had Thanksgiving together, with the 50 volunteers, of course. There were no leftovers except bones.

*          *          *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery with a musical undertone.

 

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It’s a Mystery… or Ding, Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead! by Sherrie Hansen

Lately, everyone’s been asking when my next book is coming out. Blue Belle, the second of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, should be ready in 60 – 90 days. All it needs is a serious going over and a new ending and it should be ready to send off to my publisher. In the meantime, I took advantage of NaNoWriMo to get 40,000 words into Shy Violet, the third in the series, so there should only be a short wait between the two books.

BBI Spring 2012

Some of you know that my primary distraction from writing is a bed and breakfast called the Blue Belle Inn B&B. For the past few months, my two passions have come together in a unique way.  In August, I decided to write a series of what I like to call fractured fairy tale style murder mysteries highlighting the storybook themes of each of our guest rooms at the B&B is named after.

BBInn - PC Tree 2010

I started out with our “On the Banks of Plum Creek” room and wrote (with apologies to Laura Ingalls Wilder), “Little Oops On The Prairie”. It begins when Nellie Olafson’s somewhat eccentric, mean-spirited cousin, Nutty Olafson, is found face down at the supper table. My tagline read: Something smells fishy on the banks of Plum Creek – is there a wolf in sheep’s clothing lurking in the Big Woods or a little killer loose on the Prairie? Suspects Nellie Olafson, Visiting Professor Jerald Jill of Iowa, Quick Draw McNutt, local football hero Big Brawny, and the much loved but tragically flat-footed Insoles family are all in for a Long Winter in the pokey unless the true murderer can be uncovered. I also planned a theme dinner which included Ma’s Bean Soup with Bacon, Chicken Pie with Baking Powder Biscuit Crust, New England Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots, and Roast Pork with Milk Gravy and Mashed Potatoes.

MM - Little Oops cast

We’ve been doing murder mysteries at the Blue Belle Inn for over 20 years now, at the rate of 4 to 9 times a year. Although I have several sources for purchasing the “whodunit” mystery games that become the basis for our dinner theater productions, it’s become increasingly harder to find fresh material that’s well-written.  The actors would often complain about how flimsy the plots were, or that there just wasn’t enough material to work with. Often times, I would spend hours fleshing out the plays I bought online with an opening  dialog, opening and closing statements, and so on, while the actors frequently had to unscramble plot elements that just didn’t make sense.

When I first started writing books, they were pure romance. I thought I’d never write novels that contained murder and mayhem, but in my last two books (Love Notes and Wild Rose) and the ones I’m presently working on (Blue Belle and Shy Violet), there are bad guys who are truly twisted, evil and bent on hurting people, a kidnapping, gunshots, and even a murder. As I worked on the motivation and chaotic situations caused by the suspense element in my novels, it occurred to me that I could just as well try my hand at a murder mystery. (Not to worry, there are still plenty of sweet, romantic moments in my novels, too.)

I also thought, if I wrote my own mysteries, that it would be fun to incorporate some local color. Some of our local spoofs include the World Famous Miracle Whip Clinic in Rochester, MN, where miracle cures abound, and our locally manufactured breakfast cereals with a pirate named Captain Crunch. Because murder mysteries are tongue in cheek, humorous and very irreverent, you can really toss in whomever and whatever you feel like. It’s also great fun writing parts that specifically match our actor’s best (and worst?) features. If we can’t laugh at ourselves once in awhile, what fun are we?

MM Never Ever Land cast

In September, we performed our second original mystery, “Footloose in Never Ever Land”. The intro read: Who will be next to walk the plank in Never Ever Land? One thing is sure – it won’t be poor Woody Stuck, an old hippie who was stuck in the 60′s, because he was found belly up in the Lagoon a few hours ago. Now the clock is ticking and we hope you’ll help Peter Pun and the Lost Boyz find out who is guilty – is it Captain Crunch, the pirate with the biggest chompers ever, Rev. Hal Fyre and his crony, The Church Lady, free-spirit Windy, Fancy Free Willow Tree, Crocodile Rock, who has a scaly skin condition, or Stinker Belle, the church secretary? The theme meal included Gems of the Sea Puffs Mornay with Shrimp & Crab on Scallop Shells, “But Spinach is Good for You, Peter” Chicken with Spinach Artichoke Dip & Italian Cheeses, and The Church Lady’s Sunday Roast Beef with Mashed Potatoes.

MM - Sherwood Forest

In October, we did “Shenanigans in Sherwood Forest with Robin Love & His Band of Unmarried Men”. The write-up says:  Relationships are complicated in UnTie the Knotingham, a small but wealthy kingdom where the divorce rate is extremely high. Thus, it came as no surprise when Richie Rich, a philandering playboy, was found dead on his wedding day. The question is, who killed him? Wife #7 – the former Maid Mary Ann, Ginger Root, wealthy nobleman Henry the Eighth, Friar Luck, Viking warrior Little Johnson, or Robin Love – a poor, mild-mannered attorney who has devoted his life to championing the underdog in divorce cases far and wide? It’s up to you to unravel the mystery before anyone else loses their head and does something crazy, like getting married. SHERWOOD FOREST CUISINE featured Cottage Pie with a Thatched Roof, and Fruits of the Forest Chicken with Mushrooms, Apples, Berries and a Splash of Brandy.

That left “Anne of Green Gables”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Secret Garden”, Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, and “Heaven to Betsy”, from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Victorian era Betsy Tacy books, for future mystery dinner themes. At the rate of one every 3 – 4 weeks, by the time we finished one mystery, my brain has already been working on the next, envisioning characters who tesseract, wear pompadour hair styles and floppy hats and climb big hills with the Crowd, or hob knob with princes and princesses and wicked witches and maybe a giant bunny rabbit or two.

MM - Dudley Do-RightMM - Anne Green

In November, for our Anne of Green Gables Fans, we premiered a mash up Lucy Montgomery’s Anne books and Gone with the Wind. “Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry’s Most Excellent Adventure”. The lead-in read: When cold-hearted Rachel Bag O’ Wynde, the neighbor from down the lane, is found dead, every one thinks she choked on an artichoke heart. But one person knows how she really died, and it was no accident. Help Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry find out who is guilty. Is it sour old Marilla Lemon, Matthew Chokecherry, obsessed with being best Gilbert Plum, Southern belle Scarlett Pimpernel, the pasty faced schoolteacher Ashley Grey, or Rhett, the Butler? Dudley Do-Right of the Canadian Mounted Police even made a guest appearance.The custom menu included PEI Potato Soup, Ingleside Inn’s Fried Steak with Cheesy Onion Gravy and Red Potatoes, and Anne and Dianna’s Most Resplendent Raspberry Cordial Chicken served with Cavendish Creamed Potatoes and Peas. The featured dessert was Bread Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce – sans the mouse.

MM - PCharming

In December, we tackled Sleeping Beauty with “Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?” My teaser read:  When game show host Alec Quebec is found dead, everyone on the latest episode of “To Twist the Truth!” is a suspect. Who is guilty? Is it one of the esteemed panel of judges – Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, wicked stepmother Eveele O’Gress, or Glimmer, the Good Fairy? Or is it one of the contestants – dashing Prince Charming, Hermie, the Outcast Elf wannabe dentist, or Dopey the Dwarf, who was last seen clutching a ruby red slipper and looking for Cinderella? Or is it Kermit, a spirited frog that keeps hopping around the stage? The made-to-fit menu included Bavarian Hunter Schnitzel on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Cinderella’s Pumpkin with Pork and Parmesan Filling, and Snow White’s Special Apple Pie.

MM - W in Time

Our January premier was “Who? Whatsit? Which Wicked Witch is Dead?” a mash up that featured childhood favorites “A Wrinkle in Time” and the “Wizard of Oz”. My teaser read: When a Wrinkle in Time causes Camazotz and the Emerald City to collide, the witch is accidentally squished. Or was it Mrs. Which? And was it really an accident? Follow the yellow brick road with Meg Dorothea Ditz, Charles Wallace Wiz, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, the creepy computer guy nobody likes – Jay I.T. Bug, Glinda the Good, scary mafia man Scarface Crow from Central Intelligence, and nice guy Calvin Tim Mann, who wears his heart on his sleeve, to find out which one really did it. I had fun with this meun – Emerald City Soup with Green Broccoli & Garlic Herb Toasts, Over the Rainbow Fruit Wand, Starry, Starry Night Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce, Aunt Beast’s Best Ever Vegetable Cheese Puff, Out of this World Salmon with Seafood Stuffing, and Mrs. Murry’s Bunsen Burner Beef Stew with Biscuits on Top.

Blue Belle winter

On February 7 and 8, we’re looking forward to presenting another original murder mystery entitled “Betsy and Tacy Go Downton” – a mash up of my favorite books, the Betsy Tacy books by Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace, and the popular British TV series, Downton Abbey. Here’s what guests have to look forward to: When Betsy Ray’s British cousin, Matthew Crawley, fakes his death in a car accident and comes to Deep Valley, MN because he needs a break from Downton Abbey, a round of parties is planned to introduce him to the Crowd. When Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess cross the pond to put an end to his lark, the unthinkable happens and Matthew is murdered. (Yes, this time, he’s really dead.) Did someone tamper with his dance card, hot wire his motor car, or spike his punch? Or could he simply not tolerate the caterwauling during the Cat Duet? Betsy, Tacy, Tib, Bad Boy Tony, Busty Bonnie the Minister’s Daughter (who we’ve never quite trusted), Joe Schmo, and Thomas, the Valet are all suspects. The menu includes “Onion Sandwich” Soup a la Mr. Ray, Betsy’s Heart of My Heart Chicken with Garlic Rosemary Cream Sauce and Artichoke Hearts,  Tib’s Beef Rouladen with Bacon & Onion Gravy on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Tacy’s Irish Meat Pie with Pork and Potatoes, and Lady Violet’s Elegant Roast Beef with Chardonnay Cream Sauce, Gorgonzola Cheese and Red Potatoes – and of course, a bite of the Crowd’s Famous Fudge for dessert.

bluebells-fern.jpg

A tale based on the book “The Secret Garden” is next, in March or April, and will probably feature a mad Farmer MaGregor and that rascal, Peter Cottontail. After that – who knows? It’s been an absolute thrill to see the creative costumes the actors have come up with for each of my mysteries and watch the way they’ve brought my characters and words to life. My only regret is that I’m usually working in the kitchen and don’t get to see much of the performances. Our actors are some of the best and so creative! John Deyo’s portrayal of a hopping, green frog / Prince Charming and Lisa Deyo’s rendition of Sleeping Beauty were amazing and very memorable. Mel Schroeder has done everything from A to Z including a one-legged pirate. My favorite of Deb Stickney’s roles to date is The Church Lady but she also does a great German accent. My husband, Mark Decker, makes foaming at the mouth and dying look so realistic that it’s scary. Neil and Terri Hernan, Mark and Ken Borchardt, Phyllis Ruehlow, Brenda and Michael Esdohr, Julia Crail, Tiffany Adams, and so many more who have filled in for us on occasion are some of the most versatile, slightly crazy, very silly actors ever.

I’m thrilled to say that our new, original mysteries have been getting rave reviews from our customers, including my mother, who said, “Are all those crazy things really in your head?”, to which I replied, “They kinda are.”

If you live in northern Iowa or southern Minnesota and haven’t been to one f the Blue Belle’s mystery dinners yet, it’s high time! Like I always say, at what other event does the guilty perpetrator of a dastardly deed get a round of applause? And as always, if you guess correctly or solve the mystery, you could get your dinner free.

One of these days, I’ll get around to finishing Blue Belle and Shy Violet, but in the meantime, if you’ve wondered what I’m up to – this is it! I hope you’ll also watch for another instance when my innkeeping and writing worlds are scheduled to collide… Second Wind Publishing will be hosting a Pitch the Publisher event at the Blue Belle Inn B&B sometime this summer or fall. Stay tuned for further details!

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Trekking, Traipsing, and Writing by Carole Howard

I caught the travel bug from my husband, the intrepid former Peace Corps volunteer.  Since I met him, this girl from the Bronx – who’d previously been as far as Niagara Falls –  has done her fair share of packing and unpacking, schlepping, trekking, and traipsing. Forty-odd years, fifty countries and counting.

Many of our trips were the “normal” kind – a week here, two weeks there.  But there was a two and a half year period in the 1970’s when we lived in West Africa while my husband had a Peace Corps staff job.  During those years, we lived in three different countries, but traveled to many more.  And then in 2000, when we retired, we took a series of 2-month volunteer assignments in Africa and Asia.

As it turns out, of the 50 countries I’ve visited, a disproportionate share – about 15 – are in Africa.  The others are spread out among Europe, Asia, Australia/New Zealand, and an itty-bitty bit of South America.

Along the way, I realized something I couldn’t believe I didn’t know before:  I’d always thought I was just “me.”  It turns out, though, that I’m an American me, having been shaped by the culture I grew up in.  If I’d been born somewhere else, I’d be someone else.  And if I didn’t spend time outside of the U.S., I wouldn’t realize things about my own culture that had been invisible to me before, because they just seemed normal, as in the saying “Fish never discovered water.”

And that’s one of the reasons I like to use exotic settings in my books.  It’s almost as if the setting is one of the characters:  what’s seems ordinary for the Africans is not ordinary for the Americans, and vice versa of course.

In my mystery, Deadly Adagio, the protagonist is the feisty wife of a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, living in Senegal, in West Africa.  (Yes, I lived there.  No, she’s not me.)  If the book were set somewhere else, it would have to be a different book.  Victim, murderer, investigation: all different.

Bargaining for baskets and fabrics at the market, squeezing into a crowded pirogue with women whose babies are on their backs while their bundles are on their heads, visiting the chief of a village and meeting his entourage, ruminating about the dramatic difference between American brooms and African brooms – those things are part of the fabric of the story.  Going to Macy’s, taking the Staten Island Ferry, meeting the CEO and her staff?  Nah, just not the same.

I love using my experiences in Africa when I write. They may not have molded me as American culture did, but they’ve become part of who I am and the way I see things now.  I try not to say things like, “Oh, that reminds me of the time I was in…..” too much, so it’s not tiresome for my friends.  But writing is a different story. Using those experiences in my writing is like looking at my photo album, but with the smell of the wood-fire, the sounds of the traditional Wolof greeting, the taste of the street vendors’ brochettes thrown in.

It’s better, much better, than a photo album.  Maybe I’ll “visit” Thailand next time.

When you’re choosing what to read next, does the setting influence your decision?

***

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, recently published by Second Wind Publishing.

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A Picture for Some Words

It has been said that one picture is worth a 1000 words. At the end of this post I will show you a picture for 100,000 words. Actually The Telephone Killer is a mere 85,000 words, but at one time it was more than 120,000 words.

Some years ago, in the dark recess of my numb mind, an idea swirled around and in that swirling found other ideas that attached themselves to it. Then, suddenly it was no longer just one or a few little ideas, but a whole, big idea and it was no longer content to be trapped in my mind. It had to get out. Through vague mental promises and absurd hopes it convinced another part of my mind to let it out – make it into a story.

It was not easy. Sometimes the idea had to almost force me to continue working on the process that would let the complete idea out. The idea knew the whole idea had to come out, not just little bits and pieces of it.

Finally, there it was, but no one seemed interested except friends who will almost always tell you something you did is good, even when it isn’t.

English: Cooking pudding: The black pudding is...

You’ve been there. You’ve been a guest at a meal that was just horrible, but you thank the host telling them their special pudding was delicious when it looked and tasted like warmed-over swamp mud.

But sometimes with a little bit more of this, and a lot less of that, that thing that tasted like swamp mud can be made to be, if not delicious, at least acceptable.

In the realm of story ideas that adding a little and taking away a lot to make something acceptable is called editing. And so you edit, over and over again until you’re pretty sure you have the ingredients right and that is when you invite total strangers to sample your pudding. That is called the query.

Sometimes the person you asked to sample your pudding will say something like, “Yes, it is good, but I don’t think I can cook it on my stove.” Usually the strangers just say, “No! Not for my menu.” They don’t tell you if they think it is good or bad, just “No.”

Half a world away, another mind, one that abides in the bright light of seeking is willing to take chances, comes across the sample I sent him and says, “Send me the whole thing.” That man was Mike Simpson at Second Wind Publishing.

Eventually that leads to signing a contract, some more editing and creating the cover.

The idea of a good for a good cover is that it stand out from the hundreds of others on the bookstore shelf and then make the person want to take a closer look.

I think this cover art does that. So here it is!

Tracy Beltran at Second Wind Publishing did it.

The latest word is that the murder mystery The Telephone Killer will be released December 11, 2012.

Check back with us.

More later – Thank you!

Paul’s book The Telephone Killer published by Second Wind Publishing will be out in December, 2012.

Visit me at Paul’s Books

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Killer’s Remorse by Christine Husom

I was at an author event recently, and during the question and answer period someone asked me if I ever felt bad when I killed someone in my books. In all these years, that’s the first time anyone had asked me that, surprisingly. And it’s a very good question. Yes, I always feel bad when one of my characters dies, and I have cried for all but two of them, if memory serves me correctly. Even then, I felt badly that they had lives poorly lived, and only a couple of people who would miss them and mourn their passing.

When my very first character died in the first Winnebago Mystery, I wept. Of course, there was a real life connection–the death was based on an actual incident. But it made it challenging to write when I couldn’t see through my tears. And each little detail was painful to pen.

Some characters are more difficult for me to kill than others. One I couldn’t kill at all, and she has lived through four books so far. And yes, if she ever dies, I will shed bitter tears. Although my characters themselves aren’t based on people I know in life, they become close to real. I think about them along with my family, friends, and others. I feel more closely connected to some than others, and I know readers and other authors feel the same way.

Authors, what are your feelings about killing your characters? Readers, how do you feel about characters’ deaths? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Christine Husom is the author of Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, An Altar by the River, and The Noding Field Mystery.

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I’m In the Delivery Room

I am told by the experts, namely Google et al, that the gestation period for Humpback Whales is 12 to 16 months. For elephants it can be as long as 2 years.

I can’t say exactly when my child was conceived, but I do know that the gestation period for this particular baby was more than 2 years, so the whales and elephants don’t have anything on me. Then when I was ready to deliver there was no delivery room available.

But now all that has changed; there is a delivery room and I have named my latest baby,

The Telephone Killer.

I signed in and was admitted a couple of weeks ago.  The hospital is Second Wind Publishing where Mike Simpson is the chief surgeon.  Tentative release date for taking my baby home is July 15, 2012.

It is a murder mystery. It starts out with this, “At exactly ten o’clock this morning, if everything goes as I have planned, there will be a sizable explosion in the downtown area resulting in considerable property damage and hopefully significant injury and loss of life.”

No one dies in that explosion, but with that telephone call to the television station the killer starts on his killing spree.

I do hope you will visit my baby when It comes home.

Paul’s blog

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My Bucket List by Coco Ihle

I’m on the road right now going to writers’ conventions and signings and looking for a Wi Fi hot spot so I can send this.

Many of us have a bucket list of things we want to do, accomplish or experience before we leave this Earth. Some are extraordinary and some are more mundane. Mine have been few and rather simple. I’ve always wanted to find my birth family and part of that goal has been satisfied. I found my sister, Joanie, after searching for more than fifty years, but sadly, I also found a death certificate for my birth father and I assume because of the time element, my birth mother has also died. Somewhere out there is a brother and sister yet to find. The chances of my discovering their whereabouts is slim, but I keep hoping.

Another goal was to write a book about my family search and the discovery of my Scottish roots, and incorporate a murder mystery into the plot. Since I found Joanie, I was able to complete the book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, which was published in April 2011. It is the first in a series, so there is room in the storyline for the discovery of more siblings and/or further development of the sisters’ relationship.

Another item on my bucket list is travel. Having the opportunity to see and experience people and places, art, history and nature different from my own is a passion with me. I’ve been fortunate to have already seen much of Europe, the United States and Canada, but there are still so many more countries to explore. I haven’t been to New Zealand and Australia, Egypt and Jordan, India and China, Peru and the Galapagos Islands. The list could go on and on. I wish I were younger, only because that would give me more time. I know I’ll never be able to see all the things I want, but I’ll certainly try the best I can.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue writing about the adventures in Scotland of my two protagonists, Arran Hart and Sheena Buchanan, as they learn more about each other and the nature of murder. I hope you, dear readers, will follow along with me as we discover what will happen next in Arran’s and Sheena’s adventures.

Do you have items on your bucket list? What sort of things do you wish to discover or accomplish?

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