Tag Archives: mysteries

Why Mysteries?

People have asked me why I like to read and write in the Mystery genre. My answer: mysteries have it all. If I need an intellectual challenge I can select one that has a complicated plot and denouement and slug all the way through to a satisfying conclusion. Perhaps I’ll spend a good deal of time working out a puzzle, deciphering clues and enjoying the challenge of working out the solution on my own, maybe even before the protagonist does. Mystery writers are great at creating suspense and misdirection and keeping us readers on the edge of our seats. They also generally play fair by providing the clues for the reader to utilize along the way, and they usually wrap up loose ends before the story reaches completion.

If I’m in the mood for a lighter touch, I can turn to the cozy or humorous side of the genre. These mysteries can contain romance, fantasy, laugh-out-loud fun, comfort settings and food, and often a beloved pet. In other words, they provide a happier, more positive and relaxed environment where I can escape from daily trials.

Then there’s the kind of story in which the protagonist sets out on an adventure of discovery and suddenly I’m learning about an occupation or foreign country and its customs and mores unfamiliar to me. Or the atmosphere or setting of a place will inspire me to draw or paint the feeling it gives me or recreate it in an original story of my own. How many times have you been reading something that sparked all sorts of creative ideas in you?

Series mysteries are very popular. As readers follow a specific character or characters through different adventures and become emotionally attached to them and their settings, these characters become “family” and readers enjoy following along in their lives. And, luckily, most series authors are good about making each book work as a stand-alone. I really try to read series books in order though, because the protagonist (and sometimes other characters) tends to learn and develop with each case he/she has to deal with and it’s nice to see how and why these developments occur.

Mysteries often contain atmosphere. British mysteries come to mind immediately. The phrase, ‘A castle in Scotland” immediately conjures up an image somewhat similar for most people, but along with that phrase can come, ancient, gray, crumbling stones, thunder and lightning, rain and fog, lonely, dark and dreary landscapes, ramshackle outbuildings, etc. Or perhaps you see in your mind’s eye a palace with all the finery that comes with that image. Plush, royal robes, crown jewels, carriages, a monarch. Words that are full of colorful paint.

Most of my favorite authors are traditionally published and their books have been edited professionally. That is extremely important to me as a reader, because correct grammar and sentence structure make for clear writing and thus, for me―understanding. I must add that I have read some self-published authors who have gone that extra step to have their books professionally edited and I say kudos to them.

I have a TBR pile (To Be Read) and there are many sub-genres of mysteries represented in it where international characters, each vie for my attention in this century and others, depending on my mood. I do have some memoirs, women’s fiction, biographies, fantasy and horror books, too, but most of my TBR pile consists of mysteries. Mysteries all ready to load onto paintbrushes. What’s your palate preference?

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Pets in Mysteries

Mystery books are the genre I enjoy reading and writing the most. Lately, I’ve noticed my stack of cozy mysteries has grown, many of which involve pets in some way. Cats and dogs, specifically. In pondering why this has been a factor in my reading, I’ve come to the conclusion I’ve been seeking somewhat lighter fare. Books with a good puzzle to solve, but that are considered more “comfort” reads, with a good resolution and happy ending.

The pets in recent and current readings have such attributes as being affectionate, loyal, curious, obedient or not, cute and even humorous. Some have that instinctive sense of good and evil and/or use their scent abilities. Some even help describe their owners’ traits or personalities.

Sometimes, animals in books are more family members than pets and as such, are involved in the plot more like actual characters. They often set the scene with their own cute antics to which readers can endearingly relate. Pets with acute instincts or sense of smell are more to my personal liking when it comes to animals involved in the mystery’s solution. I’m not really fond of talking animals in stories, but that’s just my preference.

In my own book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, I introduce Pippi, a black cat who seems to think she is the mother of Scotti, a white West Highland Terrier. They are both family members who appear just a few times being the animals they are, chasing one another, sleeping together, or just being nosy. But, since they have such small roles, they are not featured on the cover.

There are authors who have animals based on their protagonist’s vocation, for instance, veterinarians or pet sitters, or protagonists who have more exotic animals, like birds, turtles or potbellied pigs. If a reader sees a book on a bookstore shelf with a domestic animal on the cover, I think they automatically are inclined to assume the book is not going to be hard boiled and quite possibly, cozy. I may be wrong, but it seems to me there has been an upsurgence of these kinds of books lately. Is it me? Could it be a reflection of readers’ desires to escape the challenges of today’s world? What do you think? Do you have any animals in your stories? If so, how did you use them? Or, if you are a reader and not a writer, are these among the kind of books you enjoy reading? I’d love to learn your viewpoint.

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Gems of Research: Unusual Places, Mysteries Abounding

 

Doing research for one of my novels years ago I came across the mysterious moving rocks in Death Valley National Park, California. Specifically they are in the Racetrack Playa of Death Valley which is nothing more than an almost perfectly flat dry riverbed. The boulders actually move by themselves and leave long trails in the dirt behind them. (Check out the photos on the web, just search for: Death Valley Moving Rocks). Some of these boulders weigh hundreds of pounds. There are many theories about how these boulders move around as they do, but none that can be proven.

Then there is Superstition Mountain in Arizona. I first heard of that when a Las Vegas local man claimed to have communed with extraterrestrials on that mountain. Doing research I found the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine, which is supposed to be somewhere on Superstition Mountain and has to this day never been found.

And hearing more stories of UFO’s and alien activity I made a trip to Search Light, Nevada and the dry riverbeds just south of town. I saw lots of lights zipping around in the sky and with my writer’s imagination working overtime the trip was labeled as successful. (I later learned I was under a flight pattern for McCarran Airport in Vegas).

However, as a fiction writer I am not bound by facts or truth. I am fascinated by these places and hope someday to find a place for them in my writing. In the meantime I’ll surely uncover more mysterious places and tales of the unknown. Are there mysterious places close to where you live? Places that tweak your imagination?

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Characters You Love to Hate!

I lie.  We all lie. So, can you spot a liar? Really? In real life or fiction?

When “School of Lies” was only a flicker in the back of my mind I knew that characterization was going to be problematic.  I wanted to entertain but I also intended to draw from my real life experiences as a teacher, experiences that would show sides of Special Education that aren’t generally acknowledged, especially in our politically correct society.  To see how this would play out, I whipped up a few scenes and asked people with no background in education what they thought. The readers always zeroed in on certain characters and and expressed the fervent hope that they’d be written to death, sooner rather than later! From the feedback I got, it seemed that many of my characters “deserved” this fate.

I wondered if I should change the tone, but after all, the book’s a murder mystery and there has to be motive! Still, I worried that with characters so awful that they don’t deserve to live, some readers within the field of education might take offense, to put it mildly.   I wanted to make the characters behave with honor,  but they refused! The characters would remind me about my own experiences and laugh when I told them to tone things down.  Now I worry, who’s going to be the one to pay for their deficient behavior?

Well, I wrote fiction and isn’t fiction just “making stuff up?” My novel is full of instances where lies are told to protect, to distract, to justify. In real life, everyone’s been in a situation where a lie might actually be a kindness. In those situations we tell ourselves that these are “white” lies and they’re for a good reason. But often, lies are told purely for self-interest. If you’d like to know how good you are at ferreting out the truth, try my quiz, “Can you spot a Liar?” http://mickeyhoffman.com/

Mickey Hoffman is the author of a murder mystery, School of Lies,Lying heart published by Second Wind.

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