Friday, September 18, 2009

Guest Blogger - Carola Dunn

Mayhem & Magic

The name of this blog reminds me of my Regency-writing days: I wrote one titled Mayhem and Miranda (actually, my editor came up with that title as I was stumped), and a collection of Regency fairytales is now in ebook form as The Magic of Love (see

Long ago, back in those Regency-writing days, a reporter for the local (Carlsbad, CA) newspaper asked me whether it bothered me to be writing in a genre that didn't normally include graphic sex scenes. I unwisely told him, "No, I'd rather do it than write about it." (Ah, youth!) He put hardly anything I said into the article, but of course that bit went in. Very embarrassing.

Nowadays, I'm more likely to be asked why I write cosies, mysteries without graphic descriptions of violence. It would not, I feel, be appropriate to say, "No, I'd rather do it than write about it."

The truth is, I don't like to read graphic violence, so why should I want to write about it? It's not that I hide my head in the sand—I read the newspaper every morning and that has enough nasty stuff in it without adding fictional nasty stuff to the mix. I get it over with at breakfast so that by lunchtime I've got over it (there's a nice bit of English idiom designed to confuse foreigners: get it over with/get over it). I do most of my fiction reading in the evenings. If I read graphic violence or psychological suspense, I can't sleep.

When I write, what I'm writing stays in my head 24/7. I don't want people I don't like hanging out there, so I write about pleasant people. The main (point-of-view) characters, Daisy and Alec, Eleanor and Megan, are like friends—I hear this from readers, too. Even my villains are rarely downright evil. Those who are, I can cope with as I don't spend much time with them—each is one amongst a whole bunch of innocent suspects, the more the merrier.

Still, there is an essential contradiction between writing about murder and avoiding descriptions of violence. So why write mysteries? For me, it's less about solving a puzzle than delving into motivations and relationships. The mystery part is there to give the story shape.

After all, terrible things happen in real life, but life goes on. As I told my son the first time he went to Europe without me, "Things will go wrong. Just remember that they'll make great stories when you get home." He told me that thought came in useful several times! It's something I learnt from my mother, by example, not precept. For instance, her wonderful story about the time she got food-poisoning in India. The hotel sent for a doctor. He came, he examined, he prescribed, and as he left, he bowed and said, "I will pray for you."

So, Daisy finds a body, she feels sick, she helps (meddles) in the investigation, but when it's all over she still has her family and friends and the book can end on a cheerful note.

Hence the last lines of SHEER FOLLY (the 18th Daisy Dalrymple mystery, just out):

"I'm sure I don't know what the aristocracy are coming to!"

and BLACK SHIP (the 17th, now out in paperback):

"The heck with seltzer!" he said recklessly. "Pour me Champagne!"

Turn out the light and go to sleep with a smile on your lips.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review - Plum Pudding Murder by Joanne Fluke

Series Mystery
Page Count 303 (include recipes)

This book will be on sale September 29th-09

The Christmas Seasin in Lake Eden, Minnesota, has Hannah and her assistant Lisa, mired down with cookie orders, parties and now murder. Hannah has never had a tree in her home due to Moshie her cat but this year Norman has convinced her it's time for a tree and while at the Christmas Village shopping for a tree for Hannah's niece's room at school, Norman buys her a tree.
Larry Jaegar the owner of the Christmas Village has bought cookies upon cookies from Hannah even special ordering a few different kinds and some Plum Pudding from her as well, but the yuletide season is about to have kick off with one heck of a surprise.
It seems Larry is has been scamming people and even those who invested with him, not to mention he might have forgotten to tell Courtney his fiance that he was already married.
When Hannah and Norman go out late one night to pick up a check from Larry they instead find Larry has been murdered. There are even holes in his big screen televsion. Ho Ho Ho it's murder on Hannah's platter.
Now the next surprise is that Norman's Mother is disappearing, cancelling apointments and has Hannah's mother worried sick about Carrie. Delores enlists the aid of Hannah and soon Hannah discover Carrie's secret.
This only proves you do not need a gift wrapped box with a bow to be surprised during the holiday season.
PLUM PUDDING MURDER by Joanne Fluke, is a delicous mystery that you don't have to wait until Christmas to devour.
Pamela James

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

September Plot

Today I want to discuss what type of cozies you like to read in the month of September? I would really love some feedback this week on the topic.
We know that at Christmas most cozies readers like to read Christmas Mysteries (if they have time to read during this month), and September is a transition month celebrating the end of summer and the beginning of our Fall Season.
Do you like to read culinary mysteries during this month? Maybe you like mysteries with a fall setting? Some of the types of mysteries I like to read in September revolve around Hair and fashion so maybe that is why KILLER CUTS by Elaine Viets is currently filling my taste for a makeover this month.

I am sure that my next stop is to the library for a Laura Levine and Ellen Byerum, I also like mysteries that are historical ,which I've taken care of by ordering inter-library loan, Kerry Greenwood's series. Of course this month also covered Bed-n-breakfast mysteries. Mary Daheim is the Queen of the bed-n-breakfast mysteries. I read Vi-agra - Falls and it was pretty hysterical.

To say I've had a splendid reading month is probably an understatement. Now to my original question.....

What type of mysteries do you like to read in September? The reason I added culinary mysteries is that when I think of fall I think of baked apples, pumpkin bread, soups, stews and spice cake.

Maybe I should also ask what is your favorite fall recipe to eat, make or bake?


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Honest magic: A guest blog by Clea Simon

This month, with my new book Shades of Grey, I have dipped my toe into the supernatural. Shades of Grey introduces Mr. Grey, a ghost cat who may or may not have returned to help his human out of a jam. But his human, Dulcie Schwartz, isn’t entirely convinced that Mr. Grey is real. After all, she’s grown up with a self-proclaimed psychic, her nice-but-nutty mom, and she knows how easily we can fool ourselves.
Which leads me to the same question Dulcie asks: How can you tell if the so-called supernatural is real? OK, not exactly the same question. I, after all, am not seeing ghosts. But as a writer – and a former journalist, no less – I’m very concerned with making my magic “real,” or at least believable, to the reader. After all, I spent the first 20 years of my writing career checking facts and digging up contacts. And in my first four mysteries (my Theda Krakow series), I used a lot of that research to make animal issues from hoarding (you know, “crazy cat ladies”) to feral rescue into feasible plot elements. I even went out trapping so that I could describe Theda and Violet baiting a trap to bring in a scared and hungry cat on the eve of a winter storm!
But when writing about the supernatural or paranormal, different rules apply. Does your ghost know everything, for example? Can he see the future or travel through time? Are there limits on what he can tell Dulcie? These are all questions I had to ask myself. But the answers were hard to come by, largely because I had to make them up myself.
I should explain: Journalism and nonfiction (I’ve got three books of “real” stuff out there) all rely heavily on reporting. You have to do the legwork, but once you do that – the interviews, the reading, the library and web searches, the fact-checking – then you pretty much know what your story is. You need to sift through your notes to find what’s relevant and what’s chaff, and you may need to winnow further to find a focus or angle for your story. But you pretty much know what the bottom line is, or at least where to find it. But with fiction, everything is a lot more nebulous. There is no “truth,” per se. It’s all up to you.
That doesn’t mean there are no rules. What I realized while writing Shades of Grey is that once you bend the laws of nature, you actually have to be more careful about the boundaries – it’s just that they’re your own boundaries. It’s funny in a way. I teach writing, too, and I’m always telling my students about consistency. About how when you create a fictional world, you can make anything possible – but you have to stay true to yourself. (That’s why The Matrix was so good, and The Matrix Reloaded wasn’t.) But I’d never experienced it myself. And in the case of a paranormal mystery, the problem becomes more convoluted. My spectral feline had to be able to see some things, but not communicate everything – or else, he’d solve the mystery for Dulcie, his human, and the book would be a very short one. I was lucky: because my ghost is feline, it was easy to find a way out. I adore cats, how not? But I also recognize that they can be a little, well, self-involved at times. So it made sense to have a ghost who wouldn’t bother to explain himself to his human. And, even as a ghost, Mr. Grey is prone to taking sudden, inconvenient cat naps! Supernatural? Sure, but he’s still Dulcie’s kitty!

Clea Simon is the author of the new Dulcie Schwartz mystery Shades of Grey and the Theda Krakow mysteries, most recently Probable Claws. She can be reached at

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pamela on Quitting Smoking....

You've heard of the 'SMOKING GUN' well keep them away from me while I try to quit smoking. This is the one of the hardest things I've ever done and that includes childbirth. You know when I was smoking I hardly saw anyone else with a cigerette hanging from their lips. I never thought much about it until I this past week when I've been out and about seeing the sights of my small town. I've seen more women with cigerettes this past week than I have in months. I keep thinking I must've thought quitting smoking was a piece of cake in the past and now all that bad karma is coming back to haunt me. I will NOT let this habit control the rest of my life and a short one it will be if I don't let it go, but to say this is easy and as in any addiction it consumes you with every waking moment.

Reading books is good about strong heroines and protags that don't smoke and probably never did, of course a smokers annyomous would be even better. Excerise is good but my legs are not what they used to be and honestly I just want to pack up my books and take a cheap flight to somewhere anywhere there is not a store on every corner that sells cigs. I know I must have will power but I'm addicted and how much candy, suckers and sweets can one body hold?

I'll beat this thing or die trying but you know it occurs to me there has got to be a way to turn this into a murder mystery plot. I can't think of one today but I know it's there just waiting for the fog to clear in my brain.

Okay to everyone else I say don't buy cigs but buy books, see I don't have a local bookstore to stop in and buy books or that might just work, or a local LNS Cross Stitch Store might do the trick to feel fabric and browse the shelves. Did I mention I'm sick of candy...anyway everyone buy a book and let me know what you bought......maybe we can blog about book buying.....I think my library might be sick of me as I'm spending quite a bit of time there. That's because I can browse their shelves for free but I am getting to the point where I have to inter-library loan the books I want to read.

Okay off to look through the dictionary.....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Guest Blogger - Sara Paretsky

I’m not often a fan of true crime, but The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale, hooked me from page 1. Jonathan Whicher was one of the first detectives in London’s Metropolitan Police in 19th Century London. The detectives were sent all over England to solve thorny crimes; Summerscale builds Mr. Whicher around the murder of a toddler at Road Hill House, in England’s west country. It was a “locked-room” mystery—the family and servants locked into the house for the night, and no possibility of a stranger breaking in. Suspicion fell on everyone in the family and on most of the servants, without an arrest.

Whicher was called in by the local authorities some two weeks after the crime was discovered, by which time the perpetrator had been able to dispose of the evidence. Nonetheless, Whicher quickly sorted out the matter based on years of experience, and his astute powers of observation and analysis. He couldn't prove the case, though, and his career was almost destroyed by the calumny he underwent.

The murder gripped England for over a year. Just as today’s blogs relentlessly push conspiracy theories as facts and keep unearthing evidence supposedly concealed by authorities, dozens of Victorian newspapers kept the story alive with their own conspiracy theories. Armchair detectives wrote books “proving” the guilt of one or another member of a household they’d never seen. Reading the book, all I could think of was Glenn Beck and the Birthers, or Natalee Holloway—the white teenager whose disappearance in Aruba dominated the Net a few years ago.

More than a true-crime account, though, and more than the account of Jonathan Whicher’s amazing career, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher tells the story of the intertwining of the detective novel and real-life detectives. We learn how criminal investigation, Darwinian science, and Freudian analysis all evolved in tandem, with a shared belief in searching the past for clues.
Dickens and Wilkie Collins both interviewed Whicher and his colleagues at length and based their own fictional detectives on the new breed of professionals. Dickens himself took a keen interest in the Road Hill murder; he had his own theory about the murder, which he published, and used it not just as he thought about Inspsector Buckett in Bleak House, but in his uncompleted Murder of Edwin Drood.

Summerscale describes the secrecy of the Victorian middle-class household. Her book explains why "locked-room" mysteries became popular--early crime writers were obsessed with the Road Hill locked house mystery. Wilkie Collins based the Moonstone on Whicher and Road Hill. When Sherlock Holmes arrived, the perfect detective, he was in a way the embodiment of all of Whicher's skill.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is riveting, and a must-read for mystery writers and readers who care about the origins of their genre.

See Sara Paretsky's website at:

Review: Deadly Solution by Keenan Powell

Maeve Malloy is a lawyer who has had struggles with drinking, done a stint in rehab and trying to prove herself again as a lawyer.  She is...