Enjoy some Mayhem & Magic!
Our blog is meant to evoke fun with the magic of myths, folklore, movies and the mayhem of murder and madness. We have to keep it interesting so if you like different genres of movies and books then you're at the right blog. Our authors are a wide range of experts and our readers know what is top of the line in their favorite genres. Sometimes we post recipes that might be fun to try if a culinary author has one in her book that we think is especially yummy or one that Terri and I have created and want to share with you. Enjoy Guest Blogger Alice Duncan's monthly muse on her books and writing mysteries.
Plus you won't want to miss our book reviews, author interviews or our guest bloggers. So grab your favorite beverage then join us for some magic and mayhem! The good news is that you don't have to leave the house or your comfy chair. We have something for everyone's taste and every month we have a different topic for our bloggers: ones we feel that might be useful in your own writing and reader points of view. Not to mention, life in general. So join us and be sure to have a notebook handy as your to-be-read pile will grow as you add books, recipes, movies and t.v. series you won't want to miss. Not to mention folktales, myths or ideas you may wish to explore. Be careful what you wish for because on mayhemandmagic2 you just might find it.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Many thanks to the Mayhem and Magic duo for inviting me over to talk about Tressed to Kill, the first in my Southern Beauty Shop mystery series.
Since I’m at Malice Domestic as you read this, participating in a panel discussion about settings, I thought I’d chat a bit about my book’s setting, a small, fictional town on the Georgia coast called St. Elizabeth.
My own experience of the South—I was born in Georgia and have lived in Alabama, Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas (which some consider the West but which has distinct Southern sensibilities in some areas)—includes some of these stereotypes but not all of them. Trust me, I know less about the Civil War than the average fifth grader in Oregon; luckily, my husband who grew up in L.A. (Los Angeles, not Louisiana) is a Civil War buff and was able to feed me enough facts to make the Civil War enactor in my series realistic. I was never a debutante, but recall looking at their black and white photos in the local newspaper and thinking how much fun it would be. I eat grits reluctantly and collard greens not at all, and would rather die of dehydration than drink sweet tea; however, I love biscuits and gravy, Tab, and pecan pie.
Tressed to Kill depicts a small Southern town that is likewise a mix of expectation and surprises. Violetta Terhune, sixty and widowed, runs a beauty parlor out of her Victorian home. Her recently divorced daughter Grace has returned from Atlanta to work with her mom and has some difficulty settling back into small town life after her stay in “Hotlanta.” Violetta’s best friend Althea is the salon’s aesthetician. She’s black and therefore had a significantly different experience growing up in the South than Vi did. The salon’s seventeen-year-old shampoo girl, Rachel, shows the young, modern side of small town Georgia. When one of the salon’s snootiest and most obnoxious clients is murdered, the women bring their separate backgrounds and abilities to finding the killer since the police suspect Violetta. Grace takes the lead in investigating a case that seems to have more snarls than a beehive hair-do. I like to think of the book as “Steel Magnolias with dead bodies.”
The story also features an antebellum mansion and a water moccasin, two familiar Southern images. What “southernisms” have I failed to mention? Leave a comment about your favorite Deep South tradition, image, or saying and you might win an autographed copy of Tressed to Kill!
Thursday, April 29, 2010
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time: Why can’t cozy mysteries set in today’s America evoke the same charm we find in those of the Golden Age? I’m talking about the murder in a little English village where everybody knows everybody else. Where the village idiot is as much a part of the community as the doctor but is never referred to as challenged, special, or any other modern euphemism. Where curtains shift when a car drives past. American mysteries seem to be either urban with lots of blood and action, or suburban with everyone on the block the same age, upper-middle class, and flashing impossibly white teeth.
Our failure is certainly not for lack of trying. A quick scan of the mystery section at Barnes and Noble reveals dozens of new cozy titles every month. But (okay, here’s where someone throws a heavy object at me) many of them are silly. Some insult the reader’s intelligence. Some feature towns where the smartest residents are either feline or canine.
Essential features of the cozy plot include an isolated or limited group of suspects, a victim that everyone knew but no one will miss very much, and a murder committed under baffling circumstances. Usually we have an amateur sleuth but not always. Usually the body is discovered near the beginning of the story and the solution is revealed near the end. Usually the clues needed to solve the mystery are right there, in black and white, but still somehow concealed.
Readers of cozies are intelligent people who love a mental challenge. The only thing they like more than figuring out “whodunit” before the author tells them is NOT figuring it out and slapping themselves on the forehead with “Oh, no! How did I miss it?”
Back to my original question: Whatever happened to the little English village? Do they still exist? On a recent trip to the English Cotswolds, I rented a car (big mistake) and drove around looking for that quiet, charming place where a good murder or two would upset the local applecart and bring out the nosy Parkers. They do still exist! They are as pretty as ever, but they’re not the same. The photo is one I took on my ramble through the countryside west of Oxford. What’s different? Under the thatched roofs they now have computers and TVs and microwaves. The man and the woman of the house are both wage-earners, employed in jobs that didn’t exist twenty years ago. Their children have tattoos and wear T-shirts with strange messages. A Beamer sits in the driveway.
On the other hand, I did find one sign that told me the quaint little village hasn’t changed all that much. A chalkboard menu outside a tiny tearoom announced the arrival of Samantha’s four boys and two girls. I suspect Samantha is neither human, cow, nor horse, but is a valued member of the community anyway. Samantha and offspring were all doing well.
Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Maybe I should quit looking for the modern equivalent of the little English village and content myself, as I have been doing, with settings that isolate a small group of suspects. So far I’ve used a Scottish castle, a tour bus, and a cruise ship. The story I’m working on now takes place in a Swiss chateau high in the Alps.
What do you think? Where can I go to find a great setting for a mystery?
Many thanks to Pamela and Terri for inviting me in today. Please check out my website, www.mariahudgins.com.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Starring The Four Marx Brothers
Written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, with additional dialogue by Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin Directed by Leo McCarey
Certainly in the running for "Funniest Film Ever Made," this is the purest expression of Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo. In fact, it's the last time Zeppo appeared with his brothers on film or onstage. After this film, he left the act and opened a talent agency, prompting Groucho to tell their next producer during salary negotiations, "without Zeppo, we're worth twice as much."
The plot, such as it is, gives us the country of Freedonia, being run into financial ruin by the current prime minister. Enter Rufus T. Firefly (Mr. G. Marx), appointed at the inexplicable insistence of Mrs. Gloria Teasdale (Dumont, the best straight man a comedian ever had), and determined to line his own pockets and play around at being the head of a government as long as there isn't much work to do. But the "evil" Ambassador Trentino (Calhern), from neighboring Sylvania (no, really) is plotting against Firefly and trying to start a revolution. Trentino (once again, without good reason) sends two spies to dig up some dirt on Firefly, which you wouldn't think would be difficult. But the silent Harpo and the you-wish-he-were-silent Chico, as the spies, are not all that interested.
Of course, war ensues. That's the only realistic thing in the whole movie.
The story is negligible, anyway. The movie is a 68-minute excuse for the Bros. to make excruciating puns (I'll have a nice cold glass eliminate"), perform impossible pantomimes (the mirror sequence is among the best anyone has ever shot on film) and sing the occasional song. Groucho, as head of the country, gets to sing "If you think this country's bad off now/just wait 'til I get through with it," and while that might seem a little too close to too many historical events, he makes it funny.
No description can do this movie (or the Marxes, for that matter) justice. Rent it, TiVo it (Turner Classic Movies runs it about once a month), buy it, just SEE it. It is a wall-to-wall collection of gags that in some way make up a movie, and the sheer energy of the four comedians at its center is both irresistible and overwhelming. It's damn close to perfect.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
I didn’t plot Charlie’s escapades, but as the story progressed, certain scenes took shape or came to mind for later moments in the book. These I wrote down to save for the proper time, but for the most part I ‘pants’ it and let Charlie take me where she felt she needed to go. One step at a time.
One of the things, however, I did plot out was the antagonist’s goal. I needed to be very certain about what he was doing and why he was doing it.
In the beginning of the story, Charlie is a cop. She’s been one for a long time. But when we meet her, things are changing. She’s suddenly thrust into unfamiliar territory when the crimes being committed start hitting close to home and start affecting her and her family in very personal and scary ways. I won’t deny I’ve gotten flack from a few folks who don’t buy or like the whole cop who then does un-coply things. And, if Charlie was dealing with a criminal plot that was within her usual working realm, I’d agree. It’d be totally out of character and not ring true for her to go off the grid and stop following protocol.
But, I specifically wanted to explore what would happen if a law enforcement officer suddenly found themselves having to defend their child and family against someone with wealth and political power. Would they stick to the letter of the law when it came to protecting their child? Or would they do whatever it took? Charlie, in the circumstances she found herself in, in the little time she had, did whatever it took. Doesn’t mean that has to be anyone else’s answer, but it was hers.
And yeah, she doesn’t have all the answers and she makes mistakes. She's not infallible. She is only human, after all. Strong emotions can make people think and do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. How many times do we tell ourselves one thing, yet do another? How many times do we internalize things and don’t reach out to others even though we know we probably should? Charlie doesn’t care how many years on the force she has under her belt, she’d give it all up to save her kid. Her child means more to her than her job, her life, the laws, etc… And once she knows this is personal, and this is where things are headed, she doesn’t want to drag others down with her.
I’m no expert, but as I try to identify what makes a chilling plot, I think this might be one aspect – to take your main character out of their comfort zone. To throw them into a situation/plot where they haven’t been before, make it hit close to home in some way so the emotional level is high, and see how they react. I don’t believe my plot would’ve been nearly as tense if I’d had Charlie dealing with her usual cases, or if I’d had her react to this new personal threat in the same way she always has in the past.
So when I think of really chilling plots, I think of putting my characters into new and unanticipated situations and I try to have them react in a human, relatable way. Sure, it’s easy to look back on something and say “this is how it should’ve been handled”. But as a reader, I’m not as interested characters that have all the answers, who don’t make mistakes, whose reactions are spotless. I want mine to mean well, to use what they have in their arsenal, and try their best to get themselves out of the situation I put them in. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t, but I’ll keep trying, keep writing, and keep doing my best just like those crazy characters swarming around in my head.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
What are some of your favorite types of floss to use and where do you purchase them?
Do you apply specialty stitches and what specialty stitches do you use?
So far what is your favorite piece you have cross stitched?
What was your most challenging piece?
Do you attend Cross Stitch Retreats or stitch along with friends?
What is your closest or favorite Local Cross Stitch Shop?
Do you know what your next cross stitch project will be and when you will start the project?
Tell us a little about your family life.
Okay now for a fun question; Connie what is your favorite dessert, movie, books, and place to visit?
In closing what are you currently stitching and tell us what inspired you to become a cross stitcher and why you love to cross stitch?