The time has come…

“The time has come,” the Walrus said

To talk of many things.”

Lewis Carroll, “The Walrus and the Carpenter”

The publishing world – and indeed the world in general – has undergone a lot of upheaval in 2020. Closing publishers, COVID-19, delayed book releases, the works. And now there’s one more change.

The end of Mysteristas.

You read that right. This is the last post to Mysteristas, our farewell.

Yes, it’s April 1. No, this is not a joke.

Mysteristas goes back to May 2012 – almost seven years. In that time, we’ve seen a lot of changes. Members have come and gone, some of us have gotten book deals, some of us have lost publishers, we’ve changed our formats and approaches (Twitter chats, Facebook chats, themed blog posts). But as they say, all good things must come to an end. Over the past few months we’ve struggled as life trumped blogging and our ability to give proper “care and feeding” to this blog. With heavy hearts we decided to shut things down.

This was not a decision we made lightly. Seven years is a long time. We’ve met a lot of wonderful people here – readers and other writers. We’ve forged online friendships that translated to real-world joy when we met up in person at conferences or book events. But a body can only be spread so thin and most of us have reached that point.

We hope that you will keep in touch with us via our websites or other social media (see the About page for links).

We hope to see you sometime in the future, when COVID-19 is a memory and we can get back to something resembling “normality.” Until then, we wish you the best and hope you find enjoyment not only in our books, but in the books of all the wonderful authors who’ve been our guests over the ages.

As Peg Brantley always says, “It’s all better with friends.”

Love,

The Mysteristas

Guest Post: Edith Maxwell

Liz here. On our last posting day, I’m so happy to host longtime friend Edith Maxewell, known in some circles as Maddie Day. She is celebrating the launch of her 20th (!) book with her latest. Take it away Edith!

Saved by the Belle 

Liz, thank you for inviting me back to the Mysteristas!

Today Murder at the Taffy Shop releases! I’d love to send one commenter a signed copy of the new book, and a new-to-the series commenter an audiobook of the first in the series, Murder on Cape Cod.

When I was setting up Mackenzie Almeida’s world for the first book, I thought about adding a cat. Every one of my previous four series has featured one our four family cats: Athena, Preston, Christabel, and Birdy. So I thought I’d shake it up a little this time. I made Mac allergic to mammal pets. Instead she cares for an African gray parrot named Belle.

Research was fun. I watched videos of an African gray bobbing to Pharell Williams’ song “Happy” and another one of a parrot ordering stuff from Alexa. I read a book by a woman whose parrot loved to imitate her cell phone ring – but only while she was in the shower. And a local friend let me come over and listen to her African gray, Jewel.

Belle has become a true sidekick in the series, even more in Murder at the Taffy Shop. I just had to include her shopping on Alexa. Here’s a snippet of a scene where Mac and her boyfriend Tim are hanging out in Mac’s tiny house.

“Alexa, read the shopping list,” Belle said. The blue circle on top of Alexa lit up.

Tim looked at me in surprise. “She knows how to use Alexa?”

“This is news to me.”

“The most recent five items on your shopping list are,” the surprisingly realistic mechanical voice began, “Grapes. Grapes. Tim. Hello. Grapes.”

I grinned at Tim. “I love you, but I didn’t put you on my shopping list.”

“Do you want me to read the next five items?” the black cylinder said.

“Yes, please, Alexa,” Belle answered.

“The next five items on your list are Grapes. Grapes. Belle’s a good girl. Peanuts. Snacks. Do you want me to read the next five items?”

I dissolved in laughter but managed to squeak out, “Yes, please, Alexa.”

Tim hooted.

“The last five items on your list are grapes. Milk. Salad greens. Peanuts. Hello.”

“Thank you, Alexa,” I said before Belle started dictating more grapes. “Alexa, stop.”

Belle plays a way more important sidekick role toward the end of the book. No spoilers, though!

Readers: Who has been your favorite pet? Would you ever keep a bird as a pet, or have you? Or are you a pet-free household? Also let me know if you’ve already read Murder on Cape Cod. Check back tomorrow for giveaway winners.

Book two in the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries, Murder at the Taffy Shop, is set in August, full season on Cape Cod. When bike shop owner Mac Almeida heads out for a walk with her friend, she finds a horrified Gin staring at an imperious summer person, dead on the sidewalk in front of Gin’s candy shop, Salty Taffy’s. When the police find the murder weapon in Gin’s garage, the Cozy Capers book group members put their heads together to clear Gin’s name and figure out who killed the woman whom almost everyone disliked. After the killer later invades Mac’s tiny house to finish her off, Belle, Mac’s African gray parrot, comes to the rescue. Murder at the TaffyShop releases March 31 in a paperback exclusive from Barnes & Noble.

*****

Maddie Day – aka Edith Maxwell – is a talented amateur chef and holds a PhD in Linguistics from Indiana University. An Agatha-nominated and bestselling author, she is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. She pens the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries and the Country Store Mysteries.

As Edith she writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and award-winning short crime fiction. Maddie/Edith lives with her beau north of Boston, where she’s currently working on her next mystery when she isn’t cooking up something delectable in the kitchen. She hopes you’ll visit her on her web site, sign up for her monthly newsletter, and visit her as @MaddieDayAuthor on social media. 

Guest Post: Barbara Monajem

Please welcome today’s guest poster, Barbara Monajem!

To PC or not to PC

Characters in historical mysteries and romances are often somewhat—or even a lot—ahead of their time. They think and frequently act like we do today. Much as I enjoy reading and writing such stories, I don’t think of the characters as realistic. Although there were plenty of forward-thinking people two hundred or more years ago, even they accepted many of the then current standards—standards which we find intolerable today, and rightly so. Nevertheless…that’s how it was back then.

I think this is why I decided to write a series of mysteries from the point of view of a Regency-era protagonist who is un-PC by today’s standards. I wanted to feel that she was realistic, and to write about the process through which she learns and changes and grows. Lady Rosamund Phipps is an aristocratic lady, the epitome of white privilege in a society riddled with prejudices of class, color, creed, gender, nationality, sexual preference…you name it. She can’t help but be a lady of her time and social class—and yet, she also questions many of the standards drummed into her, in particular by her mother. She is by nature soft-hearted, but apart from trying vaguely to be kind and just, she truly doesn’t know what to accept and what to discard. She has to figure it all out, bit by often painful bit.

Here’s a blurb about the first in the series, Lady Rosamund and the Poison Pen, which is scheduled to be released in late April:

~~~

Lady Rosamund Phipps, daughter of an earl, has a secret. Well, more than one. Such as the fact that she’s so uninterested in sex that she married a man who promised to leave her alone and stick to his mistress. And a secret only her family knows—the mortifying compulsion to check things over and over. Society condemns people like her to asylums. But when she discovers the dead body of a footman on the stairs, everything she’s tried to hide for years may be spilled out in broad daylight.

First the anonymous caricaturist, Corvus, implicates Lady Rosamund in a series of scandalous prints. Worse, though, are the poison pen letters that indicate someone knows the shameful secret of her compulsions. She cannot do detective work on her own without appearing too odd, but nor can she ignore the desperate need to unmask both Corvus and the poison pen.

Will Corvus prove to be an ally or an enemy? Can Rosamund’s husband protect her from the poison pen? Time is running out, and both her sanity—and her life—are at stake.

~~~

But ever since writing this character, I’ve had doubts about her appeal. Will readers be able to bond with an un-PC heroine? What do you think? Does the heroine of a historical series have to adhere to present-day standards right from the start?

*****

Rumor has it that Barbara Monajem is descended from English aristocrats. If one keeps to verifiable claims, however, her ancestors include London shopkeepers and hardy Canadian pioneers. As far as personal attributes go, she suffers from an annoying tendency to check and recheck anything and everything, usually for no good reason.

Hopefully all this helps to explain her decision to write from the point of view of a compulsive English lady with a lot to learn about how the other ninety-nine percent lived in 1811 or so. As for qualifications, Barbara is the author of over twenty historical romances and a few mysteries, for which she has won several awards. On the other hand, she has no artistic talent and therefore is really stretching it to write about an artist who draws wickedly good caricatures. But she’s doing it anyway, because he’s irresistible. To her, anyway. Not so much to the aristocratic lady. Or at least not yet.

Interview: John Bishop

Let’s get to know John Bishop, author of the Doc Brady mystery series.

How did you get started writing?

As an academic Orthopedic Surgeon at Baylor College of Medicine in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas, I was heavily involved in the teaching of medical students, residents, and fellows. Along with the academic obligations, I was expected to write articles and make presentations at medical meetings, sort of a “publish or perish” concept. As a result, I was used to performing clinical studies and writing articles for various orthopedic journals. I was in this position for about 14 years, until some of my colleagues and myself became disgruntled with the academic system and it’s challenges, left our “home,” and created the Texas Orthopedic Hospital, a mile south of our previous location. I still had a very busy practice, but without the teaching and academic responsibilities, I found myself with free time. I had played piano and organ since childhood, so I started playing music on the weekends with and R & B band, Bert Wills and the Crying Shames. That was a wonderful experience for me, until the  road travel became more than I could handle. Shortly thereafter, I began writing. I can’t say exactly where the desire came from, but it was probably a combination of factors. I had always been a voracious reader of mystery novels, and perhaps thought I should try my hand at fiction writing. But also, I had entered into a solid marriage to Joan Berry, who provided me with a loving and supportive partner, and a newfound sense of peace had come over me at that time of my life. I began writing voraciously, to excess, like all the other endeavors in my life. How do you say “obsessive compulsive”? Between 1993 and 2000 I wrote five novels Act of Murder, Act of Deception, Act of Revenge, Act of Negligence, and Act of Fate.

Tell us a bit about your new book.

The first book in The Doc Brady Mystery Series is Act of Murder. The central and recurring character, Dr. James Robert Brady, became an orthopedic surgeon to avoid being surrounded by death, but finds death is everywhere around him. On a spring day in 1994, Doc Brady witnesses his neighbor’s ten-year-old son killed by a hit-and-run driver. Was this an accident, or an act of murder? After the death, Brady enlists the help of his twenty-year-old son J.J., and his wife Mary Louise, in chasing down clues that take them deeper and deeper into a Houston he never imagined existed. In the process, they discover a macabre conspiracy stretching from the ivory towers of the largest teaching hospital in Texas, to the upper reaches of Houston’s legal community, to the shores of Galveston. Doc Brady soon learns that the old adage remains true: the love of money is the root of all evil.

Tell us about your main character.

Dr. Jim Bob Brady is a fictionalized character, an amalgam of myself and many people I’ve come to call friends over the years. In the books, he is a specialty hip and knee orthopedic surgeon, a much more glamorous job than the one this writer had in real life. Brady has an intense and physical love for his wife, Mary Louise, and an admiration for his son J.J.’s capabilities in gathering information as part of his firm which is essentially a detective agency. Brady is a brilliant, talented surgeon, with a large clientele, who is confident yet still humble. He is a genuinely nice and funny guy who happens to have a knack for solving medical mysteries. He is above all the doctor who will cure you of your blues and boredom.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

I have read a vast number of novels, and therefore it’s not easy to name only a few who have influenced me. I’ll list my most favorite 12 in alphabetical order and apologies to the ones I had to leave out:

Jeffrey Archer 

Lee Child

Harlan Coben

Michael Connelly

Robin Cook

Michael Crichton

Nelson DeMille

John Grisham

Robert B. Parker

Thomas Perry

John Sandford

Stuart Woods

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) youd include?

Dinner would consist first of Robert B. Parker. His Spenser novels are at the top of my list for a character who is brilliant and funny, and cares about the people around him, especially his paramour Susan Silverman. I met him once at a book signing in Houston, and he had that twinkle in his eye that affirmed to me that he was in fact Spenser. What a dinner partner he would make!

Next I would pick the two doctors, Robin Cook and Michael Crichton. I’ve enjoyed all their novels, and what fun it would be to discuss medicine and fiction writing over wine and dinner.

Rounding out the dinner table would be Michael Connelly, writer of gritty novels about Harry Bosch, L.A.’s greatest detective, John Grisham, writer extraordinaire of the legal thriller, and Nelson DeMille, a brilliant novelist and creator of the character John Corey, who hopefully is scripted from DeMille’s own character. I would find that out over our dinner.

*****

John Bishop M.D. practiced orthopedic surgery in Houston, Texas, for 30 years. An avid golfer and accomplished piano player, Bishop is honored to have once served as the keyboard player for the rhythm and blues band Bert Wills and the Crying Shames. His Doc Brady medical thriller series is set in the changing environment of medicine in the 1990s. Drawing on his years of experience as a practicing surgeon, Bishop entertains readers using his unique insights into the medical world with all its challenges, intricacies, and complexities, while at the same time revealing the compassion and dedication of health care professionals. Dr. Bishop and his wife, Joan, reside in the Texas Hill Country. For more information, please visit https://johnbishopauthor.com

Character Sketches

Or, making the most of a challenging situation. COVID-19 has on-going, wide-ranging impact around the globe. It’s scary and overwhelming and exhausting. However, I like to look for opportunities in every situation; COVID-19 is offering an interesting opportunity to observe how differently people respond to stressful situations.

My family, while practicing social distancing and safe at home approaches right now, had a family vacation scheduled this month. At the time we needed to make decisions, we felt it was an acceptable to choice to continue with our plans. On March 14, we left for a week in Curacao. The good news is that we were renting a house with another family, and the house was located within a gated community. By Tuesday of that week, Curacao had gone to take-out only options at restaurants, and by Wednesday, beaches and other tourist venues (plus most things) were closed completely.

Even traveling through airports, our exposure was pretty limited, and we were able to enjoy our vacation – with some significant changes.

But, it was also fascinating to observe the behavior of those around us, as well as to observe my own behavior. As a writer, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine how I would respond to the situations I’m inventing for my characters, to write an authentic experience.

Responses to this situation vary as much as you would expect; some folks were business as usual, while others were clearly wary of people and places. It’s been fascinating. Here are a few observations:

-People don’t know what to do. The air of confusion permeated every venue – do I say hello to strangers, or not? Do I offer help or look away? – very little eye contact, careful spacing between individuals, less confident posture by most.

-Airports are very, very quiet; not just due to the lessened number of people, but also because people are not having casual conversations, there was no laughter or happy chatter, and people were spacing themselves away from strangers even more than usual.

-Airplanes were filled with people cleaning their own spaces (to the point the pilot thanked us with a little sass and then had the crew collect the used wipes), but beyond that, some folks traveled as usual, while others wore gloves, masks, hats, long sleeves, eyes darting about – fearfully? self-consciously?

-Shopkeepers, restaurant managers, airline crew were all cordial, efficient, calm, and matter-of-fact. There was frustration in the restaurants, but also an understanding of the value of following the rules being implemented.

-Overall, people in service industry were as helpful as they’ve always been, answering questions or providing guidance.

-People overall were jumpy; every cough, sneeze, and sniffle received side-eyed glances from passersby, glances filled with question and concern.

-A few people were determined to carry on as close to usual as possible, almost defiantly so.

For me, I’m a fan of listening to experts (CDC, WHO) and using common sense. However, the Friday before we were schedule to leave – after we’d seen the State Department announcement informing Americans to come home immediately – our flight was canceled. United had, in fact, canceled all flights off the island (and we later learned they had cancelled 60% of their flights worldwide).

After some time on the phone, the United agent got us re-booked on the next-to-last American Airlines flight off the island before the borders were closed completely. That was when I got seriously stressed! For me, that looked like snappish responses to questions, relentless cleaning, and a need to be packed a full day before we were scheduled to leave, just in case. I didn’t relax until we landed in Miami. (NOTE: At the same time, we learned that one of my daughter’s teachers was trapped with 1000 other Americans in Peru, and is, in fact, still trapped there now.)

I’m planning to build out my notes and observations, and save these for future writing projects. However, it’s also a way for me to process this crazy situation, to make sense of things in some small way.

Sending well wishes and calming thoughts to everyone as we navigate the pandemic! XO (from a distance)

Magic Happens

I was planning to write my post today, reporting on the fabulous time I would have had at Left Coast Crime.  And in a way, this still is about that.  I want to tell you a little tale about magic.  Because for me, the fun of writing is all about magic.  

Hubby and I went a day early to San Diego, having originally planned a mini vacation.  We walked around Old Town that day before LCC, almost carefree of the weight of the world.  Since I’ve been on a mission for several years to find the right flower pot to replace a favorite of mine that had broken some time ago, we headed into one of the shops.  You know that moment when you see something that you can’t possibly walk away from?  Here’s what came home with me:  

20200321_085624

I was looking for a flower pot, not a horse.  I certainly wasn’t planning on buying him, and I have no idea why I did–except now I think that maybe it was magic.  

Because as I’ve looked at him, I’ve been reminded of the horse who made an unexpected appearance in my Work-In-Progress.  It’s a fantasy with a mystery in it.  I’m entering the editing phase of that WIP, and I knew I had to do something about the unexpected horse, either cut that scene or make something of it that would fit with the rest of the book.  I know that to make the scene work, the protagonist has to make a connection to the horse, maybe through a treat.  

So I consulted a friend who is a horse expert, and she said that horses love peppermint.  

Seriously???  

My protagonist’s nickname just happens to be “Peppermint.”  And now I know what I have to do with that scene with the horse.  

Writing is magic.  Is it for you, too?  

Love, Loss, and Lumpia: An Ode to my Mother

Lumpia Shanghai (Filipino egg rolls) from Pig & Fire, a local pop-up and caterer

Growing up, I absolutely devoured mystery and crime fiction content. I would watch Matlock, Perry Mason, and Murder, She Wrote with my grandparents. Encyclopedia Brown, The Boxcar Children, and even my beloved Baby-Sitters Club (there was a special mystery-related line) all fed my childhood desire to consume mystery fiction. But it wasn’t until my mom, then an employee of Walden Books (now a page at the Chicago Public Library. I obviously got my love of fiction from her), brought home a hardcover copy of You Belong to Me by Mary Higgins Clark that my love for adult crime fiction began.

She later introduced me to my current favorite subgenre (or would it be sub-subgenre?), the culinary cozy. My love of food + My love of mystery = The Ultimate Comfort. We started with Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series, which, while not my favorite, was a decent enough entry into the subgenre. This led us on a whirlwind reading spree of culinary cozies, some of which only lasted the first book of the series, and some that endured, such as:

These were all off the top of my head and I’m sure there are some excellent ones I do read and forgot to include, so my apologies. But the one thing they all have in common is…none of the characters reflected me or my mother’s lives or experiences. It wasn’t until Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mysteries (which I love!) that I even saw an Asian/Asian-American character in a cozy, let alone leading one. Those books as well as Tina Kashian’s Kebab Kitchen series were what I clung to for characters that were (sorta) like me and my family.

So I figured, why not write the book I’ve always wanted to read? That thought led to me writing LOVE, LOSS, AND LUMPIA, which not only won the 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award and the 2018 Hugh Holton Award, but also sold at auction to Berkley in a 3-book deal and is set to come out in 2021.

So thank you, Mommy. Thank you for encouraging my dream and introducing me to the wonderful world of mystery.

Dear Readers, I’m sad to say this is my last post on Mysteristas, but you can always reach me on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @MPMtheWriter) and/or at my website: https://www.miapmanansala.com/

Stay healthy, stay safe, and dream big.