Farewell from Sam

Recently, my fellow Mysteristas and I were discussing our goals. Many of my fellow bloggers mentioned that they hoped to promote their books. Makes sense. Their books are all mysteries. Also makes sense.

Writing mysteries was my plan as well. As it happens, life hasn’t gone according to plan. It never does, does it? It probably doesn’t help that I don’t have a very firm hand on the wheel. At any rate, I’m currently working on the final edits for a young adult romantic comedy (a summer camp book). After that, I’m starting revisions on an adult romcom. My cozy mystery, Ruby’s Misadventures with Reality, did not turn into a series as I’d originally expected. The publisher ended it’s cozy line. Book 2 will live forever in Dropbox. Besides that, I’m working on a sci-fi project. In light of the fact that I seem to be writing everything but mysteries, I’m saying goodbye to the Mysteristas.

I hope to keep in touch because I truly enjoyed meeting all of my fellow bloggers, especially sharing work. Thanks for reading my work, ladies! I loved reading all of yours. I’ve been honored to be part of such an accomplished and ambitious group of writers. I hope to meet you all in person someday. Whenever budget allows, I plan on making it to a conference!

Unfortunately, I might not be able to read the comments for a few days. This summer has been a whirlwind of traveling with the kids, mostly to cabins in the woods with spotty internet. This week we’re taking the train from Minnesota to Montana to visit my husband’s family. As you read this, I’ll be camping at a lake in Montana. I can’t remember the name of the place, but it’s really pretty. As you can see, it was hazy in the picture. It probably will be this time as well. It’s fire season in out west.

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Thanks so much for letting me be part of the group.

Best wishes!

Sam

The ‘Glue’ that binds us together

Last summer, I watched a British television mystery called Glue. Let’s just gloss over the fact that the way I viewed the program was not exactly Kosher in that it wasn’t available on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime. But, I digress….

Anyway, Glue is a mystery mini-series on Britain’s Ch. 4 (let’s not gloss over the fact that European television is far less stodgy in creating shows about teens who curse and have sex, unlike American network television that is still largely puritanical –unless it’s violence because apparently that’s totally fine) that ran in 2014. It centers around 14-year-old Cal, a Romani kid, who is found murdered in the English countryside, and his friends who become embroiled in the mystery. Everybody has secrets. Everyone lies. But only one committed the murder. It’s quite compelling and I binge-watched the entire series in a few days. And my always suspicious mind didn’t call out the killer until the reveal, so bravo British television. You fooled this girl.

Most recently, CW released Riverdale, an intriguing murder mystery centered around the characters of the famous Archie comics. If Twitter, and ratings, is anything to go by, Riverdale has really taken off.

Shows like this have an addictive quality. A good detective drama is great, but there is something so delicious about a large cast of characters with interconnected secrets they’re all desperate to keep. It’s the reason soap operas are so popular. But unlike soaps,  shows like Glue and Riverdale really bring young characters into the fold. They become the center story; the murder is just the mechanism in which to spill their secrets. And the narrative isn’t really about the victim as much as it is about the young people who are still around — those whose lives are irrevocably changed by the bad choices they’ve made. Because teens screw up. A lot. They don’t have life experience to guide them, and so we pity them, even when they do pretty despicable things. It truly makes for compelling television.

And more importantly, it’s an excellent lesson for writing compelling fiction. My brain is swarming with ideas on how to recreate a Glue narrative for a young adult novel. A page-turner as bingeable as the television show I had to scour the internet to watch.

Guest Post: Mary Feliz

Welcome back to Mysteristas friend Mary Feliz, author of the Maggie McDonald Mysteries!

Dead Storage_FINALThe British Influence

The amateur detective mystery is nowhere quite as popular as it is in the United Kingdom. But why? I’d like to believe it’s an ongoing celebration of the spirit that brought the nation back from the verge of destruction during the Blitz. It was an effort that relied as much or more on the strength of its civilian or amateur population as it did on trained military personnel.

At their heart, cozy or traditional mysteries are about that sense of community that we all need, what happens when violence rips a hole in the fabric of the community, and what ordinary people can do to restore order. No matter how bad things get, the murderer will be discovered, the fabric is repaired, and the balance between good and evil is rebalanced.

But the traditional British mystery predates the 1940s by nearly 100 years. Wilkie Collins, a British writer who’s often considered the father of detective fiction, launched the genre with the first full-length detective novel, The Moonstone, published in 1868.

Collins set his groundbreaking work in an English country house, with a limited number of guests, servants, and residents. The detective, an outsider, is brought in to solve a murder, and begins interviewing the likely suspects, any one of which could be lying to protect themselves or someone else.

It’s an outrageously successful pattern for an unfolding murder mystery, and one that Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and a slew of other authors have emulated for nearly 150 years.

Before Collins, Edgar Allen Poe wrote the first short detective story in 1841. The Murders in the Rue Morgue sets up an ingenious locked room mystery when two women are brutally murdered.

Agatha Christie’s mash-up of the two popular formats is a tour de force. And Then There Were None expands the locked room into a remote island made inaccessible by a storm.  It capitalizes on the limited cast of characters initially utilized by Collins.

When I think of the British influence, though, I think of the English village mystery, the tropes of which are both lovingly spoofed and honored in the extraordinarily popular Midsomer Murders mystery series, now in its 20th season.

Made popular by Miss Marple and her tiny hamlet of St. Mary Mead, these cozy mysteries typically feature a pastoral setting with a limited number of characters whose lives are closely intertwined.  The stories begin when a murder disrupts the sleepy life of the town and an outsider arrives to investigate. Nothing is as it seems. The peaceful community harbors disturbing secrets and resentments residents will do anything to hide. The highly suspect and clumsy outsider who ruffles feathers becomes the key to restoring order. As the townspeople begin to warily eye each other and question their long held assurance of safety, they realize that only in giving up their secrets can they renew their bonds and restore the strength of their community. Slowly, they begin to trust one another, help the detective track down the murderer, and restore goodness to their little village. Much tea is consumed. No animals are hurt.

So popular is the format that it’s been uprooted and transported to other continents and worlds. Laura Van Wormer recreates the traditional mystery in the heart of Manhattan in Riverside Drive, a novel in which the residents of an upscale apartment complex share the same cleaning lady. In subsequent novels, she examines the hard-working employees of an award-winning studio news program.

The genre has been transported to the outback in Australia, to steamy Asia, and to Mars, Jupiter, and orbiting space colonies, and the Wild West.

In my Maggie McDonald Mystery series, Orchard View, a small enclave outside Silicon Valley, stands in for the English market town. A professional organizer with access to the secrets concealed her clients’ sock drawers and the skeletons stashed in their closets, becomes the outsider who tramples on tradition in her effort to restore order.

In Orchard View, like St. Mary Mead, dogs abound, violence is minimized, and there’s no foul language or explicit sex. The sole horror is the potential for violence that lies within any human who is pushed too far. The mystery tracks the community’s efforts to repair the damage done when evil erupts. To restore order, professional organizer and amateur detective Maggie McDonald must rely upon her new neighbors and friends, and help them regain faith in one another.

In Dead Storage, the third and most recent Maggie McDonald Mystery Maggie’s chaos erupts when an undocumented person is witness to a crime. Does he report the crime and risk deportation? Does he stay mum and let bad guys run amok? Or can Maggie come up with another solution without putting herself, her family, and her friends in danger?

Like so many novels that preceded it, Dead Storage follows a familiar narrative structure, adding a different twist.

Dead Storage releases July 18 from Kensington Books’ Lyrical Press.

*****

2017Feliz5773_C5x7WebMary Feliz writes the Maggie McDonald Mysteries featuring a Silicon Valley professional organizer and her sidekick golden retriever. She’s worked for Fortune 500 firms and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character’s stead, but Maggie’s skills leave her in the dust.

www.kensingtonbooks.com

www.maryfeliz.com

 

I always knew I’d be an English major

My oldest–affectionately known as “The Girl” in my social media–starts her senior year of high school next month. Accordingly, we have begun all the grand college tours as she searches for her next educational home. She’s interested in political science, so candidates are of course being evaluated on that criterion.

All of this, plus Kate’s post Monday brings back memories of my own quest for college. I always knew I’d be an English major. What I was going to do with that degree changed over the years (law school, education, etc.), but I made up my mind in eighth grade. I was going to read books for my college years.

Because of this, I looked mainly for liberal arts colleges. (I can hear all the business and engineering folks snickering now.) And yes, I went to college as a declared English major and never wavered, despite many people asking if I also knew how to flip burgers because if I didn’t teach what else was I going to do with an English degree? (I am not flipping burgers, trust me.)

And because of that, I do exceedingly well on those “How many of these 100 essential books have you read?” quizzes. I hit most of them in college. And I learned some things:

  • Medieval English is really hard to read and if you have to have the jokes in Chaucer explained, they aren’t very funny.
  • American literature was obsessed with sex and religion for a Very Long Time.
  • Most 19th century American writers were…ponderous. Except for Mark Twain. I still think he’s funny.
  • The English Romantics were often a bit over the top in their emotions.
  • Those “Victorian” values and the image of being sexually repressed? Yeah, that was for the middle and lower classes. Victorian writing is full of sex and sexual imagery.
  • American literature in the 20th century leaves me scrabbling for anti-depressants and the English were often completely indecipherable (James Joyce anyone? Samuel Beckett?)

But the period I really liked was the Elizabethans and especially Shakespeare. My absolute favorite course was called “Shakespeare in Stratford.” We read five Shakespearean plays and took two trips to Stratford, Ontario (Canada) to see them performed, so the choice of plays for the course depended on the season for the theater company. We also saw Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.” I enjoyed it so much, The Hubby and I went back for a week on our honeymoon.

When I tell people about this, especially non-reader type people, they stare in horror. “I never understood Shakespeare, especially why he’s still so popular.”

If you are one of these people, I have some advice: see Shakespeare performed. Movies are fine, plays are better. The words on the page are okay, but it is a completely different thing when you get the body language, inflection, expression – and, of course, the correct reading of anything that may be in iambic pentameter. Shakespeare touches the human condition in a way that few other writers have ever done for me. I think this is why his plays are equally successful in multiple time periods. Franco Zeffirelli’s original “Romeo and Juliet” can be translated into 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet.” The “Taming of the Shrew” is just as good done as written, or as “Kiss Me Kate” or “Ten Things I Hate About You.”

I’m not much on time travel. I like modern times just fine, thank you very much. But if The Doctor showed up in his T.A.R.D.I.S. today and offered to take me anywhere, I think I’d want to meet old Will. Pick his brain a bit. Have a glass of wine or three (I’m positive there’d be drinking). Assure him that his plays are going to have a good long run.

Or maybe I’ll just torture The Girl with yet another viewing of “Hamlet.”

Readers, Shakespeare fans or no? Read or performed? Writers, what author would you like to sit down with over a nice glass of wine?

Famous Americans, no–––––––––> Brits

I can’t say that I’ve felt personally influenced by Britain since the Fab Four and Twiggy, but here’s a list of Brits that part of me wants to claim as American:

  • Stephen Hawking
  • Alexander Graham Bell
  • Cat Stevens
  • Florence Nightingale
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Cary Grant
  • Peter Sellers
  • Minnie Driver
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Eric Clapton
  • H.G. Wells
  • George Orwell
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones

Do any of those names surprise you? I mean, I suppose if I thought about each of them long enough I could say, “Oh, yeah. U.K. Definitely.”, but off the top of my head? Nope.

And here’s a random question: Why is it that when singing, all signs of an accent are gone? That’s so confusing.

Okay, and here’s this photo of a rather grumpy Prince George. Now this is truly universal.

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It’s all better with friends.

An American Book Nerd in London

You know you’re a book nerd if you travel all the way to Great Britain and…

UKWeatherSpend so long at the Jane Austen museum in Bath that you run out of time to see the actual baths the town is famous for.

Attend a midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince at Waterstones, feeling giddy that you get to read the newest installment 7 hours before your Colorado counterparts.

Spend the first leg of your honeymoon at the Sherlock-themed hotel on Baker Street (my husband is really amazing).

Force your friends to wander around Hyde Park for hours in search of the Peter Pan statue.

Make a special trip to King’s Cross Station just to see Platform 9 and ¾.

Walk along the south bank of the Thames to see the Globe Theater where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed.

What have you done that proves you’re a book nerd at heart?

My Inspiration Home

When I was in elementary school, I began doing science fairs. This was always a project between my dad and I, and it was one of my favorite parts of every school year. By high school, I was determined to become a scientist, and I took every science class I could cram into my high school schedule. Off I went to college, as  a Marine Biology major.

Except.

No one told me what to expect of college, much less how to choose a college. There’s another essay (or therapy session) here, but suffice to say, but the end of my junior year, I’d had enough of professors who began the semester with, “I’m only here because it pays for my research.” Ugh! So, I quickly looked at my record and realized the only way to graduate on time was to A) become an English major (I’d been filling my schedule with English courses because they were fun) and B) do a summer semester.

Except.

I couldn’t afford to live on campus over the summer, and I lived two hours from my university. Back in those days, online classes were not a thing. So, like any logical young woman, I applied to the summer semester abroad program. There was financial aid for that! Lucky me, I was accepted, and in July I jetted off to Cambridge University for six weeks of classes.

There are no words to express how much I loved every minute of my time there. We were at Gonville and Caius College,  right in the heart of Cambridge. I took a survey of the works of Thomas Hardy class, and one called History of England through Architecture. For the latter class, we went on one excursion every week, traipsing over the country-side to places tourists rarely visit.

It was heaven. At least once a week, I attended a play, usually Shakespeare (my concentration with 17th and 18th century English literature, with an emphasis on Shakespeare).  We saw casual plays on the various Cambridge campuses, more official performances at The Royal Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon and at the Barbican in London. We visited Canterbury, London, Dover; the estate of Vita Sackville-West, the home (purported) of Shakespeare–we went everywhere. We also took an overnight trip to a college in Wales.

It was much too short of a trip, and I dream of the day when I can take my daughter there. Of course, her interests are very different, so I’m careful to remind myself that she likely won’t love it like I do. But, it will be lovely to share something that’s so very important to me, with her.

I maintain a love for all things English (well, maybe not the food), especially the writers.  From the obvious, such as Dame Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to more contemporary choices, such as Louise Penny.

We recently turned our spare room into a library, and I’ve begun digging out my scrapbooks and the books I collected while in England. I’m working my way to shelving the British authors. Little gets accomplished as I try to unpack those boxes, but oh, what lovely memories I get to re-visit!