Guest Post: Cori Lynn Arnold

The winner of our Thanksgiving giveaway is donamaekutska7. Please email mary AT summaria DOT net to claim your prize!

Please welcome back Cori Lynn Arnold, author of Thin Luck.

On Christmas Cards

2001Write what you know, or so the famous adage goes. I don’t know much about being a six-foot male detective, but I do know what it’s like to come from a little town in Alaska called North Pole; I know what it’s like to not want to tell people you are from there. Many of the stories I tell in Northern Deceit about Detective Hicks’ childhood in Alaska are absolutely true, only they were my stories, not his.

If I had a relationship status on Facebook with Christmas it would be “It’s Complicated.” On one hand, it’s a spirit of giving, but I’m a notoriously bad gift giver. On the other hand, the kitschy signs, candy cane street lights, and droning songs make me ill. In Alaska, it was cold and miserable, and much like my six-foot detective, my father bowled with the guy in the Santa suit. A certain amount of Christmas magic is lost living in North Pole, Alaska.

When I moved in with my husband, I was still ignoring Christmas like 2003many people ignore Valentine’s day, hoping it would pass without notice, but his family tradition involves sending Christmas cards. That’s a relatively low hurdle I could step over. He wanted to do something personal, and at the time I was a photographer, so we took a picture. I processed them, and we sent them out. So began our now 16 year tradition of Christmas cards.

Making the cards is the one thing I look forward to and dread every year.

2009I dread the process of coming up with an idea that’s workable and that my family will participate in. While my son is up for a lot, he is a teenager and there are limits. Someone told me once that my son would refuse one year, but he hasn’t yet. Finding a time we can dedicate to the task can also be a pain. Hubby travels and it can be difficult to get us all in the same room at the same time. Some years the Christmas picture is just of my son.

The worst of the dread is when we are past Thanksgiving and all weekend hubby asks nearly every hour, “Do you have an idea for the card this 2011year?” I want to strangle him. The text can be as difficult as the picture, and I don’t generally take the picture until there’s good text to go with it.

I look forward to being done. I look forward to visiting friends and relatives and seeing our card posted prominently on the refrigerator or mantle, even in July. I look forward to the calls, emails, texts, and Facebook chats I have with everyone every year telling me how they liked our card and can’t believe I managed to top last year’s picture.

2015I am still a horrible gift-giver at Christmas. Most times I want the holiday to pass with a minimal of fuss, like Detective Hicks, but I do hope our Christmas card tradition lasts forever.

 

 

 

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Cori Lynn Arnold is the author of Thin Luck, created during her first mad rush of corilynnarnoldNaNoWriMo. She grew up in the kitschy town of North Pole, Alaska. She is currently studying to be a badass librarian.

Interview: Catriona McPherson

We are thrilled to welcome Catriona McPherson to Mysteristas and help celebrate the launch of her newest Dandy Gilver mystery The Reek of Red Herrings!

7b98a5ff-fdcb-478d-b41c-62517b4f7e22What’s your idea of a perfect day?

I live in California, so my perfect day (it’s a Sunday) begins by waking up to the sound of rain, filling the well, refreshing the plants, ending the drought. I drink coffee in bed and read a good chunk of a rewarding novel, then I eat porridge on the porch watching the raindrops. In the morning I take my pick-up truck to an estate sale and snag amazing bargains, including some Stavangerflint pottery. In the afternoon, I go to a matinee at the local picture-house and then stop in at the coffee shop next door. When I get home I remember that I’ve got delicious leftovers in the fridge that need hardly any preparation. By this time the rain has stopped but the soil is moist and I can weed a huge swathe of the garden without breaking sweat. Even the dandelions just let go like wimps. When the sun is setting I take my cat for a walk, then end the day by hammering my husband at Scrabble. Three games of total humiliation for him. Ha!

I am not a hipster, judging by my perfect day.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

Expression? Well, I just had to go through a novel and give it a wee-ectomy. I’d used the word “wee” 87 times. Mostly it was in stock phrases like “my wee girl” meaning “my daughter” and “a wee drop” meaning “some”. I got it down below 40.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

All the Golden-Age Greats: Dame Agatha, of course; Margery Allingham – whose The Tiger in The Smoke is one of the best thrillers ever written, imho; Ngaio Marsh – my favourite is A Surfeit of Lampreys; Michael Innes – most especially Appleby’s end, which is completely bonkers.

Do you listen to music when you write?

No, but sometimes if I’m doing the grunt end of an edit – changing all the ” to ‘, for instance, or spellchecking – I listen to King Creosote or Bruch and I always listen to something celebratory when I’m printing out a finished draft. “Happy” by Pharrell, ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky” and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feelin'” are wonderful printing-out songs. I sometimes dance around so much I forget to empty the tray and my printer jams. It’s worth it.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

The Reek of Red Herrings would be a Tunnock’s Teacake. They’re a little dome of . . . well, it’s fluffy and it’s unknown in nature; not sure what the composition is . . . covered in a skin of milk chocolate that shatters when you bite into it. They’re a Scottish classic (and available in the World Market in the US).

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

I wanted to have a village cut off by winters storms so I could write a version of a locked-room mystery. I found one in Aberdeenshire with a helter-skelter nightmare of a road leading down to it. It happened to be a herring fishing village and the more I found out about the fisherfolk and the traditions of their December wedding season, the more fascinated I became. The story isn’t really a locked room mystery at all now, but the weddings are there in all their glory. And fish too.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

I love a long-buried secret. And shame is a great boon to anyone writing a mystery plot. Not really a theme, but I also adore maps and plans. Does anyone else (tell me in the comments) look up the floor plans of fictional houses? Or draw street plans of fictional towns? Go on and google Movie House Floorplan – it’s another world.

Tell us about your main character.

Dandy Gilver was born in 1886 and carefully brought up by a nanny and a governess, then finished off in Paris. She married well (but not romantically) and had two sons who went to boarding school when they were seven. She was a volunteer nurse in the Great War and should have settled back into a life of good works and dull parties. But at the Armistice Ball, someone stole a diamond and a girl disappeared and . . . twelve years later Dandy is a private detective. I love the way the Guardian newspaper described her in a review “brisk, baffled, heroic, kindly, scandalised and – above all – very funny.”

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Great challenge! Okay, Dandy is the love-child of DLS’s Harriet Vane, also quite brisk, and The Provincial Lady*, with a pinch of Miss Marple’s methods thrown in.

(*I’m taking that on trust. I’ve never read Diary of A Provincial Lady but enough people have remarked on the similarity for me to believe it. When and if I ever stop writing about Dandy, I’ll finally get to read this classic that I somehow missed.)

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

What a treat! I’d like Ellen Hart (MWA’s brand-new Grand Master) and Louise Penny, Ann Cleeves and Simon Brett from across the waves, and Agatha and Dorothy from beyond the grave, please. I thought about Edgar and Sir Arthur, but they’re not exactly party people, are they?

What’s next for you?

I know you mean what am I writing, but I’m going to hijack the question if that’s okay. The Reek of Red Herrings comes out on the 13th and I’m running a prize draw and a giveaway to say thanks for pre-orders. If anyone orders the book between now and midnight on the 12th, I will send them an original 5,000 word short story, set at Gilverton, Dandy’s home in Perthshire, at Christmas time and they’ll be entered into a draw to win all eleven books in the series, and some seasonal treats too. Details are here (http://catrionamcpherson.com/news/132088).

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pic-of-meCatriona McPherson is the author of eleven novels in the Dandy Gilver series, featuring Dandy Gilver, her sidekick Alec Osborne, and Bunty the Dalmatian, set in Scotland in the 1920s and 30s. They have won Agatha, Macavity and Lefty awards and been shortlisted for a UK Dagger. The series is currently in development for television, at STV in Scotland. She also writes modern standalones which have won two Anthony awards and been shortlisted for an Edgar and the Mary Higgins Clark. Catriona is a past president of Sisters in Crime and is still as Scottish as a plaid haggis, despite having lived in northern California since 2010. www.catrionamcpherson.com.

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Wrapping it up and Sending 2016 on the Road

Where did this year go? Seems like only yesterday I was in a track stance and waiting for the new year. Father time has traded in his two-wheeled handcart for a Ferrari.

December is a special month. A time to look back and ahead. I’ve kept a journal since I was nine or ten. I remember my first one—it had a Girl Scout logo, and a lock. Every December I’d reflect on what happened over the year and make plans for the upcoming year. The December 31st entry always had a list of what I hoped to accomplish during the next year. It’s strange, but when I go back through my older journals, I discover how many plans came to fruition. Did writing the hopes and dreams set a cosmic force into play, or was it the act of writing that laid the groundwork for accomplishment? That’s a theory to explore another time.

Over the course of the last few years, I’ve fallen away from journaling. Part of it is the curse of the computer. I’ve spent hours flipping through handwritten journals trying to find an event I wanted to use in a story only to throw my hands in the air and re-shelve the book. So, I tried keeping a journal in Word, and even in One-Note to make use of the search function. Neither satisfied. A different part of the mind engages with pen hits paper. I guess I have my first plan for 2017—get back to regular journaling. Maybe color coded pens are the way to go. General stuff in one color, events to remember for stories in another. If nothing else, the pages will be festive.

Now it’s time to put 2016 in a box, wrap it up, and tie it with a bow. This is the year my second book, Death by Sunken Treasure, was published. I learned more about marketing, and became a charter member of a new blog, MotiveMeansOpportunity. By the time this year officially closes, my third book in the Hayden Kent series will have been sent to Henery Press. I’ve started work on the third book in the Catherine Swope series and I intend to self-publish it. To more books are perking away in my thoughts. One for a new series, and the second for a standalone I’ve always wanted to write. Overall, it’s been a very good year, one that left me with a sense of satisfaction and anticipation.

What about you? Do you have a sense of contentment looking back on 2016?

All the best for the upcoming holiday season no matter how you celebrate it.

No Loose Ends: Wrapping Things Up

Happiness to me includes tidy spaces, tidy schedules, and even a tidy to-do list. (I’m sure you can imagine how rarely these things happen independently, much less together!) Nice, neat little packages of life, wrapped up cleanly, make me happy.

I love gift wrapping, too. For similar reasons, I enjoy the beautification of the carefully chosen gifts (although I’m not a fan of those oddly shaped ones). Determining a symmetry for the placement of the paper, placing odd numbers of bows on the neatly wrapped boxes, and organizing the wrapped gifts under the tree is something I look forward to doing.  My gift wrap is themed by destination: packages going to my in-laws might be all snow-people, packages going to my mother’s house might have Santas, and the friend gifts have reindeer. It helps me organize, visually, and I love how the gifts all look under the tree. That tidiness is soothing, relaxing, and calming; unless, of course, I buy that cheap paper that won’t cut evenly!

(NOTE: At this point, I sound incredibly organized. This is more like a dream sequence of how it should look. In reality, there’s lost scissors, not enough tape, ribbon left across the room…let’s just say the reality is not quite the same as the dream. But I do enjoy the process, and it’s mostly tidy!)

My reading preferences lean toward the tidy, too. Not from a plot perspective, but in a “wrap up all the loose ends neatly by the end” kind of way. Perhaps this is why I really, really, really don’t like reading literary fiction. Those stories so often don’t really end, so much as they just stop (clarification: I realize all lit-fic stories don’t lack a tidy ending, it just seems like they tend to do so, while mysteries tend to have cleaner endings, but of course nothing is absolute in fiction). Or they don’t stop; instead, there’s just unwrapping, and unwrapping, and unwrapping.

Those uncertain endings leave me with an uncomfortable, unfinished feeling, one that is the exact opposite of soothed, relaxed, and calm! I have no interest in deciding for myself how the story ends; I want the writer to finish her story, and let me enjoy the tidiness of it. I want to exist in her world for as long as the story lasts, unwrap the gift that is a clear story line, and then move on. With a series, I expect the main threads to be wrapped up, and just enough left undone to leave me interested in the next book, without leaving me annoyed.

Perhaps because the world is a vastly untidy place, I look to fiction for relief, for the enjoyment of something that is tidy.  The story that takes me on a journey, one that is unpredictable for its duration, but that offers the promise of a clear ending, is the one I truly enjoy. Choices are made, paths are followed, and when I read the last page, I know who committed the crime and how–and so does the protagonist. Certainly, there is much that doesn’t have to be wrapped up, but the core story has a beginning, middle, and end. And I love it!

How about you? Do you crave the tidiness of a neat ending, or enjoy the messiness of the not-quite-wrapped-up story?

Happy Holidays!

Giving thanks for our readers!

Here at Mysteristas we want to take this opportunity to say Happy Thanksgiving. One thing we are thankful for? All of you!

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And to show our thanks, we are giving away a prize package to one lucky commentator. Just leave a comment below, telling us what YOU are grateful for, to win an ebook from each of the following Mysteristas:

Sam Bohrman – ebook copy of Ruby’s Misadventures with Reality
Peg Brantley – Kindle or print copy of Red Tide (print for US only)
Kait Carson – ebook copy of Zoned for Murder, Murder in the Multiples, Death by Blue Water, AND Death by Sunken Treasure (one each)
Kimberly Giarratano – ebook copy of Dead and Breakfast
Liz Milliron – ebook or print copy (print for US only) of Murder Most Scenic

So tell us – what are you saying thanks for this year?

Photo courtesy of Dutchbaby and used under Creative Commons license.

Gratitude

I’m one of those people who feels wholly inadequate if Thanksgiving doesn’t turn out like a Norman Rockwell illustration.  And it rarely does.

Last year, I canceled Thanksgiving and Christmas because I had a dying dog with contagious skin condition. It wasn’t safe to have the grandkids over and expose them. The dog was happier too. But for me, it was a long, dark winter.

This year, I’m redirecting my thoughts to gratitude. There’s food in the fridge, the mortgage and the heat bill are paid. That’s huge.

Where there is life, there is hope. That’s huge too.

And let’s not forget the mystery community: Mysteristas, Malice Domestic and the wonderful people who work so hard to facilitate that event every year, and the generous, talented, wise and funny mystery-writing community.

Counting my blessings is a great way to pull myself out of a funk. It’s cheaper than shopping and less fattening than chocolate.

What’s going to happen next? It’s a mystery. But, you know, it always is. To think otherwise is delusional.

And in observing the mystery revealed, we harvest things so much more rich than we could have expected.

So, Mysteristas, on this T-day, what you grateful for?