Guest Post: Mary Feliz

Welcome back to longtime Mysterista friend Mary Feliz. Sometimes life imitates art and sometimes it feels like the other way around. But authors don’t cause that…or do they?

Do writers cause disasters? Predict them?

Cover_Disorderly Conduct (Book 4)Creation isn’t causation, but sometimes it feels that way when a novel’s plot becomes the day’s leading news story.

In Disorderly Conduct a wildfire threatens to overtake my characters’ home in the foothills above Silicon Valley. Fire season is a significant a part of California’s climate calendar, so what could be more appropriate than forcing Maggie, Max and the kids into the path of a campfire run amok?

My own experiences with wildfire are limited to detours and coping with smoke and soot blown from distant blazes. But stories of others’ closer encounters abound, and I was confident in creating a realistic but imaginary scenario for the McDonald’s and their neighbors. To create the dramatic opening, I relied on a mash-up of stories from the Oakland Hills Fire Storm in 1990.

It must have worked. My Kensington editor decreed “it’s a bit eerie” when, within a month of typing “The End,” a terrifying fire scenario erupted in Santa Rosa and became national news. Dry conditions and high winds turned sparking electrical wires into an inferno that plowed straight through my nephew’s school, burning it to the ground.

My sister awoke in the middle of the night to a glow on the horizon and asthma-inducing clouds of smoke clogging the air. Her husband dashed to help out at the winery operations he manages. She packed emergency bags while her offspring slept.

Dog with First-Aid-KitIt was the start of an ongoing nightmare that left friends, family, coworkers, and the school with no place to call home. Horror stories were endless, as were uplifting tales of neighbors helping neighbors. Fundraisers followed, helping the newly homeless and giving purpose to those who’d lost their sense of security. My nephew’s school missed only a few days and was temporarily rehoused in neighboring schools.

Statewide, those of us who believed it couldn’t happen to us were forced to accept we’re all at risk. The Santa Rosa fire jumped a freeway, burned irrigated fields, and left charred swathes of suburban homes and businesses. Previously, we’d known that hillsides were vulnerable to conditions that create firestorms, which in turn generate their own weather and confound all predictive models. Naively, those of us who live and work on the flat portions of Silicon Valley told ourselves that concrete pavement, fire retardant roofing shingles, and local fast-responding firefighters protected us. We believed that wide roadways gave us quick exit routes that would serve us well.

We were wrong. Recent fires have erupted so quickly that only the well-prepared have time to escape.

The answer? Assume it can happen to you. Have an escape plan for yourself and your animals. Adapt your strategy as the mobility of youngsters and the elderly change. Make sure everyone in the family knows your emergency protocol and their roles in it.

While it’s unlikely that an imaginative author is to blame for any disasters that befall you, your region undoubtedly has natural disasters and emergency situations of its own. It’s never too early to start planning. The chapter headings in my most recent mystery, Disorderly Conduct, offer emergency planning tips and resources.

*****

About the book

Professional organizer Maggie McDonald balances a fastidious career with friends, family, and a spunky Golden Retriever. But add a fiery murder mystery to the mix, and Maggie wonders if she’s found a mess even she can’t tidy up . . .

With a devastating wildfire spreading to Silicon Valley, Maggie preps her family for evacuation. The heat rises when firefighters discover a dead body belonging to the husband of Maggie’s best friend Tess Olmos. Tess becomes the prime suspect in what’s shaping up to become a double murder case. Determined to set the record straight, Maggie sorts in an investigation more dangerous than the flames approaching her home. When her own loved ones are threatened, can she catch the meticulous killer before everything falls apart?

*****

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. Address to Die For, the first book in the series, was named a Best Book of 2017 by Kirkus Reviews. All of her books have spent time on the Amazon best seller list.

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Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan

I was lucky to score an e-ARC of #TrustMe a few weeks ago. It’s coming out in August and garnering great reviews. This is mine:

trust-me-225Former journalist Mercer Hennessey is grieving the worst tragedy that could befall a wife and mother. Now a recluse in her family’s home, every morning she writes a number in the steamed-up bathroom mirror: the number of days since it happened.

One day, publishing friend Katherine persuades Mercer to write a true crime book about the sensational Baby Boston murder trial. Party girl Ashlyn Bryant stands accused of murdering her two-year-old daughter because the toddler had got in the way. Cabling is installed in Mercer’s study so she can watch the same feed news people watch without leaving her house, and she settles behind her desk, researching, writing and watching the trial. The book will be publish-ready two weeks after the verdict. By closing argument, Mercer is convinced Ashlyn is a nut case and guilty as hell.

But Ashlyn is acquitted. Katherine comes up with a new scheme to salvage the book: a tell-all, a story of redemption, as told by Ashlyn Bryant to Mercer Hennessey. That’s when it gets scary.

This book is psychological thriller at its best. Riveting. Suspenseful. A morphing reality. No physical violence, but an exploration of the shadowy canons of two women’s grasps on reality and those dark places where monsters lurk. During the trial portion of the book, the author masterfully weaves three timelines, Mercer’s present, Ashlyn’s backstory and Mercer’s backstory. By the time Mercer must rewrite the book, these three versions of reality, yours, mine and the truth, are so blended, the smallest shifts threaten Mercer’s sanity.

Writers especially will appreciate how the delicate blending of timelines is achieved by shifts from past tense to present tense, and how once the present tense is established and we are in Mercer’s mind, each turn makes us doubt what we had believed was true.

Five stars. This book should be taught in creative writing courses.

Cherry Season!

It’s cherry season at my house.  This week I picked my first bowl of cherries, under supervision of Lilah.  Alas, there were no squirrels.      

Some years ago we planted a plum tree, a Montmorency cherry, and a dwarf cherry tree.  They grew along with our children, and every summer we enjoyed the bounty:  2 or 3 fresh cherry pies, 10-12 frozen pints, a couple dozen jars of jelly, and fresh plums in lunch boxes every day, most of September.  There were even enough cherries to share with neighbors, the squirrels, the magpies, and the bears (although the bears preferred the plums). 

All this came to a fever pitch one summer when one of my daughters asked me to make cherry jelly as favors for her wedding.  

P1010123

I made 150 small jars that time.  In the process, I spilled so much boiling water that I ended up destroying one of the burners on my stove.  Oh well.  New stove = new kitchen remodel (another story).  

Now we have fewer cherries to deal with, thanks to a couple of nasty weather years recently, and honestly, I’m grateful.  I have to get them before the squirrels do, and hopefully next week there will be enough cherries left to make jelly.  Making jelly, instead of jam, is the easiest way to deal with cherries because I don’t have to pit them. 

Here’s how I do it:  

  1. Pick enough cherries to fill a large mixing bowl.  
  2. Wash the cherries, strain into spaghetti pot, add ½ cup water, bring to boil, cover & simmer 10 minutes.  
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the jelly jars, lids, and rings by boiling them 10 minutes, then remove to a towel.  The jars will need to be hot at the time of filling, in order to seal, so it’s all about timing.  
  4. Line a large bowl with 3 layers of cheesecloth, making sure the ends extend far enough to twist over the cherries, squeezing juice.  Add a little water, if necessary, to make 5 cups of juice.  
  5. Stir in 1 box of pectin to the juice and bring to a full, roiling boil on high, stirring constantly. 
  6. Stir in exactly 4 cups of sugar, return to full boil, and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly.  
  7. Remove from heat, skim off foam. 
  8. Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling up to ¼ inch from top, wipe off rims, add lids & rings & twist them securely.  
  9. As the jars cool, their lids seal with a pop, and then I tighten the rings a little more.  
  10. Any that don’t seal have to go in the refrigerator and be used first—enjoy! 

To Tell the Truth

imagesI read fiction, and I would guess that most  of you mysteristas both read and write fiction. I just do not read much “true crime. I want my “fiction” to belief-like, with characters so “real” that I might see them in the grocery store. I certainly want dialogue that is realistic for any person in a similar situation.

However, as far as reading what really happens in “real life,” that pretty much stops for me with the daily newspaper. Of course, even with the newspaper, I hypothesize about the incidents, and I sometimes wonder if that “accident” really was an accident or something more sinister.

news1 - CopyThere seems to be an abundance of true crime in TV-land, and not just on the nightly news. Streaming services, national networks, and local independent stations have series after series “exposing the truth behind” some unsolved crime or criminal prosecution, and pleading with viewers to be on the lookout for a suspect on the loose wanted for a horrible act. Even while surrounded by “true crime” I somehow have not read much in the true crime category.

I was reminded of why I had not read much “true crime” when I went on vacation last summer. I was looking for something to read on the plane, and I saw a “true crime” book set in my vacation destination. It promised a wrongly convicted defendant, an in-depth search for the killer, celebrity connections, political corruption, and a giant cover-up. “Wow! How interesting,” I thought. Well, not so much.

The author documented the search for all those things all right, but the book was about the tedious (and mind-numbing) search through records, folders, files, and papers. The characters, the innocent and the guilty, were one-dimensional and really an afterthought. There could certainly be no accusations of making things up just to make the book interesting!

I can understand how difficult it must be to write “true crime” because an author cannot make anything up to create suspense or intrigue. Besides, if the “crime” is high profile enough to merit a book, the readers already know who did it, so there goers the suspense angle.

I recently heard an author of “true crime” speak about her books. Reading one of her “true crime” books gave me a new totally perspective. The book was compelling and thrilling. The dialogue certainly was realistic, and the characters were diverse and interesting. It was wonderful to read. Now I have a bunch of her other books on my list to read. Perhaps the writers of “true crime” that I previously read were just not good writers – of anything.

Now, I have a question for you. As authors of crime fiction, do you ever write “true crime?” Why or why not? If you do, how is the writing process different? What are the guesschallenges?  (Besides not being able to make stuff up.) How do you move the story along when readers know the ending? How do you keep it from becoming just another “National Enquirer” type story? Enquiring minds want to know!

Guest Mysterista: Paula Matter

The request was pretty routine: would it be possible to get debut author Paula Matter in as a guest at Mysteristas? Our schedule was pretty tight around her release date, July 8. But then we met Paula at Malice Domestic and it was decided.

We had to find a way to get her in.

Paula is delightful and funny, and her debut from Midnight Ink, Last Call, set at a VFW post bar is sure to entertain. We offered Paula the opportunity to be a “Mysterista for a Day” and we each asked a different question. She was brave enough to accept.

So without further ado…

Mia: What was it like for you when you received The Call (that your book had sold)?

Cover Last CallPM: It was an email that stated she (Terri from Midnight Ink) needed some info so she could bring the manuscript to the weekly acquisitions meeting. My reply: “Wait, what? You liked it?” and I promptly sent the info she’d asked for. A few days later, I was offered the contract.

Becky: What kind of research did you have to do for this book?

PM: Mainly names for characters. I didn’t want any of my former VFW patrons to be able to see themselves in Last Call. And they won’t because they’re all a great group of people. Mostly.

Kait: What was different about this book that made the difference? How did you know it was “right”?

PM: Maggie Lewis, my protagonist. Also, writing in first person POV, I think. Maggie and I hit it off immediately. She was a somewhat minor character in another novel I’d written several years ago. Beta readers commented how much they liked her, so I decided to give her a larger role.

Liz: The age old question: plotter or pantser?

PM: Definitely plotter. Big time. I need to know the beginning and the ending, and work my way through the middle. I’ll know some of the middle, but not all of it when I get started.

Peg: How long does it take you to write your first draft, and what’s your revision process like?

PM: Years. Agonizing. Seriously? I’m a slow writer and I revise as I go. That’s how I’ve always written my short stories. I’ve learned I need to change that process with novel writing. Must. Get. Faster. Any tips for me? I’m looking at you, Becky Clark.

Sue: How important is setting in your book?

PMLast Call takes place in a very small fictional town in north Florida. I wanted to show a different side of what people imagine Florida to be. North DeSoto is far from beaches and attractions. Being from Miami, but living for many years in north Florida, I wanted readers to see the differences.

Barbara/Katie: As an author, do you read reviews? Critically or for fun? Do you look for comments on any key topics in reviews? What reflections or comments would you like reviewers to include in impartial reviews? (Of course other than I LOVED THE BOOK!!!!!!)

PM: I’m a debut author, so this is the first time I’ve had reviews to read. Reading reviews has become an obsession. OBSESSION. Like checking Goodreads and NetGalley several times a day. And these are for the ARCs. I can’t imagine much time I’ll be checking sites once the book’s released. Yikes! One reviewer was responsible for one little addition during the editing process, so very helpful. I have been loving the comments about Maggie’s development, how she changes. I especially loved this from Publishers Weekly: “That she also has to reevaluate herself and her capabilities adds depth to her character.” PW totally gets Maggie.

Thank you, Mysteristas, for inviting me to your fabulous blog. Answering your questions was challenging and lots of fun!

*****

Author photoPaula Matter (rhymes with otter) is the author of the Maggie Lewis mysteries which take place in a small town in North Florida. Paula’s short crime fiction stories have been published in USA and German anthologies. After losing her job as a catering server, Paula decided instead of getting yet another job as a waitress/bartender/activities director/etc., she’d tackle her mystery novel again.

Originally from Miami, FL, Paula kept moving north until she settled in north central Pennsylvania. A proud mom of one son, she lives with her husband The Saint, and worthy-not-spoiled rescue dog in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains.

 

Interview: May Cobb

Please welcome May Cobb, author of Big Woods!

Do you listen to music when you write? 

Usually, I don’t. But since my novel, Big Woods, is set in the ‘80s, I listened to all my favorites during that time: Depeche Mode, INXS, Duran Duran, Siouxsie and the Banshees, R.E.M., Front 242, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and of course, the soundtrack to the film, Xanadu.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

During the actual writing of Big Woods I read and re-read the following three novels: Amanda Eyre Ward’s The Same Sky, for its gorgeous prose and intricate, dual-narrative structure which I tried to borrow heavily from for my novel, Paula Hawkins, Girl on A Train, because it’s hands-down one of my favorite thrillers and her deft gift for propulsion, and finally, Mary Helen Specht’s Migratory Animals, for its dreamy yet crisp prose and vibrant characters.

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

Living: Ruth Ware, A.J. Finn, Tana French, C.J. Tudor, Paula Hawkins, and (deceased) Wilkie Collins. I’d wager that each of these authors would be a blast to have a cocktail with and after I plied them without enough booze, I’d try and pry their writing secrets from them.

What’s next for you?

I’m finishing up a nonfiction project that’s been in the works for twenty years and that my novel interrupted.  It’s the story of the legendary jazz musician, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who was a multi-instrumentalist who was best known for playing three saxophones at the same time. I first heard his music in college and became obsessed with it and spent the next several years traveling around, collecting stories about him.

*****

big woodsWhen her sister disappears, the only clue Leah has is a cryptic message: Underground. By thewoods.

It ’s 1989 in the sleepy town of Longview, Texas,when ten-­‐year-­‐old Lucy disappears.  Her parents,  the police, and the community all brace for the  worst,  assuming her body will soon be found in Big Woods.Just l ike the other unsolvedkidnappings.

But  then Lucy’s  fourteen-­year-­old sister,  Leah, starts having dreams about Lucy —dreams that reveal startling clues as to what happened. Leah begins her own investigation, and soon she meets a reclusive widow who may hold the key to finding Lucy. . . if only she can find the courage to come forward.

Delving into the paranoia surrounding satanic cults in the 1980s, Big Woods is an emotionally wrought, propulsive thriller about the enormity of grief, the magical bond between sisters, and a small town’s dark secrets.

*****

cobbMay Cobb is a novelist and freelance writer based in Austin, Texas.

BIG WOODS was selected as the Winner in the 2015 Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest, and the pitch to BIG WOODS was selected as the Winner for the 2016 NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza.

May earned her M.A. in Literature from San Francisco State University and has spent the past several years researching and writing a book about the late jazz great, Rahsaan Roland Kirk (forthcoming).

Her essays and interviews have appeared in The Washington Post, The Rumpus, Edible Austin, and Austin Monthly.

You can learn more about May by visiting her website: www.maycobb.com

 

Low Down Dirty Vote

A couple of months ago, I received an email about a new short story anthology. Low Down Dirty Vote was a collection of stories centered around the theme of voter fraud (how topical, right?). Proceeds from sale benefited the ACLU. The collection was edited by Mysti Berry and featured a forward from the Legal Director of ACLU Nebraska. It sounded…intriguing.

Then I saw the list of authors and I thought, “I have to get my hands on this.”

Luckily, I was able to do so…and even more lucky to get contributor and Mysterista friend Catriona McPherson agree to answer a few questions.

LM: How did you get involved with this anthology? What about the project attracted you?

CP: Mysti Berry got in touch and told me about it. My first thought – as I was still reading the email and before I knew what the collection was about – was that I’d love to work with Mysti on whatever she was doing. Then when I read the theme “voter suppression” my heart soared. Very often the theme of a collection is either just a hook or it’s something you’ve thought about a lot or even written about before. This was completely new to me and caused a such an efflorescence of ideas I felt like a mushroom farm. Also, you know, the ACLU and the protection of democracy. That didn’t hurt.

LM: We all know your novels, from Dandy Gilver, to Lexy Campbell, to the stand-alones. Have you done a lot of short fiction? What do you see as the biggest challenges and/or differences between writing novels and short stories?

CP: Hardly any. I’ve written over twenty novels but only thirteen short stories. Nine of these are published (or in the works) and, of the other four, two were apprentice pieces (they stink) and two were written up after collaborative workshops to give back to the students as a takeaway from the class. One of these I did overnight! That’s the thing I love about short stories. The first draft can be written in a splurge. My favourite place to do the first draft of a short story is a long flight. Coast to coast and then over to Scotland gives me two 6+ hour bouts of writing. I enjoy being able to hold a whole idea in my attention at once. Writing a novel makes you let go of the beginning so long before you can glimpse the end. It’s not a comfortable process for me. Also, I write the Dandy Gilver novels in first person, but the “World of Gilverton” shorts let me inhabit secondary characters. It’s a lot of fun. Maybe if I write enough of them I can have an anthology one day. But I’d need to crack on because I’ve got three so far.

LDDV-coverLM: The theme of this collection is very topical given the current political climate in the US. Coming from Scotland, do you think the theme resonates as strongly in non-US markets?

CP: I can’t speak for anywhere except the UK really – maybe just Scotland – but I know that people over there who’re interested in politics at all want to understand what’s happening over here. Also the Brexit surprise was similar enough to the Trump surprise to have British people paying closer than usual attention. I’m not sure how much people understand exactly what the ACLU is but everyone understands what voter suppression is, right? It’s still hard to wrap my head around the fact that there are sentient people who try prevent democracy from functioning. Do they think we can’t see what they’re doing? Or that we can’t work out why? You know when babies cover their eyes and believe themselves to be invisible . . . ? One of the weirdest conversations I’ve had about this collection was with someone who evidently couldn’t tell the difference between wanting to register people who’d vote for you and wanting disenfranchise people who’d vote for the other team.

LM: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the project?

CP: I particularly love the way that so many wildly different stories have come out of what looks like such a narrow theme. (There’s that mushroom farm again.) Kris Calvin is a friend of mine and she shared a worry that her story would have echoes in other contributions. To test the hypothesis, she told me what her starting point was and I went away to try to come up with the most on the nose interpretation I could. It was nothing like Kris’s wonderful story, of course! Thats my favourite thing about being part of a themed anthology: when you get to see what the other authors came up with and marvel at the diversity of our imaginations.

*****

About Low Down Dirty Vote

This anthology of short crime fiction raises funds to help the ACLU fight voter suppression. Authors: Kris Calvin, Alison Catharine, Ray Daniel, David Hagerty, Mariah Klein, Derek Marsh, Jr., Catriona McPherson, Camille Minichino, Ann Parker, Travis Richardson, and James W. Ziskin.

Stories are set from Edinburgh to the San Francisco Bay Area and points in between. Some are ripped from 21st-century headlines, others explore the challenges of women voting for the first time in Wyoming during the 19th century.

Each writer has challenged themselves to experiment with form, point of view, or voice. Low Down Dirty Vote is a fabulous collection of stories from award-winning writers and brand new voices. Sales receipts go to the ACLU Foundation to help fight voter suppression.

This volume features a foreward by Amy A. Miller, Legal Director of ACLU Nebraska, and is edited by Mysti Berry.