Guest Post: Eva Gates

Rebel (?)

There are all sorts of rebels, I guess. Some are bigger than others, and some have a far larger impact on the world than others, but it takes a certain amount of courage for anyone to rebel booked for trouble - 1against expectations. You don’t have to lead countries in revolution, or defy the established church or government. Sometimes defying your families expectations can be enough.

Which is what my character, Lucy Richardson, has done in the Lighthouse Library mysteries.

I appreciate the opportunity to guest blog at Mysteristas this month when the theme is rebels. Because we do tend to overlook look the small things in life sometimes, when we talk about rebels and courage.

Lucy was born into a family that had expectations for her, and it was always assumed that she’d marry the son of her father’s law partner. But that wasn’t the life Lucy wanted, and first she defied her family by getting a master’s degree in library science and then a job as a librarian. Not exactly a rebellious act, you might think, but for her it was.

Then she went one step further and decided not to marry the man she was expected to marry after all. She left him on bended knee, quit her job and fled to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Now she’s working in the Bodie Island Lighthouse library, and loving it. And letting her inner rebel out on occasion.

At the lights at Whalebone Junction, a car pulled up beside me. Two young men whistled and waved and gave me thumbs up gestures. I grinned at them, assuming they were referring to the car, not to me. When the light changed I pulled away in an impressive display of horsepower.

Not your mother’s librarian.

from Booked for Trouble by Eva Gates

But, in fiction as in real life there are often forces trying to get the rebel to fall back into line. In Booked for Trouble, the newest book in the series, Lucy’s mother arrives in town. And she’s determined to get Lucy to come back to Boston with her.

As Sam mentioned earlier in the week, in cozies the rebellion has to be toned down somewhat. No revolutions or rebellions here. Perhaps the rebel in cozies is much more like the rebel we all want to be in our own lives. Take a chance and let the consequences fall where they may!

Eva Gates is the author of the Lighthouse Library cozy series from Penguin Obsidian, set in a historic lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, featuring Boston-transplant librarian, and highly reluctant sleuth, Lucy Richardson. The first in the series is By Book or By Crook. Booked for Trouble will be released on September 1st and Reading Up A Storm in April 2016. Eva is the pen name of bestselling author Vicki Delany, one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers.

Eva can be found at www.lighthouselibrarymysteries.com and Vicki at www.vickidelany.com.

Facebook: evagatesauthor

Twitter: @evagatesauthor

The Allure of the Rebel (or Why I Dumped Mighty Mouse)

Red Hugh

The year I turned eleven, I read the book “Red Hugh, Prince of Donegal” and I fell in love.

Red Hugh  was the teenaged heir to the O’Donnell title during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. It was a time when she endeavored to bring the Irish into line. The Irish, as they are sometimes known to do, resisted.

There was a prophecy: when Hugh succeeded Hugh as the O’Donnell, the foreign invaders would be banished.  The Irish hoped young Red Hugh would be that Hugh. And Elizabeth feared it was true.

So Elizabeth had Red Hugh imprisoned in Dublin Castle when he was only fifteen years old. He escaped twice, the second time successfully.  During the last escape, he and his companions trudged through snowy mountains during a bitterly cold winter. One of his friends was lost. The other died of exposure. Hugh himself lost two toes to frostbite.

A lot of snow is the only image I remember these fifty years later but what has stayed with me is the sense of a self-sacrificing young idealist fighting for justice and freedom against all odds. Powerful stuff for an almost-eleven year old back then.  And it’s just as powerful today. Witness the success of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and so on.

But why is it that I gave up my lingering crush on Mighty Mouse, that muscular caped hero, in favor of the renegade prince? (You might remember Mighty Mouse, the Saturday morning cartoon. With the musculature of Mr. Universe and a cape like Superman, Mighty was a classic hero – he always saved the day.)

The rebel Red Hugh O’Donnell was different. He was vulnerable. Nothing bad happens to a cartoon mouse, but human beings can freeze to death as they trudge through snow to freedom.

Life was unfair to Red Hugh. He should have been out playing the 16th century equivalent to hacky-sack with his friends, not sitting in a freezing prison cell hundreds of miles from home – imprisoned not for something he had done but because of a prophecy.   No such unfairness for Mighty.

And Red Hugh was fierce. The English couldn’t hold him, not even in Dublin castle. Sure, Mighty Mouse was fierce too in his own way with his superpowers and fancy costume but it’s not the same as teenaged boy jumping off a castle wall.

It was Red Hugh’s vulnerability, the unfairness of his story and his fierceness that made him sympathetic.  His fight, noble and true, resonates with our own need for justice. So we rally for him, vesting emotionally in his struggle. In loving the rebel, we learn that justice is not always found in victory. Sometimes justice is found in the struggle.

Rebels on the Road

I love reading historical markers along the highway.  Last weekend I discovered a few rebels this way, while on a road trip to Albuquerque.  I was heading to Mystery Roundup, a get-together of mystery enthusiasts sponsored by the Croak and Dagger chapter of Sisters in Crime and the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America.  Here are some rebel snippets that I picked up on the road:

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  1. Cuerno Verde was a Comanche chief who was so ferocious that he even frightened the Utes with his rebel warfare.  He earned his Spanish nickname from wearing headgear with a green horn.
  2. With so many rebels afoot along the Santa Fe Trail, the U.S. government built Fort Union, starting in 1851.  Rattlesnakes still guard its impressive remains today, only a few miles off the interstate.
  3. A little farther down the road are other fascinating remains:  The Pueblos of the Pecos Valley were living in 5-story cities, enclosed by long, curving walls, when the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century.  Priests built their mission and church next to the Pueblos.  A century later, the Pueblos finally revolted, destroying the church.  When the Spaniards returned 12 years later, they built a much smaller church.  Lesson learned from the rebels?
  4. The Confederate rebels of the Civil War reached Old Town, Albuquerque to fight the western-most battle of the Civil War (as cited by our tour guide on the ghost tour).  Confederate ghosts still patrol the area.  Rebels die hard!
  5. Okay, aside from sightseeing, it was such fun to hang out with mystery writers and readers for the weekend.  My favorite quote is a little rebellious, too.  It comes from Steve Brewer, who was talking about “punchy writing.”  He advises writers to trim out all the unnecessary words.  A good rule of writing to follow, he says, is to “Start late, leave early.”

I’ve been thinking about this ever since, and I totally agree with Steve’s advice.  I love this quote.  For me, nothing ruins a book more than excessive preamble, padding, or when the book goes on and on, long after the story is done.  What do you think?  Is punchy, lean writing rebellious?

Rebel with a Capital “E”

You know that episode of Seinfeld, the one where Kramer drives his car until it runs out of gas? My mom did that once, but in a parade. When someone asked her at the last minute to drive a bunch of kids down the parade route, she didn’t hesitate or mention that her gas light had been on all day. She loaded fifteen kids into the back of the Nissan pickup and took her place in the annual Duluth St. Patrick’s Day Parade. We coasted in on fumes.

I spent yesterday thinking of “rebel” stuff for my rebel-themed post. I really couldn’t get my mother out of my head. She’s always driving in parades on “E” or flouting convention in some way or another. The woman wore a pink wedding dress. I doubt it was just about the price tag, as she insists.

The Catholic Church really brings out the best in my mother’s rebellious side. When I was little, she volunteered at my Catholic elementary school. One day, when the teacher asked her to lead us into mass, she did several jumping lunges in front of the pew instead of genuflecting. It’s still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Then, she passed out gum to all the kids. When she discusses her love of her Catholic high school, she often mentions things like the filodex of excuses she pinned to her uniform every day. I think she loved shocking the priests as much as she enjoyed singing in the choir.

Now that think of it, it seems obvious, but a really good rebel needs a solid opposing force. I guess this is the whole idea behind not having rules for your teenager — it defuses the rebellion. The more monolithic and unbending the opposing force, the more tatted up and stoned your rebel will get.

In other words, you need a really good bad guy to make a great rebel. There is no Che Guevara without Batista. No Katniss Everdeen without the Capitol. No Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader. (Hope you didn’t mind me mixing actual revolutionaries with fake ones!)

In the world of cozy mysteries, rebels tend to be a bit quieter. For instance, they might bake cookies and wear pantyhose, but rebels they be. Stella Hardesty of the Bad Day series is a good example of a cozy rebel. At least I think it’s a cozy. Maybe the Bad Day series is a straight-up mystery. Either way, the back cover says:

Stella Hardesty dispatched her abusive husband with a wrench shortly before her fiftieth birthday. A few years later, she’s so busy delivering home-style justice, helping other women deal with their own abusive husbands and boyfriends, that she’s barely got time to run her sewing shop.

Strong women, who aren’t afraid of being women while solving mysteries the police want them to ignore, make up the heart of the cozy genre. That’s why there are cookies and daggers on the covers. And cats. Everyone’s gotta have a cat! Or a dog. But I digress.

So for a good rebel, you need a well-defined bad guy, which leads me back to my initial story. Is driving in a parade with an empty gas tank just stupid or is it a rebellion? If it is a rebellion, who is the rebellion against? I’m not sure if this is a question for the mystery community, a philosopher, or Jack Handy. Feel free to weigh in on that. I should probably get some sleep.

Rebelling against the theme

So, because I ended up spending my weekend running around like the chicken version of Nearly Headless Nick (hat tip to Harry Potter), I’m rebelling against our rebel theme and going with something completely different today.

I want you to tell me a story in the comments.

I’ve been working my butt off this weekend reading submissions for Brenda Drake’s yearly Pitch Wars contest (and baking things for my kids, going to a baby shower, running 16 miles and hosting a dinner party). I’m a mentor for the third year in a row (after scoring an agent during the contest’s first year). Being a mentor means sorting through dozens upon dozens of submissions to find a manuscript I want to help polish. Which is difficult, because I want to hug and squeeze ALL the manuscripts in my inbox (I have a major Millions of Cats complex).

SO, because I have a contest state of mind, I want to hear from you: What contest have you won and how did you do it? The funnier the answer, the better.

Alas, I’d lose this contest because I’m pretty sure the only contest I won before “winning” the adult category of Pitch Wars with the most agent requests was when I took home a tub of brownies at my elementary school’s cake walk in fifth grade. All I got out of that was a stomach ache and the enduring belief that eleven is the luckiest of numbers (take that, 7!).

You?

Interview: Ellen Byron

Please welcome Ellen Byron, author of Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Any day that it’s raining. Sadly, being that I live in bone-dry Los Angeles right now, those days are few and far between. So my other favorite day would be one where I get to sit in my backyard sharing a chaise longue with my rescue dogs as I sip a glass of chardonnay and alternate between needlepointing and reading a mystery. Oh, and occasionally paying attention to my husband and child. Luckily, my daughter’s a teenager and is totally over us except when she needs a ride, so that frees up a lot of time. Even so, this day usually happens only once a year – on Mothers’ Day. (Or is it Mother’s Day? I’m never sure.)

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I do now! In an effort to “brand” myself in way that complements my series, I’ve taken to wearing purple, green, aPlantationShuddersSmallernd gold a lot. My series is set in Louisiana, and those are the colors of Mardi Gras. The good thing is that in “Color Me Beautiful” parlance – remember that, anyone? – I’m a “Fiery Autumn,” so I gravitated to those colors anyway.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Tennessee Williams, Agatha Christie, and improv genius Keith Johnstone. Keith wrote the classic improv text, Impro, and created a form of performance improvisation called TheatreSports. I did it for years, and often worked with Keith. I learned as much about writing from Keith’s improv theories and games as I did from any writing class I ever took.

Do you listen to music when you write?
For me, music is what I dance to. And since I can’t dance and write, nope!

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate with pecans and a slight peppery kick.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

I developed a fascination with Cajun Country when I was a student at Tulane University in New Orleans. I visited the area many times after college; I’d rent a car and just roam around exploring. I’ve used the region as a setting for plays, and created Cajun characters as well. Combining my love of mysteries with my passion for Acadiana was just a very natural fit.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I’m not someone who thinks “theme” before I write, but I often look back at what I’ve written and find them. I guess the most common theme in my work would be, how do you fit in when you feel like you don’t really fit in? How do you learn to trust that who you are is good enough? I was the oldest of three in my family, and the only girl, and I had to develop a strong sense of responsibility early on. Through most of my childhood, I had plenty of friends, but truly felt more comfortable with adults than my peers. I carried this feeling of not fitting in with me for a very long time, and it still pops up now and then. I’ll be having a grand old time at a mystery conference and then I’ll suddenly start thinking, “I don’t really belong here and everyone knows that.” Insecurity is a very persistent demon.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
See above!! Magnolia “Maggie” Crozat is an ambitious, artistic soul who always felt like an outsider – someone who rebelled against the accepted mores and lifestyle of the sleepy southern village where she grew up, Pelican, Louisiana. She loves her hometown and its inhabitants, and wants to fit in and be accepted – but for who she is, not who she thinks they want her to be. She’s smart, insecure, passionate, self-effacing, and has a sense of humor about herself. She’s also got a major crush on the hot new detective in town.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Sandra Bullock, Georgia O’Keefe, and Tina Fey!

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Tennessee Williams, Agatha Christie, Tina Fey, Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare, and all three Bronte Sisters (they’re a family, so I’m going to count them as one!). I’d also love to invite F. Scott Fitzgerald but sadly, I know he’d get drunk and boorish. Sidebar: when I was a kid, my parents decided to move from Queens (the NY borough) to a suburb with a better school system. I went with them to see a house in Great Neck on Long Island, and we were told that F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald once lived in it. I was only eight, but I never forgot that. Flash forward to a couple of months ago: I get these Curbed.com House of the Day emails and one arrived touting a house once lived in by the Fitzgeralds – and it was that house! It was exactly how I remembered it on the outside. Gave me goosebumps.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on the second book in my Cajun Country mystery series, Crawdeaddy. Fingers crossed that it’s as much fun to read as it is to write!

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Ellen Byron is a native New Yorker who lives in Los Angeles and spends lots of time writing about Louisiana. Ellen’s debut novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, was chosen as Debut Mystery of the Month by the Library Journal. Her TV credits include Wings and Just Shoot Me; she’s written over 200 magazine articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland. Having set her first mystery series in a fabulous location that she “must visit to research,” she looks forward to pulling this off with future series.

Website: ellenbyron.com

Twitter: @ellenbyronla

Facebook: ellenbyronauthor