We are so excited to welcome the authors of the new anthology 50 shades of Cabernet to the blog today. This anthology includes some short fiction superstars and all of the stories center around wine – something quite dear to us writer types. Check out the bottom of the post for places to buy the book.
A year ago, a group of eighteen authors came together with the idea of writing a book of mystery short stories involving cabernet. Readers love mysteries and readers love wine, so we reasoned that the combination should be a winner. The anthology was named 50 Shades of Cabernet. It was published earlier this month by Koehler Books, which describes the book as “the perfect ‘flight’ of stories that range from the light-bodied puzzles to sparkling cozy mysteries to darker, heavier tales of deceit and murder. While cabernet is the featured wine, this anthology will appeal to connoisseurs of all varietals—in both wine preference and mystery style.”
Today six of the authors in the anthology are here to share some insights about their writing and their 50 Shades of Cabernet stories. Specifically: Readers love realism, so authors are often told to write what they know so they’ll get the details right. But how does that work when you write about crime? Especially … murder?
“Life is a Cabernet” by Jayne Ormerod
I write cozy mysteries, the ones where all the “icky” stuff happens off stage. So I don’t have to have stumbled across a dead body floating face down in the Chesapeake Bay in order to “write what I know.”
I write about amateur sleuths, so I don’t have to have a forensic background or even a police detective’s crime scene procedural manual in order to “write what I know.”
I write in first person from the amateur sleuth’s point of view, and she is never the villain, so I’ve never had to sprinkle poison or pull the trigger in order to “write what I know.”
One day I realized I DID need to know about guns so I could write about them with a modicum of authority. I asked a friend to take me to his gun club. There I learned how the cold steel of a pistol felt in my hands (the power is scary!) I learned how a gun kicks back (almost knocking me off my feet.) I studied what the air smelled/tasted like right after the explosion (metallic and smoky). I took notes on how loud the crack of the bullet exiting the chamber was, even while wearing protective hearing ear muffs (it rumbled in my chest). And I observed the stance of a practiced marksman (my instructor) compared to someone who’d picked up a gun and didn’t know what to do with it (me).
Now I can write what I know when it comes to guns. Small ones, anyway. For the record, I do follow the “write what you know” advice in my 50 Shades of Cabernet story “Life is a Cabernet” because I do play Mahjongg (the real Chinese tile game, not the tile matching game on most computers) and I do enjoy an occasional (some might say frequent) glass of cabernet. I hope my experience in all of these areas shows in the story. Cheers!
“Wine, Women, and Wrong” by Maggie King
For the record, I’m not a killer.
Okay, I am a killer. I kill people on the page.
Writers frequently hear this advice: Write what you know. But mystery writers lack firsthand experience in killing techniques—most of us, anyway. We may know the impulse to kill, but stop short of the act itself.
That’s where research comes into play.
In “Wine, Women, and Wrong,” my contribution to 50 Shades of Cabernet, a wine merchant is stabbed at a wine-tasting fundraiser in Richmond, Virginia. The victim survives, but Tommy Bradshaw, an amateur detective wannabe, figures the stabber had murderous intentions.
One of the requirements the anthology editors issued was to write a light-hearted story. I write cozy mysteries, but edgy ones. A light-hearted story involving murder did not appeal to me. But the editors said murder was optional. And so I settled on an attempted murder for “Wine, Women, and Wrong.”
Since cozy mysteries (amateur sleuth, no graphic sex or violence) skimp on forensic detail, the crime itself required a minimum of research. I took advantage of the fact that the average person doesn’t know anatomy or forensics well.
On Google I learned that an abdominal wound, as long as the knife misses an artery, may not produce death. I viewed diagrams of the digestive system. Even though I was intentionally vague and inaccurate with terms like “stomach” and “abdomen,” I felt it best to know the actual placements.
Here is an excerpt of a conversation that showcases the fruits of my research:
“But wouldn’t the person have had blood on herself. Or himself?”
“Not according to my neighbor whose son is an ER nurse. He says if a knife is stabbed deep into the abdomen and not removed that there will probably be little blood spatter. More likely blood will just drip. And Adele said it was in that man’s abdomen.”
Tommy recalled Camille saying Adele saw the knife in Paul’s stomach, not his abdomen. But many people didn’t know the difference and thought their stomach sat much lower than it in fact did.
I hope you enjoy “Wine, Women, and Wrong” and the other stories penned by the talented authors who contributed to 50 Shades of Cabernet.
“Par for the Course” by Heather Weidner
In my 50 Shades of Cabernet story, “Par for the Course,” Mona McKinley Scarborough, the family matriarch, doesn’t take no for an answer. When she’s not successful at convincing her granddaughter, Amanda, to make the right choice—to join the family’s Virginia winery—she plans a day of golf as a chance to draw them closer together. Their chat reveals some deadly secrets, and they learn that the grape may not fall far from the vine. The story focuses on the dynamics among the different generations within a wealthy family, and wine plays a key role as one of the central businesses in their vast portfolio.
I grew up in Virginia, and I write what and where I know. And it also helped that I had an interesting childhood. My father served on the Virginia Beach Police force for over forty-six years. One of my first jobs as a child was to pick up the shell casings on the range after he finished practicing. In the early ’70s, I helped melt down my old crayons to make practice bullets for his SPOT (Special Police Operations Team). And playing hide and seek after dark with night vision goggles is the coolest thing. My self-defense training started in kindergarten. And I always had the coolest parent at career day. Everybody wanted to know how fast he drove and if he ever shot anyone. For my first grade class, he arranged for the police helicopter to land in the field next to my school. Talk about making an entrance!
So, while I don’t have first-hand experience with solving murders or tracking down clues, my dad, the retired police captain, does. He is my best law enforcement resource when I want to know procedures, or how big of a hole a certain caliber bullet would make, or what a meth lab smells like. Though my childhood wasn’t normal as a cop’s kid, I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences or memories. And some of them find their way into my stories and novels.
“Home Tour Havoc” by Rosemary Shomaker
Mystery fiction’s “puzzle” aspect appeals to me, so in writing, I set up a situation and begin to walk through the setting, knowing only broadly what the crime, secret, or mystery will be. Physical surroundings and characters’ movements, meetings, and conversations provide the canvas for my stories and give me, the puzzle maker, my tools.
The setting for “Home Tour Havoc,” the Home Builders Ballyhoo at Harmony Glade, springs from my many home showcase and garden tour visits, and I’m secure in how I portray the home and event details in the story. When it came to “knowing” specifics about violence, I was less sure. My own assaultive history is thin.
In my story, Janet Ebersole confronts perceived rival Martha Drury in a laundry room, and violence ensues. The characters’ uncertainty, curiosity, jealousy, rage, vindictiveness are emotions I’ve felt and observed in others, so the feelings spurring violence felt sound, but I had to combine my experience with Internet research to rehearse several possible physical sequences as options for the scene, checking each character’s positions and motions. Did I write what I knew? I did, but it wasn’t enough. I had to validate scene details by using other sources. Even now, I’m hoping I mentioned the laundry room’s cement floor for various reasons. If not, I’ll lean on readers’ unconscious acceptance of a laundry room cement floor.
Similarly, when sleuth Olivia Morris discovers a dead body in “Home Tour Havoc,” I used medical books in my home and the Internet to research dead body specifics to validate details in the body discovery scene. Again, write what you know? I have limited experience with dead bodies. I’ve found great writing resources, however, that help us writers “write it right.”
So, I think “write what you know” for mystery writers translates to: Be authentic in your ideas. Build on those mental impressions. Trust your creativity. Your brain generates your story uniquely. Knowing your characters and setting sets the stage for your story’s success. Knowing your craft will guide your validation of details.
“Name Your Poison” by Maria Hudgins
I love to learn about poisons. I work a good lethal dose into my stories as often as I can. When I was traveling in Egypt I was so excited to find a strychnine tree. They don’t grow here. The next day, I found a castor bean plant and couldn’t believe my luck! Ricin, one of the most potent poisons known, comes from castor beans. Of course I couldn’t bring any of the pods or beans back with me because bringing plant products into the U.S.A. is a real no-no.
I have a dozen or more books on poisons and I read them for fun as well as for plot ideas. One of my favorites is Assorted Nasties by David Harber. It not only tells you about the deadliest poisons, it tells you how to make them yourself! I would never do that of course
In Death of a Lovable Geek I used Amanita phalloides, also known as the Death Cap mushroom. In Scorpion House, it was nicotine. In Death in an Ivory Tower, saxitoxin from contaminated oysters did the trick.
Poisons in mysteries have the advantage of being neater than guns, knives or baseball bats. The killer doesn’t have to be present to succeed, and a sweet little old lady can do it as easily as a big, strong man.
My 50 Shades of Cabernet story, “Name Your Poison,” involves murder by cyanide. Cyanide is an ideal poison in that it acts quickly, often within seconds and, after a brief period, leaves little trace. Famously, it smells like bitter almonds and turns the blood of the victim a bright (temporary) red.
I’m going to Japan in a couple of months. Should I order the fugu?
“Whose Wine Is It Anyway?” by Barb Goffman
Here’s a dirty little secret for you. When I agreed to write a crime story involving wine for 50 Shades of Cabernet, I didn’t even know what cabernet was. Sure, I knew it was some kind of wine, but that was it.
No worries. Part of being a writer is being a researcher, and I set out to research cabernet. I scoured the Internet, reading wine websites, wine blogs, even newspaper stories involving wine. I hoped my muse would be awakened by one of these articles, and I’d come up with a great story idea.
When I read about a hotel in Japan that fills its hot tubs with red wine, I thought, how fun! Surely I can produce a story from that. But my muse said no.
Then I read about wine festivals and wine conventions, and I thought, that sounds like a great place to commit murder. Alas, my muse said no again.
As you may be figuring out, my muse can be pretty picky.
Then I read about how some people can be fatally allergic to the sulfites in red wine, including cabernet sauvignon. Ding! Ding! Ding! My muse was pleased.
So I delved into the research. I learned about how the allergic reaction can occur, how it can be avoided and treated and … how it can be caused. Once I knew these key details, I was able to come up with a plot that made use of my newfound knowledge. Bwah ha ha!
The result is “Whose Wine Is It Anyway?,” in which big-shot attorney Douglas McPherson only drinks organic red wine because he’s allergic to the sulfites in the regular kind. For years, his secretary, Myra, has kept his allergy a secret from everyone because Douglas thinks if anyone knew of his “weakness,” it would hurt his ability to win cases. But now Myra is about to retire, and she’s annoyed with Douglas because he’s hired a bimbo to replace her (amongst other things). So Myra decides that it’s now or never to teach Douglas to care more about people than appearances. And she uses his wine allergy to do it. Will Myra’s scheme work? Will Douglas survive? Read “Whose Wine Is It Anyway?” to find out.
50 Shades of Cabernet is available in hardcover, trade paperback, and e-format. You can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and independent bookstores. To learn more about the book and its authors, visit https://www.50shadesofcabernet.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/50ShadesofCabernet/.