A Writer’s Age

A writer’s life is full of surprises. Sometimes, when a reader meets a writer, the surprise is on the reader! I was in Barnes & Noble last week when my favorite sales person introduced me to a mystery reader, and as it turned out, a fan.

It goes without saying I was thrilled. The fan and I happily chatted about Hayden Kent, the Florida Keys, what was next. And then the surprise happened. The fan thought she was talking to Kait Carson’s mother. I paused. Thoughts pushed furiously through my brain, each shoving the other aside while I wondered if I was about to taste the sole of one or both of my retired running shoes. The salesperson saved the day. She said, “I didn’t know your daughter wrote, too.”

My fan, thank God, let loose a belly laugh. “You’re Kait Carson. The Kait Carson. But you’re not…” She blushed crimson, and she glanced at her shoes. Heels I noted and wondered if the three-inch spikes would be painful. “In your thirties,” she finally finished.

As her blush subsided, I assured her I took the comment as a compliment, and thanked her. I didn’t tell her I subscribe to and read Seventeen, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan Magazines from cover to cover to keep up. Nor did I share that the woman who lives in my head is in her thirties!

That got me to thinking how old are my favorite writers, and how old are their characters? It turns out most of my favorite writers are writing characters a good ten to twenty, or more, years younger than they are. I’m not naming names here—that’s not my place 😊—and you can do your own research. The key is, the characters are believable, and when I e-chat with these writers, or meet them on social media, it’s clear that the writer is comfortable in their character’s age group.

What does that observation mean? I’m not sure. But it seems as if as writers we become so immersed in the research and behavior of protagonists we absorb them. Their age and characteristics become second nature to us until the people who live in our heads might just surprise you, and us, with their dreams of the future.

Tomorrow is another day—being a writer is the only profession I’m aware of that lets you do it over AND retain the lessons of the past!

Readers and writers—how old is the person in your head? Your real age? Older? Younger? And is it a good year?

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Writing through the Tears

“There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a professional, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”

― Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Those of you who follow me on Facebook, or Twitter know that this has been a rough summer. I broke my wrist in June, had surgery on it in July, lost my beloved muse Hutch in August. Gee, world, shoot me, why don’t cha.broken wrist

Good news, I broke the left wrist, bad news, keyboards are left handed. Good news, once it was determined I needed surgery I had to take medical leave from my day job. Bad news, pain, pain, pain. All that wonderful writing time I thought I was going to have was reduced to sound bites. Good news, voice recognition software has come a long way. Couple it with really good headphones and you can dictate a first draft. Bad news, it’s still not perfect. Good news, editing the daily work in progress does make for a cleaner first draft and if you do it in the morning, you have a leg up on where the story is heading. News so bad it took my breath away and I still have not recovered. Hutch, my beloved Hutch, my favorite cat and muse is gone.

IMy usual musendulge me for a moment. Hutch and his two siblings were found in a sewer drain just before a tropical storm was due to hit Miami. Their eyes were not yet open. Public works called my vet’s housemate who ran an animal rescue and he fetched the kittens. It is likely they were feral and the mother cat moved them to the drain. The mother was never found. My vet raised them until they were an adoptable age. I’ve had Hutch ever since. He was 14. He talked. He said “feed me,” “love you,” “hello,” and his favorite, “no.” He also sat beside me when I wrote and tapped my arm if a story was going in the wrong direction. When I had cancer, he knew when I was feeling particularly awful and would sit beside me with his paw on my forehead. If I had an ache or pain he would curl up and let his body heat ease the ache. He was magical. He had a routine dental. All went well, his heart stopped in recovery, my vet started CPR and brought him back. Three days later it was determined that he had no higher brain function and all he could do was breathe on his own. We let him go to the Rainbow Bridge.

This was the summer of serious decisions. It was easier to read than write. Writing caused pain, physical at first, emotional later. The question became, did I want to write, or did I want to enjoy the writing of others? No shame in either course of action. It’s not easy to write with a full-time job, and now that I had the time, pain was robbing me of creativity and the joy that writing had always brought. Maybe the writing gods were speaking. Maybe it was time to listen. Even with voice recognition software, pain was a constant companion. Creativity and pain are not happy bedfellows.

It was not a private pity party – you too were invited – didn’t you get your invitation? headsetJust as I was about to hang up my laptop I remembered that series I wanted to write based in the Keys, the one I’d started. The one that wouldn’t let me rest. Those characters started talking again and wouldn’t shut up. Why were they interfering with my morose mood? Who invited them? unable to shut them up, I pulled on my very high-end Corsair gaming headset, the one that can hear a pin drop at fifty paces and started talking.

I nearly gave up again when Hutch left me. He had been by my side through every book and short story I’d ever written. When I came home from saying good-bye to him I went through my old photo albums to remember the good times we had together. In the pages of one of the albums was the Christie quote at the top of this blog. I’d had it on my office wall when I lived in Maine. “Write even when you don’t want to.” The words struck a chord deep in my heart. Everyone has trouble. I don’t have a corner on the heartache market.

When the Florida Keys mysteries come out, I’m planning twelve, each will be dedicated to Hutch, and to Dame Agatha for being there in a most mysterious way.

Have you ever had an occasion where you received exactly what you needed when you needed it? How did it work out?

Everything Old is New Again

Some of you may have noticed my comment on Keenan’s blog post that I’ve been inhaling books lately. I’ve been averaging a book every other day, on occasion a book a day. For the first time, my Kindle TBR pile is dwindling to the point that I’m getting nervous!

This sudden spurt of reading leisure time is due to my breaking my wrist last month. At first, it seemed I’d dodged the surgery bullet, but as time went on, it became obvious that surgery was in my future and with surgery came a medical leave. I was thrilled, overjoyed, elated. Time to write during the day without guilt. Time to read without guilt. Yippee. Voice recognition software made writing possible and Kindle made reading a breeze. I’ve been in hog heaven. What does that mean?

My Goodreads buddies (if you’re not a Goodreads friend or follower, please join me) know that I like to read series books, and I like to read them in order. One of my favorites is the Rita Mae Brown Mrs. Murphy series. I’ve been a fan since the start and although talking critters may stretch the credulity an unch too far for some folks, as a cat owner, I know they communicate, and they do it without sound.

I purchased NINE LIVES TO DIE on sale during my last trip to Barnes & Noble. I hadn’t caught up with the series in a while so, with time on my hands, I checked Stop You’re Killing Me, the indispensable site for series readers as it lists the books in series order. Imagine my surprise when one book, SANTA CLAWED, rang not even a dim bell. The book was bracketed by books I remembered. How had I missed it? I checked my Kindle downloads, not there, I checked my hardcover and trade book list, not there. I ordered the e-book from Amazon, no pop-up to tell me I owned it already. I opened the book and discovered that my Goodreads shelves showed it as read and reviewed. Hum. How had that happened?

As I got into the story, bits and pieces came back. I enjoyed it enough that I decided to keep reading and not set it aside or flip to the last few chapters to see if I correctly recalled the villain. When the pre-finale twist came, I was surprised that for the first time, the story diverged sharply from my recollection. I couldn’t help myself, it was well past bedtime, but I kept reading. I had to know, how did this book that I had read before end?

There it was, in grey and black in pixels before me. A killer I never suspected unveiled, but the story wasn’t over. There had been two crimes committed in this book and the story ending that I recalled resolved the second. Both stories equally compelling, both plots well laid out, and the clues well salted.

Have you ever read a book only to discover you’d not only read it before but that aspects of it were new to you?  Did you enjoy it the second time?

Happy Birthday USA

Tomorrow the USA will turn 242. To help her celebrate, I thought it would be fun if we shared our memories of our favorite 4 of Julys.

As a child growing up in a small town, we celebrated big time. Parades, town-sponsored cookouts, fireworks, picnics on a strategically placed hill where we could watch the fireworks not only in our small town but from New York City and several neighboring towns. In those days the sky was painted not with the delicate bursts of pastels that swept overhead like so many mares tails, but with exuberant booms and starbursts that flew ever higher and reached for the moon. I’m not sure why, but the evening always ended with a sleepy ride home on Dad’s shoulder. Only a child could fall asleep in all that noise.

Wonderful as those childhood memories are, my very favorite 4th of July was July 4, 1976. My husband and I had moved back to New Jersey. We lived right across Hudson from New York City and we were able to see the parade of the tall ships and watch the fireworks. It was a magnificent way to celebrate the Bicentennial!

What are your memories of the 4th of July?

How do you know when you’re done?

When I was a small child my father used to look at me, shake his head, sigh, and say, “You are just like your grandmother.” I took it as a compliment. I still do. He didn’t really mean it that way. My grandmother, his mother, was born in Bavaria sometime before the turn of the twentieth century, left the home farm and worked in Munich as a bricklayer to earn enough money for a second-class passage to America. When she arrived in the United States she worked as a cook and attended school to learn English and accounting. She had plans and nothing stood in her way. Some people call that stubborn. If my grandmother began a task, she completed it. No matter what. Well, almost. She could drive a horse and buggy, or a horse and wagon, or ride a horse anywhere. Drive a car? After wrecking three, she admitted defeat and never tried again. No one was hurt, but she knew she was done.

Yes, I am definitely my grandmother’s descendant. I’ve been trying since the first of the new year to write the third book in the Catherine Swope series. It’s called Sanctuary City. It’s a great story. A thriller, Catherine’s best friend’s brother is found dead in his car in front of the pod houses in Florida City. Drugs are stuffed in the various voids in the car. Drug manufacturing paraphernalia is found in the in the abandoned pod houses. Brandon’s girlfriend’s family are illegals. The family has ties to the drug manufacturing operation. They relied on Miami’s status as a Sanctuary City to keep them safe from deportation. Now that status has been revoked.

I knew where the story was going, had my major plot points, twists, turns, action, betrayal, devastation, disaster, and triumph. The story was not working. Every morning I sat and my desk pulling words out letter by painful letter. I re-read chapters, they flowed and worked, and I did not care. In the back of my mind, a new story was perking. One that caught my interest. I kept telling myself I would pay attention to it after one more chapter of Sanctuary City. In the back of my mind, I heard my father’s voice. “You are just like your grandmother.”

That was it. The third car wrecked. I closed the Scrivener file, pulled out my notebook and started scribbling. Sanctuary City wasn’t holding my interest. It might hold a reader’s interest, but I had nothing to say. I wanted to write light, not heavy. I wanted to have fun.

Since that morning three weeks ago I’ve outlined Fantasy Fest Fatality a novel set in the Florida Keys. It’s set during Fantasy Fest with an entirely new cast of characters. The first of twelve (yep, twelve) books. The series is already lightly outlined and ready to go. I hope you’ll join me for a trip to the Fabulous Florida Keys – remember it’s always better if you see it with a native!

Readers and writers – do you tend to keep pushing things through to the end even if you’ve passed the point where you should have stopped?

A Gift from the South to the Mouth – Recipe included.

I’m writing this on Easter Sunday. One of my favorite holidays of the year. What’s not to like about a holiday that as a child meant new clothes and candy and as an adult means spring is on the way and…candy.

As a child growing up in the 1950s and 1960s my parents placed heavy emphasis on tradition. We followed Church teachings for Lent—I still make a Lenten sacrifice, it’s a part of my life. Most often I give up wine, but this year, I gave up eating between meals. My mother was a fabulous cook. Our house was the gathering place for most holidays and especially for Easter. I have a feeling the kids in the family had a lot to do with that.

My Dad had a sweet tooth. He went to Holsten’s in Bloomfield, NJ (yes, that one, where Tony Soprano may have had his last meal) and bought Easter baskets for every child coming to dinner there. Holsten’s made their own chocolate treats in those days (they may still, I’ve been gone for a long time), and they made sugar view eggs too. I had one for a good 50 years until a rambunctious puppy ate it. But, I digress.

Mom had her standards. Easter dinner at my house consisted of leg of lamb (not a fan-then or now) Jell-O mold orange with shaved carrots, broccoli casserole with Campbell’s cheddar cheese soup, (hey, I said it was the 50s and 60s) corn pudding casserole (yummy-she never had a recipe for that-it was her secret), and then for the folks who did not like lamb, a gorgeous roast beef surrounded with roasted potatoes.

Fast forward thirty years. My folks moved to Florida, the rest of the family scattered, and no one was in visiting distance. To make life simple, I took over the holiday dinner duties. Easter was my first. My parents arrived certain I was upholding family traditions, but this child had lived in the South far too long. Instead of wine I offered three kinds of iced tea – sweet, unsweet, and minted. The meat was ham (spiral cut – I was serving 20 with more drop ins-I had good friends in law enforcement and anyone on duty was welcome to drop by whenever they could for a hot meal), potatoes, sweet and white, spinach casserole, corn casserole (alas, not my mother’s), and sautéed brussels sprouts with bacon rounded out the meal. Then there was a large bowl of something that caused my mother’s eyebrows to shoot up to her hairline.

“Where,” my father asked, “is the broccoli casserole?” I explained I didn’t cook with soup. My mother walked over to the bowl of something and lifted some on the spoon. It dribbled back into the bowl (her cut glass punch bowl I might add) and she said, “What is this? It looks like marshmallow soup with oranges.” My Dad instantly perked up—he was eyeing the Easter baskets all lined up wondering if one was for him. I explained about ambrosia. The gift of the South and a joy to the mouth. My mother took a tiny fruit dish and tried some. She gave a bit to my father who instantly grabbed a cereal bowlful.

Sweet tea and ambrosia – sceptics at first, converts made.

Happy Spring!

Ambrosia:

2 cans pineapple chunks drained

4 cans mandarin oranges drained

1 cup shredded coconut

1 bag marshmallows

2 cups sour cream

1 jar maraschino cherries, chopped

Mix all together, chill, and serve!

It’s all in the details, by Kait Carson

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately with an eye to scene and setting. As a writer, that’s a hard balance to achieve, as a reader, well, badly done details can create sonic booms as the book hits the wall.

Christopher Booker, yes, the Booker of the Booker Prize, opined there were only seven basic plots and from these plots, all stories are written. I suggest the list narrows if you’re a genre writer. So, how do you set your take apart from others? Easy, and hard, it’s in the details.

Keys waterI write two series, one set in the Florida Keys, and the other in Miami. Tropical South Florida. Cool…but how do I differentiate my murder mysteries from any of zillion others set in Kansas or Katmandu, or even from each other? Details! All murder mysteries have a villain, a victim, and a sleuth. Mine operate in steamy subtropical of Florida. I have to bring the reader into the setting, but not beat them over the head with the heat!

I like to do it by making setting a character on its own. The Florida Keys, known for reefs Hurricane Dennisand wrecks, conch, and tropical fish. Days of endless sun and unforgiving storms, Hemmingway, fishing and Jimmy Buffet. Miami, once known for cocaine cowboys and Miami Vice, now known for Latin American investors, a burgeoning economy, drugs (some things never change), the Cuban influence, and a place where you can reinvent yourself. These elements set my stories apart from other mysteries and from each other. The question and the problem become how to convey each setting naturally.

The writer doesn’t want to start every scene with a weather report, or a restatement of the obvious, so how to texture a story to bring the reader into the setting and scene without stating the obvious? Detail! Hayden may finish off a meal with Key Lime Pie, orkey lime pie order yellowtail snapper for her main course. She dives for Florida lobster, a/k/a crawfish, and she complains about the tourists and shares her view of how to spot them (shorts and socks with sandals in the middle of a Keys winter). The diamond reflection of the sun on the water tells the reader that Hayden is in a dive boat. The wrecks and the reefs add authenticity to her story.

Azucar cafeCatherine is in a more difficult situation. Miami has become a metropolitan city. It’s as close to New York as it is to the South. How then do details work in her story? She orders café con leche, or a cafecito from a storefront window. Her dinner of choice might include ropa veija and her friends are an international mix of Cuban, American, and Haitian. Like all Floridians, Catherine complains about the traffic and the drivers. Her city is a mix of extremely wealthy and poor. Very little middle class. She pays tribute to the farms in the Redlands and the homes on Star Island. Catherine is cosmopolitan, with a little bit of country.

In writing, and in life, it’s all in the details.LIfeguard station

Readers what are your favorite details and how do they set the scene?

Writers, how do you infuse details into your stories?

Keys Water by stingrea1; Key Lime Pie by rj_sinder; Hurricane Dennis by 12019; Lifeguard station by Zopalic courtesy of Pixabay

Cafe Azucar by Infrogmation of New Orleans courtesy of Creative Commons