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!

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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

 

Finding the Time to Write

Good morning, Mysteristas readers! It’s 4:16 AM on a comfortable Southwest Florida Tuesday and I’m just now able to sit and write my blog. The one I’ll be posting and hopefully, you’ll be reading today.coffee

As a writer, the most important tool in the toolbox is not pen, paper, computer, or even the dictionary. The most important tool—coffee. Some writers may scoff at that, but dig deep enough and you’ll find they don’t perk the words without tea or chocolate. In fact, one of our standard interview questions here at Mysteristas is to ask what kind a chocolate a writer’s book would be. Not that we’re obsessed.cake-pops-693645__340

Why is this blog so late in the writing? Life. Unless you have the luxury to be a full-time writer you fit your writing day around your day job day. Then there’s family, friends, chores, emergencies, interruptions. It’s easy to get distracted, and sometimes, there is no alternative. Is there a solution? Yes. Maybe. Yes. A lot depends on how you see your writing. For me, it’s a second full-time job. For others, a hobby. Either way, finding the time is hard no matter your best intentions. Here, let me show you.

Monday to Friday my alarm sounds at 2:45 AM. That starts my writing day. I wish I could say I spring from bed filled with ideas, but I’d be lying. I do spend five minutes contemplating the ceiling and planning my morning so I have focus. And sometimes I fall back to sleep until my day job alarm goes off. Hate those days. When that happens, I plan to make it up on the weekend. Hah! Tempt fate why don’t you.

When I do spring out of bed, I boot up the computer, get that first vital cup of coffee, check in on Facebook, mediate, and then start writing. Depending on where I am and what I’m working on, it’s 1,000 words or some plot outline before the day job alarm goes off. I promise myself, I’ll be back at my desk after dinner. Rarely happens. Weekends are devoted to marketing, detailed editing, catching up with friends on e-mail, and spending the lion share of time with family and local friends. Ah, the ideal day/week.

Now for the reality check. Real life does not like plans. In fact, it laughs at them. Last Sunday my computer decided to go on the fritz. My tech skills are limited—log off/log on. When the computer did not miraculously reboot in usable form, I left the heavy computer lifting to hubs and resigned myself to no morning writing time. Mixed emotions, but was nice to sleep in guilt free!

TEagle Eyeshe computer was fixed by Saturday morning. Just in time for an emergency with one of our birds. The nearest avian vet with Saturday hours – a two-hour drive away. By the time we got home, creativity was gone and I needed a nap. The rest of the weekend followed suit, and Super Bowl Sunday meant I didn’t even set the writing alarm Monday morning. Last night after the day job ended, it was travel two hours to pick up the bird so—here I am at 5 AM finishing today’s blog!

Is there a secret to finding the time to write? No. Yes. Maybe. It’s all about scheduling, and then hoping for the best, but being flexible to deal with the worst. Come to think of it, the same is true of the day job. You show up every day, but somedays, life gets in the way. Writers will write, it’s what we do.

Writers, how do you find the time to write and handle life emergencies and interruptions?

Readers, doesn’t this sound familiar, writers do not have a corner on this market!

Chocolate and coffee pictures courtesy of Pixabay

A Muse ing – one writer’s style

Happy New Year! May all your dreams come true in 2018 and beyond.

2018 is just beginning. It’s a fresh slate, as unmarked as the driven snow that greeted soOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA many in the early days of the year. To be honest, my first inclination was to go with the flow and talk about resolutions. Except there’s a catch – this year, I’m not making resolutions. Instead, I’m making goals. There have been lots of blog articles about goals v resolutions that favor goals. Resolutions are doomed to failure because they are an all or nothing proposition. Goals, on the other hand, are sequential victories. We chop goals into manageable bits. That way, if you miss a goal milestone, no worries, all it means is you review and rephrase the goal. Voila – positive reinforcement and chances of success are increased.

Since discussing the baby steps of goals is yawn-inducing, I thought instead, I’d talk about the writing process and my muses. Well, one muse.My usual muse

Writing is hard work. There are days when the blank page is your enemy. If the enemy of the blank page goes on too long, it’s called writer’s block. Overcoming it is like trying to lose those last five pounds (or the first five pounds, let’s be honest here). Some writers deny writer’s block, and I fall almost into that camp. After all, writing is my job. It’s not a hobby. I’m also a paralegal and I’d hate to hear what my boss would tell me if I called him and said I had legal block. Still, there are days. Days when the ideas chase themselves like squirrels through my brain but won’t gel into anything remotely resembling a story—or the story I’m telling. That’s when a personal muse is a godsend.

I call him Hutch. He even answers. Rare in a cat, but then, he’s a muse so that gives him special powers. Hutch came to me in 2004. My vet rescued him and two littermates from a Miami, Florida sewer just ahead of a tropical storm. The kittens’ eyes weren’t open, but Hutch had a meow loud enough to attract the attention of the workers whose job it was to clear debris from the drains in advance of the weather. By the time I got him he was three months old and ready for a new home. He was also notably silent. Unless he wanted something. Then he mewed sounds that mimicked words. He still does.

my muse todayHutch’s ability to chat makes him invaluable as a muse. He listens intently to my plot points, story ideas, red herrings, and even settings. When I get stuck, I run plot plans past him. Should Catherine approach the investigating officer? Would she do that? What now? The cat listens to each twist and turn. When he vocalizes, I pay attention. That’s when we play the game of three. I give him three scenarios, he mews at his favorite. It never fails. Even if I mix up the scenes, he mews at the same story. It took me a while to trust him, but over time, it’s become clear that the plots he doesn’t select are dead ends. When I don’t follow his lead, well, the muse goes silent. His disgust evident in his body language.

To thank my muse, in addition to keeping him well-fed and healthy, I’ve incorporated him in my books. Readers of the Hayden Kent series will recognize Hutch as Tiger Cat, and as Paddy Whack in the Catherine Swope series.

Readers, can you detect a difference in a fictional pet and a based in fact pet?

Writers, do you have a muse and does it show up in your books?

If you’d like to read more about my real and story world, join me on Facebook. Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter – click the sign up button on the left-hand side under my picture.

So Long – for now

 

Northern Lights
Photo provided by Pixabay

It’s hard to believe that this year is winding down. 2017 has been…different. A year of trials and year of, well, it’s hard to explain.

Professionally, I went into this year with high hopes and a sale to Woman’s World Magazine. This turned out to be the first year in four that I haven’t had a new book out and currently have no books under contract. I’m giving serious consideration to going indie or pursuing an agent. Can’t decide. Then again, maybe both! Hum…. Should I make this a poll question? Now there’s a thought. You are welcome to leave a suggestion in the comments.

The no book thing was a conscious choice. I decided I needed to devote myself to learning the marketing end of the writing business. Instead of writing, I took classes, webinars, read umpteen books, and talked to zillions of other writers who have a better handle on marketing than I do. I am growing by baby steps and I hope the process will bear fruit. We’ll see. This is the part where I ask for reviews. If you have read one of my books, I’d love it if you would leave an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. There are studies that reviews do influence not only new readers but author rankings. Not a bad thing. So, I’m asking if you would take a minute and leave an honest review.

Politics – this year has been so weird does not begin to describe it so I’m not gonna go there – besides, anyone with a Facebook page has already been there and this year, really, politics is a mystery to me.

Personally – it was the year of Hurricane Irma Have you ever evacuated six hundred miles by car with five cats and eleven small birds? It’s an adventure. We went to Destin. The people we met there, and in Ocala on our way back were fantastic. They made the trip worthwhile. We’re planning to go back—without the pressure 😊.

Our house and the surrounding area still look much the same today as they did on September 11th. I’m not complaining though. Our hurricane experience was mild compared to those who suffered under Harvey’s flood waters and Maria’s devastation. At the end of the day, we still had four walls, a dry floor, and a roof, a bit drippy, but a roof none the less. It will all get fixed and there was no loss of life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAResolutions for 2018 – CELEBRATE like there’s no tomorrow – one thing 2017 taught me, there might not be a tomorrow, so enjoy today. Then I think I’m going to take a page from a Wiccan friend and smug the house with sage. Give it a rebirth. I’m looking forward to making marketing a part of my writing life. Really excited about it, and I’ve got a great new idea for a new book in the Catherine Swope series, a standalone featuring the Florida Keys, and maybe a visit with Hayden Kent.

At my house, we celebrate Christmas. I’m wishing our readers the happiest of theirChristmas 2006-03 holiday traditions, Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanza, Boxing Day, St. Stephens Day, or one I might have missed!

Please share your year with us in the comments.

Let’s catch up in 2018.

You can find me at:    www.kaitcarson.com

Facebook.com/kaitcarsonauthor

@kaitcarson

www.pinterest.com/carson2248

If you would like to receive my newsletter – e-mail me at kait.carson@gmail.com and I’ll subscribe you—of course you can unsubscribe at any time.  The first issue is planned for February.

It’s Family Month. I’m Thankful for my Writers’ Families

Rumor has it that writing is lonely work. Much of our time is spent sitting in our rooms pounding our keyboards with our hair on fire trying to meet our deadlines with phones off and doors locked.

So, who peeled back the cover on writing life. Do readers need to see how the sausage is made? Just kidding. In fact, writers spend time on social media, Google (we call it research), attending signings, marketing and involved in all sorts of outside events. We call that visiting family.

In truth, writing is all about family. Our first one gives us a safe to learn our craft. Mine was Guppies, an Internet chapter of Sisters in Crime that was geared toward unpublished writers. That’s where I found tremendous support and encouragement. It was a place to ask questions, and eventually find a critique group. A nurturing group that encouraged and gave loving criticism all the while teasing the best possible story from my words. I eventually became president of the group and I’m still a member.

Some writers are lucky enough to have a local writers’ groups or local Sisters in Crime chapters available to them. I wasn’t. I lived in the Crown of Maine and my closest chapter was in Portland. A twelve-hour drive away. No matter. The Internet closed the gap. Guppies helped me birth and self-publish Zoned for Murder my first book, and Murder in the Multiples.  It also gave me the courage to seek out Henery Press and submit to them. I was thrilled to get a contract from Henery and to publish Death by Blue Water and Death by Sunken Treasure with them. Henery calls itself the Hen House it is not a group of women writers, but it is a family atmosphere. A wonderful place to begin a writing career as a traditionally published writer.

When I moved back to Florida, I finally had a local chapter of Sisters in Crime. This face to face contact put me in touch with local book signings, and literary events. For the first time I was able to get out and meet with readers on a regular basis. I was surprised during question and answer at the number of readers who mentioned that they had met me through another family. My Mysteristas blog family. Blogging, because of the frequency of the contact, is a unique fulcrum between a writer’s two most important families. The writing family and the reading family.

Ultimately, a writers’ family are their readers. Readers are the reason we tell our stories. Writing is entertainment. It’s about giving pleasure and joy. There is no greater compliment to a writer than to be invited into someone’s home in the form of a book.

Happy Thanksgiving coming up. This year I’m thankful for all my families. What are you thankful for?

Villains – one of my favorite things to write.

Type the word villain into Google and here is what you see: villain: noun: (in a film, novel, or play) a character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot. The definition sent chills up my spine. Google gets it! Love it when life works with me—don’t you? The only thing that would make it better is a gif of Snidely Whiplash twirling his mustaches. Cue the eyeroll and the cheesy music.

I’m a pantser (and I’m trying to fix that because it makes my life hard). When I start a novel, I know two things. My point of view character—I write a series—and the circumstances of a death. In the current WIP I have a dead man found without a mark on him in a car in an isolated area of rural Miami-Dade County. He’s in front of a group of houses that look like futuristic pods abandoned for years and due to be demolished. Last known use of the houses, any illegal activity you can think of, including meth lab and waiting room for air drop of certain illegal substances from foreign countries.

There’s the setup. I have an idea of a cast of characters that accompany this scenario too. Right now, I know five pivotal characters in addition to my protagonist, her boyfriend, and her best friend (who happens to be the sister of the dead man). Any one of them could be the villain. “What,” you say. “Even the protagonist?” Sure. The villain doesn’t have to be the killer. The villain needs only have a dark enough side to incite the death.

Everyone has a villainous side. No one is immune. The fun part of writing characters is digging until you find it. Peeling away those protective layers of civilization until the primitive core of each character is exposed then covering up the hideous bubbling cauldron of emotion before it escapes is a writer’s job. The character’s secret may be safe with the writer, or not depending on the particular circumstances of the crime.

Writers are watchers. The raised voice, the change in pitch during a discussion between friends or family members, the body language that accompanies the words, the way a driver reacts when another pulls in front of him, all of these are noted and used. Mini-studies in human nature and individual tipping points. Villainy on a small (and sometimes large) scale demonstrated on a daily basis. All of those get woven into the fabric of characters until they become complete human beings on the page.

It’s important to me that my villains are participating characters in the story– not Jack in the Box jump ups at the end of the novel. I want my readers to have a relationship with them throughout the book. Now that I have a handful of well-rounded named characters, the fun begins. I outline a series of traits (usually three or four) and give each character motive, means, and opportunity. Each character gets their own mini crime story and their own alibi. No character gets an ending. That comes later. It’s fun to watch them point fingers at each other or disavow any knowledge of the crime. All the red herrings in a row. This is where my villains are apt to get cut if they can’t support the story. No saints allowed. Viable suspects only.

If I’m feeling particularly wronged by someone, I’ll write in a special character. Like the idiot whose sense of entitlement led him to cut me off on a narrow two-lane bridge over a canal because he was too important to wait for the light and nearly drove me off the road into the water below—not that I’m still upset about it. Which means, I get to give some of my villainous emotions to a character or two! Very cathartic.

Be careful what you do—you might end up in my book!

Writers – do you enjoy writing villains?

Readers – do you enjoy reading the villains or the good guys and do you want the villains to be characters throughout the book or just guests with cameos?