Reflections

IMG_0080It’s been a crazy year.

My husband and I welcomed our baby girl into the world, took our first family vacation to Portland, Oregon, and had solar panels installed. I received encouraging rejection letters from editors on my first cozy manuscript, started working on a brand new cozy mystery, and somewhere in there managed to read 46 books.

Here are a few things I’ve learned this year:

  • How to swaddle a baby and, consequently, how to wrap a very tight burrito.
  • How to operate on sub-six hours of sleep.
  • How to get words on my manuscript in less-than-ideal conditions and at the drop of a hat (or a nap, as it were).
  • The awesome kindness of family, friends, and even strangers.
  • How to carry a car seat, grocery bag, diaper bag, purse, baby toys, and, oh yeah, a baby! all at the same time.
  • There’s no such thing as too many cat GIFs.
  • That I can make progress on my story at the changing table, on walks, in the middle of the night, and many other odd times; such is the magic of the imagination.
  • The intoxicating smell of a baby. Seriously, I wish I could bottle it!
  • To go with the flow, a hard lesson for this uber-planner.
  • That I can’t do everything **

Reflecting on all of these things makes me excited to see what’s in store for 2018!

What have you learned this year? What do you hope to learn next year?

** This is the reason I’m sad to say that this is my last post on Mysteristas…at least for now. I’ve loved blogging with these brilliant and strong ladies, and connecting with all of you Mysteristas! Here’s to a wonderful 2018!

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A Study in Recipes

***3 no 7, you are the winner of the Andrea Kane giveaway! Please email mysteristas@gmail.com to claim your book!***

A recipe is never just a recipe. There’s usually a story behind it, probably because food plays such an integral role in society, especially with families.

I grew up baking sugar cookies my grandma, cooking green chili with my dad, and fostering a love of experimenting in the kitchen.

Now that I have a daughter, I want to pass on my passion for cooking—or at the very least eating—with her.

And it’s super exciting! My baby girl is at the stage where she gets to start trying what we are eating! That means at Thanksgiving, she can taste mashed potatoes, turkey, and gravy. She’ll probably frown and give us her best gag-face because that’s how she handles new flavors and textures, but still, it will be amazing to witness.

In parting, I thought I would share one specific story and recipe that is important to me called Second Date Cookies.

When I was in high school, my mom gave me the advice to bake cookies for the boy I liked. Now, as an adolescent trying to survive high school, I found this an embarrassing and decidedly uncool endeavor that I would NEVER do. Fast-forward a few years to when I met my husband. I was smitten from our first date. So much so that, lo-and-behold, for our second date, I heeded my mom’s advice.

That’s right, I made cookies for him. Oatmeal with chocolate and butterscotch chips. Of course, I played it off like I just happened to have baked them the night before and thought he might enjoy them (pretty sure he saw right through that; he’s a smart guy). I guess the cookies worked, because we’ve been happily married eight years ❤

What recipes do you make that have stories behind them?

Second Date Cookies, loosely based on the Quaker Oat’s Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (but no raisins because raisins are 1. gross and 2. pretty much the worst form a grape can take):

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 and 1/2 cup flower (note, at altitude you’ll want to add a little extra)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg
  • 3 cups Quaker Oats (I prefer old fashioned)
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet morsels)
  • 3/4 cup butterscotch chips

Bake in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes (usually a few minutes longer if you’re at altitude) until the tops are golden brown. Share with a loved one and enjoy!

Changes in Villainy

In January, my husband and I welcomed our baby girl into the world. Since then, our lives have been turned upside-down, inside-out, and tugged in pretty much every other direction imaginable. One effect of this is that I’ve become much more sensitive.

I get teary during diaper commercials, forlorn watching the news, and sickened by violence toward children.

For example, I read Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes when it first came out three years ago. Without giving too much away, there is something that happens in the opening chapter. Something I completely forgot about. Watching the (utterly fantastic) tv adaptation, I was shocked by this event. How could I have spaced such an atrocity?!

It’s not that I was callous or didn’t care, it’s that my perception of villainy has been drastically altered with the birth of my daughter.

I have different worries (and wayyyyy more of them!) and different fears than I used to have.

This is true on a macro scale as well.

There’s a reason books like 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale have recently returned to the bestseller list. Because the villainy in those stories reflects what’s happening in the world today.

This is something I’m keeping in mind as I plod along in my current WIP, which showcases a new villain. A villain who’s craftier, harder to nab, and more cold-hearted than any I’ve written before.

But one thing is for certain: no pets or children will be injured in my manuscript. It’s a good thing I write cozies!

Readers, have your perceptions of villains changed over time? Writers, do you write different villains as you go through different life stages?

Cut the Fluff

“I try to leave out the parts readers skip.” ~Elmore Leonard

parisTransitional phrases like late that night come in super handy to heed Mr. Leonard’s excellent advice. These show that time has passed without bogging the reader down with unnecessary fluff that doesn’t serve the plot. And, as we all know, everything must serve the plot! It’s kinda like the One Ring.

 

Here are a few instances where I’ve learned I need to leverage transitional phrases:

  • I allow myself one—*maybe* two—transportation scenes per manuscript. As a combo pantser/plotter, I tend to use bus rides, walks, etc. to explore where I want the scene to go next. Which means, once I figure out where the scene is going, I can cut out the actual transportation and just say something like, one awkward Uber ride later…
  • When I show characters coming up with a plan that they later enact, this is sometimes because I’m struggling to figure out how the hero is going to take down the baddie. Problem is, nobody wants to read both the scheming AND the actual scheme. Unless the plan falls to pieces, I usually skip to the action with a phrase like, after an afternoon spent carefully laying my trap…
  • Since I write mysteries, it’s important to have lots of chills creeping up spines, nervous twitches, and other murder-inspired reactions, but sometimes it’s not that interesting to read over and over, which is when I usually leverage something along the lines of: after another sleepless night spent twitching at every sound…
  • If I ever start feeling bored while I’m writing a scene, I know the reader is sure as hell going to be bored. That’s when I cut ahead to where the action picks up with phrases like, I think about the kiss all afternoon, or, the weekend passes without incident.

Readers, I’m curious what scenes do you tend to skip? Writers, do you have any rules of thumb like mine? Do you pure plotters struggle with the same situations?

Making a Motive

In Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot said of motives, “Most frequent—money. That is to say, gain in its various ramifications. Then there is revenge—and love, and fear, and pure hate, and beneficence.”

I think our favorite little Belgium detective is onto something…he does have the famed gray cells, after all.

Motives are a way for the murderer to seek vindication for what they see as a wrongdoing. With mysteries I’ve read—and in my own writing, no matter how creative I think I’m being—it seems that most motives boil down to one of three things:

Financial gain— a wealthy relative plans to make a new will, a surprise next-of-kin surfaces to snatch away an inheritance, or maybe—as is especially popular in cozy-verse—a competing store opens threatening to put our wily antagonist out of business.

orient_expressAffairs of the heart—Unrequited love, jealousy, betrayal. Nothing invokes more emotion than love in all its forms, whether it’s romantic, familial, or friendly.

Secrets—A secret identity about to be unveiled, a juicy tidbit overheard, a scandalous affair. I’ve found that this is usually the motive of the second murder in a mystery (if there is one), i.e., so-and-so saw something suspicious and is about to unmask the identity of the killer but then poof! they become the next victim.

What do you think mystery fans, can motives be simplified into these categories? What are your favorite motives? And who else is stoked for the new Murder on the Orient Express adaptation?!

An American Book Nerd in London

You know you’re a book nerd if you travel all the way to Great Britain and…

UKWeatherSpend so long at the Jane Austen museum in Bath that you run out of time to see the actual baths the town is famous for.

Attend a midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince at Waterstones, feeling giddy that you get to read the newest installment 7 hours before your Colorado counterparts.

Spend the first leg of your honeymoon at the Sherlock-themed hotel on Baker Street (my husband is really amazing).

Force your friends to wander around Hyde Park for hours in search of the Peter Pan statue.

Make a special trip to King’s Cross Station just to see Platform 9 and ¾.

Walk along the south bank of the Thames to see the Globe Theater where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed.

What have you done that proves you’re a book nerd at heart?

Grumpy Fries and Lazy Lies — Part 8

Goodness knows I’ve dreamed of taking a spin in Sterling’s Maserati, but not like this.

I sit shotgun, holding my head in my hands. If only I weren’t so sleep deprived from finishing my damn article, perhaps I could piece this nightmare together.

I can’t make sense of it. Sure, Grumpy was a bit of a grump, hence his namesake, but he was a part of the community. You could count on him rocking in the chair on his porch, growling at passersby. Despite his bark, I always got the impression he was lonely. We had that in common.

“Oh, Fred!” I exclaim.

“There aren’t any children present, you can say the actual f-word.”

“No, Fred, my date.” I twist in my seat and look behind me, the palm trees flying by so fast I get dizzy. “I forgot to call and cancel.”

“We have other things to worry about right now,” Sterling says, the corner of his lips twitching into a smirk.

“You’re right,” I admit with a sigh. “So where are we going?” When Sterling said he needed my help, I seized the excuse to get out of my apartment, no questions asked.

“To pay Aloysius a visit.” He cuts a look at me sideways.

My face flushes and all the coffee I’ve consumed in the last twelve hours roils in my stomach. No wonder the detective didn’t mention specifics.

“Forget it.” I’d rather face Grumpy’s murderer than my ex. “Turn this heap of metal around pronto.”

Sterling grimaces, gently patting the steering wheel. “Ignore her, baby.”

I’m about to snap at him not to call me baby when I realize he’s not talking to me. I roll my eyes.

“Come on, Persephone. I need to know if he’s been in contact with Duncan.” His clenched jaw accentuates at least one week’s worth of stubble. “Please,” he adds, the word sounding foreign on his tongue.

I face forward, crossing my arms over my chest.

Here’s the thing: Grumpy didn’t deserve to die the way he did. Will it be painful digging up my past? Of course. Am I looking for a way to procrastinate on my work? Probably. Will I let some jackass get away with breaking and entering into my apartment? Hell no.

“On one condition,” I finally say, one eyebrow raised.

“What’s that?”

I smile sweetly at him, running one finger along the leather seat.“You’re not going to like it.” He really does make an impressive figure in his Maserati.

#

Humidity clings to me like the glitter I’ll never be able to scrub from my apartment, ominous and unyielding.

Alo lives in a quintessential bachelor pad on the other side of the railroad tracks. Locusts hum in mulberry trees bordering the complex and the air smells smoky and sour, like milk long expired.

I squeeze Sterling’s forearm, his muscles taut beneath his shirt, as I knock on Alo’s door. There’s no way I’d visit my ex without proof that my life is better off without him.

Seconds pass as I shift from one flip flop-clad foot to the other. There’s a scuffling behind the door and then the unmistakable sound of two voices whispering.

Sterling pounds on the door, the vein in his forehead throbbing.

“Coming,” a shaky voice says before the door opens, revealing my ex in all his glory. With skinny jeans, a tight t-shirt, and a silvering goatee, he’s every inch the aging hipster.

“Hello, Al,” I say, leaning into Sterling.

“I hate it when you call me that,” he grumbles.

“I know,” I say, clicking my tongue.

“Are you two together now?” Alo nods between Sterling and me.

I peck Sterling on the cheek, my pounding heart giving credibility to our act. “And we owe it all to you.”

“Enough,” Sterling whispers as he nuzzles my hair, his breath warm on my neck.

“Don’t pretend you’re not enjoying this,” I whisper back with a wink. He just grunts.

“So what are you doing here?” Alo asks, fiddling with the bracelet around his wrist. He was always great at accessorizing.

Sterling steps over the threshold, gently tugging me along with him. Alo’s apartment appears to be empty, but there are two plates of half-eaten etouffee on the kitchen table.

“We need to talk,” I say. “About Grumpy.”

“What about him?” Alo asks, sweat beading on his upper lip.

“He passed away this morning,” Sterling says, his eyes scanning every inch of Aloysius’ apartment. “Know anything about that?”

“I haven’t been back to that neighborhood since Persephone filed the restraining order after the letter incident.”

My ex may have lied about many things—the success of his band, how much he can bench, his sexuality—but I actually believe him now.

There’s a thump in the back of the apartment. Sterling drops his arm from my shoulder and nudges me behind him. “I’ll need to see in your shoe closet.”

I shake my head. “Alo, what sort of trouble have you gotten yourself into?”