Grumpy Fries & Crazy Lies – Part 10

This case was getting weirder – and more out of hand – by the moment. Persephone and Aloysius had resumed their bickering. Elton Fries was staying clear of them. Wise move.

I had to think and think fast. Old Mr. Fries had been covered in applesauce and glitter. The Brooks Brothers loafer had been, too. No glitter or applesauce at Claudia Fries’s house, but there had been the matching pipe smoke. Claudia had accused her ex, Duncan Meadows, the man Alo had left Persephone for. Why? And who owned that green canvas slip-on?

I debated interrupting Persephone and her ex. On second thought, let them argue. I had two phone calls to make. The first was to Officer Poundacre. “I need to know the size of that green canvas shoe,” I said when she answered.

“Size seven,” she said without missing a beat. “Probably a woman’s seven. I wear an eight and it looked too small for me.”

I thanked her, hung up, and called Fred Boschman. “Freddie.”

“Have you talked to Persephone MacGillivray since you saw her earlier?” he asked. “I’m trying to get in touch with her about tonight and she’s not answering her phone. Damn, man, who’s the shrew in the background?”

Uh-oh. Fred was what one might call “touchy” about women. No need to let him know his date was only feet away from me, shrieking at her ex. “No, I haven’t. Sorry. As for the shrew, one of my witnesses is getting feisty. You run any tests on the applesauce from the Fries homicide earlier?”

“Don’t nag me, Spreadbury. I’m working as fast as I can.”

“I just need to know, in general, what kind of applesauce it is. Like do you know what kind of apples it was made of?”

“No clue. But it has a lot of cinnamon in it. I can smell it.”

I glanced at the empty cans in Everslam’s garbage. Bingo, cinnamon applesauce. I thanked Fred and hung up. Then I put my fingers to my lips and whistled, cutting through the chatter. “Listen up. I’m gonna need some things from each of you and I don’t want any arguing. You.” I pointed at Everslam. “What size shoe do you wear? And don’t even think of lying to me.”

His face turned brick-red, then sulky. “A ten-and-a-half.”

“He’s not lying, Detective,” Persephone said, shooting a scornful glance at her ex. “I picked up after him enough to know.”

I focused on Elton Fries. “What about you?”

“M-me?” his voice squeaked. “Uh…”

“Think hard, Mr. Fries.”

“Eleven,” he said, swallowing hard.

“Do you own a pair of Brooks Brothers loafers?”

“I don’t see…”

I arched an eyebrow, daring the younger Fries to continue his protest.

He didn’t take the dare and his shoulders slumped. “Yes.”

“Do you have them with you?”

“One.” He went to the back bedroom and returned with the mate to the loafer we’d found at the scene.

“What were you doing at your father’s house, Mr. Fries?” I glanced at Everslam, who continued to pout. “I understand you’ve been away for a while.”

“Yes.” Fries flopped into a kitchen chair. “You might as well know, Detective. My father and I argued years ago right before I left town. Alo and I…we met up when he was out in the Gulf for vacation. He’d just broken up with Meadows and was looking to drown his sorrows.”

Persephone started to speak, but I cut her off. “Let me guess. You helped him.”

Fries nodded. “We’ve been writing ever since. I came back so we could go to this big disco charity dance tonight. That’s why I have the shoes. I figured I’d stop and see Dad, see if we could bury the hatchet.”

“Another guess. The answer was no.”

That got him to look up. “You’re right, Detective. But not for the reason you’re probably thinking. Dad was dead when I got to the house. I swear it. I dropped my shoes when I saw him and I decided it was better to leave the one covered in glitter and applesauce behind.”

“That applesauce.” I turned to Everslam. “It’s the same kind you have in your garbage. Care to explain that?”

His ears turned red to match his face. “I’m not the only one in town who likes cinnamon applesauce.”

“No I mean it’s the exact same kind. I called my lab guy.” Okay, Fred couldn’t tell me it was a match, but I was playing a long shot.

Everslam stared at me for a long second, then gazed at the floor.

“Maybe your boyfriend here,” I jerked my thumb at Elton Fries, “came home and said he argued with his dad? Maybe you went over there to teach him a lesson? Forced a little applesauce on him, knowing he was allergic?”

Everslam sputtered.

“I want to see your shoes. Now.”

“You’d better do it Al,” Persephone said, her voice sugar-sweet. “Detective Spreadbury doesn’t like to be told no.”

Everslam muttered, but he led me to his bedroom and opened his closet. Pairs of shoes were lined up on the floor. No green canvas slip-ons. Damn. But Poundacre said they were probably a woman’s shoe.

“Thank you, Mr. Everslam. We’ll be going now,” I said.

“We are? But Ster…Detective Spreadbury,” Persephone said. “Don’t you have more questions?”

“Yes, but not for these two.” I took her arm and half-dragged her back to the Maserati. Then I made her face me. “That glitter was from clothing, Persephone. I need to see your sweatshirt.” I eyed her. “By the way. That date with Boschman? I think it’s definitely off.”

Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies – Part 4

Nobody was running from the house and the smoke was wrong for a fire. I inhaled. Pipe smoke. Deep, welcoming, with a hint of sweetness. Took me back to sitting with Grandpa Spreadbury listening to him tell tales of growing up in the mountains where he chopped wood, hauled water, and occasionally wrestled a bear.

Of course it was all BS, but hey. When I was a kid it was good stuff.

A female officer came out of the kitchen. “Is that you, Detective Spreadbury?”

Officer Patty Poundacre. Finally, someone competent. The woman was as plain as a bowl of oatmeal, but she knew her job. “In the flesh. What’ve we got, Officer?”

She fixed me with a stare worthy of my third-grade teacher. “Have you turned in that Maserati yet?”

“Uh, not yet. Eventually.” My gut squirmed. Hey, what red-blooded American male wouldn’t want to keep a car like that? Screaming down the highway, wind in my hair, arm around a woman, maybe Persephone…

“Detective, are you listening?” Poundacre snapped her fingers.

“What? Yes, sorry.” Stop fantasizing, Spreadbury. You haven’t had that shield so long they wouldn’t yank it back and you’d be back to pounding pavement on the night shift.

“Okay, here’s the deal.” Poundacre consulted her notes. “First, the right shoe.”

“The canvas one?”

“Yes. That’s a problem.”


“Because the victim doesn’t have a right leg, that’s why.”

I blinked. Okay, so two people had been at the Fries residence. “What else?”

“The left shoe. Not the victim’s.”

This was ridiculous. “How do you know? I mean, look at this place. Décor from the 70s, sure, but he might like to dress up on the weekend. He might have a lady he takes dancing.”

Poundacre’s gaze was steely. “It’s the wrong size. Shoes in the closet upstairs are a men’s 10. The Brooks Brothers loafer is an 11.”

Damn it all. “Okay, so victim lived alone. This place is neat as a pin. You think he–”

“I’m not done.” Her voice was prim. The woman was competent, but she was rubbing me the wrong way. My pants definitely did not react to Officer Poundacre. “Where’s the pipe?”


“The pipe. I’m sure you smelled the smoke. So why didn’t we find a pipe?”

What the…three people? This was out of hand. “Okay, Officer Poundacre. So you’re telling me that three people, including the victim, were in this house?”

She closed her notebook. “Yes, sir. Would seem to be that way.”

Visions of me, Persephone, and the Maserati vanished. It was going to be a long, damn night. “Where’s the victim?”

“This way.” Poundacre led me to the backyard. Freshly mown, by the scent of it. A small, concrete patio with those woven strap aluminum chairs was directly behind the house. Aluminum chairs in a hideous color of orange plaid and silver threads that were definitely disco era.

“Someone needed to bring this guy into the current century,” I muttered.

The body was on the grass. Mr. Fries was on his back, arms spread out. No right leg. A look of shock on his weathered face. More glitter and applesauce down his front.

“Okay, so our killer surprises him at lunch, shoots him, leaves him here and runs, leaving a shoe. Someone else comes in, sees the body, panics and flees, thus the second shoe.”

“Two problems with that.”

Did Poundacre have any solutions or just problems? “Such as?”

“He wasn’t shot. Or stabbed—or strangled, or bashed over the head. There are no marks on the body except an old bruise on his left arm.” She paused. “And there’s no applesauce.”

I looked around. She was right. No bowl of anything. I returned to the kitchen. No applesauce there, either. A few plates were in the sink drainer, standing like soldiers at attention. One coffee mug, a knife and fork, but no bowls and no damn applesauce.

“In fact, I’ve checked and there isn’t any applesauce in the house. In fact, it looks like Mr. Fries is allergic to apples, sir. I found a sheet of emergency medical information in his bedroom.” She paused again.

“Spit it out, Officer Poundacre. What else?”

“That glitter? On the shoe and the victim? It’s not craft glitter, like kids use, sir.” She arched an eyebrow. “It’s glitter they put on clothing. Like a sweatshirt.”

Seed to blossom

The other day, a friend of mine posted a picture of her rhododendron bush in full bloom and said, “I swear they burst into bloom overnight!”

Sometimes it’s the same with story seeds.

When I was at Malice Domestic a couple weeks ago, they put out the call for next year’s anthology, Mystery Most Geographical. The idea being that geography is an important part of the story. I was talking to my roommate about it and mentioned I’d worked in Puerto Rico and St. Croix for six months after I graduated from college. She said, “Oh, I bet there’s a story in that!”

A seed.

I continued to bat it around a bit. I did a little research. The island of Puerto Rico. A rainforest, an observation tower, two accidental deaths, superstitions, and the Puerto Rican independence movement (now mostly dead, but that’s another story).

A stalk of green pushes through the dirt.

After a little more thinking, I had a story. A plot. Even the opening paragraph.

A bloom.

And so it goes. I still have to write the rest of the story. But at least it’s underway. And it all started with a single, tiny seed.

Sowing seeds

First, I should have done this on Monday, but a HUGE congratulations to Mysterista alumna Cynthia Kuhn – Agatha winner for Best First Novel for The Semester of Our Discontent!


(I wish I’d had a camera ready to take a picture of Cynthia’s face when she won. It was priceless.)

And now, on to our regular business.

Yesterday, Becky talked about planting seeds and how those seeds can turn into a beautiful writing garden. I planted a few of my own last weekend (or I hope I did) when I went to Malice Domestic 29 in Bethesda, MD.

Despite being on crutches (don’t ask) I was determined to schmooze. The hotel had eliminated the lobby bar (really?), but I went to the hotel restaurant bar. I hung out in the hospitality suite. I went to the banquet happy hour.

I met Barb Goffman, who opened gave me my lightbulb moment regarding short fiction (“a short story is about just one thing”) and we spent at least fifteen minutes chatting in the hospitality suite. She also gave me an…explanation of my injury that – to be honest – I was too embarrassed to use most of the time.

I crashed Saturday after my panel and lunch. Much to my pleasure, I spent a good amount of time – a at least an hour – in the company of book bloggers extraordinaire Dru Ann Love (Dru’s Book Musings) and Kristopher Zgorski (BOLO Books), as well as Robin Templeton (who was all over the conference with her camera). By the way – Dru Ann just won the prestigious MWA Raven Award. Always nice to be close to the people who love books and want to spread that love.

While at the Agatha banquet happy hour, I was talking to friend Joyce Tremel and book-blogger Mark Baker when a man walked up. Nice suit, he was very pleasant. He passed around his card. When he walked off, Joyce looked a me. “That was Charlaine Harris’s agent. You should query him.”

I sat at Art Taylor’s table for the banquet. I spent a lot of time talking to him and his lovely wife Tara (Tara and I are starting our own company for people who a) aren’t really interested in climbing the corporate ladder and b) get to go home as soon as work is complete even if you’ve only worked six hours). To my left was a lovely woman, Janet. Her lanyard had a blue ribbon, so I know she worked for a conference sponsor. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s so loud in here. I didn’t catch you last name.”

It was Janet Hutchins, from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I mentioned they’d sent me my favorite rejection ever – addressed to me, signed by an editor. “That would have been me,” she said. “If I signed the email, I really liked your story.” We spent a good long time discussing short fiction and I mentioned I had a couple stories I was polishing up to send. When she left after the banquet, she said, “I’ll be looking for your story.” No guarantees of course, but yay me!

And I introduced myself to an agent who has my manuscript. She’d asked me to “pester her weekly – nicely” ages ago. I mentioned I was feeling kind of awkward about this – was she sure? “Yes, absolutely. I give you permission. And trust me, I don’t tell that to everyone. If I said that, I really want to read your stuff.”

My friend Annette Dashofy said I put myself on the map – in a good way. I hope so.

Lots of seeds. Will any of them sprout? Only time will tell.

But boy, I’m taking care of them like crazy.


A book birthday – part 2

Okay, I could get used to this.

mystery most historical coverKeenan Powell and I have a joint birthday this time – Mystery Most Historical, the twelfth anthology from the folks at Malice Domestic, is now available from Wildside Press. The link is to Wildside – I’m not sure about availability from other vendors and no ebook is listed…yet. But anyway.

So Keenan and I thought it would be nice to highlight all the authors in the collection because there are some doozies. Some of us are new, with the sparkle still shining on the edges. Others, well, just check out these names.

Without further ado, here are authors 1-14 in the anthology. Next week, Keenan will highlight the remaining fifteen.

Mindy Quigley writes the Lindsay Harding mysteries. An award-winning author, Mindy has written three books in her Rev. Harding series and, according to her website, is working on a middle-grade project.

Michael Dell – this one is interesting. As far as I can tell, Michael is either the editor-in-chief of LCS Hockey (“the world’s greatest non-updated hockey site”) or the founder and CEO of Dell Technologies. You know, the computer people (his book, Honest John Churchfield, which I found by Googling “michael dell mystery author” is listed on Bookwire with a bunch of business books). I guess I’ll find out at Malice!

Carole Nelson Douglas writes the Irene Adler series. Yes, that Irene Adler. A series of books with “the woman” as a sleuth? Sign me up! According to her website, she’s the author of 62 novels (and a lot of them feature cats on the covers, so there’s a cat in there somewhere).

Liz Milliron – yeah, no clue who this woman is. <insert grin> Anyway, Liz has a couple unpublished novels under her belt, but her short fiction has been in Blood on the Bayou, Fish Out of Water, and Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales. See? The collection has all kinds of writers!

P.A. DeVoe is an anthropologist, she writes the young adult Mei-hua Adventure triology. The third in the series, Trapped, is nominated for the 2017 Agatha for Best YA Novel. She also has a story in Fish Out of Water.

Peter W.J. Hayes – I know Peter. He’s a member of my Sisters in Crime chapter (see, we accept misters in crime, SinC isn’t all women!). Peter has had a number of short stories published in Yellow Mama, Shotgun Honey, and Out of the Gutter. He was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association “Debut Dagger,” and has won awards from Pennwriters. Like me, he’s chugging along on a novel.

Susanna Calkins has written several historical mysteries and received awards for them. The fourth, A Death Along the River Fleet was released in 2016 and was nominated for a Lefty award for Best Historical Mystery. Susanna teaches at Northwestern University.

Carla Coupe has had short stories published in Chesapeake Crimes II and Chesapeake Crimes III. She has also had Sherlock Holmes pastiches published in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.

Valerie O. Patterson has written mysteries for middle-grade readers as well as short fiction. A member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, her book The Other Side of Blue was a finalist for an Agatha Award.

Catriona McPherson – well, where do I start? Catriona writes the Dandy Gilver historical series and The Reek of Red Herrings just won the Lefty for Best Historical Mystery and is shortlisted for this year’s Agatha in the same category. Her standalone thrillers have garnered praise from multiple sources. I just finished The Day She Died and it was chilling. And she’s a hoot to talk to.

Marcia Talley is another author who has racked up a number of awards, including the Agatha and the Anthony. She writes the Hannah Ives Mystery series, and has had short fiction published in, oh, lots of places. Like Catriona, she has a past president of Sisters in Crime.

Elaine Viets is well known for her Dead End Jobs and Mystery Shopper series, but she’s written darker mysteries as well. Her website says “a mystery for every mood” and in poking around her website I believe it. Cozy, Traditional, Dark – she’s got it all.

Susan Daly has published short fiction in a number of places, including Fish Out of Water, The Whole She-bang 2, and The Whole She-bang 3. On her website, she describes herself as “A refugee from the mind-numbing, soul-destroying worlds of banking and insurance” who has found peace through killing people in fiction. Oh, that sounds very familiar.

Shawn Reilly Simmons writes the Red Carpet Catering series for Henery Press. She’s held a bunch of jobs in catering and with books. Not only is she on the board for Malice Domestic, she is a member of the Dames of Detection, and an editor/co-publisher at Level Best Books (which puts out its own outstanding anthologies).

K.B. Inglee has been writing historical fiction since, well, a while. She has published her own collections, the most recent being The Casebook of Emily Lawrence and her short fiction has appeared in Murder Most Conventional, Fish Nets, Fish Tales, and Chesapeake Crimes III.

So there you go. The first fourteen authors in Mystery Most Historical. Check back next week when Keenan profiles the other fifteen. If you’re in Bethesda, hopefully we’ll see you at Malice. Pick up the anthology and lose yourself in a good story from a different time.

Oh, and one other thing. Keenan’s story, “The Velvet Slippers,” is deliciously gothic. I know I’m thrilled to be included with this group of authors, I’d imagine she is too, and I can’t wait for you to join us!

A book birthday

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog posting to bring you this news:

Fish Out of Water, the fourth short story anthology from the Guppy chapter of Sisters in Crime, is now available!

FOOW cover

(Sorry for the giant graphic – I tried to make it smaller, but it didn’t really work.)

The anthology includes my story, “The Far End of Nowhere,” written as part of my 2016 short story challenge year. The theme of the anthology was to present a character who was out of her element – thus, a “fish out of water.” It got me thinking. What if a New York City food critic – not one of the elite, but dying to become one – takes a road trip to Chicago to cover a new restaurant opening? What if her editor challenges her to write smaller stories along the way – stories about the “hidden culinary gems” between the Big Apple and the Windy City (look at a map, readers, to get the scope of this challenge)?

What if her car mysteriously “breaks down” in a backwater West Virginia town?

What if a dead body is discovered while she’s there – and she’s blackmailed for the crime?

As you can see, I love the “what if” game. Tying in to our theme this month, there are hopefully a few laughs in the story. And if I’ve done my job right, and whet your whistle a bit, Fish Out of Water can be yours at any of the following retailers. There are twenty-odd stories in the collection – and probably some funny ones, too!

Buy Fish Out of Water at any of the following retailers:

Wildside Press:

Amazon (Kindle and paperback):

Barnes & Noble: (Nook and paperback):

(And if you buy and read the anthology, don’t forget to go back and leave a review. ‘Cuz us authors really appreciate that kind of stuff.)

Ready, set…wait

Continuing our theme of “if only I would have known” this month at Mysteristas…

On Tuesday, Kate Lansing talked about how there’s really no rush in publishing, even though we think there is. If we don’t get that book done, we can’t query; and if we don’t query, we won’t get that agent and if we don’t get on it RIGHT NOW all the agents will be gone and we’ll never get published…

<pause for deep breath>

All this put me in mind of my first book (okay, not technically my first book, but the first I felt was good enough to put out there) two years ago. I’d been working on this puppy since 2013. I’d done a critique group. I’d paid to have it professionally edited. This book was ready. I was ready. It was time to query. I was prepped for some rejection; I knew that was part of the game, but I believed in this book and it was time to jump into the pond.

I wrote a query. I sent out about 20 of them. I pitched at a conference. Radio silence. I reworked my query and sent out another 20 or so letters. A few compliments, but mostly “this just isn’t for me” or radio silence.

I admit it. I was devastated.

Devastated enough that I paused writing book 2. Maybe I wasn’t as good as people told me, as I thought. Maybe I should hang it up. But then came along 2016 and The Great Short Story Challenge (or so I have dubbed it) – and I got three acceptances. In a row. In fairly prominent anthologies. Then a fourth rolled in.

Okay, what gives?

By this time, I’d finished book 2 with the help of a new (fabulous) critique group. I was prepared to shop it as book 1 of the series and even sent out one full manuscript. I started book 3 (or book 2, depending on how you look at it), decided I just can’t write and critique at the same time, so pressed pause in the critique process to finish Draft Zero.

But book 1 was still there. I still liked it. I thought it had potential. So I started working on it again with the new critique group. And I learned something very important.

It was not The Best Book It Could Be.

If only I’d known that in 2015. I wouldn’t have pitched. I wouldn’t have burned those 50 agents. I would have taken the time to do the hard work – the work I’m doing now – to make the book better. Because although I went through a period last month where I really hated the thing, two days ago I got an idea that made me fall in love all over again.

There are so many things that make it nearly impossible I would have known that two years ago. I’m a better writer than I was back then. I’ve written more words. I have a solid group at my back, pushing me to do better (even if sometimes I feel like hanging up my keyboard when they don’t quite love my monthly submission as much as I do). It’s possible that I couldn’t have written this book back then.

But I sure wish I’d have know that two years ago.

Fellow Mysteristas – what do you wish you would have known before you took a big plunge?