Off to Malice Domestic and the Festival of Mystery

In a few days, I’ll be heading to Malice Domestic, a mystery fan conference in Bethesda, Md. Last year was my first conference and I was blown away by the organization of it, the fabulous panels, and the community of writers and readers.

This year, SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS is up for the Agatha Award for the Best First Novel of 2012, so I will be attending the awards banquet on Saturday night. Of course, I’m extremely honored to be included on the list of nominations and I’m humbled by the group of writers that are also on that list.

After Malice Domestic on Sunday, I’ll be driving a group of writers up to the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, Pa., which takes place on Monday, May 6.

If you are attending Malice, I hope to see you there. Here’s my schedule of events —but I will be attending as many panels as possible.  By all means, if you spot me at a panel in the audience, or in the hallway, or at the bar, introduce yourself. I love chatting with readers!

 

Friday

Malice Go Round at 10

Opening Ceremonies at 5

Reception at 9

 

Saturday

Panel at 2 “New Kids on the Block: Our Agatha Best First Novel Nominees”

Book signing 5:00 in the atrium

Awards banquet: 7:00

 

Monday: The Mystery Lover’s Festival, Oakmont, Pa.

The Men of Cumberland Creek: A Brush-Up

This blog post is a reposting from the launch of my first book SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS. As I am launching my second one, SCRAPPED, I’ve been reposting to remind you about my characters before we go into the next book. Soon I’ll introduce you to Cookie Crandall, my newest character.

Okay, so I’ve gotten you up to speed on all of my main characters and some of the secondary characters—all women. But not any of the male characters.  So, I thought I’d introduce them to you.  Yes, SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS is a mystery novel, but it’s a traditional mystery, which (among other things) means the characters and their relationships are important to the story.

Mike Chamovitz (Annie’s husband) is a pharmaceutical sales rep and is away from home for a few days at a time. Have you been following my Pinterest account? (Here’s link to that.) If you are, then you know that I imagine him as a Johnny Depp look alike. At first glance, Mike and Annie have a wonderful relationship. He is a much more patient and settled person than Annie is, though.

Here is a bit from the book about them:

“Annie’s memories of their time together before the children helped her to cling to the hope they would get there again someday. They met at a book fair—and their conversations were often about literature, politics, philosophy. Mike’s mind was a beacon that lit a fire in her. She always found something he said sparked the desire in her to learn more. Do more. Be more.”

Bill Ledford (Vera’s husband) is a lawyer and I imagine him as David Duchovny, but balding. Bill is smack in the middle of mid-life and thinks he has it all figured out. Turns out, he doesn’t. (In facts, she still thinks a lot about her old boyfriend Tony.) Here’s a little about Bill and Vera:

“For all intents and purposes, Vera thought, Bill was the perfect husband—always kind and polite, cleaned up after himself, and he was an attentive lover, for which she had always been grateful. But lately, she just didn’t want to be bothered. Sex was more trouble than it was worth—so more often than not, she told him no, she was tired, or not feeling well. And he would never question her. But sometimes the thought of making love with him absolutely just filled her with dread.”

Detective Adam Bryant is the only detective in the small town of Cumberland Creek, yet he is Harvard-educated, and smart as a whip. The trouble with Adam is he is socially inept and comes across as sexist on several occasions. He is in  good shape and a very attractive man, even if he has a bit of a swagger. (In truth, maybe that swagger is part of his appeal.)  Check out Pinterest to see who I’d cast as Adam. Heh.

Here’s the scene in which many of the scrapbookers first meet Adam:

“Greetings exchanged, the detective walked into the room filled with pretty scrapbooking doodads, paper, and food. He was a large man, tall, about six feet, five inches in height and broad at the shoulders, narrow at the hips. He was manly-looking enough to look out of place in this group of women, who were all sitting there gaping—a decent looking, clean-shaven man in a blue suit with eyes to match. Shoes polished to a shine. Spiffy. Maybe an ex- military man? Hadn’t Vera seen him at the funeral?

“I’m Detective Bryant,” he said flashing his badge. “I just have a few questions for you. Now what’s going on here?” He gestured at the table.

Vera cleared her throat. “Dinner,” she said, with a smile. “Would you like some?”

All three of those men play important roles in all three of my books—even though they are secondary characters. The focus is on the women. But it the first book SCRAPBOOK SECRETS, there is another man that’s key in the story—Robert Dasher, Maggie Rae’s grieving husband. Here’s a bit of Annie’s observing him:

“Robert was a devastatingly handsome young man. He looked like he stepped right off the pages of GQ. His clothes hung on him just like a model’s, clung in the right places, showed off his thin, but muscular physique, Those blue eyes, though, held very little emotion. Annie could not read anything in them—even in the wedding pictures. He was smiling, but his eyes looked the same as when he wasn’t smiling. Odd.”

Just a note here: We see Robert Dasher from afar in SCRAPPED and HYBRID (Book #3).

 

Cumberland Creek: A Brush-Up

At the end of the month the second book in my Cumberland Creek Mystery Series will be published. SCRAPPED takes place a full year after SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS. I think a lot of series are spaced closer together and maybe the others in my series will be. But in the mean time, I went back and looked at some of my old posts where I introduced you to my characters and thought it would be fun for you to revisit before the next book comes out. And who knows…maybe some new reader will happen on this post and decide to pick up both books.  Next post: The men of Cumberland Creek.  Stay tuned for more on Cookie Crandall, my new character.

Intro to my characters

My Cumberland Creek Mystery series revolves around a group of women in a small but growing Southern town. They get together to scrapbook, eat, and as it happens, to solve murders.

The story is told from three main characters points of view. They are surrounded by a secondary group of women and men. There’s also a third tier of characters I like to call my “walk-ons.” I thought I’d introduce you to the main three characters and next week I’ll tell you more about the secondary characters. The third group of characters shifts from book to book.

Annie

Annie Chamovitz is 36-years-old and has “retired” from the rough and tumble world of Washington, D.C., investigative journalism. She and her husband Mike moved to Cumberland Creek from Bethesda, Md., a posh suburbanish city.  Her family is the only Jewish family in town.  When the book opens, she is a stay-at-home mom to Sam and Ben.  After being in Cumberland Creek about a year, she is finally invited to a weekly scrapbooking crop. She goes to the scrapbook gathering—reluctantly. Visions of frilly stickers and glitter paper dissuade her. Soon, she is part of the group, finding she loves the “puzzle” aspect to scrapbooking.  Soon enough, she also gets sucked back into freelance journalism.

A narrative bit about Annie:

The first time Annie was asked the most popular question new residents were asked, which was “What church do you attend?” she grimaced. She felt violated. She was used to moving in an urban community in which such questions were not asked.

My favorite quote from Annie:

“I don’t need my husband’s permission, Detective, just his support. This is the twenty-first century,” she said.

Vera

Vera Matthews has just turned forty. She is the owner of the only dancing school in town. She has never quite resolved her longing for the stage. So, among other things, she delights in changing hair color and make-up palettes. She is married to her college sweetheart, Bill Ledford. She grew up in Cumberland Creek, went to college in New York City, and danced professionally for a brief period of time. Because she’s childless, she makes scrapbooks for her students and herself.

A narrative bit about Vera:

It wasn’t as if she kept secrets from her dearest friends. Some things were too private to talk about at a crop. After all, crops were primarily for scrapbooking. Oh yes, there was the social aspect that one couldn’t deny. But nothing deep or heavy should be broached.

My favorite quote from Vera:

“I may be a bitch, but I work too hard for my money to go and have some pop psychologist to charge me to tell me about the psychological aspect to a hobby. For godsakes. Some people just sap all the fun out of everything,” Vera said, taking a bite of the cake.

Beatrice Matthews

Beatrice Matthews is Vera’s eighty-year-old mother and is not a scrapbooker. She is a quantum physicist and has conversations with her dead husband, who appears in ghost form throughout the book—but only to her. She grew up on Jenkins Mountain, one of the many mountains surrounding the town of Cumberland Creek. At the beginning of the book, Bea is stabbed.

A narrative bit about Bea: Now this knife in the neck business concerned her. Who would do such a thing? And what would have happened if it had not been lodged just exactly where it was? She could have died—or worse, been paralyzed, at the mercy of the likes of Vera and Sheila, two mid-life fools if ever there were.

My favorite Beatrice quote: “Your Daddy bought it for me and taught me how to use it. I feel safe with it here next to me in my nightstand. So over my dead body will I get rid of it.  In fact, you can bury me with my gun in one hand and Leaves of Grass  in the other,” Beatrice said.

 The Second Tier of Characters

Three other regular croppers meet every Saturday night—DeeAnn. Paige, and Sheila, who is the scrapbook consultant in the group.

Since my last post was a bit long, I thought I’d keep it short this time and tell you a bit about DeeAnn.

DeeAnn has been in Cumberland Creek for twenty-five years—and she’s still considered a newbie. She married a local man—her college sweetheart—who is the high school principal. She’s got two daughters, both in college. Fair skinned and freckled, she’s a large, muscular woman—with a baker’s arms and heart. There’s nothing she likes better than feeding people. She brings the most delicious snacks to crops. Her bakery is the only one in town. There are others on the outskirts of Cumberland Creek. As a baker, her focus has always been on bread, cake, and cookies. (Pamela’s Pie Palace has the pie market cornered.) In the first book, DeeAnn hires an intern who has a way with muffins.

A quote from DeeAnn:

“Classical tonight ladies?” Sheila asked.

“Hell no,” DeeAnn said, getting up to head for her bag, pulling out a CD.  “Let’s hear some Stones.”

Paige

Paige Swanson grew up just outside of Cumberland Creek proper—sort of between Jenkins Mountain and the town. She grew up in the modern Mennonite church, which means that to look at her, you’d never know she was a Mennonite. In fact, you might think “aging hippy” when you first see Paige, even though that is not what she is at all.  She is fond of tie-dye shirts and dangly earrings.  In fact, when Annie first meets Paige she thinks her name doesn’t suit her at all. “She looks more like a Willow or Moonbeam.”

Paige is the high school history teacher. She’s the mother of one son—Randy, who is a chef living in Washington, DC, with his partner. She has not spoken to him in years. This issue is a dark cloud hanging over her that bursts from time to time.  His homosexuality goes against everything she believes in—or so she thinks.

Like all Cumberland Creek Croppers, Paige is a pretty good cook, but she loves to make cakes and cupcakes. Her specialty is red velvet.

Sheila

Sheila is one of the most interesting characters in the book—she is the scrapbook consultant who refuses to allow her children into basement, where she holds her weekly scrapbooking crops. She is also an avid runner, rarely missing a day.

Sheila and Vera grew up together—their mothers were best friends. Sheila’s mom passed away years ago from breast cancer—and so this is an issue that is near and dear to Sheila’s heart. She runs in a lot of breast cancer awareness marathons and so on.

Sheila’s scrapbook room, house, and scrapbooks are immaculate—but Sheila herself rarely is. She wears wrinkled mismatched clothes at times and hardly bothers brushing her hair—or wearing lipstick.

She and Beatrice pick on each other incessantly—but underneath, Beatrice and Sheila care for one another. One of the ways Sheila endears herself to Bea is by making sure she’s well-stocked in pie.

 

Five things I thought about during my morning run:

1.Louise Penny. Okay maybe I’ve gone overboard with her–I’m now reading another book by her. It’s the fourth one I’ve read. For the life of me, I can’t leave this series or pick up another book.
2. I haven’t read them in order but they are easy to follow in any case. But I’m glad I’m reading Bury Your Dead, after The Brutal Telling, which IS the order. I’m not going to say why.
3. Here’s the thing: I read about her series in the New York Times–the latest book was chosen as one of the best “cozies” or “traditional” mysteries of the year. (I haven’t read that one yet.) But it’s interesting because I think these books are really blurring some line between the traditional mystery and a more “literary” novel.
4. And she uses the “F” word. Not much. But it’s there and cozies don’t usually have that word in it. It doesn’t bother me–it’s not gratuitous. It fits.
5. So this books seems to be more set in Quebec, which is interesting and finds me longing to visit Quebec. Yet, I really love the parts where she goes back to Three Pines. Heck, there’s a part of me that wants to live there.

Blending Genre

This is  the third stop on the Mystery Writer Blog Tours Ink.

This article is the third entry in a rolling blog tour on the topic of genre blending.  For the previous tour, please see Ryder Islington’s post on plotting. The details on all the participants in today’s tour are at the bottom of this post, as well as a link to the next article in the series. The next blog tour will be Wednesday and our subject will be our favorite reference books. It will start with Nancy Lauzon http://chickdickmysteries.com

Today’s subject: Genre Blending

The series I’m working on right now is squarely in the “cozy” mystery genre. For those of you who are not sure what that means, it’s usually defined as a  mystery  in which there is no graphic violence and sex. Many “traditional” mysteries fit that criteria, as well.

With SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS, plenty of sex goes on, but it happens off-camera. The reader doesn’t see it or any of the gory details of the unexpected death, either. And there really isn’t enough of that sex to qualify it as a romantic mystery. And the romance strains in the book are sort of, um, un-romantic.  But this first book in my series has definite paranormal elements. But does that make it a paranormal mystery?

No. Because it isn’t a driving thread to the story. What moves it forward is the mystery. Unsexed up. With no graphic violence. So it’s a cozy. (A word I really don’t like, but there you have it.)

I hope the example of what my book is and what is not helps clarify the mysterious thing that is genre. It’s very often about balance—which thread is the most important thread  in the book?

So if you are blending genre, both genre elements should be of equal importance. Let’s take romantic suspense, a very popular genre of it’s own, now. But, it’s a blending of romance and suspense or mystery. The couple is in a situation because of the suspense. The suspense is ratcheted up because of this romance. Or vice versa. You can’t pull it apart because one element hinges on the other.

As far as I’m concerned, genre blending makes a good story even better, more complicated and layered.

Where it gets complicated for writers, first-time novelists in particular, is defining which thread is the most important so that we can represent our manuscripts to an agent, publisher, and ultimately reader, in the most accurate way possible. It’s difficult for us to see our  own work clearly sometimes. But if you take the time to study your genre, read a lot of books in that genre,  it will help.

What genre are you writing in? What do you like to read?

Check out what some of the other writers on the blog tour say about genre blending.

The next entry in today’s tour is by John Hines I encourage you to complete the tour, and jump in there and comment.

Thanks!

Below is a list of the participants in today’s roll. We’d love it if you could stop by each of them and read more about genre blending.