Pens, Paws, and Claws (and Fins, Feathers, and Hooves)

If you’re an animal lover looking for your next favorite mystery author, read on!

Pens, Paws, and Claws is a group of mystery authors who love animals. Our furry, feathered, and finned friends are a part of our lives and the pages of our stories. The authors who post on a rotating schedule include: Heather Weidner (brainchild of the blog), Debbie De Louise, Jeanne Adams, K. B. Inglee, Judy Penz Sheluk, Sheri Levy, Teresa Inge, Kristina Stanley, Tracy Weber, and yours truly.

Pens, Paws, and Claws also features entertaining weekly guest posts from mystery authors who talk about their pets and field such questions as “How do you use animals in your writing?” “Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?” “Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?” “Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?”

Read posts from our most recent guests: Marilyn LevinsonChristine Verstraete, and Melissa Gole.

My latest post lists suggestions for readers who love mysteries with dogs. Read “The Dogs Have Their Day” here. I wrote a companion post, “Mysteries Need Cats,” earlier in the year. Of course, many love felines and canines and will want to add titles from both lists to their TBR piles.

Check out the archives for posts from the authors on our regular rotation and from our guest authors.

You just may find your next favorite mystery author—likely you’ll find several. Tell us about your favorite pet mysteries in the comments.

Connect with us!

Website: http://penspawsandclaws.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PensPawsandClaws/ (really cute video with two dogs in a hammock)

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PensPawsClaws

 

 

 

 

Through a Broken Window

by Paul D. Marks

“It is through that broken window that we see the world…” – Alice Walker

Someone asked me why I had written my novels the Shamus Award-winning White Heat and the new sequel to it Broken Windows. White Heat deals with Private Detective Duke Rogers, who finds himself in a racially combustible situation in South Central Los Angeles—on the day the “Rodney King” riots break out. It also deals with race and racism in the context of a mystery-thriller. And Broken Windows (set two years later in 1994 L.A. during the time of California’s notorious anti-illegal alien Proposition 187) does the same for the immigration issue.—That person wanted to know: Did I have experience: was I a cop or a protester?

Alice Walker said, “It is through that broken window that we see the world…” And Broken Windows holds up a prism from which we can view the events burning up today’s headlines through the lens of the recent past. It all comes down to the saying we know so well, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

While the storm rages over California’s infamous anti-illegal alien Proposition 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood sign—and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: “Will Do Anything For Money.”—Private Investigator Duke Rogers, and his very unPC partner, Jack, must figure out what ties together these seemingly unrelated incidents. Their mission catapults them through a labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church, state and business that hovers around the immigration debate. Along the way we explore the fiery immigration controversy from all sides and no one escapes unscathed.

So, to get back to the question: No, I wasn’t a cop or a protester. But I did live in LA at the time of both the King riots and Proposition 187, and I remember the turmoil, the rallies, the rage on both sides. And I wanted to write about those situations, but not in a didactic way. So my way is to have a thriller story set amongst those backgrounds. For example, while I think the story in Broken Windows steamrolls along like a good thriller, one of the things I find especially interesting about it is how in the context of the Prop 187 debate and era we can get some perspective on the unrest happening today over the immigration issue. By seeing what was happening then, and how the characters deal with the situation, we might gain just a bit of insight into current events.

Also, a long time ago, not too long after the Watts Riots, some friends and I were invited down to Watts by a guy who lived there. He had seen where and how we lived and he wanted us to see where he lived—the “other side of the tracks,” so to speak. We were nervous going there, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of my life. Five or six white kids (teens) sitting in Will Rogers Park (now renamed) in the middle of Watts. Yes, we were an anomaly. But people came over and talked to us. They were curious about us and we were curious about them. But there was no animosity. No tension. It was just people with different backgrounds trying to get to know each other. And that day in particular and for some years after that, I always thought things were getting better along the “differences” lines, even though it might have been a two-steps-forward—one-step-back type of progress. And then a few years ago everything seemed to start sliding downhill again. Getting worse, as if we were largely only going backwards. (Find more of our Watts excursion story here: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/08/the-watts-riots-rodney-king-and-me.html)

Then there was the time I was living in San Diego and took the train up to L.A. It stopped in the middle of nowhere, as I recall. Not at a station. The Border Patrol got on board, handcuffed and took off at least half the passengers. We assumed it was because they had come across the border illegally. It was an aha moment. But maybe there’s something to be learned from it. Maybe the past should give some perspective on today. The same with the King Riots and the Prop 187 contentiousness. Because if we don’t learn from these things, if we don’t learn from the past, twenty years from now our kids will be asking the same questions we are, facing the same situations we are and wondering why nobody did anything about it.

Thank you for hosting me, Maggie. I’ve enjoyed being here.

 

Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-winning mystery-thriller White Heat, which Publishers Weekly calls a “taut crime yarn,” and its sequel Broken Windows (dropping 9/10/18). Publisher’s Weekly says: “Fans of downbeat PI fiction will be satisfied…with Shamus Award winner Marks’s solid sequel to… White Heat.” Though thrillers and set in the 1990s, both novels deal with issues that are hot and relevant today: racism and immigration, respectively. Marks says “Broken Windows holds up a prism from which we can view the events burning up today’s headlines, like the passionate immigration debate, through the lens of the recent past. It all comes down to the saying we know so well, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.” His short stories appear in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, among others, and have won or been nominated for many awards, including the Anthony, Derringer and Macavity. His story Windward, has been selected for the Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler, and has also been nominated for both a 2018 Shamus Award and Macavity Award for Best Short Story. Ghosts of Bunker Hill was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. He is co-editor of the multi-award nominated anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea.

Missing Mystery Authors: Update #6

The “Missing Mystery Authors” series is back! Thank you readers, for wanting to know what happened to your favorite mystery authors who, for whatever reason, haven’t published in a while.

Some authors are easy to find, while others are not. Fortunately, many still maintain websites and are active on social media so I can contact them. Often life circumstances put her or his writing on hold. Some are making a comeback with a new series. Sadly, some have left us for the great beyond. Others have seemingly vanished.

It’s always a treat when one of these “missing” folks gets in touch and we strike up an online friendship. Bonus is discovering yet another wonderful author who keeps my TBR list alive and well.

Read on!

Dicey Deere wrote the Torrey Tunet mysteries, set in Ballynagh, Ireland. Titles include The Irish Cottage Murder, The Irish Manor House Murder, The Irish Cairn Murder, and The Irish Village Murder.

Dicey Deere was the nom de plume for Harriet La Barre, a former Cosmopolitan editor. Under her real name, she wrote the following mysteries: Stranger in Vienna, The Florentine Win, and Blackwood‘s Daughter.

Ms. LaBarre passed away in 2015 at the age of 99. Read her obit here.

Earl Emerson, author of the Thomas Black series, featuring a Seattle-based PI. Back in March, I asked for information on this author. A reader informed me that he published a Thomas Black title in November of 2017. Somehow I missed that.

Cate Price wrote the Deadly Notions series, featuring Daisy Buchanan. When one of my loyal blog readers wrote: “I just read her third ‘notions’ book and checked to see if there were any more. Couldn’t find anything after 2015,” I emailed the author. Here is her response:

Hi Maggie!

Thanks for getting in touch, and I’m so pleased that readers are still asking about me 🙂

I had a contract with Berkley Prime Crime for a series of three books, as a writer-for-hire, which means that I don’t own the rights to the series, the characters, or even the pen name “Cate Price”. The series was well-received, but Berkley did not offer for more books, because at the time they were radically downsizing their cozy mystery line. So, as much as I had many ideas for more stories, and loved writing the “Deadly Notions” series, my hands are tied and I can’t self publish.

Readers have also asked what I’m working on now, but part of the contract was that I could never identify myself (my real name) to “Cate Price”. So I’m afraid that will have to remain a mystery!

Please thank your readers for their interest. It really cheers me up to think that people are still enjoying the books.

Best Regards,

Cate

It sounds like she’s between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Corinne Holt Sawyer In my last Missing Authors Update, I mentioned Corinne Holt Sawyer, author of the Angela Benbow and Caledonia Wingate series. Angela and Caledonia are “women of a certain age” who live in a retirement community in Southern California and bring killers to justice on a regular basis.

Soon after that post, I began a correspondence with the author. She lives in Southern California and enjoys the same lifestyle she gives her fictional sleuths. She keeps abreast of technology, but, in her words, “I’m not up to blogging.”

When I asked Corinne about her plans for continuing her series, this is what she told me:

After Donald Fine, my publisher, died, my agent had a battle with Penguin (which took over Donald Fine’s lists)…. because Penguin only wanted to do the book in paperback, but our contract with Fine specified hardcover edition first, paperback no closer than 10 months later (or words to that effect).

Agent and Penguin argued back and forth for a year before Penguin gave up and said they would just give us back our manuscript.   After that, agent couldn’t sell the 9th in the series to another publisher. And that was the end of it.

My agent is now too, alas, deceased. I could probably self-publish the 9th in the series, if I were into that. But at age 94 I don’t want to cope with any of the rigors of self publishing.   

I found the following about Corinne Holt Sawyer on Fantastic Fiction:

Very impressive! But is it totally accurate? Not according to Corinne:

Thanks for the link.   I had never seen that writeup and so went right to it…. and yikes!                 

Though my name is spelled right in the headline, it’s misspelled throughout the column. Yes, I took my PhD from Birmingham, but it wasn’t “in the south” it was in England, where they’d moved their entire graduate division of their English Department 35 miles “off campus” to Stratford-on-Avon, where we lived and worked as a community of renaissance scholars (so to speak.). I’ve only  been in Birmingham, Alabama, once in my life…. and not to go to college there!        

I was never station manager of WNCT…  I was what they call “talent” with my own house-and-home program, and a magazine-of-the-air……  etc., etc.   For one year I was their continuity writer as well….. Boooooring job, I fear.

Where on earth do you suppose they got all that misinformation?   And why misspell my name throughout? How very strange…….

I immediately checked my own entry in Fantastic Fiction. It’s accurate but needs updating.

In The Peanut Butter Murders, Corinne’s sleuth Caledonia says “peanut butter” in lieu of swearing (talk about being creative!). When I told Corinne I enjoyed the story, she shared this little known tale:

Oh, here’s a P.S. about “Peanut Butter Murders” — and it makes self publishing look much better, since it wouldn’t have happened if I’d been self-publishing:

I intended that the book start with the little rhyme:

For obvious reasons — the framework story about the girl finding the body beside the railway tracks.

Some editor from Penguin, (she wasn’t MY editor, mind you) told Donald Fine (my publisher) that rhyme shouldn’t be included… it was too gruesome for my readers, who were obviously elderly and easily shocked.  (Oh, puh-leeze!  We used to sing that as we played hop-scotch when we were little kids!)  But,” she said, “I love the title, so keep the title and find another reason for using it.”  So I had to invent the “swear words” for Caledonia, who never used them in any book before or since…..   See?  It’s not so bad not to have a professional editor. They make a lot of mistakes, and they sometimes drive you crazy.

I’ve so enjoyed my correspondence with this delightful author, and loved her behind-the-scenes tidbits. Bonus: she likes my books!

Here’s Corinne Holt Sawyer’s bibliography on Stop! You’re Killing Me. Wouldn’t it be cool if she published #9?

In Memoriam

My friend Rosie researched her own Missing Authors and sent me the following:

Willam G. Tapply and Philip R. Craig William G. Tapply, who died in 2009, wrote some great mysteries about Stoney Calhoun, a Maine fishing guide. He also wrote mysteries featuring attorney Brady Coyne.

I liked a mystery series he co-wrote with Philip R. Craig. These “Brady Coyne and J.W. Jackson” mysteries used Martha’s Vineyard as the setting. Brady Coyne was still a Boston attorney, but his buddy J.W. Jackson (ex-cop) lived on Martha’s Vineyard, and that’s where the mysteries happen! Craig died in 2007 and has three posthumous mysteries released. Craig wrote many J.W. Jackson mysteries that were not collaborations. Those featured his J.W. Jackson character, so when Craig and Tapply cowrote, those mysteries were fun because the reader saw two separate familiar characters. Each author wrote other books/series, too.

Dorothy Gilman died in 2012. I loved her Mrs. Pollifax series. Of course she wrote other books, too. I’m looking at the summary of the Clairvoyant Countess now. See her bibliography on Stop! You’re Killing Me.

Elizabeth Peters’ (Barbara Mertz) Amelia Peabody series really got me hooked. She died in 2013. Her final book The Painted Queen was finished by her friend Joan Hess and released in 2017, and then Joan Hess died in November of 2017. Stop! You’re Killing Me lists the extensive bibliographies of both Elizabeth Peters  and Joan Hess.

◊ ◊ ◊

Posts from my “Missing Authors” series, in chronological order:

Missing Rochelle Krich

Discovering a Lost Author: John J. Lamb

Whatever Happened to Gabrielle Kraft?

Whatever Happened to (Name an Author)?

In Memory of My Favorite Mystery Authors (And Maybe Yours)

Those Missing Authors: An Update

Missing Author Found!

Missing Authors: Update 2

“Missing Authors: Update 3”

“Missing Authors: Update 4”

“Missing Authors: Update 5”

Do you have a favorite mystery author who hasn’t written in some time and isn’t included in one of the above posts? Yes? Include the name(s) in the comments section and I’ll see what I can find out. It may take me some time but I will get back to you, either personally or in an upcoming blog post.

 

Breaking the Rules of Writing

Should an author ever break the rules of writing?

How would mystery/romance author Jenna Harte answer this question? Is she a rule follower or a rebel? Read on and find out!

Welcome, Jenna.

When it comes to writing, not only are authors expected to adhere to the rules of grammar, but also to the rules of plot and style expected in the genre. The question is, are they rules, or, like in Pirate of the Caribbean, guidelines? What rules should be followed and which can be broken?

Readers Should Be Able to Solve the Crime…Or Should They?
Mystery readers have certain expectations of the novels they read. One is the ability to solve the crime, which means getting all the clues and meeting all the suspects alongside the sleuth. Personally, I think this rule is paramount. Mysteries are like puzzles, and to put them together, the reader needs all the pieces. It’s frustrating and unsatisfactory to get to the end and realize the author left out a key piece of information.

And yet, I recently read a cozy mystery in which we met the murderer 85% into the book, and learn he’s the murderer in the next scene. All that the author provided was a possible motive for the murder, but no clues.

While this annoyed me, clearly the publisher and most other readers didn’t mind. The book has 120 reviews with an average of 4.5 stars on Amazon. And the few negative reviews don’t mention the fact that it’s impossible for the reader to solve the crime.

Mysteries are Told from One or Two Point of Views, and No Jumping POV from Within Scenes
Most mysteries I read are told from one point of view, usually the sleuth’s. Occasionally, I read one that might have two or more points of view, but almost always, only one POV is used per scene. In fact, in all fiction writing, the rule is to not head hop; jump from point of view to another point of view within a scene. The reason for this is that it can get confusing on who is doing the thinking or giving us (the reader) the narrative.

Last month, I read the first book in a popular mystery series because many people have been gushing and buzzing about the author’s writing. Imagine my surprise when the author would use three or four points of view within a single scene. This book has over 3,200 reviews with an average rating of 4.5 stars.

Cozies Don’t Have Intimate Bits
All mystery subgenres have rules, but the cozy mystery has the most. Technically, a cozy mystery involves a small-town amateur sleuth solving a crime. The story doesn’t have any swearing, violence, or sex. For die-hard cozy readers, this formula is exactly what they like. And what’s not to love? It’s fun to follow the antics of an ordinary woman who is thrust into an extraordinary situation (murder), without having to deal with harsh language, gore, or sexy bits.

I have to confess, I’ve broken one of the cozy rules. I’m a big fan of crime solving couples, ala Nick and Nora Charles, but part of what I love about couples is the romance. My books in the Valentine Mysteries involve Tess and Jack Valentine, who are an ordinary couple that keep falling over dead bodies and into bed.

What’s Wrong with Breaking the Rules?
Inherently, there is nothing wrong with breaking the rules. Writing a story outside the lines can bring something new and fresh to the style. The success of indie authors proves that readers are willing to read stories outside of what traditional publishing will take as long as the story is good and well-written.

With that said, there are some reasons to stick with the rules. For one, many of the rules provide clarity, as does the stick-with-one-POV-at-a-time rule. Most importantly, readers have expectations, such as the ability to solve the crime or there won’t be any swearing, violence, or intimate scenes. In my case, I’m upfront on what readers will find in my sexy cozy so they’re not surprised. Do I lose some readers? Probably, but also, I’ve found readers that, like me, enjoy sexy cozies.

My upcoming cozy mystery, Death of a Debtor, follows all the rules. While there will be a love interest, there is no swearing, violence (well…she does whap someone with a frying pan, but in her defense, he’s trying to kill her), or sexy bits.

To Break the Rules or Not?
There is an adage that you can’t please everyone all the time. This is especially true for writers. Sticking with the rules may increase the chance of getting published or making readers happy, but then again, it might just make readers feel they’re getting the same old thing. Breaking the rules can offer something new and different, but depending on what it is, might annoy or put-off some readers.

Ultimately, interesting characters and a great story are the most essential components of a novel. The rules offer structure to craft a great story, but can be broken if it will make the story better.

Have you ever loved a book that broke the rules?

Jenna Harte Bio
Jenna Harte is a die-hard romantic, writing about characters who are passionate about and committed to each other, and frequently getting into trouble. 

She is the author of the Valentine Mysteries, the first of which, Deadly Valentine, reached the quarter-finals in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award in 2013. She is also the author of the contemporary romance series, Southern Heat. She has a new traditional cozy mystery, Death of a Debtor, which involves fairy tales, golf clubs, airplane repo, and murder, coming in February 2019. She’s a member of the Virginia Writers Club and Sisters In Crime.

When she’s not telling stories, she works by day as an online entrepreneur. She’s an empty nester living in Central Virginia with her husband and a wacky cat.

Get free books and excerpts, updates and more at Jenna’s website: http://www.jennaharte.com.

Links
Website: http://www.jennaharte.com

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Jenna-Harte/e/B008SYXEZ8

Valentine 3-book Box Set: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07998MDQG

Death of a Debtor (page and pre order are there, but no book cover yet): https://www.amazon.com/Death-Debtor-Sophie-Parker-Coupon/dp/1603817565/

Southern Heat Romance Box Set: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B074L82D4C

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jennaharteauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jenna_harte

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jennaharteauthor/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgBosMCckiLpyXoprNBPmbQ/featured

My Summer in Movies

I’ve been catching up on movies this summer. As I watched the Oscars ceremony on March 4, I made a list of the ones I wanted to see. The list was long but I’ve made a big dent. Read on for some highlights:

Call Me By Your Name is a coming-of-age film based on the 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman. Set in northern Italy in 1983, Call Me by Your Name tells the story of a relationship between a teenager and his professor father’s graduate-student assistant.

This film is so beautifully made that it’s inspired a theme tour in Italy. Click here for details.

Darkest Hour Should Winston Churchill give in to Hitler and save the British people at a terrible cost, or should he bring his nation together and battle the enemy at staggering odds? And what about his political rivals at home? Churchill faces his Darkest Hour. This is a must-see film.

Disaster Artist The Room was a cult success, probably because it’s regarded as “The Citizen Kane of Bad Movies.” The Disaster Artist is the true story of writer/director Tommy Wiseau and the making of The Room. It’s a gem.

Going way back, The Grapes of Wrath won a couple of well-deserved Oscars in 1941. The Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers, face hardship in their Oklahoma home due to drought, economic downturns, bank foreclosures, and changes in agricultural practices brought on by the Great Depression, The Joads pack up and head west, lured by con artists who prey on them and other families, promising work and good fortune in California. The novel is considered John Steinbeck’s masterpiece. The movie is an excellent adaptation.

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story of a high-school senior and her turbulent relationship with her mother. I liked it but not as much as I thought I would.

Murder on the Orient Express With thirteen stranded strangers and one murder victim on a luxury train, Hercule Poirot races to solve the murder before the killer strikes again. From the novel by the legendary Agatha Christie. Worth seeing, especially if you don’t know the story. I’ve probably seen too many adaptations.

Phantom Thread is set in London’s couture world in 1954. Daniel Day-Lewis is a couturier. When a young waitress catches his eye and becomes his muse, his life is never again the same. Beautifully made, but there are some very odd relationships.

I hear this is Day-Lewis’s final role before retiring—say it isn’t so!

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri When the police in Ebbing, Missouri make no progress solving the murder of a young local woman, her vigilante mother takes a unique approach in seeking justice. This movie is  dark and powerful, with plenty of raw emotion. Acting awards were well-deserved.

Do you have a suggestion for a good book, movie, or show? Let me know.