Can a Western Be a Mystery?

Can a western be a mystery?

Why not? We American writers seem to be more obsessed with categorizing stories than our British counterparts. Genre is simply a label attached to a work to give a potential reader an idea what it might be about. But few works of fiction can really be narrowed down to a single label and even experts seem to disagree on the issue.

While we’re familiar with the usual bookstores breakdowns of mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy and so on, the Canadian critic Northrop Frye breaks it down into four even more obtuse categories–novel, romance, anatomy and confession. In his view Moby Dick is defined as an anatomy while Pride and Prejudice is simply a novel and not a romance.

Try asking your neighborhood bookseller for a particular book in Frye’s genres and see what kind of blank look you get.

When I set out to write Geronimo Must Die I was thinking in terms of a traditional western. In strictest terms, a western is a story set in the American Old West, most likely in the 19th century. Yet, the more I got into it, the more I realized it was also a mystery, fiction relating to a crime or disclosure of secrets. There are also elements of romance, humor and action/adventure.

In fact, few novels abide by the definition of a single genre. Most are a mix of several elements. The most important aspects of a novel are characters and a story that will intrigue the reader and keep him/her reading to find out what happens next. I hope I’ve achieved that kind of interest in my novel.

Here’s the blurb for Geronimo Must Die:

Geronimo and rascally half-breed Indian scout Mickey Free have never been friends.

Yet, Mickey has already saved Geronimo’s life twice (without acknowledgement) and is the only one who can keep the great Apache leader out of the sniper’s sights now. The sniper has already murdered several tribal leaders and Mickey believes it’s all a plot to prompt a great runaway from the hated San Carlos reservation.

Mickey’s efforts are stymied by Al Sieber, head of scouts, and John Clum, reservation agent, as well as suspicion of other Indians. Adding to his problems, Mickey is in love with a girl whose name he keeps forgetting to ask and who may be allied to the plot.

Only perseverance, risk to his life and, eventually, Geronimo’s help will enable Mickey to resolve this dangerous situation.

J.R. Lindermuth, a retired newspaper editor, lives and writes in a house built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill Cody. He has published 16 novels and a non-fiction regional history. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and is a past vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Links:

Webpage: http://www.jrlindermuth.net

Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/author/jrlindermuth

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/john.lindermuth

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/John-Lindermuth-175253187537/?fref=ts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jrlindermuth

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1005496.J_R_Lindermuth

In addition to Sundown Press at http://sundownpress.com and Amazon, his books are also available from Barnes & Noble and other fine bookstores.

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How Did a Teetotaler End Up in a Wine Anthology?

Cabernet is the star in 50 Shades of Cabernet, an anthology of wine-themed mysteries created by 18 authors. The stories range from light-hearted puzzles to darker, heavier tales of deceit and murder.

I don’t drink Cabernet. I don’t drink wine—or anything alcoholic. So why did I say “yes” when asked to contribute a story to the 50 shades anthology? Aren’t I supposed to “write what I know?”

The requirements for story submission were few: “The only requirements are that your story includes a mystery of some sort (not necessarily a murder), and that there is at least one mention of Cabernet wine somewhere in the story.”

I’m a mystery writer and have penned short stories. I could certainly mention the word Cabernet without sampling the beverage.

My friend Marcia took me on a tour of the extensive Cabernet section at Total Wine where I took pictures of various labels and accompanying descriptions. So now all I needed was a story!

I belong to the Greater Richmond, Virginia branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and we host an annual wine-tasting fundraiser at a local church. I took inspiration from this event to turn out “Wine, Women, and Wrong.” Here is a description of my contribution to this stellar anthology:

Tommy Bradshaw has two items on his bucket list: to solve a murder mystery and to marry Camille Pettit. Fat chance of either happening. Then, when Camille attends a wine-tasting fundraiser and the wine merchant is found in the parking lot, impaled by a hunting knife, Tommy gets his chance to play one of the Hardy Boys. In the process of finding the stabber, Tommy is besieged by women: the glamorous and sexy oenophile who’s hell-bent on seducing him; and the cop who would love to woo him away from Camille. In addition, Tommy finds that detecting isn’t as easy as it is in books.

Joining me in 50 Shades of Cabernet’s are these 17 talented authors, all members of Sisters in Crime: Betsy Ashton, Lyn Brittan, Barb Goffman, Debbiann Holmes, Maria Hudgins, Teresa Inge, Jim Jackson, Kristin Kisska, Douglas Lutz, Nancy Naigle, Alan Orloff, Jayne Ormerod, Rosemary Shomaker, Jenny Sparks, Heather Weidner, Tina Whittle, and Ken Wingate.

Back to my teetotaling ways. Many famous people share this life choice, including Jim Carrey, Shania Twain, Rob Lowe, George W. Bush, Natalie Portman, Elisabeth Hasselbeck …

And Donald Trump.

 

Purchase your copy of 50 Shades of Cabernet here.

Visit the 50 Shades of Cabernet web site here.

50 Shades of Cabernet is on Facebook!

… and on Twitter!

Enjoy the stories. And please write a review.

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War on Words

With President Donald Trump’s “war” with the mainstream news media, sales of George Orwell’s 1984 have skyrocketed. In this tale of a dystopian society called Oceania, government fights back against any threats to its power with propaganda and media censorship. The novel’s protagonist, Winston, spends his days at the Ministry of Truth, revising past newspaper articles to better support government positions.

Alternative facts, anyone?

I don’t recall reading 1984 in high school. If I did, I happily managed to forget the experience. In the actual year of 1984 the book was prominently displayed in bookstores who hoped to capitalize on the current time period. I don’t know if they succeeded, but I did put the title on my TBR list. Seventeen years later in 2001 I finally read the classic.

And I won’t repeat the experience. I still get chills when I think of 1984. It tops my list of Important Books That I Wish I’d Never Read (I don’t really have such a list). If I need to “re-read” it I’ll peruse the Wikipedia entry.

However, I think YOU should read 1984. Or re-read it as the case may be, especially if you don’t share my icky memories.

Since the election, I’ve added these titles to my TBR list:

Handmaid’s Tale by the gifted Margaret Atwood. This futuristic tale set in New England tells of a totalitarian regime that has taken power and stripped women of their civil rights. Like 1984, it is enjoying a comeback.

Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson is a non-fiction account of the career of William Dodd, the American Ambassador to Germany during the years 1933 to 1937, when he and his family lived in Berlin.

Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953, during the McCarthy era. He once stated that he wrote the dystopian novel because of his concerns at the time about the threat of book burning in the United States.

I may put Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here on my list. Published in 1935, it recounts the rise of an authoritarian fascist leader in the U.S.

The Huffington Post offers a reading list of 10 Orwellian books about censorship and the power of words.

Readers, feel free to offer your own reading suggestions in the comments.

Happy reading, everyone.

 

 

 

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Research: Writing What You Don’t Know

Write what you know.

Authors are frequently advised to do just that—except when we’re writing what we don’t know. Historical fiction is a case in point. I don’t expect that Ellis Peters had firsthand knowledge of Brother Cadfael’s 12th century world. Nor does Rhys Bowen likely relate to the experience of Molly Murphy, an Irish immigrant in early 20th century New York City.

Even in contemporary times, a sleuth may need to venture into an environment that is completely foreign to her, or him, in order to hunt down a killer.

That’s where research comes in.

In Murder at the Moonshine Inn, Hazel Rose agrees to investigate the murder of Roxanne Howard, a high-powered executive who died in a pool of blood outside the Moonshine Inn, one of Richmond, Virginia’s most notorious redneck bars. Hazel immediately has two questions: who killed Roxanne? And why had the woman spent her leisure time sitting on a barstool at the watering hole, having loud fights on her phone with her husband?

To answer these questions, Hazel needs to go to the bar—undercover. Now, Hazel has never set foot in a redneck bar). How does she act? How does she dress? How does she speak? What does the bar look like?

No question about it, I needed to visit a redneck bar that would become the model for the fictitious Moonshine Inn (not undercover, though.).

My friend Marie served as my consultant. She assured me that she was an expert on redneck culture. She advised me on dress, dialog, and any number of details. She sent me links to databases of redneck baby names. There is a wealth of online sources for redneckiana (not a real word, but perhaps it should be).

Vince, Hazel’s husband and undercover partner, admires his wife’s disguise:

“Wow!” His appreciative look said he liked the redneck me.

“It’s just for tonight. This is way too much work.”

“It’s the top I like. Hair’s for the birds. Literally.”

Vince referred to my Harley Davidson two-sizes-too-Vince referred to my Harley Davidson two-sizes-too-small tank top that revealed an impressive display of cleavage. I had a Victoria’s Secret contraption that I employed for the thankfully few occasions when I wanted to play up my assets. The jeans that I’d slashed in strategic places molded my bottom half, and Eileen’s boots fit well with the help of thick, albeit unsexy, socks. As for the hair, I may have gone overboard with teasing and spraying my chestnut waves into something like an exploded mushroom—or a birds nest. But, as long as I fit in, that was the main thing: frosted blue eye shadow and plenty of it streaked across my eyelids, and my nails sparkled with scarlet polish.

Back to me and my research. My own husband and I visited three bars and I combined the three in to one for my story. I tried to capture the essence and Marie helped. Between these visits, Marie, online sources, and my vivid imagination, I put together a passable chapter.

When Hazel arrives at the Moonshine Inn with Vince, she gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a redneck queen, she meets some very interesting people, and picks up information that may prove valuable in nailing Roxanne Howard’s killer.

Description of the Moonshine Inn:

Black-and-white tiles covered the floor, and dark leather booths lined the perimeter of the space. Grime streaked the windows. The ceiling came up short on its allotment of tiles. Apparently the Moonshine Inn had a special dispensation to allow smoking, as a thick fog made the TVs positioned throughout the bar hard to see. I saw a Florida room, all white with ceiling fans and clean windows, attached to the front of the building. A prominent sign proclaimed it a non-smoking section. I looked at it longingly but, as not a soul populated the space, I figured I’d best sit elsewhere so I could get information.

The patrons caught up on the news via ESPN and Fox News amid much yelling and derogatory jokes about Obamacare. For those disinclined to watch the news, one TV offered T.J. Hooker reruns. But we weren’t there to catch up on the news or ‘80s-era cop shows.

So, with a little research and an adventurous spirit, you as an author are not limited to writing what you know. But beware: you can risk leaving your comfort zone!

 

 

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My TV Debut

Yikes! Me on TV?

That was my initial reaction when the supervising producer of Virginia This Morning emailed me, asking me to appear on the show. I was to talk about my latest mystery, Murder at the Moonshine Inn, and promote the upcoming Murder at the Library, a murder mystery theater event put on by the Clover Hill branch of the Chesterfield County Public Library and Sisters in Crime Central Virginia.

Now my husband had been encouraging me to get booked on the show for quite some time, but I had dragged my feet on that adventure. But to be asked was a different matter. I immediately replied “Yes!”

To say I was nervous was an understatement. What would I say? What if I blanked out? What would I wear? What about hair and makeup? I figured I could get my hair and makeup done at the studio. Thankfully, I asked about this. It turned out that I needed to arrive camera ready. Whew! I don’t even want to think about showing up with a not camera ready face.

I queried friends who had appeared on the show. Their advice:

Make sure my elevator speech is polished

Wear something bright

Wear slacks

Foundation and blush should be two shades darker than normal

Don’t look at the camera

Pretend that I’m having a conversation with a friend

My hair stylist gave me written instructions for achieving my best look. I visited Ulta and purchased “full coverage” foundation. I spent a week before the big day experimenting with hair and makeup. I decided on a bright teal top to brighten my usual black wardrobe.

Now, I had other concerns than about my appearance. I did follow the above advice and practiced the elevator speech for both of my books until I didn’t stumble over a word. I tried to anticipate what I’d be asked. I viewed LynDee Walker’s video from her appearance on the show.

The day arrived. I got out of bed at 5:30 am to attend to my image. I got to the studio way early and was escorted to the green room (peach, really). I chatted with a group of musicians who were promoting their upcoming benefit concert, Jazz4Justice. We discussed politics (always anxiety-reducing!).

I met Jessica Noll, one of Virginia This Morning’s producers. When I asked her if my makeup was okay she assured me that it was—she especially liked my lipstick—but suggested that I add more blush. When I wondered if I should wear my glasses, she said that if I didn’t need them to go without, as they could cause glare. Since I wasn’t driving on the set, I left them behind.

Showtime! I’m sitting across from Cheryl Miller, a veteran interviewer. It was hard not to look at the camera, as it hovered in my peripheral vision. But I kept my eyes focused on Cheryl, who was as warm and engaging as she could be. As expected, we promoted the aforementioned Murder at the Library and I got to recite my elevator speech. Then Cheryl asked me about the Richmond Police Academy program that I participated in last spring. I hadn’t expected that question so I didn’t have a polished response, but I think I did okay by the RPD (It was a great program that I highly recommend and many communities offer it).

The interview was over in five quick minutes. I signed a copy of Murder at the Moonshine Inn for Cheryl and we chatted for a few minutes off-camera.

Back in the green/peach room, the musicians were very complimentary.

“So I can safely post it on social media?” I asked.

“Absolutely. Nothing embarrassing at all.”

I did post the video and got very nice comments.

Would I do it all over again?

You bet.

Note to authors: I had quite a spike in sales that day and, less than 30 minutes after my appearance, I had a request to visit a local book group.

View my debut here.

Murder at the Library murder mystery theater event: details and tickets. Following the  event is a panel discussion, “The Many Hats of a Writer,” and author signings.

For information on Virginia This Morning.

 

 

 

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