Melodie Johnson Howe: Images of a Writer

Let’s give a big welcome to Melodie Johnson Howe. Her journey from childhood to career as a Hollywood actress to career as a mystery author is fascinating. As is her series featuring Hollywood actress/sleuth Diana Poole.

My mother dropped my brother and me off at the movies. Before she drove away she said, “Enjoy yourselves, your father and I are getting divorced.”

In the darkness of the theater my brother nervously gnawed at his thumb as if it were a chicken leg.  He couldn’t forget her words.  Somethings she said were  true. Somethings were not.  Reality was no excuse in our family.

I was enveloped in the drama of the movie.  It’s a drama that couldn’t hurt me. I loved being lost in make-believe.

Summer. Massillon, Ohio. I stood in my uncle’s home library. Ten years old. Short blonde hair. Long gawky legs. My family and I and were visiting from Los Angeles. My parents didn’t get divorced. The sun streamed in through a big paned window.  I’ve never been in a house that had a room just for books. I pulled one from the shelf titled, For Whom the Bell Tolls. A man named Hemingway wrote it. I opened it and begin to read.

My mother, who had the ability to appear from nowhere, swept in and grabbed the book from my hands.  “You’re too young to read this.”

The quiet room is suddenly full of adults. Talking.

My father, a sly grin on his face, said, “Oh, let her read it. She’s not going to understand it.” He had the ability to stand up for me and let me down at the same time.

“She understands enough,” my mother snapped. Face knotted.

My aunt asked if anybody would like iced tea.

My uncle, the lawyer, so pale he looked like he needs to be colored-in with crayons, said, “I have an appointment downtown. I’ll take her to the library and she’ll pick out a book that’s appropriate for her.”

Appropriate. My heart sank. Mother pulled me from the room. I looked back at the book now lost among the others on the shelf.

In the public library I ran my finger along the spines of the books. Most were about boys doing daring deeds. Nancy Drew!  But I’d read her. I wanted something else … something … adult.  And there it is!  A bright red book titled, My Dear Wife. That sounds adult.

I opened it. No pictures. Only chapters.  The print was bigger than Hemingway’s book and not so jammed together. I began to read. A young pretty woman and a handsome young man have just wedded. But before they can consummate their marriage the American Revolutionary War breaks out and he must go fight.  Consummate. I whispered this new word. I had no trouble figuring out its meaning.  My heart raced.

The young woman decides she must do her duty for the war, too. She becomes a spy. Hiding messages in the hem of her skirt she crosses enemy lines to give them to George Washington. And all the time searching for her husband.

Alone in bed that night, I finished the book.  And felt the abandonment of having to leave this brave strong woman and the Revolutionary War. It was the same feeling of abandonment when I walked from the darkness of the movie theater into the daylight. My mother waiting for me.  Years later when I became a writer I knew that I’d learned how to create suspense and strong women characters from reading My Dear Wife. The power of a book.

Melodie in the movies

Ten years later, a motion picture agent “discovered” me at a cocktail party. I was put under contract at Universal studio I spent my days learning to act on the job. At night I drove to UCLA extension to learn the craft of writing. With the setting sun in my eyes, I sped along Sunset Blvd. The sky streaked with lurid cheap colors. The palm trees darkened into lurking shadows and the mansions turned sinister. I was in the land of Raymond Chandler. A land that felt right to me. California noir.

My two loves had come together in my life: movies and books. But they didn’t mingle well. I quit acting.  People called me crazy to walk away. And it was crazy. Any giant leap you take is. I wanted to create my own world of make-believe.  And so I did. I wrote about angry mothers, strong women such as Clare Conrad, the female version of Nero Wolfe, and Diana Poole, an actress.

I found myself in make-believe.

 

Melodie with City of Mirrors

Melodie Johnson Howe always wanted to be a writer. But born in Los Angeles, she was “discovered” at a cocktail party, and put under contract to Universal Studios as an actress.  In her first acting job she was shot dead in the titles of a TV movie. They covered her with a sheet and carted her off to an ambulance, with only her blonde hair showing. Over the next few years she acted in such movies as The Ride To Hangman’s Tree co-starring with James Farentino; Coogan’s Bluff with Clint Eastwood; Gaily, Gaily directed by Norman Jewison; Rabbit Run with James Caan; and The Moonshine War, co-starring with Alan Alda.  During this period she also went to UCLA Extension at night to learn the craft of writing.  After quitting acting she wrote her first mystery novel, The Mother Shadow, which was nominated for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allen Poe Award. The second mystery novel, Beauty Dies soon followed.  Turning to the short story form she created a new character Diana Poole, an actress verging on middle age. The stories were published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.  Two have been nominated for the Barry Award. They are now collected into one book, Shooting Hollywood: The Diana Poole Stories.

Melodie at Malice Domestic

City of Mirrors, Howe’s first novel to feature Diana Poole brings her acting life and writing life together.  As The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said, “City of Mirrors is slick and smart with a “Chinatown” vibe, only funnier and with an insider’s view of Hollywood, a place that “has the attention span of a coked-up executive producer,’ a place where people live in ‘Technicolor’ and then ‘fade to black.’”

Hold A Scorpion is the latest Diana Poole novel.

 


Visit Melodie Johnson Howe on her web site (includes her buy links)

Melodie Johnson Howe’s Facebook Author Page

MysteriousPress.com publisher of the Clare Conrad/Maggie Hill books and Shooting Hollywood: the Diana Poole Stories

 

 

The Birth of a Private Eye

A big welcome to author R. Weir. He tells how he created his Denver series featuring Jarvis Mann, a rough and tough modern-day PI with the proverbial heart of gold.

When it came to cool fictional literary detectives, there were few that matched Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer.

I’ve always been fascinated with the detective genre. Detectives and Dames, I would call it. The classic PI from the black and white days of movies, with shadowy dark scenes and smoke-filled rooms creating a tense atmosphere. Those remarkable stories by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald gave birth to the Noir Hard-Boiled genre that fiction writers have continued to create. Many modern writers have taken those characters and created their own, evolving them, while keeping much of the same spirit. Which is what I set out to do with my own protagonist.

I had written three books many years ago, with a broken character caught up in the spy world, with issues of alcohol and betrayal in his love life. They were dark in nature, full of little hope as he struggled to keep his sanity, in his battle to bring down a terrorist organization. Those stories were never published. From that character I wanted to go in a different direction and thought long and hard, deciding to create my own detective with Denver as the backdrop. It wasn’t long before I came up with a name, and private detective Jarvis Mann was born.

From there I knew he would be tough, struggling to find work, with a biting sense of humor, and issues in his personal relationships. He would not always get things right, with dire consequences coming to bear. Rarely were his cases as it seemed, with twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. I wanted to take all those classic elements of the Noir Private Eye genre and bring them into our world today, with modern storylines and cases. A stolen baseball card, a shadowy stalker after his sexy female client, a football player struggling with concussions leading to bad decisions, a brother who is neck deep in trouble with a mobster, computer hacking and theft, helping homeless veterans on the street, and the latest book, dealing with a gruesome serial killer. And yes, there are gangsters, thugs, femme fatales, and broken-hearted girlfriends who struggle to connect to the man who walls himself off from those who care about him. All of this viewed through Jarvis’ eyes in a first-person descriptive narrative, pulling the reader into each scene, page by page.

I aimed to create a character who was fun to write. I’d find myself smiling as I typed away his latest quip. I wanted him to have rich characteristics on full display, with as many faults as virtues. A smart mouthed, snarky man, using humor to get him through the tough times, masking the true pain underneath that from time to time still bubbles up to the surface, as he faces elements in a seedy world of grisly crime his profession wades knee deep into. With each book—there are now seven of them—he has evolved, though not always in a good way. But he has a good heart, full of confidence and swagger, never backing down from a fight for what he believes is right, even when facing impossible odds against powerful people and organizations. Jarvis is the guy you wished was next door, there when you need him, fighting for you and what is right, until the last bullet in his revolver is fired and last swing of his fists are thrown. Stories hard to put down until you reach—THE END.

About Me
I live in the Mile High city with my wife, daughter and dog, where the Rocky Mountain High isn’t always achieved with an herbal substance. When not glued to the computer for work and writing, I relax by enjoying the outdoors; playing tennis, traveling in our motor home and riding a motorcycle wherever the wind takes me. My writing beckons back to the days of detectives and dames, but with modern plots and twists. PI Jarvis Mann is tough, resourceful and a man with as many faults as virtues. His oddball sense of humor is much like mine, though I’m not nearly as tough and fearless as he is. Though no evil stands a chance against my written word!

Buy Links
My Amazon Author Page

The Case of the Missing Bubble Gum Card

Tracking a Shadow

Twice as Fatal

Connect with me
Website https://rweir.net

Facebook page for R. Weir https://www.facebook.com/randy.weir.524

Facebook page for Jarvis Mann https://www.facebook.com/JarvisMannPI

Twitter https://twitter.com/RWeir720

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/rweir720/

 

May is Mystery Month!

May is Mystery Month!

To celebrate, Koehler Books is slashing prices. Digital copies of Murder at the Moonshine Inn are on sale for 99 cents at Amazon, Barnes and Noble Nook, and Kobobooks.

Also 99 cents are the following anthologies:
Virginia is for Mysteries: My story is “A Not So Genteel Murder”
Virginia is for Mysteries II: My story is “Reunion in Shockoe Slip”
50 Shades of Cabernet: my story is “Wine, Women, and Wrong”

See a list of participating Koehler authors here. And remember … books make great gifts for Mom!

 

The Birth of a Story Idea

Story ideas are all around us. Joyce Ann Brown, author of the Psycho Cat and the Landlady mystery series, is my guest today. She tells us how she gets ideas for her series. And she has a very special offer for a lucky reader …

Take it away, Joyce!

During my career as a school library media specialist, I heard several authors of realistic fiction books say they got their ideas for themes and plots from newspaper articles and current events, from personal experiences, or from conversations with friends and acquaintances. It impressed me that they were able to create characters and entire novels from individual events.

Now, as an author, I find myself using the same sources for ideas. For instance, last week I told some friends about my new pet sitter who watches cats for folks when they travel. “Are you sure she’s a cat sitter and not a cat burglar?” one friend asked with a wicked grin.  She was kidding, but her remark turned into an enthusiastic give-and-take among my friends about a cat sitter who might be a burglar or might case houses for a cat burglar.

“No,” I said, inspired to give the idea some thought, “The cat sitter would be accused but not guilty. My landlady sleuth could investigate to prove she’s innocent.”

This personal experience and conversation with friends might provide the premise for my next short story or the next book in the Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery series. It reminds me of the way I gathered ideas for the first book, CATastrophic Connections. A friend told me an open-your-mouth-wide-and-shake-your-head-in-disbelief story about a “psycho” cat that had saved her life. From other friends, I gathered more cat stories. I heard descriptions of embezzlements by their company bookkeepers from friends who ran small businesses. My husband and I own rental properties, and one of the tenants told me a tale about her mother and another about her boyfriend. Her narratives led to the main plot of the book. My amateur sleuth is a landlady, because I understand that job.

After that, it was a matter of putting all those stories together, adding a murder and believable crooks, researching BOLOs, writing chapters, revising, rewriting, getting feedback, and revising some more. It took over a year before I was ready to find a publisher. Easy-peasy, right?

Okay, maybe not easy—but as more observations demanded my attention, I decided I needed to write another book. FURtive Investigation, the second book in the series, is based on ideas I imagined about some of our other rental tenants. I had invented a landlady sleuth, and I had experience with rentals. My imaginings took off into story form. Though, until it crept into the story, I never imagined the skeleton Psycho Cat finds in the duplex attic. It would have been creepy to paint and clean the rental unit if I’d had to think about a dead body above me.

Nine LiFelines, the third book, grew from a story I heard at a meeting years ago from the head of library technology in my school district. While giving a report on what she’d learned at a conference, she told a personal story about the elevator in her hotel that would never go to her floor without going to another floor first.

“A ghost?” she asked. “Maybe a nefarious scheme?” The lady had a good imagination.

I transferred that elevator to a condo building in Brookside, the quaint neighborhood in Kansas City where my fictional landlady sleuth lives. The devilish elevator became one of the mysteries the landlady and Psycho Cat have to solve to save a tenant from going to prison. The tenant and the murder victim are both immigrants, a theme that came from the news.

When my husband and I took a trip in our fifth-wheel RV about a year ago and unhooked to visit the Alamo, crooks broke the door lock and tried to steal our parked truck. They broke the ignition but failed to start the engine because we carried the key fob with us. The aftermath involved phone calls, police officers, insurance claims, a tow truck, a locksmith, and our two kitties having to spend extended time in the fifth wheel back at the RV campground. To top it all off, after we finally left for home, the truck’s engine died (while I was driving, no less) in the middle of I-35. We camped for two nights in a Ford dealership parking lot while our truck sat in the shop waiting for a part to be delivered.

That true story, plus a murder and some fumbling hoodlums, became Tailed, the fourth Psycho Cat mystery. In the story, as you might have guessed, the hoods follow the RV back to Kansas City after a murder is committed. The reader knows it could be the end of the road for the landlady and her cat if they can’t solve the mystery this time.

A Harvey House Restaurant display at the Kansas City branch of the National Archives provided characters and setting for my short story “Harvey House Homicide,” which appears in the anthology Noir at the Salad Bar: Culinary Tales with Bite. I wrote “Ghost in the Headlights”, a short story that was selected for Kings River Life magazine’s Halloween issue, after a neighbor had a run-in with her bisexual boyfriend. He broke into her house after their breakup to steal some important papers, and she called the police. My newest short story, “The Legacy,” resulted from a visit to a friend’s in-laws’ house, an 1890’s mansion filled with antiques and surrounded by overgrown gardens and woods.

I have more examples, but you get the idea. I always need more stories. If you, dear reader, have an interesting tidbit, please comment here, or contact me. Your story and your name in the acknowledgements could become part of my next book.

Find the Psycho Cat and the Landlady books in paperback, e-book, and audio formats on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/author/joyceannbrown

Visit the author website to read more about the author, her books, and her two cats. A YouTube video in which Psycho Cat tells about the books can be found there, too. http://www.joyceannbrown.com

Like Joyce’s Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/joyceannbrownauthor/

Joyce Ann Brown, the author of the Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery series, set in Kansas City, was a librarian, a landlady, and a Realtor before becoming a short story, blog, and novel writer. She has two mischievous cats and a family scattered across the country.

Ms. Brown spends her days writing (with a few breaks for tennis, walking, and book clubs) so that Beth, the landlady in the series, and Sylvester, the Psycho Cat, can solve puzzling who-done-its involving heinous crimes involving rentals and rental properties.

Celebrate National Pet Day: Read a Mystery

Do mysteries need cats?

Absolutely.

Yesterday (April 11) was National Pet Day and I’m a day late in celebrating. But isn’t every day National Pet Day? It is in my house. Just ask Olive and Morris.

Olive and Morris

Many mystery series, including my Hazel Rose Book Group one, feature felines. Recently I posted on Pens, Paws, and Claws about these series, offering reading suggestions. Read it here.

So honor our furry friends by reading a cat mystery. And read the posts by the authors who contribute to Pens, Paws, and Claws.