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.

Playing Fair When You Write a Mystery

Let’s give a big welcome to Anne Canadeo, author of the Black Sheep & Company Mysteries. Enjoy her behind-the-scenes look at the making of a mystery. 

Take it away, Anne! 

Spoiler alert!  If you’re a mystery fan and you don’t want to know how a villain is hidden in plain in sight, read no further. However, even after trade secrets are revealed below, I’m fairly certain we can still trick you.

Like many authors of the genre, a life-long love of mysteries inspired me to spin my own.  My hall of fame includes the astonishing Sherlock Holmes, ever persistent Miss Marple, and audacious Kinsey Malone.  The plot may twist and turn as a favorite sleuth solves a case, but the killer’s identity always makes sense in the end. “Elementary, dear reader.” And I feel downright cheated if the solution seems pulled from thin air.

As a fan of the genre and as a writer, I want a mystery to play fair.  I want readers of The Black Sheep & Company Mysteries to be stumped and surprised, but look back and see that the clues were all there.

I recall the “connect the dots” puzzles I worked on as a child. “Can you find the cat?” the instructions would say. A good analogy for devising a mystery plot; making up such a puzzle, I mean. Writers try hard to camouflage the culprit’s identity in the noise and activity of the narrative. But we also try to embed a few other images in that field of dots and subtly encourage you to connect them the wrong way. Yes, there’s a cat. The cat may have done it. But wait, there’s a dog, too. And what about that hamster? He had means, motive, and opportunity.

It seems to me the trick is not just presenting a cast of suspects, but suspects who vary in culpability. A seasoned reader will sift out the obvious red herrings and decide they have picked the real offender. Sorry, it’s even more complicated than that.

Most of the heavy lifting happens in the outline stage, when it’s much easier to rearrange the puzzle pieces on the page. Once the first draft of the manuscript is finished, I always go back and plant more misleading hints that encourage even the sharpest fan to make the wrong connections. Like a final touch of salt on a dish, before it’s brought to the table.  I usually present at least one character who is actually guilty of something—blackmail, adultery, fraud—but not the murder. When the real killer steps forward, hopefully, there’s an aha moment and it all falls into place.

Creating false trails and optical illusions is truly the hard work of building a solid plot, but the real fun of the job, too. The very satisfying fun that keeps me writing mysteries.

Anne Canadeo is the bestselling author of more than thirty books, including the popular Black Sheep & Company Mysteries, and the Cape Light series, written as Katherine Spencer. When she’s away from her keyboard, Anne enjoys roaming on her bike, walking her dog, cooking and “extreme” gardening. She was recently honored by New York State for her volunteer work, which includes managing a food outreach, helping the homeless and bringing free books to      children in need of literacy support.  She lives in Northport, N.Y. with her husband, daughter and canine office assistant. Anne loves to hear from readers. Contact her on Facebook, Instagram or at: anne@annecanadeo.com.

Connect with Anne:

annecanadeo.com

Facebook

Instagram

Lily, Anne’s dog and writing assistant, is also on Instagram as the LiteraryHound

Buy links for Knit to Kill:

AMAZON

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

iBooks

Kobo

Missing Authors: Update #5

The “Missing Author” 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. Thanks also for introducing me to some great new-to-me authors. I really enjoyed the late Graham Landrum’s The Garden Club Mystery.

Read on for the latest updates:

Barbara D’Amato, author of three series set in Chicago. Brian D’amato (son?) posts frequently on her Facebook page. But she does not. Curious.

Jane Haddam, author of the Gregor Demarkian series, set in Philadelphia.

I emailed Ms. Haddam on May 25, 2017, asking about her plans for the Gregor Demarkian series. Fighting Chance is the most recent  book in the series, and that was published in 2014. She didn’t respond. However, on January 9, 2018, she introduced the Georgia Xenakis series with Dead Letters.

She’s blogging and has a new Facebook author page. She’s experimenting with a GoFundMe page. Read about it here.

On March 11, she posted that she was in the hospital and not feeling well.

M.D. Lake, aka Allen Simpson, author of the Peggy O’Neill mysteries, set in Minnesota. I was corresponding with the president of the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime a few months ago; she asked one of the chapter’s members to contact Allen. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m following up.

Ann Ripley, author of the Gardening Mysteries. She’s on Facebook. On February 26, 2017, she posted to a friend:

My agent is looking at a mystery I’ve written. If someone buys it, I’ll go out and drink a couple of margaritas.

I hope Ms. Ripley has had success.

Corinne Holt Sawyer, author of the Angela Benbow and Caledonia Wingate series, set in Southern California.

Here’s her bio from FantasticFiction, and it’s fascinating. Ms. Sawyer has an impressive resume. She last published in 1999.

She’s 94 and lives in a retirement community in Carlsbad, California. Very nice! Apparently she’s enjoying the upscale lifestyle of her fictional sleuths, hopefully sans murder!

Beth Sherman, author of the Jersey Shore mysteries. According to a mutual mystery author friend, Ms. Sherman is a college professor and publishes fiction and poetry in literary journals. She has been pursuing her PhD. Apparently she has moved on from mysteries.

Christine Wenger, author of the Comfort Food Mystery series.

She is publishing western romances, and has a new one coming out on April 3, 2018. Here’s her response to my inquiry about the status of her diner series:

Unfortunately, the series ended after IT’S A  WONDERFUL KNIFE. The publisher didn’t want it anymore. Darn it! I am writing bull rider books for Harlequin right now, but you never know. I might  publish more of Trixie and the gang  myself!!  

Thanks for writing. I appreciate your interest. And sorry for the delay in replying to you.

Chris

Updates from Previous Posts

Shirley Damsgaard, author of the Ophelia and Abby series, set in small town Iowa. Shirley accepted my Facebook request and she is a frequent poster. Earlier this year I sent her a Facebook message, asking if she planned to return to her series. She didn’t respond. But I followed a hunch and found this Facebook posting from Shirley on September 17, 2017:

Thanks for all the comments on my little survey! There were so many that I couldn’t reply to each one separately! And a special thanks to everyone who wants more Ophelia and Abby! It means more than I can say that there is still an interest in “the girls!” Even after all this time since the last release! I am trying to get back in the game so to speak and doing some rearranging in my life to make it more conducive to writing.

A little background on what set me pondering the short story-novella question. On Saturday, I had a terrific time attending a reading given by one of my “besties” and fellow author, Tamara Jones (totally unbiased pitch here…she has a new book coming out October 3rd, “Morgan’s Run,” and as one of her first readers, I can tell you, it’s really good! 👍) Anyway, at the reading, I also met her publisher, Aaron Bunce, and as things usually go when those involved in the industry get together, the conversation turned to marketing and how to be successful. It brought to mind as to whether or not short stories and novellas could be used as an effective tool to help build a readership, but I wondered just how popular they are.

It seems from your comments, that most of you do enjoy them. AND several of you made important points….1. don’t leave you hanging at the end of the story; 2. Use the story to give you further insight into the series’ characters. The last point was something I really hadn’t considered while working on this current piece, but will now! Tink plays a more central role in this story and, thanks to your comments, I will definitely look at ways to let you all get to know her better!

Again, thanks for the input!

End of Shirley’s post

Shirley did publish a collection of stories, Shadow Tales, in 2011. It includes an Ophelia and Abby story.

Madelyn Alt. I get more requests on her whereabouts than for any other author. I don’t have any info on her beyond this post from 2016.


I’m having a tough time finding information on the status of the following authors. If you know anything, please leave a comment:

K.J.Erickson, author of the Mars Bahr series, set in Minneapolis

Lynda Robinson, creator of Lord Meren, chief investigator for Pharaoh Tutankhamun in ancient Egypt.

Mary Stanton (pseud. Claudia Bishop), a prolific writer of mysteries set in Upstate New York and Savannah, Georgia.

Earl Emerson, author of two series set in Washington State: Mac Fontana, ex-firefighter and arson investigator; and Thomas Black, bicycling-enthusiast private eye. The last Thomas Black story was published in 2015.

Barbara Taylor McCafferty (pseud. Tierney McClellan) and Beverly Taylor Herald, twin sisters and one time prolific authors of several series.

Jean Hager, wrote three series set in Oklahoma and Missouri

Sharon Kahn, creator of Ruby Rothman, a rabbi’s widow in Eternal, Texas


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”


Do you have a favorite 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.

Some authors are easy to find, while some 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, I find that some have left us for the great beyond. Others have seemingly vanished.

Find bibliographies for the above authors on Stop You’re Killing Me, a great resource for mystery lovers.

 

 

When in Wales …

It’s a pleasure to once again host mystery author Amy Reade. Yesterday she launched her new release, Murder in Thistlecross, #3 in the Malice series. If you love tales of complex characters driven to desperate acts to guard their secrets and fortune, this series is for you. 

Amy has been here before. This past August she interviewed Sylvie Carmichael, the main character in Highland Peril, #2 in the Malice series. See the interview here

Without further ado, here’s Amy.


Maybe it’s because I’m always hungry, or maybe it’s because I just love to cook, but when I write I’m sometimes surprised to find that food almost always manages to make its way into what I’m writing.

My new release, Murder in Thistlecross, is no different. I went through a cheese-and-crackers stage while I wrote the book, and you might find that the characters enjoy their cheese and crackers, too. Weird, huh? And Maisie, the cook in the castle where the book is set, provides all manner of tasty meals for the castle guests.

So I guess it’s only natural that when I talked to Maggie about writing this post, she suggested that I write about food. Sounds good to me!

The food of Wales, like the food of any nation or culture, is unique in its use of certain ingredients. In the United States, we like our potatoes and corn (and cheeseburgers). In Germany, it’s sausage and dark breads. And in many parts of the UK, it’s fish and chips.

In Wales, it’s leeks and potatoes, though there are many other foods that, while not necessarily unique to Wales, are prepared in ways that are special to Wales.

Take, for example, Welsh Rarebit. I had heard of it a thousand times, but until my husband ordered it in a restaurant several years ago, I had no idea what it was. I assumed it contained rabbit and had been spelled wrong on purpose for centuries.

Wrong.

It’s cheese on toast. And it’s delicious.

Clearly, neither cheese nor toast can be claimed as a Welsh specialty, but Welsh Rarebit? That’s a Welsh dish—the word “Welsh” is even in the name (the recipe is below).

Ever heard of Minwel Tibbott? I thought not. She was a Welsh historian and anthropologist who was instrumental in transcribing the words and memories of elderly Welsh people (particularly women) during the mid-twentieth century. It was her job and her passion to record their cooking methods and recipes (often dating to the late nineteenth century), many of which had never been written down, for future generations of Welsh cooks. She traveled all over Wales to properly record memories, including the old way of life, availability of foodstuffs, and culinary heritage.

So, Minwel, thank you for the service you provided to all the people of Wales and around the world who appreciate good food and good stories.

I thought I’d share a couple recipes with you before I go. All are adapted from A Taste of Wales by Annette Yates. They’re all traditionally Welsh dishes, and I’ve provided the original Welsh spelling of each dish (though don’t ask me to pronounce them—I think Welsh must be one of the most difficult languages to learn). Enjoy!

Welsh Rarebit: Caws wedi pobi

2 thick slices of bread

2 tsp. butter, softened

2 tsp. mustard (can be regular, spicy, stone-ground, whatever you prefer)

4 ounces crumbly cheddar cheese, grated (Welsh Caerphilly cheese, if possible)

Black pepper

Paprika

Combine butter, mustard, and grated cheese in a small bowl. Set aside.

Preheat the broiler to high. Broil both sides of the bread until lightly toasted. Be careful to watch the bread—it’ll burn easily!

Spread cheese mixture on toast and broil again until cheese is bubbly and golden, just a couple minutes.

Sprinkle with a pinch of pepper and a pinch of paprika; serve hot.

Whinberry and Apple Tart: Tarten lus ac afalau

2 ¼ c. all-purpose flour

5-6 tbsp. sugar, divided, plus extra for sprinkling

10 tbsp butter, chilled and cut into small cubes

1 egg

Ice water

2 apples, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped

2 tsp. cornstarch

3 c. whinberries (also known as blueberries)

Milk for brushing

Sift flour and 2 tbsp. sugar into a medium bowl. Add the butter and rub with your fingers until mixture resembles fine crumbs.

Stir in the egg and enough ice water to form a smooth dough. Wrap dough and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 190 C/375 F/Gas mark 5. Roll out half of dough on a lightly-floured surface, then transfer to 9-inch pie plate. Allow excess to hang over edge. Roll out remaining dough to make a top crust.

Toss apples with cornstarch until evenly coated, then transfer to the pie plate. Scatter whinberries on top and sprinkle 3-4 tbsp. sugar over the mixture. Cover fruit with top crust; seal and crimp edges, discarding excess dough. Make a small slit in the top of the pie for steam to escape.

Brush the top of the pie with a bit of milk and sprinkle with a bit more sugar.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until pastry is crisp and golden and filling is cooked through.

Teabread: Bara brith

1 1/3 c. mixed dried fruit and candied peels (such as raisins, dates, candied orange peel, etc.)

1 c. strong hot tea

2 c. self-rising flour

1 t. apple pie spice

2 tbsp butter

8 tbsp. light brown sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

Place fruit in a medium heatproof bowl and cover with tea. Cover and leave at room temperature several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas mark 4. Grease a 2-lb. bread pan and line with parchment paper.

Stir flour and apple pie spice in a large mixing bowl. Add butter and use your fingers to rub it into the flour/spice until mixture resembles fine crumbs.

Stir in sugar; stir in fruit and soaking liquid. Stir in egg.

Stir entire mixture well until it has a soft consistency.

Transfer mixture to prepared bread pan; level the surface of the dough.

Bake for about one hour until bread tests done. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack.


Amy M. Reade is the USA Today bestselling author of The Malice Series, consisting of The House on Candlewick Lane, Highland Peril, and Murder in Thistlecross, all of which are set in the United Kingdom. She has also written a cozy mystery, The Worst Noel, and three standalone novels of gothic suspense: Secrets of Hallstead House, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, and House of the Hanging Jade.

Amy is a recovering attorney living in Southern New Jersey. She is active in community organizations and loves reading, cooking, and traveling when she’s not writing. She is currently working on a contemporary mystery set in Washington, DC, a historical mystery set in Cape May County, New Jersey, and a second cozy.

Buy Links for Murder in Thistlecross

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2fObci7

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2AXt1XO

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2rqpeyu

Google Play: http://bit.ly/2n2yseL

iTunes: https://apple.co/2Dvvw5M

Independent Bookstore: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781516100194

Social Media Links

Websites: www.amymreade.com

Blog: www.amreade.wordpress.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/amreadeauthor

Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/AmyMReadesGothicFictionFans

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/amreade

Instagram: www.instagram.com/amymreade

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Amy-M.-Reade/e/B00LX6ASF2/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Goodreads Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8189243.Amy_M_Reade

Thanks, Amy! Excuse me while I book my next vacation … to Wales.