Monday, November 28, 2011

Building a Mystery Part 1 - Character and the Cozy

Building a Mystery - Part 1

Character and the Cozy

I've been a professional writer for quite a while, though my career as a published mystery author is just beginning. One thing that writing romance novels does for the writer, is it forces them to focus on character, the heart of any romance worth reading.

So I look at my eleven years writing historical romances as training ground for my career as a mystery author. For some readers, character may not seem an important part of a genre that can coast along nicely on a gripping plot, good action, and a believable murder investigation. But I guarantee this: if you think of the writers you like best, you'll find that they created at least one, and probably more, memorable characters.

Think of a protagonist who stumbled into private investigation when her lone wolf nature got her evicted from the police force of a small California town. As books in the series were published, we learned that she became the way she is because of her background, raised by an aunt who was not a nurterer. Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone is one of the iconic characters in mystery fiction, with every book giving us a little more depth, a little more insight into the quirky character.

But as a writer, how do you do that? How do you create a character that folks will not only like, but remember?

I must admit, I've thought about this a lot over the years, and if you're interested, I'll share, starting with...

What's in a Name?

Do... give your character a memorable, but not overcomplicated or difficult to pronounce in your head, name. If your character's name is pronounced 'Peter' don't spell it 'Peetyre' and expect folks to get it. The exception is if you are setting your mystery in a country where spelling of names is formalized and important to get right. If your character is Welsh, then Dafydd for David is correct, but give your reader a shot at pronouncing it right. Give a pronunciation key in some way, and repeat it in every book in which the character appears. Real-life Canadian singer Damhnait Doyle's Irish name is interesting, but I can never remember that her first name is pronounced 'DAV-net'. Maybe I will, now that I've made a point of it in my head. She's a real person, and the name is cool, but I wouldn't go out of my way to give a character such a complex name. Look at Kinsey Millhone... easy to remember, easy to pronounce.

Don't... give your character a stupid name that distracts from the character. This is somewhat a personal prejudice, but hear me out; I have a reason for disliking cutesy names like Kitty Katz, or Lily Gardener. As tempting as it is, if that character is going to stick around beyond one book, it is a turn-off for me, as a reader, if I'm rolling my eyes every time I read the character name. And it's bad for the eyes. I'm not against unusual names; far from it. After all, I named a central character in my Vintage Kitchen Mystery Series 'Valetta Nibley'. But if you feel a compelling urge to name someone Baby Druel, or something equally horrendous, go on... I dare you!

I have lots more to say, but I figure I have time. Tune in next time for more on Character and the Cozy in Building a Mystery - Part 2    

Monday, November 21, 2011

Real-Time Blogging

For me, reading a new mystery series is often as much about the people as the mystery... I like to follow them from book to book and learn about their lives as well as try to solve mysteries with them.

So, in light of that, I'm experimenting at Killer Characters over the next few months... follow Jaymie Leighton in real time as she lives her life in the months leading up to the launch of my first Vintage Kitchen Mysteries book, A Deadly Grind, in May of 2012.

My characters blog on the 21st of every month... find out what happens next on December 21st! I'm not sure if she'll be blogging, or if someone else will step in and blog for her.
Killer Characters:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Things I've learned lately...

1 - Back up your files... all off them!

My computer crashed recently, and though I had all of my document files (novels, etc) backed up on a flash drive, there are lots of things I've lost forever, or until my computer guru can try to get them off my old computer. I just hope I haven't lost any irreplaceable photos!

2 - Be careful on FaceBook.

On the weekend some skeez 'tagged' me in a pornish photo, and it showed up in my profile!! Because I rarely go online on Sunday - it is family day! - I didn't catch it until this morning. I have now learned how to use the account settings on FaceBook to keep that from EVER happening again! I am so embarrassed and disgusted by it. I'm afraid I may have lost some FaceBook friends who unfriended me! 

3 - Facebook is still a great place.

Several people messaged me about the photo, warning me that I may have been hacked because they knew it wasn't something I would put on there. I am humbly grateful for the support!

Thanks everyone.

With a brand new powerful, lightning fast computer, I will be back with new posts, as I move inexorably toward the May 2012 arrival of A Deadly Grind! I've seen the cover, and it is adorable!! As soon as I can share it, I will.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Soup Pot

Is there anything more satisfying than a good bowl of soup? That is especially true on these getting-colder days.

I started to think about it, and realized my approach to soup and writing is in some ways the same. Here are some of my rules of thumb:

1 - Preparation is important. There is nothing worse, when about to make soup, than finding out you are missing some key ingredients. And so it is with writing. You must be prepared, so if you're not sure of your spelling or grammar or other skills, do your homework!

2 - Take your time. Soup stock needs to simmer. I always take at least two days to make the stock for turkey or chicken soup, because nothing can replace the flavor you get from long, low simmering. Writing is the same. Don't rush your ideas; let them simmer and develop that full-bodied flavor that only comes from time.

3 - Skim the fat! I let my broth chill, and skim most, but not all of the fat off the top, or the broth will be too greasy. But fat is flavor, so leave in some! With writing, trimming the fat is just as important. Long passages of description need to be skimmed, but some description enhances the reader's experience, so don't take it all out, or you risk losing the flavor.

4 - Choose your ingredients wisely. I know some folks who just throw anything into their soup and generally... well, it can end up looking and tasting like dishwater. A good broth, long simmered and reduced, with bits of the meat and what the cooks call 'mirepoix' (onions, celery and carrots, diced) makes a wonderful soup in which the broth is the star. Throw in some pasta (noodles, broken spaghetti, elbow macaroni, or whatever you fancy) if you like, but it is not necessary. Writing is the same; do not try to throw everything at your story, or you'll end up with a dishwater book in which no one ingredient is dominant. Choose wisely, and limit your characters, plot devices, themes and conflicts.

5 - Learn from your mistakes. Over the years I've learned what doesn't work, with soup. One important tip: don't add salt or seasoning until AFTER the broth has reduced, or it will be too salty! And in your writing, pay attention to what others say, and take it in. Don't put up walls, but listen and decide if they have a different take on the 'flavor' of your writing than you do! Yes, you are the boss, but what good is that if no one enjoys the end product but you?

There is nothing more honest than a homely bowl of soup, or a good book, well written. So enjoy, both the process of making soup, and writing your book!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Climb...

 The climb is worth it...

When at the top, is something this lovely to behold...

A place that has flowers this beautiful...

I may never own a property this gorgeous, but looking and photographing is free, right? 

And I can go to this little hole-in-the-wall antique shop!
And I can walk past here and look at the gorgeous colors of fall.
These are some of the things I was thankful for this past weekend, Canada's Thanksgiving. And now I have over a month to find more to be thankful for for America's Thanksgiving!!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Fugly

Okay, hands up, anyone who is keeping something really ugly in their closet.

Okay, that didn't come out right.

The topic for today, boys and girls, is, why do we often keep things that have no real purpose, and that we don't even really like? I'm talking about the knick knack so ugly babies cry when they see it.

I know... I know the answer!!

1 - My favorite auntie made that for me in pottery class and... I can't get rid of it!
2 - I've had it since I was a wee little baby and... I can't get rid of it!
3 - I bought that in Rome (Venice, London, Istanbul, Kalamazoo, Timbuktu) while on my (honeymoon, vacation, year abroad, lost weekend) and... I can't get rid of it!
4 - I bought that with so-and-so, and now they're gone to (heaven, rehab, the opera, the dark side of the moon) and... I can't get rid of it!

Well, that's me in a nutshell. I think I got in this fix because when I was young and moving house a lot, (four times in one year, once!) I got rid of some things that still, to this day haunt me. Among those things are: Most of my grandmother's set of everyday dishes... I'm talking about a complete placesetting for twelve, Johnson Brothers, I think, Jonquil pattern. They weren't practical, and they were really heavy and took up a lot of space, and I did give them to family but... well, marriages break up, and those dishes are gone forever. Sigh. I have the veg dishes and gravy boat, at least. And on the gone but not forgotten list? My pajama puppy!! I had, when I was a kid, a pink and white stuffed pooch that I loved. Somewhere along the way I got rid of him and... I miss pajama puppy!

And lots of other stuff. If I still had everything I regret getting rid of, though, I'd probably have to move and surrender the house to the junk. But still... now I'm afraid to get rid of some things, family things, especially, with sentimental value.

Now, this little item in the photo is something my mom made... the rotten picture doesn't do it justice (!), but it is a pomander made from a tea ball and glammed up with lots of beads. I know, right? Whoa, kinda.... weird!! Why have I kept it? I suppose I know no one else in the world will look upon the poor ugly little thing with any affection, and so, like the runt of the litter, the plain child, I will clutch it to my bosom and keep it. Forever. When I'm gone, someone else will have to deal with it. I may put a note in it, like a message in a bottle: To Whom It May Concern; "I may be ugly, but I was made with love and enthusiasm. Think of that before pitching me!"

So, kids, is there anything at all that you regret getting rid of? And part two of this question is, are you now holding onto some things that are just plain fugly (freakin' ugly), but you can't let go?


Saturday, October 1, 2011


It really feels like autumn this morning. I thought that, as I stood outside in my nightgown and a windbreaker, watching firefighters work on the second local housefire in two weeks.

Oh, yeah, and I thought, 'I need to get a new battery for my smoke detector.'

I'm always of two distinct feelings as autumn closes in, days getting shorter and nights getting longer and colder. On the one hand, I hate to see nice weather leave because I love sitting out in the garden with a cup of tea or glass of wine. 

On the other hand, autumn and winter bring their own joys. I like 'autumn' foods, heartier fare and yummy holiday treats. Oh, and roast turkey... yum! I also get back to crafting: crocheting, painting, needlework, etc. But most of all, autumn brings with it a 'back to work' mentality that really helps me get a lot done. I don't feel like I'm missing out on outdoor activities when the weather is as cold, windy and rainy as it has been the last few days.

What do you like about autumn?

(By the way... no one was hurt in the fire, the second in our neighborhood in two weeks, but what an eye-opener at five in the morning... standing outside in 6 Degrees Celsius... brrrrr!)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Building a Mystery

I have been thinking a lot, lately, about what goes into a successful mystery series. Some of the questions I've asked myself have to do with character, plots, setting, complications, conflict, etc. As the title of this entry says, ultimately, I've been considering what goes into building a mystery. (That's also the title of a Sarah McLachlan song, FYI!)

So I thought I'd do a 'miniseries' of blog entries on my own particular approach to planning and writing a mystery series. This is as much for my own benefit, as for anyone else's. I think it helps to pause every once and a while to look at how you do things and figure out if the approach is working for you.

I'll say right up front, for real advice on how to write a mystery, go to one of the fabulous books or sites for help. I'll do a little research and come up with a list for you. This is more my own, weird, eclectic, peripatetic, wandering, willful way of going about building a mystery series.

Some topics will be:
1 - Where Do I Begin? How I start when I'm planning a series.
2 - Character. How do I decide who my protagonist will be, as well as peopling the world.
3 - Place. Where to set the series?
4 - Will It Fit? Do all of the aforementioned things work for the kind of mystery I'm planning?

And anything else I think of as I'm going along.

If you have any questions, chime in!!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Companion Pieces

I've enthused on and on about my perfect teapot, and I'm still getting a kick out of it, and the 'sweater' (cozy) I crocheted for it. But this summer I also was on the hunt for a nice sugar and cream to go with it. I've been using a melamine sugar bowl that just felt too 'summery' and picnicky, if you know what I mean.

I had some guidelines: the sugar was most important, so it had to be perfect. The creamer, not so much, since I rarely use it; unless I have company, I usually use milk out of the fridge for my tea. I don't care for matchy-matchy, so I didn't really care about a set. Vintage was preferable, but I had to love them both. I'm cheap, so I didn't want to pay a lot.

That last bit is why I didn't end up buying the cream and sugar I really love, which is a vintage Pyrex Snowflake set, hard to find, even online, and horribly expensive if it comes complete with the sugar lid. By horribly expensive I mean twenty plus dollars, plus shipping. That's pricey, to my cheap li'l ole heart. 

 Anyway, I found both a cream and sugar at an antique mall, the sugar is vintage (I believe) but the cream isn't... not really. They are not a set, but I think it all looks kinda pretty 'shabby chic-ish' together.

So, the sugar is a vintage piece with no markings... I just love the colors and the shape. It was five dollars, cheap at twice the price! Not! I like it, but I wouldn't have paid more than that fiver.

If you look in the photo, you can see one of my cats peering over the edge of the picnic table at it, wondering why I'm not letting him up on the table! LOL.

The creamer I got was only two dollars, and it is Wedgwood Tigerlily! Amazing... this piece is worth ten times more than I paid, and that's the kind of math I love.

So... do you prefer 'sets'... things that match? Or do you, like me, have kind of oddball tastes and like variety?
This last photo is just because she's cute... my friend's cat, and I call the photo 'Reba Wants Cheese' because that's what she's beggin for!!

Happy September, everyone!!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Perfect Teapot

Some time ago I blogged about my hunt for the perfect teapot, and this summer I found it! I knew I'd know it when I saw it, and I saw it and knew it. It was in a little shop in a town called Sparta, in Southwestern Ontario. You can find wonderful candles - the smell of the place is out of this world -  there too, and rooms and rooms of fascinating stuff!

My day trip to Sparta was a lot of fun, and we had tea at a great tearoom. The owner, an Englishwoman with a lovely accent, is an avid collector of teapots, and in the following days I'm going to share some of the photos I took of her fabulous collection! I'm envious to the max, but I'd never have room for her 350 beautiful teapots.

Anyway, on to my own acquisition... isn't my new teapot lovely?

What makes it perfect? Well, it's new, so I don't have to worry about hairline cracks or fractures in a vintage or antique pot. It's an oblong shape I like, it is capacious. And dang, but it's pretty! The pattern is kind of an Indian scene typical in English porcelain.

It's so pretty, I crocheted it its own sweater! Check out the tea cozy I made up. Now I just have to finish it off with some cute dangles from the ties, some teacup charms, or something. I was going to do pom poms, but then I thought, I'm going to need to wash this at some point, and poms have a way of disintegrating.

However... the cozy doesn't really keep the tea warm for long. I'm considering going on to create another layer on the inside. I'll debate that, while I go on to other projects.

So, does finding the perfect treasure makes you want to redo your decor, or find a special spot for your lovely acquisition??

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Antiquing... what's the vintage equivalent?

Well, vacation - such as it was - is over. Too hot to do much, so what time I did spend doing anything was either in a friend's pool, or vintage-hunting. I know people call it 'antiquing', as in "I'm going antiquing with the girls this weekend", but I don't buy many antiques, mostly vintage. So what to call it... 'vintaging'?

Anyway, in the weeks to come I will be photographing and writing about my various finds - not that many, really, because of small space and low budget - but some pretty little things. I don't worry much about being 'matchy-matchy', so my new teapot, sugar bowl and creamer are all different patterns! But so pretty together... kinda shabby chic!

See you soon!!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Writing Inspiration - Reading for Writers

Do you read while you write?

That's a question I'd like to ask all the other mystery writers out there.

Time is a factor, or course. When I'm in the midst of writing a book, sometimes all I have time to do is write. My only reading is confined to research, and I collapse at the end of a long day, staring at the idiots who inhabit Reality TV-Land, as they squabble about their tiny lives.

But right now I'm working on the planning of a new series. I don't take that lightly; I believe that the planning stages are what will sustain you through the series, every layer you plan adding to the depth of your characters. I'm cautiously optimistic, but there have been some bumps along the way. Then who should come along to help me out, but Dame Agatha herself!!

I'm serious

I read Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks... no, not the actual notebooks, but the book by John Curran. What I found was, while reading the book I was reminded of all the many methods writers have to conceal evidence, misdirect, and mislead. No one was better at that than the Queen of Mystery herself! I am not lifting any of her methods or tricks, but reading through her thought processes (weird how familiar the notes feel, sometimes; I can see her thinking things through on paper, like I do. Too bad I will never achieve her level of brilliance!!) illuminates a path that all mystery writers must tread, eventually. How can we successfully conceal the perp and his or her motives from the reader?

But lately I started reading Roberta Isleib's 'Asking for Murder', one of her advice column mysteries. And darned if it didn't have the same affect, but in a vastly different way! If you've never read the series, I urge you to pick up the books, starting with the first one, Deadly Advice.  

Here's what I've figured out, about why her book has triggered such a flood of creativity. A truly great mystery writer inspires me, reminding me that while any mystery novel is of course, ultimately about the mystery, at its core a mystery novel is also about the affect of trauma on the human heart, and how the investigation is inevitably cluttered and complicated by the secrets of the soul, the rich interweaving of human experience that is both our glory and sometimes, our downfall. It's all about the people, and their interactions.

I do so loooove writing mysteries!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Why does time seem to fly so quickly in the summertime? I can't believe my last post was July Fourth... incredible.

Summer and vacation go together so well, especially for us northerners. Summer is fleeting, and we want to make the best of every moment. Over at Killer Characters, Jaymie Leighton (from my Vintage Kitchen Mystery series) is musing on the perfect summertime destination for someone who lives in a tourist town. So I thought I would offer a poll... I'm curious... what is YOUR ideal summertime vacation spot?

Let me know!!! And if I haven't offered you the right answer, leave me a comment!

Poll results:

Where is your ideal summertime vacation spot?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth!

Enjoy the day, my friends. I will be spending it reflecting on two countries, alike in wealth (relative to the rest of the world) and freedom and both blessed with a strong and diverse populace.

On this Fourth of July weekend, I celebrate the unique bond between the United States of America and Canada, friends with the longest unprotected border in the world.

Today in Queensville, MI, hometown of Vintage Kitchen Mysteries: Jaymie Leighton and her sister Becca are gathering with their friends at Boardwalk Park to watch the annual sail race from Heartbreak Island, in the middle of the St. Clair river, down to Fawn Island and back. They'll talk, picnic, laugh and later watch the fireworks over the river and sing the Star Spangled Banner.

Planning for the Glorious Fourth:

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Writing in a Vacuum

No, not a Hoover.

Speaking of old vacuums, just for a moment. Long ago when I was in my first apartment, I got from somewhere one of those hideous old heavy cannisters, you know the ones. The design was actually beautiful; it had a teal steel body and fabric hose and lots of chrome. Trouble was, it didn't suck. It actually left MORE dirt on the carpet than when I started.

But that's not the kind of vacuum I'm talking about.

I've been super fortunate in signing a three book deal for the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries, and I am now writing book 2, working title Bowled Over. I'll have book 3 done by the end of the year. Now, writing a series, when you are carrying the same main characters all the way through, requires a character arc, some kind of logical progression in the characters' lives. I love that part of the job.

However... it is very much about writing in a vacuum. I have almost zero input from others on how the characters work. All I can do, at this point, is make their lives logical, interesting and move them forward.

So... what is important to you, as a reader, or writer, about the character arc in your favorite mystery series? When there is a love interest, do you want the love to move forward quickly, or do you not want a resolution too quickly? What about love triangles... love them or loathe them?

I'm interested!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Killer Characters post: The Glorious Fourth!

Hi all... I'm deep in final edits for Bowled Over, Book Two of the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries series, and it covers the Fourth of July. I'm looking up vintage potato salad recipes, and my characters are watching fireworks, among other things, soooo... you will understand this next bit!

Come on over to Killer Characters today, where Jaymie Leighton discusses the different way Canadians and Americans celebrate their countries' birth!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Animals in Mysteries: The Poll Results

Well, the poll is over, and it appears you like animals, you really do!

Love 'em, especially when they help solve the crime.
  9 (64%)
They're fine, as long as they don't act too human, like helping to solve the crime.
  4 (28%)
Animals just get in the way of the plot.
  0 (0%)
It's not important to me either way.
  1 (7%)

Votes: 14
Thanks all, for taking part in the poll!!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Animals in Mysteries

I've read a lot of mysteries over the years, and among them have been hundreds that feature animals as characters. Dominant among these are cats and dogs, of course, but cats seem to have the edge in cozy mysteries.

I wonder why? Personally, I do love both dogs and cats, but have two cats right now. I'd love to have a dog, too, but they just seem to take more work than cats. Dogs have to be walked; cats, not so much. And maybe that explains one of the reasons cats are so common in mysteries. Cats can be there in the story when you want them, and mysteriously glide away when you don't. I always wonder what happens to the animals while the protagonist is out solving crimes; are they lonely? Does she have a dog walker for the pooch? Maybe that's just me and my hyper-sensitivity to responsibility.

Anyway, when I started to create the Vintage Kitchen Mystery series, I decided that Jaymie would have one of each, Denver the tabby, and Hoppy, the Yorkie mix. I'd love a Yorkie, and maybe someday I will get one.

What made me think of this was Avery Aames blog entry today, over at Killer Characters. It is from the viewpoint of Rags, Charlotte's cat, and I love that! Check it out:

But first... because I'm curious... take my poll, to the right of this blog entry. What do YOU think of animals in mystery novels???

Saturday, May 21, 2011

New Post at Killer Characters! Meet Jaymie Leighton.

Today, over at Killer Characters, check out Jaymie Leighton - star of my upcoming Vintage Kitchen Mysteries series with Berkley - as she talks about her obsession with vintage cookbooks, and shows off a cover of one!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

It's Spring!!!

Yes, it's spring, and it finally feels like it in my northern part of the continent. I love spring and summer, and after a long day writing etc, what I love to do most is sit out in the garden, in the shade, in an Adirondack chair, reading a mystery novel, with a cup of...
Well, that's just it, depending on the day, it could be hot tea, iced tea, or a big glass of wine, preferably with the bottle close by for refills. A crisp riesling, or fruity merlot... ah.

So, what is your tipple of choice after a day of cudgeling your brain?

Check out my easy little quiz in the right hand column and tell me what you like!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The great teapot hunt continues...

I think I MAY have mentioned that I am hunting for the perfect teapot ever since my big one broke a few months back. I never liked Big Blue anyway, (hated it, actually, but it was a gift from my mom, and I would have kept it 'til the day it died... luckily its life was short) so it falling off of its handle was a godsend. But here's the thing; I can't decide what kind of teapot I want.

I already have one like this one, a Corning Ware 'Cornflower Blue' Six Cup Teapot, (This one is for sale apparently  - not by me: But mine has a metal lid, not the plastic one, so I'm thinking mine may be older. It was given to me by a friend, and I believe it was her late father's.

The problem with it is, while it says it is six cup, it is not truly six cup in the mug sense. Six teacups, maybe, but my guests usually drink from mugs, and it holds a scant two or three mugs. Sometimes I need a lot more tea than that.
My main character, Jaymie Leighton from 'A Deadly Grind' (Vintage Kitchen Mysteries Book 1 - May 2012) has a Brown Betty teapot that was her grandmother's. This Brown Betty image is from Mrs. Bridge's British Bakery online:

In the near future I'm going to do a blog on the fascinating history of the 'Brown Betty', the ultimate English teapot. But I don't really want a Brown Betty.

A china teapot then? Maybe, but they can get pricey. I was looking in a thrift shop the other day and saw a Sadler one that was not too bad, and a Meakin one I liked, but there were condition problems with both.

So, for you fellow tea drinkers out there, what kind of teapot do you use most? Do you like china, glass, pottery... what? I'm looking for advice, here... what makes the best pot of tea? My grandmother never washed her teapot, just rinsed it out. She was English, and her tea was strong enough to corrode a spoon. The build-up of the tannin in the bottom of the pot (the brown staining) is supposed to, some say, make a better tasting tea. True or false?

Cool link: The Teapot Shoppe
The Expert Opinion on 'How to make a Perfect cup of Tea':

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Collecting for the Vintage Kitchen

I've been collecting for a few years now, and I have to say, I still don't have an overwhelmingly vintage kitchen. Areas of it are 'vintagey' (especially the Hoosier-style cabinet) but otherwise, it's pretty functional/cluttered. Part of my problem, I suppose, is that I get distracted easily; if I see something that I like, I buy it, even if it doesn't fit in my kitchen... yet.

That's the problem. I love so much stuff that I don't get any theme or overall look going. It's kind of haphazard. So in the interest of starting to really think about my collecting, I am doing some research, which I will share as I go along on my route to building the better vintage kitchen! First up... do I need a theme?

At C. Dianne Zweig's blog 'Kitsch 'n Stuff' (cute, right? 'Kitchen Stuff'?) she explores the use of a theme in her polka dots entry: Check it out; I just love the photos of the Fireking polka dot bowls! So retro! She suggests that narrowing to a theme makes the hunt for vintage more challenging, but more interesting, too.

Ideas for a theme for my kitchen could include narrowing the vintage hunt to a certain era, I suppose, or a single color theme, or some kind of harmony in pattern, but I love such a wide array of stuff. I've got old oil lamps, lots of vintage bowls, milk pitchers in the shape of animals, vintage Pyrex, tea paraphernalia, old kitchen utensils, vintage linens... and on and on. Narrowing it would mean breaking my heart by eliminating stuff! 

I'm going to have to find some way of making my collection actually look like a collection, though, so I will ponder this and make some decisions. I also collect teacups, and a friend made me a fabulous shelf that shows off eight of my best teacups and saucers as well as some of my cat-shaped teapots and creamers. I will post photos soon, as I love how it looks.

Tell me your tale; are there any collectors out there, of anything? Not just kitchen related, anything. How do you display your collection? Or do you let it become a happy jumble, like mine?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Miss Valetta Nibley, Spinster and Town Snoop

Over at Killer Characters today you will meet Valetta Nibley, pharmacist and town snoop with a heart of gold, from the Vintage Kitchen Mystery series.

Valetta is one of those characters that you don't realize, as you're writing away, how much they are sneaking into your heart. I don't think I even noticed at first how she's keeping an eye out on those she cares for. She's a Mama Hen with no chicks, and her 'snoopiness' is really just her way of caring.

Drop in and tell me what you think of small towns!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Vintage Hunting

I love hunting for vintage kitchenware. I like dusty little vintage shops, exciting rummage sales, fascinating thrift shops, mountainous piles of junk in a true junkyard, pretty little booths in antique market places, and vast garage sales where the owner just needs to get rid of stuff. I love the rainbow array of collectible hunting. Each has its unique challenge.

So here is my list of the downside and upside of each of these shopping experiences.

Garage Sales: The Downside... the person is only there for one day (probably) so you have to make up your mind quickly on whether you want a piece or not. The Upside... they want to get rid of the junk, and will make a deal! 

Dusty Little Vintage Shops: The Downside... I find it is hit or miss whether these are open on any given day. I think the proprietors are usually older and doing it because they love it, so if they are ill, busy, or gone to Florida for a few months, the shop just won't be open! The Upside... Those same proprietors are usually very knowledgeable and love to share their knowledge of unique vintage and antique collectibles. 

Rummage Sales: The Downside... you are usually in competition for the choice bits with dealers, who arrive early, pick quick, and are willing to buy huge amounts of stuff for their shop or online sales business. You have to move fast to beat them. The Upside... oh, the bargains! And helpful sales staff, often willing to make a deal if you are polite and cheery. They are generally volunteers who believe in the cause the rummage sale is supporting, whether it is the Rotary Club, or a church, or a charity.

Booths in Antique Markets: The Downside... the prices! These folks know the worth of their stuff, and can afford to let it sit for a while, knowing the right person will pay for that precious bit of Pyrex or china teacup. The Upside... the experience! I have seen the most beautiful things in these venues, and it is an education every time I wander through. I see stuff I won't see anywhere else, except on the internet!

The Real Deal Junkyard: The Downside... the sheer amount of crap you have to wade through to get something good! I have spent hour and hours in one huge barn of a junkplace, only to come out with two pieces of Pyrex and some cool old kitchen utensils. And be prepared to get dirty, because these places are dusty. Hope you're not allergic! The Upside... you can find some of the most unique and unusual things at a junkyard type sales barn, and get it dirt (and dirty) cheap.

The Thrift Shop: The Downside... you know what? I can't think of one! The Upside... new stock all the time, and the folks that run it price it to sell. I have found some of my best finds in thrift stores. Where else could I get some vintage Pyrex, a cool painting for the wall and some Liz Claiborne clothes, all at the same place? This is my idea of a fun afternoon!

So... all you collectors out there, whatever your passion is... I want to know about your best experience shopping for vintage finds. What did you get? Where did you get it? Do you enjoy the experience, and why??

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Stages and new mystery series...

Book 1 of my shiny new Vintage Kitchen Mystery series, A Deadly Grind, will not be published until May of 2012. For me, ADG is at the stage where I know so much about it (in fact, I'm done the first draft of Book 2 - Bowled Over) that I'm excited for other people to read it, to see if they like it as much as I do! I'm like a parent, I guess... will you all like my special little snowflake? I hope you do.

Writing is all about stages. I'm at a completely different stage with another series that I am planning, a historical mystery series that has me so excited I can't sleep at night. I'm at the very beginning, peering at it through the pearly haze of dawn and hoping it will be all I want it to be. I know some writers don't feel this way, but planning a new series is like... well, it's like seeing a bright, shiny gift under the Christmas tree and wondering what's in it. Do you remember that feeling? Remember dreaming about what's in that gift? Is it all you hoped for, you wonder? Will you unwrap it and gasp in glee? 

As the days go by, I make new discoveries about the series. I haven't rushed it, which is how I approach opening gifts, first untie the ribbon, then remove one maddening piece of tape at a time to preserve the pretty wrapping paper. 

But then, I tend to do the same with a new mystery series that I am thinking of diving into as a reader. I like to look around, find something I'm interested in, tiptoe toward it and look it over. How about you? Do you look for new series, then be sure to get Book 1, so you'll have the story from the beginning? Or do you dive in wherever you find a book that hooks your interest, then go back and get the others if you like it?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

And the moral of the story is...

I've learned a lot from books over the years. Fiction, and by definition the men and women who write it, has helped me form my moral code, made me think, outraged me, soothed me, given me food for thought. I like a book that has some meat to it, something that, after the back cover is closed, or the last page has flashed by on my ereader, leaves me thinking. Some books I go back to again and again in my thoughts, mulling the core values of the story, wondering what the author meant in certain spots, weighing the morals and lessons I glean from the conflicts and plotlines within the pages. 

But sometime I just want a good yarn, a story that entertains, lightly, and without hitting me over the head with a moral. And yet, I don't think that 'light' has to necessarily mean empty of value. I do believe that even the lightest and fluffiest of novels can have a moral compass guiding it.

We, as writers, have a powerful duty to be sure we know what we're doing, that the 'lessons' contained within the books we write resonate, hold power and meaning, add light to the world, and not darkness. That doesn't mean no grit in the plot, no darkness, no true representation of evil, it just means--to me--that at the end, that the reader takes some truth away. This is a very personal view, one I hold close to my heart. When I set aside a book as boring, I often find it's because the book has no moral story at its core. I want to be entertained, but I want to be provoked to think, too, and I can't imagine hanging in there with a series protagonist who wasn't seeking the truth of his or her own life in the people around them. 

The mystery series I have stayed with over the years- V. I. Warshawski, Kinsey Millhone, Deborah Knott... these are the ladies I hang out with the most and have for many years. Even when I don't agree with them, they are mighty fine company. I feel that way about my friends in real life, too. I may not always agree with them, but I usually learn something from their company and enjoy our disagreements.

So... how do you as readers feel? What do you get from the murder mysteries, cozy or otherwise, that you read?  Do you want to learn something, or feel something while reading? No moral judgment here if you don't... reading 'just' for entertainment is fine. I'm that way with TV. After all, I watch so-called 'Reality TV', where all I learn is, don't trust anyone who says 'trust me'. Heck, I watch Wipeout, too, and you won't learn a single thing from that except watching someone try to navigate the big red balls is funny as all get out! After a day of reading and writing, sometimes I just need escape, and Survivor, American Idol and the like offer that to me. 

But what about you?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Collecting or Hoarding?

First things first... my secondary character Rebecca Leighton Burke is blogging about sisters - Jaymie Leighton in particular and her love life or lack thereof - over at Killer Characters today... check it out!!

Now... at what point does a collection become a mania, a dangerous hoarding problem?

I guess I'm interested in that distinction for a couple of reasons. One, I share the 'collecting' mania with the lead character of Vintage Kitchen Mysteries, Jaymie Leighton. Like her I collect vintage cookware and utensils, old linens and old cookbooks. But I generally know when to walk away, as I did on Friday, when I was in a thrift store and managed to walk away from two lovely Pyrex bowls, a red and a yellow from the Primary Colors collection. Of course, the reason it was so easy to walk away is, I suspect they are not really old. The glaze was too good, the red wasn't the right red, and the yellow bowl should have been blue, in that size. Also, I did buy a Pyrex gravy boat and tray and some Johnson Brothers 'Friendly Village' pieces. I'm collecting Friendly Village one piece at a time.

Side note: how can you tell if your Pyrex is really vintage? Here is much that you need to know, when collecting Pyrex.
Pyrex Love FAQ

But back to the hoarding question; I don't have room for everything in my cupboards or even in the Hoosier cabinet, so there are always stray bits of my collection on counters or the kitchen table. Linens, too... my linen closet door won't close.

I'll admit right here that I can't watch those hoarding shows (like 'Hoarding; Buried Alive' on TLC) because it gives me the icks. But that's because the places are always filthy, and I get itchy just thinking about it. I'm not the best housekeeper in the world, but I have my limits.

So... hoarder or collector? You'll be happy to know TLC's site has a quiz about hoarding, (click here) though it doesn't really answer the 'hoarder or collector' question. Based on most of the factors though, I am just a collector whose collection is a leeetle too big for my available space. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

My second reason for an interest in it is that I am using a hoarder as a character in Book Two, Bowled Over. Jaymie has been accused of hoarding by nitpicky-neat sister Becca, and is questioning her own love of 'stuff', but when she comes across a true case of it, she knows she's not a hoarder. Not yet, anyway! LOL.

Seriously, though, true hoarding is a psychological condition that can become dangerous if the house is so congested that the person who lives there can't move around, is in danger of tripping, or if the place is dirty. Have you ever seen a place like that?

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Writing Heroes - Sara Paretsky

Hardball by Sara Paretsky

I love to write and read cozy mysteries, but there is another side to my reading taste. I love the steelier 'female private investigator' school of writing exemplified by Sara Paretsky's 'V. I. Warshawski' books and Sue Grafton's 'Kinsey Millhone' novels. Right now I'm reading 'Hardball', by Sara Paretsky and loving it. I love the way she works history and a powerful social agenda into her work.

So imagine my excitement today to find out that Sara Paretsky has a blog! In it, Ms. Paretsky shares portions of her new writing, chunks of the latest V.I. book.

And in other good news, Sara has been given the use of the handle @VIWarshaski on Twitter, a gracious thing indeed when you realize that the young lady who had been using it was tweeting about literature, pop culture and much more, from India. She had nothing to gain by giving Sara back the rights to her Twitter alter ego, but she did it anyway.

I'm off to 'follow' VI, and to finish reading Hardball.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Letting Go

It's funny, but when I started dreaming up the first book in what would become the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries, the title came first; Hoosier Dead Guy? I thought it was mildly funny, and it made me smile. That was a year-and-a-half ago. I've turned the first book in (November 30th, 2010) and am about halfway through writing the first draft of the second book, but the process of titling and cover illustration for Book 1 of the Vintage Kitchen Mystery series is about to begin.

My lovely editor warned me that they might want to brainstorm a new title, and it was pointed out to me by my fabulous agent (Hi, Jessica!) that when most folks hear the word 'Hoosier', they think of the college basketball team. (I don't; when I hear 'Hoosier' I think of kitchen cabinets) Or they remember the Gene Hackman movie about the college basketball team.

Basketball? Yikes. The last thing I want is for folks to buy my book thinking they are getting a basketball mystery, though I think one would do very well. But that reader, expecting a sporty mystery with a feisty Indiana basketball team, might not want to end up with a vintage kitchenware collecting, tea drinking, girly girl heroine in a mystery centered around a Hoosier kitchen cabinet.

So, what I'm working up to is this bit of publishing world truth; most writers know that the title of their work is always subject to change. It's difficult sometimes, because if they're like me, they get wedded to their title, and find it hard to break free. But this time I surrendered with grace. I'm proud of myself! I have learned this time around that one must let go and trust the process. Think of your title from all angles, listen to input, take advice. And it truly is best to be a part of the process so you'll end up with something that you like.

After some consideration, and some tweaking of the plot, we brainstormed and found a new working title: A Deadly Grind. I won't tell you yet why that is the perfect title--and no, it's not gross--but it is just right. I can't wait to see my cover, which I still hope will have some rendering of a Hoosier-type kitchen cabinet, much like the one pictured above.

This lovely photo is used with the permission of John Lucas:

Visit his wonderful and entertaining page today, if you, like me, are interested in the vintage kitchen!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Good news all around!

I have some great news to share.

First and foremost, I suppose, is that I do have a publication date for the first book of the Vintage Kitchen Mystery series. But it seems so far away!!! May 2012. Sigh.

But the second piece of news will help me while away the time. I am excited to announce that I have been invited to join the group over at Killer Characters, a great blog with posts from all the characters out of cozy mysteries!! Jaymie Leighton, the star of the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries has already had an entry; I guested at Killer Characters. But now I've been invited as a member, and the first post, from Jaymie's older sister, Becca, is on Monday! I'll post the link when it is up.

I'll be back...

Update: Ooooops!!! My face is red... actually, a shade of cerise. I mispoke on the date for my first blog entry as a 'Killer Characters' member. Becca's post will be up on MARCH 21st, not today!

Back to waiting... and writing! No holiday for cozy writers, you know.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lady in Waiting

Every business has its share of 'hurry up and wait' times, when you have rushed to complete a project by deadline, only to wait in agony while the project is approved or reviewed. Time, compressed until hours feel like seconds in the first instance while frantically working, now elongates until days feel like years as the 'wait' is on.

Such is life as a novelist. While we can (and do, if we're smart) move on to work on other projects, there is still that nagging sense of looming agony or ecstasy. Will the editor like the book? Will they need massive changes, or none at all, or most likely, some changes, which they'll need by - of course - a tight deadline.

I've been in the game long enough to know how it works. But still... I'm so anxious to know if Book One of the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries, 'Hoosier Dead Guy?' is to the editor's taste, if she thinks I'm on track. I've gone on to Book Two, 'Bowled Over', but I'd feel a whole lot better if I knew Book One was how the editor envisioned it.


And then I/we could get on to the fun stuff, like cover design and... sheesh... a publication date.

So, to distract myself from the agony of the wait, here is a list of random musings:
  • Why do we always capitalize 'I', but not 'we' in writing; aren't 'we' more important than 'I'?
  • Why does my desk always end up in the same disgraceful state no matter what resolutions I make to the contrary?
  • How can someone as reasonably intelligent as I am (or pretend to be) love reality TV so much?
  • If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

And so I wait... my publication date is the proverbial watched pot that never boils. When I fuggedaboutit and just write on, that's the moment I'll find out my fate/publication date.

Until then, picture me counting paperclips and wondering why I have so many when I use, maybe, five a year. At this point, I have enough paperclips to last me until 2075.

The photos for this entry are used courtesy of Photo 8, a site that offers marvelous photos free!

Monday, February 14, 2011

To my Vintage Valentine...

Who knew there was such a place as the Vintage Valentine Museum? Well, there is, at least on the 'net.

Happy Valentine's day, everyone!!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

And so it begins... Part 3

And so it begins... Part 3  - The road to mystery publication, which started so slow and winding, takes a steep new path, and I'm just along for the ride... wheee!

When an agent is working with you on a project, they will sometimes suggest changes, ask you to polish the proposal more, etc., but I had worked for four months, and my proposal was like glass, it was so polished! Jessica suggested the change from 'Vintage Collectibles Mystery Series' to 'Vintage Kitchen Mysteries' and I accepted immediately. In fact, I felt kinda stupid for not thinking about it myself. It was clearly a much better description of the series!

She then put together a list of possible editors at different houses to send it to. I was so excited! The list was impressive, all the best houses. Almost immediately (within days) we got one very interesting rejection from a very good house. The editor said the work was 'too good for a mass market paperback release', but a little too slight for a hardback. I was overwhelmed. That is an extreme compliment, for someone with modest expectations. Too good for paperback?

Writing Tip: In publishing, whether you are approaching
editors or agents, shoot for the very best, first. If you get
rejected there, then go down a notch to smaller
agencies/houses. Give yourself a chance to excel!

I just hoped not everyone felt that way! LOL.

And then... and then... before the other publishers even had a chance to come in with an offer, we heard from Berkley Prime Crime, the creme de la creme, the tiptop, the pinnacle of my ambition. Prime Crime, the home of Kate Collins, Monica Ferris (love her stitching mysteries), Joanna Carl, and Cleo Coyle! Susan Wittig Albert! Laura Childs! I could go on and on. And on.

I won't.

They thought I was the Goldilocks of cozy mystery authors, in other words, Hoosier Dead Guy? was 'just right'! (that wretched Goldilocks metaphor didn't really work, no matter how I wrote it, but oh well!) We accepted the offer (after some negotiation) and so Vintage Kitchen Mysteries was born. Book One-I sure hope they stay with my title, Hoosier Dead Guy?, but there's no guarantee that they will-will come out... well, I don't have a pub date yet, but you'll be the first to know when I do.

And that, my darlings, is the road to publication of Vintage Kitchen Mysteries and 'Hoosier Dead Guy?'.

Have I said the series name and book title enough times to have it ingrained in you, like part of your DNA?? I sure hope so! I'll have more to say about the road to cozy mystery publishing as I go further in the process, of course. Right now, I am done the first book, it is with the editor, and I am about a third of the way into Book 2 - Bowled Over.

So... now for a pop quiz... oh, don't groan! You in the back, put your desk lid down and listen up. No gum! Turn off your cell phone!

I want to know...
  • How many of you who read Cozy Mysteries also (secretly, or not) plan/wish/hope to write them, too?
  • Is there anything I can tell you about my road that I haven't already? (Can't imagine that, but you never do know.)
  • Do you want to know any more about the publishing industry?
  • Do any of you read cozy mysteries for the information you get out of them, too? No, I don't mean how to kill people (at least, I hope not) I mean, all the how-tos, sprinkled like confetti through cozy mysteries; do you relish learning how to make glass, crochet a sweater, do crewel work, bake a cupcake, darn a sock, cook fettucine, wax a surfboard?
Drop me a line anytime!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

And so it begins... Part 2b

Where did we leave off? Oh, yeah... I had made a list of agents, and begun proposing. Onwards and... upwards?

And so it begins... Part 2b

I sent out proposals to a dozen agents or more, probably, over the course of two months, two or three per week, all solicited queries. But... not all of the Vintage Kitchen series. Though I knew the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries was a solid cozy series idea, I also believed (still do) that the other book/series proposal was/is a good idea. Some of the literary agents were not suitable for a purely 'cozy' proposal, so I sent those agents the other idea. I would, I decided, leave it up to God/fate/destiny what happened.

One or two got back to me fairly quickly with a 'this isn't for me' kind of response. But it was a bad time of year to be proposing to anyone in New York. For those who don't know, the publishing world basically shuts down in December, July and August (in my experience). The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is especially bad, so I knew it would be tough sledding. Most agents and editors are determined to clear their desks of piled up work in that period, and focus on the clients and projects at hand.

One saving grace, in that time, was that I had a finished romance manuscript accepted at a big new start-up, so Christmas 2009 was not terrible. I can say that now. It didn't feel so sunny/rosy/rainbowy all over then. I was distraught and full of doubt. Had I made a mistake? Should I be writing the next big romance novel? After all, it was work, and I like romance novels.

January came, as it inevitably does, in the middle of that long winter, and so, as January progressed, came the 18th, right after the 17th, as usual. Jessica Faust was now... open for queries again!! But me? I let the date pass without leaping onto my computer and sending off the cozy proposal. Wouldn't want to look to anxious, you know. I was like the uber-cool fella who slouches along by the popular girl, but doesn't join the horde of hopeful suitors. I'd wait. A few days. I couldn't stand to wait long, mind you.

I sent my query to Jessica on January 20th or 21st, and sat back to wait. She requested the proposal fairly quickly, I sent it, and then sat back to wait again. And wait I did. She was inundated with queries/proposals, as I knew she would be.

But a few weeks later I got an enthusiastic email saying she read the proposal, couldn't believe she had waited so long, and wanted to talk. We talked, and in that phone call she tried to give me time to think about signing with her. Hah!!! As if I'd let her go that easy. I told her I didn't need any time; I'd done the research, and I knew that she was my 'dream' agent. I didn't need a moment more, not even a millisecond.

'Send me the contract', I said, and sent an email to every other agent who had one of my proposals. I was off the market. It had taken me five or six months, but I got my literary agent, and I was gung ho to go!

And so it begins... Part 3  - The road to mystery publication, which started so slow and winding, takes a steep new ascent, and I'm just along for the ride... wheee!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

And so it begins... Part 2a

Where did I leave off? Let's see... reformed romance author finds new agent she wants to work with, and begins to create new mystery series, blah, blah...

And so it begins... Part 2a - Turning an idea into a cozy mystery series, and the bumps along the way. Especially trying to find an agent! 

So, using the advice from the agent I wanted to impress, Jessica Faust of Bookends, I read some of her clients' cozies and conceived an idea for a series based on a vintage cookware/cookbook collector. I began to plan it out, (that, by the way, is a lot of fun; creating a series is like starting life over, inventing where you want to live, building the perfect house and surrounding yourself with all the stuff you like... cool!) worked out the plot, wrote the synopsis and three chapters. Finally, I thought... finally, I am getting close to being ready to present Proposal Number Two to Superagent Jessica Faust. I wasn't quite there, but I wanted to be sure I was on the right track.

Soooo, I went to the Bookends website to brush up on query/proposal FAQ and... OMG!!! Found a note there that Jessica had gone on query/proposal hiatus for FOUR months! Four! Not one, not two, not even three freaking months, but FOUR. Four long, difficult, tiring, anxious... okay, I think you got it. For a starving and anxious writer - I was without a book contract for the first time in ten years - four months is a long, long time. It was September, and she wasn't open to queries again until January 18th, 2010. See, I remember the date! That's how anxious I was.

Writing Tip: When approaching an agent, take time to look over their website and check out their query/proposal preferences. Tailor your proposal to what they like to see, and you'll give yourself a boost in the dicey game of finding an agent.

But... I've been in the business a while. The first rule of publishing for someone who wants to be published is, don't put all your novels in one bookcase. One must be adaptable, flexible, Cirque du Soleil stretchy! I worked and polished and wrote and polished some more until the proposal for 'Hoosier Dead Guy?' and the next two books in the Vintage Kitchen Mystery series (it wasn't called that yet; Jessica - of course - gave me that idea) was shiny-bright 'n ready. And I began, late in 2009, to approach (gasp!) other literary agents. I had to move ahead, and it was the only way I knew how. So I did the research and began with a list of good agents, worthy agents. Respectable and capable agents. Solid agents who I knew would represent me well.

Every single one of them (from whom I heard back,) asked for the proposal from the query. That's very good, in the publishing business, when it's sometimes hard to get beyond the query. But I knew my solid writing background had gotten me thus far. If the work wasn't good enough, it would get me no further. I was still pining after Ms. Faust, but I had steeled myself to look further afield.

And so it begins... Part 2b  - Will one of those agents grab me? Will I be faced with the decision of whether to wait for Jessica (aka Ms. Superagent) to open up to queries again, or will no one else want me? Hint: the time of year was in my favor, in one weird way, and I do believe that fate/destiny smiled on my enterprising little heart!