Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Peg Herring on Writing Workshops

*This article is in response to a request from me to Peg that she write on Writing Workshops... I've never been to one and I hope that for the many aspiring authors out there, you read this and get the advance info you may need to choose the right route for you! Enjoy!

Help! I’m a Writer and I Need Direction!
by: Peg Herring

Maybe you’ve got an idea. Maybe it’s a half-finished manuscript. Maybe you’ve got a whole novel done and you’d like to see if it’s publishable. Where do you go? Here are three places a wanna-be writer can go to stick a toe into the sea of publishing. They’re all worthwhile if you consider ahead of time what they’re good for.

First, fan conferences. As a voracious reader and an aspiring writer, I was surprised to learn that there were gathering places where fans could meet their favorite authors, hear what they have to say about writing, and (of course) buy signed copies of their books. My first venture into the world of publishing was a small fan conference, Magna Cum Murder in Muncie, Indiana, and it was a lucky choice. At small cons writers and readers mix informally, and the panels often focus on how an author comes up with a story and follows it through. The writers I met there were very friendly and helpful, answering my amazingly naïve questions with tact, maybe because many of them were only a year or so ahead of where I was at the time. Small cons allow a person to meet authors, but they’re also good places to ask questions, listen, and learn.

Some conferences are more attuned to writers, and over time there seem to be more and more of those: fewer fans in attendance, more authors seeking contacts, publicity, and encouragement. (It’s a bit ironic, because we all end up trying to sell our books to each other.) Still the author conference can be helpful in the exchange of ideas and information, the chance to meet editors, agents, and others in the publishing business, and the discussions of what’s hot, what’s fading, and who’s looking for what. Panels often focus on “How to Sell” and other topics of more interest to writers than to readers.

How do you tell the difference between fan and author cons? Sometimes it’s difficult. Fan cons try to interest readers; author cons focus on aspects of writing and publishing. Author cons often have pitch sessions with agents and editors; fan cons will have “Meet the Author” opportunities. Most try to appeal to both readers and writers, but the schedule of events reveals whether the con leans toward fans or authors. Either can be helpful if you attend knowing what you’re paying for.

The third event an aspiring writer may want to attend is the writing workshop, and some cons have these included in their programs or available for an extra fee. A workshop should focus as much as possible on your genre; otherwise, you spend a lot of time listening to instruction that doesn’t apply to you. Look for workshops that don’t just benefit the presenter. You may receive invitations to workshops that claim to enhance your chances of publication from agents, authors, and others in the business. Think about it: are they trying to help you, or trying to line their pockets? Universities often offer writing courses, and they can be very helpful, especially in less commercial genres. However, a university workshop given by a professor who publishes scholarly texts will probably not help you sell your romance novel. Workshops offered or suggested by organizations focused on your genre(Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, etc.) will probably be the most helpful. The presenters will be professional and the purpose genuine, so look on the website of the professional organization closest to what you’d like to publish.

A good workshop should be hands-on, should provide take-along helps you can refer to in the future (you won’t remember it all), and should have an instructor that has succeeded in the field you’re interested in. If the instructor hasn’t published recently in your field, he’s liable to misinform. For example, I once heard an author tell a crowd of aspiring writers that they should NEVER submit a query by email. His contention was that agents and editors “deserve and expect the courtesy of a real, stamped letter.” That might have been true a few years ago, but today’s professionals often operate totally by email, so his advice was outdated and possibly harmful.

One way to learn about workshops is from others who’ve taken them and found them worthwhile. The web is a great place to look: blogs, websites, and author sites can give valuable information, but again you don’t know what you’re getting into sometimes. Early on, I signed up for an on-line workshop on how to write a good query letter. I only paid twenty dollars, but even so, I was disgusted at the Mickey-Mouse, Little-Miss-Sunshine nature of it. Everyone got “Oh, you’re so creative!” and there was no instruction at all, just “Let’s all write something and post it for everyone else to see,” sort of a blind-leading-the-blind approach. Obviously, the instructor was raking in money from naïve people like me who wanted to know how to grab the attention of an agent, and she was giving away nothing in return.

A workshop or conference can be daunting. Honest analysis and feedback from people in the business can be harsh, and you’d better be ready to hear truths about publishing and somebody’s opinion on what’s wrong with your writing. Talking with others may help you find the most nurturing cons and workshops that are helpful, not ego-smashing.

What do conferences and workshops provide? Networking- one of the most important things for a writer. Ideas-talking with others ignites the creative spark and encourages a writer to keep going. And excitement-it’s fun to rub elbows with those who’ve made it, meet those who are on the way up, and commiserate with those who are still trying to get a toehold.

Author: Peg Herring
Published: January 22, 2010 by Five Star
Series Name: A Simon & Elizabeth Mystery
Category: Historical mystery
Main Character: Simon, Elizabeth Tudor
In London, headless corpses of beautiful women are found, haunting Henry VIII with memories of his own beheaded wives. Unknown to the King, his daughter Elizabeth joins with Simon Maldon, the crippled son of a respected physician, to find the killer.

Peg Herring is a writer of plays, short stories, articles, and novels who lives in northern Lower Michigan and speaks all over the area on writing and publishing. Her novels, MACBETH'S NIECE and HER HIGHNESS' FIRST MURDER (Five Star) are available in bookstores. Her short story, "The Gift of the Margi" is in the 2009 holiday anthology, THE GIFT OF MURDER, published by
Wolfmont Publishing as a Toys for Tots fundraiser. All are available at


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why I Write Mysteries By Steven Rigolosi

*Editor's note: Welcome to Steven Rigolosi. Love his list!

We all spend our days and nights reading and writing paragraphs. So, for the sake of variety, I thought I’d mix up the format a little bit, and answer in bullets.

So…why do I write mysteries?

=> Because when I started writing, nobody was buying haunted house books, which is originally what I wanted to write.
=> Because I grew up surrounded by my parents’ bookshelves, which were loaded with the greats: Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, Ross Thomas, John D. McDonald, P.D. James, Ngaio Marsh.It’s tough to read these writers and not want to follow in their footsteps.
=> Because for me there’s no greater reading pleasure than matching wits with intelligent readers, playing fair with them but at the same time trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
=> Because the genre is so rich and allows such wide latitude.So far I’ve written three books, each of a different type: Who Gets the Apartment? (a caper), Circle of Assassins (noir), Androgynous Murder House Party (satire).
=> Because life is mysterious, with so many unanswered questions. When you write a mystery, you get to answer those questions however you’d like.
=> Because it seems that everyone loves a mystery, which is really helpful if you want people to read your books (and I do!). The odds of someone reading a mystery seem a lot greater than someone reading, say, a historical novel or a presidential biography.
=> Because writing mysteries is as much escapism for me as it is for the readers.
=> Because mysteries require a good story and a strong plot, and I think our job as novelists is to be great storytellers who keep readers coming back for more.
=> Because in mysteries the good end happily and the bad end unhappily. As Oscar Wilde said, that’s what fiction is all about.
=> Because of my fellow mystery writers—a very supportive, creative, and friendly group of people.
=> Because I love going to the mystery conventions, seeing what’s new and exciting, and hearing other writers talk about their work and their protagonists.
=> Because I love the length of the genre, which forces you to develop your characters, interest your readers, introduce your puzzle, and resolve everything satisfactorily in 300 pages or fewer.
=> Because I like the challenge of it all, of trying to do something new and different, of trying to work within the confines of the genre while trying to make a contribution to it.
=> Because I work full time and I feel that to have a happy life, I need to have something beyond my job. Writing is my get-away, the thing I have that belongs to me that is separate from my commute, and the demands of my job, and the stresses of everyday life.
=> Because one of my biggest goals in life is to have one of my books on someone’s “favorite books of all time” list.
=> Because we all want to make our mark somehow, to leave something of us behind that is remembered fondly, to have the satisfaction of knowing that we’ve succeeded in entertaining people, or tricking them, or surprising them, and that they appreciated the experience.

Steven Rigolosi, a resident of Northern New Jersey, is the author of the Tales from the Back Page mystery/suspense series. Each book takes a quirky advertisement on the back page of a New York City newspaper as its starting point, exploring who placed the ad and why, as well as who responded and what happened afterwards. His most recent book is Androgynous Murder House Party, in which readers are faced with two mysteries. Not only must they discover the murderer’s identity, they must also read between the lines to discover the gender of each of the characters, all of whom have androgynous names—Robin, Lee, Alex, Chris, Terry, and so forth. Library Journal has called Rigolosi “a completely fresh voice in the mystery genre.”


Who Gets the Apartment? (2006)

Circle of Assassins (2007)

Androgynous Murder House Party (2009)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ghost Writing - Clea Simon

*Editor's Note: I'm always interested in how other writers handle things, so today Clea Simon talks to us about some of the technical aspects of creating a supernatural characters. Welcome, Clea!

Creating characters is a blast. From an initial spark – an overheard bit of dialogue, a peek through a crowd, a dream – you get an idea for who someone might be. From there, you learn about this new person, your fictional creation. A name, some habits. Friends and tastes. The ways that characters come together never ceases to amaze and thrill me. But one thing I’ve learned about characters: In order for them to be interesting, in order for them to be real, they must have limits, weaknesses, and boundaries.
So how do you write a ghost?

This question came up for me while I was working on Shades of Grey, my first Dulcie Schwartz mystery, and again as I was working on the sequel, Grey Matters. The entire Dulcie Schwartz project came out of a simple idea: that a young grad student who was studying Gothic literature would see the ghost of her late, great cat, Mr. Grey. I had an initial scene, in which she would see a cat who looked just like her late cat, and that the cat would try to warn her about entering what she would discover was a murder scene.

That was the seed of the entire series. But after that, well… I was on my own.

As mystery writers venture further into the paranormal, many other ghosts have been launched in the world. But the one that stuck in my mind was an unsuccessful one. I’m a fan of novelist Lisa See. I enjoyed her China-set thriller series and have come to enjoy her more ambitious historical novels as well. But two years ago, when she published Peony in Love, I found myself incredibly disappointed. I understand what she was trying to do in this book – to retell great Chinese dramas from the 16th and 17th century from a woman’s perspective. But the female protagonist, Peony, was a ghost, and in See’s retelling, as a ghost, Peony had no flaws and very few distinctive character traits. She also, basically, had no limitations on what she could do in terms of space or time. The result was disappointing. While the peek inside an ancient world was interesting, there wasn’t anything there to connect to emotionally – no conflict or tension or suspense. So when I started writing Shades of Grey, I kept poor Peony in mind. Mr. Grey, while no longer a flesh-and-blood cat, was not going to be a bloodless specter. No way.

Knowing that I wanted an emotional response to this ghostly feline, I used my own emotions as a guide. The basic idea for Mr. Grey was the strange sense I’d gotten after we’d had to put my much loved cat Cyrus to sleep that Cyrus was still, somewhere, around. I know logically that this was because for the previous 16 years, Cyrus had been my pretty much constant companion. In some way, my mind couldn’t accept that the longhaired grey cat, with a face more Siamese than Persian, was no longer there. So I saw him – felt him – sometimes even heard him everywhere. Talking to other bereaved pet lovers, I found out that this experience was common, and so that’s what I worked with. That feeling that you think you see your pet, unlikely as it seems, but you’re just not quite sure…

As for the question of spectral infallibility, well, that was tougher. A ghost, especially a ghost who is helping solve a mystery, probably knows more than a living creature, right? So how come a caring ghost wouldn’t just explain everything to his human and solve the mystery from the start? I wrestled with this one a bit. Should Dulcie not hear everything Mr. Grey says? Should she misinterpret? Well, yes, a little of both. But what ultimately saved me was the realization that, ghost or no, Mr. Grey is a cat. And what is important to a cat is not always what is important to a human, and even the most loving feline will sometimes lose patience with his person and go take a nap. Making Mr. Grey a ghost, or a possible ghost, presented some problems, but recognizing him as a feline paved the way for many enigmatic and, I hope, mysterious puzzles!

Clea Simon
Clea's blog:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sarah Wisseman - Why I Write Mysteries

*Welcome to Sarah Wisseman! Thank you, Sarah, for this fascinating explanation of why you write mysteries!

I grew up in a house full of readers where everyone’s favorite pastime was to gather around the fireplace and read, talk about books, or read aloud from books such as The Hound of the Baskervilles. Gradually I became aware that some of my parents’ favorite books were mysteries, but I didn’t really understand why until I started to write one.

Traditional mysteries are layered puzzles, like archaeological digs. The best ones are rich in character and setting, hard to put down but satisfying to finish because (usually) evil is contained and chaos is tamed. Such stories offer a welcome respite from daily life, where bad guys thrive and events and personalities are usually messier and more complicated than in fiction.

I like layers and puzzles—that’s not surprising, since I am an archaeologist at the University of Illinois in my “day job.” Although I no longer shovel much dirt myself, I spend many hours reconstructing the history of excavated objects with incomplete information, much like a detective trying to ferret out clues when suspects refuse to talk.

My heroine, Lisa Donahue, is an archaeologist and museum curator with a background suspiciously like my own. She works in a Boston museum that resembles a dusty labyrinth and deals with layered complications in her job—difficult bosses, jealous colleagues—and in her personal life—a troubled stepson and an overworked, oblivious husband.

In my most recent mystery, The Fall of Augustus (coming in October 2009), Lisa’s museum loses two directors in quick succession in the middle of a nightmarish move to a new building. The first director is crushed by a falling statue and the second turns up as a mummy The plot layers include the machinations of a vicious woman—the sort of villain we all love to hate—the theft of valuable Celtic artifacts, and the rocky relationship between Lisa’s best friend, Ellen, and their oversexed colleague, Dylan.

Hopefully, as the reader “digs” into my mystery, she will enjoy excavating layered personalities as well as occasional esoteric facts about Greek vases and Egyptian mummification. The tricky part for me was embedding those facts deep into the plot so they become essential clues to the murders, like Roman coins found six feet under that help an archaeologist date an entire civilization.

If I’ve done my job as a writer, I’ve created something like an excavation-in-a-box for public schools: a rich micro-environment full of clues and quandaries—easy enough to reconstruct, complex enough to serve as a setting for future stories.

For more on Sarah’s books, articles, and short stories, visit her website at

Friday, September 25, 2009

Reviewing - by Clea Simon

*Editor's note: I'm always open to blog post ideas here at Cozy Murder Mysteries. Clea Simon - she will be blogging here on Monday with a wonderful piece on creating a ghostly character for her cozy murder mysteries - wrote this piece for us on reviewing, and I love it. It's a fascinating look at what a review should be, in an ideal world. Enjoy!

The review says “thumbs up!” It’s positive. Someone I’ve never even met – who isn’t family! - likes my new book. I should be thrilled. And yet…

Yes, I am a persnickety author. I always want more. But I’m also a critic – a professional reviewer – and as silly as that seems, I have standards. Maybe I’m one of a dying breed, but I think a review should act as more than a buyer’s guide. A good review should continue the conversation the author has started.

Maybe it’s a punk thing. Long before I started writing books, I wrote about music – particularly the vibrant DIY scene in the rock clubs of New York and Boston in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It was a crazy, fun time, full of experimentation, energy, and joy. Poets were picking up guitars. Bassists were painting. Gigs started in basement clubs and ended in artists’ lofts, usually just in time for most of us to shuffle off to our day jobs. And critics were part of the scene – writing for new music publications, often enough self-produced newsletters or “zines” run off on office copiers on the sly (or mimeographed, remember mimeograph?). Unlike the common conception of critics, we weren’t aloof judges. We were part of the scene – throwing our ideas into the general creative stew, and it was great.

Well, okay, there were drawbacks. Like the time I criticized a band’s second album, only saying I preferred their first, and the band threatened me on air – egged on by an overly enthusiastic DJ. Or the on-again off-again sexism that led some deluded gentlemen to believe that my critical capacity, or, specifically, my opinion of their bands, could be improved by their sexual prowess. But, you know, it was also a time of great openness – more of my women friends were starting bands, booking clubs, managing both bands and clubs than ever before. And writing, always writing.

Reading, too, which has led me to discover the rich history of criticism. Daily paper reviewers, like Virgil Thompson, whose cutting wit enlivened his knowledgable write ups of fellow composers. Prose stylists like Greil Marcus, whose so-called reviews are an art in themselves. Even Aristotle talked about criticism, I discovered, calling it one of the great arts – and a necessity for civilized society. Somewhere along the line, I realized that a review has got to be more than the critic’s opinion. No matter how informed we are, how much we know about the history of what we’re reviewing or the art itself (yes, I used to play bass in bands, and, yes, I write), our opinion alone isn’t worth the reader’s time.

When we undertake a review, even when we’re tackling the latest big bestseller, we owe the reader context and history. Where does this work stand in comparison to its peers and predecessors? We owe a little background. Is the author’s research sound? Are there other takes on this historical event or that famous person? We have to take each work on its own merits and explain the merits or restrictions of a particular genre or author or style. We have to lead the reader to alternatives – better or worse – and point out the differences that a first-timer may not notice. We have to educate. We have to translate one art form, genre, or style into another. And, above all, we have to do it in an entertaining manner.

Back in the days when I would rush into the paper’s newsroom at 10:30, desperate to bang out my 600 words before third edition’s 11:15 deadline, I had a very wise editor. “Clea,” he’d say to me, “keep in mind that maybe 100 people were in that club. Maybe another dozen or so will buy the album. Most of the folks who pick up the paper tomorrow will not know or care about that band. They’re reading in the smallest room in their house, and they just want to be entertained for as long as they have to be in there.”

So I’m grateful for that thumb’s up. Really I am. But somewhere between the bathroom and Aristotle, I like to think there might be a little more.


Clea Simon is the author of three nonfiction books and five mysteries, the most recent being Shades of Grey (Severn House). She can be reached at and blogs regularly at

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ann Littlewood - Why I Write Mysteries

*Note from the Editor - Here we are again with another Thursday edition of Why I Write Mysteries, this time by Ann Littlewood, author of Night Kill. This is another case of such a wonderful entry, I just didn't want to wait until the next available Tuesday! Enjoy!

By: Ann Littlewood, author of the Iris Oakley zoo-dunnit Night Kill.

I write mysteries because they are easy. They have rules. You just follow them and there you are—hey presto!--a mystery novel.

Kill someone as soon as possible and be sure the normal order of life is destroyed by the death. Make sure the protagonist is complex and flawed, but likeable. Put the perpetrator in the first chapter along with other suspects. Keep the protagonist sleuthing. Raise the stakes for him or her. Put in the call to action. The refusal of the call to action. The acceptance of the call to action. (Whew!) Don’t ever hurt a cat. Put in enough clues that readers who like to solve the puzzle feel that the game is fair. Put in enough unusual setting and specialized information that readers who are there for the background enjoy the ride through the plot. Use the three-act structure. Or four acts. Clues and red herrings but don’t let the reader think that the real villain couldn’t possibly have done it—play fair. Be sure to have quirky side characters with intriguing back stories. A penguin or serval or Burmese python. No, wait. Not that last part. Not unless it’s a zoo mystery. A dark night of the soul. Rising tension. Fully-realized villains who had (what they think) were good reasons for murder. The OFTTD (obligatory fight to the death). Justice triumphs and order is restored.

Nothing to it, really.

I write mysteries because they are hard. How do you actually apply all those rules? Plotting is like a crossword puzzle with a deadline and half of it is in French or about Asian rivers and jai alai stars and other stuff you just do not know. What happens next? What is the villain up to while the heroine is snooping around? Is this side plot working? Is it totally obvious that the heiress’s dog trainer Did It? How should I know? Where’s the amazing plot twist? The connection no one would ever expect? OMG, it’s totally too simple. A crashing bore. If I set up a mandrill monkey to escape from her enclosure, eat the eggs from an endangered Bali myna, and return undetected to her enclosure, will the zoo experts nail my hide to the gunnite wall? Will anybody even care that the head gardener, that dirty bastard, is dead? Clues, I need clues. But I’ve created the perfect crime. There aren’t any clues. How is Hero/Heroine ever going to figure this thing out? I need to raise the stakes! Increase the conflict! More dark secrets! But how? And I can’t have a pregnant protagonist with a broken arm and a neck brace engaging in an OFTTD. Arrgghhh! This is impossible.

But it’s the hard that makes the fun. Easy is no fun. Easy is typing. Hard is thinking. Fun is slapping my forehead in the shower, taking the wrong exit off the freeway, forgetting to pick up eggs because I just thought of this great turn of phrase or emotional connection or misdirection. I gotta write that down right now before I forget it. Why didn’t I think of that before? It’s so perfect. And—you saw this coming—I can ignore all those rules if I want to. If I’m clever and convincing enough, I can do anything I want.

But I do need clues. There’s got to be one here somewhere…



Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Anne Grobbo - Why I Write Mysteries

Welcome to Anne Grobbo, author of the Gloria Trevisi mysteries. As a part of our continuing series, Why I Write Mysteries, she tells us why she writes mysteries, why e-books and a little about the books, too!


A. R. Grobbo

Author of the Gloria Trevisi Mysteries

Picture yourself living in an old, rented farmhouse in the middle of the cornbelt. Take a good whiff of the worn out septic bed, and imagine that the contractor who was expected to repair it was just found murdered.

That’s how I began the Gloria Trevisi Mysteries, available from Double Dragon Publishing, a small but mighty e-publisher of fantasy and sci-fi, romance, romantic suspense, thriller/horror and mystery. As Donna’s small press/cozy guest blogger, I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to pass on my book news.

Why e-publishing? Why not? I didn’t set out to be e-published; like other writers, I began collecting rejections from major publishers until a popular e-romance author, and acquisitions editor at LTDBooks, told me how much she loved my first novel…exclamation marks included! Within months the first Gloria Trevisi Mystery was published in e-book form.

As a writer, it is much more fun to say I write trashy mysteries for an online publisher than it is to explain I have six or seven manuscripts stacked on my desk while I wait for a call from Random House. Instead, I’m learning a great deal about the publishing business.

When LTDBooks closed, I settled with another e-publisher, Double Dragon Publishing. There are now four published novels in my series. I’m proud of all of them; they’re cozies, the kind of mysteries that won’t give you nightmares if you read them at bedtime.

Why cozies? When I was growing up, I perused my parents’ paperbacks and devoured romantic suspense, mysteries and spy thrillers. When crime-writing trends turned to reality-based police procedural, I found it difficult to locate the type of books I enjoy reading, so I began writing one… and another, and then another, until it became habit-forming, like butterscotch. In the real world, police solve crime; cozies, however, empower ordinary people in the world of crime fiction.

In Gloria Trevisi I created a daughter, a young woman who shares my own taste for fine music and my respect for the written word. Naturally, Gloria has a love interest: her husband, handsome, talented, wealthy and frequently absent concert violinist Tony Lambert. Raised with a traditional (read “interfering”) Italian family watching over her, Gloria is determined to make this somewhat bumpy marriage work… while she flings herself into one calamity after another.

Rural Sprawl is the first book of the series. Gloria, two months married, has just lost her dream job in an economic downturn and taken the only post she could find, as editor of The Plattsford Sun, a small weekly newspaper in a rural area, while her husband is on tour. She discovers that the potlucks and strawberry socials in this quiet little farming community mask violent undercurrents. In One Woman’s Poison, death arrives in home-canned peach conserve while Gloria investigates an unsolved crime that is decades old.

My mysteries are available in trade paperback at, or can be downloaded through any reputable e-book distributor. You can find excerpts at my publisher’s website, and in the Plattsford Sun itself, at .

Recently I commissioned a video trailer for my latest book, One Woman’s Poison.

*Editor’s Note: It’s great to hear that the road to ebook publication has given Anne so much pleasure! Thanks, Anne!

I’d love to hear from readers whether they would read a book in e-book form if it sounded intriguing and you liked the premise? Do any of you have a Sony e-book reader or a Kindle?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

When Disability Surpasses Mystery - Robert P. Bennett

Prior to a few years ago I never paid much attention to the physical condition of characters created in mystery fiction. I didn’t notice whether they had any disability. The story was important, not the individual character descriptions. Once I started paying attention I noticed that characters with disability are almost never the protagonists. I wondered why. What are the elements of a good mystery novel? Can characters with disabilities become heroes? How?

Mystery Fiction has to be mobile. The story has to be able to move from point A to point B in a logical way. But the characters don’t have to be able to physically walk that line.

Lincoln Rhyme, the creation of mystery writer Jeffery Deaver - - is a prime example. Deaver started this series with The Bone Collector. He writes heart-pounding stories that move at a quick-step pace. Despite being a quadriplegic, unable to move more than his head and a single finger, Rhyme is one of the most animated characters I’ve met. His thoughts, rather than his actions, chase the antagonist, drive the story and challenge the reader.

Mystery Fiction also has to have vision. The stories have to be visceral and illustrative. But the lead character doesn’t have to be able to see.

In Kelsy George’s novel, Blind Justice - - Norrie Benedict is a blind detective with unparalleled vision. She sees more than most able-bodied people do. She pays attention to details most of us ignore. It is because of that unswerving attention to the things she hears, smells and feels that she can ‘read’ a crime scene, telling the police how a murder went down and giving descriptions of both perpetrator and victim.

Mystery Fiction has to have a sense of place and time. Lead characters have to know where they are and how they got there. They have to be able to derive experience from the past in order to create a sense of the present. But sometimes a character needs a device to help him navigate his world.

In my own novel, Blind Traveler Down a Dark River - - Douglas Abledan is a blind man who is trying to have a normal life after losing his sight to a drive-by shooter’s bullet. He works as a computer hardware specialist. He socializes. He enjoys the occasional night on the town. But, when he witnesses a murder, by way of the GPS navigation device that helps him have a sense of the world around him, he is confronted by the prejudices and dismissive attitudes of those he meets. Though he does not wish to be so, he becomes a hero by solving a crime that no one else wants to deal with.
Finally, mystery fiction has to be heard by the reader. It has to be full of dialogue and the sounds that fill the real world. But the character who leads the story, the one created to solve the crime, does not have to be able to hear that world.

Hialeah Jackson’s novel, Alligator’s Farewell - - is set in the Florida Everglades. Readers are immersed in a tropical world filled with sounds that would tickle the eardrums of most people. But not teacher-turned-private investigator Annabelle Hardy, who is deaf. The crime, a scientist found dead at a nuclear plant, challenges Jackson to present clues that are more visual and tactile than they are auditory. Our heroine uses a sidekick when interviews of witnesses and suspects are needed.

The physical challenges faced by disabled protagonists in this genre are not limited to paralysis, blindness or deafness. Authors have given their characters as wide a range of disabilities as exist in the real world. A partial listing of where these characters appear has been assembled by Martin Kich, professor of English at Wright State University -

Are there authors that you enjoy? Your fellow readers and I would like to know about them. Please email me at

Friday, September 18, 2009

Review - the Cat, the Quilt and the Corpse - Leann Sweeney

*Editor's Note: Welcome to Ariel Heart, a new CMM reviewer. In this light and entertaining review of The Cat, the Quilt and the Corpse, Ariel gave me enough reason to go looking for Ms. Sweeney's new mystery! Enjoy!

The Cat, the Quilt and the Corpse

by Leann Sweeney

Paperback: 288 pages

Publisher: Signet (May 5, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0451225740

ISBN-13: 978-0451225740

Reviewed by: Ariel Heart

Recently widowed Jillian Hart is still grieving and quickly becoming a recluse when one of her cats is stolen. She and her husband had moved to Mercy and into their dream home just prior to his death six months ago. Her three cats are her dearest companions for they have comforted her in her loss. Jillian will do whatever it takes to get her furry best friend back home, even get out, meet people and get to know the small town of Mercy. Before long she has discovered the criminal who stole her cat, and she goes marching in to confront him and get her cat back. Only she marches into a fresh murder scene. The victim, Flake Wilkerson, was an unpopular cat thief but a butcher knife in the gut is some serious anger.

Why was h
e taking down missing cat posters all over town and apparently snagging the cats himself? Who murdered Flake and stole his computer? Was it the hotheaded owner of the town pet rescue who had prior run-ins with him? Was it his daughter who seems to have hated her own father? Was it an acquaintance yet unidentified? Jillian feels compelled to reunite the stolen cats with their owners and uncover some answers in theprocess.

In this first book of a new series we see Jillian coming out of the grief process, slow but sure. She is compassionate, determined and quick to make friends once she gets out among her new neighbors. She is a likable quilt maker and cat lover. This is a character that will appeal to many who love cozies. The following quote is Jillian speaking with the chief of police and shows Jillian’s resolve.

His eyes darkened. Made him look all brooding in a Gothic novel sort of way. “Please don’t get in my way. A brutal crime was committed, Jillian. That should scare you, I know it scares me.”

"After what I’ve been through this past year, I’m done being scared about what life throws at me. I’ll try hard not

to get in your way, but I won’t be sitting around, either. Cat people may have lost their friends because of this man.”

The writing style is breezy and friendly as the following quote demonstrates:

We sped through town in her small SUV, a beat up RAV4, and she blasted “Sweet Home Alabama” on the stereo all the way to our destination. Classic rock is great but not played loud enough that the Martians can hear the music. My ears and brain were immensely grateful when we arrived at Ed’s Swap Shop. The temperature had risen probably twenty degrees over the course of the day, and I shed my sweater before I got out of the Toyota.

The “shop” was actually a small one-story house desperately in need of fresh paint. The gutters sagged, and a broken window had been repaired with duct tape. Reminded me of the problem that had led me here today. That stupid broken window.

Once we passed through a rusty front gate, I realized the house was in better shape than anything else on the property. The yard overflowed with tires, lawn mowers, cement birdbaths, old bed springs and so much other decrepit stuff that we had to zigzag as if we were walking through a minefield to get to the weather-beaten front door.

Candace was far more adept at zigzagging than I was; I nearly fell twice. I decided she must do obstacle courses in her spare time. Either that or she’d made this trip many times before. She didn’t bother to knock but called out, “Ed Duffy, where you at?” as we went inside.

“That you Candy?” A man with shaggy gray hair and a full beard that reached his shirt collar stood squinting at us from behind a long glass display case. He wore overalls and a welcoming smile.

Witness Protection Program? I thought.

The town is populated with a likable cast; the speed demon deputy who loves forensics, the grumpy chief of police, the lipstick challenged coffee shop owner, the flamboyant coroner’s deputy, the town junk collector and a potential future love interest. Ms Sweeney effectively portrays the undercurrents of small town intertwined relationships and the quagmire it presents to a newcomer. She weaves a few strands of the supporting character’s personal lives into the mix and brings the community bustling to life, which I believe is her strong point.

The plot and pacing drew me in and kept me reading and the ending, while not a bombshell revelation was satisfying. This is a pleasant and quick read that cozy mystery fans will devour and be clamoring for more.

Who knew cats and quilting could be so dangerous – or so fun?

A.F. Heart

About me: Ms. Heart is a Colorado gal who does not like snow but loves the low bug population. She has been told she was an odd child for playing Cleopatra with her Barbies and dressing up her poodle. She is taking that active imagination and writing her first novel. She shares her writing progress (and much more) on her blog “Mysteries and My Musings.”

Leann Sweeney's website:

Four 'Cozy Armchairs' out of five!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why I Write Mysteries - Marilyn Meredith

Though I have planned to use Tuesdays as the Why I Write Mysteries column day here at Cozy Murder Mysteries, when I got Marilyn's story I just didn't want to wait for the next available Tuesday, which is in mid-October. So here is a Thursday edition of Why I Write Mysteries! Enjoy!

Why I Write Mysteries

By Marilyn Meredith

My first published novels were historical family sagas based on my own family’s genealogy. I wrote about both sides of my family and once I’d finished, I wondered what I should write next. The answer came easily, what I loved to read most—mysteries.

We lived in a neighborhood filled with policemen and I became interested in them, their jobs and their families. The wives became coffee buddies and we all partied together as couples. My police officer son-in-law took me on my first ride-along and told me stories about his shift and the strange people and crimes he encountered. I began writing the Rocky Bluff P.D. series set in a Southern California beach community, similar to the one I was living in at the time. In those books, my goal has always been to show how the job affects the family and what’s going on in the family affects the job. That series is now on its third publisher and the latest is No Sanctuary.

We moved to the foothills of the Southern Sierra in Central California and I went on two more ride-alongs, one with a brand new officer and the third with a young woman, a single mother, and the only female in that department. From the hours of three a.m. until six, she didn’t have a single call. As we rode around the quiet streets, she poured her heart out to me about her problems. I knew then I had to write about a similar character. That idea was reinforced when I interviewed our female resident deputy for our local newspaper and she told me some of her problems because of being the only woman working in a male dominated profession. Since that time I’ve met other females in law enforcement who’ve told me similar stories.

When I met a Native American woman who grew up on a nearby reservation, the idea came to me to write about a Native American deputy sheriff who was a single mom. I knew I could incorporate many of the ideas I’d been collecting and Deputy Tempe Crabtree came to life, on the pages I wrote and in my imagination.

Writing about an Indian living off the reservation but being sent on site to question people and work with the detectives in solving cases, meant I had to do more research into the reservation itself and the legends that surround it. Though I’ve certainly borrowed a lot from our local Indians and the reservation, I’ve fictionalized both.

For Dispel the Mist I was fortunate to be able to see the pictographs of the Hairy Man located on a rock shelter on the reservation. I knew Tempe would have to have an encounter with this legendary character who is a relative of Big Foot.

Dispel the Mist is the ninth in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series. The more I write the more I know that two of the main reasons for writing mysteries is the “bad guy” always gets it in the end—something that doesn’t always happen in real life. The second reason is though I have little control over my actual life and the world I live in, in my mysteries, I do have a semblance of control. Though I must confess, sometimes my characters rebel and take off in a surprising direction I hadn’t expected.

Marilyn Meredith

Facebook and Twitter Marilyn Meredith

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Coming soon...

Just a brief note... we have some wonderful posts coming up in the next few days.

Thursday, September 17th, 2009 - We host Marilyn Meredith, author of the Tempe Crabtree mysteries, for a Thursday edition of 'Why I Write Mysteries'.

Friday, September 18th, 2009 - Ariel Heart, a new CMM reviewer, will review The Cat, the Quilt and the Corpse by Leann Sweeney

Saturday, September 19th, 2009 - CMM is proud to present a fascinating article on disabled characters in murder mysteries: When Disability Surpasses Mystery - Robert P. Bennett

Also, coming soon... a new feature, Why I Read Mysteries. Drop me a line if you'd like to contribute, and tell us why YOU read mysteries!

I'm still looking for guest bloggers for:

Why I Write Mysteries
Why I Read Mysteries
Cozy Murder Mystery Reviews
Topical articles of interest to cozy murder mystery readers!

I'm also looking for CMM reader generated stories on:

Favorite Holiday Mysteries - Hallowe'en, Christmas, Hannukah, etc.

Author Profiles - Classic and Modern Authors

Christie Week - September 13th - 20th

My proper introduction to reading murder mysteries was via my mother's stack of Agatha Christie novels. I'm not sure which character I loved the best - Miss Marple was certainly right up there - but I do know I identified most with Ariadne Oliver, the snoopy mystery writer who was often considered Agatha Christie's alter ego.

Dame Christie's grandson, Mathew Prichard, hosts a wonderful website. On it, he writes occasional blog entries, and the site itself has all the info you could ever want, including some freebies, like free games to download!

So visit the Official Agatha Christie website and take part in Christie Week!

From a writer's viewpoint, though, there is another wonderful website. Agatha Christie's Homepage offers a fabulous rundown of Christie's writing methods, her detectives, her plotting methods and the influences on her writing. Don't miss their links page, where you will find not only many other sites pertaining to Agatha Christie, but links to websites about Margery Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers, and others! I urge you to take a look!

Have fun!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Gayle Trent - Why I Write Mysteries

Welcome to a semi-regular Tuesday feature, 'Why I Write Mysteries'.

Today, Gayle Trent - author of the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Mystery Series and the Marcy Singer Embroidery Shop Mysteries - tells us a little about why she writes mysteries and what hers are about!

Why I Write Mysteries

Gayle Trent

I've always loved mysteries. From Scooby Doo (one of my main characters is named Daphne!), to Encyclopedia Brown to Nancy Drew to more modern-day mysteries. I've always enjoyed trying to solve puzzles. I wanted to be as clever as the heroes and heroines who foil the villains’ plots.

I also love books you hate to put down because they’re so exciting. I’ve been thrilled when readers have told me they stayed up late to finish Murder Takes the Cake.

Cozy mysteries are a good fit for me because they aren’t too graphic, the puzzle-solving is central to the case, the amateur sleuth has an interesting career and the books have a comedic touch.

I write two cozy mystery series. One, for Bell Bridge Books, is the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Mystery Series. Daphne is a professional cake decorator who runs her business out of her home in Southwest Virginia. One of my favorite reviews for Murder Takes the Cake came from Vixen’s Daily Reads:

“I absolutely was startled to find out whodunnit at the end and it was not one of those lame-o choices so the author could hurry and finish up. I could identify with Daphne’s relationship with her family. I think this was the part I liked best. Daphne has a cautious and teeth gritting relationship with her mother, a loving warm one with her father and her sister.

And the cake baking and decorating!!! I didn’t get the recipes in the copy I reviewed, so will get the book just for those. This is one of my criteria for a cozy, it makes me want to learn how to do the activity that’s the basis of the character and story……This one makes me want to learn how to decorate cakes.
Four frosted beans!”


The other cozy mystery series I write is for NAL/Penguin under the pseudonym Amanda Lee featuring a heroine who owns an embroidery shop. The series is set on the Oregon Coast and features Marcy Singer, a spunky, thirty-something, entrepreneur who is handy with a needle. The first book in the Seven-Year Stitch mystery series will be out in August of 2010.

Please visit my website at for more information and to see the book trailer for Murder Takes the Cake.

*Editor's note: You can also find Gayle at this fun blog: Dead Pan, Gayle's second Cake Decorating mystery, will be released November 1st, 2009! Thanks, Gayle!

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Semi-Regular Column

Hi all,

Tomorrow we will put in place a semi-regular column, 'Why I Write Mysteries' (Stacy Juba started us off with her fascinating column on Friday, September 11th)

Gayle Trent - she writes a cake decorating mystery series and embroidery shop mystery series! - will give us a little insight into her beginning with mysteries and tell us a little about her books!

Check it out tomorrow!

Coming soon... columns about or by writers with titles as diverse as The Anteater of Death and One Woman's Poison!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stacy Juba - My Writing Began With The Angels!

Welcome to Stacy Juba, author of the soon to be released Twenty-Five Years Ago Today. Stacy is the first guest author for CMM's 'Why I Write Mysteries' series. This is Stacy's story...

People often ask why I write mystery novels and what inspired the creation of my main characters. It all started with Charlie’s Angels.

Every day after school, I’d watch the show and fantasize that I was a private detective going undercover to take down the bad guys. I particularly admired Kris Munroe, Cheryl Ladd’s alter ego. This girl-next-door had it all – she was gorgeous, smart, fun, and could overpower any scumbag that crossed her path. Someday, I pledged that I would become a detective just like her.

Alas, that didn’t happen. Dodge bullets? I don’t think so. But, I did acknowledge my childhood daydreams in one small way. My first mystery novel, Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, features a main character called Kris. Like her namesake, she is in her twenties and has honey blonde hair, although she is not a professional PI.

Instead, my protagonist Kris Langley works as an obit writer and editorial assistant for a small town newspaper. She blames herself for her cousin’s murder when they were kids, battles insomnia and an addiction to sleeping pills, and has few friends. Although she carries a heavier burden than her Angelic counterpart, a few similarities exist.

Cheryl Ladd’s Kris Munroe lived in the shadow of her popular older sister Jill, played by Farrah Fawcett, and needed to prove herself when she filled her sibling’s role at the detective agency. My character feels like the black sheep of her family when compared to her successful physician big sis.

Both characters go way beyond their job descriptions. Viewers saw Cheryl Ladd pose as a singer, trucker, and assistant/target to a circus knife thrower, among many other covers. After stumbling across an unsolved murder on the microfilm, Kris Langley obsesses over the cold case of a young cocktail waitress. She immerses herself in the mystery and must fight to stay off the obituary page herself. Like the Angels, my gal is not above showing a little cleavage to distract a potential criminal.

Most importantly, both of these detectives share a mixture of spunk and vulnerability. On TV, Kris Munroe felt stricken the first time she shot someone, mustered her courage when abducted, and in one episode even suffered from amnesia. In my novel, Kris Langley torments herself over her childhood mistakes and questions whether she deserves happiness. Whenever her mother rejects her, she acts indifferent, but hurt swells deep within her heart. Yet despite these vulnerable moments, spunk always wins out for each of these fictional heroines.

So, why do I write mystery novels? I enjoy creating puzzles and depicting multi-layered protagonists who must rise above their weaknesses in the pursuit of justice. Most of all, I enjoy living vicariously through characters like Kris Langley, who make me feel like I’m along for the ride except they take all the risks.

To download an excerpt of Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, visit my web site

Editor's Note: You can also find Stacy's book at Mainly Murder Press at: