Check out my interview on Bryan Nowak’s All Things Writing Podcast.
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Check out my interview on Bryan Nowak’s All Things Writing Podcast.
263 total views, 1 views today
Today, I was interviewed by podcaster and horror writer, Bryan Nowak, on why I write cozy mysteries and why they appeal to readers. I believe that they provide a hint of comfort and restore order to the world every time an amateur sleuth solves a crime. Many of us our armchair detectives who enjoy a dark mystery show, a true crime podcast, or read police procedurals. When we are in need of an escape, however, I would much rather go to Busman’s Harbor in Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake mystery series and meet Julia Snowden than visit a police station in a big city to hunt a serial killer. This is why cozy mysteries, including my own Phee Jefferson books, are the perfect respite from this crazy world!
Bryan was a wonderful interviewer, and it was my (gasp!) first podcast interview. I’ll share it here once the episode is released. In the meantime, hop on over to Bryan’s page on Buzzsprout and check out one of his previous episodes and if you like what you hear, please be sure to share.
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I’ve spent the past year or more immersed in the 1920s and vaudeville while working on a historical mystery series. Everyone seems to pick their favorite era in history and for some reason, mine has always been the Roaring Twenties with the flappers, gin joints, and gangsters. What I wouldn’t give to be a gangster’s moll for only a day! It’s fascinating that the Volstead Act, which should have slowed crime, led to an increase of organized crime, gangsters, rum running, and the birth of NASCAR.
When I think about this period in our country’s history, I feel that people were frenetic. There was a sense of party today for tomorrow may not come. The Lost Generation with their aimless abandonment of the strictures of the past generation reeled from the Great War followed on its heels with the Spanish Influenza epidemic. The naked hedonism embraced by the youth who came of age during the war is understandable. I wonder if we, too, will succumb to a sense of “being lost” once the current pandemic is over.
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On October 28, 1920, the United States was preparing for a presidential election. It was also the first time women would have the opportunity to vote in an election. Thank goodness we had mansplaining even then to guide us on how to vote. The Danville Daily Messenger from central Kentucky explaining how the ballot would look since women would be unfamiliar with the ballot.
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I love to craft. I crochet, spin yarn, weave, make stuff… My creations don’t always turn out, but they satisfy my need for a creative outlet I often use the repetitiveness of crochet and spinning to brainstorm ideas for my novels or my plan to take over the world.
While not everyone wants to write a novel, I do believe we need some kind of outlet for our creativity. Humans are designed to “make” whether it’s a physical creation, beautiful social media posts, or a tasty apple pie. (Mmmm… pie!) Why do we pursue creativity and making? Sometimes, it’s to relieve boredom. Other times, we use it to create things/tools to make our lives easier or more beautiful.
So what do you do when your creativity is in the proverbial dumps? Personally, I’ve met this obstacle too many times over the past two years. Writer’s block, winter doldrums, work stress… they’ve all done a number on my creativity. I’ve decided to put together an arsenal of activities for when I’m stuck in the middle of a novel or other project.
Here are some of my creativity buster ideas:
Those are just a few ideas. I would love to hear how you “create” in your daily lives and why.
Here’s a picture of one of my completed projects– a Spiderman afghan for my nephews.
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Yes, I do talk to myself, and no, I don’t answer. Well, let me clarify. This Friday’s writing tip is to read your writing aloud. When I finished my historic mystery novel this year and started the editing process, I read every word. Out loud.
I read it aloud to myself (and the two JRTs that share my writing space) so I could hear those repetitive words and awkward sentences. Doing this helped me catch unique phrases I may have used twice in the same page. It also forced me to slow down the editing process. When you take the time to read out loud it helps you notice each word, the cadence of your prose, and if your character “talks” like a real person.
If you’re new to writing or in the second draft of your novel and haven’t tried this editing tip, I encourage you to attempt it. If you feel funny reading aloud, grab your cell phone and hold it to your ear. Just don’t be like the lady in the stall next to mine at the store. You should not (let me say it again) you should NOT talk on the phone in a public bathroom. It makes me think you’re talking to me, and my mother warned me never to talk to strangers!
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This image appeared on the front page of the Abilene Daily Record on November 11,1918. World War I ended and the nation worked to recover. The generation who came of age during World War I and into the Roaring Twenties was often called the Lost Generation because they tended to act recklessly. Hedonism and accumulation of wealth were the creed by which many of them lived.
Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and many other writers and artists were part of this Lost Generation. For me, I always think of a bohemian lifestyle coming into fashion during this time period. I see the loss of traditional values and class structures of the nineteenth century and the rise of the middle class after World War I.
In my latest novel, my protagonist, Evie, reels from the loss of her brother in the war followed quickly by the death of her mother from the Spanish Flu. Evie epitomizes the Lost Generation. She rejects the strictures of her Victorian era father and wants a sense of purpose outside of marriage and family. It is this loss of values which leads her to go undercover as a magician’s assistant to solve a crime.
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This past month I’ve been teaching research to fourth and fifth graders. I have each of them choosing a topic they have a passion for (sports, social issue, art, etc.), and then they learn more about their topic using the internet, databases, and books. Their final project must be a creative representation and two minute talk about what they learned.
I have a passion for writing and creativity which has led to me delving deeper into the creativity process. Can creativity be taught? Are all people creative? How do you tap into creativity? These are all burning questions I’ll explore further with a weekly creativity tip or activity I’ll share on Monday’s Muse on Creativity.
This week’s creativity exercise: Imagine your character is deathly afraid of heights. They agree to go on a hot air balloon ride with friends. They shut their eyes tight during the flight. What takes place in the minutes after they board the hot air balloon? – adapted from Regina Pacelli’s Whole Lotta Creativity Going On. *
*I highly recommend this book if you are looking for quick activities to spark your creativity. Available at public libraries and all major bookstores.
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I’m happy to announce the words “the end” were typed on the first book in a new mystery series based in the 1920s entertainment industry. Switching from my comfort zone of the Phee Jefferson series to a historical mystery stretched my librarian research skills and my writing.
Today’s tip involves editing. Once you finish your first draft, walk away and DO NOT look back… at least for a week or two. Here’s why. You have marinated in your characters’ lives and your plot for months, possibly years, and they have become your children. You need some distance to recognize their flaws. Ask my grown sons. Now that they are out of the house, I can recognize them as separate entities with lives and personalities of their own. Your novel characters are the same. They need some distance. Some breathing room. Once you’ve had the break, go back and look at your manuscript with fresh eyes. Remember, you want your children (and your novel) to have a personality and life story separate from your own.
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I tortured myself with this one for NYC Midnight Round 2 of the Short Story competition. They assigned crime caper, an art project and a misfit. Here’s my interpretation of the assignment. NOTE: Adult language is used!
Banksy of Brooke Point High
Ana, Harley, and Freddi make an artistic senior year statement when they break into Brooke Point High.
Harley propped his feet on the corner of my bed and leaned back in his chair. His dyed bangs fell across his eyes like a raven’s broken wing. I ignored the fine coating of dust on his combat boots. Every twitch of his foot sent a small shower of dirt onto my favorite Pooh blanket.
“You could be the Banksy of Brooke Point High if we pull this off,” Harley said. He pointed his half-eaten twist of black licorice at me. “What have you got to lose?”
I swatted his feet off my bed and stood. “I don’t know. Graduation. My scholarship to Cranbrook. Jail time. Look at me. I would look horrible in an orange jumpsuit.”
“Ana, quit being so… mundane,” Freddi said, pulling out her earbuds to add her two cents. “We graduate in two months. I can name on one hand the seniors who know my name. You, Harley, and Hollis, the kid with the glasses that make him look like a fly. That’s it. We’re nothing but a comma in Brooke Point’s book of life.”
Freddie flopped back in her chair. I sighed. “Dramatic much? I don’t know, guys. How would we even get in the school?”
Harley stuffed the rest of his licorice into the pocket of his army jacket and pulled out a white plastic id card. “I swiped this from my mom’s purse this morning. We can get in and out of the building with no problem. Come on, Ana. This is gonna be epic.”
I weighed the pros and cons in my head. The con list was so long it went off the virtual page in my brain, but the pro side had one item. Ana Baker would no longer be the silent, invisible girl. “Okay. I’m in.”
“Yes!” Harley cried and fist bumped Freddi. “We go at midnight.”
Five hours later, the three of us skirted along the side of the school. Harley had done us a solid by drawing a map of the locations for the outdoor security cameras. His ability to remember weird details like that always amazed me.
“Let me swipe the card reader and grab the door. You guys need to stay low and move fast,” Harley whispered.
Black greasepaint covered half his face and made him look like a rabid raccoon. He made some hand motions that he had probably learned watching Rambo, then he dropped into a low crouch and darted to the door. He reached up and waved the badge in front of the black box. The red light turned green. Harley grabbed the door and opened it. High-pitched beeps filled the night air.
“Fuck!” Freddi scrambled backwards. “Who puts an alarm on a school? What’s somebody going to steal? Textbooks?”
My bladder clenched, and I felt perspiration dot my forehead. I whisper shouted, “Harley, let’s forget it.”
The beeps stopped. In the dark entryway, I saw white teeth smiling in a sea of black greasepaint. “Come on. I turned the alarm off and disabled the cameras,” Harley said, waving a pair of wire snips.
“My god. He’s an evil tech genius,” Freddi whispered.
Freddi and I skittered spider fast to the entrance. It wasn’t easy with the package we carried between us, but we managed. Harley pulled the door shut behind us. He reached into his jacket and presented us both with small flashlights.
I swear that jacket was like a clown car. I don’t know why he doesn’t jingle, shake, and rattle when he walks with all the crap he has in the pockets. I was grateful for the additional light. The pale glow from the emergency lights did little to dispel the gloom of the locker-lined hallway.
“Let’s go to the gym and get this done,” I said, grabbing the flashlight.
I stuck to the shadows. My backpack was heavy on my shoulders. It contained all the supplies I would need to complete tonight’s task. Freddi followed behind me, holding her end of the package. Harley brought up the rear. He walked backwards, using his light to scan the side halls for intruders. I had disappointed him when I’d vetoed his use of night vision goggles.
The double doors to the gym were unlocked. Harley opened them and bowed.
“Ladies, your kingdom awaits,” he said.
I rolled my eyes but said nothing. Harley could be moody and pedantic with certain things, but he was always a gentleman. Not that the girls at Brooke Point would know. Their noses stuck so high in the air that it surprised me when they didn’t drown during a rainstorm.
Freddi and I lay the package on the floor. I untied the twine. With its tethers gone, the canvas rolled open until it stretched out to its full glory. Twenty-seven feet filled with color and shapes lay on the gym floor before us.
Freddi shone her flashlight on it and gasped. “That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, Ana.”
I felt warmth rush to my cheeks at the compliment. “Thanks. I can’t believe I finished it.”
Harley bumped his shoulder against mine. “I bet if your dad could see this, he’d be proud of you.”
I ducked my head so he couldn’t see the effect his words had on me. My dad had been my biggest fan and my harshest critic. When he was too weak from the chemo to come out to my makeshift studio in the garage, we would chat via video. Dad would have his laptop in bed while I would use my phone to show him the newest additions to my makeshift wallpaper canvas. He hadn’t lived to see the finished work.
I wiped the tears away and cleared my throat. “I’ll need more light to get this thing hung. Come help me.”
Harley grabbed my backpack and pulled out the work light I’d found on a shelf in my garage. Using an extension cord, he plugged it in. Light filled the gym and cast eerie shadows on the bleachers. I dumped the contents of the half-gallon bottle I’d bought at the local hardware store into an old cake pan my mom would never miss and pulled out a wide, flat brush.
“How do you wanna do this?” Harley asked, a twist of licorice dangling from his mouth like a cigarette.
“Freddi, you hold the pan. Harley, you can roll this back up. While I paste it on the wall, slowly help me unwind it. Got it?”
Freddi gave me a two-fingered salute and picked up the pan. Harley and I struggled up the bleachers with the roll between us. Once we were in place, I dipped my brush into the goo in the pan. With long strokes, I covered the wall in front of me.
Silently, we worked with only the creaks and groans of the boiler occasionally breaking the quiet. It was almost six when I patted down the final corner. We climbed down and admired our work.
“Brilliant. Abso-fucking-lutely brilliant,” Harley said.
“Thanks.” I rubbed the grit from my eyes. There was no way I would stay awake in chemistry today. “Let’s get out of here before anyone comes.”
We cleaned up our supplies and stuffed everything back into my pack. Harley told us to wait while he made sure the coast was clear. After five minutes, he returned to the gym and gave us a thumb’s up.
Our steps were heavy, and we moved slower than when we had arrived. It was a good kind of exhaustion.
“I’m glad you talked me into this, Harley,” I said. “I—well, you know with my dad and all…”
“Ride or die, Ana. Ride or die. Both you and Freddi.” He gave me a little grin.
The sound of a voice interrupted the moment. “Yeah. I know I’m supposed to pick up the kids on Friday, Marge, but something’s come up.”
Eyes wide, Freddi and I looked at Harley. “Who is that? You said the teachers don’t come in early.”
The voice continued, “No, Marge, I’m not going to a bar. I’ve got an appointment with a foot doctor about my bunion.” There was silence for a moment. “Fine. I’ll be there, but it’ll be late.”
“It’s the janitor,” Harley said. He looked at his watch. “He’s early. He opens the building and turns off the alarm for my mom and the other cafeteria ladies. Stay here.”
He pushed us against the wall and into the shadows, then he slid down the hallway and did a fast peek around the corner. He turned back to Freddi and me. He pointed to his eyes, then pointed down the hall. I shook my head at his five-digit traffic directions.
“What?” I mouthed.
He began his complicated hand motions again, but he gave up when Freddi gave him her own one-fingered direction. Instead, he motioned for us to come next to him. On tiptoes, we joined him.
“He’s headed to the cafeteria. You two go down the hallway near the library. I’ll bring up the rear. If he sees us, I’ll be the decoy. You two run like hell and don’t look back. Never look back. Got it?” Harley whispered.
We nodded. I gave him a quick hug, then motioned for Freddi to follow. Like a gazelle running from a cheetah, I sprinted down the hall. I could hear Freddi’s shoes slapping the floor behind me. Harley’s jacket rattled a tune at the rear.
I was about to breach the exit and make my escape when a voice shouted, “Hey! What are you kids doing in here?”
I stretched my hands in front of me and slammed the breaker bar on the door. The cool air of pre-dawn touched my cheeks and gave me the extra push I needed to keep going. I ran, my two best friends at my heels, and didn’t stop until I was well out of sight of the school.
When I rounded the corner, I bent over and grabbed my knees, trying to catch my breath. Freddi flopped down on the asphalt next to me. Harley almost stumbled over us.
“What a rush,” he gasped.
“I don’t think I’ve run so fast in my entire life,” I said, sides heaving.
Freddi giggled. “I think I pissed myself.”
I laughed and slid down on the ground next to her. “It’s okay. I think I did, too.”
Two hours later, I walked into the school. My tight braid of carrot orange hair swung behind me. I had used a heavy hand with the makeup to hide my freckles and the dark circles beneath my eyes. The hallway buzzed with excitement. Cheerleaders flew from person to person, spreading the news.
“What’s up?” I asked one of the Ashleys. Every popular girl at Brooke Point High was Ashley or Ashli or some other variant.
She flicked her blonde hair behind one shoulder and looked at me. She wrinkled her brow as she tried to place me in her category of friends. When my presence didn’t compute, she shrugged and said, “Someone put up a hideous mural in the gym. It makes fools out of all of us.”
I turned before she could see my smile. I pushed my way through the throng of backpack-laden kids to the gym. Angry mutters and an occasional laugh filled the surrounding air.
A hand touched my shoulder. “How did you do it?”
I jumped and turned. Miss Nyström, my art teacher, stood behind me. A small smile lifted the corner of her mouth.
“It wasn’t me,” I said.
She arched a brow. “Hmm… well, whoever it was has made quite a statement about the inequality in our school. The faces of that group of girls is particularly well done.” She pointed to the scene of flying monkeys with the faces of the Ashleys pelting students with words shaped like arrows—ugly, loser, scrub.
I didn’t respond. Instead, I admired my art project.
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