The Play’s The Thing

I’ve added a new date to my upcoming blog tour. On Monday, February 19, Jane at Jane Reads will post her review of Cast for Murder. This will be an introduction to the series for Jane’s readers. Thank you, Jane, for welcoming Veronica and me to your blog!

In Cast for Murder, my protagonist, Veronica Walsh, emerges from acting retirement to star in an amateur production of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit. Choosing the stage play the plot would revolve around was a fun bit of research for me; I read several plays before choosing Coward’s classic comedy for Veronica’s starring role.

In my original plan for the third book in the series, Veronica’s leading man was murdered. I had a great title for the book; I’m keeping it secret because I might use it in the future! The first play I considered for the book was Edward Albee’s masterpiece, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Veronica would relish playing Martha, one of the most famous characters in theater history. The small cast-just four characters-was perfect for my story and the tension and rising viciousness throughout the play would blend well with the motives for a backstage murder.

Another play I considered for my original plot was Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig. Veronica would be terrific as Sara, a middle-aged banker living in London, but after some thought I passed on the delightful show.

I turned to other plays when I changed the murder victim to the play’s director. I love Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple and knew I would have fun writing a book that included the well-known story. Veronica would star in the female version of the play Simon wrote in 1985, in which the ladies play Trivial Pursuit rather than poker. I chose not to weave the show into my storyline before deciding whether Veronica would play Florence Unger or Olive Madison.

I also entertained the idea of the production being of an original play written by the eventual murder victim. The plot of the play would point to the killer. After considering several options for the story-within-the-story, I passed on this plan.

Finally, after also considering The MousetrapNoises Off, and Chapter Two, I decided on Blithe Spirit. Coward’s play about the return of a dead woman’s spirit was a good fit for my plot and offered opportunities for a few life-imitating-art moments in the story. I gave Veronica the well-known role of medium Madame Arcati. The small cast of seven allowed me to give each of the actors a line or two of dialog without burdening the story with too many characters.

I go through one or two phases a year of setting my to-read list of novels aside and checking out a few plays from the library, a habit that in part inspired Cast for Murder. Do you enjoy reading plays? Or do you prefer to see the finished product performed in a theater, whether amateur or professional? And what’s your favorite production? After all this writing, I know what mine is.

Enjoy the week!

 

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Blog Tour 2018

The blog tour bus is warming up for a mid-February jaunt through cozy cyberspace! Cast for Murder will arrive in three weeks and I’ll be celebrating the book’s release with visits to several cozy mystery blogs. “Book” your ticket now!

The book’s introduction will begin on February 12 with a review from Leslie at StoreyBook Reviews. The next day, the book’s official release date, blogger Angela Holland will post her review on A Holland Reads.

On Valentine’s Day I’ll be at Escape with Dollycas into a Good Book with a guest post for the blog’s Cozy Wednesday feature. Lori will also offer her review of the book.

Dru at dru’s book musings also invited me to write a guest post for her A Day in the Life series. Written from my main character Veronica Walsh’s point of view, the post brings readers up to speed on her life in her hometown of Barton and introduces the new mystery she must solve. You can read the post and Dru’s review on Thursday, February 15.

The week closes with a review from Kathy at Cozy Up With Kathy on Friday, February 16.

The next week, Christa Nardi, the author of the Cold Creek mystery series, will offer her review on Wednesday, February 21 on her blog, Christa Reads and Writes.

Lori, Dru, and Kathy have been supporters of the Veronica Walsh mystery series since the release of the first book, All Things Murder, in 2014. Leslie at Storeybook Reviews entered Veronica’s world with Murder, by George, and Christa and Angela are newcomers with the series’ third installment. I’m grateful for the opportunities they have all given me to introduce my work to their readers.

Several more bloggers have agreed to review or spotlight Cast for Murder. I will update you on those dates when they are set. I’ll also, of course, post the links to all reviews and guest posts on the scheduled dates.

Finally, are you a Goodreads member? If you are, be sure to enter my contest for a chance to win one of two advance paperback copies of Cast for Murder. It’s open until the evening of Thursday, January 25. Good luck!

I hope you all have a wonderful week. January, where did you go so fast?

 

 

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I Like Them. I Really Like Them.

Halfway through Jostein Gaarder’s novel, Sophie’s World, the plot takes an incredible twist that illustrates how attached readers can get to fictional characters. I read the book twenty years ago, but the shock of that sudden story turn is still fresh in my mind. We come to think of the characters as real people, don’t we? We mourn when a beloved character dies, shout at the page when one does something stupid, and shed a few tears when lovers finally unite for a happily ever after. Readers have been doing this for centuries; in 1841, a crowd of New Yorkers, anxious to know the fate of Little Nell, gathered on a dock in lower Manhattan to greet the ship carrying the last installment of Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop.

Cozy mystery writers depend on readers having a strong connection with our characters so they will stick with us through book after book of a series. As a writer, I also form a bond with the characters I create, both the “regulars” like Veronica Walsh, Mark Burke, and Carol Emerson, and the characters who feature in just one book (or so I plan, until I fall in love with them and promote them to permanent cast member). This blog title says it all. I really like the make-believe people in my head.

Sometimes that makes it difficult to have a character suffer, do something bad, or die (no wonder the victim in many cozy mysteries is an awful person whom no one misses when they’re gone). “But I don’t want this character to be childless!” I might say to my computer screen. “This one’s just starting her career, I can’t send her to prison!” or “He’s so sweet, I can’t let him die!”

What I have to do, of course, is kill my darlings. That’s the advice offered on numerous blogs and given by authors from William Faulkner to Stephen King. Per the recommendation, to create a strong, interesting story, a writer must let go of her favorite lines, paragraphs, even whole chapters that don’t advance the plot. For me, that also means always remembering the characters serve the story, not vice versa, and I must not be precious about them. It’s a daily reminder I give myself so I can ruin a character’s life, turn one into a royal witch, or make some guy a dirt bag.

What about you? What characters have become so real you’d like to invite them over for pizza and beer? What literary friend have you mourned over, or wanted to slap upside the head?

***

I hope everyone affected by the frigid temperatures and snow bomb cyclone is warm and safe. My cold fingers are crossed for a thaw. Pronto!

 

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2018!

Happy New Year! I wish you a happy and healthy 2018. May you be blessed with new friends and good fortune. And may every book you read be one you never want to end.

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A Merry Christmas To You

I wish you a very happy Christmas! May your celebrations be bright and joyous and the time spent with family and friends the best gift you receive.

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Comfort & Joy

I’m a few days late, but to all readers celebrating the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah Sameach!

Several of my friends and family have mentioned that this will be a difficult Christmas for my family since it is the first we will celebrate after my mother’s passing in September. Yes, my siblings, extended family, and I wish Mom were here with us to share the holy day and there will be moments of sadness, for sure. Yet the memories I have of many Christmases with my mother and father, who passed in 1998, are helping me focus on the joy of the season.

I posted this photo on my personal Facebook page a few days ago and got a great response to it. The teapot represents my mother-at the height of her tea drinking she downed four or five cups a day-and the six-pack is pure Dad. He was a Budweiser man through and through. These ornaments bring a smile to my face and make me laugh. The memories they invoke are wonderful; the pair also reminds me that after the nineteen Christmases Mom spent without Dad, they are finally together again for eternity.

A friend of mine died a couple of weeks before Mom’s passing. Pete was a co-worker for seventeen years. Over those years, I’d once in a while give him an assist with some bit of business, like spreadsheet maintenance or a huge mailing that had a fast-approaching deadline. Pete always remembered my contributions at Christmas by giving me a token of his appreciation. Several times the gift was a Cloisonné ornament, two of which are presented in the photo. These ornaments are beautiful and gladden my heart each year when I hang them on the tree. The decorations take on greater significance this year. I’ve been jingling that pretty bell a few times a day since I placed it on the tree last Saturday, each time saying, “God rest you, dear Pete.”

It has been a particularly nostalgic season for me. Here are a couple of photos from my past I want to share.

Here I am with Mom; I think the year is 1968. Mom looks fabulous, as always, and this is the only photograph in existence in which I look good with my mouth hanging open. I do look rather cute, I have to say. I’d love to know what was said or done to make our smiles so wide.

Here I am in 1971 having a serious conversation with Himself. I’m styling in those plaid pants, which seem to add at least six inches to my height. And that waistband is almost in my armpits! I wonder what I wished for that Christmas. I think I was too young for the Bobbsey Twins books I  devoured in my pre-teen years and I was two years away from desperately hoping to find a Mrs. Beasley doll under the tree. I don’t remember ever hoping for a baby brother or sister, so I doubt I used my limited time with Santa to discuss such a wish. Perhaps I wanted some furniture for my Little People house or a new box of Colorforms.

How do you remember loved ones during the holidays? Do you have special ornaments that you hang on your Christmas trees or decorations you display in your home? Are there special treats you only have this time of year that remind you of your mom, grandmother, or favorite uncle (like my paternal grandmother’s candy cane cookies, which I now bake by the dozens every year)? Do you line the mantel with photographs that give you warm thoughts from Christmases past?

I do hope this season brings you comfort and joy and that, in the midst of the frenzy of this week, you take many moments to stop and take pleasure in the company of your loved ones and enjoy the special traditions that bind you together. May all the memories you make be good ones.

 

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Happy Thanksgiving

I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving! May you enjoy the day with family and friends and may you create wonderful new memories as you all gather around the table.

Thank you to the followers and regular visitors of this blog and my Facebook page. I’m grateful for your support of the Veronica Walsh series and enthusiasm for Cast for Murder, coming in less than three months!

I’m grateful for many things this year, family and friends always, but most of all I’m thankful this lovely lady was my mother. I was blessed with the best.

Have a beautiful Thanksgiving and a terrific weekend!

 

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A Sunday Excerpt

How are you all doing with your fall leaf clearing? I put in a few hours this week on Round One of raking and blowing leaves from the grass into a big pile at the curb. I was quite proud of myself when I saw how neat the lawn and driveway were afterwards and was pleased with the invigorating exercise the task provided. But I’m not done.  It takes one look skyward at the still-loaded-with-leaves trees to know I have more hours to put in with the rake. However, I didn’t expect to wake up the very next morning to a howling wind and a fresh blanket of leaves across the ground. Boo! Am I allowed to say that, post-Halloween?

In celebration of the raking festivities, I thought I’d share an excerpt from Cast for Murder (non sequitur, anyone?) to get you in the mood for the coming winter. The book will be released in February and the mystery takes place between January and March, so the story  won’t provide much of an escape from the short days and freezing temperatures, but just picture yourself sitting by a crackling fire (or the air vent), warming yourself and drinking hot chocolate while reading the latest Veronica mystery. Cozy thought (and story), isn’t it?

*****

We made the short walk to the theater’s office, housed in a cottage fifty yards from the barn. Constructed of the same stone used for the mansion, the one-story building was once the home of the estate’s caretaker. Multi-paned windows on each side of the front door gave the place a cozy feel. An evergreen wreath hanging on the door, adorned with a red bow and small gold ornaments, added charm and brought a burst of color to the gray façade.

Sophie twisted the doorknob and stepped inside, leading me into a small front room warmed by radiator heaters. A desk and a printer stand were under the window on the left. On the white stucco walls hung posters from the theater’s productions of The Sisters Rosensweig and Noises Off. A faded blue rug covered several feet of the hardwood floor. The fireplace on the right-side wall was long out of use.

A short hall led to a kitchenette, bathroom, and storage room, where a rolling clothes rack holding costumes from past productions blocked the back window, obscuring the view of the dense expanse of trees behind the cottage.

The only thing missing from the scene was Gigi. “She might have walked up to the barn for a minute,” Sophie said when I inquired about our director.

We hung our coats on the stand beside the door and sat at the desk. Sophie opened the top drawer, clapping with glee when she found in it a check and a small wad of cash.

“Nice contribution,” she murmured, eyeing the check. “Five hundred bucks from Carlisle Bridal.”

“My friend dropped that off,” I said. “Dusanka’s a seamstress at the salon. She said she was going to buy a ticket this morning.”

“You’re definitely renewing enthusiasm in the BCT.” Sophie gave me an appreciative look.

I let my glance slide over the desk. A laptop computer was open, its screen was black but its power button glowed silver. A vase of tulips sat on the far corner; the pink-and-white striped paper Carol used in her flower shop lay crumpled in a ball in the garbage can.

We sat and chatted for a few minutes. Sophie described the backstage jobs she had done at the Barton Community Theater before becoming stage manager and talked about her graphic design job in nearby Glens Falls. After she remarked on our similar fair-skinned Gaelic looks—she had jet-black hair and sky-blue eyes to my dark-brown hair and hazel eyes—we delighted in learning our families had both come from the same part of Ireland: County Mayo.

“We’re almost Irish twins!” Sophie said, a laugh animating her oval face.

I considered my five-five height and Sophie’s youthful age of twenty-nine and didn’t come away amused. “Except you’re three inches taller and I’m almost twice your age. Almost.”

Sophie checked the time on her iPhone. “Let’s go see what Gigi’s doing.”

We put on our coats and traversed the paved path that connected the parking lot, cottage, barn, and kitchen facilities. Sophie tugged on the barn door, clicking her tongue when it proved locked.

“Maybe she went in the back door.”

We trudged around the side of the barn. A wide, graveled area provided a border between the barn and a football field-size expanse of trees. Birdsong filled the air.

Sophie broke the serenity with an “Oh!” Lurching ahead, she let out a mighty scream that drove the cardinals, sparrows, and juncos from the trees. My glance followed her, and in seconds I saw the cause of her panic and it filled me with dread.

*****

How’s that for a teaser?

Have a great week, everyone!

 

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The Proof Is In The Proof

It’s always exciting to receive the advance copies of a book I’ve written. To hold the book in my hands, admire the cover, and flip through the pages gives me a deep feeling of satisfaction. I felt this fulfillment for a third time when I received the first proof of Cast for Murder.

I made every decision on this book. From the choice of editor and cover designer to the font and font size of the text, and the size of the margins and line spacing. Every element was determined by me. Sometimes the choice was agonizing. How will the Garamond font look? Is 11 pt. too small or 14 pt too large? What trim size should I choose: 5-1/4″ x 8″ or  5-1/2″ x 8″? What difference does a quarter inch make? Even the type of paper used has an effect. I chose cream over white. I like the look and feel of the paper and research indicates print on cream paper is easier on readers’ eyes. The cover’s designer, Keri Knutson, also had to know my paper choice because the cream paper offered by CreateSpace is thicker than their white paper. That specification (along with the book’s total page count) was important for Keri to accurately size the spine for her cover proof.

I also learned much while formatting the manuscript for the advance  e-book version of Cast for Murder I’m sending to reviewers. Where font and font size are important with the paperback, they don’t matter with the electronic version. Readers can change them to suit their preference. Another surprise with the e-book is that blank lines are deleted when converted to the ePub format. I went through the entire manuscript-280 pages-and deleted the blank lines I had between chapter headings and text and between the scene changes within the chapters and inserted blank spaces via the Paragraph-Spacing-Before and After option in Word. Whew!

It continues to amaze me how different the story looks in its final form. I know, of course it does. A physical book isn’t a computer screen or an 8-1/2″ x 11” sheet of white paper. But the story comes alive when I read it in the paperback (or hardcover) format. One downside to the new view: every word stands out, causing me to question many of my vocabulary choices and phrasing. And yes, the typos I had missed earlier become obvious, too!

This brings me to one of the advantages of self-publishing: I will be able to make changes to the text if, let’s say next August someone informs me of a misspelled word, missing comma, or, worst case scenario, plot discrepancy. All I will have to do is update the manuscript and download it to CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, and Draft2Digital. Once it’s passed a quick review, the revised book will move through the sales channels and become the version available for readers to purchase.

Reaching the proof stage means Cast for Murder is one step closer to publication as we enter the holiday season. Are you all ready for Halloween? Pumpkin carved, costume ready, candy in the bowl? Enjoy the fun!

Have a great week!

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Casting For A Cover

One of the more exciting and daunting tasks of self-publishing Cast for Murder was finding the right designer for the book’s cover. Despite the admonition, people do often judge a book by its cover. The cover sets the tone for your story and gives readers a clue what is contained on the book’s pages.

I had a short list—two or three names—of cover designers to consider when I came across a recommendation for Keri Knutson of Alchemy Book Covers and Design on a writers’ message board. I clicked over to the Alchemy website and, after a few minutes of looking at Keri’s portfolio, knew I had found the designer for Cast for Murder. Not only did I want to read many of the books whose covers Keri had designed, but I also wanted to go live, or at least visit, the places she beautifully depicted.

I contacted Keri and she soon replied, agreeing to work with me. Keri included a list of questions in her email; my responses would help shape her design. I sent back my answers, including an idea of what I wanted to see on the cover and information on the paperback (number of pages, trim size, type of paper used) so Keri could supply a PDF that would meet CreateSpace’s specifications for a proper cover fit.

A month later, Keri sent me a proof that incorporated my idea with her own inspirations. Are you ready to see it?

I’m proud to present the cover for Cast for Murder:

 

Obviously, Cast for Murder is about fly fishing on the Saint Lawrence River in August.

Okay, no. The story under this fabulous book cover is about a stage production of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit. The bullet hole and blood splatter on the script cover indicate it’s not a carefree theatrical experience. The crystal ball, one of Keri’s clever touches, represents one of the play’s characters, the eccentric medium Madame Arcati. Veronica Walsh, the series’ intrepid amateur sleuth and a retired actress, will play Madame in a community performance of Blithe Spirit. The colors are so rich and I love how Keri used the stage lighting for effect. Note the glow on that crystal ball.

I’m delighted with the cover and give profuse thanks to the talented Keri Knutson for the wonderful design. Thank you, Keri!

What do you think of the cover? It makes you want to buy twenty-five copies the moment the book is available, correct?

Have a great week, everyone!

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