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Leaving Clues In Plain Sight by Andrea Penrose

One of the really fun parts about writing a mystery is creating the tantalizing little clues that challenge readers—along with my amateur sleuths, Lady Charlotte and Lord Wrexford—to piece together the puzzle and figure out who the villain is. So, I thought I’d give you an exclusive inside peek at one of the key clues in MURDER AT KENSINGTON PALACE!

The book is set in Regency England—it’s the era of Jane Austen, and in the fancy London neighborhood where Wrexford lives, it’s a world of fancy mansions and glittering ballrooms. The ladies are aswirl in gowns of sumptuous silk and satin, while the gentlemen are equally eye-catching in  their evening finery. And that sparked one of those wonderful writerly Aha! moments. In thinking about all the gorgeous fashions, I found myself inspired to use an item of clothing as a telltale clue of the cunning killer’s identity.

 

However, rather than use a lady’s handkerchief or fichu, I decided to pick something from the wardrobe of a fancy gentleman. Here’s another little secret—the gentlemen of the Regency were just as fashion-conscious as the ladies. Perhaps even more so! You think it’s modern hipsters who invented the skinny jean to show off their muscled legs? Ha! Regency cavalry officers were known to put on their leather riding breeches, then sit in a bath tub of hot water so that when they got out, the pants would dry and shrink to a skin-tight fit! Talk about fashionistas!

However, I didn’t choose leather pants. I chose a hat. (As you see in the fashionplates here, a hat was de rigueur for topping off a gentleman’s fancy outfit.) And like a lady’s bonnet, a gentleman’s hat came in a vast array of different styles. High, low, curly-brimmed, flat-brimmed, military shakos . . . the choices were endless.

So, how did I choose which style to use? I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, let’s take a sneak peek at a snippet from the scene where Lady Charlotte gets her first clue about the hat! (She’s taken two young urchin brothers named Hawk and Raven under her wing, and they now live with her. Clever and streetwise, the boys are helping her search for information to help solve a string of shocking murders. And in questioning the street people around the scenes of the crimes, they make an important discovery.)

“It’s you and your drawings I learned from, m’lady,” said Hawk in a rush. “Y’know, look for the little details—you’re always saying it’s the small bits and bobs that help piece together the truth.”

Charlotte sucked in a breath. She had used the aphorism to explain to the boys why gathering so much seemingly meaningless information was important for her work. Apparently, the boy had taken her words to heart.

She stared down at the grubby piece of paper, which was still clutched in his hand. “And you’ve found one of those bits and bobs?”

“Oiy. When Mary mentioned the cov wuz wearing a hat, Hawk thought to draw a sketch,” interjected Raven. “And Mary gabbled ‘nay’ and ‘yea’ until he got the shape right.”

Charlotte realized her heart had started to thump against her ribs. “May I see it?”

Hawk solemnly unfolded the paper and slid it across the desktop.

Unclenching her fingers, she drew it closer and took a long moment to study the penciled image.

The boy had a real knack for drawing. The lines were quick and simple, yet he had captured the curl of the sides and the jaunty dip of the brim at the back and front. Charlotte recognized the style—it had a name, though she couldn’t recall it—as being popular, but not at the pinnacle of fashion.

Distinctive, but not too distinctive.

“You think it might help in catching the killer?” asked Hawk.

“Yes,” replied Charlotte, still staring at the image. “I think it might help a great deal.”

Could the hat be the key the key to tracking down the killer? Charlotte is eager to show the sketch to Wrexford, and get his opinion.

Unclenching her hands, Charlotte looked down and started smoothing a crease from her skirts. As she did so, her fingers brushed up against paper. Hawk’s drawing, had slipped from the cushions to become tangled in the folds of sprigged muslin. Continue reading “Leaving Clues In Plain Sight by Andrea Penrose”

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Why I Love Writing Cozy Mysteries by V.M. Burns

I’ve heard it said that cozy mysteries are constraining. These criticisms are then followed by a clarion call for authors to “push the boundaries” of the cozy mystery envelope to bring the subgenre into the twenty-first century. But, the things that some might consider constraining are probably the main reasons I like writing cozy mysteries. In order to understand the complaints, you must first understand what cozy mysteries are.

So, what is a cozy mystery? Cozies are mysteries that almost always feature an amateur sleuth in a small community. They also do not have excessive violence, no explicit sex and no bad language. Let’s start with the amateur sleuth. Not being a member of law enforcement, I find using an amateur sleuth to be a major benefit. I don’t have to understand police procedures since an amateur isn’t bound by any of those rules. My amateur sleuth can (and usually does) make mistakes and gets into situations that can create interesting problems. Setting cozies in small communities helps to limit the pool of suspects, which is another positive. Readers can focus on the main characters in the story rather than several million possible entities that can be a factor in larger areas.  No excessive violence is another plus in my opinion. Even though, I write murder mysteries, I will admit to being a bit squeamish when it comes to the reality of murder. I much rather gloss over the gory details and get straight down to finding clues and figuring out whodunit. No bad language is probably one of the most fun “constraints” in cozy mysteries. Rather than spewing out expletives commonly used by sailors, I view this as an opportunity for creativity. It forces me to look for creative ways for my characters to voice their frustrations. Some of my solutions are quite humorous. And, no sex? Well, there’s nothing in the cozy mystery rulebook that says cozy characters can’t have sex. We just can’t write the scene.

As a cozy mystery reader as well as a writer, I feel the guidelines help set reader expectations. Readers know what to expect when they pick up a cozy mystery, and as a reader I appreciate not being surprised with graphic descriptions of violent crime scenes that will give me nightmares and keep me awake all night. I’ve received letters from readers ranging from ten to well into their nineties. It definitely makes me happy to share my love of mysteries with people from different age groups.

 

Lilly Echosby just witnessed a murder on a pet cam. Or did she?

When a last-minute opportunity arises to accompany her boss to an art auction in Atlanta, Lilly throws some money at the problem of where to board her toy poodle Aggie (short for Agatha Christie). Posh Pet Haven offers the most luxurious canine accommodations in all of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The place even provides pet cams so anxious owners can check in on their pampered pooches.

But when Lilly tries to take a peek at her poodle, she gets a terrible shock—she witnesses what she’s sure is a murder. She thinks the victim may be the wealthy co-owner of Pet Haven. The police follow her lead but find no body, no evidence of a crime, and no video record. Starting to feel like the dog owner who cried wolf, Lilly decides to go undercover to catch a killer who may be hiding in plain sight . . .

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The Taste of Fall by Allyson Charles

When I was invited to contribute a story to The Bakeshop at Pumpkin and Spice, I was very excited. Not only because the stories centered around Halloween, one of the best holidays of the year, but because it allowed me to write about my favorite season. When I think of fall, I think of cozy cardigans, spiced lattes, and apple pie. Crisp fallen leaves and reading before the fire. In short, I think of hygge.

If you haven’t read Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness or The Little Book of Hygge, you might not have heard of hygge. It’s a Danish and Norwegian word meaning a mood of coziness and a feeling of well-being through enjoying the simple things in life. In 2016, the Collins English dictionary named hygge as runner-up for word of the year.

So what are some ways to practice hygge? When autumn rolls around, I pull out the quilt I’ve been working on—for years now—and snuggle up on the sofa and sew away. I think I’ve given up hope of ever actually completing it, but the act of stitching the pieces together is an act of zen for me, the end product not nearly as important as the journey.

Or I pull on a pair of reading socks and a soft sweater and find a reading nook to lose myself in a book for the afternoon.

Or bake a delicious apple pie or chocolate-chip scones which I may or may not share, depending on whether I want to spread the hygge, or keep it all to myself. Continue reading “The Taste of Fall by Allyson Charles”

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My Quilt by Elizabeth Hardinger

My maternal grandmother, Lizzie Frans (1900-1993), was an artist with a needle. She crocheted, tatted, appliqued, embroidered, quilted, and, of course, mended. She had four daughters and eighteen grandchildren, and she made baby quilts and wedding quilts for all of us, for our children, and for many others besides. I have no idea how many quilts she made altogether – hundreds, at least.

For my twelfth birthday, she made me a 1961 Kansas Centennial quilt, a wonderful keepsake. Entirely of her own design, it features outline-embroidered motifs of historical and current (1961) people, events, and objects.

The quilt top has a center panel of nine squares, each containing a centered image embroidered on unbleached muslin: a buffalo; the official “Midway USA” image of the centennial (a perfectly perfect example of Mid-Century Modern meets modest Midwestern boosterism); a meadowlark (the offical state bird) perched on a sunflower (the state flower); another sunflower; another wheat stalk paired with another sunflower; a tipi; a Native man in chief regalia standing next to a cowboy on horseback; and a covered wagon with two oxen hitched up. I don’t know where she got these images. She probably drew some of them and took others from coloring books, a favorite source of hers. Continue reading “My Quilt by Elizabeth Hardinger”

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The Care And Feeding Of An Author By Alexandra Ivy

I’m not sure how it happened, but this year marks my twentieth anniversary as a published author. Sometimes it feels as if I got ‘the call’ yesterday, and other times I feel very, very old. Not because my enthusiasm for writing has dimmed. There is nothing that will ever mar my joy in creating stories and sharing them with others. It’s pure magic. But as I age (not always gracefully) I’ve suddenly realized just how quickly the days pass us by. It’s amazing. One moment I was getting married and having children, and the next my sons had moved out and my husband is discussing the R word…retirement. Yikes.

So this year I’ve promised myself that I would stop and smell the roses. Not slow down, I have way too many stories rattling around my head to do that, but I’m giving myself permission to enjoy the moment.

As wives, mothers, workers, and care-givers to our families, we are constantly pulled in a hundred directions. It’s far too easy to let our own needs slide, and to push ourselves until we have nothing left to give. Now I’m make a conscious effort to take off an afternoon and bake bread, or work in my garden, or just snuggle on the couch with my dog. I read books and take long walks. And the one thing I’ve discovered, is that my self-care has improved everything about my life, including my writing. When I’m sitting in front of a computer too long, I start to feel as if I’m grinding out the words. It’s much easier to work through plot problems or sharpen a witty exchange between characters when I’m pulling weeds or soaking in a bubble bath. And if I don’t get as many words written in a day as I wanted, I no longer beat myself up. Instead, I remind myself of all the wonderful things I accomplished and pour a glass of wine. Continue reading “The Care And Feeding Of An Author By Alexandra Ivy”

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Flip-flops as summer door décor . . . by Linda Reilly

Flip-flop weather is upon us, and this year I discovered another use for the fun, fanciful footwear. Early this season, I was visiting someone at a local nursing home when I spotted the most adorable decoration hanging on the door of someone’s office. Using a pair of flip-flops, a cluster of faux flowers, and a beaded necklace (as a hanger), someone had created a whimsical summer door hanging.

It was perfect, I realized, for my local crafts club’s monthly project. A frugal bunch, we’re always looking for ideas that are gentle to our purses! Also, since none of us has any real sewing skills, a simple project is the kind we look for. This particular craft was one that I knew we could create from dollar store items. Plus, I love dollar store flip-flops! Continue reading “Flip-flops as summer door décor . . . by Linda Reilly”

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The Unexpected Farmer By Amanda Flower

Because a lot of my novels are involve Amish characters, I spend a lot of time writing about farms and farmers, but I’m not a farmer. I never had any plans to be a farmer. However, two years ago a friend needed help with his farm, and I loved his vision. Instead of a traditional farm, he is creating a habitat farm where birds, bees, butterflies, and animals can live and rest. It’s not only a peaceful place but a place that will help the more traditional farmers around him by keeping the pollinators, which farmers need for their crops, in the area healthy.

When I heard his plans, I offered to help and found I loved it. I love being outside and working on the land, planting things and watching them grow. This year, we installed a new small barn and bluebird houses. One of the three bird houses has bluebird eggs, and the eggs should hatch any day now. I cannot wait to see the baby chicks, and I will be sure to share photos on my Facebook page. Continue reading “The Unexpected Farmer By Amanda Flower”

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Has New Claim to Flame By Christin Brecher

EXTRA, EXTRA:  AUTHOR TRIES CANDLE-MAKING

Stella Wright, the hero detective in my series, the Nantucket Candle Maker Mysteries, was born to make candles.

I was born to buy them.  That is, until I met her.

After spending time with Stella during early days of the series, I became eager to try her craft.  She has that effect on people.  Stella worked at the island’s Whaling Museum during high school and was drawn to Nantucket’s production from whale oils of the whitest and brightest candles, which lit the finest homes around the world in the late 17th / early 18th centuries. As a youngster, she also helped her mother run a small perfume shop on town’s Center Street, now the location of her own store, the Wick & Flame.  These days, she crafts beautifully colored and uniquely scented candles I wish we could all enjoy.

Inspired by this multi-talented woman, I discovered Keap, a small candle company based out of Brooklyn which runs workshops at their headquarters. When I arrived for an evening class, I joined a group of enthusiasts of different ages, skills and backgrounds, including a young couple on a date (hope those two made it because that was a cute date.)  Everyone wore a smile, which grew wider when we were offered wine and pastries. Continue reading “Has New Claim to Flame By Christin Brecher”

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My Love Of Bakeries by Lynn Cahoon

Or this blog could be called my love of baked goods. Either way, I’m pretty sure it started at Buttery’s Food and Drug. It was a regional grocery chain in the northwestern United States when I was a kid. And they baked cookies in the store. Better yet, every child got one free cookie every visit.

I loved their butter spritz cookies. Oh, so sweet and melt in your mouth.

My school lunch program continued this love of baked goods by providing fresh baked bread every day for afternoon snack with a glass of orange juice. The school was probably part of some federal government study on the affect of carbs and sugar on kids, but I didn’t care. The bread was amazing.

In high school, I found my love of baking. A recipe always turned out the same way IF you followed the directions exactly. Veer from the recipe?  Your cookies might be too dense and not melt right. Or, worse, melt down into a crisp onto the cookie sheet.

When I was a young mother, Albertsons, another regional shop did fresh baked French bread from 4-6 every day. I’d stop in the store, buy two loaves on my way home from work, and eat one during the 20-minute drive. Now, I get worried if I eat a hamburger bun or two during the day.

Sometimes, even on a low carb, low sugar diet like the one I’m working, you have to break bread.  I love that term, breaking bread with others. Like a fellow writer who I have dinner with monthly. We chat and eat and plot and plan our careers over the Cheddar biscuits or sweet dinner rolls provided at some of our favorite places.

Some of my best memories are around food. That’s why in my books, the characters eat. A lot. It gives them something to do while they’re discussing the latest Aspen Hills murder. And with Shauna’s amazing cooking, it let’s me pretend I’m eating those free cookies again.

Lynn Continue reading “My Love Of Bakeries by Lynn Cahoon”

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Food and the Mystery By Dana Dratch

Photo credit: Ji-yeon Yun on Pixabay.com

It’s the combination that goes together like tea and scones: food and mysteries.

Maybe it’s because writers spend so much time dreaming up plots, characters, alibis and red herrings that they miss too many meals.

Of course, it’s not their fault. It’s difficult to remember to restock the fridge when your shopping list reads:

  • Shampoo
  • Milk
  • A place to stash Colleen’s body

The Queen of Crime herself, Agatha Christie, was no slouch at mixing murder with a good meal. From Hercule Poirot with his perfectly symmetrical boiled eggs and endless pots of chocolat to Miss Marple, who was just as likely to discover an upper-crust dinner invite or a scrumptious four o’clock tea as she was a mystery to solve. Continue reading “Food and the Mystery By Dana Dratch”