I recently took a road trip to Fort Worth with my eldest granddaughter to visit family. At the state line, we stopped for a photo by the concrete Texas sign. Is the unique shape of the state the reason its citizens display such pride and loyalty? Take the Texas-shaped waffle, for instance (backwards in the photo below). My granddaughter and I agreed that a Colorado or Wyoming shaped waffle would just be square. Nothing to get excited about.
Maybe it is the food. From deep fried everything to healthy local produce like pecans, Texas can provide for every taste, but there is definitely an inclination toward meat and potatoes. My brother and sister were slightly disgusted with me and my granddaughter for ordering salmon at a steakhouse.
Texans have a sense of their history, the whole cowboys and cattle thing. But not your ordinary bovines. No, Texas is known for their longhorn cattle. The discovery of massive oil fields gave Texas the autonomy provided by rich natural resources, and with that seemed to come attitude. Sure, Colorado experienced the gold and silver rush, and all the historic drama associated with a rapid influx of settlers and sudden wealth. And so did California. Somehow Texas has managed to own the mythology of the American West like no other state.
While in Fort Worth we visited The Pour House, a brew pub operated by a former student of my father's. Later we went to The Brewery in Burleson. When we got home, I had to explain the photos of my granddaughter playing pool in a pub with great-grandpa.
When you travel through Texas, you know you're in Texas. I hope my next trip won't be such a quick dash.
I've learned a lesson about flexibility this summer. Careful planning doesn't always come to fruition. I need to be ready for change, both the positive and the negative.
March 16, I planted tomato seeds. A month later, I transplanted the seedlings to larger pots. Here is what my early starts looked like, getting their first taste of real sunshine.
By July 11, most of these tomatoes were in large planters, or in the ground. Three feet tall, blooming, and forming green tomatoes. You can glimpse part of a plant on my deck in this bunny picture. The plant was three times as large by this weekend.
On Saturday, we received rain. Along with the much needed moisture came devastating hail. I wasn't home at the time, which is good. I might have run out on the deck to attempt covering my plants, and had some of my own branches pruned.
The good news is that my garden has time to recover. Many branches and leaves were stripped off the plants, and fruits were knocked off, but the tomatoes weren't reduced to mere stems. Already, new leaves are forming. Yesterday the weather was mild, and it rained last night. Recovery is likely.
What does this have to do with flexibility? My attention had been focused on weeding, watering, and harvesting as my garden began to produce vegetables. I could wallow in misery, along with my gardening neighbors, or I could shift to cleanup and recovery mode.
The same applies to writing. I have been struggling with a new short story. It just wasn't coming together. Boring, I thought. No one's going to want to read this. Just as I was about to pitch the story and start over, I had a little hailstorm - or is that brainstorm?
As often happens, I realized the ending was all wrong. It was painfully predictable. Then a new ending occurred to me. Something unexpected. I have to strip away every word that's not working in order to allow new growth.
Like hail on a summer garden, editing your own work can feel destructive. What grows from severe pruning will likely be more compact and productive.
Here are some photos of Colorado that are entirely predictable. Images of the West. Some things don't need to change. Enjoy.
Can you see the bunny rabbit in my garden? We have had an explosion of rabbits in my neighborhood. Partly this is due to a decline in fox populations. Between loss of habitat and encroachment by coyotes, foxes are not having an easy time these days.
My husband and I have no pets. Our yard is a bird sanctuary, and now apparently a bunny haven, too. For the past couple weeks, I have observed this furry little friend nibbling clover in the lawn. It studiously ignores the lettuces, as you can see in one of the next photos. Perhaps it learned a lesson from its British cousin Peter Rabbit. (Click on a photo to open a larger image.)
If you missed my interview last week with Welsh Canadian author Cathy Ace, she has good news. She has sold another series! While you are waiting for her next series to appear on bookshelves, you can continue to read her excellent Cait Morgan mystery series.
When I read The Corpse with the Silver Tongue recently, I realized I had discovered a new favorite series. This contemporary murder mystery reads like a classic whodunit. Author Cathy Ace dropped by today to talk about writing, setting, and her Cait Morgan Mystery Series.
Cathy Ace - Thanks for inviting me along for a chat, Catherine. Great name, by the way!
CD –In The Corpse with the Silver Tongue, Cait expects to enjoy a few days in the south of France after filling in for a colleague at a conference. Each novel in your series takes place in a different exotic location. How do you decide where to set your novels?
Cathy Ace - This is an interesting question, and I’ll be honest about the answer. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a great deal in my life, and I have chosen to use places that I know well, and love. This means that, while I might not be able to get back to these places just to carry out the research for each book, I know them well enough to be able, I hope, to write about them with a truthfulness borne of familiarity. In the case of this first Cait Morgan Mystery, I sent Cait to Nice because I used to live there for a few months each year, and it’s a place that has found its way into my heart. The location of the dinner party in the opening pages, and the central setting for the book, is a real apartment that belongs to some friends of mine. They graciously allowed me to use it as the crime scene!
CD – Location mattered on many levels in your first novel. Which comes first – the plot idea or the setting?
Cathy Ace - Now that’s a tough one to answer. To be honest, the victim and the location go hand in hand, the rest of the characters then come along as being those who would “naturally occur” in the locale and the plot. The nature of the plot springs from the location, for example, in the second book, THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE, the death of an award-winning vintner needs to be linked to vineyards and wine country, and we have some of the best in the world right here in British Columbia.
CD – Besides location, the culture and history of southern France were an integral part of the mystery. Do you research the regions in which your novels are set? Have you travelled to these places?
Cathy Ace - I adore the research part of the writing process. You’re right, the way that history is layered in the south of France was a critical aspect of the first Cait Morgan Mystery, and, because I enjoy considering the way that culture springs from locale, it’s a theme and a plot device you’ll find in all my books. In BC’s wine country around Lake Okanagan, the culture is as diverse as the people who populate the area. In the third book in the series, THE CORPSE WITH THE EMERALD THUMB, Cait is on the Pacific coast of Mexico, where I was again able to peel away the modern-day experience of the region and expose complex layers of historical cultures. Knowing the places I write about, and having spent a great deal of time in them all, means I have some knowledge about the local cultures, but extra research is always needed. Then I am able to “add history” in that, as with many fiction authors, I like to invent a specific location so that I can also invent specific occurrences which allow the book to work as a whole. In the first book, for example, it is true that the Gestapo had their headquarters in a “Palais” in Nice, but I changed the name of the building and added an underground cellar. In the same vein, there is a wonderful museum of Roman antiquities in Cimiez, as described, but I invented the missing Druidic necklace. I like to use history and culture based in reality, but then embellish it.
CD – One reason I enjoyed your novel is the main character. While Cait is a criminologist, and therefore not exactly an amateur sleuth, neither is she a law enforcement professional. This places her in a sometimes awkward position when it comes time for sleuthing. Can you tell us a little more about Cait?
Cathy Ace - Cait’s background is as a psychology graduate who kicked off her career working at an advertising and public relations agency. But she found this to be unrewarding work, so took herself off to gain more academic qualifications in criminal psychology, which she did in Cambridge. While there, the sudden death of her ex-boyfriend led to her arrest on suspicion of murder. Although she was cleared, she found that the British tabloids wouldn’t leave her in peace, so she took the chance to finish her doctoral work at the University of Vancouver, where she’s now a professor who specializes in the controversial area of victim profiling. Her work brought her to the attention of the integrated homicide investigation team there, and she’s consulted on police cases, where an insight into the victim has allowed them to narrow, or focus, their hunt for criminals. As a sleuth, Cait is a reluctant one. This case in Nice has her cast as a suspect, so she feels compelled to try to solve the case to clear her name. Cait’s eidetic memory is not something she likes people to know about, though it’s very useful when she needs to recall a scene exactly, and, of course, it means she’s able to retain a great deal of knowledge, because, once she’s acquired it, it never leaves her. But Cait doesn’t just have a super memory, she’s also intensely bright; a member of Mensa, she’s able to put the pieces of a puzzle together with insight and intelligence. Cait’s not very good at applying this skill set when it comes to considering her own life, however. She’s pretty useless at managing her weakness for over-indulgence, and her judgmental nature. She’s far from perfect, and knows it, but the idea of changing herself doesn’t seem to arise for Cait!
CD – Cait is a Welsh-Canadian professor, which gives the story a unique voice. How much does your cultural history influence your writing?
Cathy Ace - I suspect it influences me more than I know. Certainly in the first book Cait is given the chance to use her own knowledge of Welsh cultural history because the missing necklace hails from ancient Wales. This won’t be the case in every book, of course! Both Cait and I will always be Welsh, and will always be becoming Canadian. I am sure that if you ask anyone who is born and raised within a culture, then leaves it, they will find it difficult to explain the extent to which that will color their entire outlook on life. I know I do. Stereotypically the Welsh love art, singing, talking, drinking beer and playing rugby. I have to admit that all those things are very dear to me. Beyond that, I feel a definite connection to my Welshness, even if I cannot define what that is. “Come from nothing, work hard, do your very best, never boast,” might sum it up, for me. Education and hard work were most certainly seen as very important in my home, but maybe that’s as much a reflection of the social class in which I was raised, as of my nationality. I’m delighted that you can hear Cait’s unique voice, which is hers, not mine, and I am sure she’ll be loath to ever shut up. As I said, we Welsh like to talk!
CD – Currently, there are four books in the Cait Morgan series. Are you working on more?
Cathy Ace - I certainly am! The fourth Cait Morgan Mystery will be published in September 2014; THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR finds Cait locked in an exclusive private dining room atop one of the most luxurious casinos in Las Vegas, with a corpse and a dwindling number of suspects! In spring 2015, Cait will be visiting her homeland, Wales, in THE CORPSE WITH THE SAPPHIRE EYES, and will be back again in the fall of that year with…well, an adventure that must remain a mystery for now!
CD – Which authors influenced your writing? Any favorites you recommend?
Cathy Ace - I realize that most of the authors who have influenced me are dead! Agatha Christie is my primary influence. It has been said that I write very “Christie-like” mysteries, with a modern setting. I believe that’s a compliment. Other true influencers would be Ngaio Marsh, and, more recently, PD James, who has always enchanted me by creating places that seem real to me. That said, until I began to write, I read a great deal, so it’s difficult to know who else has influenced me. I believe that influence seeps in, unnoticed. Overall, I suppose, it has to be the writers of the Golden Age; puzzle plots, lots of clues, red herrings, a constantly changing locale and characters – all these features find their way into my work. In terms of who I read for fun, when I get the chance to read at all (which I cannot do when I am writing) some of those authors would be Alan Bradley’s uber-cozy Flavia de Luce books (a guilty pleasure!), Linwood Barclay for thrillers, and Louise Penny and Peter Robinson for police procedurals. I still try to hunt out anything by Robert B Parker that I haven’t read, and the same goes for Ian Rankin, Ruth Rendell, MC Beaton, Simon Brett, Lynda la Plante, Reginald Hill and Tony Hillerman, but this is becoming more and more difficult. Not all of these are “cozy” authors by any means.
CD – Do you have other writing projects, besides thus series?
Cathy Ace - I do, but I am not really able to speak about it right now. Maybe by the time this interview appears, and there are comments being made, I will be able to be more forthcoming. I hope so!
CD – Where can we learn more about you? Where can we find your novels?
Cathy Ace - I do my best to keep my website updated. www.cathyace.com will allow you to access more information about me and all my books, past, present and future. It’ll also allow you to read some more interviews, and even a specially written prequel to book #3! My Cait Morgan Mysteries can be purchased at all good bookstores, though you might have to order them. They are available in paperback or e-format through all the major online distributors, and are readable on all mainstream e-platforms. You could also do worse than ask your local library to get them into stock for you. THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE, and THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE are both available as Audible audio books; I was lucky enough to pass the audition to read my own work, so, if you want to know what a Welsh-Canadian sounds like, you can listen to me, as Cait, for a total of seventeen hours, if you like!
CD - I will definitely be looking for the audio recordings! I am a big fan of audio books, and Cathy has a wonderful voice. Author Cathy Ace is standing by to respond to your comments.
I am excited to announce that my short story The Last Real Cowboy is featured on the cover of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine!
The September 2014 issue should be in the magazine section of bookstores or on newsstands this week or the next (yes, September in June).
I received a notice that a book I had reserved was in, so I dropped by the library. Bright colors near the parking lot caught my eye. I had things to do, places to go. I rushed inside, grabbed my materials, and headed to my car with the intention of zooming home and starting in on chores.
Then I remembered. The last few years I have missed viewing the iris garden on the library grounds. The irises were in bloom. It was now or never.
Iris flowers mean spring to me. I have a standard purple iris that is extremely hardy in my flower garden. Although it is difficult to choose favorites, irises are definitely in my top ten favorite flowers. Enjoy the photos! (To view photos from the website, click on one, and you can then scroll through larger images.)
My final report from Malice Domestic 2014.
May 4, the last day of the Malice Domestic traditional mystery convention, was my opportunity to transition from the fan role to that of an author.
The night before, my husband graciously assisted me long distance with my two-minute spiel. I set out everything I needed for the next day, and tried to get to sleep early. After tossing and turning for what seemed hours, I finally dozed off.
The alarm sounded. I was certain there was some mistake. No, it was really six am Maryland time. To my brain, still operating on Colorado time, it was four am. The New Author Breakfast was scheduled for seven am, which was really five. My head was spinning with time zone confusion. All I really wanted to do was crawl back under the covers. And then it hit me. I was sick.
I didn’t come all the way from Colorado just to bail on my chance to introduce my book to hundreds of prospective readers. I hauled myself down the elevators to the New Author Breakfast. I staked a claim on a table and distributed my author postcards and goodies.
Linda Landrigan, editor of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, sat at my table. One look at my green face might have caused her to wish she’d sat elsewhere. Under different circumstances, it would have been wonderful to have breakfast with Linda. Patricia, the Canadian professor I met the first day, sat beside me and taught me breathing techniques. My head hurt, my stomach was queasy, and I’m sure I was incoherent.
Two authors delivered what amounted to stand-up comedy routines with ease. Fellow AHMM author Michael Nethercott was charming and funny. Others spoke enthusiastically and off-the-cuff about their stories. The emcee called my name. On wobbly legs, I climbed on the stage. I shamelessly read from my notes. Linda and Patricia assured me I’d done a great job. “Great” at this point meant not passing out on stage. I had survived the first event of my Big Day.
My next appearance was on the panel North, South, East, West, Which Setting Is the Best? I shared the stage with three authors and a moderator to discuss how setting affects story. I had been on a short story panel before at Left Coast Crime 2013. I was reasonably certain I could handle this.
Leone Ciporin moderated a lively discussion that included fun audience questions. Christine DeSmet represented North, with her novel First-Degree Fudge, Penny Clover Petersen the East with Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My!, and Diane Vallere the South with Pillow Stalk. My novel is set in Colorado, so I represented the West with Stone Cold Dead – A Rock Shop Mystery. About half way through, I really began to enjoy the panel. The time was up all too soon.
My final event of the day was a group book signing. Authors take assigned seats in a large room, and then readers bring books to tables for autographs. I sat in alphabetical order with Christine DeSmet. She brought pink fudge, which is featured in her novel. I very much wanted to try a piece, but my stomach was still queasy, so I didn’t dare. I was happy to watch Christine sign several books – her cozy mystery novel is one to put on your reading list.
Then a reader approached, bringing my novel. I may have squealed. I autographed the book. Suddenly, dragging myself out of bed at four in the morning and pretending I wasn’t sick as a dog was all worthwhile.
I thought I had squeezed all the drama and excitement out of Malice Domestic that I could. As I wandered through the dealer’s room, picking out a few books I couldn’t live without, and buying souvenirs for the grandkids, I struck up a conversation with Christina Cowan. Her Undiscovered Treasures booth was a delightful mixture of jewelry, beaded purses, and ROCKS!
Needless to say, we talked rock shops, fossils and minerals. I made my purchases and prepared to leave. Christine stopped me. She had to buy my book about rock shops.
So I autographed another book. My cup runneth over.
I survived three days of Malice Domestic, stepping way out of my comfort zone, meeting dozens of readers, writers, editors, fans and authors. I left exhausted and exhilarated, drained and recharged. Mystery fans are amazing people. And I’m proud to count myself one of them.
Undiscovered Treasures: 9619 Pierrpont Street, Burke, VA 22015
I have been polishing book two in my rock shop mystery series, so I haven't had time to blog. I have managed to get myself to the day job, but laundry, cooking dinner, and cleaning house have all been problematic. I haven't had time to read much, either.
Recently I discovered the joy of audio books. I can listen to a novel in two or three weeks as I commute to and from work. Audio books are great, but expensive. And that brings me to this week's topic: libraries.
In the following blog post, Chuck Sambuchino lists eleven ideas for supporting authors.
Number eight on the list is Reserve a copy at the library. We all know buying an author's book supports them, but money can be tight. Did you know that checking out books from the library helps authors? Don't feel guilty when you borrow books from the library instead of buying them.
In fact, my publisher specializes in supplying books for libraries. So if you can't afford to purchase my novel, do me a favor and check it out from your library. And if they don't have it, ask them to get a copy.
That's another amazing thing about libraries. If you want materials, and they have the budget, they can purchase items you want to check out. Or borrow them from other libraries. I recently requested a how-to-write-mysteries book, and they got it for me. Now any library patron can read this book.
Public libraries are great.
Join me at bookbrowsing with blogger PJ Nunn today as I guest post about my experiences at Malice Domestic. I offer advice on how authors can sell themselves to a captive audience at conferences. Can you succeed as a one book wonder? What social media should you attempt? And more.....
Day One of the Malice Domestic traditional mystery convention continued with a crime lab talk and author interviews. I especially enjoyed the fan mail panel, where authors shared their most touching, funny, and irksome letters from fans.
In the evening, several authors published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine gathered in the hotel lounge to meet with editor Linda Landrigan. Selling a short story to AHMM is a Very Big Deal in the mystery fiction world. For some, publication in the magazine launched writing careers.
When Linda purchased my short story The Jolly Fat Man for the AHMM April 2013 issue, I responded to the email by running in circles around my living room and screaming. I exercised more restraint in the hotel lounge as I finally met Linda in person.
Meeting Carole Nelson Douglas, author of the Midnight Louie series, was Fan Moment Number One. I may have squealed. http://carolenelsondouglas.com/
While waiting for the dessert reception, I chatted with author Maggie Sefton http://www.maggiesefton.com/ . We are both Colorado residents, with a history of attending the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Maggie shared how she took risks to start her career, enduring a diet of peanut butter sandwiches on her path to becoming a multi-published author.
Delectable squares in a variety of flavors rewarded those able to stay up for the Welcome Reception. Or is nine o’clock not late? I stood beside a tall table and nibbled my plate of goodies while I chatted with authors Cathy Ace http://cathyace.com/ and Carolyn Mulford http://carolynmulford.com/ .
Cathy munched on a chocolate-dipped strawberry, declaring she had met her fruit requirement for the weekend. Her Welsh accent was delightful, and her enthusiasm contagious, as she spoke about her Cait Morgan mystery series, the titles of which all contain the word “Corpse.”
Carolyn is the author of the “Show Me” series, as in Show Me the Murder. She is Missouri native, and sets her series in a small Missouri town (in case you haven’t made the “show me” connection). I was schmoozing, and quite proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone by being sociable, when one of the ladies asked if I was attending the SinC breakfast in the morning.
“Thanks for the reminder,” I said. “I signed up for it. What time is it?”
Holy Cow. I was still coping with the time change. Seven am in Maryland is five am in Colorado. Which meant I would be setting my alarm for four am. Ugh.
I managed to arrive at the breakfast in time to nab a seat next to author Catriona McPherson http://catrionamcpherson.com/ , also vice president of SinC. This was Fan Moment Number Two as I told Catriona how much I love her Dandy Gilver series.
SinC is Sisters in Crime, a professional writers’ group geared toward women. I am strictly an on-line member of SinC, with no local chapter to attend. The buffet breakfast was great, and getting to see other members in person was an even better treat.
Our president and Colorado resident Laura DiSilverio kept the meeting lively. Dozens of attendees wore feather boas designating the wearers as Guppies – the great unpublished. Some Guppies never leave the pond, even after being published. I highly recommend Guppies to any aspiring mystery novelist.
After the meeting, I attended more panels, interviews, and book signings. One highlight was the Midlist Writers Anonymous presentation by Parnell Hall, Dorothy Cannell, Susan Rogers Cooper, and Joan Hess. There was even a song.
Fan Moment Number Three was attending a panel on unusual settings with Elaine Viets, author of the Dead-End Job series. The most recent book in the series is set at a cat show.
Day Two of Malice Domestic was winding down. One more day to go, and it would be a momentous one for me. Now if I could just get adjusted to the time change…
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