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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mystery, History, and Credibility - a Guest Post and Raffle from Joyce Strand

Today on the blog, author Joyce Strand joins us to celebrate the release of her new historical mystery, The Judge's Story.  Joyce highlights some of the challenges associated with crafting a suspenseful yet believable mystery plot, particularly when you throw historical accuracy into the mix!  Don't forget to sign up for Joyce's AMAZING giveaway at the end of this post - you could win a Kindle Fire or Paperwhite, or free copies of The Judge's Story along with generous Amazon.com gift cards!  Thanks for joining us today, Joyce!

Mystery, History, and Credibility
Joyce T. Strand

Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction after all, has to make sense,” Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens.

Recently I read a true-crime book and was dissatisfied with all the loose ends, including the lack of solving the murder and convicting the criminal. Yet, this was a true story. How could it be? I decided then and there that I would never read another true-crime book. I prefer crime fiction, where we get to make up a mystery and solve it with everything tied up neatly.
Spinning a good mystery revolves around interesting characters who need to figure out who-done-it despite misleading clues and villains in their way.  But even though it’s made-up, I emphatically agree with one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes, “Fiction…has to make sense.”
Credibility and plausibility go beyond accuracy and are crucial to engross a mystery reader. They concern the likelihood of an occurrence. We might overlook an anachronism, such as placing a river in a real city where none exists for the sake of telling a story, but can we readers overlook the action of a five-foot, 100-pound girl managing to overcome a six-foot 200-pound strong man? Not that it couldn’t happen—but we better understand how, e.g., the man was drugged.
Or what about an amateur sleuth—say a winemaker—what gives him the ability to solve a mystery? Why would we believe any amateur could catch a murderer? There must be a reason—maybe he was an intelligence officer in the Navy, or a crime reporter before becoming a winemaker, or has a history of analyzing the source of production problems at a former job.
And if it’s challenging to tell a plausible modern-day mystery, writing an historical mystery complicates the obligation to produce credibility. In an historical mystery we must pay attention to the same issues as in a current-day tale, but they are compounded by the additional requirement of historical accuracy.
There is no doubt that by setting my story in 1939, I had great fun introducing a new element to tantalize the mystery reader dedicated to solving a puzzle. Historical setting offers interesting opportunities to enrich a mystery. The year 1939 offered a backdrop of the effects of the Great Depression, the looming WWII, and the advancement of movies, air travel, and automobiles without the benefits of cell phones, the internet, or Amazon.com.
For example, my protagonist gets trapped in a storm a dozen miles from assistance. In today’s world, he would simply whip out his cell phone and call for help. In 1939, not only did he not have a cell phone but the building in which he was trapped had no phone, electricity, or running water either. This added a different dimension to how he could be rescued and offered an opportunity to build suspense.
However, despite the contribution of an historical setting, it definitely complicated the issues of believability and credibility, essential to entice readers into the plot.
When I wrote The Judge’s Story, set in 1939, to assure credibility I had to check almost every sentence to assure it was accurate for the time period. The opening scene occurs in a courtroom on a hot day. Could I introduce electric fans? And how long did it take to drive from Ventura to Los Angeles? Could my juvenile criminal have driven to Los Angeles from Ventura and back in a day and still have had time to commit a crime? How fast could cars go in 1939? Did everyone have a telephone? Did refrigerators produce ice cubes?
In an historical mystery, anachronisms could cost credibility, which might lead to a reader’s lost interest. If I enabled my juvenile criminal to travel from Ventura to Los Angeles and commit a crime and return in the same day in 1939, a mystery reader at best would question the validity of the statement and at worst stop reading.
I truly enjoy reading and writing mysteries. I’ve written several current-day mysteries and now my first historical mystery. But whether our sleuth is an amateur, private eye, or lawman tracking down clues in 1939 or 2015, he/she must be credible. “Fiction after all, has to make sense.”

Autographed copies may be purchased at Unicorn Bookstore in Ramona, CA.

About The Judge’s Story

A Superior Court Judge with a passion for social justice as well as the law strives to discover the truth behind the mystery of a robbery-murder in a small California town in 1939.

When the Judge hears testimony against a 14-year-old teenager, he realizes that the boy participated in a robbery-murder. However, the accused did not actually pull the trigger. But unless the boy identifies his partner, the Judge must sentence him as a murderer, which would result in prolonged jail time. The Judge’s investigator, along with the precocious 16-year-old girl who identified the boy as one of the thieves, explore different approaches to uncover the murderer. In the backdrop of escalating war in Europe, the financial scarcities of the Great Depression, and the Judge’s caseload, their attempts to find justice for the accused boy and unmask the killer lure the Judge and his friends into sordid criminal activities.

About the Author

Mystery author Joyce T. Strand, much like her fictional character, Jillian Hillcrest, served as head of corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder. Rather, she focused on publicizing her companies and their products. She is the author of the Jillian Hillcrest mysteries ON MESSAGE, OPEN MEETINGS, and FAIR DISCLOSURE and the Brynn Bancroft mystery HILLTOP SUNSET. Strand received her Ph.D. from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA. She currently lives in Southern California with her two cats, a collection of cow statuary and art, and her muse, the roadrunner.

To find out more about Joyce, visit

Join the Raffle!

Sign up below to win one of three wonderful prizes:

1st Prize: Kindle Fire HD 7 or Kindle Paperwhite

2nd Prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card and ebook or paperback copy of The Judge’s Story

3rd Prize: $25 Amazon Gift Card and ebook or paperback copy of The Judge’s Story

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Janel Gradowski's Recipe for Success

Author Janel Gradowski joins us this week to talk about how she mixes up a cup full of life experience and a dash of fiction and fantasy to create the delicious concoction that is known as her Culinary Competition mystery series.  Janel is celebrating the release of the third novel in the series featuring culinary whiz Amy Ridley, "Doughnuts & Deadly Schemes."  If you haven't already, don't wait to snap up this VERY well-reviewed new release! 

For me, writing is the perfect blend of reality and fantasy. Each story has elements that I’ve experienced in real life, but also bits of daydreams combined with a dollop research. My Culinary Competition Mystery Series is set in a fictional town in southeast Michigan. I have lived in Michigan my entire life, so I know how the seasons change and how strange the weather can get – like the 25 degree temperature drop in 24 hours that recently occurred. My family and I love to take road trips, so I have been to many cities from small mining towns in the Upper Peninsula to the metropolis of Detroit. I’ve pulled bits and pieces from many real cities to construct Kellerton. Now that I’m three books and two short stories into the series it’s a bit of a challenge to keep track of all of the businesses and locations that I have invented, but I use a notebook and maps to record everything.

While I have traveled extensively within Michigan, I don’t travel outside of the state often. Usually for summer vacations and that’s it. I know many authors write about locations they have never been to, like Paris or South America, but for my series I wanted it to be set in an area that I knew well. Sandal-melting heat waves…I’ve been through those. Snow in April? Experienced that this year. I love adding details, like using “pop” instead of “soda” or mentioning pasties. That would be pronounced pass – tees. No, I’m not talking about part of a costume in a strip club. These pasties are handheld Cornish meat pies popular with copper miners in the 1800s and now one of the iconic foods associated with Michigan. There are many idiosyncrasies in a region. If I set my series in a state I wasn’t familiar with I wouldn’t be able to add those kinds of details as easily.

The fantasy part of writing my series comes from the places and characters. The main character, Amy, lives in a big Craftsman-style house in a beautiful city neighborhood. Personally, I have never lived anywhere that had a sidewalk. I’m a country girl and have always lived in rural areas. The view out the front window, of my generic 1950’s three-bedroom ranch house, is a farm field. The most common causes of traffic backups in my area are gigantic, slow-moving tractors that take up both lanes of the road. So I gave Amy the type of house I have always admired complete with my dream kitchen. And my dream car. In real life I drive a full-size, extended cab, four-wheel drive pickup. Amy drives a blue Mini Cooper.

One of my favorite things is developing characters. Amy’s propensity for coming up with wild theories and scenarios is all me. I can walk through a mall, overhear a snippet of a conversation and almost instantly invent at least three possibilities for what the people could be talking about. However, I am nowhere near as outgoing as Amy. I have also never competed in a cooking competition, even though the series is based on them. The Food Network and local competitions provide the seed ideas for what eventually turn into the contests featured in each book. Since I am a coffee fanatic, Riverbend CafĂ© - where Amy works, is a composite of many of the coffee shops I have visited. Writing the series has been very much like creating the recipes I include with each book. I mix a bit of this and a sprinkle of that and end up with something I hope my readers will enjoy.

About the Author

Janel Gradowski lives in a land that looks like a cold weather fashion accessory, the mitten-shaped state of Michigan. She is a wife and mom to two kids and one Golden Retriever. Her journey to becoming an author is littered with odd jobs like renting apartments to college students and programming commercials for an AM radio station. Somewhere along the way she also became a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking recipes found in her formidable cookbook and culinary fiction collection. Searching for unique treasures at art fairs, flea markets and thrift stores is also a favorite pastime. Coffee is an essential part of her life. She writes the Culinary Competition Mystery Series, along with The Bartonville Series (women’s fiction) and the 6:1 Series (flash fiction). She has also had many short stories published in both online and print publications.

To learn more about Janel and her books, visit:

Friday, June 5, 2015

My Mother Isn’t a Psychopath. She’s a Mystery Writer...a Guest Post by Lauren Carr

Lauren Carr joins us today with a guest post about how having a mystery writer for a mother can be a bit...uncomfortable...when you're a teenager!  Lauren is celebrating the recent release of her latest Mac Faraday mystery, Open Season for Murder.  Thanks for another great post, Lauren!

My Mother Isn’t a Psychopath. She’s a Mystery Writer
By Lauren Carr

Last year, my son, Tristan confessed that he had yet another embarrassing moment.

Here’s something to keep in mind: He’s a teenager, which means every day is filled with embarrassing moments. He’s humiliated waking up in the morning. However, according to him, this moment was particularly distressing.

My son had been selected to give tours to new incoming freshmen. Apparently, some parents were present. During the orientation, a mother came up to him and asked, “Is it true you’re Lauren Carr’s son? I love her mysteries! Give Gnarly a hug for me.” (Notice she didn’t want him to hug me.)

He was horrified by the attention, of course. However, I couldn’t miss the little smile on his face when he told me about it.

I knew before having children that I would not be your average mother. At the last Pampered Chef party I attended, the sales rep was left speechless when I pointed out how, with a slight adjustment to the measurements of the ingredients to her salad dressing recipe, we could make a neat little Molotov cocktail.

I haven’t been invited to another sales party since. I’m still waiting to get mad about that.

How could I ever expect to be a normal parent? What type of mother sits around all day thinking about ways to kill people? My son should consider himself lucky. If I wasn’t a mystery writer, I’d be a psychopath. Now, what kind of mother is that? At least he doesn’t have to sleep with his eyes open.

It’s bad enough that my son’s English teachers know that his mother is an author. His current English teacher is a fan of mine. He hasn’t spoken to me this whole school year after he found that out. Thankfully, she didn’t ask me to come speak to his class. Heaven forbid I enter the school building while my teenaged son is there!

But that’s not the worst thing about having a mother who writers about murder.

He claims the most disconcerting moments for him is when I insist on doing research in his presence. The last time I took him to the dentist—and I mean the last time—I had the nerve to ask the dentist which tool on his tray would make the most unusual murder weapon.

Laying back in the dentist chair, with the suction hose in his mouth, my son widened his eyes in horror while the dentist on one side, and me on the other, examined the various tools on the tray directly above him.

Now that I think about it, the dentist had no problem explaining how each one could be used to kill someone. I wonder if that says something about him … or his patients.

“A scalpel is so clichĂ©,” I told our dentist. “I’m looking for one that when the police see it, they’ll have no idea that it was a murder weapon until Mac points it out in the end.”

“I have just the thing for you,” the dentist said, “but I don’t have it here. I’ll mail it to you.” A few days later, the weapon arrived at our home in a padded envelope with a note, “Here’s your murder weapon. Enjoy!”

No matter how hard he tries, my son can’t completely ignore me and my chosen profession. Sometimes, the opportunity presents itself for me to gather ideas for my latest mystery and I have to grab it.

Like the other day.

I was on my way to pick him up at school when I came upon a police road block. With cars backed up on the road, the police were stopping everyone to search their car. I practically jumped up and down in my seat with anticipation about getting patted down and having my car searched. Think of the material I would have to use! So, you can imagine my dismay when they waved me through! They searched the guy in front of me and behind me—but they completely ignored me! ME!

Obviously, I didn’t look suspicious enough to warrant a search.

So, when I picked up my son at school, I told him, “Okay, we’re going to be coming to a road block. The police are searching cars. Look suspicious.”

He scrunched down in his seat.

“Sit up. They won’t be able to see you. And try to look sneaky.”

By the time we came back to the road block, I had my eyebrows knitted together and my mouth screwed up into what I hoped to be an evil snarl, while my son was hiding in the back seat where hopefully no one would see him and know he was with me.

Again, the police stopped the cars in front of me, and the one behind me, while waving me through. Couldn’t they see the body in my back seat? That should have looked suspicious, don’t you think? I knew when they waved me on that I should have reached back and pinched Tristan to make him scream out for help.

Now, I’m not allowed to pick him up from school.

Poor kid. It’s hard being the son of a murder mystery writer.

Open Season for Murder
"Robin, it's me, Ashton."
Spring is in the air. In Deep Creek Lake, the burst of blossoms on the trees has the effect of a starting pistol in the race to get the resort area ready in time for the seasonal residents return to Spencer, Maryland.
In this latest Mac Faraday Mystery, Lauren Carr once again brings murder to the Spencer Inn, Mac Faraday's five-star resort located at the top of Spencer Mountain. "I have to confess," the author says, "personally I would wonder how the Spencer Inn hangs on to their five-star rating with all the murders that happen there."
Obviously, the high society guests in her book aren't worried about the Spencer Inn's mortality rate because they’re dying to attend the Diablo Ball, which is hosted by Mac Faraday's new bride, Archie Monday. An annual charitable event to benefit the Humane Society, the Diablo Ball used to be hosted by Robin Spencer, Mac's late mother, and would kick-off Deep Creek Lake's summer season.
"Naturally, in my book, the Diablo Ball truly is an event to die for," Lauren says. As readers have come to expect from every Lauren Carr mystery, Open Season for Murder delivers a punch even before the party invitations are put in the mail when uninvited guests begin RSVP'ing. 
Intrigued by a mysterious phone call, retired homicide detective Mac Faraday can't resist diving into the cold case of Ashton Piedmont, a young woman who had disappeared into the moonlit waters of Deep Creek Lake five years earlier. 
Mac quickly discovers that not only is the Diablo Ball drawing in A-listers from across the country, but someone is going to a lot of trouble to gather together suspects and witnesses connected to Ashton Piedmont and each one seems to have their own agenda for coming to Spencer.
When murder strikes, it is up to Mac Faraday and his friends to find the killer ... or is it killers? When it comes to murder in Deep Creek Lake, you never know. 
But readers do know this, if it's happening at the Spencer Inn, you know it's an event to die for!

About the Author
Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday and Lovers in Crime Mysteries. Her upcoming new series, The Thorny Rose Mysteries will be released September 1, 2015.
The owner of Acorn Book Services, Lauren is also a publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for independent authors. This year, several books, over a variety of genre, written by independent authors will be released through the management of Acorn Book Services, which is currently accepting submissions. Visit Acorn Book Services website for more information.
Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.
She lives with her husband, son, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

New Mystery Releases 6/2/15

It is another great "first Tuesday" of new mystery releases, especially for cozy mysteries, so let's get right down to summarizing them:

Let us know if there are any that we missed!!

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