Move over, Michael Crichton! There’s a new science thriller writer on the scene and her name is L M Whitaker. In her debut novel, The Crucible of Steele, Whitaker proves herself to be a master storyteller and a gifted writer.
Rooted in Darwin’s theory of natural selection, the plot of The Crucible of Steele revolves around a simple premise. If we have the ability to craft a more perfect human through genetic selection and alteration and speed up the natural selection process, why shouldn’t we? The novel deals with the ethical quandaries facing a world struggling to keep up morally with the choices now possible due to technological advances.
Technology consultant Georgia Steele is no computer nerd. This kick-ass protagonist is both brilliant and tough, and perhaps the only one who can stop a secret organization from ridding the world of individuals it deems to be inferior. As she searches to uncover secrets about her past, Georgia finds herself tested beyond her wildest expectations.
Whitaker does a remarkable job of relating scientific information in understandable terms, all the while providing the reader with a roller-coaster action ride. Reader Beware! This techno-thriller will keep you turning the pages long after you planned to turn out the lights.
Lee Smith’s Blue Marlin will make you smile. Jenny, the 13-year old narrator, takes us on a journey, both literal and emotional. She is not the first child to feel responsible for her parents’ marital problems and equally hopeful she can bring about their reconciliation. The precocious aspiring writer, however, does have a unique point of view and an insatiable curiosity.
“I had to see as much as I could see, learn as much as I could learn, feel as much as I could feel. I had to live like crazy all the time, an attitude that would get me into lots of trouble,” she tells us. And, oh, how you will enjoy reading about her many “adventures”.
Set in 1958, Blue Marlin will trigger feelings of nostalgia as the author weaves in details that anyone who grew up in the 50’s will particularly enjoy. Jenny’s and her mother’s fascination with movie stars of the era will evoke memories of what now feel like simpler times.
And as a bonus for writers, Lee Smith provides us a gift in her epilogue entitled “The Geographical Cure”. She describes Blue Marlin as a work of “autobiographical fiction”. This short piece beautifully captures the way authors take their real-life experiences and weave them into a story. As she says, “I have always felt that I can tell the truth better in fiction than non-fiction.” Thank you, Lee Smith.
If you are a fan of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, you must read William Kent Krueger’s latest novel, This Tender Land. In this compelling story, four orphans set out on a river journey to escape the bleak and merciless Lincoln Indian Training School in the summer of 1932. Your heart will be with them every oar stroke of their journey.
The story is told from the point of view of Odie (Odysseus) O’Banion. When accused of being a liar, Odie says, he’s not a liar – just a storyteller. “Stories are the sweet fruit of my existence and I share them gladly,” he says in the prologue.
As Odie spins the tale, you cannot miss his resemblance to Huckleberry Finn, the boy with a heart who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. You’ll also hear echoes of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist as Odie and his brother Albert navigate, not just the Gilead River, but a grim world, uncaring and unkind to its most vulnerable — orphaned children.
If that sounds just a tad too depressing to read during this time of illness, uncertainty and social distancing, please don’t be put off. There is much love, humor and magic in this mythic tale. It is a story of profound triumph and the resilience of the human spirit. In a time of limited travel, This Tender Land is a journey well worth taking. Feast on the sweet fruit William Kent Krueger provides.
I turned 60 this year and promptly retired. I’ve always loved to
write, and for the last 20 years focused on writing for a practical niche area–-education
and Internet marketing—where I could do what I loved and still pay the bills.
Retirement put me back in that great and rare place where I suddenly
had endless days without responsibilities. Everything was possible again—a
luxurious feeling that I’d not had for a few decades. Better still, I had the amazing trio of
treasures—time, money, and experience—required to launch into riskier passion
projects, like fiction writing.
I’ve devoured books my entire life, but fiction writing was a new
adventure and a huge challenge. I love mysteries, romance, and humor so I
decided to try my hand at humorous mysteries that harked back to my rural origins
in southern Indiana.
Because I love to laugh, and am a bit quirky myself, I knew humor would under gird my first fiction project. I’d write what I wanted to read and see if I could pick up a readership from there.
That’s how my small-town Indiana setting,
Pawpaw County, came into being for my award-winning “Shady Hoosier Detective
Agency” series. I grew up in a tiny river town full of nosy neighbors, quirky
characters, and kind-hearted souls.
Like many Baby Boomers born in rural America in the 60’s I found
myself growing nostalgic for an America that never did exist, but that many
still hope for. I wanted to write something light-hearted that celebrated small
I deliberately set out to replicate the “feel good” mood of vintage Hillbilly
TV sit-coms, those set in rural America. My childhood was awash in the
silliness of great comic series like The
Andy Griffith Show, Petticoat
Junction, Gomer Pyle, and Green Acres.
When it came to creating leading ladies I decided to abandon the
safe cozy mystery formula of the thirty-something, college-educated woman
escaping to a simpler life in the country.
I created instead aging and somewhat cranky heroines who would love to retire but lack the resources to do so. They are very street smart, but lack the varnish and subdued manners that often accompany college and urban living. I love them to death.
My leading lady detectives, Ruby Jane Waskom and Veenie Goens, are working class, high-school educated, both with a prior chain of everyday jobs as factory and farm workers. They share a house, overdue bills, and laughter. They co-exist on social security, taking jobs as detectives in-training hoping to scrape up a little “Twinkie money” on the side.
They are much older than the genre usually allows: 68 and 71, to be
exact. (Every literary agent I talked to loved the series and the writing but
were horrified by the age of the women.) My leading ladies are unusual—and
therefore very risky—for the cozy mystery niche today.
While the books are labeled cozy mysteries, their strongest element
is humor. They are true crime comedies. One critic called Daisy Pettles the
“hillbilly Janet Evanovich.” Another, in “Shelf Discovery” tagged them “a
wildly entertaining (detective) team—like an elderly Stephanie Plum and Lula.”
My senior crime fighting duo, Ruby Jane and Veenie, are very much a silly
Lucy-Ethel gal pal team.
Much of what is good in the Shady
Hoosier Detective Agency character-driven series is the way the two senior
sleuths slide along together through life, and their cases. Their get-it-done
“gal pal” energy enlivens the series.
My one goal as a writer is
to entertain. I love it when people laugh, and feel even better when I might be
cause of that laughter.
I have found enough of an
audience with the Shady Hoosiers that Book 3, “Chickenlandia,” is coming out as
I write this. Book 4,”Catfish Cooties,” is now steeping in the stew pot of my
Writing humorous fiction
with mysterious twists is truly my retirement heaven.
AUTHOR BIO: Daisy Pettles’ debut humorous cozy series, the Shady Hoosier Detective Agency, set in fictional Pawpaw County, Indiana, won the 2019 Gold Medal as Best Humor Book from the Indie Reader, The Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and the American Fiction Awards. Prior to retiring and taking up writing she was a therapist and an Internet entrepreneur. The Chickenlandia Mystery is Book 3 in Daisy Pettles’ Shady Hoosier Detective Agency cozy humor series, which the Indie Reader describes as “Murder She Wrote meets the Golden Girls … where the fun is infectious.”
PLOT: Pawpaw County, Indiana, is all atwitter about Ma and Peepaw
Horton’s annual Chickenlandia Festival. The mood turns dark though when the
Horton’s prize-winning rooster, Dewey, and his best laying hen, Ginger, vanish,
leaving behind only a ragged trail of tail feathers. Also missing: Gertie
Wineagar, local sourpuss, and BBQ chicken cook-off queen. Senior sleuths, Ruby
Jane (RJ) Waskom and Veenie Goens, suspect Hiram Krupsky, Pawpaw County’s
self-proclaimed Chicken Wing King, of master-minding the crime spree in an
attempt to sabotage the Horton’s free-range chicken ranch. The sleuths get an
unexpected “in” when Hiram commences to court a reluctant RJ. Follow the
Hoosier senior snoops as they attempt to sort the good eggs from the bad in
this hilarious, small-town crime comedy.
Shady Hoosier Detective Agency – AMAZON BUY LINKS
Ghost Busting Mystery (Book 1)
Baby Daddy Mystery (Book 2)
Chickenlandia Mystery (Book 3) – Due out
9/15/19 check link before posting
Here in South Carolina, the kids are already back in school. Personally, I think going back to school before Labor Day is an abomination and simply un-American. That may be why I simply can’t get myself motivated to sit down and finish the book I’m writing, even though I’m within spitting distance of the finale.
I get up every day with the intention of writing at least two hundred words — my bare minimum goal as per John Grisham’s advice — but I just don’t feel like it. Yesterday I received my weekly Inspiration for the Week from Cathleen O’Connor (cathleenoconnor.com). If you don’t subscribe to her emails, I highly recommend you do. This week’s message was entitled “You Deserve a Break Today”. I felt as if she wrote it just for me. Thank you, Cathleen.
She began with a quote from writer Anne Lamott:
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.”
I love that. Of course, I’ve been pretty much unplugged since I got back from my vacation at the end of July. You think I’d be re-booted by now.
I do have at least one legitimate reason for not writing the last two weeks. Each Monday when I sat down to type, my computer ground down to the slowest speed imaginable. On my own I was able to go to the settings and determine that my 465 GB’s of storage were completely filled up. I knew that was impossible. I managed to clear out the inordinate amount of temporary files that somehow downloaded themselves to my computer, not once, but twice.
When these phantom files were back again last week, I decided I needed professional help, so I called my trusty IT guy, Peter Manse, out in Colorado. Guess what? He was in California for a brief vacation. Nevertheless, he managed to get me back up Wednesday. Somehow, starting something on a Wednesday just never feels right to me. Still, I managed to get one chapter completed last week.
And then there’s the new puppy. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you already know I’ve adopted a new dog — Trixie. She’s a sweetheart, but she’s only about six months old, so she needs lots of attention and exercise. I still miss Lucky, my dog of 12 years, whom I lost in February, but I confess it’s so nice to have a little buddy once again. I mean, really. Is there anything more endearing than seeing that little tail wag when you walk in the room? Second only to a baby smiling at you. Really.
So, today, I’ve decided to take Cathleen’s advice and embrace Anne LaMott’s message and heed Cathleen’s own words:
“Just take some deep breaths. Ask yourself what you need to feel rested and restored . . . and then give that to yourself. “
Maybe next week — after Labor Day — I’ll start writing again in earnest. In the meantime, it’s a rainy day here in Mauldin this morning, so it won’t be at all difficult to go over to the couch, curl up with Trixie and finish that cozy mystery I’m reading — One Taste Too Many by Debra Goldstein.
Ah, yes. I think I’ll just release all guilt and totally indulge in what’s left of the remaining dog days of summer! Happy Labor Day, Y’all.
Happy Memorial Day! Hope you are enjoying a great kick-off
to the summer season. In spite of the fact that I am hosting the family
cook-out today, I wanted to take a moment to share with you a reflection that
makes me smile and hope it does the same for you.
I’m sure by now you’ve seen the Apple Watch commercial set
to the tune of a childhood favorite of mine — the Hokey Pokey. From the first
time I saw it, I was hooked and no matter how many times I see it again, I’m
always filled with glee.
Remember Robert Fulgham’s book, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? The older I
get the more profound I find the simple things we learned as children. The
other day at our mailbox kiosk, someone posted a sign that read: “Take the
outgoing mail. Whoever delivered mail yesterday didn’t take it.” Seriously?
What happened to “please” and “thank you”? Clearly, the writer who penned that
note missed school that day.
But back to the Hokey Pokey commercial. When I see those people dancing, jumping,
playing to the tune, I’m exhilarated. And what could be more profound than the
simple words “You put your whole self in…That’s what it’s all about.”
This summer, I hope you do nothing half-heartedly and that you put your whole self into everything you do. What chance do you have to be truly happy if you don’t? I mean, why bother doing anything, if your whole self isn’t in it? I’m especially talking to my fellow retirees out there. We have less in front of us than we have behind us. Why waste a single minute?
Just in case you need a little more inspiration, click below.
If you love to read, you probably also love discovering new
authors. It doesn’t matter if they are well-established authors. If they are
new to you, you feel the joy of discovery.
And what a special treat to find an author who’s written a series. Knowing
that, after you finish that first book, you have more adventures with the same characters to look
forward to is sheer delight.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting , A.J. Hartley, aka Andrew Hart, who spoke at our local Sisters in Crime meeting, recounting his journey to becoming an international bestselling author of novels spanning a variety of genres. He has written several archaeological thrillers, the Darwen Arkwright children’s series, the Will Hawthorne fantasy adventures and novels based on Macbeth and Hamlet. And as if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he is also the Robinson Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare at UNC Charlotte.
For me, AJ’s talk was one part informative, one part inspirational and two parts humorous. Afterwards I selected Steeplejack, the first in his three-book YA Fantasy series. The book’s protagonist and heroine, seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga, earns her living cleaning and repairing chimneys and towers in the city of Bar-Selehm, “an industrial city resembling an alternate Victorian South Africa.”
Anglet is a Lani. In the culture of the Lani people, the
first daughter is a blessing, the second a trial, the third — a curse. Anglet is a third daughter. Nevertheless, she is a talented climber and excels
at her job. She is also independent and fierce, characteristics that draw us to
Near the end of the story, when Anglet is on the run and in great peril, she encounters a black weancat with a collar, a creature with whom she feels a kinship. She muses that the collar is a “collar of the mind” that you could simply refuse to believe in, and without the collar “all the cat had was itself: muscle and sinew, claw tooth and bone, senses, experience, skill, instinct and roaring, blood-pumping animal need.” She, of course, could be describing herself — or any of us, for that matter.
I loved this character and I loved this book. The story is
gripping, the action, non-stop, the setting, hauntingly beautiful — the
language, soaring. No wonder more and
more adults are turning to Young Adult literature. Can’t wait to finish reading the series.
I can still recall the first time I heard about Malice Domestic. A fellow attendee at an International Women’s Writer’s Guild workshop recommended it to me when I revealed I was writing a cozy mystery. She said Malice Domestic was a yearly conference dedicated to cozy mystery writers and their fans.
Sounded ideal to me. So I googled Malice Domestic, registered for the conference and drove myself down to Bethesda, MD the last weekend in April 2014.
I didn’t know a soul, but soon discovered that didn’t matter. I had found “my people”. My fellow attendees and I shared a love of the same books and when you have books in common, you share a kindred spirit.
A few years back I read Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving — not a cozy mystery at all — but a book I love nevertheless. In one scene, the main character, writer Juan Diego Guerrero, reflects on the idea of using books as the criteria for finding mates and lovers. I thought that was a brilliant alternative to dating websites. A shared love of the same books is by far a more sound basis for the start of a relationship than any of the criteria used by Match.com and eHarmony. But I digress…
Bethesda in bloom!
This year, I once again returned to Bethesda for Malice Domestic 30 the last weekend in April. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you already know that I rated it as “the best Malice Domestic ever.” Louise Penny was the Guest of Honor and Nancy Pickard received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Their interviews were magnificent. I’m always amazed at how open and generous writers are as they answer questions about their personal journeys. They never fail to inspire us to keep writing our own stories.
The first night of the conference we were treated to a viewing of Season nine’s first episode of Vera, a British crime series based on the novels of Ann Cleeves. Brenda Blethyn was honored with the Poirot Award for her portrayal of the intrepid Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope. The interview with both Ms. Blethyn and Ann Cleaves was marvelous.
Author of the Dandy Gilver mystery series, Catriona MacPherson was the Malice Domestic Toastmaster. And what a delight she was! Her remarks about the award winners at the Agatha Awards Banquet were eloquent and heartfelt. Best of all, she tapped into the sense of kinship Malice attendees share whenever she took to the podium all weekend, her sense of humor making us laugh all the while.
On Saturday afternoon, I attended an event entitled “30 Years of Malice Memories.” One question from the audience was where did the name “Malice Domestic” come from. That was something I’d always wondered, too. Turns out the name comes from who else? My absolute favorite writer of all time–Shakespeare.
“….…………Duncan is in his grave.
After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.
Treason has done his worst; nor steel nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing
Can touch him further.”
Macbeth, Act III, Scene 2
Was there ever a character more embroiled in malice domestic than Macbeth? Could there be a more perfect name for a conference dedicated to mysteries about murders usually committed by family and friends in small towns and home-bound settings?
Finally, one of the things I love best about Malice is coming home with a bag of books and a list of titles to read by authors I either heard speak or met face-to-face at the conference. I even sold a few of my Holly and Ivy mystery books–the cherry on top.
If you like cozy mysteries, whether or not you can attend the conference, you may want to check out malicedomestic.org for the names of authors you might like to read. In the meantime, as the days grow longer and warmer, I wish you a summer free of actual malice domestic and full of cozy mysteries where there are no cold cases, justice is always served, and with a little luck, the spunky female sleuth always gets her man!
I’m delighted to announce that my cozy mystery will launch on Amazon.com on May 15th. What’s a cozy mystery you ask? Ironically, when I started writing Second Bloom, I had never heard the term myself.
The word “cozy” says it all. Whatever you picture when you hear that word–a fireplace, a steaming pot of tea, a fluffy comforter, the smell of bread baking in the oven–that’s what to expect from a cozy mystery. Jessica Faust of Book Ends Literary Agency explains it this way:
“When you read one you feel like you’re being embraced by a world you want to be in. You’ve found new friends and maybe a protagonist who inspires you or who could easily be your best friend. The book itself doesn’t move too fast, there tends not to be a lot of blood, usually no more than one body…”
Like so many other mystery fans, I developed a love of traditional and cozy mysteries reading Nancy Drew books, graduating to Agatha Christie as I got older. As I wrote in my November blog: “Especially when the world seems gray and gloomy, whether literally or figuratively, I know no better escape than reading about a plucky heroine who says and does all the things I can’t, a shero who conquers the bad guys and finds true love with some hunky hero.”
I got the idea for Second Bloom, the first book in my Holly and Ivy Mystery series, sitting in the garden at the Daniel Webster Inn on Cape Cod. My sister and I were admiring the flowers and I said something about Rosemary and Thyme, the PBS cozy mystery series that featured two women gardeners as amateur sleuths. Suddenly I got the spark of an idea. Wouldn’t an American version be great…a series about two sisters who garden and solve mysteries? And that’s where it all began, the summer of 2010.
The resulting book, Second Bloom, is a cozy mystery about Holly Donnelly, a 55-year old adjunct English professor, and her younger sister, 52-year old Ivy Donnelly, a recently widowed, retired nurse. The look-alike sisters are reluctantly drawn into the investigation of an elderly neighbor’s murder when Juan Alvarez, Holly’s trusted gardener, is accused of the crime. Holly fears police detective, Nick Manelli, assumes Juan is guilty and won’t conduct a proper investigation, while Ivy feels the “hunky” Manelli is not only a good cop, but also a possible romantic match for her sister. The burning question is: can the clues the sisters unearth from neighborhood gossip about the victim’s family, a politically connected neighbor and a powerful real estate developer help save an innocent man, or will the gardening duo dig up more than they bargain for?
Tomorrow, April 27, I leave for Bethesda, Maryland to attend the annual Malice Domestic conference. This gathering is an annual fan convention that celebrates the traditional mystery. As you can guess, these are “my people”. I’ll be there spreading the word about my imminent launch…all those years of marketing have not been lost on me.
If you like cozy mysteries, I hope you’ll check back here on May 15th. If you subscribe to my blog, you will automatically get notified when the book goes on sale and, if you subscribe before May 15th, I’ll send you Holly’s recipe for Honey Oat Bread.
Until then, wishing you sunny days and cozy nights!
On Sunday evening, June 26, 1977 I sat down at the desk in my room at Wroxton Abbey in Oxfordshire, England. The next day I would attend the first of my master’s level classes at Wroxton College, the British campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. That summer we would be reading Henry VI, Parts One,Two and Three. Later in the summer, we would be attending all three of these Shakespearean history plays performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theater in Stratford-upon-Avon.
My sister, Mary Ellen, and me on a return visit to Wroxton Abbey, Summer 2011.
I still remember the thrill I felt when I read that the setting of the first scene was Westminster Abbey. I had just been there the day before. Yes, I loved Shakespeare before, but my three summers at Wroxton would transform that love into unconditional adoration.
Imagine my horror when I picked up the newspaper this past October and read the following headline: “Oxford says Shakespeare will share credit for Henry VI.” Wait…what? That’s right. Oxford University Press’ new edition of Shakespeare’s works will credit Christopher Marlowe as co-author of the Henry VI plays. [Are you rolling in your grave, Will?]
Gary Taylor, a professor at Florida State University and the principal investigator of the new edition crowed, “Shakespeare has now entered the world of big data.” He and a team of 23 international “scholars” used “computerized data sets to reveal patterns, trends and associations— analyzing not only Shakespeare’s words, but also those of his contemporaries.”
Seriously? Why would anyone do that? Have modern scholars run out of original ideas and thoughts to explore and research? This reminded me of one disappointing lecture by a tutor at Wroxton that focused on the number of active and passive verbs Shakespeare used in his plays. After listening to visiting Shakespearean scholars lecture all semester, providing brilliant insights into Elizabethan life and times and inspiring interpretations of Shakespeare’s writing, I found the verb identification exercise rather uninspiring. And now, computer analysis of Shakespeare? Positively dispiriting, not to mention yawn-inducing.
It’s no secret that writers often seek the advice of other writers, and in Elizabethan England, there was “a demand for new material to feed the appetite of the first mass entertainment industry.” I’ll concede that the small group of writers working at that time probably consulted one another and may have even collaborated. As a writer myself, I participate in classes and critique groups where members of the group provide wonderful suggestions about editing my phrasing, language, and even plot, and I have amended my work based on their suggestions. Does that make them my co-authors?
It’s hard to account for the obsession with discrediting a beloved and venerated writer who’s been dead nearly 500 years. Historically, there have been writers, scholars and critics who questioned Shakespeare’s ability to have written all the plays that have traditionally been attributed to him. Some say Shakespeare simply didn’t have the experience to write about the subject matter he covered. In response to that James Shapiro, author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? writes:
“What I find most disheartening about the claim that Shakespeare of Stratford lacked the life experience to have written the plays is that it diminishes the very thing that makes him exceptional: his imagination.”
So, my question to the scholars using “big data” to analyze Shakespeare’s plays is what imaginative contribution have you made to the world of literature? Even if you’re right, does it really matter that Christopher Marlowe, a poet and playwright himself, may have written some scenes in the Henry VI plays, perhaps to help out a fellow writer trying to meet a deadline or because he needed the money?
Will any one of the scholars who completed this study be quoted 500 years from now? Methinks the answer lies in the Bard’s own words. Compared to Shakespeare, the scholar using computer analytics to define his work is:
“…but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.” Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5
And as for his computer study, well:
“ It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.” Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5