Sowing Secrets in a Mystery

It’s advisable for mystery writers to give each character a secret that may or may not relate to the murder victim. This makes them suspicious in the sleuth’s viewpoint until she can unravel what it is they’re hiding.

In Ladies of the ’80s: A Divas Christmas recent TV movie on Lifetime channel, five former soap stars reunite for a reunion show. But all isn’t as it seems in this character-driven story. (Spoiler Alert!) Two of the members have a long-standing feud. Once best friends, they broke apart when one of them moved to LA to pursue her career. As the group struggles to overcome their differences and make the reunion a success (with a budding romance between the producer and director), secrets come to light. These are the ones I remember (and any mistakes are mine):

The rich matriarch’s diamond jewelry is fake. Her ex-husband embezzled all her money and she’s broke.

The social media fashionista wears a blond wig. She’s gone natural and has gray hair.

The actress who abandoned her best friend moved to LA because her career had bombed, and she was too humiliated to tell anyone.

The health and wellness author is a junk food addict.

In writing a mystery, it helps to give each character a secret. This can be a motive for murder, or it can be an innocent secret like the ones above. Say your suspect is making unexplained payments from a checking account. The sleuth might suspect this person is being blackmailed, but perhaps instead they are funding a beloved aunt’s elder care. Or a character might disappear on regular nights of the week while the sleuth suspects they’re up to something nefarious. But they could be attending cooking school and don’t want anyone to know they want to be a chef.

These are all great examples of good secrets. They’re important to the character but do not connect the suspect to the crime. So when plotting your story and developing your characters, add in some of these hidden foibles to fool the reader and the sleuth.

Can you remember any examples from mysteries you’ve read recently?

 

December Doings 2023

Recently, we’ve enjoyed social events revolving around—what else?—eating. This being December, we had a Hanukkah celebration where we ate latkes and brisket and exchanged gifts. We’ve visited the Disney Parks, joined friends for a wine dinner at Carrabba’s and celebrated our anniversary. Here are a few photos to highlight these events for you.

Disney Dining

Since our last visit to Epcot with lunch at the Coral Reef restaurant that I’d reported on HERE, we’ve visited the three other main theme parks at Disney World.

Tusker House in Animal Kingdom offered a character buffet. Their African-themed food was delicious. I wish I’d had room to eat more than one plateful! We saw Mickey and Minnie and other favorites while we dined. The Lion King show in a nearby theater was amazing and we enjoyed the tropical foliage as we strolled around.

     

Next, we visited the Magic Kingdom, where we ate burgers at Starlite Café, rode the train, had ice cream on Main Street, and soaked in the magical atmosphere.

     

Most recently, we celebrated our 47th anniversary at Disney Springs. We began with lunch at Wolfgang Puck and finished with dessert at the Cookie Bar in Summer House on the Lake. It’s always fun to walk around among the shops and restaurants in this lively venue. Dining reservations are a must for the full-service eateries.

   

Around Town

Around town, we enjoyed the Caymus wine dinner at Carrabba’s with friends. This was a pre-fixed four-course meal. Each dish was accompanied by a different wine. I must gain several pounds each time I attend one of these events.

         

Our anniversary night found us at Christner’s, an elegant steak place where we dressed to impress. I had to get the filet mignon accompanied by asparagus, cheesy potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms. They gave us a slice of chocolate cake for a complimentary dessert. It was lovely and we look forward to eating the leftovers for several days.

         

All this eating isn’t good for the weight, so my first New Year’s resolution will be to get back on a healthy diet. These desserts are killing me, but who can pass them up? How are you faring food-wise this holiday season?

Chocolate Emporium

For my birthday this year, I wanted to go somewhere new and different. When I read about the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium in City Walk at Universal Studios, I thought it sounded like fun. I enjoy themed restaurants and my mouth drooled for a chocolate sundae.

 

We arrived at City Walk after paying the $30 parking fee and traveling through the extensive parking garage. City Walk leads to the two Universal theme parks so it’s a busy place. A series of restaurants and shops circle around a lake and offer plenty of choices for everyone. There’s also a movie theater and an escape room for entertainment. As you can see, our grandson enjoyed Voodoo Doughnuts.

 

    

 

 

At the appointed hour, we got seated at the restaurant that has a cool steampunk theme. There’s even a costumed guy in a robot outfit that roams around greeting children. Milkshakes are a popular item here, but I passed. Getting dessert was more important to me.

  

 

 

We ordered a chocolate almond bread as an appetizer. It tasted like chocolate cake. Then Richard and I split the Monte Cristo sandwich with chips so we’d have room for dessert.

 

Dessert was a brownie sundae that came with a lit candle for my birthday. With two scoops of chocolate ice cream, it was enough to share.

  

I loved my gifts, like this figure of a woman reading a book, cookies with my book covers, and a cruise companion book, among other items. The best gift of all was the company of loved ones and merely being here to celebrate this birthday.

  

After our meal, we entered the gift shop filled with souvenir mugs, tee shirts and hats along with cotton candy and unique jars of colored sugar and other sweets.

    

An array of artisan chocolates and macarons tempts visitors in display cases.

 

Outside, we walked around the lake until we made it to the exit.

 

It was a wonderful day spent with family in a memorable setting. Put this restaurant on your list if you want a fun experience while in Orlando.

 

Stetson Mansion Christmas Tour

We enjoyed our self-guided tour through the Stetson Mansion in Deland, FL. The place is known for its massive Christmas decoration display that is amazing and unique. Built in 1886 for hat manufacturer John B. Stetson, the house deployed Edison electricity, steam heat, a call bell system, and running water for all three floors. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Each room inside the house has a theme in terms of the decorations, and the creativity of the designer stuns the senses. But beyond you can see the intricate woodwork, stained glass windows, parquet floors, crystal chandeliers, impressive fireplaces, and other hidden details. I really wish they’d reestablish the guided history tour including the third floor and the garage as that would interest me more. Here we are with Ann Meier and Pat Babcock.

     

You’re not allowed to take photos inside the mansion, but outdoors is fine. There’s a lovely covered porch to one side and a pool at the opposite end of the house. A meditation garden graces the rear past the garage and schoolhouse. The latter, converted into a guest cottage, serves as a tiny gift shop (cash only) where you can buy a guidebook on the mansion’s history along with Christmas ornaments and Stetson belts. It would be great if this shop expanded to take credit cards and included some Stetson hats!

 

All in all, this is a fascinating glimpse into history and Victorian architecture. From here, it’s a five-minute drive to historic downtown Deland with numerous shops and restaurants.  https://www.stetsonmansion.com/

 

 

 

Living with the Land

On our most recent visit to Disney’s Epcot theme park, we headed over to the Living with the Land ride in The Land pavilion. This is probably my favorite attraction in this park. I miss the old “Listen to the Land” song that still plays in my head as the boat winds through various displays. This tour teaches about the role of agriculture in our lives and alternative methods for growing fruits and vegetables and for farming seafood. I wish our plants would grow so perfectly like these.

         

     

It’s a very soothing ride, first inside through a series of dioramas, then outside to see the hydroponic plants and through the fish tank section. It’s always an inspiring ride and made me want to research tilapia which ends up being in my book, Body Wave.

 

Next we went to lunch with Sue and Mark Bernstein at the Coral Reef Restaurant in Epcot’s Living Seas pavilion. Loved their specialty bread, the hearty New England Clam Chowder, and the grilled mahi mahi with jasmine rice. The views of the aquarium were remarkable. For dessert, we headed outside to the Swirled Showcase where I got a salted caramel soft serve ice cream in a cup. No pix – I ate it before it melted. Clear skies and sunny, warm temps made for a perfect day.

   

   

GIVEAWAY

Enter Here to win two free books at Booklovers Bench in our monthly giveaway!

PODCAST

Go Here to listen to my author interview on Episode 126 of the Sisters in Crime Writers’ Podcast.

Bad Hair Day Box Set Six Preorder

I am pleased to announce that The Bad Hair Day Mysteries Box Set Volume Six: Books 16-18 is available for preorder.

Bad Hair Day Mysteries Box Set Volume Six: Books 16-18
Release Date: January 23, 2024
Published by Orange Grove Press
Digital ISBN: 978-1-952886-35-5
Cover Design by The Killion Group, Inc
Digital Layout by Formatting4u.com

BOX SET SIX

A deadly Easter egg hunt, a remodeling project gone awry, and a Fourth of July murder at a living history village make for a sparkling cozy mystery collection.

EASTER HAIR HUNT

An Easter egg hunt at historic Tremayne Manor leads hairstylist Marla Vail to discover more than just dyed eggs. The dead man in the bunny suit is definitely not having a good hare day. Marla’s husband, homicide detective Dalton Vail, knows she finds solving mysteries to be irresistible, but she may have found a basketful of trouble this time. Can Marla use her egg-cellent sleuthing skills to crack the case?

Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal Winner

“This story will fill your reading basket with entertainment, charming characters, plot twists, tasty recipes, and a cozy murder mystery to solve.” Thoughts in Progress

STYLED FOR MURDER

When salon owner, Marla Vail, gets a frantic call from her mother that there’s a dead body in her shower, Marla realizes this wasn’t part of the home remodel plans. The victim turns out to be the project manager, who had a shady reputation in town. Disgruntled customers, unpaid suppliers, and the design company’s staff are among the suspects, but Marla is more concerned about her stepfather’s connection to the victim. Reed is keeping secrets and he won’t come clean about what he knows. Can she flush out the clues and nail the killer before he strikes again?

Suspense Magazine “Best Cozy Mystery”
Readers’ Favorite Bronze Medal Winner

“A charmingly funny whodunit!” Woman’s World Magazine

STAR TANGLED MURDER

Hairstylist Marla Vail and her detective husband Dalton are having a blast visiting a Florida living history village over Fourth of July weekend. But when a battle reenactment turns up a real dead body, it sets off fireworks among the villagers. One of the cast members has gone off script to murder the town marshal. As Dalton takes charge of the investigation, Marla determines to help him solve the case. Soon it becomes clear that every one of the villagers is a suspect. Instead of spending the holiday chilling and grilling, somebody’s mind is on killing. Marla needs to find the culprit before she becomes the next victim.

FAPA President’s Book Awards Silver Medal Winner

Star Tangled Murder shines with excellent plotting, lots of twists and turns, and a satisfying ending. Highly recommended.” Suspense Magazine

BUY LINKS

Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CJ59FT7S/
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id6466620054
BN Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1144075697?ean=2940185892756
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-bad-hair-day-mysteries-box-set-volume-six
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=vU7XEAAAQBAJ
Books2Read:  https://books2read.com/u/boBNo0

 

Indie Author Day 2023

I was thrilled to be invited as keynote speaker and panelist at the Ponte Vedra Beach Library’s celebration of Indie Author Day.

   

While in St. Augustine the day before, my husband and I lunched at AlA Ale Works at the end of King St. facing the bay.

     

Across the wide grassy square outside was The Treasury on the Plaza, where our daughter got married five years ago. We found a cute mini donut place down the street from this location. Then we strolled down Saint George St. to window shop. The weather was windy and drizzly so we headed to our hotel to huddle in for the night.

   

 

The next morning, we drove north along Rt. A1A toward Ponte Vedra Beach. This was a half hour trip along a two-lane road with occasional glimpses of the rough surf to our right. I had been craving a view of the ocean and wished we could have lingered but we didn’t have time.

The library staff were very welcoming. The room was crowded as I gave my speech talking about my career struggles and how to conquer the doubt demons that plague all authors.

A panel followed where we answered questions about self-publishing. My fellow panelists, Melody Pendlebury and Ken Overman, write in entirely different genres, so it was interesting to hear their responses. Vic DeGenti, an eminent member of Florida Writers Association, moderated.

   

We sat at tables next to sell and sign our books, while the Friends of the Library supplied sandwiches for lunch.

The rest of the day included a book fair with other indie authors. As I did not partake in this, we ducked out to head home. I was glad to meet the friendly library staff and so many inquisitive writers. I hope they gained what they’d come to learn.

GIVEAWAY

Enter to win two free books at Booklovers Bench in our monthly giveaway: https://bookloversbench.com/contests/win-two-free-books-nov-2023/

A Spooky Halloween Read

Happy Halloween! If you’re looking for a spooky read, check out my Halloween novella titled Haunted Hair Nights. This book won Third Place in the IDA Contest in the Suspense Short category. The story falls between Peril by Ponytail and Facials Can Be Fatal in my Bad Hair Day mystery series.

Haunted Hair Nights

Digital ISBN: 978-0-9970038-3-3
Print ISBN: 978-0-9970038-4-0
Cover Design by Boulevard Photografica
Interior Design by www.formatting4U.com

When history teacher Bill Ripari offers his property for a Halloween school haunted house project, hairstylist Marla Vail volunteers to help put the scare factor into the place. She joins her stepdaughter along with other students, parents, and teachers to transform the wooded estate into a creepy attraction. She’s busy creating decorations when a splash of red on the estate grounds catches her eye. Upon a closer look, she realizes the dark stain isn’t fake blood meant to be part of the scene. The trail leads to the history teacher’s dead body.

Worried about the kids, Marla puts on her sleuthing hat to investigate. She discovers that every one of the volunteers present that night had a possible motive. Between slacker students, helicopter parents, unexpected heirs, and a stonewalling school administration, Marla has her hands full in solving the murder and keeping her stepdaughter safe. Can she sift through the suspects and unmask the killer before Halloween fright night turns into reality?

“Halloween, mystery, dead body, oh my! This novella, although short, was filled with lots of twists and turns, interesting complex characters and a great storyline!” Charlene’s Reviews

“This standalone novella will keep you flipping pages wondering who done it until the end. For those of us who don’t want bad dreams for Halloween, this entry into the Bad Hair Day series is an excellent alternative.” Reader by Night

“This is a good cozy mystery that can be enjoyed by young adults on up. It was a pleasure to read this story.” Readers’ Favorite

“I love this series so much. It’s especially nice to read how Marla is progressing with her new family. A haunted mansion is the perfect setting for a Halloween read.” Socrates Book Reviews

Click Here to Get Your Copy Now

Happy Halloween! 

Florida WritersCon 2023 – Day Three

This continues my recap of the Florida Writers Association Conference with a report on Day Three. We started the morning with a continental breakfast followed by two workshop sessions. The first one I attended was on creating emotional impact in your writing.

We were told to think about characters in a book that we’d follow anywhere. What was their appeal? Now think about your own protagonist. What obstacles do they face? What are their weaknesses? What would help them or hurt them? And what do they need to complete their journey? Do the same for your villain. Also, what universal truths do you want to resonate in your story? These become the themes in your novel. Tap into the strong emotions you’ve experienced in your life when writing your book.

The second workshop was a panel on AI (Artificial Intelligence), a popular topic at this conference. Many issues were raised, such as putting clauses in our book contracts against having our work used in AI training. Generative AI can be useful for tasks as a collaborative assistant. AI detection tools are in the works. For cover artists, AI can be helpful for research but not for creativity. AI generated art cannot be copyrighted because there’s no human element involved. And yet … AI generated art is winning against traditional art in competitions that are judged objectively. Is it not a creative act between the machine and the prompt engineer? You can have both, and that’s how the creative world might survive. For a writer, AI can be another tool in our arsenal for book marketing and generating story ideas.

The potential threat to humanity posed by the rise of AI was discussed. One fear is humans using AI for their own profit more so than AI itself taking over humanity. Manufactured myths are a danger, i.e. false news and social media manipulation. Artificial evolution means AI is changing fast.

How to get around AI in the classroom where it might be used by students to write papers would be to ask for opinion pieces.

Another issue … How will AI keep learning once it consumes all the data it’s fed? It may spit back generated (i.e. made-up) data or inaccurate information.

This is all food for thought. Personally, I’ve found ChatGPT to be helpful for certain tasks in book marketing and in generating specific storylines. You have to design a detailed prompt to get the desired response.

Disclaimer: These summaries are my interpretation of what I heard. Any errors are mine alone. 

Join me at my next appearance on Nov. 4, 2023, 10:30 am EDTIndie Author Day, Ponte Vedra Beach Library, 101 Library Blvd, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082. I’m proud to be a panelist and keynote speaker at this event. Free registration: https://sjcpls.org/event/indie-author-showcase/

Oct. 1 – 31, Kobo Paranormal Romance BOGO
Paranormal Sci/Fi Romance Sale at Kobo Oct. 1-31 – Buy One Get One Free! My book, Circle of Light, is included. If you don’t own a Kobo e-reader, you can download the free app. Start reading now: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/circle-of-light-9

Oct. 16 – Nov. 1, BookSweeps Paranormal, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Romance Giveaway
Enter to win 45 exciting Paranormal, Scifi & Fantasy Romances from a great collection of authors AND a brand new eReader! My book, Warrior Prince, is included. Enter Here: https://bit.ly/paranormal-romance-oct23

 

Florida WritersCon 2023 – Day Two

This continues my recap of the Florida Writers Association Conference with a report on Day Two. After a buffet breakfast on Saturday, bestselling author Lisa Black gave her keynote address. Then we dispersed to various workshops.

 

 

 

As a faculty member, I had a booksigning slot that morning. This meant I couldn’t attend the morning breakout session. I hung around until lunch, which was a buffet barbecue meal. Awards were presented to members of the youth group in attendance.

 

Since I’d had computer issues the day before, I sat in the workshop before mine that afternoon to get my program up and running. I’d updated Office 365 that morning at home and hooked into the hotel’s WiFi. Whatever I did had worked, because this time I was able to bring up my file. I spoke on Book Marketing on a Budget to a rapt audience.

That evening’s social mixer came next, followed by the Royal Palm Literary Awards banquet, which I’d won previously for Writing a Cozy Mystery. The dinner was very good and the service by the hotel was excellent. Congrats to all the award winners! This is a great contest for writers to enter because you get feedback on your work. First picture below shows me with my critique partners, Janice Hardy and Ann Meier.

 

 

 

And so ended a full day on a high note.

Join me at my next appearance on Nov. 4, 2023, 10:30 am EDTIndie Author Day, Ponte Vedra Beach Library, 101 Library Blvd, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082. I’m proud to be a panelist and keynote speaker at this event. Free registration: https://sjcpls.org/event/indie-author-showcase/

Oct. 1 – 31, Kobo Paranormal Romance BOGO
Paranormal Sci/Fi Romance Sale at Kobo Oct. 1-31 – Buy One Get One Free! My book, Circle of Light, is included. If you don’t own a Kobo e-reader, you can download the free app. Start reading now: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/circle-of-light-9

Oct. 16 – Nov. 1, BookSweeps Paranormal, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Romance Giveaway
Enter to win 45 exciting Paranormal, Scifi & Fantasy Romances from a great collection of authors AND a brand new eReader! My book, Warrior Prince, is included. Enter Here: https://bit.ly/paranormal-romance-oct23