Friday, December 1, 2017

A Christmas Mystery

Readers often ask writers where their ideas come from and, of course, the answer is "anywhere and everywhere." Bits of overheard conversation, a personality trait or a physical characteristic from someone we know. The list is endless. 

But what fascinates me the most about the writing process is when I find myself writing a scene based on something, long forgotten, from my childhood. That's exactly what happened as I was writing my Christmas mystery, Unfinished Business.

One year, I desperately wanted a Patty Play Pal doll for Christmas. I wrote my usual letter to Santa asking for the doll. But, as Christmas got closer and closer, I was impatient. I'm still not sure what made me decide to search my parents' closet but I did. And I found the doll. But it wasn't the thrill I thought it would be.

Here's the scene as I wrote it for the book when Ann's older sister, Marnie, and her boyfriend, Sam, come to Cincinnati for a Christmas visit.

As the kids went down the hall to their bedrooms, Ann said, “We’ll be lucky if it is light when they get up. Last year, Davey woke us up at three in the morning, insisting that we go open the presents from Santa.”

“In that case, maybe we should all turn in early,” Marnie said, yawning. “I know I’m ready.”

“You guys go ahead,” Ann said. “David and I have a little work to do first. We’ve got to get the milk and cookies out and,” she whispered, “the presents Santa is bringing out of our bedroom closet.”

“So that’s where you hid the presents,” Marnie said. “I was wondering.” She giggled. “Ann, remember the year we decided to look for our Christmas presents?”

“Oh, wow,” Ann replied, “I forgot all about that.”

Marnie looked at Sam and David. “Ann and I knew that, in addition to the presents Santa brought, our parents always got each of us one gift every year. We got curious one year and, whenever we had the chance in the days before Christmas, we’d go searching through closets, under our parents’ bed, anywhere we could think of that they might have hidden their gifts for us. Finally, one afternoon, we found them. In the master bedroom closet, along the base of the wall, there were these sliding panels with storage space behind them. We had quite an adventure that day, didn’t we, Ann?”

“We had an adventure but it didn’t turn out to be so good. I’d been hinting for weeks that I wanted a Cabbage Patch doll. I was so excited that day when I found her,” Ann told them. She frowned. “Unfortunately, when Christmas morning came, it just wasn’t the same. I’d ruined my own surprise. The worst of it though was that the tag on the doll’s box read, ‘From Santa’, not from our parents.” Ann glanced at her sister. “You tried to convince me that Santa had just left that present early but I didn’t buy it.”

“That was a bummer,” Marnie agreed. “I felt so bad for you because I knew how disillusioned you were. I guess that was the year you stopped believing in Santa.”

“Not exactly,” Ann said, grinning. “I still believe.”

And so do I! Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017



Thanksgiving has traditionally been a day to celebrate all the things for which we are grateful. One day, out of three hundred sixty-five days in a year, when many families sit around their dining room tables, hold hands and tell, one at a time, what they’re grateful for. Which is great but. . . .

What about the other three hundred sixty-four days? We’re all busy living our lives; we can easily get so caught up in work, writing and/or other responsibilities that we take things and people for granted. We forget to stop to appreciate all that we have and to be thankful for our many blessings. We need to remember that each day is a gift, a present. 

Do we get up in the morning, thankful to be alive? Are we determined to make the most of each day or do we slog through life, bitter and complaining? Do we notice all the little things that go wrong in our day or do we focus on the ones that go right? 

There’s so much beauty in the world. Do we take time to appreciate and enjoy nature? Do we tell the important people in our lives how much they mean to us? Do we stop to give thanks (and credit) to others who encourage and support us? 

I think of gratitude as an attitude we should strive to possess and express every day, not just on Thanksgiving. In our complicated world, often, the simplest words can have the greatest meaning. The following lines, from a poem I learned as a child, sum it up. “Thank you for the world so sweet. Thank you for the food we eat. Thank you for the birds that sing. Thank you, God, for everything.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

November topic: How do writers choose the titles for their novels?

When I think of some of my favorite authors, Mary Higgins Clark comes immediately to mind. She often uses the titles of old songs. For example, You Belong to Me, Let Me Call You Sweetheart and All Around the Town. James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club Series starts with 1st to Die and is up to 16th Seduction. And, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone mystery series utilizes the alphabet: A is for Alibi through the latest, Y is for Yesterday. 
So, how do I choose my titles?
Since I write mystery/suspense, I want my titles to reflect the genre, at least to some degree, because I don’t want to mislead readers; I want to entice them. And, I like my titles to have a double meaning whenever possible. Here’s how I came up with the title for my first Malone mystery.
In Mixed Messages, a serial killer is attacking women in their Westwood homes, where the main character, Ann, her husband, David, and their two small children live in the downstairs apartment of an old Victorian. David is an alcoholic and his behavior toward Ann is becoming more and more erratic; one minute, he’s the kind, loving man she married and, the next minute, he’s cold and cruel.
Lawrence Berger, the son of Olivia, Ann’s landlady, is infatuated with Ann. However, when instead of the usual love poems from Lawrence, Ann receives several ominous biblical quotes, she is confused and frightened.
Desperate for someone to confide in, Ann tells their priest, Father Andrew, about her husband’s drinking and the problems in her marriage, but instead of consoling her as she expected, he points a finger at her and shouts, “Divorce is not an option!” He refers her to Dr. Susan Thatcher for counseling and, at her first session, Ann tells the psychologist, “I feel like I’m living in a world of mixed messages.” Which she most definitely is. 

In Unfinished Business, the sequel which takes place at Christmastime, the title also has a double meaning. 

Readers/Writers: I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Happy Reading!