Monday, January 30, 2017

Inspiration Can Come from the Oddest Places

Once upon a time I was at a hardware store and saw a Scorpion UV Flashlight on a display by the counter. Curious, I picked it up to see what it was. Turns out it’s a black light, such as you’d see someone using on a crime show. Turn out the lights, turn on the black light, and you can see stains, among other things. To be honest, I didn’t want to see any stains – human, animal or otherwise. However, since it wasn’t expensive, I brought it home with me. My curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to take it into a dark room and see what would show up. Interestingly, the only thing I found was that the carpet in the walk-in closet needed to be vacuumed. Little pieces of white fuzz showed up under the light. Who knew? I thought I was a good housekeeper.

As a writer, I’m always looking at things that might be used as props. I also look at things I can use for research. There’s more to research than the Internet and the library. If I were to include an antique ceramic elephant in a story, I’d want to hold one in my hands and study it. Does it have cracks? Is the finish crackling? What color is it? Is it chipped? I’d want to look at the bottom of it and see if there’s a manufacturer’s mark.

When I started writing about a young, female private investigator, I drove right over to the hat store at the mall and bought a fedora. You don’t know what a fedora is? Let me tell you. It’s the kind of hat that Humphrey Bogart wore in movies where he played the role of a P.I. I love my hat. I also love the yellow trench coat I found when I visited Colorado. Do I wear these things? Nope, but I should. I guess I just never go anywhere that would require a fedora and a trench coat.
 An Old House in Nevada

 I have pictures of things surrounding me when I write – photos of things that would pertain to the story I’m working on. When I wrote Old Murders Never Die (A Sandi Webster Mystery) I had a picture of an abandoned house from the Old West that still hangs on my wall. Because of my Bogey Man series, I have a picture of Humphrey Bogart hanging on another wall.
 Purple Cows - Top Step

I have a purple cow and calf sitting on my shelf which are old, and they amuse me. I ended up including them in How Now Purple Cow. You never know where inspiration will come from.

My current work in progress involves a Red Admiral; a black butterfly with color on the tips of its wings. There was one in my backyard this summer and he seemed to like it there. He hung around all afternoon.

Why am I telling you about these things? Because inspiration has to come from somewhere, and these things cause my brain to wake up and say, “Hey! There’s a story idea in that object or photo.” And sometimes the inspiration comes from someone I see on the street or in the store.

When you read a book, and something or someone catches your attention, remember that it just could be from the author’s surroundings. Things in stories aren’t always directly from the writer’s imagination. Sometimes taking a look around you can set the wheels in motion. Once those wheels get moving, it can be difficult to stop them until a book is done.

Until next time, take a look around you. See what peaks your interest. And if you don’t see anything that wakes you up, have some chocolate. Chocolate is my answer to every problem.

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Having a Great Crime –Wish You Were Here (A Sandi Webster Mystery) was inspired by a green field. Yes, just a field. However, in the book there’s a vintage house in that field.

Monday, January 23, 2017


Sometimes in books a character will have an epiphany and solve a case. And once in a while we have epiphanies in real life. Such was the situation this week.

My post will be a bit more personal than usual because I’m hoping that figuring things out might touch someone else the way it touched me. I’ve seriously been considering giving up my writing. Life just hasn’t been kind over the past couple of years.

I lost my husband to what he used to refer to as, “The Widow Maker.” In other words, he had a sudden and unexpected heart attack, and that was it. (I miss him more than I can express, and more than I want to talk about.) Among other things, I had some health problems, made a major move from Arizona to Washington, and more recently, book sales have dropped with a thud.

I’ve spent a lifetime picking myself up and moving on when things didn’t go well or as planned. I haven’t been able to do that this time – until now.

Sometimes answers come to us when we least expect it and in ways we wouldn’t dream of. I read the email of someone who’s having a rough time because of life, people and writing, and it caused an epiphany. Here’s the realization that came to me and pretty much changes everything.

Writing has been an uphill battle. In fact, without going into details, my whole life has been an uphill battle. I can’t explain it, but this person’s email brought that up from the depths of my heart and mind.

I’d hoped my writing would supplement my income. Didn’t happen, or maybe I should say, barely happened. Then I remembered something very important. I started writing because it’s something I love to do. From now on I do it because I enjoy it. If the books don’t sell, oh well… What more can one ask for than to be doing something that makes them happy?

And this goes for the rest of my life, too. The heck with it. No more worrying about every little thing. I can’t possibly please everyone, and I can’t accommodate every request that comes my way.

It’s too cliché to say that when life hands me lemons, I make lemonade. Nope. It’s not that easy. However, when life hands me chocolate, I fully intend to eat every bite and savor the flavor. It’s comfort food, and besides, I don’t like lemons or lemonade anyway.

It’s time for a downhill slide. Easy peasy. Struggling is passé. It’s time to yell, “Wheeeee” as I take the easy way down from the top of that hill. Sliding is so much easier than climbing.

I have faith and that’s what counts. Faith in what? Faith in God, in myself, in my talent, and in those I care about.

Here’s to a new life and a new beginning, for all of us who need them.

Now I’m going back to work on “Black Butterfly,” my latest work in progress. I’m ready to write, and I hope the story is ready for me.

Until next time, take a ride down that hill and enjoy every moment of it.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Evelyn Cullet, Guest Author

This week I’m pleased to welcome Evelyn Cullet. I recently read The Tarkington Treasure and enjoyed every moment of the story. It contains a mystery, humor, romance, and to my delight, a hidden treasure. Who doesn’t love a hidden treasure? I love a book that entertains me, and this one is on that list. I’m glad to have you back, Evelyn!

I’m delighted to be posting on Marja’s blog once again. This time it’s about my latest Charlotte Ross Mystery, The Tarkington Treasure. I had a hard time coming up with an idea for this novel, because I was looking for something I hadn’t read or written about in a mystery before. Then, one blustery day last January, my husband decided it was time to clean out our bookshelves. Being retired, he does this periodically. Not only bookshelves, but closets, kitchen drawers, bedroom drawers, upstairs cabinets, downstairs cabinets, the garage... He hates clutter. It doesn’t bother me as much. What does bother me, is having to move things just when I’ve become familiar with where I’d put them.

We were going through dozens of books on the Civil War he’s collected over the years, deciding on which to keep and which to donate to the Salvation Army store. I never really paid much attention to the books, there were so many, but this day I glanced through several and noticed a chapter in one of the books about millions of dollars in Civil War gold that still hasn’t been found. That’s when the idea struck me. I thought it might be fun to write about rumors of a Civil War treasure that had been hidden somewhere on an old estate—but the stories of the treasure had become so skewered over the years that it might be anywhere... or it might be anything. If in fact, the treasure ever really existed at all. That’s how I came up with:
  The Tarkington Treasure

A spooky old house, rumors of a hidden Civil War treasure, a neighbor’s murder, and an ex-fiancé falling unconscious at her feet—Charlotte Ross has her hands full when she’s invited to stay at her friend, Jane Marshall’s home while her apartment is being renovated.

Jane and her new fiancé have sold everything to move to the large estate she’d just inherited near the small town in Illinois, where she grew up. She’s always loved the house, but the cost of living in, and fixing up, a deteriorating old mansion is more than both their incomes combined. If she can’t come up with the money for the next property tax payment, she’ll be forced to give it up. 

Charlotte is intent on winning back her ex, but her efforts are stymied when he’s suspected of Jane’s neighbor’s murder.

The two couples soon discover the rambling old house holds more than one secret when they join forces to find the real killer—and the elusive, Tarkington treasure. 

Author Bio

Evelyn Cullet has been an author since high school when she wrote short stories. She began her first novel while attending college later in life and while working in the offices of a major soft drink company. Now, with early retirement, she can finally write full time. As a life-long mystery buff, she was a former member of the Agatha Christie Society, and is a current member of the National Chapter of Sisters In Crime. She writes mysteries with warm romance and a little humor. When she’s not writing mysteries, reading them or reviewing them, she hosts other authors and their work on her writer’s blog. She also plays the piano, is an amateur lapidary, and an organic gardener.

The Tarkington Treasure is available on Amazon. com for your Kindle or in paperback:

Website and Blog:

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Monday, January 9, 2017

A.B. Emrys, Guest Author

I have to admit that there’s something mysterious about vampires, and A.B. Emrys has brought this to the front with her guest post. How did she entice students to read great works, and what works for her? I think you’ll find this post very interesting. Welcome, Barbara!

 Writing Temporary Vampires

by A. B. Emrys

I made my own vampires out of student fandom, classic horror, and a trip to Barcelona.

My first unknowing step toward Temporary Vampire was teaching horror lit 214GS. While I was dragging general studies students kicking and screaming through Great Works, I asked each class what they read or watched on their own; the answer very often was horror. The solution seemed obvious.

Not for nothing did I have a deep background in nineteenth century British lit, from whence sprang all the popular categories of fiction. So I first taught the class I put together great works of horror, from Frankenstein to Jurassic Park (it really is–if you've never read it, go now). 

Later I switched to great American writers of horror, from Poe to Shirley Jackson and her ever-loving disciple, Stephen King. By the time I burned out on those variables, vampires were so rampant that I built an entire class around the elements of vampire fiction and how they had mutated since Coleridge's "Christabel," Byron's doctor's little tale, and LeFanu's Carmilla.
It was while we wallowed in undead lore, my students and I, that I decided to try my hand at it. I have a theory that no one can fully understand a type of literature, or maybe any literature, unless they've at least attempted to write it, but then I am a form-alist to the core.

I already was a publishing writer of short shorts, stories, personal essays, and scholarly articles, all them held together by a certain weirdness (you can see some of this range in free mystery stories and other items at So one holiday gathering, I sat at the edge of the room while others watched a movie and started a little tale about a mime who embodies the vampire as the climax of a New Orleans tour.

Since then I've learned that many people hate mimes second only to clowns, but I had been impressed with the huge variety who perform in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, where there is a mime school. There was the young man who turned into a tree, the coal miner on a smoking vent, the red devil in a trunk, the ancient Chinese shaman, and many more. My mime was in that tradition. She studies at a school and her best friends are performers. One of her teachers was even visiting from Barcelona.

At the time I finished the story, Temporary Vampire, I had an agent I met in a mystery bookstore in London, and she just happened to be editing a collection of vampire romance. The first two chapters appeared in The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance Stories (I have copies of the Italian and Russian translations too), and later in a Barnes & Noble collection, Louisiana Vampires (the editor who tracked me down said "It's a really good story").

Of course I started turning it into a novel. Of course while also teaching horror lit and other classes, and writing a nonfiction book about two mystery writers  for which I had a contract, and making some big life decisions, and once in awhile having some fun.

My vamps at some points were, well, cold, but I never nailed shut that coffin. Instead I returned to them like an enamored slayer unable to stay away.
Here's the blurb for Temporary Vampire:

Letitia Condit mimes the vampire in Jackson Square for a midnight tour. She's pretending to be the power she fears.

Yankee vampire Nathan Court has come to New Orleans to snare his feral counterpart, who has for decades killed his companions. All he wants is to play human after dark.

By the time he sees Letty perform his reality, he feels safe enough to fall in love.

But Letty, Nathan, and all their allies–Letty's mime troupe, her spirit-walking mentor, and a steel magnolia who runs a vampire's Downton Abbey–must shed their most cherished illusions to have any afterlife left.

See, what I love about vampires are the boundaries. That's why I revere the great old novels. They rise, they have powers, but there are tradeoffs, like the daytime sleep, silver, crosses, garlic, that limit the afterlife. It's the way they negotiate these limits that interest me.

Also, I love the illusion, the passing-for-human, as well as the human costuming as vampire. (I once taught my class on Halloween in vampire makeup.) How much will a particular undead pretend? How much will she live like a feral cat? My plot turns on who pretends to be what, with what success.

So I made a vampire whose main desire is to live his old life. He even gets sustenance from strangers in a discreet way that avoids the savage bite, which at one point kind of disappoints my mime-heroine. Her spooky advisor tells her she may have called a vampire to her, that perhaps they are her fate.
Two of the supporting characters nearly ran away with the whole thing. They are Marla Tremaine, whose a blood-bonded staff keep her in traditional Southern style, and her good-ole-afterlife partner, Remy Sandoz. I wrote a story about the two of them that's also available, Fish and Company, about how Marla's plan for pretending to die and inherit from herself runs into problems when the relative she has put in charge doesn't want to leave. In the novel, Marla acts as mediator when Nathan and his enemy attempt to settle their feud.

The story and Temporary Vampire both are available on Amazon, where you can preview the first two chapters and a little more. A different excerpt is at The covers are by my sister, and the young woman on the novel cover is my granddaughter.


        A. B. (Barbara) Emrys has had more than 40 short pieces published, from Prairie Schooner to Mysterical-E, won two national prizes and was a finalist five other times, and is the author of the scholarly work, Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel, an Agatha and Macavity nominee. She has helped bring attention to the writing of Caspary, once a famous screenwriter and mystery novelist, many of whose works now are available again. After decades in Chicago and on the plains, Emrys lives in a small town in central Florida with her cats, Godzilla and Salamander.

Check out Barbara’s website at

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Having a Great Crime - Wish You Were Here, A Sandi Webster Mystery, will be 99 cents (ebook version) on from Wednesday, January 11 thru Saturday, January 14, 2017.