‘Shrooms: A Story in 100 Words

Posted by Kathy Waller

I did it again: prepared my piece for November 21 well in advance, set it aside for later revision, forgot to post it.

As we in the writing trade say, AARGH.

As my fourth-grade teacher said, Better late than never, but better never late.

As I say, take what my fourth-grade teacher said, chop off the clause starting with but and read on.

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Because I recently attended Writer Unboxed’s UnConference in Salem, Massachusetts, I planned to write about it this week.

UnCon comprised five full days of sessions heavy with both information and inspiration: not so much how to write, but how to dig deeper, make richer, write better.

The week was intense. I’m going to have to think about it for a while before I can write about it.

So this week, following V. P. Chandler’s lead, I’m sharing a story I wrote for Friday Fictioneers. It’s not crime fiction–or maybe it is. I’ll have to think about that, too.

 

Friday Fictioneers Prompt. Copyright Erin Leary.

Friday Fictioneers Prompt. ©Erin Leary.

‘Shrooms

 

John ambled into the kitchen. “What’s cooking?”

“Mushroom gravy.” Mary stirred.

John frowned. “Toadstools. Fungi. Dorothy Sayers killed someone with Amanita.

“These are morels.” She added salt. “Everybody eats mushrooms.”

“I don’t.”

“Suit yourself.”

He sat down. “Where’d you buy them?”

“I picked them.”

You?

“Aunt Helen helped. She knows ‘shrooms.” Mary held out a spoonful. “Taste.”

Well . . . ” John tasted. “Mmmm. Seconds?”

“Yoo-hoo.” Aunt Helen bustled in. “Like my new glasses? Those old ones–yesterday I couldn’t see doodly squat.”

Mary looked at the gravy, then at John. “Maybe you should spit that out,” she said.

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“‘Shrooms” first appeared on Telling the Truth, Mainly. A few words about how I came to write this story appeared April 12, 2015 on Austin Mystery Writers

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Click the link for Friday Fictioneer instructions. Visit Rochelle Wisoff-Field–Addicted to Purple for this week’s photo prompt. A new prompt is posted there every Wednesday.

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political road - cropped

Kathy Waller blogs
at Telling the Truth, Mainly
and at Writing Wranglers and Warriors.

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A Short Story To Jumpstart Your Day

I thought I’d do a little something different today and share a story with you. I like to mix genres, and this one is no different. In our anthology, Murder On Wheels, I wrote a story, Rota Fortunae, set in 1800, about a teen who stowed away on a merchant ship bound for America. There is murder and some supernatural components as well. Intrigued? Buy the book! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) You can find links here on our website.

Today’s story is very short. I had a lot of fun with it. It’s not exactly a mystery, but a western with a twist. I hope you enjoy it.

And I would like to thank Mystery People for featuring it on Crime Fiction Friday on their blog. Thank you!

Photo courtesy of xandert

Photo courtesy of xandert

Kay Chart

“Hurry up with them biscuits and gravy, old woman!”

Cooter laughs and wipes brown spit from the corner of his mouth. Damn if we wasn’t having fun. Things have been going our way since we left San Antone last week even though folks warned us not to venture so far west. Said the Comanche were still riled up after skirmishes with the Rangers.

But I got plans. Plans for me and Becky. And I can’t wait any longer to get money. When I heard she was engaged to that son of a bitch Whitney, it took the wind right outta me. So Cooter and me have been working our way west, raiding homesteads as we go. Since the Comanches have been hitting the farms, we thought we’d do some raiding of our own.

Damn if this old woman ain’t slow. “C’mon now. I’m hungry!” I poke her in the back with my knife to make my point and then laugh while I grab a chair to sit in. “Say, when’s your man coming back from mending the fence? That’s what you said he was doing, right?” It’s easier getting a corncob from a pig than to get an answer outta this woman.

“Uh huh,” she says while stirring the gravy.

Cooter wipes more spit with his shirtsleeve. “Those biscuits smell real good. It’s been a long time since we had us some real food.” He’s always antsy, fiddling with stuff. He starts poking around and finds some hats under the bed. He laughs and puts on a worn out, sweat-stained straw hat that’s way too big. Then he pulls out a dusty pork pie that’s too small. We laugh at that.

Cooter looks around some more while I start getting nervous thinking about the old man returning. I get my rifle and stand on the porch to keep a look out. It’s hot and the wind’s picked up. Sand’s blowing and makes the ground shimmer. I reach up and bat a short length of rope probably used for drying game birds.

My stomach growls. I miss my ma’s cooking. She can cook up a mess of dove like nobody else. Seeing them ropes hanging reminds me of how Ma tried to hang flowerpots on our porch. I guess she thought she’d make our place more livable. But you can’t pretty up a piece of trash. And Pa always tore down anything hopeful she’d ever done.

What a sorry place this is. We come so far west, practically nothing but desert and prickly pear. These old people got nothing – empty pigpens, empty corral, a couple o’ bare trees. One’s blood-stained from slaughtering pigs at one time, still has the rope up.

Movement in the distance catches my eye and I raise my gun. About a quarter mile away I see a damn Indian’s watering his horse at a shallow tank. I can tell he spies me by how he stands up slow-like and keeps looking in my direction. He keeps his eyes on me. I think about riding out to kill him, but I’m running low on bullets. He leaves.

I go back inside. “You know you just had an Indian watering his horse from your tank?”

She turns around and wipes her hands on her apron. Getting a gander at her now, she looks more like a hundred. Her skin’s so old and dry with brown patches and it looks about to crack from the deep grooves. “We let them water their horses and they leave us alone. Apache, Comanche, don’t matter to us. This is the only watering hole for miles. We ain’t got no troubles with them. Sometimes they bring us food. Mostly it ain’t good quality, but we take what’s provided.” She turns back around to her cooking.

Cooter gets all jumpy and wipes his mouth again. His sleeves always have a permanent brown stains. Damn, some people just shouldn’t chew tobacco. “You sure he’s gone? We don’t need no trouble like that.”

I laugh. “Why you worried? We took care o’ that other son of a bitch we saw.” I walk near to the woman and lean against her sideboard while she does a quick peek in the oven. “Yesterday we come across a guy, was he Comanche?” I turn to Cooter, not like he’d know.

He nods. “Maybe Apache, but I think more like Comanche.”

I turn back to the woman. “Anyhow, he tried to run which made us work harder. So that didn’t help my disposition none. But Cooter here’s a good shot and brought him down. Hoo! He was a tough one.” I give that Indian credit, he didn’t break until the last. I let him rest and told him I’d make it easier on him if he told me of a homestead nearby. I know he understood me. He looked right at me and said, “Kay Chart” and he pointed us to this place. When I asked again he pointed us here. I laugh now, thinking how the old woman’s luck went bad on account of an Indian, and her still thinking she might get outta this alive. I wonder if that Indian had some kind of quarrel with her.

“Biscuits are ready.” She pulls them from the stove and starts fixin’ our plates.

Cooter smiles and rubbed his hands together. He spits his chaw onto the floor, ready to eat.

She puts our plates in front of us.

I say, “Bet you don’t get many visitors out here.”

“Not many.”

We dig in and it’s good. This is the life! Forget working yourself to the bone with cows or farming. I’ll get rich, and Becky’ll marry me. I smile at Cooter and he smiles back, cheeks full o’ biscuits. Life is damn good.

Then my mouth starts burning. “You put peppers in this?”

She leans back against her sideboard, arms across her chest. “Not exactly.”

My mouth and throat burn and I spit my food onto my plate. I look over at Cooter and he looks back, tears running down his face and foam starts to coming outta his mouth and nose. His hand goes to his throat and he starts clawing. His eyes are big and he won’t stop looking at me.

I try to drink water but nothing helps. My throat and insides burn. Foam fills my mouth and my throat’s closing up. I look at my rifle, thinking about killing the witch, but my muscles are getting tight and I can’t move. I fall on the floor and started twitching. I’m so stove up, I can’t even blink.

The old woman grabs my heels and pulls me out to the porch and down the steps. It hurts like hell when my head bounces. I try screaming but nothing comes out. I’m too young and nothing to show for it. No more Becky, no more Ma, no more nothing.

The hag drags me across the yard and to the hog-killing tree. Breathing’s getting harder as foam fills by nose and my throat gets tighter. I can’t get no air. I feel her wrap the rope around my ankles and she hoists me up. Bitch is stronger than she looks.

She crouches down in front of me so’s I can see her. She pulls out a butcher knife she had in her apron. “You fool. ‘Kay-chart’ is Comanche for ‘evil one.’”

At least she runs the knife across me quick.

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Sisters in Crime Read & Sign at Malvern Books on October 30

 

Please join ussinc-heart-2

Members of Sisters in Crime ~
Heart of Texas Chapter 

will read and sign at

Malvern Books 

619 W. 29th Street
Austin, Texas
info@malvernbooks.com

Sunday, October 30, 2016
1:00 – 2:30 p.m.

Among those reading will be 

Alexandra Burt
Noreen Cedeno
Valerie Chandler
Helen Currie Foster
K.P. Gresham
Eugenia Parish
Kathy Waller
Manning Wolfe

Some of the books written by our HOTXSINC authors include
MURDER ON WHEELS, winner of the 2016 Silver Falchion Award
for best short story anthology at Killer Nashville
Noreen Cedeno’s FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN, finalist for
the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category 
Manning Wolfe’s DOLLAR SIGNS 
Helen Currie Foster’s GHOST LETTER
Eugenia Parrish’s A COLD BLUE KILLING 
K.P. Gresham’s HARDSCRABBLE HOMECOMING

The mission of Sisters in Crime is to promote the professional development and advancement of women crime writers to achieve equality in the industry.

Heart of Texas Chapter meets the second Sunday of each month–with the exception of November 2016, when it meets the third Sunday–at the Yarborough Branch of the Austin Public Library, 2200 Hancock Drive, Austin, Texas, at 2:15. An informal gathering is held at La Mancha Tex-Mex Tavern after the meeting.

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Kaye George Talks About Cooked To Death: Tales of Crime and Cookery

You never know what former AMW member Kaye George is up to! She’s very busy and always working on many projects so I thought I’d ask.

 

VPC- Hey, Kaye George! What have you been up to lately? What’s your latest project? I heard you were in an anthology. Can you tell us a little about it?

 

Kaye George

 

 

KG- It’s Cooked To Death: Tales of Crime and Cookery. It’s an anthology of mostly Minnesota writers. Each writer contributed a crime story and a recipe, and the food was supposed to play a part in the story. I was invited to submit because I know one of the instigators and thought it was a fun project. The editors are Rhonda Gilliland and Michael Mallory. He’s the one I know. An idea I hadn’t used yet would  work for this, I was pretty sure, so I went for it.

 

VPC- Can you give us a little “taste” of your story? ows_147034954442248

KG- My story is called “Murder with Crow.” It features a busybody old lady who has made friends with an intelligent crow. The crow loves her zucchini bread. She has some odd new neighbors with erratic schedules and misses the guy who lived there before. The new neighbors do not appreciate her and that makes her more determined than ever to get more information about them, plying them with more and more baked goods.

 

VPC- Uh oh, I smell trouble brewing (or baking?) Can you give us a few words about the other stories?

KG- The stories are arranged by course, with Appetizers, Soups, Entrees, and Desserts, which I think is cute. The one that stuck in my mind was Pat Dennis’ “After the Before” that concerns a “before” diet picture and a wedding. The stories range from the rather hard-boiled “Shrimp Charmoula: a killer dish” by Carl Brookins, with a knock-down fight scene, and David Housewright’s “Dog Eat Dog” about a business man collecting payments with a snarling wolf, to more moderate stories like “A Fare to Remember” by Marilyn Jax, where two women need to solve their friend’s kidnapping when the police overlook an important clue, even if means missing their day at the fair.

 

VPC- Sounds good! I like an anthology with a variety of stories. Are you working on anything else? Silly question, I know, because you are so busy!

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KG- Another anthology came out October 1st called We’ve Been Trumped from Darkhouse Books. I have a rather post-apocalyptic tale in that one. I’m doing proposals for new series to replace the Fat Cat mysteries that are not being continued. I hope to have good news very soon on that front! I’m also trying to squeeze in a 4th Imogene Duckworthy book.

 

 

VPC- Like I said, always busy! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It’s always good to know what our friends are up to.

If you would like to know more about Kaye George, you can find her at  http://kayegeorge.wixsite.com/kaye-george

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Reaching Out

10849064_1761512394077052_8813380892700749353_o-2By Gale Albright

There are many articles about writing, but perhaps not so many about writing organizations.

As current president of Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter in Austin, I find myself constantly coming and going, requesting favors, soliciting ideas, applying for grants, arranging programs, and asking if someone wants to do something.

Sisters in Crime was founded in 1987 during Edgars Week by Sara Paretsky and other female crime writers, in an attempt to close the gap between the treatment of women crime novelists and their male counterparts. Women weren’t getting enough book reviews, or not getting the right kind of reviews. Female crime writers weren’t taken as seriously as men.

Since that time, Sisters in Crime chapters have proliferated across the United States and Canada, encouraging women writers in their craft and their self-esteem. I consider it an honor to be a part of the nuts and bolts machinery of this effort.

We have a monthly meeting at the Yarborough branch of the Austin Public Library, where we showcase authors and forensic experts. In addition to our meetings, we are expanding into the community to network with writers, libraries, and book festivals.

For example, our chapter steering committee wanted to have a presence at the Texas Book Festival, slated for Nov. 5-6 this fall. The national Sisters in Crime organization awarded us a grant to pay for our display table. We now have a TBF committee composed of volunteers who are making schedules and organizing local Sisters in Crime authors who want to sell books at our table. Authors and readers and book buyers meeting one another always creates a positive situation for those in the writing community.

Another opportunity to reach out presented itself when National Sisters in Crime “We Love Libraries” Coordinator Andrea Smith, asked me, as the closest SINC chapter president in Austin, if I would present a $1000 check to the Lake Travis Community Library, which was just awarded the May 2016 “We Love our Libraries” grant. I’m happy I was asked to show up and be of service to the organization. The program starts at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8 at the Lake Travis Community Library, 1938 Lohmans Crossing in Lakeway. I’ll present the check and give a brief presentation on the advantages of joining Sisters in Crime. Pat Dunlap Evans will then present a program on her new mystery thriller, Out and In. Community outreach is a good way to recruit new members and make new friends. That’s what you do when you work at strengthening a writing organization. You make contact, you make plans, you bring people and projects together.

Our chapter has collaborated with Malvern Books, at 613 W. 29th St. in Austin to put on a reading of Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas writers’ books at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30. Malvern will offer our books for sale and give us a venue to promote our authors.

At its best, a writing organization provides shelter, stimulation, ideas, encouragement, and an opportunity for growth. If the building blocks are sound, there will a supportive matrix to enrich writers and readers alike.10917921_1761799244048367_9178779897578074148_o-2

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Bouchercon 2016: New Orleans

For those who love to read mysteries as well as write them, Bouchercon is where you will find your people– and they will most likely be hanging out in the hotel bar.

cafedumonde

Cafe Du Monde-a must in New Orleans!

The 47th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention found its home this year in The Big Easy. The combination of a compelling locale along with some of the biggest names in crime fiction created the largest registration to date. Over 1,900 guests flocked to New Orleans in search of panels, book signings, author sightings and fabulous food, along with intentions of connecting with old friends and making new ones.

I found all of those things.

This was my first Bouchercon as previous attempts to attend havelauravalerie been thwarted by schedule conflicts, work issues and school events. This year, somehow, we made it work. Embarking on a road trip with fellow AMW member Valerie Chandler, the two of us packed the car and hit the road, following IH-10 all the way across state lines and into the heart of New Orleans. Nine hours in a car sounds like a chore, but we fared pretty well. We found each other to be entertaining company–and the snacks were pretty good, too. A successful road trip hinges on these two things–the right people and the right munchies.

harlanlaura

Laura Oles & Harlan Coben

Walking into the hotel on Wednesday evening thrust us in the middle of a party already in progress. The bar area bustled with animated conversations and activity. Clearly, people were already in the “laissez le bon temps roulez” frame of mind. Writing is such a solitary process that it was a wonderful thing, seeing these mystery lovers together sharing stories and spirits. The bar served as the community meeting center for the conference, with people coming and going (and some staying all night). It was an event in and of itself.

Registration to Bouchercon includes a trip to the conference bookstore. Shopping in the Bouchercon Bookstore was a real treat. Along with our registration goodies–T-shirt, tote bag, water bottle–each attendee received six coupons for free books. The store was stocked with all the latest titles (and a few ARCs) from authors attending the conference. It took some time to make my selections, as I debated which titles to take home. These books now sit on my nightstand waiting for my attention, which I fully intend to give them after I complete the latest round of edits on my own novel.

cobenconnelly

Michael Connelly interviews Harlan Coben

On Thursday morning, Michael Connelly interviewed Harlan Coben, and it was one of the best exchanges between two powerhouse authors I have ever witnessed. They tackled the realities of writing vs. the fantasy of it and shared the stories of their successes with humor and humility. Harlan explained that it was his tenth book that finally garnered him some success–his TENTH. So, for those of us who do not yet have that number as a backlist, his advice is to keep writing. And when you’re done, write the next one. Tough love, people.

The panels were fantastic and the conversations afterward were equally interesting. On

hank_panel

Hank Phillippi Ryan moderates a panel discussion–very well as always!

average, there were six panels offered in each key time slot, making it difficult to decide which ones to attend. My conference schedule was highlighted and notated as though I had been preparing for an exam.

Bouchercon encompasses a wide variety of sub genres, and it was interesting to hear discussions related to so many different kids of mysteries– how they are constructed, how they are marketed and how they find their way to readers. I think that this broad scope of inclusion is one of the elements that makes Bouchercon so unique. It doesn’t narrow itself to a small slice of mystery. It’s about the entire pie.

palacecafeSpeaking of dessert, I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a moment fawning over the New Orleans cuisine. The dining options were vast, varied and with rare exception, all excellent. We found the Palace Café, located on the foot of the French Quarter, and loved it so much that we returned again a second time. The atmosphere was very NOLA, with its sharply dressed waiters, white table linens and black iron spiral staircase. The shrimp tchefuncte was fabulous and flavorful, and I still miss the bananas foster. It was that good.

palacecafe2

Bananas Foster at the Palace Cafe

Sisters in Crime celebrated 30 years at the conference, and the breakfast meeting brought some of the most talented–and supportive–crime writers working today. The breakfast, held on the 41st floor of the NOLA Marriott, was elegant yet casual, the view of the city through the hotel windows serving as the perfect backdrop for the conversations taking place. This group of women and men, who come together for the purposes of promoting equality in the field of crime fiction, have accomplished a great deal in three decades. While there is more work to be done, it is clear that their commitment has created substantial progress.

Having time to spend catching up with friends, many of whom I only see once or twice a year, was a true treasure. Those connections and conversations are experiences I bring home and keep with me as I return to the daily work of writing solo. They remind me that, even though I write alone, I am far from it.

I now return to real life, and it’s nice to be home. Still, I wish I could find a way to bring the community of Bouchercon and the New Orleans food with me. The memories will have to do, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend. So, friends, until next time. Maybe I’ll see you in Toronto at Bouchercon 2017?  –Laura Oles

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Happy 100th, Agatha & Hercule! and Many More

Posted by Kathy Waller

This month mystery lovers celebrate two of the most important figures in the history of crime fiction:

~ Agatha Christie, who was born on September 15, 1890, and whose mysteries have outsold everything except Shakespeare and the Bible; and

~ Hercule Poirot, who, having appeared in 1916 in Christie’s first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, is marking his one hundredth birthday.

The Royal Mail is observing the occasion with a special stamp issue focusing on six of Christie’s novels. Each stamp contains clues and features related to a specific book.  “As the solving of mysteries is the focus of Christie’s art,” said a spokesman for the Royal Mail, “it is fitting that the public have to turn detective to find the hidden words and images in each stamp.”

A series of literary events–Agatha Christie Birthday Celebrations: Marking 100 Years of Creativity–is in progress, including those in Torquay, where Christie was born, and in Wallingford, where she lived at Winterbrook House from 1934 to her death in 1976.

Closed Casket, Sophie Hannah’s second Hercule Poirot novel, was released on September 6th, just in time for Hannah to take part in the festivities, including a book signing at Christie’s holiday home, Greenway.

(Kirkus Reviews on Closed Casket: As in The Monogram Murders (2014), Hannah provides both less and more than Agatha Christie ever baked into any of her tales. But the climactic revelation that establishes the killer’s motive is every bit as brilliant and improbable as any of Christie’s own decorous thunderclaps.)

And BBC One will produce seven more adaptations of Christie’s works.

Austin Mystery Writers, alas, couldn’t attend the festivities in England, so we celebrate here in our own small but sincere way–by letting the Queen of Crime speak for herself.

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*The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.

English: The Agatha Christie Bus Tour bus, at ...

English: The Agatha Christie Bus Tour bus, at the corner of the walled gardens at Greenway House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Derek Harper is licensed under [CC BY-SA  2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

*Many friends have said to me, ‘I never know when you write your books, because I’ve never seen you writing, or even seen you go away to write.’ I must behave rather as dogs do when they retire with a bone; they depart in a secretive manner and you do not see them again for an odd half hour. They return self-consciously with mud on their noses. I do much the same.

*All I needed was a steady table and a typewriter…a marble-topped bedroom washstand table made a good place; the dining-room table between meals was also suitable.

*Plots come to me at such odd moments, when I am walking along the street, or examining a hat shop… suddenly a splendid idea comes into my head.

*Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend.

*There’s no agony like [getting started]. You sit in a room, biting pencils, looking at a typewriter, walking about, or casting yourself down on a sofa, feeling you want to cry your head off.

*One problem is that the interruptions are generally far more enjoyable than writing, and once you’ve stopped, it’s exceedingly difficult to get started again.

*One’s always a little self-conscious over the murderer’s first appearance. He must never come in too late; that’s uninteresting for the reader at the end of the book. And the dénouement has to be worked out frightfully carefully.

*I myself always found the love interest a terrible bore in detective stories. Love, I felt, belonged to romantic stories. To force a love motif into what should be a scientific process went much against the grain.

*God bless my soul, woman, the more personal you are the better! This is a story of human beings – not dummies! Be personal – be prejudiced – be catty – be anything you please! Write the thing your own way. We can always prune out the bits that are libellous afterwards!

*I know nothing about pistols and revolvers, which is why I usually kill off my characters with a blunt instrument or better with poisons. Besides, poisons are neat and clean and really exciting… I do not think I could look a really ghastly mangled body in the face. It is the means that I am interested in. I do not usually describe the end, which is often a corpse.

*If I were at any time to set out on a career of deceit, it would be of Miss Marple that I should be afraid.

*Three months seems quite a reasonable time to complete a book, if one can get right down to it.

*I am like a sausage machine. As soon as [I finish a novel] and cut off the string, I have to think of the next one.

*When I re-read those first [detective stories I wrote], I’m amazed at the number of servants drifting about. And nobody is really doing any work, they’re always having tea on the lawn.

*I’ve always believed in writing without a collaborator, because where two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worry and only half the royalties.

*I am not mad. I am eccentric perhaps–at least certain people say so; but as regards my profession. I am very much as one says, ‘all there.’

*It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them.

*If one sticks too rigidly to one’s principles, one would hardly see anybody.

*I married an archaeologist because the older I grow, the more he appreciates me.

*What they need is a little immorality in their lives. Then they wouldn’t be so busy looking for it in other people’s.

*A man when he is making up to anybody can be cordial and gallant and full of little attentions and altogether charming. But when a man is really in love he can’t help looking like a sheep.

*Mr. Jesmond made a peculiar noise rather like a hen who has decided to lay an egg and then thought better of it.

*Coffee in England always tastes like a chemistry experiment.

*I know there’s a proverb which that says ‘To err is human,’ but a human error is nothing to what a computer can do if it tries.

*I can’t imagine why everybody is so keen for authors to talk about writing. I should have thought it was an author’s business to write, not to talk.

*People should be interested in books, not their authors.

*If anyone is really determined to loan you a book, you can never get out of it!

*I’ve got a stomach now as well as a behind. And I mean – well, you can’t pull it in both ways, can you? … I’ve made it a rule to pull in my stomach and let my behind look after itself.

*Writing is a great comfort to people like me, who are unsure of themselves and have trouble expressing themselves properly.

*I would like it to be said that I was a good writer of detective and thriller stories.

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Agatha Christie Birthday Celebrations
2017 DATES: 13TH-17TH SEPTEMBER

*****

For a everything about Agatha Christie, go to http://www.agathachristie.com/

And for more:

Quotations from Agatha Christie were drawn from following sources:

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***

Kathy Waller blogs at
Telling the Truth, Mainly,
and at
Writing Wranglers and Warriors.

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Writers Wanted

(Alexandra Burt is our guest author today. Born in Germany, she moved to Texas, married, and worked as a freelance translator. Determined to acknowledge the voice in the back of her head prompting her to break into literary translations, the union never panned out. She decided to tell her own stories. Her books include Remember Mia and The Good Daughter. She is working on  her third novel.)

abbw

I feel awkward telling my readers that growing up I never had an inclination toward becoming a writer. Too often I’ve heard of authors writing since they were children. Jane Austen is known to have flexed her creative muscle as a teenager, writing sentimental stories to entertain her family and Virginia Woolf produced magazines about family outings. Their early efforts prepared them for dozens of novels they would write later in life.

I had never written a single word until about seven years ago. Reading a particularly bad book, I thought I could do better as if armed with my love of reading was enough to write a breakout novel. I spare you the details. Let me just say it became apparent that much was to be learned and it took years to pen a story that was remotely well crafted, coherent, and entertaining.

If you want to write, there’s good news and bad news. The good news first: you can become a solid and successful writer without coming from any sort of literary DNA or being born with a pen in your little clumsy hand destined to take the world by storm. The bad news is that you have to put in the time and learning the craft of writing is hard work. Like… hard work.

I went after it with a baseball bat. Hours a day. Every day. I read, I enrolled in classes, studied books on writing, and I wrote. Every day. I still wrote badly and did so for a very long time. See, epiphanies and experience take time, no ifs, ands, and buts about it, but eventually my stories became coherent. What I learned along the way was that craft was nothing more than using the tools of the trade and we all know what a good story calls for: a hook, a compelling setup, a killer plot, thrilling beginnings followed by perfect middles, completed by satisfying endings. The tools of the trade are nothing more than the application of POV, tense, dialogue and action, narrative and exposition. All those tools at your disposal allow you to masterly lure the reader into the worlds of your characters.

But having those tools does not a book make.

A novel is like a wristwatch; there’s the rather unassuming case that houses the watch mechanism, a clock face, and two hands. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But crack open that case and intricate parts and mechanisms become apparent; there are springs controlled by more springs, unwinding into a controlled and periodic release of time. A force is transmitted through a series of gears which oscillate back and forth and with each swing of the balance wheel the hands move forward at a constant rate. And in the background you hear a constant ‘ticking’ sound. Like a wrist watch uses a mechanical apparatus to measure the passage of time, a writer—unbeknownst to the reader—aligns the elements of an intricate story at a certain pace and in the end, if the writer times it just right, the reader will rejoice and give you their time and feel as if they’ve been in good hands.clock-976234_960_720

But there’s more. There’s a part of writing I call art. If craft is execution, art is the design of the novel. If craft is the metal case that houses the watch mechanism, the clock face and the hands, the screws that hold it all together, the springs and gears, then art is the way you put the parts together, the way they connect with fickle timing, and the constant ticking in the background. Like every single component inside a watch, the individual parts must be assembled just right to tell time accurately, to produce that tick tick tick. It’s nothing you do overtly. It’s not like you sit down and tell yourself I’m going to produce a work of art. It’s just you telling a story the way only you can. So in a way you are your art.

See, you are all you have and if you are so inclined, take the leap and tell a story. Steady and balanced, combine craft and art, build something that causes a ticking sound in the background, alive like the beat of a heart.

Go!

ALEXANDRA BURT BOOK COVER

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview With AMW Member, V.P. Chandler

 

10407893_1010906502272011_8835198574869839611_nThis is the last installment of the AMW member interviews. Who did I leave out? Me! So some of my fellow members have asked me questions. I must admit, I was a little nervous. Ask me anything! I’ll give you an answer. And this goes for you too, reader. Ask me anything. I’ll try to answer what you throw at me. *Gulp!*

 

Kaye George (former member but still active in many AMW activities!)- How long have you been writing toward publication?

VPC- I plead the fifth. (Already!) Okay, I’ll answer. I’ve been working on my book, in its many incarnations, since about 2009. It’s had big changes and I’ve also worked on other projects in the meantime.

 

KG- Do you find it hard or easy to fit writing into your schedule?

Pomodoro timer

Pomodoro timer

VPC- Most days I can fit in some writing. It’s the days that have unexpected challenges, like an emergency trip to the vet, that make it hard. And on some days, like today, I’m doing things like writing a blog post. Lots of things take time away from working on book projects.

I’ll also fess up that I’m also a procrastinator, so I sometimes have to trick myself into working. “I have to work at least 20 minutes.” Then next thing I know it’s been 3 hours and I got a lot of work done.

 

KG- Do you work outside the home?

VPC- I volunteer for my church. I do the website and sometimes fill in for the secretary. I also help with websites, Facebook pages, and projects of organizations like Writer Unboxed and our local chapter of Sisters in Crime.

 

KG- How many rattlers have you actually killed?

VPC- LOL! I know you’re asking me this because you’ve read a draft of my book. The answer is, a lot. Back when we lived at our ranch, I wondered the same thing and started counting them up. At that time the number was about 150. When I got to number 200, I bought myself a gun charm for my charm bracelet. I figured I deserved it! So all in all I’d say I personally killed about 250 snakes.

Charms to celebrate moving to central Texas, shooting rattlesnakes, writing my newest story about a Texas Ranger, love of rabbits, joining AMW, and writing Rota Fortunae.

Charms to celebrate moving to central Texas, shooting rattlesnakes, writing my newest story about a Texas Ranger, love of rabbits, joining AMW, and writing Rota Fortunae.

I have a picture of the dead snakes that we killed on our busiest day, but I won’t post that here. If anyone is interested, I can post it in the comments. We killed 18 snakes that day. It was just after Thanksgiving and that’s the time of year that they are mating and looking to hibernate. I can tell you more about that day later, if anyone is interested.

An added note: I know some people will be upset that we killed rattlesnakes. There were thousands of snakes where we lived and we didn’t kill any of the nonpoisonous one. AND our son was only three years old so it was a matter of life or death. Again, I can discuss more about that in the comments if anyone wishes to.

 

Elizabeth Buhmann- Your settings always have a wonderful Texas feel to them. You are a native Texan, surely, but hasn’t your family been here for a while, too?

VPC- Yes. I have a direct ancestor who arrived about 1834. It’s funny that I’m descended from a Winters and I moved to a town where one of its earliest settlers was a Winters, my

Winters house. www.wimwic.org

Winters house. http://www.wimwic.org

4x great uncle. (I think that’s the right number of greats.) When I learned that, I figured it was meant to be for me to live here!

 

 

 

 

 

EB- Your father was a criminal justice professional, wasn’t he? Tell us a bit about him and how he has influenced your writing.

VPC- He was a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State and he influenced me greatly. I believe his specialties were criminal history and organized crime. He loved to tell stories about cases, including those he was involved in during his time as Director of Public Safety in Corpus Christi. He and my step-mother were also avid readers of mysteries so we often talked about those too.

My father’s parents also had an influence. My grandfather was a pathologist, the first one in South Texas. And my grandmother was an accomplished photographer. She worked with him by taking the photos to document his findings. Both were friends with Erle Stanley Gardner and he sometimes asked their advice on forensics. 144432He mentions them in the Foreword in his book, The Case of the Careless Cupid.

I didn’t get a chance to know them back in those days, but I’ve heard many stories about what they did and accomplished.

 

 

 

 

EB- Are you a Texas history buff? Your first novel (which I had the privilege of reading in draft form) is set about a hundred (?) years in the past. What sort of sources did you use to paint such a realistic picture of what Texas was like then?

VP- Thank you! I used to hate history. I thought it was so boring. And, like many things, the older I got the more I found it interesting. I like learning about people and how they overcame obstacles. One of the best resources I’ve found is the Texas State Historical Association website. It’s incredible!

Other sources were just various things I could find by using Google and asking friends who are knowledgeable. My Facebook friends are great! I also collect hard to find, out of print books about Texas.

 

Gale Albright- Has being a member of Austin Mystery Writers improved your confidence in your writing?

VPC- Yes! Tremendously. I can’t imagine where I’d be if it wasn’t for this group and the feedback and support we give each other.

 

GA- Can you tell me the pros and cons of being a member of a critique group?

VPC- One of the best things about a good critique group is getting honest, and polite feedback. Another plus about AMW is that we are a group of people with a variety of backgrounds, so we can approach a story from different experiences. We also have different things that we notice in a story, like punctuation or pacing. So we can give a variety of suggestions on how to make a story better.

 

GA- Austin Mystery Writers’ short-story anthology, Murder on Wheels, recently received a Silver Falchion Award at Killer Nashville. What’s your reaction been to that?

VPC- When we were nominated, I was like, “Whaaaat?” LOL It didn’t sink in for about a day. I didn’t want to let myself get excited. Then when we won, I couldn’t believe it. I was very pleased. I’ve been telling everybody!

 

SilverFalchionAwardWinner_Web-300x300

 

GA- You have a big interest in historical novels. Do you think you’ve found a niche for yourself, or do you plan to branch out to other types of writing?

VPC- Good question. This is something I think about a lot. I love historical fiction, and plan to write a series set in Texas. Hopefully my first book, Gilt Ridden, will be the first in a series. I have about five other stories planned out for my characters. I like the idea that my antagonist, Kay Stuart, solves current problems (murders), by finding the answers in Texas history.

I also have an idea for a series using one of her best friends, Jessie Reese, who is a modern deputy sheriff. Those will be straight up mystery/suspense with no history.

BUT I also love to write horror. I’m working on a story that may be a novella or novel that is sci-fi/horror.

So I guess my answer is that right now I’m focusing on historical fiction/mystery with a side jaunt into horror. But I find I’m having so much fun writing horror, it may be more of a focus of mine in the future. I plan to just write what is fun to write. And when I do that, the writing is better anyway.

 

GA- What’s the most fun part of writing for you? What is not so much fun?

VPC- I love writing squeamish or emotional scenes. I like the idea of making the reader laugh or cry. Such power! Bwa ha ha ha ha ha !

On the other hand, I hate it when the plot or the scene just isn’t coming together. It’s excruciating! I literally have to get up and walk around. Sometimes I have to stand at the table to write. I also don’t like long descriptions. I hate reading them and I hate writing them. I like to get to the point.

 

GA- Do you have any fun research trips planned?

VPC- I wish! I will be going to Bouchercon in New Orleans next week with fellow member Laura Oles. I guess I’ll keep my eyes open for inspiration. I’ll also be going to the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference in November, which (witch?) will be in Salem, Massachusetts. Kathy Waller will also be there with me. Maybe we’ll find some ghosts!

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Salem trip to Writer Unboxed Un-Con in 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for all of the questions! I love being a member of AMW. I can’t imagine going through this journey of being a writer without their support and guidance!

 

Does anybody have anymore questions? Bring ‘em on!

Questions

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Kaye George comes to town

P1100023 (2)By Gale Albright

It’s been a treat to see Kaye George again.

She flew into town last week to visit grown children and to see us of course, her Austin Mystery Writers “branch” of the family.

We met at our BookPeople haunt last Thursday to hug and laugh and talk about many things, most of them involving writing. And a lot of other stuff.

I first met Kaye George several years ago through Kathy Waller, who had just joined Austin Mystery Writers. Kathy asked Kaye, who was the head poohbah, if I could join as well. It was a critique group with several members. But, as is often the case with critique groups, members faded away for various reasons, and at one point the group consisted of Kathy, Kaye, and me.

I remember the vicarious thrill I felt when Kaye’s mystery novel, Choke, received a publishing contract. After ten years of patiently slogging away at her writing, Kaye was a professional! We were all giddy with delight. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.

When you have a really good critique group, the heartstrings are involved. It’s not just about writing. You start to genuinely care about all the people in your group in a personal and  professional way. Kaye’s victory was our victory as well.

FCSO cover smallEine Kleine MurderBROKE_final_webChoke by Kaye George

Kaye’s first three mysteries in her Immy Duckworthy series (Choke, Smoke, and Broke) were published, followed by three Berkley Prime Crime Fat Cat who-done-its (under the nom de plume Janet Cantrell), the Cressa Carraway series, the Neanderthal mystery Death in the Time of Ice (Untreed Reads), as well as various short stories. She was on a roll.

Unfortunately for us, she was also gone. First, she and her husband moved to Waco, then on to Knoxville, TN, where they now reside.

Kathy and I were members of a two-person critique group for a bit, but luckily we acquired fabulous new members for Austin Mystery Writers, gleaned from the ranks of the Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter—Valerie Chandler, Laura Oles, and Elizabeth Buhmann.

Now for the fun part.

SilverFalchionAwardWinner_Web-300x30071QiKRIkj+L

Thanks to Kaye, who had the original idea and pushed it to fruition, Austin Mystery Writers’ first crime anthology, Murder on Wheels, got published by Wildside Press in 2015. Flash forward a year. Murder on Wheels just won the Silver Falchion Award for best fiction short-story mystery anthology at the Killer Nashville writing conference for 2016.

On top of that, we are hard at work on our second crime anthology, whose title is a bit up in the air at the moment. It’s about Texas and crime. Enough said.

Although we all worked very hard on Murder on Wheels, I give Kaye the credit for riding herd on the project. I thank her for her vision and guidance.

We all wish Kaye would move back to the Austin area. She’s just too far away. But, thanks to the miracle of e-mail attachments, digital photography, and FB posting, we can still create our dreams together.

Death in the Time of Ice

 

 

 

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