March Madness?!

by Helen Currie Foster

“MARCH MADNESS”? In the Texas Hill Country, “March Madness” doesn’t only mean NCAA basketball. Its alternate form: Demented Spring Gardening. Too early, you say? Well, according to the snakes, spring’s already here.

Of course it’s not officially spring yet. Just three weeks ago, here north of Dripping Springs, Texas, the entire landscape—every tree, every leaf–was shrouded in solid ice. But this week, well before the equinox, beneath the oaks you’ll spot the amazing heartbreakingly beautiful fuchsia of the redbuds.

And roses! The tender yellow flowers of the Lady Banksia rose are cascading from the oak tree that serves as her trellis.

On other branches you can see the first luxurious pink buds of Souvenir de Malmaison, named for Empress Josephine’s rose garden, beginning to open.

In the garden the ineffably fragrant Zephirine Drouhin is performing her slow tease, loosening the green sepals, delicately unveiling her bright pink petals.

I’ve already planted two new and reputedly very fragrant roses––Madame Plantier, and Cramoisi Superieur. (What a name!) And I replanted Buff Beauty, which produces buff and yellow and apricot blooms. Still waiting for two more—Savannah and Sweet Mademoiselle, both promising strong fragrance. Seriously, a rose without fragrance? Isn’t it disappointing to lean forward into a rose, inhale…and…nothing? As Shakespeare points out in Sonnet 56:

The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem

For that sweet odour which doth in it live.

But for sheer fragrant spring bravado, tinged with peril, what about the ridiculous grape Kool-Aid smell of Texas mountain laurel? Intoxicating and loopy. The plant—sophora secundifolia–– isn’t called “Texas mescal bean” for nothing. “The brilliant red seeds contain the highly poisonous alkaloid cytisine (or sophorine) – this substance is related to nicotine and is widely cited as a narcotic and hallucinogen.”


Poets give us strong language for the power of spring. From Dylan Thomas: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower…”

From “in-Just” by e.e. cummings:

in Just-

spring          when the world is mud-

luscious the little

lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee

“Mud-luscious!” Cummings captures the joys of digging, planting, splashing—of being a child in spring.

“A Light exists in Spring” by Emily Dickinson was new to me. I treasure her recognition, her human diagnosis, of that first moment when we notice the magical presence of spring. It begins:

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

More symptoms of March Madness? The powerful, even uncontrollable, urge to fill your cart full of geraniums, dirt, mulch, annuals, perennials, unknown roses, tomato plants, new trees… Trudging a quarter mile from the local native plants emporium to your car, lugging a red wagon full of blue sage, lantana, and other plants hopefully accurate in describing themselves as “deer-resistant”… Other symptoms include impassioned online review of rose varieties, frantic ripping open of seed packets and daily watering of small unlabeled pots, then staring at tiny emerging seedlings and wondering—what are you? Is that the fennel or the Aji Crystal Pepper or the Mexican plum?

I’d never heard of Mexican plum until a friend gave me a jar of her amazing Mexican plum jam. She described the trees as small, with fragrant white blossoms. So I ordered seeds. The very small print on the seed packet required “stratification” in the refrigerator. Well, I tried. Every morning I peer at the still-empty pots of dirt… little plants, where are you? Can you live in the Hill Country?

Also—perhaps prematurely—we dragged hay bales into the garden and embarked on the great Haybale Tomato experiment:

Supposedly, according to our favorite local well-driller, this approach produces for one local rancher “the most beautiful tomatoes in the Hill Country.” Our donkeys kept sticking their muzzles through the fence, trying to eat the bales. Watch this space.

Gardens can be perilous. Think of Eden. But how many murder mysteries are set in gardens, or involve garden poisons? If you haven’t already become a fan of Reginald Hill, you might try Deadheads. Dalziel and Pascoe solve virtually every murder presented to them in their Yorkshire police headquarters. In this one, roses abound, beginning on the first page. And rose culture. And… murder.

Texas author Susan Wittig Albert knows her way around poisonous plants, in Texas or elsewhere. I just finished her Hemlock, Book 28 in her China Bayles series. This mystery—impressively researched, and fast-moving–takes the reader to the Blue Ridge mountains and theft of a rare botanical book, with deft historical backstory.

For more on Texas mountain laurel, its power and peril – see Ghost Dog, Book 2 in my Alice MacDonald Greer Mystery series.

The weather report threatens another cold snap this week—even (gasp!) a possible freeze. But right now it’s 74 degrees. Geraniums to plant. Blue sage. Tomatoes to water. Yes, it’s hubris, exposing these tender plants so early to the vagaries of Hill Country weather, but—I can’t help it. I just saw a big bud on Star of the Republic! I swear it wasn’t there yesterday. March Madness reigns!


Find Helen Currie Foster on Facebook or at The eight books of the Alice MacDonald Greer Mystery series, including the most recent, Ghosted,, are available at Austin’s BookPeople as well as on Amazon (Kindle and Paperback).

Take Control of Your Life! Write!

kp gresham


by K.P. Gresham


This pandemic thing is getting really old. (A quote from Captain Obvious, obviously) But we writers have one thing in our arsenal that others don’t. We can create a world where we want to be.

Lori Rader-Day

Lori  Rader-Day, National Sisters in Crime President and award-winning mystery author, spoke to our Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter last Sunday. Besides promoting her new book, The Lucky One (which is an incredible must-read psychological suspense mystery), she also talked about how the pandemic is influencing her writing.

Authors, in our stories we get to create whole worlds that we can completely control. Our characters must acquiesce to our every whim. The settings can be places we want to hang, RESTAURANTS we want to eat at, crowded parks where we can watch fireworks with friends and family, churches where we can go to worship. As Ray Bradbury said, “Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to get up for in the morning.”

This is a time where we can escape into our stories. Want to say something pithy in the real world? Act it out in your characters. Want to kill somebody? Do it on the page. (I can speak to this. It’s very cathartic.) The empowerment that comes by sitting down to the computer and writing just 250 words can produce those happy endorphins that’ll spark you right up. At least William Faulkner thought so. He said, “The right word in the right place at the right time can soothe, calm and heal.”

Full disclosure now. For the first two months of the pandemic I wrote absolutely nothing. Maybe I was too rattled, or just waiting for this pandemonium to pass, or in denial–bottom line I didn’t write one word.  Then I got mad. I wanted to scream at the TV. I wanted to rant on Facebook, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!” After a few more weeks, I finally realized that this angst had to be released or I’d go crazy. And then I remembered how I had released that angst at different low points in my past.

Oh, yeah. That’s right. I wrote.

So I offer that you give it a try. Sit down, create the world that you CAN control and say what you have to say. As Walt Disney wrote, “That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”

Take control of your world! Write!


K.P. Gresham authors the Pastor Matt Hayden mystery series. Her latest is MURDER ON THE THIRD TRY.


Five Reasons To Write Historical Mysteries

Today we welcome a guest blogger, mystery writer Jeri Westerson! She writes the critically acclaimed Crispin Guest Medieval Noir novels. Her protagonist is a disgraced knight turned detective, plying his PI trade on the mean streets of fourteenth century London. 

Jeri_2015 (1)

Her books have been shortlisted for a slew of mystery awards, including the Macavity, Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Agatha, and the Shamus, the first medieval mystery to be nominated for this prestigious PI award. The Boston Globe calls her detective “A medieval Sam Spade, a tough guy who operates according to his own moral compass.”

Jeri also has short stories in several anthologies and talks around the country about the Middle Ages, demonstrating her cache of medieval weaponry.

Jeri is a member of the southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Private Eye Writers of America and the Historical Novel Society. Jeri is married to a commercial photographer, has a screenwriting son, and herds two cats, a tortoise, and the occasional tarantula at her home in southern California.

Jeri, welcome to AMW!


5 Reasons to Write Historical Mysteries

By Jeri Westerson


I’ve been immersed in history all my life. My parents were rabid Anglophiles, stuffing our bookshelves with historical novels, works of nonfiction, and having discussions at the dinner table about the British monarchy. I can definitely name more kings and queens of England than American presidents. I had my own literary relationship with Geoffrey Chaucer and was probably the only kindergartner in Los Angeles who could recite part of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales…in Middle English.


And so many years later when I decided to become a novelist, it was pretty much a no-brainer that I would write historical novels about the medieval period. I switched to medieval mysteries when the kind of historical novel I liked to write proved to be the kind editors didn’t want to publish, though they translated very nicely to the mystery genre and I found success!


  1. I Like To Research.

Let’s face it. If you never liked doing homework or researching for a term paper, this isn’t the genre for you. I rather enjoyed looking things up, tracking down that little fact like a detective, and coming up with oodles of other nifty things by reading those footnotes (ALWAYS read footnotes). And I love libraries and you’ll be spending a lot of time in them. For the kind of thing I need, I spend time in university libraries. I’d love to travel across the pond to do my research in archives, but alas, it’s not in the budget. Fortunately, you can now reach many of these archives online. Some of the items you need might even be scanned and uploaded. Sometimes you still have to pay the archivist to make a copy for you and they will either scan it and email it, or copy it and snail mail it to you. Either way, you’ve made a new friend and possibly a new reader.


  1. The Timeline is Your Outline

When you write historically, readers expect to get a healthy dose of history with their mystery. And if you write a series that will happen over many years, all the better. In my Crispin Guest series, my fourteenth century disgraced knight turned detective, encounters all the juicier bits of the late 1300’s during Richard II’s reign, including a friendship with one Geoffrey Chaucer, running into his former charge Henry of Bolingbroke as he and his Lords Appellant force the king to follow Parliament’s dictates, encounters his former mentor John of Gaunt and his longtime mistress Katherine Swynford, and is on hand when King Richard is ultimately deposed. There’s a lot of intriguing court politics and threats of war going on in the seventeen years the series is taking place, and each year in history helps suggest plot points on which my detective runs afoul of his monarch.


  1. A Ready-Made Audience

Now granted, it isn’t a big audience, so prepare yourself that you will be writing in a niche, which means sales won’t be huge. But there are also many sub genres and cross genres when it comes to historical mysteries. There is also historical mystery/romance, historical mystery timetravel, and every other permutation you can think of. So there is every opportunity to widen that base.


  1. Just the Facts

You must be a stickler for facts. Movies seem to get to play fast and loose with facts. There are millions of people out there who watched Braveheart and think that William Wallace sired a child on the wife of the future King Edward II, when anyone who knows a smidgen of history knows that Queen Isabella was a child of twelve herself at the time and wasn’t even yet living in England. But there were many things about that film that make even amateur historians cringe. You won’t be able to do that with a book. Readers will call you on it. They will abandon the book early if you fudge the facts. They won’t be able to trust any of your book and it will spoil their enjoyment. Just consider it your unwritten contract with your reader that you will do your best to get it as historically accurate as you can.


  1. You Write Because You Like To Read It

As I mentioned in number four, it won’t be a huge market. So there’s no sense in choosing to write something only because you think it’s going to make a lot of money. Get it into your head now that you won’t make a lot of money. There now. Don’t you feel better? If by some off chance your book captures the imagination of readers and hits the bestseller list, mazel tov! If by another off chance Hollywood comes calling and offers to make a series of it, then celebrate. But please don’t ever expect it. You should be writing in a genre because that’s what you like to read. That’s where your writing shines. That’s where you get the most enjoyment writing.


Is writing historical mysteries for everyone? Only if you are a person who enjoys research. And if you are, the entire history of humanity is open for grabs.



Jeri likes exploring the past, especially with her latest mystery, THE SILENCE OF STONES; A Crispin Guest Medieval Noir, dealing with the Stone of Destiny, Scottish rebels, a dark and brooding knight detective, and murder. Read an excerpt, see discussion guides, and watch the series book trailer on her website at