Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cactus For Christmas?

DOUBLE CROSS was just released in paperback. This is the third novel in my Twins Mystery Series and the second one where both Gen and Sara play equal parts in the solution. It's one of those novels I drafted ages ago, but only finally figured out how it should work a few years back.

I was traveling a lot back then, and most of my vacation destinations were in the U.S. desert Southwest. I fell in love with the Southwest when I first visited there 30 years ago, before I even considered a career as a writer. Even before I read my first Tony Hillerman novel. The sky is almost always a deep, deep blue and the scenery is breathtaking. The nights are usually crowded with stars. The play of light and shadows on the canyons changes hourly. Rainbows seem to be a weekly occurrence. You can experience nearly absolute silence. Wildflowers pop up in the most uninhabitable places. Likewise wildlife. And ancient petroglyphs.

I traveled mostly in spring and fall, so the days were warm, though on more than one trip, we encountered unexpected snow, too. I remember a snowball fight I had with my dad in Cedar Breaks, Utah. The temperature was 70F, but there was 4 feet of snow on either side of the road. The nights are cold at that time of year. You start out in the morning with in jeans, 4 layers up top, and your hands in your pockets. By mid-afternoon, you're in shorts and a t-shirt, and drinking at least a quart of water for every 3 miles hiked.

Still, a big attraction for me was that the Southwest felt more dangerous than home. I never saw a rattlesnake on the trails, but I heard them plenty of times, behind rocks or inside hollow logs. I got the worst sunburns of my life in Arches National Park, even though I was wearing a 30 sunblock. I learned to hike in long sleeves even on hot days. I discovered that higher altitude is something to reckon with if you've ever had lung problems (mine was a case of pneumonia way back in 9th grade). I discovered just how bad my vertigo could get on some of those cliff trails. When I see photos of Delicate Arch, the main thing I remember is getting dizzy in a very precarious place.

If you see a car broken down along the side of the road, here in the East most people would just speed by. Out there everyone stops to make sure the people involved have water to drink while they wait for help. You could die from not carrying enough water.

Yet another big pull was the local culture, especially the folklore and legends of the indigenous tribes. I'm always a sucker for a great story.

So after I finished TWO-FACED, and at the end of that novel had the need to move Gen Ziegler from Arizona to Pennsylvania, I knew the twins' next adventure together would take place out in the desert. Since her move needed to happen during the winter semester break, a novel set at the Yuletide was a foregone conclusion.

A Christmas mystery set in the desert? This is where the time lag helped. At first, as I was able to travel less and less, I thought I wouldn't be able to do the research. But in the last decade, Mexican immigrants have settled in my hometown. I learned about Our Lady of Guadalupe and Las Posadas and other traditions. I've been able to taste the foods. I even learned to sing in Spanish with Mexican pronunciation.

So I hope you'll read and enjoy DOUBLE CROSS. If you do and want an extra puzzle, I've hidden the names of some of my favorite classic mystery novel characters throughout the novel. See if you can find them.


Link for Paperback.
Link for Kindle version. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

SHORT CUTS TO MAYHEM is Released!

I KNOW a lot of people who won't read short stories. They seem to believe that if a tale takes less than 70,000 words to tell, it somehow isn't worthy. Me? I love shorts stories. I can devour one in a quick sitting when I don't have much time. Like a lovely bite of chocolate between meals.

I've been reading shorts as long as I can remember. My love for the form was especially cemented in place by the short mysteries and supernatural tales of Agatha Christie. I branched out from there to read other classic mystery authors' anthologies, like Dorothy L. Sayers and, of course, all of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Then modern authors who excel in this form, like Lawrence Block, Margaret Maron, Robin Hathaway and others.

As an author, I found that I loved writing short mysteries and ghost tales. 19 of mine were published individually in periodicals, though most without a wide distribution. That was the last I thought the world would see of my stories. However, the advent of electronic books allowed me to make the tales available to Kindle users.

Still, not everyone has a Kindle. Non-Kindle readers were seeing that these stories existed and started asking me for print versions of them. So I decided to put together an anthology of my own. I'm happy to announce that SHORT CUTS TO MAYHEM was released this week, which includes these 16 titles:

Mrs. Fanaglio and The Body On The Beach
Mirror, Mirror
REM Murder
Ring of Truth
Kill...with Personality
Ginseng Tea
True To His Country
Cliff-Hanger
Showdown At Sundae Gulch
Favorite Haunt
Who Tempt The Dangerous Way
Swan Song
Ultimate Layoff
Rocky Road To Murder
Who Ate Billy Penn?
Here's Blood In Your Rye

4 of the stories feature Gen and Sara Ziegler, from my Twins Mystery series. The Mrs. Fanaglio tale came out in Death Knell V last year and so it's NOT available on Kindle. Plus I've added an introduction to each story, for those of you who like to know where authors get their ideas.

You can find SHORT CUTS TO MAYHEM on Amazon right now. It should be available to other distribution channels within the next week or two. The ISBN is 978-1500662240 if you want to order it though your favorite bookstore.

If you want to whet your appetite for short stories, there's a free one on my website: "Job Interview."  Enjoy. And thanks for reading.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Profound Thought, and a Free Book Offer

I don't have profound thoughts often, so this might not be up to the standards of those who think profoundly for a living. But it occurred to me that, since language is a development of intelligence,  making a typo--missing a comma, misspelling a word, using a homonym by accident, forgetting the "ed" at the end of a past tense verb, whatever--will always make the person doing the writing look stupid.

Professional writers are not those people who construct language perfectly, but those who've learned to live with the embarrassment of looking stupid on a regular basis.

I thought of this after my brother scanned galleys for the first of my Twins Mystery novels, TWO-FACED, an ebook which will be out in print soon. He found a HUGE Freudian slip of a typo. Not only that, but I made the error 3 times. The editor and 3 proofreaders missed them. I haven't been contacted about it by anyone who read the novel on Kindle or Nook, though it's been on sale for 2 years.

So now I'm admitting my stupidity and doing penance by offering a free copy of any book I have in print to the first 3 people who can describe the typo to me by May 15th.. If you've read the book, go skim through it to see if you can find the mistake. If you want to read the book before the deadline, it's available on Kindle or Nook.

Send your answer to missmaggietests@gmail.com .

Piece...I mean, peace,
Elena

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Horse Sense of Literature

I heard that the U.S. might soon authorize a horsemeat packing plant in New Mexico, despite recent news stories about alarm bells being raised because horsemeat was found in IKEA's Swedish meatballs and sausage. Americans, it seems, are less adverse to pink slime in their fast food than equine protein.

An NPR interviewee was asked why Americans are so against the thought of eating horsemeat. He gave kind of a lame response, saying, more or less, that we think of horses as pets.

Avid readers know it's more than that. Horses have always been an essential part of our most heroic and romantic stories. In our fantasies, princes come riding in on horses, not on cows or pigs.  The Charge of the Light Brigade would have been pretty silly on chickens.

There's a good reason no one ever wrote novels with these titles:


The Black Sirloin
My Friend Filet
The Red Pork
War Heifer
Sea Bovine
Porgy of Chincoteague
Black Beefy
The Holstein Whisperer
National Vealchop

So, New Mexico, why not consider packing some other kind of meat? You have rattlesnakes, don't you? I'd eat that.

Peace,
Elena

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Remembering Robin

My best friend in the mystery writing world, author Robin Hathaway, died last Saturday. I'm going to skip her professional resume here--you can find it on her website or Amazon author page if you're interested.

Robin and I met twenty years ago at a Mid-Atlantic Mystery Convention, at the founding meeting of the Delaware Valley Chapter of Sisters in Crime. We spent the majority of our friendship, I think, in a car or train. At first we traveled to New York City for MWA dinners and Edgar week activities, then we carpooled together to Malice Domestic in the Washington, DC area each year.

When her first novel won the St. Martin's Best Traditional Mystery award in 1997, she phoned, shouting, "I won! I won!" It took a few minutes to get her to calm down enough to tell exactly what she'd won. When she nabbed an Agatha for the book the next year, the first thing she said to me was "You're next." (I did get an Agatha nod the year after, so she was half right, but I had to wait until 2009 before I brought home a teapot myself.) But my point is, amidst her Agatha exhilaration, she thought of me first. She was that kind of person.

Once we both had publications to hawk, our joint book tours began. My favorite was our madcap drive down the Jersey coast, starting with a talk at the Ocean City Library and stopping at every bookstore between there and Cape May in two days, with a short break to collect shells and dip our feet into the Atlantic in Strathmere. And when my second novel came out, we walked all over New York City, fifty blocks to the Upper West Side, twenty-five down to Greenwich Village.

The Caroline half of the Charles Todd team joined us for our next long tour (the southeastern quarter of Pennsylvania) and our trio became known as The Three Witches. We did signings, library talks and conventions, including an epic 15-hour trek to and from Indianpolis for Bouchercon, with Robin lustily singing "Mairzy Doats" to keep me awake while I was driving.


The three of us also got together for week-long writing retreats in the backwoods of South Jersey. We'd write in separate rooms all day, getting our own breakfasts and lunches, then cook a common dinner together at night (gourmet meals they were, too -- Moroccan chicken one night, pork chops with an apple glaze another -- and always moose tracks ice cream for dessert). Afterward, we'd sit out on the screened porch, listening to MP3s of old radio plays. Then more writing before bed.

Really, what I remember most of those twenty years was the conversation. Robin and I never ran out of things to talk about--writing and books, of course, but also history, food, politics, great ghost stories, arts, science, nature, you name it. It wasn't so much common interests that sustained these conversations as it was mutual curiosity.

That's what I'll miss most, that sharing of what we'd learned about the world with each other. But I'm very grateful for having enjoyed two decades in Robin's company.

Elena

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gunshot Wounds: What The NRA Won't Show You

At the beginning of this month, I heard that doctors had been asked to weigh in on the gun control debate. That's the last I heard about it. Some representative of the NRA or  other gun advocate is on the news at least once a day, but nothing more from the medical world. We hear all about guns--how different ones work, etc.--and, in an abstract way, about gun victims, yet nothing about gunshot wounds.

As a mystery writer, I'd be pretty poor at my job if I only researched various types of guns for my novels, without also researching what the bullets from those guns do when they enter a human body.

In a way, I agree that part of our nation's gun problem is the way Hollywood and video games depict gun violence, though my thinking is that the depictions aren't violent enough. No fictional video shooting depicts what really happens when a person is shot. If they did, a lot of Americans wouldn't rush to defend gun laws. They'd be too grossed out. I can't even post crime scene and autopsy photos here because, frankly, I can't stand to look at them for more than a moment myself. I won't make my readers look at them without warning. I'll include links at the end of this blog so those of you brave enough can go click on them. I'm guessing it won't be the gun proponents who look.

Suffice it to say that a bullet will put a hole in you slightly bigger than the diameter of the ammo. Once the skin is pierced, though, the wound fans out. The exit wound is bigger than the entrance wound. Depending on the power of the gun and size of the ammo, the exit wound can be huge. In the case of President Kennedy, for example, the entrance wound was very small (photo here).  The bullet then blew off much of his skull, taking most of his brain out with it. Film footage shows the First Lady freaking out, not simply because her husband had been shot, but because she witnessed the insides of his head getting splattered all over the backseat of convertible.

Short of being close to a bomb going off, a gunshot is probably the worst violation the human body can suffer. Lots of people who buy guns to defend their homes and families only imagine what they've seen on TV, or those neat round holes in firing range targets. Unless they've been to war or served as a law enforcement professionals, they don't understand what will happen if they point their guns at people and pull the trigger. No policeman I know is against sensible gun control. Not one.


This subject's close to my heart because since late October, my town has had two gun murders, several injuries, and reports of gunfire in the streets at least once a week.  Between living in what feels like a war zone and the 7 mass shootings last year alone, I'm tired of hearing that nothing can be done.

If you took a high school driver ed. course, you no doubt were shown gory movies about what happens to the human body in a fatal car accident. Maybe we should start by requiring would-be gun owners to view photos of real gunshot victims. Maybe we should put photos of gunshot wounds on the packaging of firearms designed strictly for the shooting of human beings, like we do on cigarette packs.


As disgusted as I hope you are,
Elena

Links:

Forensic article on gunshot wounds. Click on blue highlighted words to see photos.
Patterns of Tissue Injury. Collection of gunshot wound photos.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Beth Ann's Blog for Eco-Geeks

You might have noticed that I haven't posted here since August. I think I've exhausted the subject of writing, so I've been rethinking what to do with this space. Meantime, Beth Ann (teen science whiz and costar of my Possessed Mystery Series), asked if she could use my blog to save the earth. Could I say no? Here's her first entry.

Wind Energy Turned On Its Side
by Beth Ann Lee

Last summer, London's Olympic Park included 7 vertical axis wind turbines. Here's a photo.

They look pretty classy, don't they? Less offensive than a lot of cables strung all over a city.

A vertical axis turbine can catch wind from any direction. They're more efficient than a standard wind turbine because they don't require a minimum wind speed or power to start. They're also quieter. These could easily be used on roadways to offset or fulfill the power needs of streetlamps and  traffic lights, and on bridges for a de-icing grid. One turbine can provide up to 7500 kWh per year, making them a viable power source for home rooftops.

You can read more about London's turbines here.
Turbines in Olympic Park
Another type of vertical axis turbine






FEAR ITSELF BOOK TRAILER

Member, Delaware Valley Mystery Authors