Across the books and in person.

Welcome! Since I write two English mystery series, I thought it would be fun to chat about that. And about England. Specifically, Derbyshire, since that is the county I know the best. If you have questions about my books, about mysteries or your own writing, or want to know something about England -- perhaps you're planning a visit -- I'd love to talk with you. Let's start chatting, shall we?

Derbyshire VIllage

Derbyshire VIllage

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Change of Plans

I'm abandoning this website.  My blogs, book trailers, articles and free e-stories will all be posted on  This is to cut down on the number of websites I have...and hopefully help me keep up with postings!  So if you're "still out there" and are still interested, please go to the new site from now on -- I hope to write more frequently than I have here lately!  Thanks.  Jo

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Long, Hard Struggle

I have surfaced for air.  And food.  And sleep.  I finished the first draft of the ninth Taylor & Graham book, False Step.  This was by far the toughest book I've written.  Not because I had trouble with research or couldn't find time to write.  Au contraire.  The last two weeks I literally woke up around 4:00 each morning, was at the computer minutes after feeding all the critters and making my morning cuppa, and sat there for ten to twelve hours each day, writing.  I went to bed tired, I woke up tired.  My lower back ached in the mornings, and I went through phases of restlessness each night in bed.  The sleep I got was punctuated with recent bouts of wakefulness, and I'd jot down notes on paper and pen.

I attribute this unusual behavior on the book's plot.  Well, not the problem of catching the bad guy or laying the clues or writing about the sword dance: on the number of characters involved in the story.  Since the plot centers around the rapper dance, and since I'm using the Maltby Phoenix Sword Dancers as the source of my info, I thought it would be fun for them to appear in the story -- under aliases, of course.  Each group member picked a name for his/her character.  I then had the job of creating all the usual character qualities.  And this is why the initial writing was such a long, hard struggle.  Twelve main characters required that I give each character his/her time in the story's spotlight, that I give each character an important clue to impart to the CID Team, that I make the character interesting.  My worst fear is that one of the real dancers will read the book and be disappointed in his/her character.  If the tables were turned and I was anxiously waiting to read a book in which "I" appeared, and "I" was a flat, uninteresting character with really nothing to add to the story, I'd be incredibly disappointed.  Especially after waiting a year or so to get a copy of the book.

So that's why I sweated profusely over this story.  But the tough part is over; I've got the story down on 292 pages and can now take a few days "off" to rest, catch up on house work, run errands, etc.  Now comes the best part of all -- plopping Paul's chapters into the manuscript, adding a few scenes that I thought of, and polishing my writing.  This is also the time I add description of scenes, people's appearances, weather, etc.  Now that I've got the 292-page skeleton to hang the new stuff on, it will be smooth roads ahead.

Don't get me wrong -- I love to write new books.  It's fun creating a new story and characters and working out whodunit.  But I've never had to juggle twelve main characters before.  I think it was a test for my poor brain.  I know I came close to frying it -- I just hope False Step will prove to be a good book and well liked when it comes out.  Let me know your opinion if you read it!  I'll be the person in the third straight-jacket on the left in the home....

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Catch Up

Things are underway with the song for the third McLaren book, Torch Song.  Week ago yesterday Lola came over to my house and we chatted about the song project.  Lola is the sophomore music student at my alma mater -- at her young age she's already a professional blues singer, with her own group, writing her own songs, and performing all over the US.  She read my lyrics and said she could set them to a tune she will write this summer.  Then she and a bassist will record the song at the school's recording studio.  She'll make copies on CD that I can sell.  My part in this is to design the CD label, cover and booklet.  That's fun for me - I did that with 'The Swans' Courtships' CD for Swan Song.  I designed the label and booklet cover to have similar elements of the book cover.  Inside the booklet I had a short synopsis of the story and the series.  On the back I have several photos of McLaren.  All in all, it's a nice booklet.  And I will make Torch Song's CD booklet similar.  We signed a simple contract I'd drawn up and she'll have the recordings to me by end of December.  I admit I was incredibly nervous at first when I let her read the lyrics.  I've written lyrics before but never had a pro read them, so I didn't know if she'd laugh herself silly over them or if they'd be acceptable.  She said they scanned fine and that they were okay.  She's going to write a refrain, which would be super, as most every torch song I know has a refrain.  Anyway, that's that and it's all mysterious how she writes a melody.  It will be very interesting to hear my lyrics set to music.
Progress on the eighth Taylor & Graham book, False Step.  After numerous starts and stops, I'm finally sailin' ahead.  I'm on page 147 of the first draft, and it's been like pulling teeth.  I think I figured out why this book's been so very difficult to write, more so than other first drafts (which are never easy).  There are so many dance characters (each member of the real life sword dancing troupe I'm using for the troupe in my book has chosen a character name and will be in the book) -- twelve!  I want to give each person a good scene and important info to pass to T&G, so it's been extremely difficult to think of twelve things that these folks could impart.  I keep thinking...if it were reversed, if I was a character in a book, I'd be very disappointed if I was just there for a page or two and that was it.  I'd want my character to be a great character or to contribute something important, etc.  So I've had a few sleepless nights trying to come up with the twelve things that would fulfill my own expectations.  So now that the little problem is fixed, I'm finally halfway through the first draft.  And what a relief it is to be so!  I will add description, dialogue, etc on the second draft but at least the hard part is over.

More later.  Happy first full day of summer to you.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Nice Signing

I had a nice book signing this past Saturday.  I was at Big Sleep Books, probably my favorite book store -- and not because it is exclusively mystery books.  Ed, the owner, makes each signing a pleasure.  Now, I must admit that I am usually reluctant to do a book signing.  I get very nervous, wondering if anyone will show up or if I will be sitting there alone for two hours, smiling at the store patrons as they walk past me.  I don't feel that way at Big Sleep Books.  Ed is so gracious and the store is so cozy feeling that I never get that feeling.  And I've never been alone for two hours.  Usually it's pretty much non-stop friends filing in to sit and talk for a while.

My first sale this past Saturday was to a young woman named Bethany.  She bought a copy of A Well Dressed Corpse after reading the synopsis on the back of the book and debating about it or Swan Song.  She said she'd never got a book from an author before and she was a bit amazed that she could do that.  I tried to make it painless for her and slipped in a Derbyshire map, book mark and info card about the series.  She seemed pleased. 

When Ed was straightening books a while later he saw the Derbyshire maps and was interested in them.  I have two types: one shows villages and points of interest mentioned in the McLaren books and the other map shows villages, towns and points of interest mentioned in the Taylor & Graham books.  On the back of each map I have a short list of British words and the American meanings.  Ed took a bunch of both maps to slip into the books he will sell after the signing.  Frankly, I was astonished.  Not at his thoughtfulness but at his confidence.  He said he sells a number of my books -- people come in looking for English village mysteries and he sells my books.  He has only one Siren Song left and must order some more, so that made me happy!

Two friends who mentioned they would come didn't show up, but three friends who hadn't said they would come came.  So it all came out in the wash, I guess.  I was touched that my friend and fellow Muddy River Crime Writer Paul Schmit came.  He lives about a 45 minute drive away and he could have easily got a book from me in June when we have our panel discussion at a library closer to him.  But he supported me by driving to Big Sleep Books.  Did I mention he's included in my will?

All in all, a nice book signing.  Ed had some fabulous looking cupcakes up by the cash register.  I was going to ask where he got them but forgot.  Maybe it's best that I don't know....

Monday, May 2, 2011

Is this a dagger I see before me?

It may be easier to use a dagger as the murder weapon of book nine of Taylor & Graham.  I am having a heck of a time with my tool of choice.  I thought it would be "fun" to use poison for a change because I've not used that in my books.  So I researched and found what I wanted.  My book of poisons listed it as a toxicity level 5, which is pretty darn potent.  The highest rating is level 6.  Well, the book's fairly old and something whispered in my ear that I better do some further research, as things change.  So I bought a new edition of the same book.  Well, lo and behold!  The toxicity level is now 3 for the same poison!  Which means it's gonna take a lot more of it to do the intended harm.  And I doubt if any sane person who's in the position of my poor victim would come into contact with the needed dose without thinking something's fishy...and not just in Denmark.  I asked my pathologist friend, who supplies me all the medical info in my other books, and she replied that she knows nothing of this element.  So I'm back to wondering if I need to change poisons.  Or change murder method.

I'm rather partial to my original murder method.  I thought it all out and figured out how the poison is to be administered.  Rather cleverly, if I do say so.  If I switch methods to the dagger, let's say, I will have to come up with a whole new scenario for the murder scene.  How will the victim be dispatched now?  What will be his alibi?

It's very hard to commit murder without it being obvious as to whodunit.  At least I think it's hard.  Maybe I can still figure out how to bump off my fellow using the original idea, but I don't want it to wind up being unbelievable.  I could call the poison control center's 800 phone number, but I'm afraid the person answering the phone would think I'm trying to poison someone and this is a nice, easy piece of research.  I do like research, as you may know.  I'm partial to doing things to see how it feels or what my character would do.  But I draw the line at finding police breaking in my door and arresting me for hatching a murder.  A night in jail is just about too realistic for my writing.  I think I'll consider that dagger very seriously....

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Coming Soon....

To a book signing near you.  Well, I hope so!  I may be jumping the gun when I say it's coming soon.  It all depends on your definition of 'soon.'  Since Time is relative, 'soon' may be fine to say.  I will submit my non-fiction manuscript, Cider, Swords & Straw, to my publisher today.  I am assuming it will be accepted and published next year.  She gave me the go-ahead to write it based on my very loose synopsis of what the book would be.  So I wrote it and it's ready for her to read.  She said "Put in lots of recipes."  So I did.  Over 300 recipes.  I have no idea if that is "lots of recipes" or not.  Again we come to definitions.

I created a little flyer for announcing the future publication of C,S&S.  I hope it's eye-catching and makes people want to read it.  Couldn't put in the book's word-count with the other info 'cause the galley hasn't appeared.  But I can add that to the flyer when it's closer to press time.  In the upper 100s, I'd think.  It'll be a nice-sized book, with a year's worth of Taylor & Graham plot synopses, all twelve customs explained more fully, some illustrations, menu suggestions and party ideas for hosting your own British custom celebration.  It's a super companion piece to the mystery novels, but it actually is an interesting book to read in its own right.  The customs are exceedingly fascinating (at least, I think so!) and I enjoyed researching them more fully to add them to the book.

Anyway, that's where I am with it.  First non-fiction book I've written ...  well, I guess we'll soon see if it becomes a book.  It was exceedingly fun to research, think up the plots for the four Taylor & Graham books that will round out a year's worth of customs, finding the recipes.  Now I cross my fingers and send up prayers that it will see the light of day and sit alongside the novels on folks' bookshelves.  If it doesn't, come this autumn I've got a nice little bonfire, I guess.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Down to the Wire

Whew!  I discovered this morning, just by my own super detective work, that Swan Song and A Well Dressed Corpse are available for sale online at  and   I discovered the Kindle-ized versions two days ago and knew they came out days before the "real" books, but obviously I didn't know the publication date for the trade paperbacks.  Well, they are out and I am happy.  I shot an email to the CR at the Barnes & Noble store where I'll be book signing Saturday, telling her the books are out and if there is time enough to order them, I'd appreciate it.  Don't know if she can get them that quickly.  It's down to the wire as far as book arrival and signing date.  But they are out and my enthusiasm is on the upswing. 

In keeping with my effervescent mood, I have decorated one wall of my office with "posters" of my novels.  This helps me when I am a bit down.  I see what I've accomplished in 6 years and think it's not too shabby.  A bit of a pat on the back and an 'atta boy' for me when I need it.  As you can see, I've left room for other books to come.  Hope I do, indeed, fill the space.

It was quite low last week, I don't mind admitting.  I finished up the non-fiction book and that was about all I could handle for days.  Yesterday I did figure out how to poison the victim in the next Taylor & Graham book, so that was good.  I'd originally wanted a plant poisoning because that fascinates me -- how some plants can be beneficial and some are deadly.  And why are some parts of a plant deadly while other parts are okay for consumption -- like rhubarb, for example.  Utterly fascinating.  Anyway, I spend a lot of time with my poison book, book of British plants, and a little online research.  I came up with a poison and I hope a good way of dispatching my poor ole guy.  Of course, I wanted to do what Ngaio Marsh did in her book Death at the Bar.  I think that was brilliant and I really wanted to emulate her, but I have to find my own method.  I know it's not as good, but she was a genius, in my opinion.

Well, guess I better do something beneficial today.  Maybe I'll work on that poisoning method.  There's got to be something more subtle....