Illustrated Mysteries?

I didn’t post on Friday. Why? Because I was having a crisis of purpose. Then it hit me, I don’t need to compromise, do I? You see, my goal, since elementary school, was to be an illustrator. My best friend, Paige, was committed to becoming a writer, and because we did everything together in first grade, including sharing a boyfriend, Dean Newton, I decided I would be a book illustrator.

That changed by the time college rolled around. I decided I was going to be a scientific illustrator. The first in my family to go to college, I did not know a lot about choosing schools based on the programs they offered. In fact, I thought any college would provide me with the skills I would need for my chosen profession, thus I ended up a rhetoric major. Yeah. That’s another blog post unto itself, but no regrets!

I tried to cobble together a program that would lead to scientific illustration, but alas, I justified rhetoric as the thing that could be morphed into anything I wanted, and it kind of is.

Now, almost 30 years later, I’m a writer, but I have always felt like something was missing. Sure, I kept up with the art. I returned to college a half-dozen years ago to complete a program in graphic design, toward building my own book covers, book formatting, and all things book-related. It was only recently that my mother encouraged me to take some of the illustrations I had created 30 years ago for a children’s book and “do something with them.”

Sadly, I do not own the copyright to the book to which those illustrations belong, but what the whoo? I write books all the time, every day, so why not start illustrating those?

“It was gray. It was twisted. It was desiccated. But it was clearly not a twig.

It was clearly a severed human finger.

Small towns are filled with surprises. There are characters – eccentrics bordering on madness, gossips, keepers of the peace, but there is always a skeleton or two hidden in a closet… or in this case, a small jewelry store box from a store I had been warned harbored evil.” – from my w-i-p, DEATH OF A SERIAL HUSBAND.

Well, I’m just not sure, so I put it to you here. Would you read an illustrated, adult, cozy mystery?

Just to be clear, here’s one of the illustrations I’ve completed in the past week. It’s dark. There wouldn’t be a lot of illustrations, no more than one or two per chapter, but can I do that? Maybe that’s my problem. I’ve been waiting for permission to do a thing, and I just need to… do it. Stay tuned.

St. Joseph and Caring for the Aged

This story falls under the “truth is stranger than fiction category.” It is a re-write of a short non-fiction story I recounted about a decade ago. It seems worth repeating.

Some years ago, we found ourselves grappling with the dilemma of how to handle care for older parents. The solution in our case, was to purchase a house, large enough to comfortably house everyone under one roof and move the in-laws two states south to be with us in Virginia.

The search for a house was to begin, but mother-in-law, a fun, lively eighty-something at the time, (she is ninety-four now) said we should purchase two St. Joseph statues (as in Mary and Joseph) and plant one at the house we wanted to sell – their house – and one at the house we hoped to purchase – a very cool, out of our price range, massive Victorian.

Image by moingay84 from Pixabay

I feel I have to post this in the interest of full disclosure; I have rather, areligious proclivities. Never went to church. I think it put me in a minority growing up. I have the greatest respect for those who are of religious faith. I just… don’t. I believe in the sun and the moon and the interconnectedness of all things crunchy granola. Just putting that out there, for whatever it’s worth. Some might be tempted to stop reading right there… but maybe you shouldn’t.

Out of respect for my mother-in-law and her beliefs, we stopped at the little mission store in the snowy mountains of Western Pennsylvania, purchased two of the St. Joseph statues, about six inches each, made of white plastic, rather like two giant chess pieces, and wrapped in crunchy, plastic cellophane. We planted one in the planter at the corner of my in-law’s house – the house we wanted to sell – and drove back to Virginia to plant the second Joseph at the “out of our price range massive Victorian,” or the  OOOPRMV.

It was dark by the time we made it back to Virginia. My husband had stayed behind to care for one of his parents who really should have been receiving round-the-clock care already, so I was traveling alone with our two tweens. They were both pretty excited by the prospect of doing something proactive toward convincing the sellers to accept our ridiculously low offer for the OOOPRMV, so we drove straight to the OOOPRMV under the cover of darkness, and stealthily snuck around the back of the house where we knew there was a dirt patch under the back porch of the house. It was all very cloak and dagger-like. The kids were in high-gear excited mode, and I was full of adrenaline, imagining how I would talk myself out of being arrested if one of the neighbors called the police about the trespassers. All this, plus, I was trying to be respectful of my mother-in-law’s beliefs.

I had to keep shushing my giggling kids, while I tried to dig a hole in dirt that was VERY hard, using a stick that kept breaking in my hand. I thought, there must be some ceremony that should accompany the burial of our little plastic St. Joseph, so I took him out of his plastic bag shroud, roughly calculated which direction was east, and buried him like a corpse, his feet toward the rising sun. Is that correct? Should his head have been pointing east? Maybe he’s supposed to sit up facing the sun? Ours was feet toward the rising sun… hopefully. It was difficult to gauge cardinal directions at midnight in some stranger’s backyard.

Our task complete, we piled back into the mommy minivan and headed to our small, cozy home.

For the next couple of weeks, we drove past the OOOPRMV every day… until one day, the “for sale” sign disappeared.

It was kind of like buying a million dollar lottery ticket. For weeks, we imagined our lives living in the OOOPRMV. We thought about how we would restore it, one-room-at-a-time, all our budget would allow for, how we could squeeze in a rental apartment in the basement to bank-roll the restoration, renovate the in-law suite in the back yard, connect the garage for a handicapped accessible addition, clean the stain-glass window on the middle landing, re-glaze all of the original windows, revive the outdoor model train!!! Yes, it had tracks for a large, outdoor model train, complete with a trestle bridge.

Sadness swept our home. All the while, my husband was commuting… from Pennsylvania, to work half-weeks in Virginia, the other half remotely so he could care for his father.

No one really had much heart for house hunting after that, but perhaps it was for the best. I was more practically minded. I looked at 1) location, 2) square footage, and 3) resale potential, no longer interested in stained glass or fireplaces. And of course, we found our new home in short-order. It was a brick ranch house, in a nice neighborhood. It had a sufficient number of bedrooms, all under one-roof instead of an in-law suite, but with a ramp inside the garage, it would serve the need.

We bought it, we rented out our old house, and we moved in, readying the house for the in-laws.

My husband was away from us for half of every week for months and finally, the Pennsylvania house was sold, the in-laws’ furniture arrived and was integrated into the ground-floor and the in-laws themselves were being driven down, four-and-a-half hours, to their new home.

I wanted everything to look familiar to them. Most of their furniture had arrived ahead of them, and I decided, their first view of the house would be their approach, facing the garage. There were two wooden half-cask planters on either side of the garage door, too heavy for the previous owners to move, so they were sold with the house. I purchased the largest chrysanthemums I could find, and I placed one in each planter.

About an hour before in-law arrival, I drove my hand down into the dirt that already filled the old wine-cask planters… and I felt something kind of creepy. It was hard, but covered in something damp and slick. I grabbed an old stick from the edge of the woods, and dug down, into the center of the planter and pulled out…

…a St. Joseph statue. It was white plastic, about six inches tall, in a clear plastic shroud. I guess everything is interconnected… or maybe I should go to church.

True story.

The Universe has Spoken (da da dum…)

It’s a feeling, an impression, the hair rising on the back of your neck, an irritation of the bowel…

That nagging sense that something is amiss. Thus is the feeling I have for this, my most recent manuscript. Yes, I was ready to hit that plunger like a nervous contestant on Jeopardy, but I hesitated. I pulled my hand back from the plunger.

Just FINISH the damn book, I keep hearing over and over. I should have finished. It was “finished”… only not. So I sent it out to a few Beta readers and alas, the readers are getting back in touch. Nope. Not ready. Do not flush. Do not pull that cord. Just… do… not…

So here I am, calling it. It will not have a pre-release date. Not yet. There will be no pre-Christmas sales, no promotional roll out to catch the wave. I turn in on myself, listening for more signs from the universe. Well, the universe has spoken, at least for now. It said, “put your butt back in that seat, woman.”

Reconnecting with Community

Writing is a crazy solitary endeavor. Hours, days, months, sitting “alone” in the Word Crone Cottage. Okay, I’m not alone. I have some accountability partners who check in every morning to give me a reason for hitting the keyboard by 9 am. (Okay, I’ve been rolling in around 9:30.) Even after we check in with one another, there are the other people I talk to throughout the rest of the day. (And yes, 90% of those are imaginary people.)

I’ve been reading a lovely book called LOST CONNECTIONS by Johann Hari, and it made me mindful of the connections I neglected throughout the pandemic. Specifically, I was thinking about the connections we make with our communities. Gone are the days of sitting on the front porch and waving to the neighbors, knowing all the kids by name, seeing the kids playing in the street until the street lights come on. We are no longer a front-porch nation. I live in a very rural area, but on my little road, I always make a point of waving at neighbors as they drive by if I happen to be out in the yard. That’s not quite community building though.

So this weekend, I decided to tackle a project I’ve been contemplating for a while. I built a Little Free Library. Already, I’ve had passing conversations with two of my neighbors. (My son and I just put it up about an hour ago.) Hopefully, it will help forge more contact with my neighbors. (More so when the paint dries and I can actually install some books tomorrow.)

I’m always curious. How do you connect with your community? Is your street pedestrian friendly? I hope so. Ours is a little dodgy. Despite a 35mph speed limit, there is a lot of high-speed traffic on our little dead-end road. Maybe those folks racing to the dead-end will pause, browse a book at that Little Free Library, and hopefully, wave back at that crazy woman who waves at everyone who drives past.

The Cover Reveal!

Toot doo da doot! It’s time to reveal a cover (and a title) for my latest novel…

Hopefully, I will have a pre-order date set by next Friday. In the meantime, stay tuned for a barrage of promotional bits and bobs, of which this is but the first.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in reading a short story, set in the same fictional small town, you may enjoy this one:

It’s the tale of a young woman with a secret past… so secret, not even she knows. Check it out!

The Marsh Princess, by Sofie Couch

It’s Crunch Time!

Forgive the absence of a more lengthy post just now. The book I thought would be complete in June, then certainly by the end of August, then hopefully, by the first of October, is looking more like an early November release. Good news is, I think it’ll be worth the wait! I’m just off to kill some more darlings…

289 pages, another round of edits to go, then it’s off to formatting!

Here’s a Clue…

This week saw the actual completion of one of the rooms in my 3-D Clue board. I give you…. (drum roll…)

The Study! The thing about such a project, it’s never really finished – finished. Like a book, you might think it’s done today, but the next time you walk past it, you will see something that can be tweaked or added.

“‘Twas done in the study, with hot glue, by Mrs…”

For example, I decided the floor of this study needed a little rug. Did I mention I’m working in a 1:24 scale? That’s ½ the size of a typical dollhouse. It’s got to be this small so the board can fit on a small table. The scale was determined by the size of the wooden base I had on hand. So a typical dollhouse rug won’t fit. That’s when I found this cute little bookmark just sitting in a drawer. It’s made out of ribbon. It’s a little too long for the scale, so I’ve tweaked it a little with an iron, a fold, and some glue.

Not exactly like the cute picture on the kit…

And voila! Everything a study needs… until I think of something else. (Oh yeah! A desk lamp! And what’s up with those books? Looks like the killer ransacked the place.) It’s a learning curve for me. I began with a little $15 kit of wood and paper bits that you have to assemble to make it begin to resemble the picture on the box. The person who created the kit for photography is masterful. Hats off to you! After assembly of the first piece, I quickly realized that mine probably won’t look exactly like the picture on the box. Rather, it looks more like the picture in my mind’s eye with eyes squinty and blurred.

The study from the outside, looking through the doorway.

The kit came with the wooden pieces for the chair, the desk, and a free-standing bookshelf. Well, the shelf went kind of wonky and the chair and desk didn’t match in color. So I broke out some black and green paint, then just kind of went off the rails with this very sweet, well-intentioned kit. I made a “built-in” bookshelf out of old tissue boxes, and that wonky wooden shelf? It’s the hutch on top of the desk.

I think that will be my strategy moving forward – start out following the rules, then just throw the confetti into the air and enjoy the two-seconds of wonder as it falls to the ground. I’ve tried your cute little kit and ended up with my fingers all glued together. How am I supposed to type with gluey fingers?

A very blurry pic of the whole game board with one completed room. (Sadly, I am not a photographer.)

I’m on round 3 edits of the WIP this week, tweaking each line, re-checking continuity, consistency, etc. I think the rule is if you still like the scene after you’ve written it, re-written it twice, re-read it multiple times, and edited it 3+ times, it might be okay. Next week, I will, hopefully, be ready for the first printing. Yes, I will use a ream of paper to print out the whole manuscript. For whatever reason, it’s a different experience reading the manuscript in its physical (rather than electronic) form.

Maybe the same is true of building these minuscule, teeny tiny bits that look roughly like the picture on the box. It’s finished… only not. I’m sure I’ll think of something I can add just when I think it’s all done.

And next week? It was done in the HALL using a Candlestick by Mrs. White… I start the next room in my 3-D Clue board! (and I begin round four of edits – reading the printed copy of the manuscript.)

Until then, enjoy fall, y’all. Make some art. Read a book.

An Autumnal Mystery

(Some affiliate links may follow.)

The mystery in question is this: why, when my adult children ask me what I’m up to, and I tell them, “I’m cutting off the heads of small animals,” (albeit, plastic animals, but they did not know that) why are they not disquieted by that? In fact, the eldest child responded with, “Mom, I think you need to start another book.” Cheeky kid. (Okay, in all fairness, my internet search history could get me arrested for crimes I never committed. I write MYSTERY, after all.)

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy!

It all began with a game of CLUE. I’ve always loved games with colorful boards. Rather, I love architecture, building, design, and my favorite games as a child were Clue (because of the beautifully colored boards, the rooms, the floor patterns, etc., and LIFE, with its 3-D bridges, hills, houses, and cars. It was less about the game, more about driving little cars over hills and bumps, collecting little peg babies, and a husband. So I thought, hmmm, I used to love dollhouses as a child. Of course, I had neither the skill nor the follow-through to create anything of beauty, but I’m older and have a bit more patience and I’m between books. So why not create a 3-D Clue board?

I found my gameboard surface, an old oak table top. It’s divided into rooms and hallways and square tile spaces in keeping with the original game, and my plan was to work on and complete one room per week. HA!

So although I have the walls for a study papered, bits of study-like furniture built, and miniature books for shelves that went kind of wonky, I diverted with the thought, “Oh, what if I cut the heads off of little plastic animals, paint them, glue on some tufts of sheep’s wool, and make some cute little trophy heads for the wall? I know what you’re thinking. Anyone who’s ever played a game of CLUE or grew up watching The Beverly Hillbillies knows that the trophy heads go in the Billiard Room, not the Study!

“It was done in the Billiard Room, by Mrs. Partridge, using a pair of tweezers and super glue!”

On the other hand, maybe my kid is right, and I need to just start the next book… Hmmmm….

Cozy Seasonal Magic

I’m doing the second round of edits on the WIP (work-in-progress), so nearing completion. In it, I have, hopefully, built a magical small town community, (based on a very real small town) that I find to be magical. Don’t forget to “follow” this blog at the bottom of this post to hear about the upcoming release date, as well as…

Today, (and in coming weeks) I’ll be sharing some of my favorite magical spaces around my home and yard. What, you may wonder, does this have to do with Cozy Mysteries? Well, hopefully, I’ve created a series of magical vignettes, the inspiration for my fictive worlds.

https://amzn.to/3Rqc0sg – the rain barrel outside The Word Crone Cottage

This week, I’ve been fluffing the outside of my office – the Word Crone Cottage.

But if you take a closer look, you might see a surprise or two…

Looking in windows…

Not in a creepy kind of way, but who doesn’t love getting a glimpse of the interiors when the evening light is dimming and interior lights are warming those private spaces. In a book, you get a look through a window… in a non-creepy way that won’t get you arrested.

It’s all about perspective. There’s the plot, the sub-plot, and the hidden “easter eggs” to be found at that golden hour of daylight.

Warm light and crystals…

If you look hard enough, a little magic just might make itself visible to you.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in something a little magical, southern and dark, try PLAIN JANE, a contemporary re-telling of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre! It’s the perfect pre-Halloween read.

Hidden Places, Magical Spaces

I write mystery, so is there any wonder I have a fondness for hidden spaces/magical places? It’s the cornerstone of every project I tackle. I tend to look at things, not by what would be most practical, but with the premise, “how can I make this a magical experience?”

One of my favorite toys ever purchased for my kids were those little Polly Pockets – not the larger lanky dolls that came out afterwards, but the original little compact Polly Pockets, the ones that were the size of a finger nail that came with their own little world in a plastic box. Open the compact, and then you could expect three surprises in each little doll’s world – a swinging door, a slide, a secret compartment, etc. within the compact. It made a pretty cheap thrill, a plastic thing that probably cost pennies to produce, but somehow, it took on magical properties in that it provided a sort of scavenger hunt to uncover the hidden bits and bobs within. (And holy wow, they’re worth a fortune now. Guess I should have saved them.) I loved whenever we found another one at a yard sale or thrift store. It was like opening an I Spy book…

It’s almost Halloween. You’ll want to check it out! https://amzn.to/3LG1KLo
And then you’ll want to check out this one! https://amzn.to/3RlhZ1K

I love that rule of three that should be a staple of design. It’s in each I Spy Book. The I Spy Spooky Night and Can You See What I See On a Scary Scary Night Halloween themed books are probably among my favorite. The goal is to find the list of hidden objects in each image, but around that, there are 1) surprises in the photography – items used in unusual ways, 2) a recurrent object in each picture, and 3) a hidden story that beautiful color photographs depict. They are all about playing mind tricks through perspective.

So when I found a need to reach an awkwardly placed bedroom in our home, the obvious solution was to install a staircase solely for accessing that room. But this staircase needed to be unique, in that it had to fit in a very tight space. So how about a unique design I once saw in an old, antebellum house? An alternating staircase. (Psht. Building codes are for rule followers.) And what if I made the handrails into bookshelves? And trifecta, what if I installed books shelves under each tread? Bibbidy, bobbidy, book!

Alternating Staircase with Bookshelf Railings
Alternating stairs with bookshelves under each tread…

Basically, the design involves building a half tread on alternating sides. Each tread falls at double the height of a usual stair tread, requiring one to always lead with their right foot. It climbs at a rise:run ratio that is double:half of a normal staircase, thus, requiring half the space of a typical staircase. Whoever came up with the design was brilliant… and probably very nimble. The first one I saw when touring a home for potential purchase, I knew it was a magical place, (and possibly haunted. 🙂

In keeping with that theme of magical spaces, hidden places, I think my next few blog posts will explore some of those secret cubbies throughout my house and yard.

And the alternating staircase? Well, sadly, it was sold along with that house, but I still dream of possibly installing another one here, in our forever home. Until then, I’ll just look back fondly on that deathtrap staircase… and plot my next hidden space, magical place.

So I hope you join me next week for a tour of another favorite magical corner of my life, and I would love to hear about the magical spaces in your home! Until then,…

…read a book! Make some art!