Thursday, October 21, 2021

Writing Hurricanes, Blackness and Hope: Where Ideas Come From (Mine, at Least…) @LaurelSPeterson


LUCY BURDETTE: Today I'm delighted to welcome Laurel Peterson to the blog. She doesn't only write novels, she writes poetry, and in fact spent three years as poet laureate of Norwalk CT. She's visiting today to chat about the inspiration for her new novel, The Fallen. I can't wait to hear the discussion...welcome Laurel!


LAUREL S. PETERSON: Thanks so much, Jungle Red Amazing Women for giving me a spot on your blog, and for doing so much for the mystery world. I’m so honored to be here. 

Really, this millennium hasn’t been that great so far. We started off with 9/11, pitched into war in Iraq and Afghanistan, endured floods and multiple “once in a lifetime” hurricanes, watched the rise of political extremism, and now are in a pandemic. That’s why I love mysteries; there is always justice at the end. (True confession: I spent the pandemic rereading all my Dick Francis. Love! Horses! Justice! What more could a girl want when the world is falling apart?) 


But back to the subject at hand. People ask where ideas come from, and sometimes it’s even possible to answer that question. The idea for my latest mystery, The Fallen, came from a number of places, but most centrally from the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, the anniversary of which we just “celebrated” with Hurricane Ida. We are now blessed with the technology to predict these monsters, which allows some crazy weatherperson to stand in the middle of it, soaked in his Channel 2 windbreaker saying, “Look at those waves,” thus giving us the horror and the thrill in real time. This is sort of like a mystery novel. 

Katrina was the first of its kind in the U.S., not only destroying our sense of safety, but also our superficial sense of ourselves as an egalitarian nation. People of color already knew that, but when a group of Blacks trudged over the bridge in Gretna, everyone saw the fear in their white neighbors’ faces. We heard how police officers left town rather than serve, making it that much harder for those left to do their jobs. What would it be like to be a black officer in that situation, I wondered. What would be the long-term effects of living through that trauma? What if there were unfinished business, even years later? 


From that came The Fallen, the story of a black police officer who moved to Connecticut to be chief in a small town. He is escaping his Katrina past, and the racism that damaged his career and his relationship with his family. Now, he is involved with Clara Montague, the protagonist of the first book in the series (Shadow Notes). She is a white woman. How can he explain what it was like to endure that storm? And how would he explain to his family that he’d fallen in love with a white girl? (Meanwhile, someone in his new town is shooting at him. So there’s that.)

Portraying a black man as a central character was a scary choice. The reaction to Lionel Shriver’s speech on cultural appropriation at the Melbourne Literary Festival made me wary of this territory. On the other hand, I wanted to see if I could imagine it fully enough to represent it honestly and truthfully—the trauma, the blackness, the policeman. I wanted to make my readers think while they were having a good time with the mystery.

Plus, mysteries are often about creating order, right? We are just beginning to emerge from that pandemic disorder, so being able to heal trauma in a piece of writing, if only a little, felt like a good kind of power. Mystery fiction permits us, at least temporarily, to believe that things will turn out all right. Maybe they will. You be the judge. 

What are the risks you are willing (or not) to take in writing or in life? How do you approach ideas or characters that scare you? 

Laurel S. Peterson lives and writes in Connecticut with her husband and dog. Find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or at www.laurelpeterson.com. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Short (Fiction) Attention Span by Raquel V. Reyes

 LUCY BURDETTE: Today it's my pleasure to welcome Raquel Reyes, who's getting a ton of buzz on her first novel. She even made it into the New York Times! Congrats and welcome Raquel!



RAQUEL REYES: As a debut author, this last month has been something of a promotional tour with guest blog posts, articles, and podcasts. There are two questions that are almost always asked. What are you reading? What are you working on? My answer to both is short stories. Yes, I am, of course, working on book two in my Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series. But when I hit an impasse, I take a breather from the big 80K mountain and write a short story. Short stories are the perfect morsel. They are so satisfying to read and to write. Reading a short story in one sitting is unlike reading a chapter in a novel. The latter leaves you hanging until your next sitting, but the former ties everything up. My leisure reading is usually before bed. I can read for only about an hour before my eyes start to cross. I love that I can have a beginning, middle, and end in that short span of time. And if I don’t fall in love with the characters or setting, no problem. Tomorrow, there will be a new story to try.  

I’ve loved short stories since high school. I remember the weight and punch of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman staying with me for a long time. But I suspect my love of the short form might have come from an even earlier time. As a child, I had a subscription to Cricket magazine. The illustration-rich monthly had multiple stories in it along with poetry and games. 

Recently for a library panel, I was asked to recommend a few titles by Latinx writers. I replied with Miami Noir, San Juan Noir, Noiryorican, ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas!, and Midnight Hour. 






Not all the authors in Midnight Hour are Latinx, but several are, including yours truly. 

My bookshelf doesn’t have enough space for all the anthologies and collections I want. So, I’ve imposed a few thematic requirements (like Florida) for physical book purchases.





And if I’m attending a conference that has an anthology, I’ll always get it. I like meeting the authors and getting their signatures. Writers are fans, too. I was lucky enough to have a short story selected for the Malice Domestic Mystery Most Theatrical anthology. None of us got to go to the conference, thanks to the pandemic. You better believe I’m packing my copy in my suitcase to get it signed at Malice 2022.  

There is another theme that will always tempt me, and that’s a music-themed collection. Murder-A-Go-Go’s edited by Holly West has some treasurers. And then there is The Great Filling Station Holdup which fits both my Florida and music requirement as each story is titled and inspired by a Jimmy Buffet song. Down and Out Books has an incredible catalog of music-themed anthologies, including Trouble No More, a collection inspired by Allman Brothers songs. 


What is your favorite short story or collection of stories?


Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Trouble No More, which has my story Multicolored Lady in it. (USA/PR shipping only) A winner will be drawn at random at the end of the month.  


 Raquel V. Reyes is a 2021 debut novelist. The New York Times said her culinary mystery, Mango, Mambo, and Murder, “executes its mission—with panache.”  Raquel writes stories with Latina characters. Her Cuban-American heritage, Miami, and the Caribbean feature prominently in her work. Her short stories appear in various anthologies, including Mystery Most Theatrical, Midnight Hour, and Trouble No More. 


ABOUT MANGO, MAMBO, AND MURDER: Food anthropologist Miriam QuiƱones puts her academic career on hold to move back to Miami. Mix in a new house, an opinionated mother-in-law, and a husband rekindling a friendship with his ex, and Miriam is at her wit's end. Gracias to her BFF, Alma, she gets a  job as a Caribbean cooking expert on a Spanish-language morning TV show. But when a socialite dies, and the finger is pointed at Alma, Miriam must use her culinary knowledge to solve the murder. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Importance of Rituals #MEBrowning


LUCY BURDETTE: You might remember Micki Browning when she visited us in May to talk about her award-winning book, Shadow Ridge. I invited her back on the occasion of her new book, Mercy Creek. I love the topic of her blog today, writing rituals, though I admit it stumps me. Read on....

MICKI BROWNING: Authors are frequently asked about their writing rituals, and I’ve never owned up to any. I mean, sure, most mornings I find my way to my desk, open the document du jour and see what new damage I can inflict upon it—or in the case of revision, how I can patch it up and send it on its way. But I don’t write every day, I don’t have a mandatory word count, I don’t outline. Honestly, looking at this, I’m not sure how I’ve managed to publish anything at all.


I sip my tea and fret that I’m undisciplined. That, of course, makes me question my time management skills and I take a quick peek at my calendar, with its hourly segments and prioritizing processes that incorporate Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits. The well-worn leather binder and my lack of focus serve as evidence that a Franklin Planner does not magically make one a highly effective person. That makes me wonder if I need to buy a timer in the shape of a tomato, and dole my time out in twenty-five-minute increments. After all, the five-minute break that follows each sprint would be perfectly timed to brew a fresh cup of tea. 

To forestall the verdict that my lack of rituals places me beyond redemption as a writer, I must confess my good intentions. I am a member of Ramona’s Sprint Club, a Facebook group started by author Ramona DeFelice Long—a name dear to many in the writing community. She was a talented writer, accomplished editor, and mentor to many. The reason it’s a sprint club is because she admitted to “…an attention span of one hour at a time.” It was a length of time that she turned into marvelous prose. Upon Ramona’s passing in October 2020, fellow author Wende Dikec, who writes as Abigail Drake, took up the mantle of wrangling and inspiring the group.

One “Mug Shot Monday,” Wende posted a photo of her collection of Wonder Woman mugs as a quiet reminder that inspiration is all around us if we remain open to it. I glanced at the mug on my desk. For a woman with no writing ritual, I am a creature of habit when it comes to my morning tea and the mug that contains it.

The mug was made in France, and I purchased it from Williams Sonoma. The hand-thrown pottery was an extravagance for a twenty-something, and yet if I calculate the price per use, it comes out to a fraction of a penny per day. It matches nothing else in my cabinet. Which makes it peculiar. Kind of like a former cop whose favorite brew derives from leaves rather than beans. I’m okay with it.

While my choice of tea changes by the day, I’ve been using the same mug for over thirty years. It is the color of an autumn forest and fits my hand just so. I can—and do—sometimes use other mugs (especially on the occasions I do switch up my game to coffee), but every morning, this mug—filled with tea—accompanies me to my office.  



The tasks that accompany a book launch are myriad and stretch over several months. Mercy Creek, the second Jo Wyatt Mystery launched October 12th. It’s my fourth book and follows on the heels of Shadow Ridge. But on that Monday in July when I checked in with Ramona’s Sprint Group, I sipped my tea, thought about my work in progress, and realized I had a writing ritual after all.




Are there any rituals you draw upon to spark your creativity or to help focus your attention on writing or other creative work?



About the Author: Colorado Book Award-winning author M.E. Browning writes the Jo Wyatt Mysteries and the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo Mysteries (as Micki Browning). Micki also writes short stories and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime… fiction. Visit mebrowning.com to learn more.

ABOUT MERCY CREEK:

In an idyllic Colorado town, a young girl goes missing—and the trail leads into the heart and mind of a remorseless killer. The late summer heat in Echo Valley, Colorado turns lush greenery into a tinder dry landscape. When a young girl mysteriously disappears, long buried grudges rekindle. Of the two Flores girls, Marisa was the one people pegged for trouble. Her younger sister, Lena, was the quiet daughter, dutiful and diligent—right until the moment she vanished. Detective Jo Wyatt is convinced the eleven-year-old girl didn’t run away and that a more sinister reason lurks behind her disappearance. For Jo, the case is personal, reaching far back into her past. But as she mines Lena’s fractured family life, she unearths a cache of secrets and half-lies that paints a darker picture. As the evidence mounts, so do the suspects, and when a witness steps forward with a shocking new revelation, Jo is forced to confront her doubts and her worst fears. Now, it's just a matter of time before the truth is revealed—or the killer makes another deadly move.

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