When The Feedsack Dress came out in 2007, I started a blog on Typepad that focused on life during the late 1940s and early 1950s. I stopped posting there in 2012, but you can still link to The Feedsack Kids. I’m posting some new blogs and my favorite old ones here.
On May 7, Harlequin’s Worldwide Mystery will release a paperback edition of Show Me the Ashes, the fourth in my series featuring former CIA operative Phoenix Smith solving murders in rural Missouri.
In this one Phoenix and friends, including Achilles, her Belgian Malinois, take on a cold case involving a coerced plea deal (far too common), a string of disturbing burglaries, and crippling bigotr
The WM editors insisted on one editorial change from the original Five Star hardback and e-book editions: “Tramp” replaced “slut.”
The covers of the paperback and hardback editions look nothing alike, which is also true of the covers of the first three books in the series.
Another major difference is the price. The hardback edition (now out of print) listed at $25.95. The paperback sells for $7.99 (discounted to $6.39) on Harlequin’s direct-to-consumer site (https://www.harlequin.com/shop/books/9781335455345_show-me-the-ashes.html).
To read the first chapter, go to http://carolynmulford.com/mysteries/show-me-the-ashes/show-me-the-ashes-chapter-one.
U.S. residents may enter to win one of five giveaway copies by leaving a brief comment on what social or legal injustice they find most disturbing. The deadline is May 5, 2019. I will select winners randomly.
On this day of hope, I like to plan my writing agenda for the coming year.
January is prime writing time. The weather discourages me from going out, and the lack of distractions encourages creativity. I also sleep better snuggled under layers of covers. Tomorrow I stop thinking about the second book in my new mystery series at random moments and start serious work on it. The book, which takes place at a storytelling festival, will consume much of my work time the rest of the year.
By the end of February, I expect to have completed a solid draft of the first seven or eight chapters, the most difficult part of the book. At that point in the manuscript I can automatically visualize the settings in which my new characters interact and understand the difficulties (personal and investigatory) my ongoing characters must deal with.
Taxes and cabin fever interrupt the workflow a bit in March. That’s also a time in the manuscript when I’m questioning my pacing and worrying about too much dialogue and not enough action.
In April I’ll be dealing with the doubts of March, updating my narrative to reflect the unexpected development of minor characters or the appearance of unanticipated clues. Novels, like life, rarely go as planned.
Conferences, holidays, and spring pull me from the computer in April and May. In 2018, May is likely to be one of my least productive months. I’ve planned a mental vacation, in this case preparing a talk on how Jane Austen reveals her protagonists’ characters. I’ll enjoy the research and analysis, but both will require considerable time and concentration.
An advantage of this diversion is that I’ll come back to my manuscript, which should be about two-thirds of the way done (in first draft), in June with a fresh eye.
In July, I hope to approach that final push. That’s when the writing goes fast.
If all goes well, in August I’ll complete draft one and do cleanup work, making sure the clues fall in the right place, characters act consistently, any factual holes are filled, and weak words become strong.
My critique group will be giving me feedback as I proceed, but in September I’ll ask the members for an overview and send the draft to two or three other readers. Then I’ll play a little while, and perhaps work on a short story/novella with the characters from my Show Me series.
October will be my month to take care of the problems my readers note and, finally, to read the manuscript aloud and give it the final polish.
In November I should have the manuscript ready to go. That leaves December to finish some of the things I’ve neglected the rest of the year.
Will my year really go this way? I’ll let you know in 2019.
Last weekend I attended my 60th Kirksville Senior High School reunion. There I found myself surrounded by joyful former classmates and a rich tapestry of life stories.
This three-day reunion reminded me that one source of ideas for my Show Me mysteries was our surprisingly happy 45th reunion. Interactions with old friends made such a deep impression that they influenced me a couple of years later when I began developing the ongoing characters for my series.
I created three women who grew up together, led very different lives, and reunited in the hometown as each faces a personal crisis. The protagonist juggled a dangerous double life in Vienna as a CIA covert operative and comes home to heal with her closest childhood friend, a civic leader who never left. The third friend gave up her dreams of Broadway to further her peripatetic ex-husband’s business career.
Like many small towns, Kirksville didn’t offer enough economic opportunity or cultural appeal to hold most of the 123 graduates of the Class of 1957. About 75% went to college before scattering across the nation. One of the most common occupations was teaching, but someone did almost any kind of job you can think of.
The organizers asked me to welcome the 40 classmates and their family members who came from 14 states. Confession: I thought by welcoming they meant to greet people at the door and give them nametags. On Saturday, I realized I’d agreed to give a short speech that night. I’m a writer. I wrote a speech, or at least made notes.
Here’s approximately what I said.
Coming into the room last night and seeing all those joyful, smiling faces, I thought what a lucky bunch we are. Lucky to be here at all 60 years after graduating, and lucky to be here with each other. Looking at you, I see the faces of 1957, teenagers who share memories of an important time, those self-absorbed years when we were figuring out who we were going to be.
Memories of those years have faded, though some events remain clearer than what happened a few weeks ago. I wondered what memories everyone shares. One must be the frantic Mardi Gras season where the classes competed to raise the most money and have their class candidates named king and queen. Everyone contributed, often with unique fundraising ideas. Another would be building homeroom homecoming floats, pretty and clever presentations far more entertaining that those I see in homecoming parades now. And then we had the campaign to pass the bond issue for a new high school
Some of the sharpest memories for each for us surely involve our favorite activities—playing on a school or intramural team, rehearsing with the marching band, preparing to sing in the chorus or play in the orchestra at a Christmas program, taking the stage in a school play, serving on the student council, putting together the many pieces of the yearbook, taking part in the Roman Banquet in which the Spanish class served the conquering Latin students, traveling to Chicago with Masque and Gavel to see a big-time play and hear Tony Bennett at a real night club.
KHS offered us opportunities to explore many interests. For me, the big one was co-editing the school newspaper with Phyllis. We had a lot of fun and a lot of freedom. The experience confirmed and strengthened my desire to become a writer.
We were lucky in having excellent teachers. They went far beyond their job descriptions to counsel, coax, and coerce us to accomplish more than we thought we could. Perhaps their great example contributed to so many of the class becoming teachers.
We’ve been lucky to have Jeanne, Dorothy, and other classmates willing to organize five- and 10-year reunions for decades—and to coax and coerce classmates to come.
For me, one of the most heartening things about our reunions is this: Each reunion we seem to appreciate each other more. We had cliques and other things that set us apart in high school, but the divisions have vanished over the years. I haven’t seen so many people smiling at each other since our last reunion.
Last night as I caught up with old friends, the writer in me thought what a treasure trove of human experience had gathered. I wanted to hear about each person’s life. We’re a living anthology of life stories, and the common thread of those stories is the experiences we shared as the Class of ’57.
If you’ve taught, you’ve seen a class form a group personality. What was our group personality? I can give a partial answer: We welcomed challenges, and we worked together to meet them. Now, 60 years later, more than half of the survivors cared enough about each other to make the effort to come here.
We are a lucky bunch.
Despite the winter setting, Show Me the Sinister Snowman found favor with reviewers in July.
Librarians and those who request they add books to their collections should note Midwest Book Review’s recommendation. The reviewer says that “dedicated mystery buffs will appreciate the deftly crafted characters, as well as the unexpected plot-driven twists, turns and surprises.… very highly recommended, especially for community library Mystery/Suspense collections.” To read the full review, go to the July 2017 issue’s “Mystery/Suspense Shelf” at http://www.midwestbookreview.com/sbw/jul_17.htm.
Another reviewer, the Pople Backyard Farm Blog, names Sinister Snowman one of its Best Reads for Summer 2017. Comments include, “Grab your cocoa and curl up with this arctic delight! … The book gave me a laugh as it reminded me of the fun we had playing Clue as kids as it involves a snowbound property. … Well written, fun and a page turner.” To read full the review scroll through http://poplebackyardfarm.blogspot.com/p/best-reads-for-summer-2017.html.
A few print magazines still review books. In its June/July “Show Me Books” column, Missouri Life said, “Carolyn Mulford has readers intrigued with her latest murder mystery…. Show Me the Sinister Snowman takes readers on an adventure to discover the real truth behind the congressman’s death and the unusual circumstances around it.” You can find the full review at http://aftermathenterprises.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Mo.Life_.Review.Final_.pdf.
With the temperatures in the 90s, the winter setting helps readers stay cool.
Every dog gets his day, and today belongs to Achilles. This time he, not Phoenix Smith, narrates the story of how he found the clue that led her to investigate a congressman’s “accidental” death in Show Me the Sinister Snowman.
He tells his tale in a diary entry on book advocate Dru Ann Love’s Raven award-winning Dru’s Book Musings. For several years Dru has invited mystery writers to mark the release of a new book by writing a “A day in the life” post about the book’s protagonist or another character. I wrote about Phoenix’s day for earlier releases, so I decided to feature Achilles for book 5.
The blog, a little over 800 words, served as an experiement. I’d been thinking of writing some short stories from Achilles point of view. He doesn’t perceive the world the same way Phoenix does. He adores her, but he reprimands her when she’s harsh with someone and holds her back when she’s rushing into danger.
Achilles often expresses his opinion in the books without spoken language. He obviously understands many words and, IMHO, can think in words he can’t speak. Can he form complete sentences? Yes, simple ones, but often he doesn’t bother. He goes straight to the point.
His speaking style works for a telling a short tale. I suspect that style would not appeal to me or readers for a whole book, but he could share narration with Phoenix occasionally.
Judge for yourself. Here’s the opening of “A day in the life of Achilles, K-9 Sidekick.”
“Footsteps woke me. I sprang to my paws. Still night. I sniffed. No stranger, no danger. Annalynn was pacing again, grieving for her dead mate.
“Phoenix, my human, stirred. No need to wake her. I would comfort Annalynn. I trotted across the hall to her.”
To read the rest, go to https://drusbookmusing.com/2017/05/27/achilles-k-9/.
Love to hear how you like Achilles as a storyteller.
Readers will join me in celebrating the publication of Show Me the Sinister Snowman at 2 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, May 20, at Columbia Books, 1907 Gordon Street, Columbia, MO.
Today I’ve been thinking about what to say to them between their browsing among the new and antiquarian books and nibbling on refreshments. Sinister Snowman is the fifth book in the series, so most people there will have read at least one of the books. What do they want to know about the series and the new book?
Beats me, but those who come to these book launches always ask lots of questions. I’ll answer them gladly and, unlike my protagonist, truthfully.
To set the stage for questions, I’ll speak briefly about changes in the lives of the three main characters—former CIA covert operative Phoenix Smith, widowed small-town socialite Annalynn Carr Keyser, and struggling singer/music teacher Connie Diamante—over the seven months in which the five books take place.
I also usually do a short reading. I’ve been debating whether to read from a humorous scene in the first chapter or an unpublished blog written in the voice of many readers’ favorite character, K-9 dropout and faithful sidekick Achilles. In all the books the Belgian Malinois shares the front cover with Phoenix and her Glock. I’ll decide tomorrow.
If you can’t come, you can read the first chapter by linking to the book’s page from under Show Me Mysteries on the navigation bar. I’ll give a link to the blog next week.
The great thing about book launches is talking to readers face to face rather than just on the page.
Raven Award-winning book advocate Dru Ann Love endorsed Show Me the Sinister Snowman today, May 7, in Dru’s Book Musings.
She began, “I enjoyed the tantalizing trails that the author planted for me in this engrossing drama of suspense and intrigue.“ She noted “masterly adept dialogue” and “drama that kept me engaged in all that was happening” and called the book “a terrific read.”
Read the entire review at https://drusbookmusing.com/2017/05/07/my-musing-show-me-5/.
While you’re there, explore the blog, one of the most popular and comprehensive for mystery readers. You’re sure to find reviews of mysteries to your taste by both new and veteran authors.
Dru also carries a unique feature: postings in which writers introduce their characters by following them through a day. Phoenix described her day when earlier books came out, so on May 27 another important character gets a turn in “A day in the life of Achilles.”
You can sign up to receive automatic daily delivery of Dru’s Book Musings or visit it when you want to discover appealing new mysteries.
Four writers generously invited me to appear on their blogs to celebrate the release of Show Me the Sinister Snowman March 31. Writing to fit their needs and their readers’ preferences proved an interesting challenge.
Below are excerpts from and links to each blog. You may well find other appealing posts there.
April 10: “How I Chose My Imaginary Best Friend”: Debra Goldstein’s It’s Not Always a Mystery: http://www.debrahgoldstein.com/guest-blogger-carolyn-mulford-chose-imaginary-best-friend-click-comments/
The right name [for my protagonist] didn’t come to me until I envisioned the incidents that brought her back to her hometown and compelled her to investigate a murder. So what happened? She was severely wounded during a post-retirement freelance mission in Istanbul and sent home to recover and to be off the shooter’s radar. She adapts her tradecraft to help a lifelong friend unearth the truth about her husband’s violent death.
I named my imaginary best friend Phoenix Smith. Phoenix symbolizes crashing and rising again from flames. Smith is a good name for a spy because it sounds fake.
April 7: Liz Milliron’s Interview: Mysteristas; https://mysteristas.wordpress.com
Do you listen to music when you write?
Only if it’s related to what I’m writing, as when my protagonist plays Mozart on the piano to help her analyze her findings. In the first book, Show Me the Murder, she plays classic country in a bar while undercover. In my new book, Show Me the Sinister Snowman, people trapped by a blizzard entertain themselves by singing Gilbert & Sullivan songs.
April 2: Judy Hogan’s Interview: Postmenopausal Zest; http://postmenopausalzest.blogspot.com
I love the dog, Achilles, and how he and Phoenix relate to and rely on each other. Have other readers responded the same way?
Yes, many readers tell me how much they like Achilles. He functions not only as a pet but also as a comforter and sidekick. He brings out her softer side, and she encourages him to use his skills. He becomes secure enough to dispute her judgment. For example, he pulls her back when she’s rushing into danger, and he barks his disapproval when she’s impatient with her friends.
March 27: “Beware of 10 Common Mistakes”: Kristina Stanley’s Mystery Mondays; https://kristinastanley.com/2017/03/27/mystery-mondays-author-carolyn-mulford-on-10-common-mistakes/#comment-18812
- A lack of action
Something must happen in every chapter. Check that by writing chapter headlines. Be sure you have a plot point and conflict—in solving the crime, in reaching the protagonist’s goals, in personal and professional interactions.
You can see the variety. Check out the one(s) that fits your interest.
Today my answers to Judy Hogan’s questions about my writing, particularly the Show Me series, appear at http://postmenopausalzest.blogspot.com.
She asked what prompted my switch from nonfiction to fiction, why I created the series, how the original idea fared over five books, and what prompted me to mix cynicism and compassion in Phoenix Smith.
And, of course, she wants to know more about Achilles.
Kristina Stanley invited me to share a list of 10 common mistakes mystery writers make on her Mystery Monday blog at .https://kristinastanley.com/2017/03/27/mystery-mondays-author-carolyn-mulford-on-10-common-mistakes/#comment-18812.
For years I’ve been talking about improving both nonfiction and fiction writing by identifying and correcting typical errors. By knowing what those are, you can catch them as you write the first draft or read the completed one.
What I haven’t emphasized is what you gain by making certain mistakes—in the first draft. For example, writers often delay action and bore readers with info dumps. As an editor, these drive me nuts. As a writer, I recognize the value of writing long, of putting everything in the first draft. In the second draft, we must delete, choose telling details, and move content to the most effective spot.
Writers need to know much more than their readers in order to select what to tell them. For example, we must research details about how a poison works or analyze the traumatic effect of a pre-book incident or trace a realistic provenance of a stolen painting. Once we know such things, we find it hard to resist an info dump, but the reader doesn’t need or want all that information.
The thing is, including all our research and conceptualization in the first draft puts it right where we can find it and gives us an opportunity to select the right nuggets in the next, or a later, draft.
Info dumps can pop up anywhere, but they’re particularly deadly in the opening when lengthy backstory, description, or academic discussions delay action. Insert your little gems with adjectives, phrases, and sentences, not paragraphs, pages, and chapters.
Bad mistakes, if recognized, can lead to better writing. After all, we usually learn more from our failures than our successes.
Cave Hollow Press has completed the cover design, the penultimate step in publishing Show Me the Sinister Snowman. The fifth book in the series will go to press (and to digitalization) for release March 31.
The first book, Show Me the Murder, takes place in May. Former CIA covert operative Phoenix Smith returns to her Missouri hometown to recover from being shot. Phoenix works with an old friend, Acting Sheriff Annalynn Carr Keyser, to learn the truth about her late husband’s violent death. Phoenix rescues a wounded witness, a Belgian Malinois named Achilles. A K-9 dropout, he becomes her valued sidekick. To Phoenix’s annoyance, struggling singer Connie Diamante insists on taking part in this and subsequent investigations: in June, Show Me the Deadly Deer; in August, Show Me the Gold; in September, Show Me the Ashes.
In book 5, it’s the week before Thanksgiving. Annalynn has completed her term as sheriff and is campaigning to replace a congressman who died in an “accident.” Phoenix, a certified capitalist, is stuck running the foundation she established to give Annalynn a job. The ex-spy is bored until a woman hiding from an abusive husband begs the foundation to protect her.
Phoenix and friends accompany Annalynn to a political gathering in an isolated antebellum mansion. A blizzard traps them there with a machete-wielding man lurking outside and an unidentified killer inside.
Even if you’ve already read Show Me the Gold in hardback, you may want to sign up for a chance to win an autographed copy of the new paperback edition on Goodreads.com. A book makes a good Christmas gift.
To enter the giveaway, go to https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22945313-show-me-the-gold-3.
Gold is the third book in the series, the story that starts with Phoenix and Annalynn staking out a country graveyard to catch vandals. By the end of the first chapter, the women take part in a shootout with bank robbers holed up in an abandoned farmhouse. You can read the first chapter on my Show Me Mysteries page.
The paperback edition is a Worldwide Mystery selection for December. It’s sold only from the Harlequin website: http://www.harlequin.com/storeitem.html?iid=68332.