Cooking

A Mexican Restaurant at Home

Tomorrow is release day for Case of the Curious Crystals. If you pre-ordered the e-book, it should hit your devices tonight. I don’t know how the time zone things work for when they decide it’s release day.

I have to say that writing a series in which most of the socializing takes place in a Mexican restaurant has been challenging during a time when eating in restaurants isn’t a great idea. I’ve ended up finding ways to improvise at home, though it still lacks that communal experience of gathering with friends and family. I think my last time in a Mexican restaurant may have been just before Thanksgiving last year with my parents. Then I was sick for most of December, busy working on books in January and February, and then the lockdown hit.

But in the meantime, I looked up recipes to make some of my favorites. When I didn’t want to go grocery shopping to buy ready-made chili con queso or the ingredients for the Velveeta and Ro-Tel dip that’s a standard at parties around here, I found a good recipe from the family that runs one of my neighborhood places. I’ve tinkered with it a bit and cut it down so that I don’t end up with a vat of cheese, and now it’s become a staple for me. It uses ingredients I usually have handy, and because it doesn’t use a can of anything, I can make it in smaller quantities. So, here’s my chili con queso for one recipe:

Start by heating half a tablespoon of oil in a heavy small pan over medium heat. Then saute 1/4 cup minced sweet onion and 1/4 cup finely minced jalapeño pepper (about one average pepper).

I should note here that I’m not a fan of really hot, spicy things (I buy mild salsa), and in spite of using a whole pepper, this isn’t all that spicy. Just make sure to remove the ribs and seeds, and I have to use gloves to cut up a pepper. If you want it hotter, use a hotter kind of pepper. If you want it milder, you can use diced canned green chilis, but you’ll put those in later.

When the onion is translucent, add 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon of corn starch. Cook, stirring, for about two minutes, until you can really smell the cumin. Then stir in 1/2 cup of chicken broth (if you want to make it vegetarian, you can probably use vegetable broth. I haven’t tried it that way, but you don’t really taste the broth, so it should work). I use the refrigerated bouillon concentrate so I don’t have to open a can just to get half a cup. Cook, stirring, about three minutes until it’s thick and bubbly. You may need to lower the heat a little.

Then add 4 slices of American cheese, chopped up. Yes, it needs to be American, those individually wrapped slices used in grilled cheese. You have to get over your cheese snobbery here. Anything else will give you a different texture. It will get stringy and oily. I once threw in just a little bit of chipotle cheddar, and it didn’t work. Also add 1/2 cup chopped tomato (I use 1 small Roma tomato). If you’re using the canned chilis, add them here (drain them first). Stir it all together until the cheese is melted into a smooth sauce. If it’s too thick, add a little more broth. If it’s too thin, add a little more cheese, but note that it will thicken up more as soon as you take it off the stove.

I try to keep it warm to eat by warming the ceramic bowl I serve it in by rinsing it out with hot water. If you’ve got a fondue pot, this would be a good time to use it to keep things warm, or maybe one of those tiny crock pots.

You can customize this by using different kinds of peppers, adding cooked ground meat, topping with sour cream or guacamole, etc.

I seldom get queso in restaurants because once I eat it, I’m not hungry for the meal. At home, I eat it as a meal. I’ll have a salad to go with it and mix in some carrot sticks in addition to the chips for dipping.

This recipe makes about two servings. I make sure to put a serving in a bowl so I don’t scarf down the whole thing at once (and then feel sick later). It reheats pretty well in the microwave if there’s any left over. I heat it with medium power instead of on high.

In my next newsletter, planned for Friday, I’ll share my recipe for cheese enchiladas.

My Books

Non-Murder Mysteries

It’s less than a week until the release of Case of the Curious Crystals, book 2 in the Lucky Lexie mysteries. This one is a bit different for a mystery because it’s not about a murder.

Not that a series that involves ghosts and people with uncanny abilities is at all “realistic,” but I didn’t want to strain credibility too much and give this town a murder rate to rival any major city. I want it to remain the kind of town you’d want to live in, not one where you’d be worried about a murder every week or so. So the crime in this book involves burglary, something that is fairly realistic for small towns. The danger is more emotional than physical. I guess this book is closer to the Enchanted, Inc. series in the sense of what’s going on and what the heroine has to do about it.

There are dead bodies in book 3, and it’s based on something that actually happened in my city (though it happens to different kinds of people, in a different way, for a different reason), but there’s another crime woven into it. I have vague ideas for the next few books after that. One is a story I came up with the core of back in the early 90s, and I haven’t found a good place to use it until now. That one’s going to be a lot of fun to write.

In the meantime, fall hit with a vengeance this morning. We had one of those drastic fronts come through. It was about 70 degrees when I got up at around 7 this morning. At the moment (just before 11:30 a.m. as I write this), it’s 58 degrees on my patio, which is probably warmer than it actually is because that thermometer is near my house, and my house is stucco, so it tends to retain and reflect heat. And it’s going to keep dropping throughout the day. I think it’s a day for making soup and baking. I’m on “vacation,” and this is a great day for cozy things.

My Books

Sudden Cold Snaps

I started my post-draft vacation with a trip to visit my parents. One good thing about being buried in a book was that meant I’d been isolating, and that meant it was safe for me to visit them. It’s only about 100 miles away, but on the way home I experienced some quirky Texas weather. It was in the upper 80s and very humid at my parents’ house, but a front had come through and stalled about halfway between my house and my parents’ house, so it was quite chilly at my house. I needed entirely different clothes only 100 miles away.

That goes to show that the kind of weather change in Interview with a Dead Editor isn’t all that uncommon in Texas. That storm is inspired by a few real-life storms I’ve experienced. When I was in college, there was a February day when I left for class in the morning just wearing shirt sleeves. It was in the mid-70s, a comfortable day that felt like spring. I was in classes all day, and when I got to my last class, it was still pretty warm. I never had a need to go back to my dorm to get a jacket. That last class was a journalism lab, so I had the regular class, followed by having to work in the lab until my radio news story was done, which meant recording and editing audio back in the day when that required a razor blade and splicing tape.

I finished my work and started to head across campus back to my dorm, stepped outside the building, and it was something like 22 degrees and sleeting. Fortunately, one of the RAs on my floor had a handicap permit and a spot right next to the dorm, and he’d issued a blanket offer that if anyone ever needed a ride, to call him (everyone else had to fight for parking, and if you left your parking space, it was lost forever). I went back to the lab and called him, and he came to pick me up, so I didn’t have to walk all the way across campus in the sleet in freezing weather without a jacket. I’m usually pretty good about keeping an eye on the forecast, and I’d spent the morning interning in a TV newsroom, so I don’t think that front was expected or I’d have been better prepared.

Another came in early January about 20 years ago, when my company did its statewide meeting. That front was forecast, so I was prepared, but not everyone was. The people who’d come up from the Houston and Austin offices for the meeting had mostly packed for the warm, muggy weather we were having. The temperature had already started to drop by the time we left the meeting to board the buses to the location for our belated company holiday party. By the time the party ended, it was below freezing. People had looked at me funny when I brought a heavy coat to work that morning when it was warm, but I had the last laugh when they were shivering in their short sleeves. I barely made it home before the precipitation started. The rest of the weekend, everything was iced over.

Then there was the infamous ice storm in early December about six years ago. The temperature drop wasn’t so sudden and drastic, but that was the year we got freezing rain, followed by sleet, and by the time it was all done, we had a four-inch thick layer of ice all over everything. Basically, we got covered in an ice rink. You can’t scrape that away. We just had to wait for it to melt. The whole area was iced in for days. A lot of big trucks got stuck on the highways, so the highways were blocked and motorists were stranded. Churches and businesses along the freeways went out to get people out of the cars and into warm buildings.

That’s what I had in mind when writing that book. I figured it was the best way to get someone stuck in town for a while.

If you’ve already read the first book, did you know that the second book is available for pre-order? Look on the book’s page for links to order.

writing life

Taking a Break

I’m starting to see people talking about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and though I’ve informally participated the past couple of years (Interview with a Dead Editor was last year’s book), I’m doing the exact opposite this year. I’m not planning to actually write during November. I’m hoping to take a bit of a break. I may do revisions on the book I’m working on now, but otherwise, the plan is to have a sort of creative retreat.

I’ve been working pretty hard this year, under some difficult circumstances. A lot of that has been on the business and administrative side of things, or else editing and analyzing. I need to get back to a sense of play that will carry me forward into the next year, when I hope to do even more writing. I’m already at the point in time spent on writing work where I was a month later in the year last year, and I’ve spent more time on writing work now than I did in the entire year for several years prior to that. So, I think I deserve a break.

Part of this will be prep work for a fantasy series I’ve been developing — a good, old-fashioned traditional secondary world fantasy with lots of adventure, a few quests, maybe a dash of romance. I’ve spent the year doing a lot of research to pick up ideas, and now it’s time to really flesh out the world and the stories. I have lots of little ideas, and now it’s time to start pulling it all together into a cohesive whole.

But I’m also hoping to loosen up the brain a little, doing things like art, journaling, music, and trying new things. The plan is to dig through my massive collection of recipes I’ve saved or clipped but never tried and try one every day or so. It’s my way of having some of the effects of a vacation with a change of pace and a different setting, but without leaving home. I figure that if I just declare it a “staycation,” I’ll probably end up doing what I always do, but without the actual writing time, and that not only won’t feel like a break, but it will develop bad habits and make it harder to get into writing mode again. By giving it a little structure, it might feel more like a vacation.

This is reminding me of a fall back when I first moved into this house. I got offered a new job, set a start date so that I’d have some time off after my two-weeks notice, but my boss got paranoid about me going to work for a competitor (never mind that the reason they recruited me was that they’d already started working with my former clients, and the clients wanted me on their accounts, so there was nobody for me to steal to take to my new job), and I got walked to the door. I ended up with three weeks off between jobs, and it was sheer bliss, exactly the break I needed. I took lots of long walks, read a lot, cooked, got my house in order, and did some writing. I haven’t really taken that kind of deep, long break since then. I have have gone some time without writing, but it wasn’t an intentional break. It was just procrastination, which feels different.

I hope to finish the first draft of this book today or tomorrow, and after that, I’m taking time off from serious work. I’ll still be maintaining my posting schedule and being around on social media, since I can’t really vanish while I’m launching books. I’m just not going to stick to my usual working routine. Now I just have one big scene left to write!

writing

Planning

I’m getting close to the end of the first draft of the third book in my mystery series, and I’m a little scared about how well it seems to be going—that tends to mean there’s something I haven’t noticed, and it will all fall apart as I get to the end. But maybe I shouldn’t be scared because I tried something new with this book: detailed planning.

When it comes to being a plotter—a writer who outlines how the book will go—or a pantser—someone who writes by the seat of the pants, making it up as they go—I’m afraid I’ve generally fallen into the worst of both worlds. I can’t start writing without some sort of outline, usually a pretty big-picture, rough list of the major story points. But then I have no idea how those things will actually happen, and that means I’m generally wrong about a lot of them. I end up making it up as I go, and then I have to do a lot of rewrites to find the story I really want to tell in all that mess. I can write a rough draft in a month or so, and then I’ll spend six months rewriting it.

About the only book I’ve ever written that went totally as planned was Enchanted, Inc. I still did a fair amount of rewriting, but it was to beef up the humor and expand some scenes. The basic plot stayed the same. I didn’t even have editorial revisions on that book.

With everything else, it’s been more of a struggle. I may know the setup in detail, but the resolution is so vague I might as well not have planned anything.

On this book, I tried doing more detailed outlining. My big-picture outline followed a structure with more beats in it, and it forced me to do a lot more thinking about why everything was happening, which gave me some additional ideas. Then I did a more detailed scene-by-scene outline, getting into the scene/sequel structure, which forced me to really get into action and reaction that drives to the next action. I didn’t do the more detailed outline for the whole book at once, though. I did about four scenes (and in this sense, I’m not really talking about the usual sense of “scene” but rather the action that follows a particular objective until the character needs to come up with a new objective, so it might span multiple chapters) before I started writing, and then after writing I’d outline the next scene or so. Doing the outline allowed me to spot and solve plot problems before I invested the time in writing. Sometimes outlining the next scene made me go back and adjust an earlier scene to set something up properly or go in a different direction at the end, but it wasn’t major rewriting. This seems to be saving me a lot of time. It’s a lot quicker to rewrite an outline that isn’t working than to rewrite a book that isn’t working. The writing goes smoothly because I know what needs to happen. There’s still stuff I make up on the fly because my outline doesn’t necessarily tell me what the scene needs to look like. I don’t feel stifled by the outline. If anything, it actually frees me up to be more creative. I’ve made the structural decisions, which gives me room to relax and play with how things actually happen.

I’ll have written this draft in about three weeks, and unless I realize some major flaw later, I don’t think it will require major surgery. I may want to expand on description and emotion, and there are some minor things I need to tweak for continuity, but I don’t anticipate it being one of those things that takes six drafts and half a year.

I’ll have to keep trying this. Getting more books out would be good. Spending less time tearing my hair out is lovely.

Books

Epic Fantasy for My Readers

I haven’t done a book recommendation in a long time, but I just finished a series that would fall into the category of epic fantasy for people who like my books.

I fell in love with fantasy in part due to The Lord of the Rings, so I do love a good traditional epic fantasy. It’s been harder lately to find something I want to read, though, because of the “grimdark” trend. I want to read about worlds that are actually places I might want to go (though probably not during the events of the book because that’s when things are tense) and people I would want to know in real life. I don’t want to read about a place where everything’s always terrible and people are awful and life generally sucks, but there’s magic, so yay? Unfortunately, that’s the sort of thing that was getting the publishing world excited, especially after the success of the Game of Thrones TV series. Whether or not that holds true after 2020 remains to be seen, and it will be a couple of years before any new trends start hitting bookstores.

But I have found a series that’s more of an intimate epic fantasy, in that it focuses on the main characters instead of the massive, faceless armies. Bad things do happen to our main characters, but the books don’t dwell on the gory details. And it’s all ultimately about redemption and reconciliation, with an ending that left me sighing and wishing I could stay with those characters a little longer.

The series is the Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan, and the first book is Theft of Swords. The main characters are a pair of thieves, one a jaded (and somewhat damaged) former assassin and criminal gang member, the other an idealistic master swordsman. They specialize in doing jobs for aristocrats, usually stealing something from one noble for another noble. When they get hired to steal a sword from the king’s castle, they get framed for the murder of the king and end up kidnapping the new king to save him from the same people who killed his father. And that gets them involved in much bigger affairs that could alter the fate of their world.

I do have some caveats, though. This series was initially self-published, and in the early books it kind of shows. When the series was at the fifth book, it really took off, and a traditional publisher bought it, publishing two of the books per volume, with the sixth and final book being new in the final volume. It doesn’t look like they did any editing to release the big publisher version, which made me twitchy. The writing was at best pedestrian, and at worst really klunky, and I desperately wanted to edit it. But I really liked the characters and I was intrigued by the story, so I kept going and eventually got into it enough that I quit polishing the prose in my head (most of the time, unless something really hit me). There are lots of twists and turns, and I didn’t accurately predict all of them. The worldbuilding is also a bit sketchy. There’s an intricate enough history that apparently there are other series set in this world about this history, but the depiction of the society is all over the map, with bits that are medieval mixed with Victorian-era stuff and a bit of Regency-era stuff. It seems to be a world that’s an analogue to medieval Europe, but they’re eating potatoes and drinking coffee. That won’t bother a lot of readers, but there are some whose heads will be exploding.

But, as I said, I really liked the characters, and I cared what happened to them. There’s a lot of good character growth and development along the way. Characters you may initially dislike will end up redeeming themselves until they become favorites. The plotting is pretty intricate, with lots of twists and reversals, and definitely with an awareness of tropes so that you think you know where things are going because you’ve read fantasy before, and then there will be a twist on the trope. After spending the first quarter of the first book going “I can’t read this,” I ended up plowing through the whole series. The writing did get a lot better along the way, so I completely quit mentally editing. It has a lot of the usual epic fantasy ingredients, with magic, dwarfs, wizards, elves, and the battle over an empire, but it’s fun, has some humor, a subtle romance, good friendships, and a truly feel-good ending. While I’m not sure I’d call it “gentle,” it would fit into the “clean” category in that there’s no sex or bad language, and the violence isn’t really graphically described. I think that my fans who are interested in more traditional epic fantasy may enjoy it.

In other news, if you aren’t a Kindle reader and haven’t read my Christmas novella and want to, you’ll probably need to get it before early next week because I’m thinking of putting it in Kindle Unlimited for the rest of the year, and that will mean it isn’t available anywhere but Amazon. I prefer to distribute my books everywhere, but sales are down to nothing on that one, and I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see if I can reach new readers that way. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you’ll want to wait a little while and get it then.

There’s also a little less than a week remaining to get the Clean Fantasy StoryBundle, which includes my book A Fairy Tale, along with many others. It’s a great way to find new authors and series to enjoy.

Life

On Trend

I seem to have accidentally stumbled upon being trendy—something that never happens to me. I’m not the sort of person who listened to the band before it was cool. I usually discover it after it’s no longer cool. But for once in my life, I may be ahead of the curve. I noticed a mention online about a trend called “cottagecore,” which seems to be about a way of making being stuck at home be pleasant, focusing on cozy, homey things like baking, gardening, knitting, making jam, etc. Gee, I’ve been doing all that for ages, so I guess I was cool before all that became cool. If you’re an Instagram influencer, there’s apparently a wardrobe and aesthetic that goes with it, and I’m not really there, so I guess I’m not totally cool. I do like the vintage-inspired dresses, and I have made a floaty muslin nightgown, but my “cottage” wardrobe is more likely to be yoga pants and t-shirts.

Pink celosia flowers in pots
I didn’t actually plant these. They grew from seeds shed by last year’s plants.

This is part of all the flour and yeast shortages from earlier this year, since everyone was baking. Last month, I couldn’t find canning supplies, which were sold out everywhere because everyone’s been making jam and putting up the vegetables they grew in their gardens, so I froze the peach butter I made. I did find jar lids last week, so I’m set for when I want to make a fall batch of apple butter. I’ve got a bit of an English cottage garden in pots on my patio. I’ve got lots of pots of celosia (coxcomb) that grew from seeds that

Blue morning glory blooms
My beloved morning glories.

must have fallen from last year’s flowers, since I didn’t plant anything. And there’s my morning glory, which gets babied because I love those flowers. I got wild and crazy last week and bought some lettuce plants, so I’ll be growing my own salad.

In the meantime, I’m gearing up for a full-on hygge fall and winter. I’m searching for the perfect scented candles to create the best atmosphere for various activities. Spice and citrus scents are supposed to be good for focus while working, and I want to find something that smells like a campfire, since I can’t have a fire pit where I live. I’ve discovered wood wick candles that crackle like a fire. I’m looking forward to evenings snuggled under a blanket, with a “campfire” candle crackling away, good music on the stereo, and a good book. Then there are mornings and afternoons on the patio with my flowers and a cup of tea.

I’m not really fancy enough to have a “lifestyle.” This is just stuff I enjoy. I love baking because the process is enjoyable and the results are even more enjoyable. Green things make me happy. I like to be surrounded by nature. I’m happiest among trees, but flowers also work. I like making things and learning things. Maybe I should put on a floaty dress and start Instagramming all this.

And I’ll probably still be doing all this stuff when the influencers have moved on to the next trend.

Alas, it’s still too warm to do much baking right now. I’m so ready for fall weather. But I guess it kind of works because I’m deep into work on a book, and I might as well be inside churning out words while it’s still too warm. Then maybe real fall will hit when I’m through with the book and ready to take time off.

writing life

Weekends

The book has launched, and I’ve already made a bit of a profit, based on the actual cost of publication. I don’t want to think about what I’ve earned per hour for the work I put into it. That way lies madness and submitting an application at McDonald’s. I have to remind myself that one of the points of publishing for myself is that I can play the long game instead of being like the big publishers that expect instant results. Big thanks to those who’ve bought a copy already. I really hope you enjoy it.

I started writing book 3 in this series this week, and I’m really having fun with it. I’m trying to be creative about the kinds of crimes that need to be investigated. They won’t all be murders because I’m trying to avoid having a small town whose murder rate rivals that of most big cities. The mystery in book 2 involves theft. The case in book 3 is based on something that actually happened in the city where I live. I saved a copy of a news article about it because I thought it might make a good basis for a mystery novel someday, and I think it’s the kind of thing that might happen in a town like the one in the books.

I have to say, it feels good to get back to writing. I feel like I’ve spent the past couple of months doing editing, proofreading, formatting, and administrative work, and having all the business stuff done is a huge weight off my shoulders. Now I just get to sit around and make things up all day.

One thing I’m looking forward to is having an actual weekend. For the past month or so, I’ve either been working through the weekend or I’ve been recovering from a vaccination. When I’m editing and proofreading, I try not to take days off, even if I just do a little bit of work, because I want the book to stay fresh in my head. I need to remember that I used that phrase in the previous chapter or that I’ve already used that joke. There’s a tendency when revising to think of the perfect thing to say and to stick it in — without realizing that you already said it elsewhere in the book in a previous draft. So I’ve been working during weekends, and when I’ve had a free weekend, I’ve had a shingles shot and then a flu shot, so I spent the weekend feeling bad and resting.

I do try to take weekends off, otherwise. I hear people saying you have to write every day to be a “real” writer, and I think “Oh, no, bad idea.” You need rest to recharge, and that’s even more important when you work at home, where it’s easy to fall into a routine in which all days are the same. I make a point of making an occasion out of weekends. Friday night is movie or TV night. I make a fun dinner and then watch something. Saturday is for a leisurely breakfast, a pot of tea, and the Saturday crossword puzzle before I play the housework game. I wash my bed linens, and I try to do as much housework as possible while the laundry is going. Once the sheets are out of the dryer and back on the bed, I get to take the rest of the day off. I’m trying to be better about doing things rather than goofing off online. I may work with my plants, read, bake, or practice music. Saturday night is either another movie night or a reading night, depending on how I feel, what book I have, and what the classical radio station is playing.

I get in bed relatively early on Saturday night because a radio program I like starts at 10. It’s a show about musical theater, and I like to lie in bed and listen to it. It usually covers some kind of theme and will play songs that fit that theme or songs from musicals that cover the theme. I have fun playing “name that singer” and figuring out which cast recording they’re using. One thing I find interesting is how many of the TV stars of the 1970s got their start in musicals. There were some I knew about, like Hal Linden from Barney Miller and Linda Lavin from Alice, but there were a lot of others. Like, I didn’t know Alan Alda from M*A*S*H had done musical theater, but he had a fantastic voice. Also from M*A*S*H, Gary Burghoff, Radar, was the original Charlie Brown from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. A lot of guest and supporting cast members from sitcoms had been pretty big on Broadway. I keep having to pull up IMDB on my tablet to look up familiar names.

I try to keep Sunday as a quiet day. There’s church (online for now), the Sunday newspaper and crossword puzzles, and a lot of reading. That’s usually a PBS night on TV, if there’s something good on Masterpiece Theatre. If not, there’s a choral music show and an early music show on the radio.

It’s not an exciting weekend, but I try to make it feel different from a weekday. That helps me keep the days straight and gives my brain a break. Then I actually feel somewhat energized and ready to go on Monday.

I’ll have a lot of housework to catch up on this weekend after either not feeling well or having other work to do for the past four or so weekends. But I think there will also be some celebrating getting the book out. It’s easy to get so caught up in the work that I forget to celebrate the victories.

Books

Falling Into Mystery

One more day until the new book comes out! My original plan was to release it in March. It’s set in late February, so I thought that timing would fit well. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near ready at that time. But I think it’s appropriate to be unleashing mysteries upon the world in the fall because that’s when I usually think about reading mysteries. I’m a seasonal sort of reader. Although I will mix things up throughout the year, depending on what I’m interested in reading at the time, what books are coming out, and what series I’m into, generally I read romance and women’s fiction in the summer, mysteries in the fall, and epic fantasy in the winter. I don’t seem to have a book preference for spring.

I think maybe it’s that association with spookiness and death that makes me turn to mysteries in the fall. There’s a hint of darkness even to a light mystery because it’s about crime. That fits well with fall. A fall night is a good time to curl up with a cup of tea and a mystery novel. Even when the book takes place in other times of year, my brain tends to decorate the scene with autumn leaves.

It is possible that I’m especially prone to thinking of English cozy mysteries in the fall because both times I’ve been to England, it was in October. My mental image of English villages has autumn colors and a hint of wood smoke in the air.

Oddly enough, this is about the only series I’ve written that doesn’t start around the fall. I guess I think of that season as a time for new beginnings, going back to the start of a school year. I also tend to start writing new series in the fall. With this one, I did do that, even as I was writing about February.

I’m probably not going to be reading many mysteries this fall because I generally don’t read the genre I’m currently writing, and I started writing book 3 in this series yesterday. I’ll read that kind of book before I start writing or between books, but I don’t want to risk absorbing anyone else’s style while I’m writing. I did go on a mystery movie binge last weekend, though. I rewatched Knives Out (which has a lovely autumn setting), then watched One for the Money, which was based on the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. I’m way behind on books in that series, but at one point I’d read enough to contribute an essay about them to a book. I’d heard bad things about the movie, but I thought it was a pretty faithful adaptation, and the casting worked well for me. It’s a pity they didn’t get to do more so that they could have highlighted all the fun supporting characters who were barely introduced in the first movie.

I’m hoping people discover my new series, though I’m a little worried because there haven’t been that many pre-orders. I’m playing the long game here, with the idea of building as I go and increase awareness, so I’ll try not to fret over it.

My Books

Mysteries and Me

A mystery novel may seem to be a big departure for an author who’s been writing fantasy, but it really isn’t for me. I noticed not long after Enchanted, Inc. came out that many of the books listed under the “people who bought this also bought” section on Amazon for that book were mystery novels, and in a lot of ways, the Enchanted, Inc. books work like a cozy mystery series. We have a (mostly) amateur sleuth who gets dragged into solving cases and stopping bad guys, working with the hot guy who’s a kind of official, and the ongoing development of their relationship happens alongside the cases.

I wasn’t thinking in those terms when I was writing the books, but it makes sense, since I’ve been a mystery reader ever since I discovered Nancy Drew when I was in third grade — ironically, when I was looking for books about witches and got a Nancy Drew book with a misleading title. I remember always trying to find the last book in the Nancy Drew series to see if Nancy and Ned ever really got together for good. Little did I know that there really is no end. Around that same time, I also found the Trixie Belden books, the Cherry Ames books, and other mysteries aimed at younger readers.

When I was in junior high, I discovered Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, Dick Francis, and Ellis Peters. I love the Cadfael books by Ellis Peters, but when I was a teen, it was her “contemporary” (from the time she was writing them, but they were set in the 60s) books that I really liked. There were several about the twenty-something son of a police inspector who tended to stumble upon crimes when he was traveling with his friends, but the one I really liked was Never Pick up Hitchhikers, which I wished would be a series, but I think it was a standalone. I still remember the nightmares I had when my mom made me turn out the light and go to bed just when I reached the part where the hero was about to go investigate something, thinking he’d surely make it out before that building closed. The last line of the chapter was “famous last words.” My brain kept trying to figure out what happened next, and I got no sleep. I may as well have stayed up to finish it.

These days, I lean heavily toward the cozy side of things, mostly because I can’t take a lot of stress right now. My new series wasn’t begun with the COVID world in mind, but I think it may be the perfect tonic for these times. If you’re looking for edge-of-your-seat suspense, these aren’t the books for you, but if you want to escape to a fun little town, where you can maybe try to solve a puzzle or just go along for the ride, hang out with nice people, and see bad guys get a comeuppance, this may be what you’re looking for. These books are also shorter than my other books. They’re the sort of thing you could easily read in a weekend.

Speaking of the COVID world, I made a conscious decision to ignore the pandemic, even though book 2 would have taken place during the first wave when the state was shut down. I never say in the book exactly what year it’s all taking place, but there is an election mentioned in book 1. I hope people are reading these books for years to come, and because it’s an election for the US House that’s mentioned, that could be two years from now or two years ago, as well. The ice storm that hits in the first book didn’t actually happen in that part of the world this year. And, besides, there are ghosts and people with supernatural powers in this world, so it’s already an alternate reality.