Sally Berneathy’s The Ex Who Wouldn’t Die

Sally Berneathy’s Lively Ghost

Sally Berneathy puts us on a speeding Harley with Amanda Randolph at the pulse-pounding start of The Ex Who Wouldn’t Die, the first in her Charley’s ghost series. Sally keeps the action going through a terrible crash and Amanda’s rescue by her husband Charley, who cajoles her, berates her, and bullies her into crawling up an embankment to the road so someone will find her.

Only thing: Charley is acting weird. He says he can’t call 911 on her cell. And when she tries to grab him, she falls right through him. This is logical since Charley’s dead, murdered by someone who’s also out to kill Amanda.

I’ve written about the start of The Ex Who Wouldn’t Die partly to show how well it hooks the reader. But also Sally shows great range in this mystery with a light touch. In fact, some of my favorite parts are the quiet scenes in which we visit Charley’s family home. Again, Sally presents plenty of details–fried chicken on a flowered plate, the songs of the mockingbird Amanda hears from the porch–to let us experience the place in the country where Charley grew up. This house and Charley’s mom exude calm amid the calamities of Amanda’s life. And I found these sections powerful and touching. To me, these scenes are the heart of the book.

And overall, though this mystery focuses on a ghost, its pages are very much alive.

I also recommend Sally’s Death by Chocolate mystery series. Featuring another troublesome husband, those mysteries are also light–downright hilarious in spots.

Sally Goldenbaum’s Murder in Merino

Late September Vacation

It’s always a pleasure to read Sally’s latest Seaside Knitters Mystery because for me, living in the landlocked Midwest, it’s like taking a vacation at the shore. When I was a youngster, my family often visited several of my mom’s relatives who lived in New Jersey, if not on the beach, then within an hour’s drive. A trip to the shore isn’t feasible for me now, but Sally’s deft descriptions on page one take me right back there. Plus, contrasting details like “foamy surf crashing against the rocks or water smooth as silk” create tension, ever a plus in fiction, especially mysteries.

For the eighth outing in Sally’s series, the author has chosen autumn as the season–after the tourists have left Sea Harbor, Massachusetts, leaving one mysterious visitor lingering there. Julia, nicknamed Jules, Ainsley soon becomes a subject of speculation for the Seaside Knitters: Nell Endicott, the main viewpoint character of this novel; her niece Izzy Perry; Cass Halloran; and the lively octogenarian Birdie Favazza. Why has Jules decided to stay so long after the season? Why is she so interested in buying Izzy’s little house without ever having been inside it? What’s inside the locket Jules always wears?

With many popular series, readers get caught up in the personal lives of the continuing characters and enjoy following them from book to book just like we enjoy catching up with the lives of old and dear friends. Murder in Merino is no exception. Here we find Nell and husband Ben approaching their fortieth wedding anniversary. Will it go off all right? Izzy and Sam dote over their baby girl while Cass is shocked to see her boyfriend Danny Brandley standing too close to the beautiful Jules Ainsley. Is there something going on between them?

Personally, I also enjoy being in on some of the continuing, comforting rituals of these characters’ lives like the Friday evening potluck suppers on the Endicotts’ deck. The food is delicious and so is this lively mystery, especially when it plunges backwards in time to other folks that once lived in the little house Jules Ainsley longs to own. Why?

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 I’ve included my blog post about the fourth installment in this series. Originally posted on December 23, 2010, as part of the “fiction addict” series, it focuses on what I learned from A Holiday Yarn that helped me write Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, the mystery I was working on at the time.

Sally Goldenbaum’s A Holiday Yarn

The Power of Thought

Not long ago, in one of the writing groups I belong to, my friends gave me to know that the pace of early chapters of my WiP is hectic. I’ve got lots of plot, they said, but I need to slow down and give my protagonist and my readers some breathers here and there.

By good fortune, at the time my friends told me “You need to slow down, Juliet,” I was reading A Holiday Yarn, the latest in Sally Goldenbaum’s Seaside Knitters Mysteries. This installment has a particularly thoughtful protagonist/viewpoint character in Nell Endicott.

As I read, it struck me that Nell’s thoughts and reactions are exactly the way a person not used to violence might react to murder, much differently than the police detective in Tami Hoag’s Kill the Messenger, for example. Nell is quietly unsettled by the murder and determined to figure out, with the help of her fellow knitters, who committed the crime so that peace will return to their little town.

Another knitting amateur detective leaps to mind, Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple. Like Miss Marple, Nell is an armchair detective who figures out solutions to crimes often while she knits. Over the years, though, Miss Marple has developed a type of wisdom edged by cynicism. Nell’s not cynical but thoughtful and quite troubled about what would drive a person to commit murder.

In more ways than one, Ella, the protagonist of my WiP, resembles Sally G’s Nell more than Agatha G’s Miss Marple. For one thing, like Nell, my protagonist is married though she has three kids while Nell and her husband are childless.

In the years of their marriage, Ella’s husband has shielded her from the type of abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of her stepmother and stepsisters. She’s forgotten about the worst elements of their torment, though they twit her slyly every chance they get, especially about her slight weight problem even though her younger stepsister is downright fat.

Once the plot of my novel gets rolling, the protection Ella’s husband has provided over the past twenty years is ripped from her, her children taken away, and she’s exposed to scorn, sarcasm, blame for a crime she didn’t commit, as well as to physical violence she’s grown unaccustomed to. The antagonists in the book give her lots to think about and to react to along the way.

Going back for a second look at A Holiday Yarn, I noticed that indeed it starts with Nell reflecting on the unsettling events that unfold in the book. Though this lasts only a page before we zip back several weeks and head into a scene with increasing amounts of dialogue, action, and some description, it establishes Nell as a thoughtful person.

The book continues for another twenty-four pages leading up to the discovery of the murder victim. Shortly after this, Nell literally sits down to ponder the events of the night before. Sally gives Nell nearly five pages to react to this event that deeply shocked and saddened her before the narrative moves into the next scene. Later in the book, though not at such length, Nell again takes time to think about what has happened.

Sitting down to think about a murder instead of rushing on to the next thing as my character often does strikes me as a very realistic response of a quiet, thoughtful person unused to violence. Besides the emotional and psychological realism they add, the thought-passages allow the protagonist and the reader to consider the moral elements of the crime before continuing.

And so, following the examples provided by A Holiday Yarn, I’ve already added a quiet, thoughtful scene between two action scenes in my WiP. Thanks, Sally G., for your model, and happy holidays to all who read this blog installment, the last of 2010.

 

 

Cinderella: Living Happily Ever After

Juliet Kincaid’s Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mysteries

Cinderella PI Kindle Cover 2-4-2013bMost of us heard or read fairy tales when we were young or view Disney versions of stories like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We still can and do as grown-ups. For instance, Disney recently has brought us Tangled, the story of Rapunzel, one of the folktales transcribed by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. On television we can watch Grimm or the family friendly Once Upon a Time. As many of you know, I’m writing a series of mysteries featuring Cinderella as a private detective twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball.

How did I come to write these mysteries?

Well, back in 1996 at a writing conference I heard someone say that it’s very hard to write a complete story in fewer than 2,000 words. (This obviously was before the rise of flash fiction that typically tops out at about 500 words.)

Shortly after that, with this challenge in mind, I set out to write a story in fewer than 2,000 words.

Why did I choose Cinderella?

Now, at the time, I happened to have a copy of Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum by Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen in my office at the community college where I taught writing for twenty-five years. This textbook includes a unit on fairy tales, specifically “Cinderella,” the best-known fairy tale in the world. Indeed, there are more than 700 versions of this fairy tale including traditional versions handed down from generation to generation before they were written down and published by folks like Charles Perrault in the Mother Goose Tales of 1697 and literary versions like Tanith Lee’s “When the Clock Strikes.”

FYI: the earliest version that scholars have a specific date for–between 850-860 A.D.–is the Chinese story of Yeh-hsien, who had tiny feet. One of the more recent versions is Marissa Meyer’s Young Adult novel Cinder, first published in January of 2012, in which Cinderella is a cyborg.

But back to the start of my journey with Cinderella, I’ve always been intrigued with the “happily ever after” tag that ends many fairy tales. I feel that if you’re bored you’re not happy. So what would keep Cinderella from getting bored in her life with Prince Charming? I asked myself. And as a reader of crime fiction, I promptly decided that my Cinderella would be a private investigator. (I was terribly naïve about how busy Royal families can keep with their duties, causes, etc.)

Before I started writing, I made some technical decisions to keep the story short. These included using a first person narrator who could provide background information succinctly without sounding like a manual. Also I chose present tense in preference to past tense, so I wouldn’t get mired in “haditis.” (After I heard an agent say she never represented fiction written in present tense, though, I switched to past tense.)

Once I made those decisions, my Cinderella started talking to me, as characters often do. And lucky for me, she has continued to do so through twenty-nine stories and two novels.

Also lucky for me, the fairy tale provides certain expectations that made writing go more easily.

For instance, most folktales use the same plot line. The protagonist wants something. In the classic Grimm version of the tale, for instance, Cinderella, called Ashputtle in this rendition, wants to go to the ball thrown by the King whose son is in need of a wife. To get there, Ashputtle must surmount several obstacles. But never fear, she prevails, dances with the Prince and after a few more challenges, marries him and lives happily ever after.

I also had a setting in time and place. My Cinderella’s world is sort of like our middle to late 19th century. People still got around in horse-driven carriages. But once my heroine started talking to me in a voice rather like my mother’s, I got in at least a few contemporary touches. That first story, for instance, starts with “So that morning, as usual, I’m out on the balcony on the treadmill, trying to run off a few extra pounds. . . .” The treadmill is mechanical, but her obsession with her weight is 21st century.

The basic plot supplied important characters. In her happily ever after, Cinderella has a charming husband, but she also still has her stepmother and stepsisters, collectively called the Steps in my mysteries. She also has a helper, a fairy godmother. In “Cinderella, P. I.,” though, the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, and Cinderella helps her fairy godmother find her magic wand that’s gone missing.

When you work with such a rich tradition as folktales provide, often serendipity operates. For instance, in the first story I needed someplace for the fairy godmother to live. And what should appear in my head, but the little cottage in the woods formerly owned by the Three Bears. Plus I never quite know who will show up in these stories. For instance, when I needed to get my protagonist somewhere far away in a hurry in “Cinderella and the Usual Suspects,” she flew “Air Mother Goose.”

Along with the basics, the original story has certain logical yet sometimes unexamined elements. For instance, logic demands that our heroine’s name is actually Ella with “cinder” a pejorative prefix. Indeed, in my stories, Ella’s royal in-laws insist that the “Cinder” be dropped. Also, implicit in the basic tale is the story of an abused child and how she prevails over an unhappy childhood without losing her inherent kindness and sweetness of character.

One last thing, it’s logical that Ella missed out on her education and so she doesn’t speak like you’d expect a princess would. As a result, even as I wrote the last draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, I couldn’t always predict what my Cinderella would say and how she would say it. I hope she keep surprising me as she continues to live happily ever after in my stories and novels.

Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is currently available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI and as a trade paperback: ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1.

Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is now available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00LGXFB2W.

Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mysteries is available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI.

COMING SOON: two more story collections featuring Cinderella twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball: Cinderella Around the World and Cinderella and the Holy Grail.