Monday, September 25, 2023

When a cozy mystery takes a 90-degree turn by Joan Havelange


Find my books here

I love writing cozy/whodunit mysteries. But this time, I’m venturing out of my comfort zone. With, ‘Moving is Murder.’ This mystery is in the thriller genre.

The concept for this thriller came to me with the thought of what would happen if my protagonist, Mabel, wasn’t as clever as she thought. And she got into a heap of trouble? I was going to use Mabel, my leading character from my cozy mystery series. But I was advised early on to bring in a new character. The readers of my cozy mystery series would not believe Mabel could get herself into the dire circumstances that envelop my new protagonist, Linda.

My thriller starts out like any cozy mystery. Things go awry when Linda trusts the wrong person.

It’s a fast-paced thriller. And even as I wrote it. I wasn’t sure if Linda would best the antagonist.

How well do you know your neighbours?

Linda Burton is house-sitting for her aunt’s friend in the pretty little town of Glenhaven. Linda, who has spent her working career in the city, has fallen in love with the pleasant little country village. Everyone she has met is so friendly.

Strolling down the alley one evening in search of Gertrude, a pet cat. Linda hears a voice complaining about burying a body. Not completely convinced she heard correctly. Linda decides to emulate her heroes. Amateur detectives. She tries her hand at detecting. Unfortunately, Linda puts her trust in the wrong person.

Can Linda outwit the killer? Will her aunt Violet figure out the clues Linda has left? And even if Violet does, will it be too late for Linda? And will Violet fall into the same trap?


An excerpt from ‘Moving is Murder.

Chapter One


“Gertrude,” Linda Burton hollered for the third time. The petite, freckle-face woman with auburn hair stood on a wooden veranda overlooking the backyard. Linda rested her forearms on the railing, her brown eyes searching for movement. Was the cat prowling in the yard? Or had it wandered away? A warm spring breeze rustled the lilac bushes that lined one side of Mabel Havelock’s backyard. Linda took a deep breath, enjoying the floral aroma of the lilacs. Overhead, a half-moon shone. The moonlight filtered through green leafy trees onto Mabel’s newly planted garden. There was no sign of Gertrude, Mabel’s cat.

Linda was house-sitting for Mabel Havelock. Mabel had broken her foot. She was a good friend of Violet Ficher, Linda’s aunt. Her Aunt Violet explained that she had to get Mabel out of town and away from her garden. Because broken foot or not, Mabel would be out in the garden, hoeing and weeding. So, her aunt took Mabel to Calgary, where they both had daughters.

Linda, who was newly divorced, had just quit her job as a kindergarten teacher. Now, she was between jobs and at loose ends. The peace and quiet of house-sitting appealed to her.

She’d been a kindergarten teacher at a school in Regina for ten years. Linda loved teaching the children. But then, after her husband of ten years walked out on her for another woman. Linda decided it was time to make a complete change in her life. Linda often visited her aunt in Glenhaven and loved the sleepy little town. City life was fine while she was working, but now the country life was calling. Maybe not only a change of jobs but also a change of location was what she needed. She was still young at thirty. She’d find a job. Her lips twisted. Her ex-husband Howard’s gift to her on her thirtieth birthday was the announcement he was leaving her for a younger woman.

Linda took in a deep breath of the fragrant, fresh air. She felt the tension leave her body. Yes, this friendly community of Glenhaven looked inviting. It might be time to move.

“Gertrude,” Linda called again. She wanted the cat in the house. If something happened to Gertrude while she was house-sitting, she would never forgive herself. Linda had grown very fond of the tabby cat. Her ex said having a pet in an apartment was unfair to the animal to be alone all day. And as always, she’d been compliant. It was time to make decisions for herself. If she did move to Glenhaven, she would get a cat. She had fallen in love with Gertrude.

A small furry animal shot across the lawn. The animal stopped and crouched. Looking down from the porch, Linda couldn’t tell if it was the cat, a gopher, or a squirrel. The animal darted across the grass into the lilac bushes. “Kitty, kitty,” Linda called in the high-pitched voice one used for calling cats. She padded down the porch steps and across the lawn. Linda sat on her heels, peered under the shrub, and called again. She pressed her lips together and sighed. There was no answering meow.

Linda scrambled to her feet and brushed the grass off her knees. It would be a fabulous evening for a stroll down the back lane. Something she would never consider in the city, but she might find Gertrude, who was probably a frequent visitor down the alley. The alleyway, lined with trees and hedges, was undoubtedly good hunting for the errant cat. But Mabel’s cat was old, and Linda suspected Gertrude was unsuccessful in her hunts.

A brilliant streak of light shot across the night sky, leaving a long, shimmering white tail. Linda tilted her head back, watching the path of the meteor. The meteor disappeared as quickly as it came. Didn’t people make a wish on a shooting star? If she had, what would she want to wish for? Maybe good health? She was already healthy. Good fortune? She was fortunate. A safe and happy life? Linda smiled. The shooting star was long gone. Too late to make a wish.

Linda trod across the lawn. Dew was already forming, making the grass damp. Her feet, encased in red rubber flip-flops, felt squishy. “Gertrude,” she called as she ducked under a branch from a low-hanging tree. A leafy twig brushed her head. Combing the leaves from her hair, Linda continued down the back alley, calling for the cat. She listened. No answering meow happened, just rustling in the grass as some small rodent scurried away.

Continuing her trek down the laneway, Linda pursed her lips and shook her head. A lot of the backyards had overgrown hedges, such a contrast to the neighbours’ front yards. The yards along the street were well-maintained. With green-mowed lawns and neat, well-tended flowerbeds. If she could see past the shrubs and trees, would she also see untidy backyards?

As she passed a tall wooden-planked backyard fence, Linda chuckled to herself. Who were Mabel’s neighbours trying to keep out? After all, this was little Glenhaven, Saskatchewan. Linda lived in Regina and never walked down a back alley alone at night. But Linda felt at ease in Glenhaven, a friendly little community in the middle of the Canadian prairies. She had nothing to fear as she walked down the dark alley, even though she had only the moon and the stars to guide her.

A low, menacing growl sent the hairs on the back of Linda’s neck to stand up. She sucked in her breath and froze. The threatening growl came from behind a tall chain-link fence. Ferocious barking followed. Linda’s heart leapt as she darted to the far side of the lane, falling on her hands and knees. Scrambling to her feet, she looked across the narrow gravel road. A massive Rottweiler charged at the metal fence. The fence shook. Linda recoiled, backing up even farther from the raging beast. The enormous Rottweiler bared its teeth, viciously growling and barking. The angry animal, snarling and growling, lunged repeatedly at the fence. The chain-link fence rattled, swaying with each leap. The enraged Rottweiler stood on its hind legs, pawing to get out. Linda turned and fled. Her short legs pumped as her flip-flops slapped the gravelled laneway. She raced down the alley away from the chain-link monster. When the barking stopped, Linda stopped running and bent over. She put her hands on her knees, her breath coming in gulps. Who the heck lived there? And what did they have, that needed a Rottweiler to protect?

Linda’s breath eased. She stood, brushed off her hands and knees, peering down the dark alley toward the chain-link monster. She would walk down to the other end of the alleyway and return home via the sidewalk. There was no way she was going back near that crazy dog. Sure, the dog was behind the chain-link fence. But what if somehow it escaped? She was not going to take that chance.

Calling again for the cat, Linda waited and listened. Again, no answering meows, only the cries of a far-off hoot owl. After her heart returned to its regular beat, Linda resumed the trek down the lane. She slowed her pace. It was a beautiful night. Linda wasn’t going to let some mangy hound spoil her walk. The owl hooted again as she passed more backyards, all with tall wooden fences. Linda stepped into a pothole and stumbled. She shook the gravel from her flip-flop. In her opinion, the alleyway had more than its fair share of potholes. But still, walking down this alley was a treat. It was something she would never do in her city neighbourhood at night.

A light gust of wind whistling through the leaves in the trees blew Linda’s short auburn hair. The warm breeze felt wonderful on her bare arms. Overhead, the stars twinkled, and a sliver of the moon appeared now and again through the clouds. Country living was the best, Linda thought as she continued her stroll. Everyone here would know everyone on the block. In the city, you were lucky if you knew who lived in the next apartment. And you minded your own business. She heard that people in a small town were a little nosey. But maybe that was the price you paid for living in a caring community. Someone would always be ready to offer a helping hand. The idea of moving to Glenhaven was growing. She was house-sitting for Mabel for a week. She’d see at the end of the week if she still thought that moving was a good idea.

Strange high-pitched chirping sounds made Linda stop in her tracks. Her eyes darted, searching in the darkness for the source of the weird chattering. It definitely didn’t sound like crickets or birds. Uttering a small, frightened cry, Linda ducked. A flock of chirping, bird-like creatures flew straight at her from across the alley. She sucked in her breath, whimpering as she felt the flutter of wings inches above her head. The hoard of small black, clicking creatures beat their wings, circling. Linda covered her head with her hands. Were these bats? Didn’t bats get in your hair? Or was that an old wives’ tale? It was never an old husband’s tale. Giggling nervously, Linda hunkered close to the ground.

The strange fluttering hoard flew off into the night. Linda rose to her feet, brushing the dirt from her hands on her denim shorts. She looked at the night sky, only the moon and the stars. No flying, nocturnal creatures. Linda blew out a breath. Whatever they were, they had disappeared. Satisfied, Linda resumed her walk. Her feet crunched on the gravel. It was quiet. The only sounds now were the crickets, no high-pitched chirping bats. A dog barked in the distance, not the ferocious barking monster dog. This was more of a yapping. Was Gertrude in the dog’s yard?

Linda hurried down the rutted alley, listening for a cat and dog fight. Her flip-flop twisted, coming off her foot, and she stepped on a stone. Linda grimaced. She ought to have worn runners. She picked up her sandal and hopped on one foot to an old, weathered wooden garbage stand. She sat on the edge of the structure, rubbing her foot. Examining her flip-flop, she pondered the name. Flip-flop was an apt name for the sandal. The darn thing flipped off her foot.

Linda wrinkled her nose at an unpleasant odour, and it wasn’t the garbage stand. Her Aunt Violet told her the town had stopped the back-alley garbage pickup four years ago. Mabel left a note with the day that the town collected the garbage. And the instructions to wheel the garbage bin to the end of the driveway for garbage pickup. No, the tall hedge behind the garbage stand was the source of the peculiar stinky odour. Linda decided the hedgerow must be boxwood. It was a beautiful hedge, but it had an odd smell. She remembered the odor from her childhood. Her mother had a boxwood border in her yard.

“Son of a bitch,” swore a man from the other side of the hedge.

Linda stopped shaking her flip-flop and froze. Was that digging? What an odd time to be gardening. The man swore again. Linda dropped her sandal and tried to peer through the thick hedge behind the old garbage stand.

“Son of a bitch, first I dig the damn grave, then I have to fill the damn thing up.”

Linda’s eyes widened. She sucked in her breath. What had she heard? Was someone digging? Whose yard was this? Did he say grave? She couldn’t see through the hedge. And did she want to? No. The hair on the nape of her neck stood up. The man could be coming to the garbage stand. She slid off the wooden frame into the tall weeds, shaking. Elbows pressed to her side, she crouched, trying to make herself small. Would he see her?

The man grunted, and the sound of digging continued. “Damn it, all to hell. Where else am I supposed to hide the damn body?”

A chill ran down Linda’s spine. Her heart thumped in her chest. She held her breath, afraid to make a sound. On the other side of the hedge a man was digging a grave.

A small furry creature scrambled up beside her. The furball was Gertrude. The orange tabby cat climbed onto her lap, angrily meowing in a high-pitched wail. Linda hugged the cat. Her eyes darted to the hedge. Would the man come out to investigate?

A large barking dog came charging down the back lane. Gertrude’s back arched. She hissed, jumped out of Linda’s arms, and shot into the nearby hedge. The dog closed in on Linda. The big, shaggy sheepdog stopped, sniffed her, then licked her face. Still stunned at what she’d heard, Linda, with shaking hands, patted the friendly dog’s head. Who was that man? And who was he talking to? Were there two men?

Across the alleyway, an outside light turned on, and a door slammed. “Bongo, Bongo, get back here. Bongo, Bongo. Here, boy.” The dog gave Linda one last lick, shook his furry coat, and loped back up the lane. “Here, boy. Good boy,” a man’s voice said. The door banged shut, and the outside light shut off.

Linda sat very still, her head cocked, listening for the ominous voice. All was quiet. There were no voices. Menacing or otherwise, only the breeze rustling the leaves in the shrubbery. Her heart leapt. Was the man peeking out at her through the hedge? She scrambled to her feet. And bending low to the ground, Linda hastened a retreat. Her heart pounded as fast as her feet, back down the alley, unmindful of the ruts and potholes. She ran with one sandal on her foot, the other abandoned in the weeds by the garbage stand. The chain-link monster greeted her by charging the fence. The ferocious barking gave her more reason to run. The backyard light was a welcoming sight. Her breath came in big gulps as she plowed straight through the garden. The other flip-flop flew off, and Linda’s bare feet sunk into the soft soil. Sitting at the top of the porch steps was Gertrude. The cat greeted her with an impatient meow.



Sunday, September 24, 2023

Pantser Writing by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey


 Pantser Writing 

If I had to chose between being called a plotter or a pantser writer I am definitely a pantser. I have never worked with a solid outline or arc for my novels, whether they are mystery, historical, romance, or young adult. And this is mainly because I find that my characters seldom end up the way I first pictured them and the plot never takes the route I thought it would.

I either start with an idea or a character and decide the setting and then start writing. I do begin the story with a character in his/her everyday life so the reader can get to know them then I put in the trigger that is out of the control of my main character or starts the mystery. This puts the main character on his/her quest for a solution.

I do have scenes pictured where characters are going to have a certain conversation or be at a certain place but unexpected conversations or character twists surface as I am writing the story. Some of these are surprises or mishaps or problems that get in the way of my character’s quest. I strive not to make these predictable nor so far out that they don’t make sense to the story. They should leave the reader with the thought that (s)he should have figured that would happen. I find that it is no fun to read a book where you can foresee where the story line is headed and what is going to happen before it does.
Sometimes, part way through my story, I have to go back and add chapters at the beginning because one of my characters has decided to say to do something unexpected. I have even had characters try to hijack my story and make it about them. An example is in Sleuthing the Klondike. I had two main characters Helen and Baxter and decided that Helen needed an lady's maid. I introduced Mattie who was supposed to be a very minor character but she suddenly began telling her story and almost took over as the main female character.

For the climax of my stories my character goes through the action of resolving the problem or solving the mystery. This has to be fast paced and sometimes at a risk to the character. By this time the reader should be rooting for the main character and wanting him/her to succeed without injury. Hopefully, too, this is where the surprise comes in, where the reader goes. “Wow, I didn’t see that coming." or "I never thought it would be that person.” I have even been surprised or saddened or happy by the ending of my novels and have said that.
I believe that if my emotions are rocked by the ending so, too, should those of the readers.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Why I Wrote a Contemporary Western Romance by Victoria Chatham



The elements of writing a book can take many forms, but most authors have to do at least some research. For Loving That Cowboy, I had to do a lot. It all started when an editor I'd pitched the idea to at a conference told me I was too English to write a contemporary Western romance. I can't say I was surprised, but I was disappointed. I put the idea aside and concentrated instead on Regency romance. Write what you know, right? I had been immersed in that genre since reading my first Georgette Heyer when I was thirteen years old. I loved the history, the style, and the wit of the Regency era, but that editor's comment still niggled. I had a story, characters, plot, and all the usual stuff. What I didn't have was any knowledge of ranching and rodeos. 

My endlessly patient DDH took me to rodeos, the small out-of-town rodeos where you can be close to the action, as well as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth - the Calgary Stampede. I took photographs from every angle and talked to whoever I could, from the rodeo clowns and pick-up riders to stock contractors, one of whom invited me to visit his ranch. While I was thrilled, my DDH was less so but came along for the ride anyway. Approaching the ranch, we came across a bull loose in the middle of the road. There was no room to drive around it, so we sat there until it decided to move on. We duly arrived at the ranch house and reported said bull, only to have the rancher's wife ask, "Only the one?" From that, I gathered it was a fairly regular occurrence. 

While there, I was able to see bucking bulls and broncs up close and personal and talk to a couple of Australian bull riders, one of whom showed me how to wrap the rigging, just in case I ever fancied getting on a bull that is. Not a chance. I also needed the skinny on a regular cowboy's working day, and for that, I found Steve. Now, anyone who understands anything about the Western way of life will understand the inherent politeness cowboys have. This one blushed red when I asked if I could take him out for a steak dinner in return for his time, as I had a long list of questions. In the end, we compromised and went for pizza.

While waiting for our orders to be served, Steve started reading my list. Then he started to chuckle, which turned into a belly laugh. The question that amused him so much? What kind of underwear do cowboys wear? When he'd finished laughing and wiped away his tears, he asked why I wanted to know that.

"Look it, Steve," I said. "If my heroine is going to slip her fingers beneath the waistband of his blue jeans, what is she going to connect with? Hot skin or red flannel long johns?"

Turns out, it depends on the time of year and personal preference. And Steve? That's on par with what a Scotsman wears under his kilt. So you can judge for yourselves how I did, here's Chapter 1 of Loving That Cowboy. I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter One


Trisha Watts closed her eyes, muttering a prayer to the gods of the airways for a safe landing. The plane banked and levelled into its flight path. The change in pressure made her ears pop, and even yawning and swallowing in quick succession did little to alleviate the pain. Even the oblivion of being in a coma for eight weeks would be preferable to this unexpected result of her accident. Her stomach lurched, and she held herself tightly.

Her last-minute booking secured her a seat towards the tail-end of the plane, but it didn’t matter where she sat. Her nerves now jangled from take-off to landing on any flight. The plane approached the runway in what seemed interminable degrees. With barely a bump to indicate when it landed, it touched down and raced along the tarmac. The sound of the reverse engines reverberated through her head until she wanted to scream.

Everyone rushed to deplane, but not wanting to be part of the crush, she calmed herself as she unbuckled her seat belt and simply waited her turn. As soon as she had room to move, Trisha stood up, stepped into the aisle and reached up to the overhead compartment for her carry-on.

“Let me get that for you.”

A man’s large, long-fingered hand brushed past hers.

“Thanks, I can manage.” She flashed a glance at the owner of the hand.

“I’m sure you can.” His disarming smile showed even white teeth, the result she suspected of healthy living or a very good dentist. “But my momma raised me to always help a lady.”

“Then your momma would be very proud of you.” Trisha stepped back. Her helper’s large frame completely overwhelmed her own five foot seven inches.

Mischief sparked in his smoky-grey eyes. He held the carry-on’s handle for a moment more as if aware his assistance irritated her. “This looks pretty beat up. You travel a lot?”

“Only when I have to.” Given a choice, she preferred a cozy room and a good book to a packed airplane.

He grunted a little as he lifted the carry-on from the compartment. “You carrying the kitchen sink in here?”

“It’s my camera kit.”

“Must be some camera.”

“I’m a photo-journalist, and that case contains several pieces of very valuable equipment. Please be careful with it.”

She reached for the handle, but he continued to hold it. With amusement in his eyes and a teasing smile on his face, he made sure his fingers grazed hers before finally relinquishing his grip. His touch raised goose bumps on her skin, from pleasure or apprehension she couldn’t immediately determine.

“Thank you.” She turned on her heel to join the end of the shuffling line of passengers.

“You’re welcome, ma’am.”

The hot breath of his whisper lingered on her neck. Intuition told her he’d intended it to. She bit back a hasty comment, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of knowing he’d rattled her composure. Despite his attempt to help her, she thought his momma may not have approved of his teasing.

At the exit, she thanked the cabin staff flanking the doorway and breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped onto the jetway. Relief fled when her would-be helper quickly caught up with her.

“Goin’ my way?” he asked as he settled a wide-brimmed cowboy hat on his head.

Trisha shook her head. Heaven help him if that was his only pick-up line.

Striding along the jetway to get ahead of him, she stopped when he overtook her. He winked at her, but before she could vent her frustration with him, he walked away. People coming up behind her grumbled that she was in their way, and she started forward again. Now trailing the large figure by several yards, she kept her distance, hoping he’d accepted that she wasn’t interested in him or his banter.

Annoyed with herself for not being able to take her eyes off his broad shoulders and slim hips, she continued to lag behind. His plaid shirt and denim jeans looked clean and fresh after the long flight, while her clothes were crumpled and creased. Even his boots, though worn at the heel, were clean. He looked every inch a cowboy and so very appealing, but none knew better than she how deceiving looks could be.

Trisha tried not to think about him, but then he passed her while she waited at the luggage carousel. This time he didn’t offer to help.

“Welcome to Calgary, ma’am. Hope you enjoy your stay in our city.” He tipped his hat to her and sauntered off.

“Hope there’s a sunset for you to ride into, cowboy,” she muttered as she grabbed her suitcase and made her own way out into the concourse.

Momentarily disoriented, Trisha stopped to get her bearings. The crowd flowed around her and moved on. She watched families greet each other with open arms. Cab drivers held name cards and waited patiently for their fares. Friends greeted each other with a handshake or a slap on the back, but of her friend Samantha Moore, who had promised to not be late, there was no sign.

Trisha sighed. She’d learnt soon after they’d first met that ‘on time’ and ‘Samantha’ could not be mentioned in the same breath. She’d be late for her own funeral, and how she managed to run a successful modelling agency was beyond Trisha’s comprehension. She reached into her canvas shoulder bag for her cell phone but looked up when someone called her name.

A petite figure sporting spiky white-blonde short hair rushed towards her. Elbows flying, ducking and dodging bodies much bigger than her own, she resembled a demented pixie.

“Hi, you must be Trisha Watts, I’m Dee.” She grabbed the baggage cart and held up a battered photo of Trisha as if it was proof she’d met the right person. “Samantha’s been held up, she’s trying to get a new model under contract, but the girl definitely has her own ideas. Has some outrageous demands, and Samantha’s almost tearing her hair out over it. She said to take you straight to her apartment, and she’ll join you as soon as the ink is dry. Come on, this way.”

Dee’s rapid-fire chatter continued non-stop as she led the way to the waiting car. Trisha could barely get a word in edgewise and gave up in disgust. How like Samantha to have hired a doppelganger.

Dee kept up her verbal onslaught as they drove towards Calgary’s downtown core. To Trisha, one city was much like another. Too many people, too much traffic and, more often than not, too little time for her to explore anyway. In spite of her doubts, Trisha found the compact city skyline far more appealing than she’d expected it to be. An ultramodern angular building bristling with steel and glass caught her attention.

“What’s that place?” she asked.

“Our new science centre.” Dee slid the car easily into the flow of traffic heading into the city. “That’s the zoo on the left and the Bow River right here, and we’re just cutting through Chinatown. Do you like Chinese food?”

“Yes, I do. I also like Greek, Italian and Indian food too, but not necessarily in that order.” Trisha didn’t add her opinion that those foods tasted best when eaten in their countries of origin.

“Calgary’s really cosmopolitan,” Dee continued. “You’ll find all that and more here. But through Stampede, people mostly survive on breakfast fare by day and beer by night. Sometimes we even combine them.”

“Beer with breakfast?” Trisha shuddered at the thought. “You are kidding, I hope?”

“Nope, all the sausages and pancakes you could ever hope for are served up free all over the city throughout the ten days of Stampede.”

The thought of living on a combination of breakfast and beer for ten days made Trisha feel slightly nauseous. She breathed a sigh of relief when the car stopped. The engine purred like a happy cat while Dee pressed a remote control device clipped onto the visor. She hadn’t yet drawn breath as far as Trisha could tell, and the chattering continued as she unloaded the car and led the way to the elevator. Trisha followed, amazed that Samantha’s assistant was still talking.

“But you know Samantha. When I told her it wasn’t really her business, she fired me. Again. Here we are.”

Dee flung open an apartment door. Trisha followed her inside and stopped on the threshold, stunned by the stark white walls and a grey-tiled floor that shimmered like quicksilver. Sunlight poured relentlessly through the large, bare windows adding to the impression of light and space.

“Very Samantha.” Trisha trailed her hand over the back of a zebra-patterned designer sofa. She doubted it would be comfortable. A huge red velvet cushion propped at one end provided an eye-popping color contrast.

“I know.” Dee grinned at Trisha’s surprise. “Everyone has the same reaction to it. Samantha has this great interior designer. He so loved this remodel he’s featured it in loads of magazines. Your room’s down here. Has its own en-suite. Coffee machine’s in the kitchen. Or would you prefer tea? It can brew either. Oh, and wine in the fridge. Anything else you’d like?”

Trisha sat down on the end of a queen-sized bed covered in shadow-striped white linens and tried to catch up.

“Coffee, tea, wine. I think I’ve got it, thank you.” How hard could it be?

Dee wiggled her fingers as a goodbye, assured her Samantha should be with her right away and left.

Trisha didn’t even hear the door close. Peace and quiet at last, thank god, just her and her thoughts which, if she let them, pulled her down to a place she did not want to be. She rubbed a hand over her eyes. No point in dwelling on the past.

Right now, she had a contract to fulfill photographing rodeo stock and interviewing owners and riders. Where better place to do that, the editor at Equine World magazine suggested, than the Calgary Stampede? Oh, and by the way, you don’t happen to know anyone who lives there, do you?

Trisha sighed. Oh, for the days of all-expenses-paid trips. After some consideration, she’d contacted Samantha, knowing that any request she made, for accommodation or otherwise, would probably carry some caveat.

Of course, come and stay with me, Samantha had cooed. You can help me choose pictures of cowboys for the agency. There will be lots of hot cowboys.

Trisha almost smiled at the memory. Having been a photojournalist for almost a decade, she knew she had all the right credentials to help Samantha pick the most photogenic models. Yet a haze of doubt clouded her mind. She owed Samantha a favor, and a pretty big one at that. Her gut told her there would be more to it but heck, it should be a breeze. Shouldn’t it? Pick a couple of photos, for goodness’ sake, and it was done.

The image of the cowboy on the plane drifted into her mind.

“I so hope you’re not one of them,” she muttered as she lay back on the bed.

* * *

The sky could not have been bluer or the ...

Trisha’s eyes flew open. God, when would that dream stop haunting her? Her chest still felt tight with panic as she pushed herself up against the pillows and looked around. Where was she? Then she remembered. With a sigh of relief, she swung her legs off the bed, stood up and stretched the kinks out of her back as Samantha walked into the room.

“What a bitch of a day,” she complained in a voice made husky with whisky and too many late nights.

“Hello, Samantha. It’s good to see you, too.” Trisha couldn’t keep an edge of sarcasm out of her voice at the brusque greeting.

“Oh, hell.” Samantha pulled her into a rough hug. “Don’t mind me, I’m being crabby. How was your flight?”

“Took off from Heathrow, landed in Calgary. What more can I say?”

Trisha subjected herself to a thorough inspection as Samantha held her at arm’s length. “Your hair’s different since I last saw you, and when did you get so skinny?”

“It’s a girl’s prerogative to change her hairstyle and you’re a fine one to be calling me skinny,” Trisha countered. “What marvel diet are you on these days?”

“We’re not talking about me,” Samantha said. “You look like you should be in front of the camera, not behind one. Need an agent?”

Trisha’s insides flipped at the thought. “No, thank you.”

“Hmm. Pity.”

Trisha didn’t miss the speculative gleam in Samantha’s eyes and knew questions were being stored in her friend’s mental filing cabinet. At some point, she would start probing for answers that Trisha would rather not give. Just then, her stomach growled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten for several hours. Samantha didn’t miss it either.

“Do you want to eat out or in?” she asked.

“Whichever’s easiest, but first, I’m having a shower.”

“Go for it.” Samantha sat on the end of the bed. “Everywhere’s going to be crazy with the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth about to start, but it’s still early enough to go shopping and get you duded up.”

Trisha stuck her head around the bathroom door. “Duded up?”

“Yep, pardner.” Samantha tried to hide her amusement behind a serious expression but failed. “From shirts and jeans to boots and a hat, you need everything cowboy. I can’t possibly take you out on the town unless you are dressed western. Please don’t tell me you’re too stuffy for that.”

Trisha snorted with unladylike laughter and closed the door.

* * *

Samantha flicked through racks packed with shirts in a variety of styles and colors. She pulled out a black, then a purple, eyelet shirt for Trisha to try on.

“Here, this purple one will bring out the green in your eyes.” She thrust the shirt at Trisha. “It has darts front and back, so should really show off your waist too.”

Running a practised glance over Trisha’s slim hips and long legs, she then selected four pairs of jeans.

“Here you are, size ridiculous in a thirty-four inch leg.” She added the jeans to the pile of shirts and pushed Trisha into a changing room. “Start trying that lot on. Here’s a pair of boots for you, and I’ll get you a hat.”

“A hat? Are you sure I need one?”

Samantha nodded her head firmly, leaving no room for argument. “I’ll go and find you a belt with a snazzy buckle too. A girl’s got to have bling.”

“What’s so great about bling,” Trisha mumbled to herself as she pulled on a pair of jeans stiff with newness, tucked the shirttail into the waistband and zipped up. She pushed the swinging doors open. “Hey Samantha, what do you think ...”

The squeak from the door hinges covered Trisha’s whispered “hell” as her footsteps faltered. Her eyes narrowed as she recognized the customer at the sales counter.

That cowboy again.

She’d judged him to be at least six foot four inches tall and would know that frame anywhere. Stepping back into the changing room, she hoped he hadn’t seen her. He’d irritated her this morning with his goofy grin and smart remarks. One half of her mind never wanted to see him again. The other half juggled with whether she should take another look at him or not.

Or not would be the sensible choice.

Or not lost.

Taking a tentative step forward, she peered around the changing room door.

A fresh, crisp white shirt did nothing to hide his wide shoulders and broad back. It showed off biceps a body-builder would be proud of. His clean but well-worn blue jeans fit snugly on his hips and thighs. He looked down at something the clerk placed on the counter, and she glimpsed the straight-cut line of dark brown hair across the back of his neck.

Something the clerk said made him laugh, and at the sound of it, unexpected and unwelcome warmth swirled in her belly. What was with that? It was bad enough that she hadn’t forgotten his smoky-grey eyes, screened with thick black lashes that shouldn’t be allowed on a man.

As she watched him, he straightened up and flexed his shoulders. Her gaze tracked the play of muscles beneath the cotton fabric covering them, setting every nerve in her body aquiver. He turned his head from side to side to stretch his neck, and she glimpsed the strong line of his jaw and his firm, square chin. Right then, the hope she harbored that he might be some kind of mirage vanished.

Nope, this man was a real-life heart attack on legs. Her mouth dried in an instant, puckering as if she’d sucked on a slice of lemon.

Furious with herself for her reaction at seeing him again, she let go of the breath she held. She stumbled back into the changing room and collapsed onto the narrow, slatted seat. Built more for holding clothes than a dead weight with rubber legs, she hoped it would hold her.

This morning she never wanted to see him again. This afternoon he sent her pulse into overdrive. Somewhere between then and now, the synapses in her brain must have misfired. That could be the only reason for her ridiculous about turn from a cool, collected professional to behaving like a teenager on her first crush.

She peered out of the changing room once more. The clerk busily wrapped something while the cowboy looked on. Samantha had promised her hot cowboys, but this one sizzled like water dropped on hot coals.

Body parts she’d forgotten existed made themselves known to her in an explosive surge. Catching her lower lip between her teeth, she bit down hard, wincing at the pain. She would not let this happen; would not let herself be overwhelmed by a complete stranger.

“Hey, you okay in there?”

Samantha’s voice jolted her back into the here and now, bringing Trisha to her feet. She pushed her hair out of her eyes and shook the tension from her arms. Lifting her chin a notch, she shouldered her way through the swinging doors and twirled around for Samantha’s expert opinion.

“Much, much better,” Samantha announced as she held out a white hat.

After a moment’s hesitation, Trisha settled it on her head and tucked strands of her dark brown hair behind her ears. Samantha adjusted the hat slightly before nodding with satisfaction.

“Now, step into those boots.”

Trisha stared down at the silver-trimmed, tooled black leather boots Samantha had found for her. They were gorgeous. She pulled on the right boot, the supple leather wrapping around her foot like her mother’s warm hug.

“Samantha, you’re amazing,” she exclaimed as she put her left foot into the other boot. “These fit perfectly. How do I look?”

“From where I’m standing, you look pretty damn fine.”

Both women looked up at the sound of a deep baritone voice. That such a big man could move so quietly amazed Trisha.

Samantha read her witless expression in one swift glance and agreed with him, giving Trisha a chance to regain her composure.

Mr. Heart-Attack-on-Legs gave her a smoldering grey-eyed once over, and she straightened her spine. How dare he sneak up on her?

“May I?” He reached out and adjusted the collar on her shirt, then wound a wayward strand of hair around his finger before brushing it back off her shoulder.

He scarcely touched her, yet the heat and strength of his fingers seared her skin through the thin fabric. In a whirl of confusion, she sensed tenderness in that touch, nothing like the brash casualness she’d experienced from him that morning.

Against her better judgment, she tipped her head back so she could see him more clearly from beneath the brim of her hat and then wished she hadn’t. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from his, and the smart reply her mind produced got lost in transit to her lips.

He aimed a slow, mind-blowing sexy smile directly at her. Her heart swelled and bumped painfully against her ribs. He tipped his hat and winked at her as he left the store.

Trisha watched him go, every breath in her body trailing after him and leaving her breathless.

Samantha, a tiny smirk of amusement twisting her lips, eyed Trisha with sly humor.

“I think that you,” she announced, “are definitely in trouble.”

Victoria Chatham




Friday, September 22, 2023

Striking a balance in a cozy mystery

 Writing a cozy mystery is a joy. What could be more fun than leading a reader through a mystery that doesn't involve blood or gore, and makes them laugh? If done properly, the reader never knows about the author's hours of research, sweat, gut-wrenching self-doubt, characters who refuse to speak when I'm trying to write their dialogue, and the worry that what's being written isn't funny and the mystery is so thin that it's unbelievable.

Yep, that's what writing a cozy is all about. 

Fortunately, I have a muse, a tuba player who we will call Brian Johnson, to hide his real identity. Never mind that his real name is Brian Johnson, and he does play the tuba. Brian planted the seeds that grew into the Whistling Pines cozy series. I have to do the actual writing, but Brian sows a field full of fictional characters, events, and places for me. My job is to select the choice bits of his crop, then to separate the chaff from the seed, arrange those bits in a cohesive plot, while sprinkling in zany characters and improbable events. No problem, right?

Luckily, I have a cast of characters who've inserted themselves into the series over the years. Chief among them is a Whistling Pines character who I've named Hulda Packer. Please ignore the fact that I have an outspoken Aunt named Hulda, who possesses many of the characteristics of the Hulda character. Also ignore the fact that Hulda's children are (happily) convinced that their mother IS the character. Trust me, even if I gleaned a couple of Aunt Hulda's endearing characteristics, I have created a caricature of Aunt Hulda by expanding her idiosyncrasies to a much higher fictional level. 

Then, there is Peter Rogers, the Whistling Pines protagonist, who is the anchor for the series. He's not based on anyone but an image in my mind. He's a peace maker and calming influence. A voice of reason among the zany oldsters living in the Whistling Pines senior residence. He becomes the target of the humor by having to deal with the craziness of the senior citizens and Two Harbors residents.

For example, Brian Johnson suggested the arson plot in Whistling Fireman. That's in part because of Sparky, the fictional Two Harbors fire chief's arrival in Whistling Artist. The Sparky character is so perfectly imperfect, that he had to carry over into the next books in the series. Yes, he will be back in the 2024 Whistling Pines cozy, too. Sparky provides the humorous sparks in Whistling Fireman. From his newfound and rapidly evolving romance with Wendy, to his homespun efforts to feed Peter home cooking from a lunch bucket while on a stakeout, I tried to make Sparky's innocence an amusing twist in a serious mystery. 

The challenge is finding the balance between the serious mystery plot, and the humor. For instance, Peter and Sparky are on a stakeout after apparently determining the arsonist's next target. That's key to the resolution of the arson plot. The tension builds as Sparky opens his lunch bucket and offers Peter items prepared by his elderly, doting, mother. Yes, Sparky's mother has prepared a meal of pork ribs and sauerkraut for two men who are going to be trapped inside a car for hours.

Couple that with Alpaca bingo in the park (Betting on which pre-marked square the nervous Alpacas will poop in) and the firing of untested pumpkin cannons, what could possibly go wrong? Or right?

Whistling Fireman will be released October 1st. You'd might as well go to Amazon and pre-order your copy now just to learn the answers to those questions.

Hovey, Dean - BWL Publishing Inc. (

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Norah is caught forging, will August forgive? Outcast Artist in Bretagne by Diane Scott Lewis


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My turbulent couple caught up in WWII hide secrets from one another. He's a German officer who hates Hitler. She's an Englishwoman forging passes to help Jewish families escape France. Enjoy an excerpt when Norah is finally caught.

Norah stood tiptoe on a chair and pulled the documents from the attic, the narrow place she’d dusted the best she could. Giselle was coming over for coffee, and to look at what she had. The mayor’s wife had friends who could distribute paperwork and collect information. She had to trust her. Norah felt a burden lifting from her shoulders at no more sneaking around, no more deception.

Last night, as August slept beside her, she decided this was the best option.

She balanced and went to step down from the chair. A paper floated to the floor. The door unlocked and opened. She sucked in her breath.

August stood in the doorway. “What are you doing up there?” He was supposed to be gone, inspecting the airfield.

The chair seemed to shake with her jolt of emotions. She stepped off, the documents smashed to her chest. Her pulse pounded in her ears. “I’m cleaning up some old paperwork. I thought you’d be at Audierne.”

“The inspection was delayed.” He walked forward and picked up the paper from the floor. It was a sketch of her recreation of the Reichsadler, the Nazi eagle over a swastika, required on travel permits. He held it up. “What is this? Norah, mein Gott. You are forging, aren’t you?”

Her breath came in rasps. “Please. Think of the Jewish children.”

“You lied to me. I thought I could trust you.” The hurt in his face jabbed at her, nearly spinning her to the floor.

“August, I…” She had no viable excuse. “I didn’t exactly lie. I never admitted the truth.”

He took the documents from her shivering hands. “Do you know what would happen if Captain Schmidt discovered this? From you, my fiancée. You would face arrest, even torture. Colonel Burmester would be contacted to implicate me. I could be sent from here to Russia, or elsewhere. How would I find you or protect you? I thought you understood.”

“I’m sorry. I thought only of the children, not what could happen to you.” It made such sense when he spoke it. Her head swirled, knees weak.

He slapped the papers on the table, eyes wide and sharp. “What else have you been doing behind my back?”

“Nothing, I swear.” She leaned on the chair for support; icy fear shot through her veins. “I’ll be careful from now on.”

“You must stop at once.” His glare sliced through her, but pain shadowed it. “Do you hear me?”

She knew she was defeated, and she had planned to give up her work. She couldn’t put him in jeopardy. Her body sagged. She struggled to breathe. “I won’t do it anymore. I was quitting anyway.”

He raked a hand through his dark-gold hair, eyes flashing. “How can I believe you? Who else is involved?”

“I can’t reveal that.” Please don’t insist on it!

“If you’re found out, there’s no telling what will happen.” He gripped her shoulders, his fingers on her flesh painful. “Again, how can I trust you? I want so much to. I thought we had something special.”

“We do. I’m so sorry. I wasn’t doing this when we first grew close.” Her eyes dampened with tears. “That sounds worse, but I was convinced my actions would help people.”

“You deceived me.” He cupped her face, his thumbs caressing her cheekbones, his expression miserable. Then he stepped away, shaking his head. “After I warned you, you continued.” He swept his hand toward the table, forehead creased. “Burn those documents and whatever else is up in the attic. Our lives are at stake.”

She nodded, straining to balance herself. “I will. I swear I won’t do it anymore. I want you safe from retribution. I was reckless.”

He stood tall, the commandant once more, as he reached for the doorknob. His flushed cheeks betrayed his upset. “Norah, I understand why you did it. But you should have told me before this. I cautioned you.” The disappointment on his face was obvious, the hurt in his eyes condemning her.

“I’ll destroy them, I promise.” She hated to do it, yet yearned to embrace him, to hold him close. Her pride, her confusion, kept her from begging that he stay. She must not collapse into a grasping female. “Forgive me.”

“I must return to my office. I’ve much to think about. The risks you took. You were dishonest, so heedless.” Words stern over an anxious voice, August was out the door, shutting it after him. A swift, stormy wind had blown over her, scattering her life like dried leaves.

“I didn’t lie. I just didn’t admit to the truth.” Heart like a rock weighing down her chest, she bent to the hearth, blinking back tears. A sob erupted. She must bring him back to her, make him understand. They still loved one another, didn’t they? But to destroy all her hard work. She felt frozen in place, her world crumbling. It’s not fair! I was doing the right thing. She reached into a basket for the kindling August had split for her, as her soul felt cleaved in two.

Diane lives in Western Pennsylvania with her husband and one naughty dachshund.

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