Neil Plakcy’s golden retriever mysteries were inspired by
his own golden, Samwise, who was just as sweet as Rochester, though not quite
as smart. And fortunately he didn’t have Rochester’s talent for finding dead
bodies. Now that Sam has gone on to his big, comfy bed in heaven, his place by
Neil’s side has been taken by Brody, a cream-colored golden puppy with a
penchant for mischief.
A native of Bucks County, PA, where IN DOG WE TRUST, THE
KINGDOM OF DOG and DOG HELPS THOSE are set, Neil is a graduate of the
University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and Florida International
University, where he received his MFA in creative writing. He has written and
edited many other books; details can be found at his website, http://www.mahubooks.com.
Neil, his partner, and Brody live in South Florida, where
Neil is working on a fourth mystery, and Brody is busily chewing something.
A Road Trip for Readers
by Neil Plakcy
Let me take you on
a little trip, to the river towns of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I grew up in
Yardley, right smack dab in the middle of this string of charming towns. I write
about a place much like it in my golden retriever mysteries.
snuggles against the curves of the Delaware River, forming the boundary between
Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Within easy commuting distance of New York and
Philadelphia, it’s home to a growing and increasingly transient population. As its
farmlands gradually give way to suburban developments, some of those old
connections are lost. I try to recreate a bit of that lost world in my books—my
hero runs into classmates at the local coffee shop, and helps his childhood
piano teacher out of a jam.
Bucks County has reminded me that my high school typing teacher, Mrs. Scammell,
still lived at Scammell’s Corner, where generations of her family had farmed.
The names of my classmates’ parents were on everything from garbage trucks to antique
stores. Today, they have been replaced by chain stores and restaurants, but
these the towns along the Delaware’s banks still retain their charm.
Yardley is a small
town of Victorian gingerbread and native brown stone. There is only one traffic
light in town, at the corner of Main and Afton. To the east is the Delaware
River, and the ruins of the bridge to New Jersey that was destroyed in 1960 by
Hurricane Donna. To the west is the old mill pond, now Lake Afton, where swans
paddle beside the Victorian library, built by local residents in 1878. The
mystery section was located beside one of those high, gothic-arched windows,
and I used to look out at the water between browsing for the classic mystery
authorswho cultivated my taste for
crime fiction-- Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Agatha Christie.
Today the library
has moved to a modern facility in the country, but children and adults still use
its steps to change into their skates for a quick turn on the ice in the
winter, creating a tableau straight out of Norman Rockwell.
Though the Hyatt Pharmacy at the corner is now
a Starbucks, Yardley retains a small-town charm. I’ve even converted the Continental
Tavern, which has been serving thirsty travelers at this intersection since
1863, into my own bar, called the Drunken Hessian. This is, after all, the
stretch of river where Washington crossed the Delaware en route to his attack
on the Hessian outpost at Trenton.
Stewart’s Crossing is just north of Yardley, on a stretch of beautiful
riverfront that in real life contains only farmland. River Road, which my hero,
paroled computer hacker Steve Levitan, travels a lot, is overhung with oaks,
maples and elms and is lined with purple and white phlox on long stems and the
tiny pansies called Johnny jump-ups.
As the rest of the
river towns do, Stewart’s Crossing straddles the Delaware Canal, and I’ve used
the canal and its towpath in my books, starting with In Dog We Trust.
Steve walks his inherited golden retriever, Rochester, there. Despite the town
nearby, the towpath is wild and quiet, lined with wild apple blossoms in the
spring, climbing vines and yellow daisies and buttercups. Rochester loves to
chase the mallards, Canada geese, other small birds, and maybe a rabbit or two.
canals played an important role in American commerce and transportation. They carried
anthracite coal from the mines of Lehigh County to New York City and
Philadelphia. Two hundred years later, the only traffic on the Delaware Canal
comes from mule-drawn sightseeing barges run from New Hope, where an artists’
colony grew in the early twentieth century. When I was a teenager in the 1970s,
New Hope was filled with hippies, head shops and antique stores, and it still
retains a unique character today.
The land is low
along the river and the verge is very narrow in many places from Yardley north
to New Hope. I placed a car accident there in In Dog We Trust, though I’d
probably never walk my own dog there, as the river is so close you can almost
reach out and touch it.
Kingdom of Dog, Steve takes Rochester up to Bowman's Hill Tower, just
inland from the river. It was built of local stone in 1930 and now stands over
a nice park with barbecues and picnic pavilions named for Revolutionary War
heroes. The picnic grounds are green and rolling, and the slope is just right
for little kids to roll down. We often went there for school picnics in the
spring. The tower is open from April to November, and is the centerpiece of a
100-acre wildflower preserve.
I’ve driven up the
curving road many times, as well as hiking the trail up to the tower through
woods that seem untouched since Washington's day. Once you've reached the
summit, take the elevator up inside the tower and climb the last 21 steps,
through a narrow, curving passageway more reminiscent of medieval Europe than
depression-era Pennsylvania, to the observation platform, 110 feet up.
On a clear day, you
can see 60 miles in any direction, and you'll understand why Washington sent
his scouts to the top of this hill to watch for redcoats. The vista is of farms
and fields, but increasingly you'll see renovated half-million-dollar farmhouses
and fake-colonial suburbs. Look closely and you’ll see the area where I placed
Steve’s alma mater, Eastern College.
I created the
small college town of Leighville somewhere outside Upper Black Eddy, just a bit
farther up the river from New Hope. Eastern dominates the hill overlooking the
river, and provides another environment where Steve and Rochester can sniff out
criminal intent. The third book in the series, Dog Helps Those,
combines a college mystery with a murder in the world of dog agility training,
and gave me a chance to return to the farmlands outside town where my parents
used to take me to pick apples and strawberries, and to choose our Halloween
I try to
incorporate the landscape of this area where I grew up, as well as years of
loving dogs, in creating the world where my characters live. I may not live in
Pennsylvania any more, but I love revisiting these river towns in my
imagination, even though dastardly deeds occur there!
on my golden retriever mysteries, as well as my other mystery and romance
novels and stories, can be found at my website, http://www.mahubooks.com.
loves anything with a mystery. While others girls dreamed of dating Brad Pitt,
Duffy longed to take Sherlock Holmes to the prom. She has two cats, Spooky and
Dr. Watson, and conjures up who-done-it stories of her very own for Berkley
Prime Crime. Iced Chiffon, out
October, 2012, is the first in the Consignment
Shop Mystery series. Duffy writes romance as Dianne Castell and is a USA
Today bestselling author.
Why, hi there!
One of the reasons I wrote Iced Chiffon was that I wanted to set a
book in the South, the real South as it really is. It has a flavor all its own
from the way folks talk...How’s your mamma and daddy?...to the food, anything
that has a stick of butter and cup of cream has got to be delicious...to life
moving a bit slower, a smidge more meaningful!
So my question today is... Are you a closet Southern Belle?
Now you ask, Okay what the dickens makes a Southern Belle? Well, I just happen
to have a little list...
* Do you
never wear white after Labor Day or before Easter
* Do you
own a strand of real pearls and wear them with pride
drink sweet tea and love it when they have
it on the menu
* A part of
you truly believes in damn Yankees
War? What Civil War? Now that unfortunate Northern
Occupation...that you know about
* Have Lee
as part of your name or your children’s
* Fav movies
are GWTW and Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes, Something to Talk About
read GWTW and reread parts from time to time.
Wish you had the name Scarlett
* Have a
tiara hidden in your panty drawer and know
how to twirl a baton
* Have an
umbrella that looks a bit like a parasol
your children know manners and use them
Red-eye gravy, grits, country ham and make your
* Know that
prime real estate is The Mall, The
Country Club and The Beauty Salon
* Buy more
then one can of hair spray at a time
actually said Y’all come back, Bless your heart,
Drop by when you can, How’s your mamma?
white gloves and wear hats
* Have a
subscription of Southern Living or
recipe from that magazine at the doctor’s office
* Have a
pineapple decoration somewhere in your House
* Think the
scent of magnolia is heaven on earth
And what about the food? Do you own a Paula Deen Cookbook?
Catch her on TV whenever you can? I know how to make cream gravy from scratch
and would rather poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick than put cool whip
on my pecan pie! Is there anything better than Southern cooking? Well maybe
Italian but that’s another blog.
So, how do you measure up? Is a part of you a Southern
Belle? Do you know someone who is? I really tried to keep these characteristics
in mind when writing my Consignment Shop mystery series. A gal in NY City is
way different than a gal in Savannah and I sure wanted it to feel that way.
I am definitely a closet Southern Belle! I do make fried
chicken and bathtub gravy. That’s what my kids call my cream gravy because they
could eat a bathtub full of it. I do make my own pies, have white gloves, crab
at my kids if they don’t mind their manners, buy extra-hold hair spray,
subscribe to Southern Living, have a
fancy umbrella that I’ve been known to twirl from time to time and I do know
how to twirl a baton for real. I even took lessons and still have the baton!
On the Southern Belle scale I’m about a 7. Well, maybe an 8.
What about you? What is your Southern Belle Score? Are you a closet Southern
Belle like me who sometime feels as if they got born on the wrong side of the
Ohio River? Or are you a Yankee through and through and proud of it?
I’ll give away three Iced Chiffon totes and a signed copy of
Iced Chiffon from the replies.
Sarah R. Shaber is an award-winning mystery author from North Carolina. Her new historical suspense series begins with LOUISE’S WAR. It stars Louise Pearlie, a young widow working for the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, DC, during World War II. Shaber’s Professor Simon Shaw murder mysteries are available as ebooks for Nook and Kindle or as trade paperbacks. She’s also the editor of Tar Heel Dead, a collection of short stories by North Carolina mystery writers.
Sarah is involved in speaking engagements, teaching writing classes, and conferences.
She lives, writes, cooks, reads, and chills with her husband, Steve, in Raleigh.
Research your book on EBay!
by Sarah R. Shaber
My Louise Pearlie
suspense novels are set during World War II in Washington DC.Writing successful historical fiction means,
first, that the tone, language, and setting of these books bring Louise’s life
alive for my readers.Which means that
her times have to come alive for me, too.I’ve found that the best way to do that is to bury myself in material
from the period--books, magazines, diaries, even menus and maps, so I can
recreate the feel of wartime Washington DC for my readers.
I’ve written about
this before, but I suspect few of my fellow writers took me seriously. I’ve discovered
that a great way to recreate the past is to cruise EBay for research
materials.I just plug “1943”,
“Washington DC 1943”, or “February 1943” into the search engine and see what
comes up.Thanks to EBay I own a
perfect copy of an Esso tourist map of DC from the forties, complete with
street names and the location of parks, national buildings, hotels (the
Mayflower!) and department stores (Woody’s! Saks!).I can move Louise around her city with
complete confidence.I’ve also found
several Sears catalogs, women’s magazines, and popular novels.Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote some of her
mysteries during those wartime years, and I’ve got a copy of “The Yellow Room”
that is a great source for language, customs, and clothing.
But, you might
ask, isn’t shopping for research materials expensive?Not when you compare it to the cost of a trip
to a library or archive.Most of what
I’ve purchased cost just a few dollars.A library card for the college library near me costs $160, and I can’t
park nearby for more than two hours.Plus I have never found menus, maps and old women’s magazines at the library!
Let me share with
you just a couple of my recent finds.First is “Your Share”, a Betty Crocker pamphlet of recipes for
housewives coping with rationing.Where
else could you find dishes like “Full O’Boloney”--a bologna casserole, jellied
ham loaf, or a war cake made without eggs, flour, and butter, described in such
Then there’s a
little magazine I bought called “The Woman,” chock full of articles like “I’m a
Housewife on War Plant Hours” and “Pre-Marital Relations Ruin Marriage.”
My favorite is “What! No
Husband!A Bachelor answers 5000 Women.”This bachelor suggests that “old maids” need
to think more about babies and religion and less about themselves to catch his
can’t buy this kind of material for your book—oh, yes you can!And if you do you’ll own it and can refer to
it throughout the writing of an entire series!
What's harder is to find something to sing about instead.
I've had a couple days of not feeling so great - and no, I know you don't want to hear the details, believe me - I do know that. Nor do I want to share them (again, there's that boring thing).
But what I do want to do is tell you that I say my "Thank You's" every single day for Donald Scott Barley.
He knows I love to hear him sing.
Sometimes without telling him I will stand outside the bathroom and listen to him sing in the shower. He's sings beautifully.
He sings a lot of Don Williams and he sings George Jones' "Choices" like a dream.
I've asked him a couple times to record a CD for me, and i haven't given up on that just yet, but his gift to me this week was to sneak off behind closed doors and do a video recording of himself singing one of my all time favorite songs ever. "House on Pooh Corner."
Y'all - i love this man.
and i love my life.
So, if you hear me bitchin' and moanin' please remind me to come to my post dated 10/19/2012 in Meanderings and Muses to remind me of the good stuff I'm blessed with.
My friend Thelma gave me the perfect little nudge this morning. I've been posting photos every day, but have not taken the time to write. and there's a reason!
Most of you know I've been writing a book.
A lot of you have asked when I'm going to actually tell anyone what the book is about.
Well here 'tis -
This is my make-believe cover (I'm having the best time with all this!!!) - - -
The working title is "Whimsey." It's Southern Fiction with
a splash of magic, including a wicked pixie named Earlene who fancies
tight-fitting designer clothes and Louboutin stilettos. A cigar smoking
matriarchal ghost also drops in from time to time just to make sure things are
going as planned . . . .
The protaganist is an up-and-coming jewelry designer who fears her talent has deserted her. Along with her four
best childhood friends, Emmaline Hamilton Foley has been invited to be a resident artist at the
new upscale gallery owned by her aunt, famous artist Zoe Hamilton. To join
them, she’ll need to regain her talent, face the demons from her past and her
feelings about Eli Tatnall, whom she loved as a girl. Will moving back to the
Georgia artist’s colony on the Island of Whimsey bring the all magic back?
Whimsey is a story of hope and
affirmation. It's a story about best girlfriends and families, connections and
feelings. It’s about the things in life that make us happy and the things that
scare us to death, and the people who walk through our lives with us.
Right now, the manuscript is in the hands of some first readers.
I've already gotten valuable feedback from several folks.
Pretty soon I'll be going through the nerve-wracking, heart breaking process of sending out query letters.
One step at a time - one small step at a time . . . .
Vicki Lane is the author The Day of Small Things and of the Elizabeth
Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries which include Signs in the Blood, Art's
Blood, Old Wounds, Anthony-nominated In a Dark Season, and Under the Skin. Vicki
draws her inspiration from rural western North Carolina where she and her family
have lived on a mountainside farm since 1975.Visit Vicki at her daily blog, her website, or on FACEBOOK..
THE VOICE I'M HEARING BY VICKI LANE I have waited most of my life for God
Almighty to speak unto to me – to maybe lean out from a dark thundercloud and
roar down a mighty command, or to talk in tongues of fire from a bright red
maple in the fall, or maybe whisper in my ear on a still and starry night. I
have listened and prayed and listened some more but He ain’t spoke, not once.
Just now, I think as I lay in my hidey hole near the springhouse and hark to
the cruel sound of the whip, the weeping of the women, and the whimper of Aunt
Lolie’s babe, just now would be a good time for Him to commence.
is the voice I’m hearing these days –
the voice of a mountain girl in Madison County, NC, caught between the various
factions during the Civil War – “the Late Unpleasantness” as an aunt used to
say. My mountain county was divided – there were few slave owners and many
folks wanted no part of either side, North or South. Some enlisted for the Confederacy;
some fled to nearby Tennessee where Union troops could be found; many simply
stayed home, trying to avoid conscription by either side.
county avoided the big battles. But the war took its toll in other ways and the
Shelton Laurel Massacre is still remembered around here.
began, according to the histories, in January
of 1863, when fifty armed and desperate men from the community of Shelton
Laurel (also known as Sodom) entered the county seat of Marshall in search of
the essential salt which they, as suspected Unionists, had not been allowed to
buy. They ransacked stores and plundered homes -- even pounding up the stairs
of Confederate Col. Allen's house to rip blankets from the beds of his sick
Retaliation was swift; a few days later a troop of Confederate soldiers made its way to Shelton
Laurel in search of the raiders. The result was the Shelton Laurel Massacre, in which 13 men and boys (some as
young as 13 and 14; most, if not all, non-participants in the raid) were
rounded up and executed. Women, some elderly, were tied to trees and whipped
when they would not say where their men were; an infant was laid in the snow in
an attempt to force the wretched mother to name the raiders and their hiding
Civil war -- brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. The families
of the victims of the massacre knew the killers. And for years, bitter
resentment simmered, breaking out now and then in private vengeance. Over a
hundred years after the Civil War and the Shelton Laurel Massacre, our county
still was known to many as "Bloody Madison.
This is the story
I’m trying to tell.
My journey as a
novelist began in 2000 when I took a writing class…. Signs in the Blood, my first Elizabeth Goodweather book, was
published in 2005, more followed. With the publication last year of Under the Skin, my sixth novel, I found
myself ready for a change of direction and, as well, for a bit of a hiatus . .
. an escape from the pressure of a deadline, a time to recharge the batteries.
And I wanted to
stretch myself a bit – to move away from the murder mystery which, with my
amateur sleuth, was becoming a little embarrassing – the dread Jessica Fletcher
syndrome – ‘What, she’s found another
But I wasn’t ready
to move from the setting – my beloved mountains. The problem was, as I was
recently reminded, in how to find the universal in the local. I think that the
Shelton Laurel Massacre is perfect for this, the event that is both the
culmination of other events and the catalyst for others yet to come.
Just now, in this
contentious election season, I find myself marveling at the things that divide
us as a nation, wondering how people I personally know to be good and decent
people can think so differently about the issues at stake in the election. And
I realize that these are the same questions the folks of Madison County had way
back then, that the story of a long ago, local tragedy can speak to timeless
and universal questions.
I’m writing without
the safety net of a contract – or the goad of a deadline. And I don’t know when
it’ll be finished – or, indeed, if it’ll be published. There are no guarantees.
But I believe this is the story I’ve been called to tell.
Other news would include winners of The Macavity Awards, presented by Janet Rudolph at the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame during opening ceremonies on Thursday night.
And the winners are...
Mystery Novel: Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara
Best First Mystery Novel: All Cry Chaos by Leonard
Best Mystery Related Non-Fiction: The Sookie Stackhouse
Companion, edited by Charlaine Harris
Best Mystery Short Story:
"Disarming" by Dana Cameron
Sue Feder Memorial Historical
Mystery: Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by
The Private Eye Writers Association
presented The Shamus Awards Friday night, and the winners are...
Hardcover P.I. Novel: A
Bad Night’s Sleep, by Michael Wiley (Minotaur)
First P.I. Novel: The
Shortcut Man, by P.G. Sturges (Scribner)
Paperback Original P.I. Novel: Fun
& Games, by Duane Swierczynski (Mulholland)
P.I. Short Story: “Who
I Am,” by Michael Z. Lewin (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, December
commendation celebrating a memorable private-eye character or series, and named
after Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer--was presented to Nate Heller the
character created by Max Allan Collins.
The Anthony Awards have been presented. I have highlighted the winners in bold red -
The End of
Everything—Megan Abbott [Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown]
Farrel Coleman [Tyrus]
The Drop—Michael Connelly [Little, Brown]
of the Light—Louise Penny [Minotaur]
One Was a Soldier—Julia Spencer-Fleming
BEST FIRST NOVEL
Learning to Swim—Sara
J. Henry [Crown]
Nazareth Child—Darrell James [Midnight Ink]
Chaos—Leonard Rosen [The Permanent Press]
Who Do, Voodoo?—Rochelle Staab
[Berkley Prime Crime]
An interesting side note in keeping with the fact that this is Banned Books Week. Did you know that as late as 2008, the ACLU reported that an elementary school in Texas had banned Kay Thompson's Eloise from its shelves?