Role Models and Influences: Agatha Christie

My pleasure reading often involves re-reading favorite works that help me clear my head for my own writing. In the case of Agatha Christie, I get the added benefit of learning from a master of the genre while I read.

I just loaded a bunch of Christie on my Kindle, and discovered to my delight that there was a Miss Marple I'd somehow missed: 4:50 to Paddington. The "4:50" of the title is a time, and refers to a train on which a murder occurs, witnessed by an elderly lady from a passing train on the opposite tracks. The authorities, of course, chalk it up to her age and an overactive imagination, but her friend Miss Jane Marple believes her, and sets out to solve the case.

Jane Marple, like Christie's other famous detective, Hercule Poirot, is an amateur sleuth. Both tend to be one step ahead of the police, and both have a way of getting witnesses to talk to them. But here's what Christie understood so well about her two characters: they were outsiders, and as outsiders occupied a unique position--that of observer.

Among the English upper crust, Poirot is a foreigner. His slicked-back hair and waxed mustache are a joke, as is his accent. Those around him--including the various murderers he foils--don't perceive him as a threat. He's not one of them, so they ignore him. They don't reckon on the fact that nothing escapes his notice.

I'm a Miss Marple fan, but I wasn't always. As a young reader of Christie, I had no interest in an elderly lady who sits in a corner knitting, and therein lies her power. Then, as now, elderly ladies are all but invisible in society; they usually hold little power, and they are easily dismissed by others (as is the case of the woman in the book I'm reading now). But they sure as hell pay attention, something I appreciate much more as I get older. Miss Marple, with little to do except watch people, has an understanding of human behavior beyond that of the various Scotland Yard inspectors she foils.

When I set out to create an amateur sleuth of my own, I made her a mystery writer. (In fact, Victoria's main character, Bernardo Vitali, might be considered the Italian version of Poirot.) As a writer, Vic is also an observer. She takes in the small details of physical appearance and personality that others might miss. And as a writer of mysteries, she's conversant with the why and how of murder. But unlike Poirot and Miss Marple, she makes her share of mistakes.

As does her creator. . .

Guest Interview: Gilian Baker

My guest today is Gilian Baker, author of the forthcoming cozy mystery, Blogging is Murder:

 

Gilian Baker Small.jpg
 

1.     Hi, Gilian, and thanks so much for joining me today. Your new release, Blogging is Murder, is set in Wyoming. Would you talk a little about your choice of setting, and tell us a bit about how you incorporate Wyoming’s “personality” into your work?

Thanks for inviting me, Rosie! Well, Jade, my protagonist, told me she lived in Wyoming. LOL.  As a mountain-loving girl myself, I understood. I tried to change the setting to Colorado, but she wasn’t having any of it.

It took me awhile to figure out the best location within Wyoming, though. It needed to be near a mountain range, but also near a university, since Jade was a college professor before becoming a blogger. And there are very few universities in Wyoming, let me tell you. She ended up in the fictitious town of Aspen Falls near the Medicine Bow Mountains.

I added in the flavor of Wyoming in a few ways, including having the Blackwell family eat a lot of venison. Wyoming is a huge hunting state, and venison is frequently on the menu. I also used idioms that are popular to the area. For example, Wyomingites call lunch, “dinner” and dinner, “supper.” Because it’s one of the least populated states, there’s a lot of space between towns. It’s nothing for Wyomingites to drive 45 minutes to the next burg, like Jade does when she’s interviewing suspects.

2.     Your protagonist, Jade Blackwell, is a former English professor who turns to blogging and ghostwriting as a new career. Was Jade inspired by your own experiences? How are you like her? How do you differ?

Yes, Jade and I are both former English professors who forged new careers as online writers. Jade’s character was definitely born out of my experiences. When I started the book, I was still teaching and struggling to get my blog off the ground. It was a frustrating and overwhelmingly-busy time in my life. I needed a creative catharsis, and thus Blogging is Murder was born. If your readers would like to know more about how Jade and I are alike, they can read my blog post on it here: GilianBaker.com.

3.     Your story involves a hacker who is disrupting Jade’s friend’s business. Can you talk a little about the research you needed to do to create that character? Are you naturally tech-y yourself?

Heck no, I’m not tech savvy naturally, though I’ve had to learn a lot as a blogger and online entrepreneur. It’s a struggle though, and I outsource as much many techy tasks as I can.

I did a lot of research on cyber-security for the book. I also researched the laws surrounding cyber-stalking and bullying to find out what the hacker, Connie, could get by with. And I researched stuff like how easy is it to hack into a website and social media accounts (it’s easy). I updated my security for sure, just like Jade does when her friend Liz ends up dealing with cyber-theft. I plan on blogging about this topic on my site in the future because it’s something people ignore until it’s too late.

4.     Are you busy working on another adventure for Jade? How about a one-sentence teaser describing the story?

I absolutely am! Though I’m not revealing the title yet, I’m hard at work on the second book in the Jade Blackwell Mystery series. Okay, here’s the one-sentence teaser:

In an attempt to regain a better work-life balance, Jade finds solace in the new local pottery studio …until her teacher is murdered and her daughter’s old boyfriend is suspected of the crime.

If readers want to follow Jade on her first sleuthing adventure, they can get a copy of Blogging is Murder which includes a special link to a free download of the first chapter of the second book.

About Gilian:

Gilian Baker is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding “blogger” and “ghostwriter” to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good, to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries or discussing literary theory with her daughter. In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines.

About the book:

Jade Blackwell lives in a log home in the quaint village of Aspen Falls in mountainous south-eastern Wyoming, with her husband, Christian and daughter Penelope (Ellie). She left her life as a tenured college English professor at the University of Wyoming four years ago, sick of the bureaucracy, mounds of essays to grade and apathetic students. She turns to blogging and ghostwriting as her new career. Jade’s promising career as a blogger halts abruptly when she learns of a hacker who is controlling her friend and fellow blogger Liz Collin’s business remotely. When the hacker is found dead in her home, Liz is thrown in jail.

Determined to help her friend regain her life and livelihood, Jade teams up with Liz’s reluctant lawyer, Gabriel Langdon, to get Liz off the hook and out of jail. What she learns will break the case wide open, while unraveling her faith in humanity and the safety she feels living in the Rocky Mountain hamlet she calls home.

An exciting thrill ride from the first page, to the last. Read Gilian Baker’s Blogging is Murder, the first book in the Jade Blackwell cozy mystery series!

Contact Gilian Baker directly at mailto:Gilianbakerauthor@gmail.com

BLOGGING IS MURDER on Amazon

BLOGGING IS MURDER on Goodreads

GILIAN BAKER’S WEBSITE

BOOK TRAILER

FACEBOOK

Sisters in Crime Responds to the Times

The New York Times recently announced it was eliminating several of its best seller lists, including mass market paperbacks, the format in which many, many, mysteries--as well as romance--are published. Sisters in Crime, a professional organization dedicated to promoting suspense fiction written by women, responded:

The decision to cull the mass market list, the YA fiction list (and move the trade paperback list online) particularly hurts female writers and sends readers the message that more "literary" works should be valued over commercial fiction, much of which is written by women.

Hats Off to Mary

She was the reason I got interested in journalism. She was the reason I lived alone in a fourth floor walk-up as a single professional. She taught me that there's strength in kindness and that you can be a feminist and still retain your femininity. Mary Richards, immortalized by the lovely Mary Tyler Moore, was a beacon for all of us. I will always be grateful to her and to the talented woman who brought her to life.

Role Models and Influences: Shirley Jackson

Is there any one of us who hasn't read Shirley Jackson's iconic story, "The Lottery"? I don't think there's any better depiction of the dark undercurrents that usually remain hidden in small communities. My favorite of Jackson's works is The Haunting of Hill House, with its much-better-than-average Hollywood adaptation, The Haunting

I think Jackson has been a subconscious influence on my work as a mystery writer, particularly in the way that she skillfully evokes atmosphere. (And like her, I adore creaky old houses with plenty of secrets.) So I was thrilled to find that there's a new biography of Jackson, with the compelling subtitle, "A rather haunted life." Perfect reading for this time of year.

Publishers Weekly gave a small taste of the book is this article

When is Enough. . .Enough?

Conventional wisdom says that writers should not be "political" in social media. That our readers have varying views, and getting political online could be a way to alienate those who buy our books.

Well, conventional wisdom went out the window yesterday when I received a call from my husband to tell me that there had been a shooting on the UCLA campus. Normally, this sort of news is met with a resigned shrug, as it is all too common these days. But our son is a graduate student there. He teaches in the building where the shooting occurred. I am relieved and endlessly grateful to say that he was safe in his apartment when the worst happened. But two other families were not so lucky.

 

Ironically, today is National Gun Violence Awareness Day, and right now, I am all too aware that my family had a brush with gun violence a mere 24 hours ago. Some of you reading this may have been touched by gun violence yourselves. If nothing else today, let's at least think about what has become an epidemic in the country we all love.

 

I Confess. . .

That I stole my tagline, “Cozy mysteries with romantic interruptions,” from Dorothy L. Sayers. Sayers was the author of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries; published primarily in the 30s, the Wimsey mysteries are prime examples of the “Golden Age” of British detective fiction.

Wimsey is an aristocratic sleuth who takes up detecting as a hobby after he returns to England after World War I. While I love all the books, in the early ones Wimsey is a bit of a flat character. It isn’t until the series introduces Harriet Vane, a mystery writer wrongfully accused of murder, that he becomes fully dimensional. Though Sayers swore she’d never have her sleuth involved in a romance, she spins out a wonderful one over several books that culminate in the marriage of Harriet and Peter. In fact, Sayers got so enthusiastic about the love story that she was accused of having a crush on her own character, which given Wimsey's charms, seems perfectly natural.

 

The last book in Sayers’ series, Busman’s Honeymoon, carries this subtitle: “A Love Story with Detective Interruptions.” So with a little tweaking, it became a way for me to define my stories. But let’s call it an homage, shall we?

I don’t know about you, but I really need some romance in my mysteries. (I need some mystery in my romance, too, but that’s a post for another day.) Providing your detective a love interest humanizes him or her, and it gives readers something else to wonder about—will they get together or not?—besides the murder. And it keeps us turning pages. As much as I respect Sayers’ formidable skills with a mystery, it was the love story that kept me coming back to the books.

Beauty in a Bag

This summer's beach tote!

This summer's beach tote!

If you're like me, you're a sucker for those special "purchases" featured at the high-end of the cosmetics counter. You know the ones I mean: spend X amount on a pricey brand, and you get a cute little (or not so little) bag filled with goodies. The bag pictured here was my latest seduction, offered by one of the oh-so-classy old school lines--hence the vintage fashion image:

I have to say, this promotion was a goodie. There were two full-sized lipsticks and some sample sizes of their skin care line. But here's the issue--the price point is almost always a number that requires you to buy more than one thing. So I found my lightweight foundation with sunscreen (a must for summer) but still had to spend 7 bucks to reach the magic number. There is NOTHING for 7 bucks at this particular counter, where the littlest lip gloss starts at $23. Let's just say I went a little over budget, which is, of course, the purpose of these things.

But the bag rocks, doesn't it?