Technology – Works or Doesn’t Work?

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology recently as I prepare for the launch next February of A WEE HOMICIDE IN THE HOTEL, my third and final ScotShop mystery.  Why technology? I’m glad you asked.

When you’re talking about mysteries, there are so many different types. For instance, police and private eyes often depend heavily on technology, although logic is (or should be) a part of the solution as well.

But when you’re thinking about traditional mysteries or cozies, technology often takes a back seat to the amateur sleuth’s thought processes (or bumbling around). Poor Dirk, the 14th-century ghost in the ScotShop mysteries can’t use technology at all — he can’t even turn the pages of a book, but he sure can think. In WHITE AS ICE, which will be the 8th Biscuit McKee Mystery, the power goes out during the biggest ice storm of the century, and technology is at a standstill. A wood stove, a campfire percolator, cast iron skillets, and good old common sense save the day as twenty people gather in Biscuit and Bob’s old house. While the men play card games in the kitchen, the women explore the old treasures (and junk) in the attic. WHITE should be available in the summer of 2017. I have to finish writing it first!

I had a good lesson yesterday in the limits of technology, although it wasn’t a situation I can ever imagine using in one of my mysteries,

I’m a member of the Atlanta Branch of the National League of American Pen Women. The speaker for our December meeting cancelled rather unexpectedly, and one of our music members was asked to “put something together.” She called four other members, myself included, to see if we’d like to sing a bunch of holiday songs. Naturally, we had to rehearse ahead of time, so everyone gathered at my house. One member brought her keyboard, another her guitar, and all of us had warmed up our voices so we were ready.

When we got around to working on “Little Drummer Boy,” I pulled out my djembe so I could drum along.

Now I have to back up a bit.

Back in September, I spent a scary evening in the ER and the next day in the hospital, related to another scary situation that I wrote about on my Facebook author page. When my daughter called my son in California to let him know what had happened, he and his fiancee grabbed a plane and came for a visit. They stayed with me, cooked delicious vegan meals, dug a ditch in my front yard to divert the water spout to my new rain garden, and just generally brightened my week. As soon as they returned to California, they mailed me a FitBit so I could keep track of my heart rate and the number of steps I took each day (not very many yet, as the beta blocker I’m taking makes it hard for me to exert myself very much).

Each week, though, I’ve increased my daily steps goal, and most days I’ve managed to achieve it. When I reach the right number of steps, the FitBit vibrates on my wrist and flashes exclamation points at me.

Now, back to the djembe. (You can probably see where this is heading.) Halfway through Little Drummer Boy, my FitBit did its silent technological butt-wag. Hooray! You’ve reached your step goal for the day! You guessed it. Each time I struck the drum with my left hand, it had registered as a step.

The end result of this is that I have no idea whether or not I really met my goal for that day, since I hadn’t bothered to check how many steps I’d already taken before I began drumming.

I probably should have borrowed from Thoreau and called this post “Marching to a Different Drummer.”

What does this have to do with writing mysteries? Well, nothing much I suppose. Except to remind me that if Peggy Winn or Biscuit McKee decides to use technology to help solve a murder, she may have to be VERY careful with it. Come to think of it, I need to be careful myself.

Finally, if you’d like to attend the book launch for WEE HOMICIDE, plan on being at Eagle Eye Bookstore in Decatur GA next February 7th at 6:30 pm. Bring friends, too! Eagle Eye always provides yummy snacks, and all my books will be available. I’d love to autograph one for you. If you can’t make it that evening, Eagle Eye will be happy to pre-order a copy.

Finally #2: Sign up for my newsletter, and I’ll let you know as soon as WHITE AS ICE is available.

Readers Respond

I recently re-read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, in which a writer gets to meet a number of her fans (as well as a few folks who are not enamored or her writing). If you haven’t read it, may I encourage you to do so? And I have to ask — do you re-read favorite books the way I do?

The book club I belong to keeps an ongoing list of all the books we’ve read (Guernsey was on it), as well as all the books we’ve thought about reading but, for one reason or another, have decided not to. We all vote each month on which book to read for the following month. I’ve been working my way through both long lists  — the club’s been around a long time, and I joined it only a year ago after they’d invited me to a meeting for which they’d all read A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, so I have a lot of books to catch up on.

The difference between the fictional Guernsey book club and ours is that the Guernsey group encouraged people to read a book and then tell the rest of the members about it, while we all read the same book and discuss it in depth. Sometimes the books are duds, but more often they turn out to be delightful. This month we’re reading Lizette’s List by Susan Vreeland, the first time we’ve ever read a book by the same author two months in a row (last month was Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue).

At any rate, I love to keep in touch with people who love to read. Over the years, I’ve received several hand-written letters from fans (GASP! a real letter with a stamp on it !!! – I used to put my PO Box address on my business cards), but most of my communication nowadays is via comments left on my Facebook author page and conversations with fans I’ve met at book signings.

Yesterday it occurred to me that I was missing a chance for some good interaction with a wider range of readers, so I finally sent out a newsletter, something I’ve done only about once a year in the past, and I’ve begun to get responses. Now I’ve vowed to shift to at least a quarterly schedule. I called yesterday’s newsletter TREES AND BOOKS AND COOKIES: WHAT DO THEY HAVE IN COMMON? I love taking disparate, seemingly unconnected ideas and stringing them together into a logical pairing. If you’re not on the newsletter list but would like to read about the trees and the books and the cookies, just sign up (look at the top right-hand corner of this site) and I’ll be sure you get a copy of it.

As we get closer to the publication date for A WEE HOMICIDE IN THE HOTEL, the third ScotShop mystery, I plan to send out some sneak peeks, but there will be other tree/book/cookie sorts of newsletters that will encourage you to let me know what you think. And then I’ll be able to answer you!




Tales of Alice Town – and Braselton

My friend Steven Macon started a project called Tales of Alice Town, for which he invited a wide range of writers to submit stories about a fictional county in Virginia (one for which Steven set up basic parameters such as the names of towns, their population, and some key characters who live in those towns).

One of the rules was that if we added a character, other writers in the group could include that character in their own stories, but they had to remain true to the personality of that character as put forth by the original writer.

Great! So today, my story Ekkal Rorrim was posted as the second in the series. You might want to scroll down and read the first story (October 1st) just to get a feel for what a magical place Davis County is.

I have a few more stories floating around in my brain. Just need to get them written down. Maybe I’ll even be inspired to post some more here on my website (I know, I know; I’ve been way too lax about that).

In the meantime, I’ll be headed to Braselton Gallery tomorrow from 1:00 to 3:00 to join seven other authors in a Local Authors Extravaganza. If you’re in the area, stop by and pick up some great books. You’ll be able to spot me easily — I’ll be the one in the Scottish arisaidh, talking about A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP.


AudioBook, New Cover, & Fireworks

Last night as I listened to the booms and ka-pows coming from the houses around me in this usually quiet cul-de-sac, I began to imagine that the Independence Day Fireworks heralded a new beginning. I’d already read the Declaration of Independence and the entire U.S. Constitution, the way I do every year on July 4th; I’d already sung America the Beautiful, God Bless America, and the Star-Spangled Banner; I’d already comforted the cat-terror over all the loud noises. Now it was time to reflect.

There’ve been some big goings-on in the world of Fran’s Books lately. I will be eternally grateful to all the people who’ve bought my books, who’ve shared the word with friends, and who’ve helped to keep the book-buzz alive.

AudioBook Cover
AudioBook Cover

Many of you have asked when audiobooks would be available. Well, the first ScotShop audiobook, A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, is available now for pre-order from Tantor Media. I have to admit I was surprised at the whimsical nature of the cover when my editor at Berkley Press sent me the notice, but apparently that’s the style Tantor uses for all the cozy mysteries they record.

The great news is that I’m delighted with the voice of Tanya Eby, the narrator. Listen to the sample audio clip from the book (just click on the “MP3 Audio Sample” button). I love what she’s done with this sample of Peggy and Dirk’s conversation. And now I’m confident she’ll do justice to all the voices — Peggy, Dirk, Harper, Karaline, and all your favorite characters in WEE MURDER.

AWeeMurderInMyShopAs I explained to a book club I’d been invited to speak to a few months ago, authors seldom have much input into what the cover of their books look like. Here for comparison is the cover of the print version from Berkley Prime Crime.

Even though this cover looks like a totally different book, I assure you, they’re one and the same!

I can’t wait to hear the finished result of the recording. I have no idea when it will be ready, so I’m not holding my breath waiting for it. I’m just continuing to write books — working on the 4th book in the ScotShop series and the 8th Biscuit McKee mystery.

WEE DOSE OF DEATH CoverDid you know the 2nd ScotShop book, A WEE DOSE OF DEATH, is available for pre-order? Yep! And here’s the (wonderful) cover to prove it.

Thanks for being a reader. Without you, I’d just be talking to myself.




Girls of the Mist Book Club

Yestereen (a word that’s been in the English language for more than 400 years–it means yesterday evening), I was invited the speak to one of the most successful book clubs I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending. Many of the members are teachers, and everyone there was a joy for me to meet.

The Scot-themed book club event began with scones and shortbread, of course, as well as Scotch eggs and a wee dram or two. Someone had even brought Dirk’s favorite oranges, which as you may know (and if you’ve read my book you’ll definitely know) were a true delicacy when Dirk was alive in the 14th century. I was delighted with the thought that had gone into the presentation, and was even more delighted by the enthusiasm of the book club members.

They’d all read A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, and had lots of very illuminating questions about it, some of which surprised me. I was intrigued by their predictions as to what had been going on with Gilda, the ScotShop’s assistant manager, and several of them came up with suggestions that had never occurred to me — ones I’ll have to keep in mind for a future book.

They asked, of course, about several loose threads I’d left dangling. Why do I do that? Well, life itself seldom ties up everything with pat answers. In a mystery, it’s important to have the basic questions answered – who did it, how, and why. But sometimes there’s another why out there, and sometimes I like to leave that for people to wonder about.

Then too, there are the ongoing threads that will wind through any good mystery series. Those are the reason most people like to start with the very first book so they can see the threads developing. I love that sort of growth, where the characters change over the course of the series, where relationships develop (or fall apart), where people come and go, sometimes reappearing, and sometimes not.

These nine delightful women were like a gift. Women who read, women who obviously love books, women who teach, women who know the value of other women.

What more could anyone ask?

Me as a Friend

I’ve lost track of a number of people over the years – at first because I was a child growing up in an Air Force family, attending numerous schools, and not really understanding the importance of connections. When I became an adult, people moved through my life, and I had varying reactions to their appearance and/or disappearance.

But there have been two people I’m feeling sad about this morning. After my first few Biscuit McKee Mysteries were published, I met Melinda Cowan at a meeting of the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Association. Melinda and her husband owned Cowan’s Book Nook in Ellijay, Georgia, and she eventually invited me to drive up to the North Georgia mountains to sign books at her store.

We developed a delightful friendship. The Book Nook was such a wonderful place. Melinda and her staff were knowledgable about all the books they carried, and they hosted my book launches and signings–I did a lot of signings there–with grace and verve.  When they opened a second store in Blue Ridge I added that one to my list of favorite places to sign books.

I felt devastated when I found out that they had to close the Ellijay store and, not too long thereafter, the one in Blue Ridge as well. Melinda’s email address was through the store’s website. My emails to her bounced back as undeliverable. Her phone was the store’s phone number; she was unreachable.

The second friend I lost contact with was Patricia Schaefer, an educator with the Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services. Again, her email and phone were through the department. Although we’d had a great working relationship throughout the time I volunteered at GCFES, once she took another job, those both became unusable. Patti and her family attended Gwinnett Choral Guild concerts when I sang in them; we laughed together; we were on a hugging basis. And then she was gone.

Now, I understand that people’s work info changes. I get that. But what I don’t understand is why, with all the ways to contact me, they’ve dropped completely out of my life. They both had my home email address. They both could send me a Facebook message through my author page. They both had my phone number.

And I’ve gotten to wondering What does this say about me as a friend? What message does it give me about the value of my friendship?

Have you ever lost someone like this? Do you even know why?

Parkview High School Forensics Classes

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking to the forensics science classes at Parkview High School in Lilburn GA. This is the third year I’ve been invited there, and it’s always fun. It’s also always a LONG day — I have great respect for teachers who keep up such a schedule consistently.

I was there to speak about how I wrap forensics into my murder mysteries, so I took copies of my own books plus a number of the reference texts I use on a regular basis: Deadly Doses: a writer’s guide to poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens, Grave Matters: a journey through the modern funeral industry by Mark Harris, Dead Men Do Tell Tales by William R. Maples, Bones: a forensic detective’s casebook by Dr. Douglas Ubelaker, Police Procedural: a writer’s guide to the police and how they work by Russell Bintliff, and of course, Forensics for Dummies by D.P. Lyle.

I spoke about the way I deal with specific social issues in my Biscuit McKee mysteries – bipolar disorder, suicide prevention, the long-term effects of childhood abuse, and so on. I do this because I consider it part of my responsibility as a writer to give people more than just a good story (although that’s very important, too!) I want to give my readers good information they can take away with them, which is why I list toll-free numbers and websites at the end of my books so people can get information or help for themselves or for a friend, relative, or colleague.

Whenever I speak, though, I go with the flow, and with each class it seemed right to read the first chapter of A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, my first ScotShop Mystery, which has Peggy Winn discovering that her boyfriend is cheating on her. She complains to her friend Karaline, at which time Karaline tells her, “Just kill him and get it over with.”

My friend Jackie White, who writes under the name Jaclyn Weldon White, read that chapter in draft form and then wrote a song called “Just Kill Him, Girl.” Naturally, I had to sing it to the students. It seemed to be a big hit, as a number of students asked if I would record it so they could download it from iTunes.

The loveliest compliment, though, showed up in my inbox this morning, with a note that Alex Bond had linked a post of his to my Fran Stewart Author Facebook page. Here’s what he wrote, as soon as school was over yesterday:

Fran Stewart just came to Parkvkew High School. She talked about her career as an author and the whole presentation was simply inspiring. As a songwriter, I was very intrigued with her stories. She also had said something that caught my attention. She said that she wanted her audience to be entertained by the stories, but she also wanted them to finish the book understanding her message and reason for writing for the stories. That was one of the many things I could relate to. I want my audience to finish my songs with a new perspective and an apprehension of the message in the song. Ms. Stewart’s visit was much needed for me personally and I plan to read her books in the future. Thanks Fran Stewart, you’re truly inspiring!

Thank you, Alex. And best wishes with your song-writing.

Book Launch and Blog Tour

In less than a week, A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP goes public. Let’s hope it goes viral.   Right now, “New York Times Bestseller” is a dream. Wouldn’t it be fun if it were a reality?

Getting this book available for your hands has taken a long time. The way the publishing industry works, I’m already hard at work writing book number 3 in the ScotShop Mystery Series.

With three book launches scheduled (see the Appearances tab) and a baker’s dozen of guest blog appearances (see Blog Tour tab), I’ll be extra busy over the next few weeks, but never too busy to respond to your comments. When you read WEE MURDER – let me know what you think.

Hank and I

Hank Phillippi Ryan was teaching at the Mystery Writers of America University in Atlanta last week, and she stopped by Eagle Eye Books in Decatur to sign copies of her newest thriller TRUTH BE TOLD. Naturally, I was there (as were other members of the Atlanta Chapter of Sisters in Crime) to buy a hardcover copy and get it signed.

at Eagle Eye Books, Decatur GA
at Eagle Eye Books, Decatur GA

Besides telling us where the name Hank came from (nickname from her college years), Hank talked about how her work as an investigative reporter is a fantastic source of leads for story ideas.

“Where do you get your ideas?” That’s one of the most frequently-asked questions a writer hears. And it’s a great question, because where we get our ideas feeds directly into the stories we create from those ideas.

A hundred people can see one event – but it’s usually only the writer who will ask “what if…”

What if this happened? What if that happened? What if a man walked down this street instead of that one? What if a woman chose to leave for work earlier than usual (or later)?What if the fire had started in the garage rather than the bedroom? What if someone buying a new car found a body in the trunk?

Hank made me think about how I generate my story ideas.

Just as Hank asked what if there’s a dead body in that house where the eviction is happening, I had to ask, years ago, what if there’s a dead body in the library?

With that question in mind, I began to write ORANGE AS MARMALADE.

Why did I create Martinsville GA as the scene of my Biscuit McKee mysteries? And why will Hamelin VT appear as the scene of my new ScotShop series next March? Those two small towns come directly from the fact that I grew up as an Air Force brat. Four different schools in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades.

Still, there was one constant, in every place we lived – Germany, Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, South Carolina, Tennessee . . . a library. I must admit, I never did find a body behind the stacks, but Martinsville is the home town I always wanted, but never had – a feeling shared by many service families.

So, where does Hamelin come in? Well, there’s another question I had to think about: what if somebody bought a shawl in Scotland, and it had a ghost attached to it?

Now there’s a question to start off a book right!

Trip to New York

Part of the fun of being a (very lucky) writer is getting to know a wonderful editor. Last year after I signed the contract with Berkley Press for the ScotShop Mystery Series, I flew to New York to meet my agent and editor face-to-face. I had a great time, enjoyed them thoroughly, and felt like the trip was completely worthwhile.

Recently, though, I received the edits of A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP back from Michelle Vega, my editor, and I changed from simply liking her, to being eternally grateful that she’s the one handling my ScotShop mysteries. Every change she wanted me to make made absolute sense. I could see that she and I were in sync with the flow of the series, and I now feel so much more comfortable with placing my “babies” in her capable hands.

Last week, my second visit to New York was equally enjoyable, but this time I had the fun of telling her how very much I appreciate the way she’s editing my book. I look forward to many years in association with Berkley Press!