Amateur sleuths

From Ivory Tower to Amateur Sleuth, a “character” guest post

Hi, fellow mystery fans! I’m Jade Blackwell, the protagonist in Gilian Baker’s cozy mystery series. Our lovely host, a former college English professor herself, asked if I’d drop in to explain to her readers how a tenured English professor winds up as a blogger…and an amateur sleuth. 🙂 Thanks K.B., for inviting me to share my story. Here goes.

Five years ago, I was working as an English professor at the University of Wyoming, near my hometown of Aspen Falls. I’d worked there since receiving my Ph.D., and had finally clawed my way to the top to earn one of the few coveted tenured positions in the department. It was my dream job… until it wasn’t.

After years of working in the Ivory Tower, I was becoming more dispirited with each passing semester. The endless department meetings, apathetic students and mounds of grading were wearing me down. And really, who was I kidding? I wasn’t convincing anyone to study the classics with zeal or to write coherent literary analyses. I was ready for a new adventure, but where to begin? Teaching was the only thing I’d ever known.

Then one day, while flipping through a back copy of Writer’s Digest, I came across an article on how blogging was changing the writing world. I’d been on very few blogs, and only then to disqualify them as credible references for a scholarly research paper a student had submitted. But the thought captivated me, and over the next few weeks, I spent my spare time researching writing in the blogosphere. And so, my new adventure began.

I started “a side hustle” by ghostwriting for bloggers and other online entrepreneurs. After several months, my clientele had grown, and I was ready to make the switch. I loved working from home and being my own boss! And, I found a passion for writing again. Instead of “publish or perish,” I got the chance to research and write on a huge variety of fascinating topics—everything from gourmet pet food to email marketing. I turned in my digital grade book and gave myself over to living life as a solopreneur.

Later, I started my own blog as a part of my online business. A Writerz Block offers fledgling freelance writers information on making a living from their skills. It’s the best of both worlds—I get to teach people who actually want the information I’m dispersing, while at the same time, I get paid to write.

That also means I have time to play the amateur sleuth, something I couldn’t have done while teaching. Even A Time to Kilnthough I taught classic literature for years, in my humble opinion, there’s nothing better than a well-plotted mystery. I’ve now helped our local sheriff, Ross Lawson, tie up two murders.

Now, I wasn’t looking for a real live case to solve. I thought the only whodunit I’d ever figure out would be in between the pages of a book. Like most amateur sleuths, I stumbled into the first murder to help a friend–Liz is a fellow blogger who was being cyber-stalked. Admittedly, my first attempts to assist her made things worse, but I made it up to her in the end by proving who the real killer was.

What a thrill! (Though I could have done without the perilous situation I landed in.) And I was ready to get back to my normal routine once my friend, Liz, was back safe and sound at home with her family. I chalked her case up as a fluke–a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a real detective. I mean, living in rural Wyoming doesn’t offer many opportunities to sniff out murder.

So imagine my surprise when my very own pottery teacher was killed a few months later! And on top of that, my daughter’s former boyfriend ended up being the main suspect. What is a girl to do? I reluctantly teamed up once again with my lawyer friend, Gabby, to figure out who was killing people off in our quiet, little village. {Oh, did I mention there was more than one murder?}

Luckily, Gilian has written up my adventures in her second book. So, if you’d like to see how I nimbly cracked the case (okay, how I stumbled onto it) follow the link to pick up a copy of my latest escapades in A Time to Kiln.

 

Gilian Baker is a former English professor who threw in the towel and decided to show ‘em how it’s done. She’s gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger, ghostwriter and cozy mystery author to her C.V. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain murder mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder for her Jade Blackwell cozy mystery series, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggling with her husband watching British TV or discussing literary theory with her daughter.

Gilian lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines. 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’s the author of Blogging is Murder and A Time to Kiln. Be the first to learn about new releases and discounts, plus get exclusive content by signing up for Gilian’s email list here: http://gilianbaker.com/blogging-murder-first-chapter

How lovely to meet you, Jade! What a journey…from literature professor to blogger to amateur sleuth! I agree wholeheartedly with your statement: “there’s nothing better than a well-plotted mystery.” I know my readers think so, too. I’m tempted to advise you to keep out of trouble, but then Gilian wouldn’t have anything to chronicle, would she? *wink*

Congrats on your new cozy, Gilian, and best of luck!

~Kathy

 

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The Introverted Author, the Malice Domestic Convention, and a Giveaway!

Malice Domestic 29

To (liberally) paraphrase Austen: it is a truth universally acknowledged, that we introvert authors need to come out of our writing caves from time to time and interact with our fellows.

The Malice Domestic Convention fits the bill nicely for those of us who are mystery author introverts. Malice celebrates mystery fiction written in the cozy style, aka the tradition of Agatha Christie, and has been held yearly in Bethesda, MD since 1989. With its three days of panel discussions, book signings, awards, and social receptions, the convention draws authors and readers alike.

One of many signings, after the crowd had thinned and I could move around.

When I step into the space, I feel as if I’ve rediscovered my tribe. No one bats an eyelash over you bringing your takeout lunch to Luci Zahray’s (otherwise known as the “Poison Lady”) panel on the use of organophosphates to bump off someone (characters, of course). The audience was practically rubbing its hands and cackling with glee as she detailed the symptoms, the lack of a test to detect the compound, the difficulty in reversing the effects, and the ease of access to the poison (any Home Depot or garage sale…also, apparently DDT can still be found at the random garage or yard sale because folks don’t throw out ANYTHING).

Luci Zahray, “Poison Lady.” You can’t see the rat poison and other samples she had on display from this angle, unfortunately.

For the introvert, the nice thing about a convention is you can pick and choose when you want to converse. You can get a lot out of the convention by simply attending the panels and listening (not an option if you are ON the panel, of course, but then you signed up for that, LOL).

The hospitality lounge is a nice place to get yourself some coffee or tea and browse the long tables for bookmarks and promotional goodies that authors set out. I came away with a pen, a set of sticky notes, a disposable flashlight, and a hand mirror…all kinds of cool stuff! I had brought some of my own material for the hospitality tables, too: bookmarks of my Concordia Wells series, along with a basket of peppermint patties and individually wrapped tea bags with my logo sticker/web address on the back of each piece.

It’s hard to see the stickers here, but they were really cute. *wink*

I kept refilling the basket, but there wasn’t a candy or tea bag left by Sunday morning!

In between browsing the dealers’ tables, chatting with folks, getting my books signed, and going to the Agatha Awards dinner, I attended several terrific panels that weekend (there were many more I couldn’t fit in). Here’s a partial list to give you an idea:

  • Malice Go-Round: It’s Like Speed Dating, But With Authors (Attendees sit and relax while pairs of authors come to them, distribute bookmarks–and sometimes chocolate, and describe their series and new releases. Then the moderator calls time, they rotate to another table, our table gets a new pair of authors, and so on. One of my fave events).
  • Making History: Agatha Best Historical Novel Nominees (Authors nominated for the Agatha in the category of best historical novel talk about their books, their research, etc. A fab and funny group!).
  • Murder on the Menu: Food & Mysteries (Several food-themed series authors talked about their inspiration, where they get their recipes, and the funny coincidence of growing up in households where their moms couldn’t cook all that well…maybe compensation for a deprived childhood? *wink*)
  • Poison Lady (Described above).
  • Book’em: Book-Loving Sleuths (Kind of self-explanatory, but it’s amazing how many bookshop mysteries are out there!)
  • Murder Way Back When: U.S. Historicals (Loved hearing about research challenges and successes…I continued the conversation with a couple of the authors afterward, comparing databases we use).
  • Sherlock Lives! (I love reading about the Great Detective, and it was so much fun to listen to the discussion of the current pastiches out there, and all the SH societies).

Panel for best historical Agatha nominees. Catriona McPherson won!

 

The most meaningful event for me personally was the Mystery Most Historical Signing, held on Friday evening. Mystery Most Historical is this year’s Malice anthology of short stories, and guess what…a story of mine is in it!

“Summons for a Dead Girl” is set in September of 1911 in New York City, months after the devastating Triangle Factory fire, and features spirit medium/con woman Maddy Cartiere. The blurb and opening paragraphs below give you an idea of the story:

***

This book signing was an additional thrill because I was part of a large group of authors (many of them prolific and best sellers) who were also signing. The reader turnout for autographs was amazing, and it was such a privilege to chat with mystery fans while sitting in the company of award-winning authors such as Catriona McPherson, Victoria Thompson, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Elaine Viets!

Your typical group picture: someone looking away, someone’s eyes closed, someone waving a hand or fussing with something, LOL.

 

Short story author Keenan Powell was signing on my left. Such a nice lady!

 

The volunteer photographer got my blurry side, LOL. I never looked so good.

So, to celebrate the release of the Malice anthology (and my birthday, hubby’s birthday, Mother’s Day…so many excuses), I’m holding a…

Giveaway Drawing

May 9th-23rd

I’ll be giving away five (5) signed paperback copies of Mystery Most Historical!

To help with logistics, I’m using the Gleam giveaway service to keep things organized and make the random selections. All you have to do is click below to see your options for entering the drawing (you can enter multiple times, if you wish):

Anthology Giveaway!

Once the contest is over and the winners are notified, I won’t keep your email info for any reason. I respect your privacy.

However, if you’re interested in signing up for my author newsletter (sent out approximately 4 times a year to announce sales, giveaways, and book releases), I would love to have you on board! Here’s the sign-up for that:

concordia-1thru5

Sign up today, and receive a FREE novelette!

Thanks for signing up! Your email is in good hands, I promise. Once you have confirmed your subscription you’ll receive a thank you email with a link to my FREE novelette, NEVER SLEEP!
~KBO

Whew! This was a longer post than I usually write. Thanks for reading, and good luck with the contest!

~Kathy

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The appeal of the amateur, and a group giveaway!

 

 

Hi everyone! Today is the first day of a week-long, Amateur Sleuths Group Giveaway sponsored by Henery Press. The giveaway features books from 32 mystery authors, myself included (more on that below).

The topic of amateur sleuths got me thinking: why do readers and authors find the amateur so appealing? As a former lit professor, I couldn’t resist taking a stab at analyzing it. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Reader engagement:
    • When we’re talking about an amateur investigating a crime, there must be a powerful personal motivation for him/her to get involved in the first place. After all, why disrupt one’s comfortable life as a wedding planner/baker/teacher/knitter/what-have-you, when the police can do the dirty work? When it’s personal, it helps draw the reader in.
    • An amateur sleuth is a “regular joe” – an ordinary person without any specialized training in criminal detection. We as readers can identify more readily with such a character, looking on and sympathizing as the protagonist struggles to blend his/her personal life with this crazy investigation s/he has unexpectedly taken on.
  • Then there are the opportunities for conflict, suspense, and uncertainty, all crucial elements in a good mystery:
    • The amateur is caught unprepared, and struggles to deal with the emotional cost of learning unpleasant truths about those s/he is close to.
    • The amateur is likely to encounter resistance from friends, family, and the authorities in the course of investigating.
    • As an untrained amateur, our protag might very well make mistakes along the way. Could one of those missteps prove fatal? Bwahaha….

What could be more fun than making life harder for our favorite amateur sleuth, right? *wink*

So now…on to the giveaway!

April BookmarkIT Amateur Sleuth Group Giveaway

April 5-11th

Grand Prize: Kindle Fire and 32 ebooks (shown above)

1st Prize: 32 ebooks

…and there will be FOUR 2nd Prize winners, who will each be awarded 8 ebooks (randomly selected) from those listed above!

How to enter: It’s FREE! Simply click on the giveaway link, enter your info on the entry form online, and you’ll be notified if you win! It’s a great way to try out authors you may not have heard of, and you’ll get future info about releases and sales on new-to-you amateur sleuth mysteries.

So, what do you like about amateur detectives? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

Want to read more about amateur sleuths? Check out these posts:

Nancy Drew: girl detective, Master of Mystery

Miss Marple visits Masters of Mystery Monday

By the way, the Miss Marple post above includes a fun video spoof: Marple, Matrix Style.

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