Kick the bucket — May 14, 2019

Kick the bucket

for blog“Murder at the Dinner Bucket Diner,” the fifth book in my cozy mystery series, is now available for purchase at Amazon.

Those of you who have been following the exploits of amateur sleuth Maggie Morgan might be saying to yourself, “Self, somebody’s been killed at the Dinner Bucket? Was a pork chop the murder weapon?”

Of course, those of you who haven’t read the other books might be saying to yourself, “Self, did she set a murder mystery in a bucket?”

Don’t be ridiculous. And, not to sound like Captain Obvious, but if you’d read the books, you wouldn’t have to ask such a question. The Dinner Bucket, as it’s known to locals of Jasper, the county seat of the fictional Geneva County, is a diner that serves home cooking like potato salad and the aforementioned pork chops. The diner’s original owner named it in honor of her dad, a coal miner. The black lunch bucket he carried into the mines remains on display in the diner.

My dad also carried a black lunch bucket, which he called a dinner bucket, into the mines. So, whilst writing the first book, I had the idea, which some have described as brilliant, to bestow the name Dinner Bucket Diner on the eatery.

Due to the catchy name, I had always planned to set a mystery at the diner. The particulars evolved over time, but here’s a synopsis of the finished product:

When Gypsy Hill collapses during her shift at the Dinner Bucket Diner, customers attribute her death to a virus. But with doctors unable to point to the cause of Gypsy’s sudden illness and police unresponsive to investigating her death, reporter and amateur sleuth Maggie Morgan takes up the case. She soon learns that the temperamental young woman was engaged in various feuds. She also learns that the suspects in the case, including a chatty waitress, a thrice-widowed bookworm, and a man who looks like a goat, harbor secrets of their own. And just as Maggie inches closer to discovering the answers to Gypsy’s secrets, another resident of her small Kentucky town collapses at work.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Murder at Moonshiner Days now available — May 19, 2017

Murder at Moonshiner Days now available

dfw-mg-mamd-cover-3d-nologo.jpg“Murder at Moonshiner Days,” the fourth book in my Maggie Morgan cozy mystery series, is now available at amazon.

On the eve of the annual Moonshiner Days festival, first-grade teacher Jennifer Wagner is found with a meat thermometer sticking out of her neck. A year later, police in her small Kentucky town are no closer to solving her murder. As the town prepares to welcome thousands of guests to another Moonshiner Days, reporter and amateur sleuth Maggie Morgan begins to wonder if Jennifer’s killer has ties to the festival. With the sounds of backfiring jalopies and bluegrass music filling the air, Maggie pokes around Jennifer’s life, exposing deep, dark secrets. Just as she inches closer to solving the challenging case, another crime is committed, a murder suspect ends up in jail, and Maggie is forced to deal with a personal crisis.

Pay to play — May 12, 2015

Pay to play

My cozy mystery, “Murder at Catfish Corner,” begins with the discovery of a woman floating in a pay lake. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “pay lake,” it’s a stocked lake at which you pay to fish. Pretty straightforward, right?

As it turns out, one of my best friends had never heard of a pay lake, and she suggested I remove the reference to it from the book blurb. Although she argued that alluding to a pay lake would confuse potential readers, I kept it in there.

I must admit, her professed ignorance surprised me. After all, my research had located pay lakes as far north as Michigan and as far south as Alabama. Of course, she lives in Maryland, so maybe I should have investigated points east as well.

Anyway, the idea to construct a mystery around a pay lake came to me during a discussion about local landmarks. When the conversation veered to the subject of a pay lake, I envisioned a body floating face-first in the water. At that point, I knew I had the makings of my next mystery and a morbid mind. Okay, I’ve been aware of my morbid mind for decades.

Utilizing a pay lake also allowed me to revisit the antagonistic relationship between two characters in the series: Tyler, the young reporter who never misses an opportunity to make fun of Eastern Kentucky, and Joe, the newspaper editor who never misses an opportunity to put Tyler in his place.

When Tyler derisively refers to Catfish Corner as a glorified pond and belittles residents for paying to fish on private land when the area’s ample creek banks would serve the same purpose, Joe informs him that pay lakes do not exist only in Eastern Kentucky.

Besides, fishing on a creek bank might not yield anything bigger than a minnow. (Pronounced locally as minner.) But a pay lake offers the promise of a significant catch of the day.

Murder at Catfish Corner now available — April 19, 2015

Murder at Catfish Corner now available

“Murder at Catfish Corner,” the second book in my Maggie Morgan cozy mystery series, is now available at amazon.

“Murder at Catfish Corner” opens with Hazel Baker found floating in Catfish Corner. Neighbors in Hazel’s eastern Kentucky community wonder how the retired nurse ending up drowning in the pay lake. Unwilling to accept Hazel’s death as an accident, her sister enlists reporter and crime buff Maggie Morgan to prove Hazel was murdered. As Maggie tries to focus on the case, she’s distracted by her well-meaning boyfriend, her ex-fiancé the police detective, and a crime that hits close to home.

Guest author interview — February 9, 2015
Murder on Sugar Creek featured on cozy mystery site — January 26, 2015
Veronica Mars and the mystery of the thousand dollar tan line — January 8, 2015

Veronica Mars and the mystery of the thousand dollar tan line

18209454I became familiar with “Veronica Mars” when CBS aired four episodes of the UPN series during the summer of 2005. In spite of my advancing age and my aversion to anything associated with UPN, I developed an addiction to the show, which starred Kristen Bell as a witty, smart and resourceful teen detective in southern California.

Although the show’s third season disappointed me, I mourned its cancellation. I missed Veronica and her supporting cast of characters, which included a biker and a hacker.

So, I was happy when I learned that, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, a “Veronica Mars” motion picture starring Kristen Bell herself was in the works. What’s more, series creator Rob Thomas and co-author Jennifer Graham were penning a two-book series of original Veronica Mars mysteries.

Of course, I just recently got around to reading the first book, “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line,” in that series. That might not sound like the actions of a marshmallow (it’s what we fans of the series call ourselves in a nod to the very first episode), but it picked up where the movie ended and, well, I didn’t get around to watching the movie until this fall. (Hey, I’ve been busy writing my own mysteries.)

While the movie wasn’t bad, it was just good enough to make me pine for the first two seasons of the show. Thankfully, the “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line” captured the heart and humor of Veronica who, near movie’s end, turned her back on a potentially lucrative law career and returned to her private investigating roots in her corrupt hometown.

The book begins with Veronica taking the reins of Mars Investigations while her dad, Keith, recovers from injuries sustained in the book. Not that Veronica and her newly-hired IT expert, Mac, have much work to do. That changes after a coed goes missing at a spring break party and Veronica is hired to investigate her disappearance. In addition to keeping the lights on and paying Mac’s salary, Veronica’s investigation points to a dangerous drug cartel, puts her life in danger and brings a blast from her past back into her life.

Although the book leaves a few loose ends dangling, the mystery wrapped up to my satisfaction. But the mysteries didn’t make me keep tuning into “Veronica Mars” and the desire to learn the fates of the not one but two missing girls didn’t make me keep turning the pages. As is the case with most fiction, the characters make the story.

I was most interested in the way the book captured Veronica’s strong relationship with her devoted dad, who wants nothing more than for Veronica to leave Neptune – and the P.I. life –behind. He doesn’t understand why she won’t take the bar exam and, well, neither do I. Veronica doesn’t have to work for the swanky law firm that recruited her in the movie. In fact, that wouldn’t be a good fit for an outcast like Veronica. But that’s not her only option. She could take the bar in California and work as an attorney/detective for Mars Investigations. It makes no sense for Thomas and Graham to seemingly ignore this possibility. It’s as if they want us to believe it’s New York or bust for our feisty girl.

Other than that major point, I have no quibbles with “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line.” We marshmallows get Skype sessions with the submarine-deployed Logan and best friend time with Wallace and there’s even a Weevil sighting.

I can’t wait to read the second book, “Mr. Kiss and Tell.” And this time, maybe I won’t wait quite so long.

Read Tuesday — December 4, 2014
To care or not to care — November 18, 2014

To care or not to care

Every region has its own distinctive vernacular and vocabulary, but it takes outsiders to point out these idiosyncrasies in language to native speakers. In my cozy mystery, “Murder on Sugar Creek,” the young reporter, Tyler, plays the role of the person who’s not from around here.

When amateur sleuth and the book’s protagonist, Maggie Morgan, responds to a request for directions by saying, “I don’t care to help you,” Tyler scoffs. In his world, “I don’t care to” literally means the speaker doesn’t care.

In eastern Kentucky, it means, “Why, shore, Bub, I’ll help you out.”

I have no idea when or why “I don’t care to” became a positive response. In fact, I didn’t know the phrase prompted controversy until circa 2008 when I attended a get-together populated primarily by people not from around here. These friendly, considerate folk were in no way ridiculing us. They were, however, baffled by certain expressions they had not heard until they moved here.

Of course, they also exaggerated. One of them noted that we refer to those bodies of water that run by our homes and roads as “cricks.” That’s just ridiculous. They’re creeks. A crick is a pain in your neck.

But it’s true that we live in hollers instead of hollows, that hogs waller in the mud, and that misbehaving children are often accused of behaving like hetherns. I don’t think I’ve ever correctly pronounced the word heathen. Or, for that matter, greasy, spigot, and tomorrow. Those words become greezy, spickit, and tuhmar once you enter our mountains.

We also love to pluralize. My daddy worked in the coal mines. We shop at the Walmarts. We cheered on John Wall(s) the year he played for our beloved Wildcats.

We’re also directionally challenged. Indeed, as my characters can attest, we frequently travel up to Tennessee and down to Ohio. One of my crack proofreaders noticed this in my manuscript and marked it as a mistake. It’s not a mistake, though, it’s just how we talk.

In an effort at full disclosure, however, I must admit that I try to pronounce and use words correctly and to adhere to proper grammar. Yet, despite the best efforts of others, I continue to describe knit caps as toboggans and I refuse to call that annoying, stinging insect a wasp. It’s a wasper. I know the difference, but I don’t care to use the right term. And, in this case, I don’t care to really means that I’m not doing it.

Of red-eyed sots and fat backs — October 14, 2014

Of red-eyed sots and fat backs

In the third chapter of my cozy mystery, “Murder on Sugar Creek,” amateur sleuth Maggie Morgan joins her parents for a breakfast of biscuits, gravy, raspberry jam, country ham, and red-eye gravy.

Two gravies, you ask?red eye

Well, that depends.

When prepared traditionally, red-eye contains two ingredients – the grease from country ham and black coffee. Some cooks refer to it as gravy while others call it a sauce.

Although it’s written as red-eye gravy in the book and above, I’m stingy with gravy and sauce accolades in my personal life. So, for me, it’s simply red-eye. For years, I called the scrumptious sustenance red-eye sot. I did so until I realized the rest of my family was saying sop instead of sot. Sop, obviously, comes from the ability to sop up red-eye with one’s biscuits.

Some people prefer to slather a piece of ham with red-eye, but not me. I don’t want my ham and red-eye to mix, so I soak the ham in paper towels to remove as much red-eye as possible. Yes, I realize the absurdity of performing this activity prior to or directly after I ingest scraps of biscuits doused in red-eye, but I’ve got to be me.

You should not confuse this fried country ham with the cured ham that produces deli meat and Christmas dinner. You also can make red-eye on pork chops, but I consider ham more tender and easier to pull apart. It must have something to do with all that time hogs lie around on their huge backsides.

Speaking of pork, when I’m feeling really crazy, I’ll try a couple pieces of sausage, but only of the canned variety. Canning sausage involves spooning balls of seasoned, cooked pork into Mason jars. The clear jars make the meat more appealing because you can see the grease coagulate in the jar before it coagulates in your arteries.

My friends, even those from eastern Kentucky, seem disgusted by the idea of eating canned meat. The way I look at it, if canned meat didn’t sell, they would have pulled Spam and Treat off the shelves years ago.

As much as I love homegrown pork, I will not eat what my sister and I refer to as “hog bacon.” Yes, we know all real bacon comes from hogs, but we like to differentiate between brought-on bacon, which we devour, and homegrown bacon. We find hog bacon too coarse, salty, and fatty. It’s almost like fat back, which as its name suggests, comes from the back fat of hogs. I struggle to understand why anyone would eat something called fat back, but Mother insists it’s good and explains it’s like bacon without the meat.

I eat bacon only for the meat, so I think I’ll pass on fat back, but I will take some more red-eye sop, please.