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.
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,” 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.
Michael Brookes has featured me as his guest author interview on his website, The Cult of Me. You should check it out!
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.