New Story Collection

I have a new book release, Rules Concerning Earthlight and Other Stories of Fantasy and Science Fiction. This story collection is a tribute to my dear friend, K.C. Ball, who passed away in 2018. 

I first met K.C. at the forum for an online writing school back in September 2009, when she was an editor guest there. I made my first story sale the next month to her magazine “10Flash Quarterly,” “Dead Wife Waiting.”

I went on to sell her more stories. After she closed the magazine down in 2011, we began co-writing stories together. This collection has all three, including the title story, “Rules Concerning Earthlight,” the Pushcart Prize nominee space opera novelette “Running Tangent,” and the fantasy-western novella, “Silver City.”

“Silver City” is appearing for the first time in this collection, which has a total of ten stories.

She influence my own writing, both as an editor, as a fellow writer offering constructive feedback, and as a co-writer. She always wanted to make the reader feel something. Her readings at conventions invariably moved the audience. If she wanted to make you laugh, you’d laugh, if she wanted to make you cry, you’d cry.

K.C. is proof that those we love live on in us.

Puzzling Out an English Village Murder

A quaint little village in the Cotswolds, or the Lake Country, or somewhere in Oxfordshire. A place where everyone knows your name and what you’ve been up to. The public house is the center of community activity and the place to escape the troubles and worries of daily life. There’s a manor house, the hoary old church, the classic English cottages. But there may be the new development, causing tension in the community. Long-held grudges and long-festering feuds suddenly boiling up in the face of change, with murder the result.

Fertile and deadly ground for thousands of mystery novels, and countless television shows.

It’s also the inspiration for Murder in Little Piddling by White Mountain Puzzles.

Murder in Little Piddling
A seemingly-peaceful, quaint English village, riven by murder.

The image for the puzzle itself (shown above) is slightly different in a few important details from the box art, which, for instance, shows the murder scene bucolic and corpse-free. Once you complete the puzzle, you read the provided “story” of the murder, and then can read the clues and testimony on the various sections of the puzzle itself to solve the mystery.

Being a jigsaw puzzle, the main fun to be had is with “solving” the actual puzzle, but the murder mystery is a fun coda to that. Compared to escape room-style board game puzzles we’ve tried, like “Box One,” the mystery here is a snap to solve, especially for seasoned mystery readers, but it’s entertaining in the process.

Jigsaw puzzles and murder mysteries go hand-in-hand in my book, since both involve solving sometimes maddeningly challenging puzzles. Murder in Little Piddling combines them for even more fun.

If you are interested, you can find the puzzle here.

Jessica Fletcher is my hero

I’m very late to the Murder, She Wrote party, but now that LeAnn and I are watching the show, I realize what a wonderful character Jessica Fletcher is. Wise in the ways of the world, kind to everyone she meets, and filled with empathy for all. Her previous career as a high school teacher and her upbringing as a Mainer both come out in her down-to-earth manner.

Like all great detectives, she’s curious, always asking questions, fearless once she’s on the case in pursuing leads wherever they take her, and relentless in investigating.

She’s also persistent in her writing, always working on the next book, wishing she could focus more on her writing and less on the promotion side, but happy to give a talk on a TV show, or a school library, or wherever she’s asked to speak.

She’s charming in a straight-forward way, and relates to everyone, especially working class people. In Murder to a Jazz Beat, she becomes friends with the taxi driver who picks her up at the airport, Lafayette, played engagingly by Garrett Morris, he helps provide knowledge of the music and food scene in New Orleans. They have a great rapport, which is typical of the friends Jessica makes.

Even when Jessica loses her temper, almost always justified, she regains her composure quickly.

Murder, She Wrote, is a comedy mystery, to me at least. True, it’s a bit of a stretch that the police almost always defer to her in solving the crime, but that’s the “suspension of disbelief” we viewers willingly make with the show, because it’s so much fun to watch our hero tackle crime and restore order.

To me, she’s an archetypical cozy mystery hero, filled with hope, a sense of adventure, intellectual daring, and a drive to find the murderer, not stopping until she does.

The best kind of amateur sleuth.

Happy Day of the Moon

Mondays, am I right? Turns out, not only is the start of the conventional work week*, but it’s also the day of the Moon. Literally. Monday is derived from the Old English Mōnandæg. Mōna means Moon in that language. Wikipedia states that it was a translation of the Latin “dies lunae,” day of Luna, the Latin name for Earth’s constant companion in the celestial dance.

This Monday I was up early, as is my elderly cat Mittens’s wont, since he loves his “pill treats,” and wants them as soon as the sky begins to lighten. After taking care of him, I took my telescope outside for some morning Moon viewing. I actually started by viewing Jupiter. It may surprise you to learn that Jupiter can be seen in daylight, in a telescope. I was helped by starting just before actual dawn, and the brightening sky was still deep blue enough that Jupiter stood out. I was able to view the King of Planets and three of its four Galilean moons.

I then turned my telescope to Luna, which was “waning gibbous,” the evocative name its third quarter is given as it does its monthly dance with the Earth. The air can be seen bubbling around the edges of the image, but the view is still sharp along the terminator, where the sunset is setting.

Getting in a little Moon viewing on this day of the Moon is a fun way to begin the week and honor the origin of this day’s name.

Some favorite mystery shows

Living in the current golden age of digital streaming, we mystery lovers have a lot of wonderful mystery shows we can watch, old and new.

Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order.

Midsomer Murders. I love this delightful cozy featuring police as the main characters, set in the fictional English County of Midsomer. Twenty-two season and counting of light-hearted, sometimes outlandish, and always enjoyable mystery spinning.

Only Murders In the Building. This fable-like series on Hulu blew me away when it premiered last year. The trio of sleuths have fantastic chemistry, balancing in the wacky oldsters in Martin Short and Steve Martin, and Selena Gomez’s twenty-something old soul in a young person’s body hero. The stately Arconia in New York City is a character in its own right, and the show balances humor with a twisty, sometimes dark mystery. Plus podcasting fun.

Elementary. I loved this modern version of Sherlock Holmes, set in Manhattan, with Lucy Liu playing Doctor Joan Watson and Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes. Great setting, great mysteries, and an intriguing on going storyline of character growth and friendship

Columbo. The classic reverse-who-done it series, where the viewer saw the murder committed and knew the identity of the killer from the start. It ran in two iterations on television. The first, in the 1970s (following a pilot move in 1968) and a second run beginning in 1989 until 2003. The always rumpled and disheveled police lieutenant detective (except in the original pilot) played a bumbling, absent-minded sort that lulled the entitled, rich murders into underestimating him. The heart of the show was watching Columbo solve the mystery and reveal the villain. Peter Falk was absolutely brilliant in the title role.

Summer is in full swing

The temperature reached 98F here in Portland yesterday afternoon. Not nearly as scorching as Austin and other places in Texas have faced these past few days, and much “cooler” then when we were in fiery grip of the heat dome last summer.

Today is cooler, closer to the range of what I can consider perfect summer weather for Oregon. We’re currently at 86F. I spent time today out in my “zero gravity” chair in the backyard, shaded from the sun by a lilac tree, and working on A Shush Before Dying.

The forecast calls for even cooler temperatures over the next week. But I have no doubt that scorching heat will return next month, if not sooner. We often have a scorching week or two in August.

Meanwhile, stay cool where ever you are and remember to hydrate.

A Moon shot

I’m working on a longer post about my love for stargazing, but after being up to late stargazing lately, coupled with Mittens waking me up too early for his pill “treats”, today ended up being more of a slog than I’d imagined, so I thought I’d share an image from last night’s twilight viewing of Luna, taken through a refractor telescope. The purple border on the right edge of the Moon is caused by something called “chromatic aberration,” which is an artifact of the two lenses of this particular scope and its short focal length.

Still the terminator, on the lefthand edge of the lunar image here, is sharp. The terminator is the boundary between day and night on the Moon, which changes hour by hour as it moves around the Earth.

In the lower left part of the terminator is a line of craters, the largest an oval. That’s Schickard, an impact crater which looks oblong because of foreshortening.

Feeding My Mystery Muse

After returning from a visit with a friend yesterday, I watched two more classic Perry Mason episodes, and marveled again at the storytelling and dialogue, and the skilled way a mystery was laid out and solved in under an hour. The series is very much a product of its time, and yet feels fresh and modern in many ways. Good conflict is timeless, and Perry’s never-ending quest to help those in need is as relevant today as it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

I’m also reading James Scott Bell’s entertaining “Neo-Pulp” mystery collection, Trouble is My Beat, featuring pulp writer and Hollywood studio troubleshooter Bill Armbrewster. It’s a cracking good read, well written and fast-paced, and above all, fun. If you enjoy a good pulp style mystery, or are a fan of the Coen Brothers film Oh, Caesar, which features another studio troubleshooter, I think you’ll enjoy the Armbrewster story collection.

As a writer, it’s important to “feed” the muse as well as write, and I’ve been doing that for mystery for the past couple of years. Creative writing is a team effort between your conscious “I” self and your subconscious, and the subconscious benefits and enjoys it when you consume stories.