Sunday, June 30, 2019

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Fingerprints, Bonanza, and the Chinese

One night, hubby and I were watching Bonanza—an episode we’d seen several times. (If you’re not familiar with Bonanza, it’s a vintage cowboy-ish television show set in the 1860s. You can read about here.) In this episode, Little Joe Cartwright was arrested for murder, but at the end of the show, he was proven innocent in court.

So, what does this have to do with cozy mysteries? Well, it wasn’t law enforcement that helped prove Little Joe innocent, it was Hop Sing, the Cartwright trusty cook. Like a good sleuth, he used his own wits to prove that Little Joe didn’t handle the murder weapon by demonstrating how fingerprints work. And what was fascinating to me about this was that Hop Sing claimed that people in his country had been using this technique for years. 

The first time I saw this particular Bonanza, I asked, “Really? Are they for real?” Everyone knows fingerprints weren’t used until Sherlock Holmes. (Just kidding.) But seriously, I did wonder if the writers of the show made this up, or if they had facts to back up their story. 

Out came my trusty laptop. I looked it up, and the writers of Bonanza didn’t disappoint me. China, in fact, had a lengthy history of using fingerprints (and hand prints).

The earliest example comes from a Chinese document entitled “The Volume of Crime Scene Investigation—Burglary”, from the Qin Dynasty (221 to 206 B.C.). The document contains a description of how hand prints were used as a type of evidence. Chinese officials pressed their fingerprints into clay seals to seal documents. And when the Chinese began to use silk and paper for documents, they used hand prints as a means to make contracts legal. In 851 BC, Abu Zayd Hasan, an Arab merchant in China, witnessed Chinese merchants using fingerprints to authenticate loans.

That means that though the story of Hop Sing, Little Joe, and the fingerprints was fiction, it could have happened. I just love cool historical facts, especially when they involve crime solving.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Hetty Wainthropp Investigates

I’ve discovered a new-to-me British cozy mystery series from the BBC called Hetty Wainthropp Investigates. The show aired on the BBC from 1996 through 1998. I watch it for free on Acorn TV, which I access through Amazon Prime for a small additional monthly fee. (My husband would argue that if I’m paying a monthly fee, the shows aren’t really free. Sigh. Must my bubble really be burst?)

Anyway, Hetty, played by British actress Patricia Routledge, is a retired pensioner who decides to become a detective after solving her first mystery, which (of course) she just stumbled into. To the chagrin of her husband Robert, after her first successful case, she gets business cards printed and takes out an ad in the paper to advertise her new detective business. Robert is irritated by her chosen new profession, especially when it bites into the family budget, but he often helps her investigate. Along the way, she gains a slightly delinquent teenaged sidekick name Geoffrey who becomes like a family member. Their relationships are entertaining and grow in warmth as the series continues.

Hetty is no-nonsense, bold, and forthright, but she’s also kind. She’s known to give hugs and make sure people have food to eat. I enjoy the interactions between her and other characters. She often refers to her “little grey cells,” which is a phrase Hercule Poirot used. Here’s a typical Hetty-like quote: “This is a real puzzle. Something's gone arsy-darsy somewhere.”

I'm enjoying it more with each program. The first few episodes were a little odd. The conclusions weren't as satisfying as they might have been. No one was arrested and carted away in handcuffs, which my cozy author self would prefer. But episodes are getting better. And the best thing for me is the shows are gentle, with no blood and gore. No creepy factor. Sometimes there’s not even a body. No terrible language. No awkward sexual stuff. And no bad language. I did have to turn on the subtitles because some of the British accents make the dialogue hard for me to understand.

All in all, I really like the series. We're going to watch all of them.  

I’d love to hear comments from our readers who have watched this series. Comment on our Facebook page: Cozy Mystery Magazine

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Interview with Author Roseanna White

Roseanna is a bestselling, Christy Award nominated author, with numerous books to her name. I had the pleasure of meeting her recently when she taught a session at a writers’ conference I attended. The timing couldn’t have been better—she was my next planned author interview in Cozy Mystery Magazine’s series about Guideposts continuity mysteries. Without further ado, here’s Roseanna!
Congratulations for the publication of “Greater Than Gold,” the fourth book in Guideposts mystery series, Secrets of Wayfarers Inn. I just finished reading this book and really enjoyed it. I liked the way you incorporated a real event (the Marietta Sternwheel Festival) into your story. 

The mystery in this book was based on a lost treasure—jewelry. I know you write a lot of historical fiction, and I’m sure that entails much research. Was the idea of lost jewelry based in any way on a true historical fact that you happened upon, or perhaps a story that you came across in your historical research? I did notice in your note to the reader at the end of the book that you love treasure stories.

I do indeed! But actually, this treasure plot was one the team at Guideposts had already come up with as they conceived the series—but I was super excited when I saw it fell to me to write it! I do love treasure stories and have written several books that incorporate that theme. So when it came time to figure out the missing treasure for Greater Than Gold, I dug a bit into Southern history but mostly used my imagination to try to figure out what treasure might have been found by an antique elevator…and what effect it could have on the people who found it years later.

This mystery series is a collaborative process from beginning to end, which isn’t the traditional model for writing a book. What was your favorite part or parts about the collaboration?

It’s been so much fun to get to know the other authors and brainstorm together! We created a blueprint of the inn based on the descriptions in book 1 and what we all needed for our stories, which was fun. And I’ve just loved the group-effort of everything from naming characters to ironing out plot points so that they remain consistent with everyone else’s stories. It’s a challenge, but one that has proven fun.

How does writing in a collaborative fashion like this impact your own writing, if at all?

It hasn’t really had a great impact on how I write my solo novels…though balancing these books with my other releases requires a lot of dedication and prioritizing, and I’ve been so blessed to have a family who supports me in this busy season!

What is your favorite thing about writing for this series?

That would have to be the friendships forged behind the scenes with the other authors. The stories themselves are fun too, of course, but I’ve really appreciated getting to know this amazing team.

What is your favorite thing about the location? Have you visited Marietta, Ohio? Studied more about it?

I have been to Marietta, though it was many years ago. I actually applied to Marietta College back in the day! It’s only about 2 hours from where I live, so I have a basic familiarity already with things like climate and landscape. Google Maps has been a huge help refreshing my memory and filling in the blanks though. (How did people write books before the internet??)

You are a very busy person. In addition to writing numerous books, you design book covers, homeschool your children, and help your husband with his publishing company, WhiteFire Publishing. Can you tell us a little bit more about your other pursuits?

Yes, I believe in keeping busy. 😉 Between my writing, editing, designing, and homeschooling, I really don’t have a ton of what you would call free time, LOL. But I do enjoy knitting, reading (of course!), and baking when time permits. This year those extras have been rather lacking as I spend so much time writing, but I enjoy them when I can!

Please tell us about your other recent book releases, where our readers can contact you and find you online.

My current historical series, Shadows Over England, was just completed September 4 with the release of An Hour Unspent (following book 1, A Name Unknown and book 2, A Song Unheard). The series follows a family of thieves from London into the opening months of World War I, as they accept jobs from a mysterious man to aid England in the war. It’s been an incredibly fun series to write, as I learned how arts played a role in the war and explore themes like heritage, prejudice, and identity and combine them with things like books, music, and clockmaking.

I also just released an audiobook of A Heart’s Revolution—originally published as Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland in 2011. I re-released the paperback with the new cover and title in March and was excited to bring it to listeners as well.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

One Reason Why I Love Cozy Mysteries

I love cozy mysteries. . .okay, I just love mysteries, period. I have since I was a kid. Now I'm privileged to write cozy mysteries. I also watch as many as I can on television, as long as they hold true to what I believe is important to cozy mysteries--no graphic violence. I don't want to go to bed at night with gruesome images of bloody crime scenes in my mind.

The other night, hubby and I watched a 1945 black and white Sherlock Holmes movie starring Basil Rathbone. Although the personality of this particular Sherlock Holmes wasn’t totally in keeping with Doyle’s books, there were many things I liked about the movie, including how the directors handled the violence of the murder, which was done with shadows.

The movie had no splattering of blood and guts. No gruesome shots of human innards. The director used the reactions of the characters to portray the horror of the murders. For instance, when a police officer and Sherlock go to the coroner to observe the body, all we see is a woman’s face and sheet-covered body. When the sheet is pulled back, the camera focuses on the police officer’s expression. It’s his reaction to the body that indicates the awfulness of the crime.

Traditional cozies don’t show scene upon scene upon scene of the details of the blood, guts, and gore. They don't get deeply into the heads of freaky serial killers. They don't usually show the terror the victims experience as they're being murdered. There might be a brief description of the murder, but the brutality of crime scenes, and the weirdness of the criminals, comes more from the reactions of the characters. And some cozy mysteries have no murder at all, just an interesting crime.

In other words, I don't have to skip pages in a book or close my eyes until a scene in a movie or TV show is over. That lack of spilling guts and spurting blood is one of the reasons I love cozy mysteries.

Visit me at

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Interview with Author Tracey Bateman

Congratulations for the publication of “All That Remains,” third in the new Guideposts mystery series, “Secrets of Wayfarers Inn.” 

This Guideposts series is about three friends who buy an old inn that used to be part of the Underground Railway. The setting is Marietta, Ohio. Did you do any special research about the Underground Railway in preparation for writing this book? If so, can you tell us about it?

Have you visited Marietta, Ohio? 

I haven’t. A couple of the other authors who live a little closer have and gave us some great input about local businesses and other research resources that have helped a lot.

How do you like writing what seems to be two stories—the one in the past about Prudence and the present day story? 

I’ve written a lot of historical and contemporary both in my career, and the era of slavery and the Underground Railroad is a favorite time for me to study and read about. So it came pretty naturally. Also, I’ve used the back and forth method of writing in several of my books over the years, so I enjoy bringing the past into the present.

I like how you tied the skeleton in the tunnel into the mystery in historical part of the story as well as the present day part of the story. Did the idea of the skeleton come from a real event you discovered or was it something you thought of? 

The first three books in the series came with an inciting incident for us to build on. The brilliant minds at Guideposts had already imagined the skeleton and photograph in the tunnel. I just let my imagination go and ran with it.

Is this the first book you’ve written for Guideposts? 

It is for a continuity series. Back in the day, I wrote two for the Love Finds You series for Summerside Press before they closed it down.

This mystery series, like most of the other Guideposts mystery series, is a collaborative process, from beginning to end, which isn’t the traditional model for writing a book. What were your favorite parts about the collaboration? 

I think I’m the squeaky wheel sometimes. LOL I always try to figure out how to take a thread or character from one of the other authors’ book and draw it into mine, so the readers feel a sense of recognition from book to book. I’m not sure I succeed, but I try. The best part of collaboration is seeing the talent from authors I have never read before. Becky Melby did an UH-mazing job building the foundation of the characterizations of our three amateur sleuths and the historical elements of the Inn. I’m a huge fan of hers now as a writer and a person.
Between her and Kathleen Y’Barbo (who I have been a fan of and friends with for years) it was so easy to take what they created and move forward with the character of Janice.

How does the collaborative process impact your own writing? 

Early in my attempt to become a writer, I connected with critique groups so I’ve always recognized and appreciated the benefit of brainstorming, feedback and constructive criticism. So, collaborating is right in my lane. In a series like this, we have to try to communicate so that we keep the consistency in characterizations, secondary characters, and events surrounding the inn. Hopefully, we’ve accomplished that. It’s fun to take what others imagine and build and it’s also fun to create something and see how others build from their own experience and imagination. You just can’t hold too tightly to your own ideas and try to control someone else’s process. Being flexible and willing to work as a team is easy for me.

You and I talked a little bit about your character, Janice Eastman, and how her personality developed in the book—which I thoroughly enjoyed, by the way. Can you talk about that a little bit? 

Well, Janice was an existing core member of the trio of ladies, and she had personality traits and life experiences that were already established when I got my hands on her. I was privileged to be the one to take what Becky and Kathleen had already begun, and make her into a flesh and blood character. They had already made her fun and quirky and fearful. The lovable “little sister” character. But as she was written, she couldn’t really carry a whole book from her point of view. So, I wanted to know why she was those things. I took her deeper than her quirks, because as individuals, we are the sum of dark and light, deep and surface. She was a pastor’s wife for thirty years, a teacher, and raised two kids. She had to be more than a scardy cat with a few screws loose. J With her husband gone, she’s not a pastor’s wife anymore, and she’s just retired from teaching, so two huge pieces of her identity puzzle have been removed. I wanted to explore who she is deep down and let her establish her identity as a strong widow, part business owner, and mom and grandmother. I loved getting to know her.

Did you get to know your character Janice as you wrote the book or did you have her pretty much fleshed out before you began? 

For me, I learn my characters the way I learn the new people in my life. I just ask questions and let the answers unfold. I had to work a bit to find some of her answers.

Did you come up with the title, All that Remains, or was it assigned to you

It was assigned. But I couldn’t have come up with a more appropriate title in a million years. Not only did the existing title help me plot the book, but it also gave me the theme.

In the reader’s note at the end of the book, you posed the question, what is left when our identity is suddenly gone? . . .And your answer gave me goosebumps. When you are stripped to nothing, all that remains is this: you and Jesus. . .That was beautiful. 

Thank you. I’ve gone through my own “stripping” over the last couple of years and found that this was the perfect book for me to write. God used it to speak some real truths to me and deepen my personal relationship with Him. I always tend to pass my lessons along.

Do you have a website and/or Facebook page where people can find you? 

My website is being redone—slowly—but Facebook is a good place to find me. Or email.

Thank you, Tracey! I look forward to your next book in the series!

You can find Tracey's book at this link: All That Remains

Monday, August 13, 2018

Cozy Pecan Cobbler - Good Anytime!

This decadent Southern dessert recipe is super easy to make. The cobbler and sauce are created in one pan. The luscious, velvety texture makes the perfect bite...after bite...after bite! Great with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Serve anytime of the year as a husband or crowd pleaser, or personal treat for sure!

Note: This is such a rich dessert that for the two of us I cut the recipe in half and make in an 8x8 inch pan. Please let us know how you like it!

PECAN COBBLER   from Nancy Jill Thames

prep 5 minutes cook 30 minutes total 35 mins
yield 8 servings

·  6 tablespoon butter (no substitutions)
·  1 cup pecans
·  1 and 1/2 cup self-rising flour
1 cup of all-purpose flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Adjust to 11/2c
·  1 and 1/2 cup granulated sugar
·  2/3 cup milk (more if needed)
·  1 teaspoon vanilla
·  1 and 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
·  1 and 1/2 cup hot water
1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.     Add butter to a 9x13 inch cake pan or casserole dish and melt in the oven.
3.     Once butter is melted, sprinkle the pecans over butter.
4.     In a bowl, mix flour, sugar, milk and vanilla. Stir to combine, but don't over-mix.
5.     Pour batter over butter and pecans, do not mix.
6.     Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over batter, do not stir.
7.     Carefully pour the hot water over the mixture; do not stir.
8.     Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown.
1.     I recommend using real butter only
2.     I do not recommend reducing either the brown sugar or the hot water
3.     I do not recommend reducing the amount of butter
4.     I used whole milk. 

Nancy Jill Thames was born to write mysteries. From her early days as the neighborhood story-teller to the Amazon Author Watch Bestseller List, she has always had a vivid imagination and loves to solve problems – perfect for plotting whodunits. In 2010, Nancy Jill published her first mystery Murder in Half Moon Bay, introducing her well-loved protagonist Jillian Bradley and clue-sniffing Yorkie “Teddy.”
After writing eleven books and a short story collection, Nancy Jill travels between Texas, California, and Georgia finding new ways to spoil her grandchildren, playing classical favorites on her baby grand, or having afternoon tea with friends.

She lives with her husband in Texas and is a member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) CenTex Chapter.

To learn more about Nancy Jill, visit these sites.