Monthly Archives: March 2018

A Crime Writers Interview: Jenna Harte

Crime Writers Intro image

Welcome to another Crime Writers Interview!

We try to draw out what is unique and special about each author we interview. There are some real gems tucked away in this chat I had with Jenna Harte, especially at the end when I asked what question she wished interviewers would ask her. I just loved her answer!

headshot of Jenna Harte

Please give a warm welcome to Jenna Harte!

Jenna is a total romantic who also loves a good mystery. The first of her Valentine Mysteries, Deadly Valentine, reached the quarter-finals in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award in 2013. She’s also the author of the Southern Heat contemporary romance series, and is working on a new cozy mystery series involving coupons, fairy tales and airplane repos.

She’s a member of the Virginia Writers Club and Sisters In Crime and works by day as a freelance writer and online entrepreneur. An empty-nester, she lives in central Virginia with her husband and a fat cat.

Kass Lamb (on behalf of misterio press): Let’s start with a “tell us about yourself” question. What two or three things do you feel people need to know in order to understand who you are?

Jenna Harte:  I’m a die-hard romantic who especially enjoys mysteries involving committed couples, such as Nick and Nora Charles, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, etc. I also enjoy a good passionate romance, but it’s difficult to find a mystery series that has the romantic bits, and romantic mysteries rarely involve a series. That’s why I write the Valentine Mysteries and the Delecoeur novellas.

the delecoeur covers

Another tidbit is that I never set out to be a writer, and in fact, if someone told me in high school I’d be a writer, I’d have cried. I fell into writing non-fiction by accident. I became interested in fiction when I discovered fan fiction, and found all these stories around TV/movie couples I enjoyed. I started writing them too, and after one of my stories was stolen—twice—I wondered if maybe I had something. Of course, I had a lot to learn, but an online mystery writing course instructor told me I “had the goods” so I kept at it.

Now I can’t imagine not writing because I have characters prattling on in my brain all the time.

Kass:  What type, i.e. subgenre, of crime fiction do you write? Why does that subgenre appeal to you as a writer and do you also prefer it as a reader?

Jenna:  I write a romantic mystery series that is similar to cozy, except I break the rule about no intimate bits. I also have a three-book contemporary romance series (one of which includes suspense). My most recent work is a traditional cozy mystery series that is currently in the editing process with my publisher.

I tend to write what I’d like to read. I’ve read every JD Robb book (passionate couple solving a crime), and I also enjoy the Stephanie Plum and the O’Hare and Fox books by Janet Evanovich (O’Hare and Fox are co-written with Lee Goldberg). I read romantic suspense as well, such as Nora Roberts and Sandra Brown.

Kass:  JD Robb and Janet Evanovich are at the top of my list too. But tell me, why do you write crime fiction? What is the appeal?

Jenna:  I enjoy other genres such as romance and some science fiction, but the ones I enjoy the most have a mystery involved. It might not always be a crime, but there is a mystery about something. I’ve never thought much about why I like mysteries in books, except that they give a story structure and a satisfying resolution. There is a purpose or a quest that keeps the story moving. The puzzle is fun too.

Kass:  Yes, I agree! So where are you in your writing career? Tell us a little more about your stories.

book covers from Valentines series

The Valentine Mysteries are a series of sexy cozies that blend the love and passion romance readers enjoy with a small town mystery cozy readers like.

Jenna:  I have eight novels and three novellas published. I’m currently revising book six of the Valentine mysteries, and in edits for the first book, Death of a Debtor, in my cozy mystery series. The Valentine novels and Delecoeur novellas are all mysteries solved by a passionate couple.

The closest couple to compare to would be the Harts from the Hart to Hart TV show (1979-1984). They are light mysteries that don’t have graphic violence or bad language, but they do have intimate scenes similar to those found in contemporary romance.

Death of a Debtor is a cozy mystery that involves a smart but unworldly young woman, who loves folklore and fairy tales, and who is forced to return to her rural, mountain Virginia hometown after her father and brother are put in jail for running a Ponzi scheme. Once living in luxury, she is now caring for a cantankerous great-aunt, and learning how to coupon to make ends meet. Things go from bad to worse when she’s accused of being involved in the murder of the man who turned her father into the F.B.I.

Once I finish the sixth Valentine book, I plan to write a novella about them that takes place on the train during their return trip from San Francisco to Virginia (the male lead is afraid to fly). I’m also in the middle of writing the second book of the coupon cozy mystery, Death of a Coupon Queen.

My brain seems to always have stories rattling around. I’m currently plotting a new cozy that will take place in the Outer Banks and involve pirates. I also have a paranormal story that I’ve begun taking notes on.

Kass:  I love the premise of Death of a Debtor. Can’t wait to read it. Tell us what was your favorite book/author as a child?

Jenna:  To be honest, I wasn’t much of a reader as a child. As a teen, I read a lot of Stephen King, although I wouldn’t say I’m a horror fan. In fact, my favorite story of his is an obscure one most people have never heard of called Eyes of the Dragon, which is a dark fantasy. I also liked To Kill a Mockingbird, which was the only book I was forced to read in school that I actually enjoyed.

Kass:  What do you find to be the most difficult part of the writing process—first draft, editing, researching?

Jenna:  I’m mostly a pantser, so for me, the most challenging part of the writing process is when I get stuck. In the past, I’d start writing as soon as I had an idea, which means I’ve started mysteries without knowing why or how the victim was killed. More recently, I’ve tried to let stories percolate, taking notes on the ideas that come, and then writing, but I still usually get stuck at some point.

Since I’ll write whatever scenes I happened to have, I usually write out of order. I have many manuscripts with the first three, and the last chapters written.  As difficult as writing is when I’m not sure what I’m doing, I have a goal to write 1000 words every morning, and somehow, I’m usually able to achieve that.

Kass:  What’s the oddest and/or most difficult thing you ever had to research?

Jenna:  The most recent thing I’ve researched is I asked my uncle, who is a doctor, how many Lorazepam mixed in a scotch and water would it take to make someone loopy without killing him (the answer was “about 50,” which is more than I have in the story).

I’ve also researched if it was possible to poison someone with mistletoe for a Christmas story, and how to stab someone in the back and have it be serious but not fatal.

For With This Ring, I Thee Kill (Valentine #3), I researched the French Blue Diamond, which had recently been linked to the Hope Diamond. That history was fascinating.

Kass:  What question do you wish interviewers would ask you that they usually don’t?

Jenna:  Is it hard to keep the romance alive in an ongoing romantic mystery series?

Kass:  What a great question. So what is your answer?

Jenna:  So often, TV shows and books titillate readers with “will they, won’t they” chemistry, but put off having the couple make a commitment because they fear the chemistry will disappear. This is a real concern, as we’ve all seen shows or read books where this happens. However, I don’t find it hard to keep the love alive in the Valentine and Delecoeur stories.

There’s an idea that because stories need conflict, that the couple needs to experience trouble in the relationship. And of course, the higher the stakes (the relationship can end), the better. But the conflict doesn’t have to be between the couple in a mystery series. Instead, the couple can be in conflict with someone or something else.

DVD cover ofr Hart to Hart complete series

If you’re a Hart to Hart fan like Jenna (and Kass), you can get the complete series on DVD from Amazon. Dig the 1970’s big hair!!

Take Hart to Hart, a TV show about a happily married couple who solve crimes. What made that show work was that the couple wasn’t just committed, but also, they were passionate towards each other.

Second, in a series, the characters and their relationship need to grow, and often this comes from conflict. That doesn’t mean it has to be the type that can end a relationship though. I view it as growing pains. In the Valentine series, the couple has some bumps (including a break up) early on, but they learn about themselves and each other through these struggles, and because they’re committed to each other, they’re resolved to fix things between them.

I think the question is really about the chemistry…can a love story continue to be sexy and titillating in a series? To that I say, yes. While I do have intimate bits between the Valentines and Delecoeurs, that’s not really what highlights their magic. Instead, it’s how they talk and interact with, and think about each other. Instead of letting them settle into ho-hum domestic life, I continue to show their love, affection, and desire for each other.

Kass:  Wow, I love what you’re saying. I feel the same way about the romantic suspense stories I write. There is some conflict between the couple, because that’s realistic, especially in the early stages of a relationship. But the main story conflict comes from the mystery part.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Jenna. I really enjoyed chatting with you.

And folks, Jenna now has the first three books in the Valentine series out in a boxed set for just $5.99. That’s half the regular price for these books. Check it out!

If you have any questions for Jenna, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

Valentine boxed set coverPassion, Murder, Chocolate and Couture Lingerie

Tess Madison walked away from her two-timing fiancé, a multi-million dollar trust fund and a cushy corporate law job to pursue the single life indulging in chocolate and fancy French underwear. But her newly reordered life comes unraveled when she reluctantly accepts an invitation to a dinner party and stumbles upon the host’s dead body and into the arms of the sexy, blue-green eyed Jack Valentine. As romance grows, so too does Tess and Jack’s propensity to get into trouble.

If you like romance mixed with your mystery, the Valentine Mysteries are for you. In this collection, you’ll get books 1 through 3.

 Deadly Valentine
“Written with precision and care, this intriguing romance/murder mystery is a fun read that will keep readers guessing until the very end.” – Publisher’s Weekly 
Old Flames Never Die
Can a new love survive the lure of an old flame and murder?
With This Ring, I Thee Kill
Planning a wedding can be murder.
 ~~~

Boxed Set available on AMAZON now!

(These books are individually available on Nook, Kobo and iBooks, as well as Amazon.)

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

True Crime and Criminals

daffodils

Happy First Day of Spring!!

We’re using this “off” week to announce something special for you all.

We’re in the process of gathering the most fascinating tidbits from our archived posts into topic pages.

The first of these are now live under the parent page: True Crime and Criminals.  Check them out!

Sophie Lyons, pickpocket and con woman

Sophie Lyons (1848-1924) thief, pickpocket and con woman

True Crime and Crime-fighters in History by K.B. Owen

The Making of a Psychopath by Kass Lamb

Here are the other parent pages (with some of the topic pages under each) that we will be releasing over the next few months:

Spooky Side Up (Exploring the Paranormal, True Ghost Stories)

Mental Health Musings (Stress Management, Relationships, Self-esteem, etc.)

On Writing (Tips for Writers, Where the Research Takes Us, Conferences, etc.)

On Reading (Book Reviews, Mystery Author Interviews)

So stay tuned! And also check back next week for another interesting mystery author interview with Jenna Harte.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Ides of March: more than the Shakespeare play you read in school

I first heard the phrase “the ides of March” in ninth grade, when we were assigned Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. It’s a great play for your average teen, full of intrigue, deceit, betrayal, prophecy, political power, and murder. The soothsayer’s prognostication in the play is now legendary:

Beware the ides of March.

That’s it: short and sweet. Ever notice that most soothsayers in these stories are cryptic old men? A little more information would have been handy for Julius, who was assassinated on the ides of March in 44 B.C.

Death of Caesar, by Karl Theodor von Piloty, 1865. Image via wikimedia commons.

Death of Caesar, by Karl Theodor von Piloty, 1865. Image via wikimedia commons.

How did the old man know? Shakespeare doesn’t say. There were all sorts of divination techniques back then, from ooh to eww. Check out this wikipedia article for the complete list. I like to think it was owl entrails. Just call me old-fashioned. *wink*

Even though we don’t examine entrails (known as extispicy) or watch the peckings of roosters (known as alectromancy) anymore, we continue to look for patterns to make sense of our world. Pattern recognition is hard-wired into us by evolution and has saved us many times in our early survival days. But it’s also tricky. Some patterns are significant, and some are purely coincidental.

I doubt I would have given the ides of March another thought in my lifetime if not for a klutzy mishap in eleventh grade. I broke my ankle on March 15th of that year, slipping on the wet floor in the pool locker room. Even then I didn’t get it, until my mom pointed it out and wrote Beware the Ides of March on my cast. Everyone got a chuckle out of that. I got off easy compared to Caesar, right?

Me and my prom date, 3 months later. I was glad to be out of a cast!

Me and my prom date, less than 3 months later. I was glad to be out of a cast!

In the decades since, I have managed to get through the ides of March unscathed, and those locker rooms got non-slip mats for the floor, so we’re all good.

A few interesting facts about the Ides of March (Idus Martii):

  • The term “ides” referred to the middle of the month, at the time of the full moon. Based on the Romans’ lunar calendar, the ides were on the 13th for most months of the year and on the 15th in March, May, July, and October.
  • The ides, no matter what the month, were considered a holy day dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter, and commemorated by animal sacrifices.
  • By the oldest Roman calendar, March was the first month of the year; therefore, the ides of March was the new year’s first full moon.
  • In Rome, the ides of March was when one settled debts. Kind of like an IRS tax deadline.

You can see that Caesar’s assassins picked a significant day to do the deed. Here we have the death of Caesar linked to sacrifice, the settling of a debt, starting a new year, and a celebration of the Romans’ most important god. Patterns yet again.

The unluckiness of the ides of March doesn’t end with Caesar’s assassination. Here are some ominous things that have happened in history on March 15th:

  • 1889: cyclone in Samoa destroys six U.S. and German warships docked in the harbor at Apia, killing over 200 sailors.
  • 1917: Czar Nicholas II signs the papers to abdicate his throne, turning over his rule to the Bolsheviks. He and his family are imprisoned and executed.
  • 1939: the Nazis seize Czechoslavakia
  • 1952: record rainfall hits La Reunion (an island in the Indian Ocean), dumping over 73 inches in a 24-hour period.
  • 2003: the World Health Organization issues a world-wide health alert for the emerging SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus. Panicked populations across the globe don surgical masks and close schools.

For the rest of the list, check out this Smithsonian Magazine article.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that March 15th is more unlucky than any other day of the year. At least, I hope not. Crutches are a pain in the neck on the stairs.

Happy Ides,

Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen).

K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact.

There are now six books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 released a few months ago.

We blog here at misterio press twice a month (sometimes more often),  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Laugh Lines Make the Best Wrinkles #BOAW2018

by Kassandra Lamb

BOAW VII logoThis would normally be an “off” week for our blog, but I’m participating in the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest VII this week, as I’ve done each year since its inception (or maybe I jumped in at year 2; I can’t remember for sure). This wonderful celebration of women is sponsored by the beautiful-inside-and-out August McLaughlin.

So here’s a short and hopefully amusing post in honor of humorous women. Please hop over to the BOAW site when you’re finished reading and check out the excellent posts listed there. (And maybe win a great prize or two!!) The blogfest is from today through March 9th.

Forever Irma book cover

Not Barb’s book; it is below.

The late comedienne extraordinaire Erma Bombeck had a birthday a few of weeks ago (she would have been 91). Meanwhile, a very much alive friend of mine, Barb Taub, released a new humor book last month.

These two events got me to thinking about humor, aging and beauty.

In my review of Barb’s book I called her today’s version of Erma Bombeck. I hope that compliment will keep her from killing me for what I am about to say. Erma was no physical beauty, and Barb can best be described as a middle-aged plump person who smiles a lot.

pic of Barb Taub

Barb Taub ~ for some of her great humor, check out her latest blog post, My House Makes Me Sick

But I believe they are two of the most gorgeous souls ever to walk the earth, because they find humor in EVERYTHING. Everyone around them is smiling or downright laughing out loud. Talk about spreading sunshine in the world!

Erma was particularly good at poking fun at false standards of beauty or perfection around less-than-important things like housework. But she rebelled so hilariously that she got away with it, even in the 1970s and 80s, when feminism was still somewhat of a dirty word.

Erma on dieting:

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”

“It is my theory you can’t get rid of fat. All you can do is move it around, like furniture.”

“What we’re really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?”

Erma on the fashion industry:

“Sometimes I can’t figure designers out. It’s as if they flunked human anatomy.”

Erma on housework:

“My theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?”

“Cleanliness is not next to godliness. It isn’t even in the same neighborhood. No one has ever gotten a religious experience out of removing burned-on cheese from the grill of the toaster oven.”

And finally, on laughter:

“When humor goes, there goes civilization.”

“Laughter rises out of tragedy when you need it the most, and rewards you for your courage.”

And yet another quote, this one from a reviewer of one of Erma’s books:

“Erma liberated women from guilt of imperfection”
(by domestic diva, the title of her review on August 30, 2015)

book cover

Barb’s new book. Available on AMAZON US and AMAZON UK.

My life certainly hasn’t been one big laugh, but humor has always been one of the tools—a prominent one on my tool belt—that I’ve used to keep going. And perhaps more importantly, it has made the “keeping going” worth doing.

I can’t begin to imagine life without laughter.

I’ve been blessed with oily skin (although in younger years I considered it a curse). Oily skin doesn’t wrinkle very readily, so even though I’m 65, I don’t have wrinkles.

Or at least I believed that, until I happened to smile while looking in the mirror the other day. That’s when I realized I’m starting to develop laugh lines around my eyes.

I’m so happy that they, in particular, are my first wrinkles.

And I’ll leave you with one last quote, most often attributed to Oscar Wilde:

“Life is too important to be taken seriously.”

How about you? Do you have laugh lines yet? How do you feel about them?

P.S. Don’t forget to check out the other BOAW blog posts (and maybe win a prize!)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kass is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )