Author Archives: Gilian Baker

Life Lessons from the Pottery Studio (Plus a New Release)

by Gilian Baker

Though I haven’t thrown pottery for many years, it was once my creative passion. And while it’s not the typical hobby you’re likely to find highlighted in a cozy mystery, it was ideal for my protagonist, Jade and mA Time to Kilne.

Why?

Well, because I’d planned the murder in my new book, A Time to Kiln, many moons ago when I spent all my free time in a dusty pottery studio.

Taking a pottery class seemed like a natural pursuit. I loved playing in the mud as a kid growing up on a farm and as an adult, I loved getting my hands dirty while growing organic vegetables. What started out as a chance to have some “me time,” away from the responsibilities of having a small child, soon grew into an obsession. For the next 7 years, I pored over pottery magazines and tested different types of glaze recipes.

I still use many of the items I created back then, as do my family and friends. Even though I’m now too busy writing cozy mysteries to throw pots, I still enjoy the ones I literally created with my bare hands years ago.

Although I had many successes in the studio, there were many failures too. I would study pictures in pottery magazines thinking, “Heck, I can make that.” This was around the time I learned that nothing ever turns out like the picture. The times when a friend or family member requested a certain item was when I experienced the biggest failures. I’d want it to be so perfect. The harder I tried, the worse it got.

I better understand that concept now—the more “work” you make of something, the harder it’s going to be. When I let myself enjoy the simple pleasure of creating, I ended up with sometA Time to Kilnhing lovely. When I didn’t, well, I didn’t. During my time as a potter, I learned the best way to do anything was to let go of how the final product turned out and just enjoy the process. Same goes for writing fiction.

Frustrations can easily overshadow the pleasure found in the pottery studio—there are many steps in the process to finish a single piece. The clay must be thrown, dried, trimmed, glazed and fired, and at any point in the process, it can be ruined. But oh, when you create something beautiful, you forget all about the frustrations and can’t wait to do it all over again. Throwing pottery is a great metaphor for life. If you are as malleable as the clay, you can learn patience and mindfulness. If you don’t…you probably won’t stick with it for long.

Sadly, Jade will not have the pleasure of drinking from a mug she threw on a pottery wheel herself, a fact that she bemoans. Before she can become proficient “behind the wheel,” her teacher is murdered.

A Time to KilnA Time to Kiln: A Jade Blackwell Cozy Mystery (Book 2)

Disenchanted with life after solving her first real case, Jade Blackwell, successful blogger and amateur sleuth, throws herself into a new hobby…until murder rears its ugly head.

But when Jade attempts to ferret out the killer of local pottery teacher, Paula Hexby, she comes up short and suspicion begins to descend on her daughter’s former boyfriend. Evidence and bodies are stacking up, as Jade finds herself caught between an untrustworthy client and her beloved community.

Now at a personal and professional crossroads, Jade must once again jump into the breech, along with partner Gabrielle Langdon, to uncover the truth behind this string of horrific murders. Is she really cut out for this life of sleuthing and danger? Has Jade been defending the real murderer all along? Or is there something much more sinister afoot?

Follow Jade in her next adventure in A Time to Kiln, now available on Amazon.

Gilian Baker is a former English professor who’s gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger, ghostwriter and cozy mystery author to her C.V. Gilian lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines. In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She’s the author of Blogging is Murder and A Time to Kiln.

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Where The Research Takes Us: How To Kill Your Characters

Kass here to tell you about today’s guest blogger, cozy mystery writer Gilian Baker, who is about to release her debut novel, Blogging Is Murder (which I review below).

She will entertain us with a fun little post on how to kill one’s characters (I swear, the FBI is going to come knocking any day now).

First, let’s get to know Gilian a bit…

Gilian BakerGilian Baker is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger & ghostwriter to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries or discussing literary theory with her daughter.

In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines.

Disclaimer:  Do NOT try this at home, folks! This post is for entertainment purposes only.

Researching How To Kill Your Characters

by Gilian Baker

I love to plot murder! Yeah, that’s not a sentence you read every day, but it’s true. In my first cozy mystery, Blogging is Murder, the murder victim is poisoned with hemlock.

Why hemlock when there are so many new, man-made chemicals available?

I’ve just always wanted to kill someone off with an old-fashioned plant. And when I started researching the properties of hemlock, I knew I had the perfect murder weapon for my first mystery with my protagonist, Jade Blackwell, amateur sleuth.

Here are a few of the questions I had to research to determine if hemlock was a viable murder weapon for the story:

  •  Does it grow wild in Wyoming? (The setting of the series)
  •  Where is it found there?
  •  What parts of the plant are poisonous?
  •  Why would Jade’s friend, Liz write about hemlock on her blog, The Wise Housewife? Is it still used in herbal remedies? What ailments was it historically used for and what is it used for now?
  •  How does it kill? What are the symptoms of the poisoning?
  •  Is it still poisonous when dried?
  •  When does it grow?
  •  Is it frost hearty? Or is it killed off easily by a heavy frost?

I researched some of these questions before I wrote much of the story. But other questions didn’t occur to me until the plot developed, and I needed to know. For example, I was considering adding a freak snowstorm to add tension to the last third of the book. It’s not uncommon to get snow in Wyoming eight months out of the year, so that could work.

I’d written a couple of chapters that included light frosts overnight, which worried Jade since her spring bulbs had already come up in her garden. But wait! Would even a light frost, let alone a big snowstorm kill hemlock that was growing in the wild? If so, how would the murderer get fresh hemlock to kill their victim? Did I want to change the plot so the killer used dried hemlock?

You see how plot twists and new ideas for where to take the story impact the research that needs to be done. In this case, I had to go back and change the entire setting to a later time in spring to avoid overnight frosts. That meant rewriting those scenes where Jade worried about her spring bulbs.

detail from The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

Detail from The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (public domain)

I bet you want to know the answers I found in my research, right? After all, who doesn’t want to know more about hemlock? Okay, to satisfy your curiosity, here are the answers.

  • Does it grow wild in Wyoming?
    Yes, in fact it grows wild in most states in the U.S. There are many types of hemlock and most regions have the right conditions for several types to grow.
  • Where is it found there?
    It’s found most anywhere, but it likes a damp climate. During a wet spring, ranchers have to keep an eye out for the plant in their pastures. It’s one of the most poisonous plants to humans, but also to cows, horses and other animals.
  • What parts of the plant are poisonous?
    All of it.
  • Why would Liz write about it on her blog, The Wise Housewife?
    It is still used in herbal remedies, but only in minute doses and only in the hands of a skilled alternative therapist or homeopath. It was historically used for a wide range of ailments, including bronchitis, mania, anxiety, epilepsy and asthma. The Greeks also used it to put criminals to death.
  • How does it kill? What are the symptoms of poisoning?
    Hemlock affects the central nervous system so that the brain continues to function, but the person can’t move. They are paralyzed, but aware of what’s happening to them. It eventually stops their heart.
  • Is it poisonous after it’s dried?
    Yes, for up to three years.
  • When does it grow?
    In the spring.
  • Is it frost hearty?
    No, it’s not. That’s why I had to change the setting of the book and forgo my inspired idea of a freak snowstorm.

But I’m sure I’ll be able to find another way to use that idea in later books. 🙂

If you want to find out who exactly gets knocked off with hemlock and whodunit, well I’m afraid you will have to read the story.

book coverBlogging Is Murder, A Jade Blackwell Mystery

Former English professor Jade Blackwell’s promising new career as a blogger falters when she learns of a hacker who is controlling her friend and fellow blogger Liz Collin’s business remotely. Then the hacker is found dead, and Liz is thrown in jail.

Determined to help her friend regain her life and livelihood, Jade teams up with Liz’s reluctant lawyer to get Liz off the hook and out of jail. What she learns will break the case wide open, while unraveling her faith in humanity and the safety she has felt living in the quaint Rocky Mountain hamlet of Aspen Falls.

Available on AMAZON

Posted by Gilian Baker. You can connect with Gilian on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter or at her website. Blogging Is Murder is the first book in her Jade Blackwell series.

Kassandra Lamb’s review of Blogging is Murder:

This is a very good debut cozy mystery. The pace is lively and the characters likeable. (I particularly enjoyed the quirky elderly neighbor of the murder victim.) The twist at the end was unexpected but plausible.

I also enjoyed the glimpses into the life of a professional blogger. I had no idea how much work was involved in that business. I’m looking forward to reading more of Jade’s adventures and getting to know the residents of Aspen Falls, Wyoming. Four out of five fingerprints!

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