Amateurs all!

It’s safe to say I know many amateur sleuths, a gazillion by actual count. Every day, on bookshelves everywhere, crimes are solved by florists, cooks, beauticians, baristas, quilters, nurses, tour guides, ghosts, and wedding planners. Murderers are caught and arrested on cruise ships, in cafes, at concerts, in churches, in haunted and unhaunted houses, and in locker rooms.

Did I mention that amateur sleuths also include retired physicists, miniaturists, college math professors, a postmistress, and lately, a diner owner in Alaska?

I feel I know them all well, inside and out. They’re smart, brave, righteous, and persistent, usually women, but sometimes too stupid to live (TSTL).

I’m constantly defending them:

• Of course, she has the motivation to investigate a murder, even though her day job involves running a community garden and she has no training in criminology—after all, the victim was a bridesmaid at her roommate’s cousin’s best friend’s second wedding. How can she just sit back and not help the police/troopers/sheriff/PIs?

• She’s curious, so Yes! she will drive out to the cemetery in the middle of the night to meet someone who says he has an important clue to the killer’s identity.

• So what if she withholds information from the real police? She has a good reason to—she wants to look into the situation on her own. She is, after all, an independent thinker/investigator.

• Definitely, in case you’re wondering: It is possible that the knitter sleuth found the clue that experienced homicide detectives and a crew of trained CSI techs missed.

Members of my critique groups who do not write amateur sleuths are the biggest skeptics. Who’s going to believe blah blah blah? they ask me all the time.

“It’s a trope,” I answer, because it’s too complicated to explain reasonable suspension of disbelief. As long as the writer doesn’t cheat, i.e., go off on incredible tangents, readers will enjoy the story.

There’s a reason there are so many cozies and a reason they are very popular. We enjoy reading about normal people like ourselves—crafters, grandmothers, administrators, journalists, innkeepers, beekeepers. We like to think anyone can be smart enough to follow a few clues, put the puzzle together and make the world safe again.

How hard can it be?

(Kidding. I’m forever grateful to PDs and all first responders especially in these challenging times.)

Note to readers: Last week this blog was hacked, resulting in hundreds of spam comments in a 2-day period. The only way I could get rid of them was to close comments. I’ll wait a week and then open again. I guess some people don’t have enough to do. I wish I could export a few projects to them!

Miniature Mysteries Re-released

In case you missed them the first time, the first five Miniature Mysteries, which I wrote as “Margaret Grace,” are being re-released. Don’t worry, I have documentation that the rights to the texts have reverted to me!

Crossroad Press is doing me the honor of getting them out with new covers. Here are the first two.

More to come!

Watch for “Malice in Miniature,” “Mourning in Miniature,” and “Monster in Miniature.”

Inauguration Day

No, I’m not late for this year’s event. I’m celebrating the original schedule.

Until the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, the official day for presidential inaugurations was March 4 . When the fourth fell on a Sunday, as it did in 1821, 1849, 1877, and 1917, the ceremonies were held on March 5.

There had already been a glitch, however: The first president of the United States, George Washington, was not inaugurated until April 30. Although Congress scheduled the first inauguration for March 4, 1789, they were unable to count the electoral ballots as early as anticipated. Consequently, the first inauguration was postponed to allow the president-elect time to make the long tip from his home in Virginia to the nation’s capital in New York City.

Crowd in front of White House during Andrew Jackson’s first inaugural reception in 1829. Cruikshank, Robert, 1789-1856, artist. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Check out THIS site for more on early presidential inaugurations.

Different Strokes

In our family room my husband is relaxed, watching a rom-com about a beautiful cupcake baker in a small town where no one needs to lock her door and all the parked cars have keys in the ignition. A thief’s paradise, yet the crime rate is barely above 0, and that non-0 statistic is only because sweet old Mr. C is becoming forgetful and has taken to walking off with packs of gum from Uncle Al’s general store. Outside, on the sidewalk, everyone smiles and greets all the passersby by name. Of course they all know each other’s favorite cupcake.

In the living room, I’m sitting in front of another large flat screen. Mine is bigger, which I like, but his has better resolution which, as an engineer, he needs. I’m happy, but not exactly relaxed. My entire body is focused on a rerun of a Dexter episode, his knife-wielding arm raised above his latest victim, who is strapped to a table. Well, not an innocent victim since the guy on the table is, like Dexter, also a serial killer. Serial killers are second only to hit men on my wish list. Third would be fixers like Ray Donovan, who do a little of everything.

If my spouse does join me in a crime drama, it has to be bloodless, like the rom-com above, and with a very clean body, seen from a distance. All the violence will be off camera. And no punches to the face or gut, please.

In other words, he likes cozies; I like grit. 

We’re talking about television and not books, only because the issue comes up when it’s together time. The different preferences remain the same for books. He’ll pick up a Monk; I’ll go for Nordic Noir.

Here’s just a taste of breakfast conversation as we debate the merits or not of the two ends of the “violence/no violence” spectrum.

Him: That gritty portrayal glorifies violence.

Me: That cozy script makes light of violence.

You’d never know we were talking about murder in both cases, albeit fictional.

Him: I don’t want to be reminded about real evil. My programs are more about the puzzle, figuring out the clues.  

Me: My choices are more realistic, more of a deterrent to the viewer.

And so on.

I can’t really argue about his preference for cozies. After all, I’ve written almost 30 of them, give or take.

I’ve taken on “evil” in my writing, but only in short pieces, closer to flash fiction. The truth is, I can’t stay very long in the minds and souls of the likes of Hannibal Lechter, or Tom Ripley, or “number one fan,” Annie Wilkes. 

Instead of constantly echoing debates past, we’ve reached an agreement. I’ll give the channel famous for bloodless mysteries a shot, but if I can’t stand it after twenty minutes, I’m free to leave, with no repercussions or criticisms on either side. Similarly for him. As soon as a scene shifts to the coroner’s lab, or slab, he leaves for the kitchen, brings me back a bowl of ice cream and keeps walking.

Win win.    


A little creepy?

I love Dr. Anthony Fauci, and not just because he’s a short Italian, like my father.

Now that he’s been liberated, as he’s put it, I count on him for the best we can do as far as information and predictions about Covid-19

But recently, I learned something different from him—a new word. Probably one I should have known, but I’m not afraid to admit I’m still building my vocabulary. And so, apparently, is Microsoft Word, because it is underlining the word in red, meaning HUH?

Here it is: 


To Dr. Fauci, the word means the medicines, equipment, and techniques available to a medical practitioner.

To the rest of us, it can mean a collection of resources available for a certain purpose, such as “the armamentarium of electronic surveillance,” or, I suppose, of my latest miniature project.

Let’s see who’s the first to use it in a sentence.


Another period of meditation this week as I mourn the loss of 4 people in my life.

• Louie T., the closest to me, a friend from my youth in Revere, Massachusetts, and one I never lost touch with

• Ellen A., a student I’ve worked with in our writers’ group for several years and saw once a week with few exceptions

• Fran, the sister of a good friend in the above group

• Janet, the sister of another good friend in that group.

I thought it was supposed to be only 3 at a time?


Kandinsky: “With Sun” (1911)

One of those Thursdays that has crept up on me. But there’s always art to share.

Care to share a thought?


My special guest today is author Jo Mele, who shares her writing life with us.

Josephine (Jo) Mele is a world traveler, tour guide, magazine editor, and life-long mystery reader. Author of The Travel Mystery Series including Bullets in Bolivia, Homicide in Havana, Mystery in Monte Carlo, and Bandits in Brussels. She wrote The Odd Grandmothers, a memoir, and co-authored with her grandson Nick Mack, “ABC’s of Asperger’s Syndrome,” for Parents Magazine.

My daughter gave me a year’s subscription to Master Class online for Christmas. Listening to successful writers share their personal techniques and experiences gives me pleasure. I’m guess I’m still a curious student at heart.

So many styles, methods, and suggestions. Lessons on how to start, and what to do when you’re stuck, creating interesting characters, dialogue, or settings. I take notes, pages, and pages of notes from Dan Brown, Walter Mosley, David Sedaris. I was a little discouraged when the men said they wrote for hours every day, even weekends. Some wrote from the moment they got up until mid-afternoon.

When I listened to Margaret Atwood and Shonda Rhimes, I started laughing. Margaret Atwood was talking about writing every day. She said only those who had someone to make and serve their breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and clean their houses could write for seven hours a day, every day. She whispered, “That’s just not how my day rolls.”

Shonda Rimes said she writes on a tablet and can use it in her car waiting to pick up her kids, in the doctor’s waiting room, or in the park playground. Okay, now I could relate.

I have been a caregiver for my husband since his stroke, eighteen years ago. Every day is different. When he naps, I write. Sometimes for only ten minutes, or to edit a piece.

But I think all day.

Order here!

I imagine my characters walking through a scene and I make notes. Sometimes only one or two words in the note section of my phone can trigger a whole chapter. Jason the bartender, the mini bats, the tiara, beer research, are scenes for me to fill out.

If I have a problem, I think about it before I go to sleep and sometimes when I wake up my brain has figured out a way around the problem. Don’t ask.

When triggered by a word or phrase, my brain and fingers on the keyboard get in sync almost without me. In ten minutes, I can plan, commit, or solve a crime.

On paper that is.

Visualizing the action in my mind makes writing dialogue easier.

Got to go, time to make lunch. Thank you, Margaret Atwood, that’s the way my day rolls, too.



Martin Luther King, Jr., b. January 15, 1929

Remembering MLK, Jr., celebrating his day on Monday January 18.

Not as well known as many of his quotes, but this one struck me today:

Ten thousand fools proclaim themselves into obscurity, while one wise man forgets himself into immortality.


A sad day for America

Washington Post Article