Monday, October 29, 2018

Back on the Back Deck with a New Release from F.M. Meredith, author of the Rocky Bluff P.D. series!


Hello, everyone! I know it's been a long time, but the past year has had a lot of challenges and changes for me. As I'm preparing my sixth Black Horse Campground mystery for release (it doesn't even have a title yet!), I'm warming up the Back Deck with the latest release from friend and fellow author, Marilyn Meredith. "Tangled Webs" is the 15th book in her Rocky Bluff P.D. series.





Where Some of the Ideas Came From

As always, the ideas from Tangled Webs came from some past experiences and a lot of imagination.

Years ago, I taught in several day care centers. My favorite and my longest employment was in a pre-school for developmentally disabled youngsters. I also worked in two other centers run by the same company. Some of the characters are composites of the people I worked with—good and bad.

And yes, some of the plot is based on activities I observed that weren’t what they should have been. As always, nothing is exactly what really happened (no one was murdered, of course), but some similarities do exist.

The building for the center is not based on any of the places where I worked. I created what I needed to fit into the beach community of Rocky Bluff.

I borrowed the looks for one of the younger characters in this book from a beautiful child I know who is a black and white ethnic mix—with fair skin and curly blond hair.

And of course, I always like to have my characters deal with problems we all may face in our lives from prejudice, being bullied, having a relative with Alzheimer’s, problem teenagers, unexpected changes, and having a child with developmental disabilities.

Life and living plus a big dose of imagination give me plenty of ideas for all my books.

Marilyn who writes the RBPD series as F. M. Meredith

Blurb: Too many people are telling lies: The husband of the murder victim and his secretary, the victim’s boss and co-workers in the day care center, her stalker, and Detective Milligan’s daughter.


Bio: F. M. Meredith who is also known as Marilyn once lived in a beach town much like Rocky Bluff. She has many friends and relatives in law enforcement. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, 3 chapters of Sisters in Crime and serves on the Public Safety Writers Association Board.

Facebook: Marilyn Meredith
Twitter: @marilynmeredith

 to discuss the setting for Tangled Webs.



Monday, November 27, 2017

A Writer's Identity Crisis

I can't think of anything more frustrating than to be asked, "So who do you write like?"

I have given in to the slightly snarky response, "I write like Amy M. Bennett" but it hasn't gone over well. The inquiring party wants a name that is far better known.

The truth is, I don't know who I write like. I took a test on Facebook that took a sample of my writing and determined that I write like Stephen King. I'm still not sure how to take that and it doesn't matter if it means that my style of writing is the same as his--if I were to say "I write like Stephen King", most people would assume I mean that I write horror. Not even close.

Perhaps I don't read as widely as I should (maybe I would if I had more time) but I'm not familiar with a lot of current writers. And to be honest, I doubt I could identify anyone's style as anyone's but their own. I've been told that some of my books remind the reader of Agatha Christie (which makes me cringe because, much as I love Agatha's books, her style can be tiresome and overly burdened with talking heads and too much description!) but I don't see it myself.

Oftentimes, budding authors will try to encourage readers by comparing their books and/or writing style to popular authors or even movies and actors. "If you love Jackie Collins' books, you'll love mine!" or "Reminiscent of Hepburn and Tracy movies" try to convey what the author's style and stories are like but fall pitifully short and are, in my opinion, a lazy way to describe their own unique style. Amazon might lump me in with Karen Musser Nortman, Robert D. Kidera, Karen McInerney, and B. R. Snow (I am only familiar with Karen McInerney's work) but that's only because customers who bought my books bought those authors' books as well. And who really knows why?

And how many people these days even remember who Hepburn and Tracy are?

Besides, one Mary Higgins Clark is enough. One James Patterson. One Agatha Christie. One whoever the hottest popular author is at the moment. I can describe my books as "cozy mysteries set in an RV campground in a mountain village in New Mexico with a little romance, a little humor, and a lot of fun, engaging characters" and not feel the pressure to live up to another author's reputation.

I've got plenty to do building my own.


Some of my favorite writers that I may--or may not--write like!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Food for Thought

As I've mentioned before in previous blog posts, there is something about fall weather that gets my creative juices flowing. It would probably benefit me more if those creative juices stirred my writing, but they propel me to the kitchen and my creativity there tends to leave a bigger mess to clean up!

This is the time of year when I get the urge to try new recipes, to bake huge amounts of cookies and fruit breads with which to stock my freezer for the holidays, and to prepare elaborate meals for family and friends. I would probably do more if I had more time, but gainful employment cuts into my cooking time (although it does provide me with the means necessary to purchase what I need to cook, so I make it work!)

I enjoy being invited to parties where I can bring a dish. I have more recipes than I'll ever be able to make but making one for other people to share gives me an opportunity to pass it on to someone who may be able to make it more often. Unfortunately, several people who know what my day job is (if you don't know, it's professional cake decorator. Almost 40 years experience) often request that I bring the cake for the occasion. While I don't mind doing so, it basically requires me to use a simple cake mix and use my creativity only for the decorations. Often, I'll just make the cake at work and take it to the party. Not much there to stir my creative juices.

I am fortunate in that my family, while proud of my professional accomplishments, prefer that my desserts be less decorative and my creativity be put to use in coming up with different desserts that aren't found in grocery stores or bakeries. I also enjoy the fact that several of my dishes have become often-requested favorites, with my nieces and nephews asking for certain dishes to be made for their birthdays and family get-togethers. It's nice to have a few stand-bys that are quick and easy to make on rushed evenings, but I enjoy making more elaborate meals for my husband and son. They are the willing subjects of my culinary experiments and appreciate my efforts.

With the holidays approaching, I will be pulling out my time-tested recipes for cookies, pies, appetizers, and side dishes for the upcoming gatherings. If time allows, I will delve into my collection of recipes and try out one or two that have intrigued me but I haven't had time to make. Either way, my main ingredient in all of my recipes is love. Love for the art and craft of cooking and baking and love for those who will share in what I make. It's what makes the act of cooking so satisfying.

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An array of appetizers for a family gathering, including chicken wings, bacon-and-pastry wrapped asparagus spears, little smokies, and other goodies!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Halloween Memories

For all the positives of country living, there is one thing that can be considered a negative at this time of the year, especially if you have children.

Trick-or-treating just isn't the same when the only houses you can go to are Nana's and Tia's.

Growing up in El Paso, Texas, I lived in a typical '70s-era neighborhood, where all the dads worked and all the moms stayed home. Everyone knew everyone on the block, even the grumpy old neighbor who didn't like kids and whose yard was a black hole for any ball or kite that happened to land in it (no one dared approach the gate to ask for them back, much less give in to the dares to just jump the fence and run like crazy.) The shopping center was a block away where we could spend our twenty-five cent allowances on candy at Winn's (think Walmart on a much, MUCH smaller scale) and roller skate and ride bikes and skateboards all over the parking lot on Sundays when everything was closed (except Furr's Cafeteria where the old folks went for lunch after church.)

Back then, Halloween was a big event, but unlike these days, it was a one-day event. Costumes and black and orange decorations and huge bags of candy would show up in stores around the first of October, but they were clearly meant to be purchased for use ONLY on the thirty-first. It didn't matter what day of the week Halloween fell on--THAT was the night for trick-or-treating. THAT was the day we wore costumes to school and took orange-frosted cupcakes (homemade, of course) to share with our classmates. Decorations went up on homes only a couple of days before Halloween, and they were mostly cardboard jack-o-lanterns, black cats, bats, and witches, with an occasional skeleton hanging from a tree (if you were lucky enough to have a tree in your front yard.) No giant inflatables of haunted castles or the grim reaper. If we did carve a pumpkin, we did it Halloween afternoon because our mothers wanted to cook it as soon as we blew out the candle in it that night (yes, pumpkins were considered food as well as decorations back then.)

Trick-or-treating was a group affair, mainly because our parents wouldn't let us wander around the neighborhood alone at night (even if we did it during the day.) Often a couple of dads would accompany the group, for the purpose of preventing older kids from scaring younger kids into giving up their candy and to keep control of excited kids who would dart into the street in the eager quest to get to the house with the "good" candy. "Taking candy from strangers" took on a whole new meaning for that one night. True, we knew all the neighbors, but for that one night, clad in masks and flapping costumes and approaching houses that were dark except for the porch light, the people we knew so well became strangers to us. Stories about razor blades in apples and well-intentioned warnings about tampered candy made everyone seem like a menace (especially grumpy neighbor who, inexplicably, turned his porch light on, but kept his gate closed.) Despite the fact that we knew exactly where every piece of candy came from, parents insisted on inspecting it and getting rid of homemade treats (even when they came from neighbors who routinely gave us cookies or who were parents of kids who attended school with us and made our school party treats.) Strangely, it was the one day of the year where we didn't feel completely safe in our own neighborhood... and that was what made it exciting.

Our kids got to trick-or-treat a few times, when they were younger and we lived in town. The difference was that the neighbors really WERE strangers and my sister-in-law and I often swapped out the collected candy for the candy we bought ourselves. Once we moved to the country, Halloween was celebrated with a party and a scary movie and more treats than the kids would have gotten from going door-to-door. The fact that we don't feel as safe as we used to in our own neighborhoods as we did when I was a kid seems to have robbed a lot of the Halloween fun I remember. Lots of the scary stories we told as kids now show up on nightly news casts.

I stopped getting excited about Halloween when things took a turn more toward horror than scary. Or maybe it was when the push to get Halloween on the shelves in stores in early September was almost as ridiculous as the push to get Christmas decorations out in October. Maybe it was more fun when we were only scared ONE night out of the whole year. Either way, I still treasure the memories of when I was a kid and Halloween was a lot of innocent fun.

Still love the colors of the season... especially in New Mexico!Image may contain: one or more people and indoor
Image may contain: one or more people and indoor

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Greatest Mystery Story of All Time (in my opinion!)

I often get asked about my favorite authors and books. Those can be hard questions to answer because I love many authors and their books. But the question, "What do you think is the greatest mystery ever written?" calls to my mind something that many people don't expect.

What do they expect? If they know my tastes in mystery novels, they're likely to name Agatha Christie. But which of her books? "Murder on the Orient Express"? "Ten Little Indians"? "The Mysterious Affair at Styles"? All stories that have a twist in solving the murder. All stories that exhibit a great deal of genius (though "Styles" made me want to throw the book across the room, yelling, "Not fair!") But neither of them are the mystery I consider the greatest one ever written.

The author? Roald Dahl. Yeah, THAT Roald Dahl, of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "James and the Giant Peach", "The BFG", etc. fame. And his story that I consider the greatest mystery ever written isn't even a novel. It's a short story that was initially rejected by The New Yorker but was eventually published by Harper's Magazine in 1953. It was adapted for an episode on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (which aired in 1958) and was one of only 17 episodes directed by Hitchcock himself.

The story is "Lamb to the Slaughter". If you haven't read it, find a copy and do so. You can find the TV adaptation on YouTube. How do I tell you about the story without giving it away? What makes it the greatest mystery ever written?

It's not really even a mystery, not if you follow the true definition of a mystery. There is no "whodunnit" in this story. The reader sees the entire murder play out in front of his or her eyes, from the murderer's point of view. The horror in the story is seeing the murder and knowing what everyone else in the story doesn't know. In a nutshell: a woman discovers her policeman husband is cheating on her. She kills him and gets away with it by having her husband's police officer co-workers destroy the evidence.

I could say so much more about the story but it is brilliant and should be enjoyed by reading it in its entirety. I first stumbled across the condensed version in a copy of Reader's Digest back in the '70s (thanks, Dad!) and read it again, years later. Was that the story that sparked my interest in writing mysteries? It certainly played a part, but it also gave me the despairing knowledge that I would never write the greatest mystery story of all time. Roald Dahl had beat me to it.

Image result for lamb to the slaughter


Monday, October 16, 2017

So Where DO Those Story Ideas Come From?

It's probably the most commonly asked question of writers, especially fiction writers. It seems to many people that, judging from the mind-boggling number of novels that exist, that writers are a rare species who sprout story ideas from their brains the way chickens sprout feathers.

If anyone were to take a close look at the many books out there, it becomes clear that most of them are, essentially, telling the same story: guy meets gal, they fall in love and live happily ever after (or not.) Poor person wants to become rich and famous and succeeds (or not.) Hero/ine wants to save world from evil villain and succeeds (or not.) And so on. The details change, the setting changes, even the motivations change, but the essential story is the one that is retold over and over. So finding the story ideas isn't the problem. The challenge is in finding a new, engaging way of telling the story.

At a recent book event, the question was asked, again, about how authors find their stories. The person asking was a poet who was puzzled at the way fiction writers were able to create characters and tell their stories. I'm not sure if we answered her questions in a way that made sense--novelists often find themselves becoming more and more incoherent the more we try to explain the way we work. But it's like asking a poet where their verses come from.

They come from people. Good people, bad people, sad, happy, angry, all kinds of people. And how they feel. And what they do and think. What they want and how badly they want it. Whether it's poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction, all stories and the ideas that inspire them come from people. It's the writer's job to record it all and tell the world about these people and events and the stories they have inspired.

Granted, not everyone has the interest or the ability or desire to write down stories. That's why not everyone is a writer. But everyone has a story and many times it's the same story that someone else has... it's just that the details are different.

It's the writer that takes that ordinary story and adds the words and details that make it special.

Monday, October 9, 2017

At the Other End of I-10

Sounds like a country song, doesn't it?

I have spent all but six months of my fifty years of my life living in the Southwest. In truth, the only time I ever visited the Deep South was when we boarded a cruise ship in Miami to go to Key West. With the exception of about eight hours in Key West, the majority of the time we spent was in airports. Not the best way to truly experience a new place.

When I met Mike Orenduff, he was a New Mexico mystery author, creator of Hubert Schuze of "The Pot Thief" mystery series fame and our connection was limited to being fellow authors of a fairly new sub-genre known as New Mexico mystery authors. Because of a twist of fate (or merely the fact that life goes on), Mike also became my mentor and my publisher. And life had also taken him and his wife, Lai, to Valdosta, Georgia where they decided to retire and, in Mike's case, open a combination coffee shop/bookstore/bed and breakfast inn in addition to his publishing duties.

As Mike has always been an enthusiastic supporter of my writing endeavors, when he became the publisher of my fifth book, he encouraged me to visit Valdosta and do a book signing. Because my husband and I are somewhat adventuresome and we like to experience as many new things as possible, we took him up on his offer.

Traveling east from El Paso had never extended further than Houston, Texas for us. This time, we landed in Panama City Beach, Florida and took to the road on Interstate 10 heading east. Instead of desert sand and cactus, we saw cotton fields and Spanish moss. The weather was warmer and far more humid. It was a far cry from the setting of my Black Horse Campground novels. Could I possibly interest people who were unfamiliar with the desert southwest in a story that was set in such an alien setting?

First, I had to convince them that there was more to New Mexico than "Breaking Bad" and Billy the Kid. I introduced them to pinon coffee and New Mexico wine. I offered them stories about people who are just normal every day people who happen to enjoy green chile with their meals rather than grits. And they were interested!

Despite all the so-called differences at the opposite ends of I-10, ultimately the stories that interest people are about people just like them. Even if they don't appreciate the merits of muscadine grapes. Or green chile.

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