Friday, January 28, 2011

There Is No Such Thing As An Amateur Sleuth

Cozy mysteries are a subgenre of mysteries in which there is little or no sex or violence, the crime is usually solved by an amateur sleuth, and quite often the books are humorous. I read cozy mysteries. I talk about cozy mysteries. I write cozy mysteries. And that's absurd because there's really no such thing as an amateur sleuth.

Think about it. How many amateur sleuths have you met in your lifetime? Probably as many as I've met, which is none. I'm saying if they existed, you'd have seen one by now. Seems to me they're as scarce as unicorns.

Seriously, do you know people who would deliberately meddle in a police investigation? Or put themselves or the families in the sights of a killer? Because that's what amateur sleuths do.

That's one thing that makes them so much fun. I can read a cozy, and no matter how many victims fall to a killer, I can rest easy, knowing the book isn't even close to reality and there's going to be a happy ending. Cozies are pure escape fiction and the funnier and more over the top, the better I like them.

Sometimes I read the other kind of mystery, the ones where all the gory details are spelled out in the goriest of detail and the suspense ratchets up until people would have to resuscitate me if the phone rang. Too much of that kind of reading and I can't relax enough to go to sleep. Time to switch back to reading a good cozy.

Now we're talking. The main character is an ordinary person, usually someone with a strong sense of justice and who's nosy. The cast of supporting characters can be as real or as quirky as the author wants them to be and the same goes for the plot, which is often over the top.

I like to laugh, I like light reading, and I love cozies. In my book, amateur sleuths rule.

My amateur sleuth is Leigh McRae, a horsewoman who lives in a small Florida town with her daughter and her fiancé. She's nosy, she likes to help people, and she can't stand it when a wrong goes un-righted. Leigh and her sidekick, her wacky cousin Sammi, get themselves in a lot of trouble. Leigh is the first to admit she's a terrible detective. But somehow she manages to bumble her way to the truth.

I've just published the second of my Leigh McRae horse mystery books, The Witness Wore Blood Bay.  For now it's available at the introductory price of just $ .99. Draumr Publishing, publisher of Talented Horsewoman, has temporarily lowered the price of Talented Horsewoman from $6.99 to $2.99 to help  promote the series. If you want to read both of these, now is the time to buy. 

Very short excerpt from a scene where Leigh and Sammi are watching a movie while they discuss criminal activity in their town:

Sammi was too busy oohing and aahing at the vision in front of her to notice anything such as popcorn. The first scene featured one of her favorite actors stepping into the shower. They showed him from the back only, but it was enough to keep Sammi’s eyes glued to the set.
“Can you believe it? Isn’t that the most gorgeous rear end you ever saw in your life?” She leaned forward to get a better look, and I knew she was wishing I had a sixty-inch high def instead of my plain old nineteen inch, circa 1980, hand-me-down from Aunt Dorothy.
I snorted. “Drag your eyes back into their sockets, woman. That is soooo a stunt butt.”
“Is not.” She snatched the remote off the coffee table and hit pause. The picture froze and the well-tanned butt in question took up so much of the screen it looked like a ripe peach.

Talented Horsewoman                                     The Witness Wore Blood Bay

Sunday, January 23, 2011

#Sample Sunday: Talented Horsewoman

As I announced yesterday, my publisher for Talented Horsewoman the first in my Leigh McRae horse mystery series has put it on sale to help me promote the upcoming indie publication of the second in the series. Talented Horsewoman is reduced from $6.99 to $2.99 for a short time only. If you love horse mysteries, now is the time to get the first book.

Here's a sample from Chapter One:

Chapter One

If only. Those two little words were to haunt me for weeks. If only I hadn’t put off getting my hair trimmed, I wouldn’t have had to spend so much time forcing the flyaway blond strands into a single neat braid. If only I hadn’t paused to answer the phone, I wouldn’t have wasted ten minutes, too polite to hang up on a telemarketer who said my name—Leigh McRae—in reverent tones that could have indicated she’d mistaken me for a movie star.

I finally cut her off and, still feeling no sense of urgency, sauntered out to my truck.  Later I would wonder why I’d given in to a demon sweet tooth that had made me stop for coffee at Bo’s Diner and then linger stuffing my face with a chocolate donut.

It wasn’t until I’d licked the last bit of sugar from my fingers that I finally considered I’d be late if I didn’t hurry. I drove a few miles over the limit until I came to a construction zone where I lost all the minutes I’d gained.

Cursing under my breath, I inched my way past a mile of traffic cones and then sped the rest of the way down Brick House Road to whip the truck into Rita’s driveway. I bounced through a pothole, rounded a bend, and instantly registered a horse barreling toward me. In a microsecond I hit the brakes and jammed the shift lever into park, barely avoiding a nasty collision.

A sorrel filly raced free as a mustang back down the driveway. She’d streaked toward the truck at dazzling speed before sliding to a stop that left grooves in the dirt. Without pause she rolled on her hocks and reversed direction. After a quick circuit of the corral, she finally slowed from a gallop to a prance, flying her flame-red tail like a banner and holding her head high as the prow of a sailing ship. 

My breath whooshed out. The one horse stampede was over. Another second or two and the filly I knew as Sandstone Tinker Star would likely head for the patch of Bermuda grass near the hay barn and settle down to grazing—easy for me to catch her. But before I could act, a screaming woman brandishing a flimsy pine branch flashed into view from the left, and Tinker turned on the afterburners.

I leaped out of the truck and hit the ground running, my arms whirling like plane propellers. "Stop screaming and waving that stick around. You’re scaring her."

The branch-wielding woman showed no signs of having heard and, as Tinker raced past, she planted her legs wide apart and landed a solid blow on the filly’s rump. Without missing a beat, Tinker fired with both hind legs, just missing the woman’s shoulder. The filly’s tail swished and she swerved toward the training arena.

By then I’d had time to conclude that the horse-chasing woman was Millie Destin, Rita’s neighbor from across the road. If she wasn’t careful she was going to end up with getting kicked or worse.

I turned to follow Tinker’s movement, hoping she wouldn’t head back to Millie. As I tracked the galloping form past the barn, a bundle of rags on the ground barely merited my attention—until an instant later when I realized the bundle wasn’t rags. With a jolt somewhere in the center of my chest I stumbled forward.

"Oh, my God, it's Rita," Millie sang out, echoing my thoughts. She scurried over to grab my arm, her fingers digging in like pincers until I peeled her loose. I glanced sideways and noted her complexion was the color of an undercooked biscuit. Mine probably matched.

We moved closer and I saw that the figure was indeed Rita Cameron. Holding on to each other for support, Millie and I stared down at Rita. She lay on her stomach, her face pressed against the concrete that formed a parking pad in front of the hay barn. Blood had pooled around her head.

I dropped to my knees and felt for a pulse in her neck. Nothing. I knew it might be dangerous to move her if she were still alive, but she wasn’t breathing. CPR might be her only chance, so with Millie’s help I rolled her over. Then I wished I hadn’t. Rita’s blue eyes were wide open and had taken on the blankness of dolls’ eyes. Her blood-caked face was tinged purple.

“She's dead, ain't she?" Millie stuck her hands in the pockets of her baggy overalls. She screwed up her mouth in an attempt at a smile as if we were simply discussing last night’s rain, but I couldn’t miss the wobble in her voice.

I nodded. I’d never seen a dead person up close, but there wasn’t a shade of doubt. Living people have light in their eyes.

"Must of fell out of the hay loft." Millie bobbed her head to reinforce her conclusion.

I swallowed hard, barely able to take in that Rita was gone. “Looks that way.”

A soft whicker drew my attention back to Rita’s filly. After ending her race at the edge of the woods, she'd ambled back as far as the training arena gate where she stopped and watched us, her head lowered and her ears flicking back and forth. For the first time I saw the bright smear of crimson on her right shoulder.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Talented Horsewoman Is On Sale

Talented Horsewoman is the first in my Leigh McRae mystery series. This book was trad published. A lot of people have commented on the title and they think it's--well, a little weird. Enquiring minds want to know why I chose that particular name for my book, so here's the scoop: Talented Horsewoman was my working title and all along I intended to find something fresh, new, and exciting that would help my baby fly off the shelves and into the hands of eager readers. Then along came a publisher. You never saw such excitement on my part--excitement that was quickly followed by a lot of hard work and a million things to do. With all of that going on, I neglected to tell the publisher I was going to use a different title and the book was published. So there you have it.  

Now here's some exciting news. The publisher of Talented Horsewoman has temporarily reduced the price from $6.99 to $2.99. This price won't last, though I have no idea when it's going back up. I'm indie publishing The Witness Wore Blood Bay, the second in the series, so for those who love horse mysteries and humor, the Leigh McRae series is for you and you might want to grab book one while it's bargain priced. The book has 19 reviews: 17 are five star and 2 are four star.

About Talented Horsewoman: Leigh McRae leads a quiet life in a small Florida town, surrounded by horse farms and alligators. For the sake of her daughter, she has traded her own happiness for job security and a truce with her ex-husband Kenneth, a poster boy for control freaks. But her peaceful existence is shattered when she discovers the body of her friend and fellow horsewoman, Rita Cameron. The police conclude Rita died in an accidental fall from a hayloft. Leigh is sure the death was a murder and she sets out to convince the police to investigate so her friend can rest in peace.

Meanwhile she has to deal with escalating demands from Kenneth, demands that may cost her her horses as well as her home. And on top of everything else, she has to help her cousin Sammi, who's dating a burglar. But Leigh doesn't let personal problems stop her from sleuthing, even though she admits she is not the world's greatest detective. While digging for evidence, she discovers a secret in Rita's past. Now Leigh and her daughter are in danger, and only Leigh's desperate actions can save them.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sample Sunday: The Witness Wore Blood Bay

Coming Soon: The Witness Wore Blood Bay

Leigh McRae Has Body-Discovering Experience

In Talented Horsewoman, the first book of my horse mystery series, main character Leigh McRae discovers a body. She also ends up solving a murder. Along the way she helps her cousin Sammi, who is dating a burglar, and she manages to get out from under the control of her overbearing ex-husband.

Now Leigh's friend Candy, a fellow horsewoman, finds herself accused of murder. Who else would she turn to for help except Leigh? After all, everyone in small town Del Canto knows Leigh has body-discovering experience. Never mind that Leigh is busy finding out who's poisoning dogs in Sammi's neighborhood and she's trying to renovate her home without going broke. Or that her ex-husband Kenneth and former ranchhand Doug Reilly have become roommates in Leigh's guest house.

There's a murder to solve. And her friend won't take no for an answer.

Random excerpt from a chapter where Leigh and Sammi hunt for a dog killer

     Like me, Sammi was dressed entirely in black. Her outfit was a black dress that flowed to her ankles and mine was a black sweatsuit that didn’t flow anywhere, but had me--predictably--sweating rivers. It didn't help that I'd dabbed black mascara all over my face to disguise myself. Maybe we didn’t exactly know what we were doing, but I could see we didn’t intend to be seen doing whatever it was we were going to do.

“Hurry.” She made quick little motions with her hands, signaling me to follow her toward the back of her property. I noted she’d put on a black hat and covered her face with a piece of black netting that made her look like a Goth beekeeper. 

"Why? You said they were gone."
“Yes, but there's one thing that’s kind of bothering me, babe.” She paused at her back gate. Her eyes looked like they were checkered because of the netting. “How will we explain ourselves if someone catches us lurking outside the Barker home?” 

“That’s kind of bothering you, huh? I suppose we’ll tell them we were out ghost hunting. I brought along my digital camera so we can say we were trying to snap pictures of ectoplasm--or whatever it’s called--that was floating around the neighborhood. Maybe I’ll even make up a story about a jilted lover who haunts the street looking for his intended.” I patted the front pocket where I’d stashed the camera.

“Oh, wow, you really do have a knack for detecting. I never would have come up with that.” Sammi nodded her appreciation.

“I watch Ghost Hunters a lot. Have you seen the show? They’re plumbers by day, paranormal investigators by night.”


“I’m serious. They have a white van for plumbing and a black one for--”

“The Barker place is that way.” She pointed down the block in the direction away from town. “The white house. You want to lead?” Her expression, what I could see of it under the veil and in the dim light, looked hopeful.

I peered in the direction she indicated and made out a house that was lighter in color than the others. Could have been white. Looked blurry to me with no moon and the street light on the corner not working.

“How come I always have to be the brave one?”

“’Cause you’re braver than I am. Come on.” She slipped into the shadows and crept along the fence line, moving as stealthily as a woman her size could. Sammi's nearly six feet tall and big-boned.

I wondered if neighborhood dogs would hear us and bark an alert, but then I remembered there might not be any dogs left on her street thanks to the dog poisoner.  

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sample Sunday Exciting News!

We Interrupt This Date wraparound cover. 

Exciting News: Now on sale for $.99! We Interrupt This Date made Red Adept's Best of 2010 in the Romance/Chick Lit category. 

Book Description: Since her divorce a year ago, Susan Caraway has gone through the motions of life. Now she is finally coming out of her shell. Just when she decides on a makeover and a new career, her family members decide she's crisis central. First there’s her sister DeLorean who has come back from California with a baby, a designer dog, and no prospects for child support or a job. As soon as DeLorean settles in at Susan’s home, Susan’s son Christian returns from college trailing what Susan’s mama refers to as “an androgynous little tart.” Then there’s Mama herself, a southern lady who wrote the book on bossy. A secret from Mama’s past threatens to unravel her own peace. But not before Mama hurts her ankle and has to move into Susan’s home with her babies—two Chihuahuas with attitude. Susan would like to start her new job as a ghost tour operator. She would like to renew her relationship with Jack Maxwell, a man from her past. But Jack isn’t going to stand in line behind her needy family.

Here's a short excerpt for your enjoyment:

“Let’s step into my office, Ms. Caraway.” Odell turned and strode purposefully away from me.     
      “Step into your office?” Except for yesterday when he scolded me for not getting to work until after lunch, he hadn’t called me Ms. Caraway since the day of my interview. I was always Susan or, when he spoke to customers, “the office girl.”
    I trudged after him. I caught a last glimpse of Patty mouthing “sorry” at me before I turned the corner near a shelf sagging under the weight of electronic equipment. Yeah, no doubt the Universe was sending Patty a forgiveness ticket this very second.
    Odell’s office was twice the size of mine and twice as cluttered. He swept a pile of Reader’s Digest magazines off a chair by the door and motioned for me to sit.
    I would rather have remained standing. The chair he indicated was hemorrhaging wads of cotton stuffing, which would look like hell plastered to my navy slacks. I could tell it was going to wobble—one of the wheels was missing.
    Odell glared until I sat. Then he half-hopped to lift himself onto his over-sized desk. A taller man would have perched on the edge, at least one foot on the carpet. But Odell’s legs dangled over the side, his feet not touching the floor. Even so, he'd achieved what I figured was his goal. He was now taller than I was. Height advantage to Odell, score one to nothing.
    “When did you plan to give notice?”
    “Give notice?” I winced. I was making a habit of repeating what he said to me—in the form of a question. T. Chandler used to do that and it drove me crazy.
    “If my niece didn’t need a job, I’d really be in a bind. I have too much to do around here to handle your work, and then I find out you’re walking out on me.”
    I cleared my throat. “Odell. Mr. Hoganboom. I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.” Only a tiny lie.
    “Word has reached me that you’re going into business for yourself. Ghost hunting.”
Word had reached him? He made it sound as though a disembodied voice had whispered in his ear when we both knew the information had come from Patty’s big mouth.
    “No, of course not--it isn’t happening. I was totally not myself last night when I drank too—never mind. That whole ghost hunting thing, it’s just a joke.”
    He steepled his stubby fingers. “What are you saying?”
    “Joke,” I said. “Meant to be funny, not meant to be fact. I have no intentions of quitting this job.” Yet. First I had to find a new position.
    “I expected you to deny everything. But my trusted source has told me you’re fixing up an old mansion, trolling in tourists to look for ghosts, all that woo-woo stuff.” He held his hands up and waggled his fingers. “I’ve already found a replacement for you. My niece Brenda finally left her no account husband and moved here from Atlanta. She’ll be at the shop in the morning to take over your office. I’ll give you a week to get her trained.”
    “You’ll do what?” This couldn’t be happening. I sat wobbling in the chair, my head spinning, and my thoughts not making sense, until the smug-faced Odell slid off his desk and pointed to the door.
    “You’re fired,” he said. “Dismissed as of next Wednesday. Go.”
    My mouth turned into the Sahara Desert. Score a million to nothing Odell. How would I pay my bills? 

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Laughs and Fun: A Kindle Bargain

Today I'm featuring a great Kindle book at a bargain price of only $.99.

The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland, Age 42 and Three Quarters
A murder by beheading sends Alice Harte, reluctant real estate broker for thugs, running into the arms of Nigel Channing, a charming British con man.

This urban fantasy is set in Miami and London. Fans of Stephanie Plum will cheer for Alice as she watches her back in attempting to keep her head, while being stalked by Nigel's daft ex-wife and inept, but dangerous mobsters. Alice's world is filled with memorable characters strangely reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. She's guided through her dangerous adventure by her own Cheshire Cat.

Nigel, a chubby John Cleese with serious dress-code problems, whisks Alice to England. Alice sees him as her White Rabbit rescuer. The plot trips along at a cracking pace with Alice flinging zingers like a drive-by shooter.

After Alice discovers a gangster's freshly beheaded body in his Miami mansion, she launches a desperate self-defense in a kangaroo court. The main witness against her is Algy Green, a bumbling cockney swindler who super-glues his bat wing ears to his head and commits perjury for theme park tickets. But in the middle of the trial a small piece of evidence opens her eyes.

My Review: 
Heroine Alice Harte is a neurotic mess. She's germaphobic and hooked on Xanax. But who can blame her for her addiction? After a messy divorce, she ends up working for a psychopath who sues people to death when he can't get away with killing them. Alice is also an anglophile and when she meets Nigel online, he exactly fulfills her fantasy of a having a John Cleese type for a lover. Anxious to get away from her troubles at home, she flies to England to meet Nigel. She's in such a muddle from her pills and her troubles and her neuroses, that Nigel can do no wrong in her eyes. She ignores all the warning signs and falls for Nigel's explanations, no matter how outlandish they are. And they are outlandish. When Alice discovers that Nigel has a wife, she believes his story that he's actually divorced, even when the ex turns up to stalk Alice. 

Meanwhile, back at home the conflict with her boss heats up. Alice enlists the help of a friend to get herself out of the mess without ending up dead. They go on to solve the mystery of her boss's big scheme. Throughout the book there are some hysterical scenes mixed in with the seemingly normal. Alice's total faith in Nigel lead her to calmly accept situations that would have sent other women screaming for the door--fish are thrown in Nigel's face by people he claims are strangers, their hotel reservations are lost" so they drive around Paris half the night until they end up in a seedy place, etc. Alice's blind faith and cluelessness add to the hilarity. 

The characters and situations were wacky. The story drew me in from page one and didn't let go. Best of all, was author Barbara Silkstone's subtle wit. I recommend this book.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Who Says Summer Camp Has to Be Boring?


Night Camp is my children's book for middle grade readers. It's available in print and in ebook. Reader response has been terrific and the book has 14 great reviews so far.

About the book:  Who says summer camp has to be boring? A spooky graveyard. A creepy basement. A pair of coffins. Thirteen-year-old Shane Andrews hates summer camp. When his parents allow him to choose, Shane decides to pick the worst camp he can find. Night Camp must be terrible. For one thing, activities take place at night and campers sleep during the day. That can’t be good, Shane reasons. His parents will realize Night Camp is even worse than they thought and they’ll come back to get him. Then Shane’s plans for summer freedom fall apart. His cousin Brad, a boy with a huge collection of tabloid magazines, convinces Shane that two of the camp counselors are vampires. Shane enlists the help of Brad and a girl camper named Nicole. The three set out to save themselves and the other campers. Then Shane uncovers the secret of Night Camp… 

A short excerpt from Chapter One where Shane and his parents are sorting through stacks of brochures to choose a camp.

            "Where do I put this one? It doesn't fit in any of the other stacks. What's Night Camp anyway?"
            "Let me see it."
            I took the brochure from my mother and studied the cover. If I stared at the red letters on the front long enough with my eyes sort of scrunched closed the letters seemed to run toward the bottom of the page almost as though they were dripping.
            I shook my head and blinked a few times to clear my vision. I opened the brochure. The paper on the inside was white, but the words were printed in the same blood red color as the cover. At the top of one page a picture showed a bat in flight as it swooped after a mouse racing for its life through a clearing.
            "Something different," I read out loud. "Let your child experience the richness and beauty of our planet at night. Camp activities include canoe rides by moonlight, exploring the environment at midnight, studying the night animals and insects, and stargazing, among others. Buy peace of mind. Know that your loved one isn't outside getting charbroiled in the noonday sun. We guarantee no sunburns!"
            I paused. I was wrong about all camps being alike. I read back over the part about buying peace of mind. A shiver rocketed up my spine. It sounded like an ad for a funeral home. Funeral directors were always calling people loved ones. I opened my hand and dropped the folder onto the table as though it had burned me.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

We Interrupt This Date for Sample Sunday

Short Excerpt from a Random Chapter for Sample Sunday

Skills or no skills, I couldn’t go into business with her. T. Chandler was a successful businessman, but he hadn’t exactly left me rolling in riches when we split. I discovered, too late, that he’d found a way to legally transfer most of his assets out of the country. I was left to cling to the house I’d gotten in the settlement—not yet paid for—and a small savings account, along with an alimony check that didn’t cover expenses. I’d had to refinance the house and take the first job I’d been that came along--an office position in a loan company slash pawnshop.
“To be honest, you probably think T. Chandler Caraway, the cheating weasel, left me pretty well taken care of, but that didn’t happen. I don’t have a dime to invest. Thanks for thinking of me, though,” I finished lamely.
Veronica drummed her fingers on the table. The last word I uttered barely had time to clear my lips before she said, “I didn’t, for one second, think that bastard would have given you more than he absolutely had to. You should have shoved him out in front of a bus and collected his life insurance while you were still married.”
A pink-sneakered woman at the next table choked on her soup of the day. Veronica shot her a mind-your-own-business look.
“Veronica, there was no husband murdering as you well know. So the fact remains, I have no money and it isn’t fair to ask you to take all the risk.” I held out my hands, showing empty palms.
“I’m willing to put up the money and you’ll supply the time and energy. Case closed.”
She’d made her plan sound as foolproof at the blueprints to a doghouse. But then, I still didn’t know what she had in mind. I pictured a trendy antique shop on King Street or Broad, not that I knew anything about antiques. Maybe a gift shop or a boutique. Not that I was an expert on gifts or fashion, either. Oh, God, what could I do? Veronica was kind, but I couldn’t let her do this. I’d been told I was a terrific mother, but unless Veronica planned to open up a daycare, that wasn’t exactly a plus in a business venture. Besides being the mother of one spoiled son in college didn’t qualify me for working in childcare, either.
I shook my head. “I can’t. But I have to know--this business would be?”
“Ghost tours.” She pasted on an “everything’s settled” expression and folded her hands in front of her like a tiny tent. 

We Interrupt This Date is on Red Adept's Top Indie Books of 2010 List!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

We Interrupt This Date Makes Red Adept's Top Indie of 2010 List

I'm pleased and honored to announce that We Interrupt This Date was the number 3 romance of 2010 in Red Adept's annual indie awards. I'm doing the happy dance this morning. My dogs are hiding behind the couch. My husband and the Boy are pretending I'm ready for Dancing with the Stars. And me--I'm thrilled.

Happy New Year everyone!