Monday, November 24, 2014

Changing horses in mid-stream by Judy Alter

Please Welcome Back Mystery Mondays! My first guest is Judy Alter.

Back in the 1990s I was riding high, publishing short western novels with Doubleday and then longer fictional biographies of women for Bantam—I was clearly a western writer especially fascinated by the stories of women of the American West. I wrote about the lives of Libbie Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, a Wild West Show woman roper modeled on the famed Lucille Mulhall, and finally Etta Place of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame. And I was with a major publishing house. Besides I’d written a y/a nonfiction called Extraordinary Women of the American West—I had an inexhaustible supply of women for my fictional biography series.

Shortly after the turn into this century, it all fell apart. Bantam discontinued their program (or lost interest in my work); Doubleday just disappeared. The Etta Place book was actually published by Leisure in 2004, and then Leisure, not a major company by any means, went out of business. Some of my western titles are still available as e-books—Cherokee Rose, Libbie, Ballad for Sallie, Mattie, Sundance, Butch and Me, and Sue Ellen Learns to Dance, a collection of short stories. But I had been bucked off my short ride as a western author, and I began writing nonfiction work-for-hire for school libraries. Interesting but not creative. I wanted to invent the characters and worlds of fiction.

I’ve been a devoted mystery reader since Nancy Drew first caught my attention, but I always thought someone else wrote mysteries, not me. I had tried one once, an agent (who knew less about publishing mysteries than I did) failed to sell it, and I gave up. Eventually though I decided I could write a mystery as well as some I read, and I launched myself into the world of mysteries.

After westerns, believe me, it was an entirely different world, requiring knowledge and connections I had no idea about—me, who considered herself a seasoned writer. I was humbled and overwhelmed, but I followed some good advice and joined Sisters in Crime and the Guppies subgroup and set about learning to fit into this new world. It was a long learning curve, following the wrong agents, submitting to the wrong publishers, agreeing to exclusive agreements—I made all the mistakes a newbie can make. Along the way I volunteered as a monitor for SinC and eventually became a member of the Guppy Steering Committee. I was making friends in this new world.

One thing I learned is the mystery community, while tremendously supportive of each other, is highly competitive—there so many more titles and authors working in the various sub-genres. I gave up on the agent-pushed career with a major New York firm (they had all consolidated anyway) and went with Turquoise Morning Press because they were enthusiastic about my work. To date, they’ve published five books in the Kelly O’Connell Mystery Series and two in the Blue Plate Café Mystery Series, with one Kelly O’Connell waiting in the wings.

Turquoise Morning changed their focus recently to romance fiction only, and with The Perfect Coed, I turned to indie publishing. The Perfect Coed is that original manuscript that failed, rewritten many times. What is it we keep telling new Guppies? Perseverance! Getting published as a mystery author has been a bumpy but exciting ride. Some days I think I’ll retire from my retirement career, but I’m having too much fun. And though I will never achieve the skill or status of Mary Higgins Clark and a few others, I’m comfortably at home in the world of mysteries.

A brief excerpt from The Perfect Coed:

Susan Hogan drove around Millsap, Texas, for two days before she realized there was a body in the trunk of her car. And it was another three days before she knew that someone was trying to kill her.

On the second day, she noticed a slightly unpleasant, sweet but foul odor in the car as she drove south on Main Street, headed for the Oak Grove University campus and her eight o’clock American lit class. Susan’s 1998 Honda Civic often had mysterious odors that were all her own fault. Now her mind ranged over the possibilities—leftover spaghetti and meatballs that she’d put in an icebox dish to bring to school for lunch, maybe a to-go box from her favorite Thai restaurant in Fort Worth, spilled coffee since she drank hers with cream.

No matter. She was late for her class, so she opened the windows to let the cool air of the October morning blow through the car as she passed through the town. Oak Grove was one of those towns kept alive and even attractive by the presence of a small university. Main Street was landscaped with trees, benches, and some brick paving. Boutiques and small cafes sat next to a bookstore, a lawyer’s office, and the traditional old brick-and-stone bank. Just before the campus, the street curved uphill through a city park. It was, Susan always thought, a perfect place to live and teach. She didn’t really care if it was second-tier, not as prestigious as some of the bigger universities in the state. She’d been here almost eight years, and Oak Grove was home by now.

“I’ll clean the car tonight,” she told herself, “before Jake sees it or smells it.”

About Judy Alter:

Judy Alter is the author of five books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, the newest being Deception in Strange Places; two books in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; and the new Oak Grove Mysteries, beginning with The Perfect Coed, a mystery set on a university campus. Judy is no stranger to college campuses. She attended the University of Chicago, Truman State University in Missouri, and Texas Christian University, where she earned a Ph.D. and taught English. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of the university. The author of many books for both children and adults primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries.

She holds awards from the Western Writers of America, the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Texas Institute of Letters. She was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and recognized as an Outstanding Woman of Fort Worth and a woman who has left her mark on Texas. Western Writers of America gave her the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement.

The single parent of four and the grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her Bordoodle, Sophie.

Find Judy at:

Amazon / TurquoiseMorning Press / Smashwords /




Twitter: @judyalter


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Shandra Higheagle Mystery

I have the first book of my new Shandra Higheagle Mystery series, Double Duplicity, up on pre-order at major ebook venues. It will be available in print on the day of the ebook release. The good news for you, the reader, if you purchase the pre-order ebook you will get it for $3 less than when it releases in January. That's a great price to try the new series and see if you like it.

The second book, Tarnished Remains, is finished and being edited as we speak. It will also be up for the $0.99 pre-order in January with a release date of Febrauary 10th.

The third book Deady Aim, is getting stewed and brewed in my head as I work on the house. I'll be ready to hit the keyboard when I finish the house and get that book ready for release March 10th.

For my historical western fans, the third and last Halsey book, Claiming a Heart, will be out the middle of 2015. Though there may be a Christmas novella with Shayla, Colin's sister to let everyone know how Colin and Livie fared in England.

Here is the blurb and an excerpt for Double Duplicity:

On the eve of the biggest art event at Huckleberry Mountain Resort, potter Shandra Higheagle finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She’s ruled out as a suspect, but now it’s up to her to prove the friend she’d witnessed fleeing the scene was just as innocent. With help from her recently deceased Nez Perce grandmother, Shandra becomes more confused than ever, but just as determined to discover the truth.

Detective Ryan Greer prides himself on solving crimes and refuses to ignore a single clue, including Shandra Higheagle’s visions. While Shandra is hesitant to trust her dreams, Ryan believes in them and believes in her. Together they discover the gallery owner wasn’t the respectable woman she’d portrayed. Can the pair uncover enough clues for Ryan to make an arrest before one of them becomes the next victim?

Chapter One
The Bluetooth in Shandra Higheagle’s Jeep rang, interrupting the memories and drumbeats swirling in her head. She shook the past couple days off and pushed the green phone icon on the radio screen.
“Hi Shandra, this is Paula Doring. I know this is short notice, but I really would like to speak with you if you’re coming down off your mountain today.”
Shandra rolled her eyes. Of all the gallery owners in Huckleberry, Paula was her least favorite. The woman didn’t understand artists and thought only of the dollar.
“I am off my mountain. I should be rolling into Huckleberry in about twenty minutes.”
“Perfect. Could you swing by my gallery? I have a new acquisition, and I think a couple of your vases would look wonderful partnered with it. See you in twenty.” Paula hung up.
“Great! One more thing to interfere with getting my vases to Ted and Naomi.” Ted and Naomi Norton, owners of Dimensions Gallery, were expecting her to deliver more vases for the art event beginning tonight. They were her best supports and showcased her vases in their gallery.
She only had one piece at Paula’s gallery, aptly named after her, Doring Art Gallery. Paula was known to only take in artists she felt would propel her gallery to a status, rather than taking in artists that she liked. But she’d insisted on having at least one piece of Shandra’s art so she could also say she had one thing from all the local artists.
As much as she didn’t care for Paula, who was a backstabber, she did want her pieces seen and having more than one in the Doring Gallery for the upcoming art event that was the most publicized show in the Pacific Northwest was a good move on her part. Her latest gourd-shaped pieces were recently the focus of a story in the Northwest Art Magazine. The exposure had garnered her more sales and attention. While she liked traveling to shows, right now, her heart was at home with her animals and her clay.
The resort village of Huckleberry Mountain sat fifteen miles off Idaho I-90 at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains. Shandra turned onto Huckleberry Highway and soon slowed to turn right toward the town. Turning left would take her to the Ski Lodge. Art collectors who had gathered at the resort for the event would be dining at the Lodge’s five-star restaurant tomorrow night after schmoozing over cocktails and appetizers with the local artists.
Shandra didn’t care for the schmoozing, but the people who bought the high priced art sold in the galleries wanted to be on a first name basis with the artists who envisioned their pieces.
She obeyed the twenty miles per hour signs driving down Huckleberry Street. The speed felt like she was crawling after keeping the cruise on seventy most of the way from Nespelem and her grandmother’s funeral. Driving fast hadn’t dislodged the uneasy feeling her grandmother had requested she attend the seven drum ceremony for a reason. “But what reason?”
Shandra parked the Jeep at the curb across from the Doring Gallery. She caught a glimpse of her friend Naomi, jogging across the side street.
Where could Naomi have been coming from? “The bank, the bakery?” Shandra said out loud as she’d become accustom to talking to herself from hours spent alone with her animals as she crafted her art.
She stepped out of the Jeep, straightened her leopard print, tiered skirt, smoothed a hand over her denim shirt, and shifted the concho belt around so the dangling end was at her right hip. She slung the fringed leather bag over her shoulder and headed across the street, dodging the slow moving traffic. Her cowboy boot heels echoed when she stepped onto the tiled entryway of Doring Gallery. The buzz of her entry died in the stillness.
“Paula? Paula, it’s Shandra.” She continued through the middle of the partitions spattered with various sized paintings and prints, and pedestals honoring handcrafted masterpieces.
“Paula?” It wasn’t like Paula to leave the gallery unmanned, or as the case may be unwomanned. If Paula wasn’t here, where was Juan, her assistant? A shiver slithered up Shandra’s back as she moved deeper into the building.
A display of Native American art caught her attention. Vibrant photos of twenty-first century ceremonial dancers covered one partition while paintings of historical depictions covered the other. The crease in the partition at the apex of the V reminded her of the world she’d just come from at the reservation. Her grandmother’s funeral had been half modern and half the old ways. It had been the ceremony of the old ways that lightened her sad heart.
An abstract horse and rider stood four feet tall in the middle of the V-shaped display while two four-foot tall warriors stood guard on either side. One held a bow, the other a spear. The convergence of the abstract modern piece and the steadfast, solid bronze statues that depicted the way Native Americans are seen in history mirrored her life.
Shandra dismissed the pondering about her roots and pulled her gaze from the bronze six-pack on the warrior with the spear and headed toward the office. She had to give Paula credit; the gallery owner knew how to display art to its fullest advantage.
“Paula?” A light shone around the edges of the partially open office door. Shandra pushed the door open. “Why aren’t you answer—”
Paula’s arms hung splayed away from her body that was cradled in her leather office chair. A large red patch spread across her body and lifeless eyes stared up at the ceiling.
Shandra backed out of the room. She couldn’t swallow for the lump of fear and vileness she’d just witnessed.
“Think… Call the police.” She punched in 9 as sirens shrieked and grew louder. “Maybe they’re coming here.” They had to be coming here. This town is too small for there to be two incidents where the cops are needed at the same time.
She put her phone in her bag and strode toward the front of the building. The door buzzed, and a young officer she’d never seen before burst into the building with his gun held in front of him.
“Stop! Put your hands in the air!” he shouted.
Shandra squeaked and raised her arms.
“Did you call the cops?”
“No. I—”
He advanced on her so fast she didn’t know what was happening until he wrenched her arm behind her back.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m detaining you until I can search the premise.” He cuffed her and started to haul her to the door.
“Oh, no, you don’t. I’m not going into a squad car and looking like a criminal when I’m not. I just arrived and found Paula in the office. I was starting to call nine-one-one when I heard the sirens.” Shandra dug in her boot heels. There was no way she’d have the whole town see her sitting in a cop car. She’d done nothing wrong.
“Who’s Paula?” He tugged on her, but she refused to be humiliated for nothing.
“The owner of the gallery. She’s in her chair in the office. Dead.” That stopped the zealous officer.
“We received a phone call of suspicious activity.” He changed course, pushing her ahead of him to the back of the building and the office.
Shandra complied. She’d rather stand by the office door while he did his thing than be seen in a cop car.
At the office, Blane, his name tag said, stood her next to the door. “Don’t move. You’re still a suspect.”
She nodded. She’d stay here all day if she didn’t have to look at Paula again.
He entered the office. “Holy shit.”
Shandra couldn’t have said it better. She heard him moving around before he came back out. He pushed the button on the radio receiver clipped to his shoulder.
“Dispatch, this is Blane. We’ve got a homicide over at Doring Gallery on Huckleberry Street. I have a suspect in custody.”
“Now wait a minute—”
He silenced her with a swipe of his hand through the air.
“Don’t let anyone else enter and don’t leave the premises until a detective gets there.” The excitement in the dispatcher’s voice reminded Shandra this resort town rarely had excitement of this magnitude.
This was big news for Huckleberry. Sad news, but big news. She didn’t like to think someone from their small town could be a murderer. She knew most of the locals.
She’d purchased the old Whitmire ranch thirty miles north of town two years ago. That was a month after she’d graduated from college and received enough of an inheritance from her maternal grandmother to try her hand at pottery. Her search for a place had taken a while. One of the reasons being she needed land with a certain type of clay soil. She found it on the ranch. The clay was her signature in her pottery.
Officer Blane yanked on her arm. “I’m gonna sit you in the extra chair in the office.”
“Oh no, you’re not. You bring that chair out here. I’m not sitting in there and staring at Paula. The one glimpse I had is enough to haunt me.” She glared at the man, thankful he was only a few years past puberty and she stood several inches taller than him, making it easier to intimidate.
He ducked into the room, pulled the extra chair out, and Shandra gladly sat down. For all the bravado she showed the officer, her knees were knocking together. She was his only suspect for the killing. She was innocent. But growing up, she’d witnessed more than one Native American person be railroaded. It was the reason her mother and stepfather forbid her to talk about her father’s family. They felt she would be persecuted. The small ranch community in Montana where they lived was tolerant of very little.

Pre-order Links 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

House vs Writing - House is winning!

I've been so busy working on the house that this blog has been neglected. Soon, we should have the house finished and moved it. At least by Christmas if not before.  When that happens I'll show you photos. Right now this is where the house is at.

The above photo is of the kitchen. It's a bit smaller than my last house but it will be cozy and I have a large pantry so fewer cabinets in the kitchen isn't a problem. I'm anxious to see this finished. I'm still debating if I want the walls the same off white/linen color as the rest of the house or something to more define it as the kitchen. Stay tuned to see what I decide. ;)

This is my office!! I'm so excited to have four walls and space to hang pictures and white boards. In my previous house I had a wonderful loft to write in, but there wasn't any walls to make the place really mine. 

This is the state of the outside of the house. It needs siding but we really want the inside done so we can move into the house and out of the cabin. Hubby and I are both getting claustrophobic in the cabin. 

Check out my Free Christmas Duet on the side bar. It's two short stories for you as a gift. And if you liked Isabella and Tino in the Action Adventure books then take a peek at their first Christmas in the Windtree Press Christmas Anthology. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thank you Veterans!

I'd like to express my gratitude to the veterans in my close and extended family and to everyone who has ever served in the military. It takes a remarkable person to do their job. They have to be ready to work no matter where or when. To give up time with their families and in some instances their lives. The United States wouldn't be such a wonderful place to live if not for your sacrifices.

Thank You!