Creating Cozy Worlds: Karen MacInerney and Gray Whale Press

Hi! I’m Karen MacInerney, and I’m the author of several mystery series, including the Agatha-nominated Gray Whale Inn mysteries and the Dewberry Farm mysteries. I’ve been writing for many years. I love creating a cozy, warm world for my readers to escape to when everyday life just seems too glum for words.

My first series, the Gray Whale Inn mysteries, starts with Murder on the Rocks, which also happens to be the first book I ever wrote. It’s set in Cranberry Island, Maine, and is in many ways an homage to Pool’s Island, Newfoundland, where I visited my grandparents every summer (many of the names in the book are surnames from that part of the world). I have fond childhood memories of climbing the island’s granite boulders, picking wild blueberries, making steamed puddings in my grandmother’s kitchen, and going out to fish on the cold, cold water at six in the morning with my grandfather. I was hoping to capture some of that wonderful feeling and experience on the page, but I didn’t know how to do it at first. Newfoundland is hard to get to, and I didn’t feel I had a grasp of the dialect. They have lots of words like “yaffle,” which is an armload of dried fish, in case you were wondering. I knew I wanted to write something capturing those experiences, and after a while, I started thinking mystery would be the way to do it. Continue reading

The Writing Life

by Rick Helms

A great writer named Jerry Healy, who sadly left us a couple of years back, once said something that resonated strongly with me. It’s probably a quote from someone else, but I heard him say it, so I associate it with Jerry.

He said, “Everyone has a novel in him or her. Not everyone has a SECOND novel.”

For a working writer, constant production is the key to success. I see many, many writers each year at conferences who are still flogging a book they wrote and published ten years ago. They have a single title out, and they’ve been riding it like a trusty steed for years. Continue reading

Truth in Fiction—How One Author Keeps It Real

by Patricia Fry

Every hopeful author and freelance writer has heard this important credo: write about what you know. For years, I wrote nonfiction. Still do. But five years ago, I added fiction to my repertoire—cat fiction. It didn’t take me long to realize that even fiction must ring true. Your readers won’t trust and respect your work if there isn’t an element of truth in your stories. That’s why I often turn to my cats for assistance. They give me just the reality check I need to make sure the cats in my stories run true to form.

While some cozy mysteries with cats feature talking cats, mine do not. The cats in my stories are ordinary cats with a few extraordinary habits and, of course, many unusual (but realistic) opportunities to get into mischief. How do my own household cats help in this respect? Simply by being cats. Continue reading

Retired Professor Turns to Crime (writing)

indexby Alessandra Comini

“You absolutely cannot enter. Important government papers are stored inside.”

These were the words an Austrian government bureaucrat used to bar me from entering the provincial Neulengbach courthouse where, fifty-one years earlier, the Expressionist artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918) had been imprisoned. During his twenty-four days in a dank basement cell, he kept a diary and in twelve poignant drawings meticulously recorded his sparse surroundings. Guided by these drawings and the anguished diary entries, I was attempting to do what no scholar had yet done: locate the cellar and cell in which Schiele had been unjustly incarcerated. Continue reading

Writing What I Don’t Know

KayeGeorgeby Kaye George

Sure, I write what I know. Sometimes. For the Fat Cat series, which I write as Janet Cantrell, I model the tubby tabby after one of my own rescued ferals. I use the setting of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and I lived in Minnetonka for a few years. (And love that area!) I actually try out all the recipes in the books, the ones for people—dessert bars—and the ones for cats—healthy cat treats. Continue reading

Writing What You Know—the Hard Way

BarbGoffmanby Barb Goffman

We’ve all heard this advice: write what you know. I’ve had editing clients take this advice the wrong way, thinking that if they haven’t experienced something themselves, they shouldn’t write about it. In actuality, if you want to write about something and don’t have enough information to get the details right, do research. Learn all about it. Then you’ll be able to write about what you know. Continue reading

FAREWELL, MY COASTLINE, or How to Write an Environmental Crime Novel without Sending Your Reader into the Big Sleep

Loprestiby Robert Lopresti

Some people become novelists because they have Something to Say. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, unless they decide to Say it.

Most of us, when nibbling on a delicate little short story or wolfing down a hearty page-turner, don’t want to choke on an indigestible lump of Message. We resent it if the author stops the action to offer a few thousand well-chosen words on an issue close to his or her heart.

I can’t brag that my fiction is always message-free, but I try. So when I recently had Something to Say, I tried to make it a crucial part of the plot.

When I’m not writing mysteries, I’m a librarian at a university. I work mostly with environmental-science students, and love to watch those dedicated folks learning skills to improve the planet. I help them with their research papers, but the real work, like measuring bear poop or improving coral reefs, is not in my skill set.

51DcwkNmjTL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_But writing mysteries is. So I dreamed up Greenfellas, a comic crime novel with environmental issues. It’s about Sal Caetano, a top New Jersey Mafiosi, who hears on the news that by the time his brand-new granddaughter grows up, climate change may drown her world. He decides to use his mob skills to save the environment. Personally.

That meant Sal had to learn about environmental problems, which gave me a chance to tell the reader what I thought was important. In short, this was my chance to Say Something.

But how to do what novelists call the “info-dump” without sending the reader into a coma? I could have had Sal sit at a computer for a hundred pages, reading research. Or I could also have hit myself with a hammer, which the reader would have preferred.

Instead, Sal bought a steak dinner for an ecology professor and picked his brain. In a sense, this is a caper novel and you might say my guys are casing the bank, or at least discussing the blueprints.

Which gives Sal the chance to apply his unique view to the issues. For example, the professor says that understanding ecology is “like you put on a new pair of glasses and suddenly you’re seeing things that other people don’t…” Take, for example, the Thanksgiving parade:

“What makes those big balloons float, Sal? What’s in them?”

Sal thought for a moment. “Helium?”

“Right! And how do you make helium?”

“Hell, I don’t know.”

Wally nodded like a bobble-head. “You and the rest of the planet, Sal old pal. You can make it by liquefying air and that’s just about as difficult and expensive as it sounds. Basically, all we’ve got is the stuff we get our hands on when we take natural gas out of the ground.”

“Fracking.”

“Among other ways, yes. But the best guess is we’ll use all the helium up that’s practically available in forty years. About the time your little granddaughter is the age I am now.”

Sal raised his eyebrows. “So they won’t have balloons at the parades anymore?”

Wally slammed his fist down again. Unfortunately he hit his eyeglasses, which tumbled to the floor. “Damn it! If they’re broken…no, they’re okay. Listen, Sal. You ever have an MRI?”

“My wife did. When she got sick.”

“Well, they used helium to make that machine. All kinds of high-tech manufacturing uses helium because it’s inert. That means it doesn’t catch fire, among other things. God knows how they’ll build the machines in forty years. Old Uncle Sam owns one-third of the world’s supply of helium, and by Congressional orders, he’s selling it at fire sale prices, which is why we’re still using it for balloons at kiddie’s parties.”

“But why are you so sure we can’t make more? When we need to, we’ll find a way.”

Wally shook his head. “That’s the Star Trek Fallacy. In science fiction a problem comes up and before the last commercial break some genius has found a brand new way to run the engines on space dust, or cure the plague with margarine. In reality, breakthroughs don’t come on schedule. You see anybody flying around in jet suits lately?”

Both men took a sip at their drinks.

“What ya said about looking at the world through different glasses,” said Sal. “I felt like that my whole life.”

“How so?”

“Well, when I’m with straight people–people who aren’t in my line of work.”

Wally nodded. “Not connected.”

“Bingo. I remember once taking a walk in Newark with Veronica and Maddie. We passed this building site where a skyscraper was going up and they were looking at all the construction and I realized we were seeing different stuff. Completely different. They were imagining what it was like to be up one on one of them girders. I was trying to figure out what percentage of every dollar spent was going to people like me.”

Wally frowned. “You’re in construction?”

“People like me are everywhere, Wally. The rebar, the cement, the drywall, the construction unions, the trash removal… some of those companies we own. From some of ‘em we just get a taste. But on damned near every step there’s at least a thin little slice that went to my people, or somebody like us. I guarantee that.”

“Wow.” Wally pondered. “Sort of an organized crime tax.”

“You could call it that.”

“Is it ever gonna go away?”

Sal emptied his glass. “Right after we get our jet-packs.”

I split my info-dump with scenes of cops scheming to bust Sal. The detectives are warned that “Caetano is out there right now, plotting God knows what sort of malfeasance against the citizens of the Garden State.”

Well, that’s not how Sal sees it. The readers will have to decide for themselves. My job is to keep them interested long enough to find out.


Greenfellas is on the My Favorite Reviews for 2015 list at Kings River Life magazine, available in the January 2016 issue at www.kingsriverlife.com.