A Sense of Place…


 

 From a long-ago visit to Meadowbrook Hall to a new Amber & Elliot Mystery!

 

I recently sent three of my children’s books to relatives in Texas. They have grandchildren living nearby, and others in Michigan, who are just the right age for the stories I write. And while I do write for adults as well, capturing that “sense of place” is key. The world in which your characters live and breathe gives their story, and yours, the veracity it needs to draw the reader into the world you have created.

Having grown up around the Great Lakes — my family had a cottage on Lake Huron for 30 years — most of my books for young readers are set in small-town Ontario. Or, in  the the case of the Amber & Elliot Mysteries, which I co-author with long-time friend Susan Brown, an unidentified location that works on both sides of the border.

And we have just released our third Amber & Elliot which was inspired by a stay at Meadowbrook Hall in the mid-1980s. As presenters at the Detroit Women Writers’ conference (held at Oakland University), we were “billeted” in the bedroom that once belonged to Frances Dodge, daughter of automotive tycoon John F. Dodge.

It was awesome! Beautifully furnished, with four-poster beds, richly upholstered chairs, and leaded glass windows overlooking the garden. We spent two nights at Meadowbrook Hall, discreetly exploring its secrets, and tucking them away for a future novel. Little did we know how long it would be before we had the time, and opportunity, to tell our story.

 

The Secret of the Lost Diamonds

 

In a last-ditch effort to save his family home, Henry Hamilton agrees to host a writers’ conference at Ash Manor. On one condition — he wants super sleuths Amber Mitchell and Liz Elliot to find the famous Hamilton diamonds before it’s too late!

The stakes are high from the moment they walk in the door. With mystery writers looking for the perfect plot, and their friends Craig and Jonathan skulking in the shadows, Amber & Elliot take to the secret passageways in search of the precious jewels…

“Where are we?” Amber whispered.

“We must be in the family wing,” Liz said softly.

The girls stared at the old-fashioned furnishings: paintings in gilt frames, a pair of plush sofas, and two leather wing chairs facing a fireplace.

“I bet no one’s been in here for years,” breathed Amber, taking a step forward.

Suddenly Liz choked out a scream. Amber clutched her throat. They watched in horror as a hand slowly reached out from behind the chair…

 

To find out what happens next in The Secret of the Lost Diamondvisit Amazon, Kobo & Apple 

 

The Amber & Elliot Mysteries

The Mad Hacker on AmazonKobo & Apple

Something’s Fishy at Ash Lake on AmazonKobo & Apple

The Secret of the Lost Diamonds on Amazon, Kobo & Apple

 

What’s in a name…?

 

When I wrote the following article, in late 2017, Susan and I had already reissued Something’s Fishy at Ash Lake for a new generation of young readers, but The Mad Hacker, book one in the series, remained out-of-print, patiently waiting for an update and a new cover…. 

And here it is — the first Amber & Elliot Mystery — as well as my original post.

How we almost hit the big time & lived to tell the tale!

When Susan Brown and I decided to adapt The Mad Hacker, our first co-authored book, for television, we realized we would have to come with a name that was perhaps a little less indicative of an axe murderer, and more in keeping with a pair of adventurous twelve-year-olds.

Amber Mitchell and Liz Elliot had been best friends forever and were, shall we say, chips off their creators’ old blocks…

The plotline revolved around the sabotage of their grade-seven computer projects. Rather progressive, we thought (and still do) given that we wrote the first chapter of The Mad Hacker in 1985 using typewriters. Neither of us actually owned a personal computer at the time. Our kids were in primary school; they had the access and we had the story.

Several years later…The Mad Hacker had sold over 75,000 copies in book form in Canada, New Zealand and Australia, Something’s Fishy at Ash Lake, our second book featuring the girls and their friends at Ash Grove Junior High, had by then been sold to Scholastic Canada, and negotiations were underway with a Toronto production company.

We decided it was time to “rebrand” the series. Scholastic had billed the first two books as Ash Grove High Mysteries, but we wanted something new and a little less cumbersome. So we culled our collective memories as well as the current TV pages, listing show titles that worked, especially mysteries, right back to the early days of television.

Nine times out of 10, the most successful series had titles which were either situation-specific or simply used the main character, or characters’ names, to sell the show.

Our characters weren’t that well-known, but they were memorable, especially when they played off each other like that other famous pair of detectives: Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes. After all, Amber had been heard to address Liz as “my dear Elliot” more than once in both books.

So, Amber & Elliot, it became.

We liked the cadence. We liked the way Liz’s surname gave the team more weight. But most of all we liked the fact that it didn’t sound, as “Amber and Liz” would have, like two little girls going to a birthday party.

Amber & Elliot may not have made it to the big time (the pilot aired on The Family Channel and CTV), but we felt like we did – if only for a short time. And, among many lessons learned, we came to appreciate just how important titles (and hanging onto your rights) can be!

The Amber & Elliot Mysteries

The Mad Hacker on Amazon, Kobo & iBooks

Something’s Fishy at Ash Lake on AmazonKobo & iBooks

And coming soon, our third Amber & Elliot MysteryThe Secret of the Lost Diamonds!

Three Mystery Shorts…the gestation of a small collection

 

When I first thought about bringing Bitter End, Oscar Chump and Bermuda Short together, I wasn’t sure what connected them.  The differences were easy to pick out; each story is unique to its setting, both in time and place, and their central characters are as idiosyncratic as you and me.

But what they did have in common was the desire for revenge.  They might go about it in different ways, and for different reasons, but at the end of the day, it’s about getting your own back even if it is only on the page!

Which led me to my title:  Revenge With A Twist, three mystery shorts varying in length from 2,999 words to 5,200.

The longest in the collection is Bermuda Short, my first adult fiction.

I had just returned from a family holiday in Bermuda with the sights and sounds of the island still fresh in my mind, when there was a call for submissions to Cold Blood IV, part of a long-running anthology edited by Peter Sellers, and published by Mosaic Press.  They were looking for original stories and dangling a huge carrot…the book would be launched at Bouchercon, the international convention for mystery writers, to be held in Toronto the following autumn.

Talk about motivation!  I confess it took me several months to “get it right,” but by then I’d made the leap from writing exclusively for nine-to-12 year olds.

And then there’s Oscar Chump, a small-town mystery with a fifties’ feel.  For years, all I had was the title and the lyrics from a 1956 rock-and-roll song by Jim Lowe.  He kept asking “Green Door, what’s that secret you’re keeping?”   I had no idea, so I asked Oscar Chump.  I’m pretty sure the secret I came up with wasn’t exactly the answer Jim Lowe had in mind, but I had my story.

We’ll file that one under writer’s revenge; I had way too much fun with my cast of characters!

And while divorce does turn deadly in Bitter End, I swear this one’s total fiction.  Except for maybe the odd bit about sailing (I had a part interest in a twenty-one-foot Shark at the time), and an article I had recently read about forensic accountants searching for the hidden assets of a deposed dictator.  In my short story, the assets are, shall we say, far more personal…and it definitely ends with a twist!

Bitter End first appeared in the May, 2016, edition of Mystery Weekly Magazine which publishes original short stories in print and digital form.  Once they no longer hold exclusive rights, authors are free to publish elsewhere which is exactly what I did.

I had my title ready and waiting, and a few ideas for the cover which I sent to Heather McIntyre at Cover&Layout in the U.K.  And voilà, in March, 2017, Revenge With A Twist appeared “in print” as an eBook with an eye-catching cover and a brand new audience.

Kobo & Amazon &  Apple Books

 

Silver Threads

 

From the archives: how my love of silver played out on the page!

I love silver. In all its guises. From silver cuffs and statement rings to sugar bowls and tea pots, the lure of a finely wrought piece of silver is irresistible. The hours I’ve spent in the silver hall at the Victoria & Albert museum gliding from one stunning display to the next, have given me an appreciation for silver as art, as utilitarian, and as historical record.

But, as a child, silver meant only one thing. We were eating in the dining room, and all the knives, forks and spoons had to be polished before company arrived. These days my flatware spends more time in the drawer than it does on the table, but not my silver candlesticks.

They are a thing of beauty.

Nothing is more elegant, or flattering, than basking in the soft glow of candlelight. Or more romantic. But before the advent of electricity and gas lighting, candles had a far more practical use, as did silver. Its reflective qualities made life, upstairs at any rate, a little easier and a whole lot brighter.

And there was the beginning of the story.

A single 18th century antique candlestick, rumored to be part of a much larger collection once belonging to King George II, has come on the market. Attracting our modern-day silver expert Samantha Redfern and her boss, Chas Porter, who for very different reasons, are both desperate to own it.

 The candlestick was in superb condition.

 Just under nine inches in height with a circular base, swirling shell motifs rising up its stem and a petal-shaped lip surrounding the socket. In a London sale, he would expect it to sell for another five hundred pounds. At least. A pair wouldn’t just double the price, it would triple it.

The candlestick’s monetary value has little to do with the story. It’s all about history, Chas’ and Sam’s, and how a single candlestick can change everything.

When Chas asks Sam about her interest in silver in Chapter Two of Outbid by the Boss, her passion bubbles to the surface. She reveals more than she knows, about herself, her childhood and her family.

…“I saw a painting when I was a young girl…called Five O’Clock Tea. It was only a picture in a book…about women silversmiths,” she blushed slightly. “Two young Victorian women sitting on a chintz sofa. There’s a silver tea service arranged on the table in front of them. One wears a hat and gloves and sips from a delicate porcelain cup. She’s the visitor. They’re just friends having tea, yet it was so…captivating.”

Enchanted, Chas watched the memories play across Sam’s face. She really was beautiful, and so much more real to him than she had ever been before.

She must have sensed he was looking at her. “I guess I was hooked.”

“On silver?” asked Chas.

Sam laughed. “Tea parties. My grandmother was a good sport.”

The painting Sam refers to is by Mary Cassatt, an American artist who lived and worked for much of her life in Paris. And the book Sam refers to is on my shelf. Published by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, it catalogues the museum’s collection of works by women silversmiths from 1685 to 1845.

“Businesswomen,” Philippa Glanville writes in the book’s opening chapter, “are not 20th-century phenomena.” Nor was their contribution to the silver industry. They were active business partners, owners and artisans making beautiful and functional objects from buttons and christening cups, to jewellery and candlesticks.

The threads of history continue to intrigue and inspire no matter what I write.

Outbid by the Boss is by Anne Stephenson & Susan Brown writing as Stephanie Browning.