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We are thrilled to have Ereader News Today featuring Happy Homicides: Thirteen Cozy Holiday Mysteries

Happy Homicides: Thirteen Cozy Holiday Mysteries is an anthology written by twelve cozy mystery authors, including me 🙂 The collection is available for pre-sale now, and will be available October 15. 

It is only $.99 (that’s right, less than one dollar), and includes a link to download bonus material: recipes and crafts. 

You can get more details by clicking Ereader News Today for the Amazon link, or visit the Happy Homicides booklaunch page for other ereader options.

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Writing Fiction: Murder Victims

What would a murder mystery be without a death? If it happens off the page, it’s a cozy mystery. If you see the death happen on the page, through a character’s viewpoint, it could be a thriller (like the Jack Reacher series written by Lee Child). 

How does a writer decide who the victim will be? In some cases, the victim’s name can be nominated by friends or family. Lisa Gardner has a contest to Kill a Friend, Maim a Buddy. Some writer’s auction off the opportunity at a fundraising event. The name is separate from the person’s appearance or traits. 

In my case, any person who really annoys me or is too stupid to live is a potential candidate. I may take certain aspects of that person, but only I will really know who the inspiration was. Enough details will be changed to prevent a lawsuit for libel. In the romance genre, the joke was that the best way to avoid being sued was to give the character a small penis. Who would want to claim that identifying aspect?

Some characters die to move the story forward. These are typically minor characters, who may be in one story. J.K. Rowling killed off one of her recurring characters in the Harry Potter series, and fans mourned his loss. 

Some characters die because the author is tired of them. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes, only to bring him back to life after the public demanded more Sherlock. Killing off a character for good works best when there is a body. In this case, Sherlock disappeared into the water beneath the falls, and the body wasn’t found. Presto, he reappears, and lived again through many stories.

Every mystery author has their own way of dealing with death.

I’d be interested in hearing about yours.

Double Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

After making Coconut Chocolate Chip Macaroons, I started thinking about making chocolate macaroons. Everything’s better with chocolate, right?

I thought about the best way to do this, so experiment one was to use cocoa powder instead of using melted chocolate. The results were tasty, and my guinea pigs were guests at a 6-year-old birthday party. The plate wasn’t totally empty by the time we left, but there had been birthday cake, and there were very few macaroons left that I felt confident this recipe is good.

At some point, I’ll probably try this recipe with melted chocolate instead of cocoa powder. I usually have cocoa powder on hand, so wanted to try that first.

Judge for yourself, and let me know what you thought 🙂

Double Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

Makes 5 dozen (depending on size; I use the small ice cream scoop to get this many)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 16:30 minutes/sheet pan of small macaroons; 18-19 minutes for the larger ones (using a regular sized ice cream scoop)

1 14 oz bag of sweetened, flaked coconut (can be toasted at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, or used right out of the bag)
1 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
1 t vanilla
1 pinch of Kosher salt
1 t coffee powder
2 T cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Dark Chocolate)
1 C mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 355 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk, vanilla, salt, and coffee powder. Once these ingredients are well combined, add in the cocoa powder. Mix thoroughly. Add the coconut, and stir to coat. Add the chocolate chips, and combine.

Using two teaspoons, two tablespoons, or an ice cream scoop, portion out cookies. On a half-sheet pan, I usually get 5 across and 6 down when I use the small ice cream scoop (30 per sheet pan). This recipe fills two full, and one partial, half-sheet pans. I occasionally make 5 or 6 large cookies, just to speed up the process. I find that a mix of small and large macaroons on the dessert platter look inviting.

I tried an experiment using a mini-muffin tin. You’ll notice that a few of these have a cup shape, versus the mound shape from those cookies baked on parchment. I liked the taste (these came out chewier), but it was harder to get them out of the muffin tin. I used a chopstick to loosen the edges, and some came out easier than others. Those broken macaroons were used as quality control samples (my husband and I enjoyed them).


Writing Fiction: Developing Characters

Developing characters is a job. You create out of whole cloth, or you cannibalize traits from people you know or have seen. What else can you do, to make three-dimensional characters readers fall in love with?

One method is to write a short story about them. This is not for publication, although Jennifer Crusie has published hers (Crazy People: The Crazy For You Stories), but is a tool for you to get to know your characters better. 

The objective is just to think for a few moments about your character, and then write several pages about them. Some things will bubble up from your subconscious (Jennifer Crusie calls them the girls in the basement), and you’ll be surprised at what useful bits will result.

I use various methods. I think of actors/actresses who would be cast in the movie, just for the visual of what the character looks like. I think of people I know and borrow traits from them. I do a Tarot spread (see the Creating Characters post), which is a seven card spread that looks at the following:

1. Character’s Past
2. Character’s Present
3. Character’s Future
4. Character’s Secret/Subconcious Influences
5. Character’s Hopes/Fears
6. Character’s Worldview
7. Character’s Worldview Continued

This gives me something unexpected to think about. Whether I use any of the information from the Tarot spread, I always have something come up that hadn’t occurred to me. That’s the point of any character-building exercise: Think outside of the box, and make your characters as real as you can.

One way I know my writing has improved is that my character’s aren’t cartoons. In the beginning, they were extremes: of bad traits, of good traits. Real people are a mix of good and bad. 

Just FYI – mystery writers kill the people who annoy them in real life (fictitiously, of course). 

Let me know what you think of these methods, or if something else works for you!