Miranda James is the pseudonym for Dean James, a seventh-generation Mississippian who now lives in Texas and is the author of the best-selling Cat in the Stacks mysteries.
James' new Southern Ladies series introduces the "sassy mouths and big hearts" of two ladies we won't soon forget. And as James shares in a guest post, these women aren't as fictional as you might expect.
Every small Southern town has them—those indomitable women who run all kinds of organizations, from garden and bridge clubs to charitable agencies. Often they come from the town’s oldest families, generation after generation of club women who oil the wheels of the social engine. These were exactly the women I needed when I was working on Out of Circulation, the fourth book in my Cat in the Stacks series.
The story revolved around fund-raising efforts for the local public library—in this case, the fictional Athena (Mississippi) Public Library. I needed strong characters for the Friends of the Library Board of Directors, and I counted on disagreements among the members. Has there ever been a committee when members didn’t butt heads over even the most minute of details? Perfect starting point for conflict in a murder mystery, I thought.
In the spring of 2011 I attended the first-ever Daddy’s Girls Weekend, an event put together by my friend and fellow writer, Carolyn Haines, author of the Sarah Booth Delaney series. There I met two sisters, An’gel Ducote Molpus and Dickce Ducote Little, who inspired me to create their fictional counterparts, Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce Ducote.
The fictional sisters are several decades older, unmarried and childless, yet their characters owe much to their real-life inspirations. The Ducote sisters are the true grandes dames of Athena society—intelligent, hard-working and intolerant of pretention and snobbery. The conflict between them and the character of Vera Cassity was an essential element of the story, and I had great fun with the scenes involving these characters.
Not long after I finished Out of Circulation, I was working on ideas for a second series, one that would feature two older women characters. After discussion with my agent and my editor, we settled on making the Ducote sisters the main characters. I loved them, my editor loved them, and evidently so did my readers. Thus was the new series born.
The first book in the Southern Ladies mysteries, Bless Her Dead Little Heart, is officially out on October 7. The Ducote sisters are on their own as amateur detectives, because Charlie Harris and his family are in France on vacation. They do have the assistance of Diesel, the Maine Coon cat, who makes a cameo appearance in the book. An old sorority sister, Rosabelle Sultan, turns up on the sisters’ doorstep one August afternoon and claims that someone in her family is trying to murder her. Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce know that Rosabelle loves being the center of attention, but this sounds a bit over-the-top even for this self-absorbed socialite. When Rosabelle’s family members follow her to Athena, however, the sisters quickly discover that one of them does have murder in mind.
I had great fun writing this book, letting the sisters have their way. I hope readers will have fun, too, getting to know Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce.
Thanks, Miranda/Dean! Readers, Bless Her Dead Little Heart is out now!
Author photo credit Kathryn Krause.
Romance author Karen Rose Smith makes her cozy mystery debut with Staged to Death, the first Caprice De Luca mystery. Caprice stages houses for high-end home sellers, but when she discovers a body in a client's mansion and starts asking questions, she could be the next victim. In a guest post, Smith shares a bit about Caprice and a few lessons she learns in her first murder mystery:
Caprice De Luca never intended to stage a mansion for murder. But a high-end client with a castle-like estate who has enemies drew a murderer inside. So what should Caprice look out for in future home-stagings with a killer on the loose?
1. When Caprice says de-clutter, her client had better listen. Caprice wanted Ted Winslow to de-clutter his sword room and stow away valuable collectibles. But he didn't. The murder weapon originated in the sword room!
2. Caprice should avoid listening in on clients' phone calls. After all, she learned Ted wanted to kill someone himself. A client's enemy could become her enemy.
3. The storage shed where Caprice stores furniture and accessories for stagings might not have enough security. Especially when the killer possesses the security code to get in.
4. The elaborate open houses that Caprice plans for each home staging are an open invitation to friends, relatives and prospective buyers. Her sister Nikki, a caterer, colludes with her on the themes, sometimes creating a feast. But any one of the guests could be the killer.
5. When Caprice stages a mansion, any room could be a crime scene. Especially when she catches wind of an illicit affair in one of the rooms! Staging a house gives Caprice intimate knowledge of her client's comings and goings, relationships and foibles. But . . . the murderer might suspect that she knows a fact vital to the investigation and come after her.
6. Caprice's identifiable restored yellow Camaro, as well as her psychedelically-decorated business van, are nearly impossible to miss. To investigate incognito, she needs to borrow a car from someone in her large Italian family—maybe her sister Nikki's nondescript car, her lawyer brother's sedan or her younger sister Bella's family van.
7. When a killer is skulking about, a funeral can be a terrific place to find clues. Funerals seem to bring out everyone's emotions. Family and colleagues can let important information slip.
8. Since Caprice becomes familiar with every room in a house she is staging, she quickly notices if anything is out of place. That knowledge could be a magnet for danger.
9. A mansion with a Camelot staging theme quickly goes from romantic to realistic when a murder happens on the property. After a murder occurs and the home loses value, the owner might have to forgo profit for an expedient sale. Murder sometimes definitely devalues a home's "star" quality.
10. Caprice has learned the valuable lesson that someone should have her back, whether she's staging houses, taking in stray dogs and cats or tracking down a killer. But will she choose Dr. Seth Randolph or her brother's law partner, Grant Weatherford, as her backup?
Caprice has learned all this, but her curiosity still leads her into trouble. Enjoy solving the mystery with Caprice, cook along with her, see her find homes for the stray animals she protects, be a part of the De Luca family . . . in Staged to Death, available in December 2013, and Deadly Decor, set for release in June 2014.
Thanks, Karen! Readers, Staged to Death comes out today!
Kylie Logan's new cozy mystery series, the League of Literary Ladies, combines book club drama with a love of classic literature—plus murder, of course. In the first in the series, Mayhem at the Orient Express, the Literary Ladies gain sleuthing inspiration from Agatha Christie when the owner of their favorite Chinese restaurant turns up dead. In a guest blog post, Logan (a pseudonym for author Emilie Richards) shares her own Christie inspiration.
Guest post by Kylie Logan
Which came first, the degree in English that entailed reading many, many classic books? Or the love of classic books that resulted in a degree in English?
I don’t have the answer, but I do know that as a once-upon-a-time English major, the classics have always been a big part of my life. Give me Jane Austen for romance, Anthony Hope and Rafael Sabatini for swashbuckling and, of course, the great Arthur Conan Doyle for mystery.
I would have happily gone on this way for many years if after graduation a friend at my first job didn’t recommend a new set of classics—Agatha Christie’s mysteries.
Oh, sure, by that time, they were already decades old. But to me, Christie was unexplored territory, and I dove in with all the enthusiasm of an adventurer charting the unmapped tributaries of the Amazon. I enjoyed Poirot, loved Marple, reveled in Tommy and Tuppence Beresford’s escapades. In fact, it was Christie, along with those early memories of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, that made me want to write mysteries. There were wonderful, twisty/turny plots inside the covers of these books, clever detection, devious villains and clues that were sometimes hidden in plain sight.
But a series of mysteries based on classic books?
That idea didn’t come along until I’d already written five of the Cooking Class mysteries (as Miranda Bliss), nine of the Pepper Martin mysteries (as Casey Daniels) and the first three books of my Button Box mystery series.
Mysteries based on classic books . . . I liked the idea, but as always, the mechanics needed to be taken care of first.
I decided on a setting: South Bass Island, the Key West of Lake Erie.
And a group of characters: feuding neighbors.
And a way to bring them together: a book discussion group that’s mandated by the local magistrate as a way to make the women talk to each other and get to know each other better.
Then, of course, the biggest and most important question of them all—which classic book was just right to introduce the League of Literary Ladies?
There’s no better place to start than at the top, so I chose Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Have you read it recently? If not, you’re in for a treat. Christie presents an intriguing premise—a victim murdered on a train that’s snowbound in the middle of nowhere. All the suspects are confined to the first-class train cars along with Christie’s picky and brilliant detective, Hercule Poirot. What could be more memorable? How about an ending no one could have possibly expected when the book was published!
My Mayhem at the Orient Express riffs off the classic. There’s a murder at the island’s newest eatery, the Orient Express, and a houseful of suspects at Bea Cartwright’s B and B that would make any but the strongest of innkeepers quake in her shoes. Not to worry, Bea’s a former Manhattanite who’s run away from the big city in search of her bliss so she can handle anything. Of course, there’s no way she can anticipate a murderer close at hand, or a spring snowstorm that traps the innocent—and the killer—on the island.
Mayhem at the Orient Express is the first book in the League of Literary Ladies series, and there’s a world of classics out there for me to turn on their heads. Classic books and murder—it’s this former English major’s dream come true!
Thanks so much, Kylie! Mayhem on the Orient Express comes out today!
What classic book would you love to see incorporated into the League of Literary Ladies series?