I am excited to welcome Fran Stewart to Escape With Dollycas today!
Her book A Wee Murder in My Shop was released in March. The next ScotShop Mystery, A Wee Dose of Death, will be out January 5, 2016.
Shadow-Play by Fran Stewart
Let’s look at shadows. They play an important role in my life. You see, I’m not a beach kind of person. I’m more a mountain gal. A sit-under-a-tree kind of woman. A shadow crone.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Beaches are lovely places. I have two children and five grandchildren who revel in the sunshine. And maybe you do, too.
But I prefer beaches at pre-dawn, while a few stars are still accessible, before the sun bursts above the pulsing sea. Or right around sunset, while the shadows of the clouds play with the last rays of daylight.
I escape to the beach at Sapelo Island (http://GAstateparks.org/lodges/reynolds/about/) twice a year with a group of artists—I’m the only writer in the group—for a creative retreat. For a week, the artists all disperse during the day to paint the marshes, paint the dunes at the edge of Nanny Goat Beach, pain the groves of spreading pecan trees and ancient live oaks hung with Spanish moss.
While they’re outside painting in the bright sun, I’m in the shadows, writing. Or reading. I sit on the tree-shaded terrace or upstairs in the shadow-cool circus room, decorated many years ago by Athos Menaboni, one of the foremost muralists of the early 20th century. His lion graces my favorite corner, tucked into a shadowed corner between tall windows.
And, quite often, I write about shadows. Did you ever think about the shadows in the books you read? We hardly ever notice them, but they can set a tone most effectively.
I recall years ago sketching the face of a woman who sat across from me in an airport lounge. I’ve never claimed to be an artist, but sometimes I like to try. Seldom do I share the results with anyone except my cats—they promised long ago not to laugh at me. On this occasion, though, I showed the drawing to my sister, who is an artist. “You drew the shadows,” she said, “and left out the lines along the side of her face.” That was because the woman had sat in a shaft of sunlight that erased any distinction between the curve of her cheek and the wall behind her. I couldn’t see a line there, so I didn’t draw one.
Instead I drew the shadows beneath her angular cheekbone, the jut of her chin, around her eye, and beside her nose. My sister was impressed. It’s the only time she’s ever been impressed by one of my sketches. I wish I’d saved the sketch, just as I wish I’d saved a lot of my early essays and stories, but the memory of those shadows on that woman’s face still haunts me. I may have managed the shadows, but I didn’t draw her well enough. I didn’t capture her essence. My art lies in words, and while the pencil drawing may have been technically interesting, it stopped short of capturing who that woman truly was.
My inexpert shadows turned her into an enigma. Did the sunlight that day come from a bright spring morning or a harsh mid-summer? Was the woman an undercover agent, a jilted lover, a harried executive, a wilted mom (or stepmom)? Was she headed out or headed home? Was she someone’s best friend, or a harpy-like harridan who had just sent the emotionally unstable protagonist spinning back into an alcoholic dead end? Had she inherited those deep-set eyes from her paternal grandmother or were they a reflection of her inner turmoil? Was her angular cheekbone the result of ethnicity or anorexia? If she had raised her hand, would it have blocked the light and created a dark slash of shadow, or would the light have penetrated between her fingers and outlined each one in an unearthly red glow, like a flashlight beneath a blanket in the middle of the night?
Shadows. Sometimes they ask more questions than they answer. Unless we know how to sketch them with a deft pen.
Shadows. A great place to escape to. Especially if I have a book with me. Either one I’m reading, or one I’m writing. What do you do when faced with shadows?
Fran Stewart is the author of the Biscuit McKee Mysteries – GRAY AS ASHES is the seventh book in that series – as well as a standalone mystery – A SLAYING SONG TONIGHT. Her non-fiction work includes FROM THE TIP OF MY PEN: A WORKBOOK FOR WRITERS. Her new ScotShop Mystery Series from Berkley Press begins with A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP.
Part of today’s guest blogpost was taken from a chapter in FROM THE TIP OF MY PEN.
Fran lives quietly with various rescued cats beside a creek on the other side of Hog Mountain, Georgia, northeast of Atlanta. She is a member of the National League of American Pen Women, Sisters in Crime, and Mystery Writers of America.
Photo Credit: Mozelle Funderburk
A Wee Murder in My Shop (A ScotShop Mystery)
First in New Series
Setting – Vermont/Scotland
A Berkley Prime Crime Mystery
The Berkley Publishing Group (March 3, 2015)
Published by The Penguin Group
Cover Illusteation by Jesse Reisch
Cover Design by Diana Kolsky
Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
E-Book ASIN: B00LMGK41Q
Hamelin, Vermont, isn’t the most likely place for bagpipes and tartan, but at Peggy Winn’s ScotShop, business is booming…
While on a transatlantic hunt for some authentic wares to sell at her shop, Peggy is looking to forget her troubles by digging through the hidden treasures of the Scottish Highlands. With so many enchanting items on sale, Peggy can’t resist buying a beautiful old tartan shawl. But once she wraps it around her shoulders, she discovers that her purchase comes with a hidden fee: the specter of a fourteenth-century Scotsman.
Unsure if her Highland fling was real or a product of an overactive imagination, Peggy returns home to Vermont—only to find the dead body of her ex-boyfriend on the floor of her shop. When the police chief arrests Peggy’s cousin based on some incriminating evidence, Peggy decides to ask her haunting Scottish companion to help figure out who really committed the crime—before anyone else gets kilt…
Peggy Winn’s ScotShop is in Vermont but each year she travels to Scotland in search of new vendors with new and unique items to sell. On her recent trip to the Highlands she comes home with much more than new connections and a new shawl. She discovers a 14th century Scotsman has traveled home with her, well his ghost has. Not quite sure what to do with her new Scottish “friend” she decides to make the best of it. When a dead body is found in her shop she quickly realizes this specter may be able to help her catch the culprit that left her ex-boyfriend buried under her Scottish wares.
This was a fun read. It reminded me of J.J. Cook’s Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries in that ghosts are great once you figure out how to handle them. In Peggy’s case all her friends think she is losing it because she keeps talking to herself as her ghost, Dirk, has so many questions. She sometimes gets very tongue tied as she tries to discreetly answer him only to find her friends looking at her strangely.
The author gives us a small cast of quirky characters and a even smaller suspect pool. There were several interesting twists to the mystery too. The story was brimming with humor as well. Trying to explain modern things to an old ghost can be quite funny. See the excerpt below when Peggy tries to have a private talk with her new friend:
I opened the blue door. “Inside, you,” I whispered with my teeth clenched.
We were fairly cramped. These things were designed for one person at a time. His head brushed the top. Damn, he was tall. I thought people had been short in the fourteenth century. As close as we were standing, I had to tilt my head back. I got an unexpectedly good look at his upper incisors. They were big, strong, and very white. This would be a great place for him to turn into a vampire. Stop it, Peggy.
“What is this place?” He sounded a bit awed. Maybe that was why his mouth had been hanging open.
“It’s a porta potty.” When he looked blank, I added, “A loo.” Still blank. “A privy.”
Understanding dawned. “A necessary?”
“Why did ye bring me in here? I dinna have to pass water.”
“We’re here because it’s the only place I can speak to you in private. Now, you listen. We’re about to get into a car—”
“Hush. A car. It’s like a little house on wheels.”
“Why would we get into—?”
“No, wait, it’s more like a wagon that’s all closed up.”
“And how d’ye open it?”
“That’s not the point!” It’s hard to shout when you’re whispering. “The point I’m trying to make is that you have to be absolutely quiet. You cannot ask a single question while we’re in the car. Do you understand?”
“Because I won’t be able to answer you. Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair are already looking at me funny. I don’t want them to think I’ve gone barmy.”
“What is barmy?”
“Mad. Crazy.” I threw up my hands. “Now, will you keep your mouth closed until we’re alone again.” It wasn’t a question.
“Ye tell me I have been deid for more than six hundred years. In all that time I have not said a word, and now ye want me to keep my mouth closed?”
“Yes. That’s right.” I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
I was quite taken with Peggy and Dirk and am excited to see what kind of mystery they get wrapped into next. Fran is off to a great start with this series!
Plus Fran is giving away a copy of
Martinsville Georgia has always been a sleepy little town, where nothing much ever happens, except a few murders…
There’s a firebug in Martinsville. Town librarian Biscuit McKee isn’t too worried when a garbage bin at the grocery store is set on fire. But when it’s her beloved garden shed that goes up in flames, the fur begins to fly.
Biscuit’s feline companion Marmalade comments frequently, …
Yes, I do.
… (even though her humans think she’s only purring …
… or sneezing). She’s as baffled by all this as her humans.
We could have some tuna. That would solve a lot.
Distracted by a visit from Peachie, an old college friend, Biscuit pays only scant attention to a third fire, but it’s hard to ignore the fourth fire and the dead body found in the charred remains of Connie Cartwright’s studio, where glass-blowing may have turned into homicide.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”