I am excited to have Barbara Barrett visit Escape With Dollycas today
as part of her Great Escapes Tour!
Why I Love Mah Jongg
by Barbara Barrett
Why would anyone decide to base their first cozy mystery series around the game of mah-jongg?
If anyone had come up to me at my retirement party and said something like, “Now you’ll have all the time in the world to enjoy mah-jongg,” I would have scoffed at the idea. Wasn’t that the game little old ladies played? I might be retiring, but I certainly didn’t see myself in that category. I was still young and vital, and I had great plans to expand my writing efforts now that I was no longer working full time.
A little more than a month later, there I was with my trainer and three other women learning the game. It wasn’t easy. The names of the tiles and the procedures, plays, and hands were a brand new language. I was taught the Wright-Patterson version, a form of the game developed by some military wives whose spouses were assigned to that U.S. Air Force Base. The hands used in the more widely played National version are changed annually. Though some remain, several new ones are added. This had become problematic for women whose spouses were transferred throughout the world because it was difficult to stay current. This new version, with almost double the number of hands, was created so it could be used for more than a year.
The Wright-Patterson version was also more intricate in some ways. Players all started the game with the same number of “chips” worth 1, fifty, a hundred, five hundred and a thousand points. Chips were exchanged after each game, depending on who won and who scored better. The winner wasn’t decided until the end of play. Have I lost you? Sorry, I wanted to demonstrate how this game was more “complicated” than the National version.
I’d been playing Wright-Patterson for over a year when I was introduced to the National version. No chips. No small book of over a hundred hands. And some of the tiles, which in the W-P version are quite valuable, were no longer. Instead, eight Jokers, or wild cards, had now been added; they were the most valuable tiles.
Why do I like this game so much? The first reason, which is still foremost, is its social value. I was new in my community right after I retired, and learning this game seemed as good a way as any to meet others. I’ve made some great friends in mah-jongg. The beauty of the National version is its widespread nature. Visitors to our community can join our group for one or a limited number of sessions and readily fit in. I currently play once a week for about three hours. I look forward to those days and try to keep that afternoon free.
This past fall I taught a class on the National version. Three sessions of seventy-five minutes each. We had a very successful sign-up. Too successful, I’m afraid. Even with three other mah jongg players helping me guide each table (five in all) through the terms and plays, we had our hands full. But we had great fun.
And that brings me to the second reason why I love this game: it’s just plain fun. It doesn’t hurt to win occasionally, either, but it’s a great way to spend an afternoon. Sure, I could probably experience the same kind of fun seeing movies I love or playing other games, but I landed on mah jongg.
The third reason is because it is a great exercise for the brain. Not only are you keeping track of the tiles played, you’re also picking new tiles and discarding those you don’t want in order to make a hand. That’s difficult enough, but sometimes the tiles needed aren’t available and you have to change intended hands. Strategy and flexibility are critical to success. Both keep the old brain working.
This game is also a change of pace. It gets me out of my office and away from my laptop for several hours. I don’t know about other authors, but I need frequent breaks, not only for the bod but also to free up the brain. This can also be accomplished by exercise, just getting up and moving around, and through other pastimes like needlepoint and reading.
Mah Jongg also gets me out of the house and gives my spouse time to himself. We all need our space from time to time.
All that aside, I guess what appeals most is the challenge of putting together a winning hand. It takes a certain amount of skill, an ability to read other players, and just plain luck. The challenge lies in excelling at the first two to leverage them against the third.
Thank you, Barbara so much for dropping by today!
About the Book
Craks in a Marriage (Mah Jongg Mysteries)
1st in Series
Setting – Florida
Self Published (February 6, 2018)
Print Length: 204 pages
When Sydney Bonner overhears a fellow mah jongg player arguing on the phone with her husband, she realizes the couple’s “perfect marriage” isn’t all it appears to be. A few days later, the husband is found dead, his head bashed in. Fearing she’ll be considered the most likely suspect, the widow prevails upon Sydney and her three friends—Marianne, Kat and Micki—to find out who really killed him.
Though none of these four fun-loving, take-charge retirees has any training as detectives, the women agree to launch a secret investigation. As they dig under the happy veneer of their community’s social life, they find more than enough suspects, from shady ladies to resentful golf buddies, to keep them looking over their shoulders.
Could the murderer be lurking among the talent in a chaotic production put on by Sydney’s husband, who will do anything to keep busy in retirement? Could the sheriff, who may have more than a professional interest in chanteuse Kat, end up pinning the crime on the women instead? Each discovery during their investigations and their weekly mah jongg game keeps them running as they close in on the killer—but the killer may also be closing in on them.
About the Author
Barbara Barrett started reading mysteries when she was pregnant with her first child to keep her mind off things like her changing body and food cravings. When she’d devoured as many Agatha Christies as she could find, she branched out to English village cozies and Ellery Queen.
Later, to avoid a midlife crisis, she began writing fiction at night when she wasn’t at her day job as a human resources analyst for Iowa State Government. After releasing eleven full-length romance novels and one novella, she has returned to the cozy mystery genre, using one of her retirement pastimes, the game of mah jongg, as her inspiration. Not only has it been a great social outlet, it has also helped keep her mind active when not writing.
Craks in a Marriage, the first book in her “Mah Jongg Mystery” series, features four friends who seek the murderer of another mah jongg player’s husband before she is charged. None of the four is based on an actual person. Each is an amalgamation of several mah jongg friends with a lot of Barbara’s imagination thrown in for good measure. The four will continue to appear in future books in the series.
Anticipating the day when she would write her first mystery, she has been a member of the Mystery/Romantic Suspense chapter of Romance Writers of America for over a decade. She credits them with helping her hone her craft.
Barbara is married to a man she met her senior year of college. They have two grown children and eight grandchildren.
Now retired, she is a resident of Florida, although she spends her summers in Iowa, her home state. She earned her B.A. degree in History from the University of Iowa and her Master’s Degree in History from Drake University.
When not in front of her laptop creating her next story, she plays Mah Jongg, knits, and enjoys lunches with friends.
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